Astronomy News for the Month of August 2015

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In this Newsletter...

Background screen credits: NGC5775 - Imaged March 21/22, 2001 using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope as part of the Advanced Observing Program.

The 2015 Perseid meteor shower promises to put on its best show of the past five years.
This image shows a 2013 Perseid fireball taken from Wugongshan Mountain in China.
Credit:Luo Cheng

The Month At-A-Glance
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.


The Moon



Moon/Planet Pairs

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of 0.5°.

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The Planets & Dwarf Planets

Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. These reports provide predicted data for the planets for the first of each month for the current year. The rise and set times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month as well as meteor shower radiants are also included in the reports. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for July

Say, "Good bye" to Venus and Jupiter. Say, "Hello" to lots of meteors! Jupiter and Venus fade into the evening dusk and disappear from view during the latter half of August. Not to worry though as Saturn is clearly in view to the west soon after the Sun sets. Neptune is at its best viewing for the year and is followed closely by Uranus in the evening and late evening skies. Mercury continues to climb in the west as the month progresses, marginally visible soon after sunset. Mars returns to the morning sky after midmonth, though remains a challenge to spot through dawn twilight. The premier event for August is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids peak under a moonless sky, so those who go out early in the mornings before sunrise will be delighted to see 60-100 meteors per hour streaking through the skies during the peak.


Sets at 8:48 p.m. on the 1st and about 08:24 p.m. by month's end. Mercury is very low above the western horizon and will be difficult to spot without binoculars or a small telescope. By the end of the month, Mercury lies about 7° above the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude 0.1 on the 31st.


Is in inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 15th. The best time to spot Venus will be during the first week of August. Venus sets at 8:42 p.m. on the 1st. Venus will return to the morning sky after conjunction and will rise about 4:46 a.m. by month's end. Venus moves from the constellation of Leo into Cancer shining at magnitude -4.5 on the 31st.




Rises at 4:48 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:27 a.m. by month's end. Mars will be best viewed towards the latter half of the month when it has risen early enough to be out of the morning twilight glow. Mars moves from the constellation of Geminiinto Cancer this month shining at magnitude 1.7.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th. Jupiter sets at 9:07 p.m. on the 1st. Jupiter is visible in the early evening, low in the west soon after sunset during the first week of August. After that, Jupiter will be more difficult to spot, disappearing into the evening twilight after midmonth. Jupiter will return to the morning sky in September. Jupiter is in the constellation of a href="">Leo shining at magnitude -1.7 on the 1st.


Is stationary on the 2nd. Saturn sets at 1:09 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:05 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is well placed for early evening viewing, appearing towards the west after the Sun sets. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.5.


Rises at 11:07 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:04 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the late evening and early morning sky to the east. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.


Is at opposition on the 31st, rising as the Sun sets. Neptune rises at 9:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:25 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is at its best for the year this month and can be viewed almost all night long. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Rises at 9:34 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:16 p.m. by month's end. The best time to spot Ceres will be around midnight local time when Ceres is highest above the southern horizon. Ceres may be more difficult to spot for those living in the more northerly latitudes. Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 7.8.


Rises at 6:26 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:23 p.m. by month's end. Look for Pluto to the south just above the handle of the teapot asterism. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

As always, good luck at spotting Neptune, Ceres and Pluto, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Southern Delta Aquarids - This Meteor Shower has a duration of July 14 - August 18. Maximum hourly rates of 15-20 occur on July 28/29.

  • The Northern Delta Aquarids extends from July 16 to September 10. Maximum occurs on August 13. The hourly rates reach a high of 10.

  • The Perseids meteor shower is generally visible between July 23 and August 22. Maximum occurs during August 12/13. The hourly rate typically reaches 80, although some years have been as low as 4 and as high as 200. The meteors tend to be very fast, possess an average magnitude of 2.3 and leave persistent trains.

    Author's Note: This year's Perseid meteor shower should provide some excellent views as the Moon will not interfere with viewing. Start your evening and nighttime viewing now. This is one of my favorite meteor showers of the year as you can expect to see a build up of meteor activity for at least a week in advance and a gradual dwindling for another week after peak. (2 weeks of solid meteor activity.) Even city dwellers may be in for a treat if they can find a relatively dark area. My best advice is to get away from city lights, if you can, so get out and enjoy the show.

