Astronomy News for the Month of February 2017


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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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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 Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program.



"A crescent Moon hangs above Venus and Mars as darkness descends the evening of February 1."
Astronomy: Roen Kelly


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


16 day moon

The Moon

Phases

Apogee/Perigee

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 February

Begin this month with the appearance of Venus, Mars and the Moon in line in the evening sky on the 1st. Look for Jupiter around midnight, followed by Saturn rising in the early morning hours. Mercury can be spotted early in the month rising just before the Sun. With the use of binoculars or a small telescope, Neptune, Uranus and Ceres can also be spotted in the early evening soon after the skies darken. Several more comets have also returned to grace our nighttime skies. Viewers in parts of South America and Africa will be to observe an annular eclipse near the end of the month.

Mercury

Has returned to the morning sky this month. Look for Mercury in the pre-dawn skies about 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury rises at 6:02 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:32 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Aquarius this month shining at magnitude -0.2 on the 1st.

Venus

Is at greatest brilliancy (magnitude -4.8) on the 17th. Venus sets at 9:10 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:38 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early evening towards the southwest this month. Venus moves from the constellation of Aquarius into Pisces shining at magnitude -4.8.

Earth

N/A.

Mars

Sets at 9:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:24 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars about 30 minutes or so after sunset to the southwest. Mars will be closest to Venus during the first few days of the month. After that, Mars and Venus will steadily separate as the month progresses. Mars is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 1.2.

Jupiter

Is stationary on the 6th. Jupiter is at aphelion (507.2 million miles from the Sun) on the 17th. Jupiter rises at 11:00 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:05 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the late evening and early morning to the south before sunrise. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -2.2.

Saturn

Rises at 4:04 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:23 a.m. by month's end. Saturn is visible in the early morning sky before sunrise to the southeast. Saturn moves from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.5.

Uranus

Sets at 10:57 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:12 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early evening skies this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

Neptune

Sets at 7:35 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:50 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is visible in the evening sky after the skies darken after sunset. Look for Neptune during the first week of the month, after that, Neptune disappears into the evening twilight glow, returning to the morning pre-dawn skies in April. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Sets at 11:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:23 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is visible in the evening this month. Ceres is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 9.0.

Pluto

Has returned to the morning skies but still remains fairly low to the horizon making it difficult to view. Pluto rises at 5:40 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:53 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.3.

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

  • There are a few minor meteor showers this month but none that produce rates much higher than 2-5 per hour at their peaks. However, there's a possibility that observers may see a fireball or a bolide in the early hours before sunrise associated with the Beta Herculids or Delta Serpentids minor meteor showers.

    Meteor Shower Radiant Report

    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 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings.

  • Comets

    During February, five comets are expected to come into view shining around 10th magnitude or better. However, there is one comet, that is best viewed in the month of February before it disappears. Comet 2P/Encke is passing through the constellation of Pisces shining around 7th magnitude beginning the month just a few degrees northwest of Venus.

  • Comet 41P is in the constellation of Leo.
  • Comet Johnson (C/2015 V2) is in the constellation of Hercules.
  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) is in the constellation of Scorpius.
  • Comet 45P passes from the constellation of Aquarius through several other constellations heading west ending the month in the tail of Leo the Lion.
    All of these comets appear in the predawn skies after midnight.

  • 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 Cometography.com webpage.

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

  • "An annular solar eclipse graces the sky across parts of South America and Africa on February 26. During such eclipses, the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun but doesn't completely cover it, leaving a ring of sunlight visible at the peak.

    The eclipse track begins in the South Pacific before crossing the Andes Mountains of southern Chile and the high plateaus of Patagonia in western Argentina. Weather prospects look great for Patagonia, where annularity lasts just over a minute with the Sun 34° above the horizon.

    After traversing the South Atlantic, the eclipse path reaches the coast of Angola, about halfway between Lobito and Namibe. Annularity lasts 69 seconds there, with the dramatic ring of fire hanging 16° above the ocean. The eclipse ends at sunset in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo." Astronomy Magazine, February 2017, p. 43.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Venus and Mars in the early evening after sunset.
  • Try to observe Uranus, Neptune and Ceres after the skies darken to the southwest.
  • Look for Jupiter in the late evening and early morning skies before sunrise.
  • Look for Saturn and Mercury in the morning skies before sunrise.
  • Try to spot Comet Encke in the early evening skies.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Vesta is in the constellations of Gemini.
    • Eunomia is at opposition on the 20th in the constellation of Sextans.
    • Irene is at opposition on the 18th in the constellation of Leo.
    • Metis is at opposition on the 21st in the constellation of Leo.
    • Amphitrite is in the constellation of Virgo.
    • Daphne is in the constellation of Crater.