    For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.

    Meteor Scatter (or Meteor burst communications) - "is a radio propagation mode that exploits the ionized trails of meteors during atmospheric entry to establish brief communications paths between radio stations up to 2,250 kilometres (1,400 mi) apart." Tune your shortwave or your HF amateur radio to 55.25 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings.

  • Comets

  • Comet 141P/Machholz may be visible for northern observers under dark skies using a 4-inch telescope, if it survives its closest approach to the Sun on August 24th. On the morning of the 7th and 8th, Comet Machholz passes near M36, M37 and M38 through the constellations of Auriga into Gemini.

  • If Comet Machholz fails to materialize after it passes the Sun, Comet 22P/Kopff may glow around 11th magnitude passing through the constellation of Virgo.

  • For those south of the equator, Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) shines about 7th magnitude this month, heading north passing near Alpha Centauri towards the end of the month.

  • For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets, visit the Observable Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

    For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's webpage.

  • Eclipses

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Saturn in the evening sky.
  • Try to spot Neptune and Uranus later in the evening.
  • Start looking for the Perseid meteors beginning around the 5th, peaking on the morning of the 13th and lasting through the 17th or 18th.
  • Look for Mars and Venus before sunrise during the last week of the month.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Lutetia is at opposition on the 15th in the constellation of Capricornus.
    • Metis is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Vesta is stationary on the 16th in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Eunomia is in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Amphitrite is in the constellation of Aries.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Cassini - July 29, 2015
    Unusual Red Arcs Spotted on Icy Saturn Moon

    Full-Res: PIA19637

    "Like graffiti sprayed by an unknown artist, unexplained arc-shaped, reddish streaks are visible on the surface of Saturn's icy moon Tethys in new, enhanced-color images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

    The red arcs are narrow, curved lines on the moon's surface, and are among the most unusual color features on Saturn's moons to be revealed by Cassini's cameras. The images are available at:

    Images taken using clear, green, infrared and ultraviolet spectral filters were combined to create the enhanced-color views, which highlight subtle color differences across the icy moon's surface at wavelengths not visible to human eyes.

    A few of the red arcs can be seen faintly in observations made earlier in the Cassini mission, which has been in orbit at Saturn since 2004. But the color images for this observation, obtained in April 2015, are the first to show large northern areas of Tethys under the illumination and viewing conditions necessary to see the arcs clearly. As the Saturn system moved into its northern hemisphere summer over the past few years, northern latitudes have become increasingly well illuminated. As a result, the arcs have become clearly visible for the first time."

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

    Raw images are available at

    Cassini Imaging Team

    For the latest mission status reports, visit Cassini Mission Status web page. The speed and location of the spacecraft along its flight path can be viewed on the Present Position webpage.

    New Horizons - July 24, 2015
    New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

    "Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA's New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

    "We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now - 10 days after closest approach - we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. "With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling."

    Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto's surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze - one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).

    "My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries - it brings incredible beauty."

    Studying Pluto's atmosphere provides clues as to what's happening below.

    "The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto's surface its reddish hue," said Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia."

    It's always Pluto Time somewhere, and NASA wants to see your view.

    What is Pluto?

    On Video: How Do We Get to Pluto? Practice, Practice, Practice

    Part I: The Encounter Begins
        - Small mp4 (38 MB, 640x360)
        - Large mp4 (116 MB, 1280x720)

    Part II: Passing Pluto
        - Small mp4 (34 MB, 640x360)
        - Large mp4 (102 MB, 1280x720)"

    LORRI Looks Back

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store here.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the ninth planet - visit the New Horizons home page.

    Dawn - July 28, 2015
    New Names and Insights at Ceres

    "Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

    Scientists continue to analyze the latest data from Dawn as the spacecraft makes its way to its third mapping orbit.

    "The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres. The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust," said Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

    Some of these craters and other features now have official names, inspired by spirits and deities relating to agriculture from a variety of cultures. The International Astronomical Union recently approved a batch of names for features on Ceres."

    Ion propulsion isn't something found only in science fiction. Ion engines are a real deal and drive NASA's Dawn spacecraft, en route to dwarf planet Ceres. Big things do come in small packages.

    Dawn's Virtual Flight over Vesta

    Ceres Fly By

    A gallery of images can be found online.

    For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page.

    MESSENGER - May 07, 2015
    MESSENGER Finds Evidence of Ancient Magnetic Field on Mercury

    "Mercury's magnetic field, generated by a dynamo process in its outer core, has been in place far longer than previously known, a paper by MESSENGER Participating Scientist Catherine Johnson reports.

    About 4 billion years ago, Mercury's magnetic field could have been much stronger than today, as indicated by low-altitude observations made by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft that revealed evidence of magnetization of ancient crustal rocks on Mercury.

    The MESSENGER spacecraft crashed onto Mercury last week [April 30, 2015] after running out of fuel, but the mission provided a trove of new information on the planet closest to the Sun."

    The MESSENGER app is available for download from iTunes.

    For more information on the MESSENGER mission, visit the MESSENGER home page.

    Pack Your Backpack

    Calling all explorers! Tour JPL with our new Virtual Field Trip site. Stops include Mission Control and the Rover Lab. Your guided tour starts when you select a "face" that will be yours throughout the visit. Cool space images and souvenirs are all included in your visit.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions -

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.


    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

    "The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) began in 1948, a decade before NASA. We are the world's only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets and Pluto. LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    MAVEN - June 20, 2015
    MAVEN Results Find Mars Behaving Like a Rock Star

    "If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a "Mohawk" of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, "wears" a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored "new media" workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.

    The MAVEN spacecraft was launched toward Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to discover how the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere, transforming its climate from one that could have supported life billions of years ago into its present cold and barren state."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - July 23, 2015

    NASA's Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock
    Full image

    "Fast Facts:
    -- Rover examines geological contact zone near 'Marias Pass'
    -- Silica-rich rocks identified nearby with laser-firing instrument
    -- Test of rover's drill prepares for next use on Mars rock

    Approaching the third anniversary of it's landing on Mars, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has found a target unlike anything it has studied before -- bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz.

    This area lies just downhill from a geological contact zone the rover has been studying near "Marias Pass" on lower Mount Sharp.

    In fact, the Curiosity team decided to back up the rover 46 meters (151 feet) from the geological contact zone to investigate the high-silica target dubbed "Elk." The decision was made after they analyzed data from two instruments, the laser-firing Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), which show elevated amounts of silicon and hydrogen, respectively. High levels of silica in the rock could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if present, so the science team wants to take a closer look."

    To follow the Mars Curiosity rover and NASA on Foursquare, visit: and

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare, visit:

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - July 15, 2015

    SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:

    "More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011. The remaining, pre-sequenced ultra-high frequency (UHF) relay passes scheduled for Spirit on board the Odyssey orbiter will complete on June 8, 2011.

    Total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."

    OPPURTUNITY UPDATE: A Week of Imaging and Driving - sols 4072-4079, July 08, 2015-July 15, 2015: :

    "Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater heading into 'Marathon Valley.'

    On Sol 4072 (July 8, 2015), the rover collected some targeted 13-filter Panoramic Camera (Pancam) images and some Navigation Camera (Navcam) cloud and dust devil movies (if any were present). On Sol 4073 (July 9, 2015), Opportunity bumped only about 10 inches (25 centimeters) to position the robotic arm to reach some new targets within the so-called 'Red Zone' along the edge of the 'Spirit of St. Louis.' Also, some post-drive targeted Pancam observations were made. An atmospheric argon measurement was collected that night by the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument. On Sol 4074 (July 10, 2015), more targeted 13-filter Pancam observations were made along with more Navcam cloud and dust devil movies.

    On Sol 4075 (July 11, 2015), the rover began some in-situ (contact) science investigation of the new 'Red Zone' target, first by collecting a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic, then by placing the APXS for a multi-hour integration. On the next sol, more Navcam cloud and dust devil movies were collected.

    On Sol 4077 (July 13, 2015), Opportunity headed around the 'Spirit of St. Louis' to the east with a 90-foot (27.5-meter) drive. Post-drive Navcam panoramas were collected from that new vantage point. On Sol 4078 (July 14, 2015), the rover departed the 'Spirit of St. Louis' and headed northeast towards 'Swan Hill' with a 120-foot (36.7-meter) drive, collecting post-drive Navcam panoramas. On the next sol, Opportunity first collected some pre-drive targeted Navcam and Pancam images, then drove almost 62 feet (19 meters) heading into Marathon Valley. Following the drive, a 360-degree Navcam panorama was collected.

    As of Sol 4079 (July 15, 2015), the solar array energy production was 421 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.634 and a solar array dust factor of 0.612.

    Total odometry is 26.38 miles (42.45 kilometers), more than a marathon."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - July 28, 2015
    NASA Mars Orbiter Preparing for Mars Lander's 2016 Arrival

    "UPDATED: July 29, 2014 (4:10 p.m. PT) NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completed a maneuver on July 29, 2015, to put the spacecraft in the right place on Sept. 28, 2016, for supporting arrival of the InSight Mars lander mission. The maneuver's engine burn began at 6:21:31 a.m. PDT (13:21:31 UTC) and lasted for 75 seconds.

    With its biggest orbit maneuver since 2006, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will prepare this week for the arrival of NASA's next Mars lander, InSight, next year.

    A planned 77-second firing of six intermediate-size thrusters on July 29 will adjust the orbit timing of the veteran spacecraft so it will be in position to receive radio transmissions from InSight as the newcomer descends through the Martian atmosphere and touches down on Sept. 28, 2016. These six rocket engines, which were used for trajectory corrections during the spacecraft's flight from Earth to Mars, can each produce about 22 newtons, or five pounds, of thrust."

    Simulated Flyover of Mars Canyon Map

    This animation simulates a flyover of a portion of a Martian canyon detailed in a geological map produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and based on observations by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The landforms include a series of hills called Candor Colles.

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - June 25, 2015
    NASA Seeks Ideas for Where on Mars the Next Giant Leap Could Take Place

    "NASA is advancing the Journey to Mars by starting the conversation about where humans may one day land on the Red Planet. The agency is hosting a conference this fall to collect proposals on areas on Mars that would be of high scientific research value while also providing natural resources to enable human explorers to safely land, live and work on Mars.

    NASA's first Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will be held Oct. 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. The conference will start the process for choosing sites on Mars that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft along with any future missions over the coming decades could then further image to create better maps and provide valuable scientific data of these potential Exploration Zones.

    NASA hopes to engage scientists, technologists and experts in human exploration during the conference, fostering collaboration among the teams that will enable humans to live on and explore Mars in the coming decades.

    Potential "Exploration Zones" will need to offer compelling science research while also providing resources that our astronauts can take advantage of during their pioneering of the Red Planet. First explorers are expected to be limited to about 60 miles (100 km) of travel from their landing site due to life support and exploration technology requirements."

    See the Mars As Art Gallery

    Dulles Airport Full News Release

    Global Martian Map

    "A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online.

    The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large image are at THEMIS."

    Daily Mars Odyssey THEMIS Images
    Can be found at the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) website.

    The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established by the Planetary Data System.

    Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page.

    Mars Missions Status

    New Mars missions are being planned to include several new rover and sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page and the Mars Exploration page.

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    Astronomy Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

    Green Laser

    Colorado Astronomy Links

    Radio Astronomy Links

    Other Astronomy Links

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    Astronomical Lexicon

    Definitions of astronomical terms. Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

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    Read the Universe Today Newsletter by clicking on the logo.

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    Acknowledgments and References

    Much of the information in this newsletter is from Astronomy® Magazine (Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages, and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my bookshelves.

    The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and corrections. Please feel free to send me any new links or articles to share as well. I will try to accommodate any reasonable requests. Please feel free to send questions, comments, criticisms, or donations to the email address listed below. Enjoy!

    More Acknowledgements and References

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