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

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Subscriber Gallery

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    Member Meteor Sightings

    This is a new section where I will post meteor, fireball, etc sightings that have been published on the American Meteor Society's web site. I want to make this an active section of the web pages and newsletter and would like to publish the links to member sightings. If you have any published sightings, please provide me with the links and I will post them here for all to enjoy.

    Event ID Date/Time Location Observer Link
    3587-2015 2015-11-22 17:38 MST CO Kevin S 3587aw
    3829-2015 2015-12-05 18:06 MST Highlands Ranch, CO Burness A 3829a
    3871-2015 2015-11-13 01:55 MST CO Charles N 3871a

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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Juno - January 19, 2017
    Public to Choose Jupiter Picture Sites for NASA Juno

    Full Article & Images

    "Where should NASA's Juno spacecraft aim its camera during its next close pass of Jupiter on Feb. 2? You can now play a part in the decision. For the first time, members of the public can vote to participate in selecting all pictures to be taken of Jupiter during a Juno flyby. Voting begins Thursday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) and concludes on Jan. 23 at 9 a.m. PST (noon EST).

    "We are looking forward to people visiting our website and becoming part of the JunoCam imaging team," said Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator from the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. "It's up to the public to determine the best locations in Jupiter's atmosphere for JunoCam to capture during this flyby.

    NASA's JunoCam website can be visited at:

    https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam

    The voting page for this flyby is available at:

    https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/voting/

    JunoCam will begin taking pictures as the spacecraft approaches Jupiter's north pole. Two hours later, the imaging will conclude as the spacecraft completes its close flyby, departing from below the gas giant's south pole. Juno is currently on its fourth orbit around Jupiter. It takes 53 days for Juno to complete one orbit."

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

    The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:
    http://www.facebook.com/NASAJuno
    http://www.twitter.com/NASAJuno

    Cassini - January 30, 2017
    Close Views Show Saturn's Rings in Unprecedented Detail

    Full Article & Images

    "WNewly released images showcase the incredible closeness with which NASA's Cassini spacecraft, now in its "Ring-Grazing" orbits phase, is observing Saturn's dazzling rings of icy debris.

    The views are some of the closest-ever images of the outer parts of the main rings, giving scientists an eagerly awaited opportunity to observe features with names like "straw" and "propellers." Although Cassini saw these features earlier in the mission, the spacecraft's current, special orbits are now providing opportunities to see them in greater detail. The new images resolve details as small as 0.3 miles (550 meters), which is on the scale of Earth's tallest buildings."

    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.

    Raw images are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/index.cfm.

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

    Cassini Imaging Team - Archives from Dec. 2015 and earlier.

    New Horizons - January 20, 2017
    A Colorful 'Landing' on Pluto

    Full Article & Images
    View MP4

    "What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip down onto the surface of Pluto -- starting with a distant view of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon -- and leading up to an eventual ride in for a "landing" on the shoreline of Pluto's informally named Sputnik Planitia."

    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 - December 15, 2016
    Where is the Ice on Ceres? New NASA Dawn Findings

    Full Article & Images

    "At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts -- not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER

    The MESSENGER mission is officially ended but there is a lot to learn about the planet closest to our Sun. Visit the new, updated MESSENGER website:

    UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF PLANET MERCURY
    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    (Click Link above for Full Article & Images)

    TOP 10 SCIENCE RESULTS AND TECHNOLOGY INNOVATIONS

    "After more than 10 years in operation, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury on April 30, 2015, at a speed of more than 3.91 kilometers per second (8,750 miles per hour), marking the end of operations for the hugely successful Mercury orbiter. At the MESSENGER Nears End of Operations media and public event, scientists and engineers discussed the mission's accomplishments, providing the top 10 scientific discoveries, as well as the technological innovations that grew out of the mission."

    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 - http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/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

    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 - October 19, 2016
    MAVEN Observes Ups and Downs of Water Escape from Mars

    Full Article & Images

    "After investigating the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet for a full Martian year, MAVEN has determined that escaping water does not always go gently into space.

    Sophisticated measurements made by a suite of instruments on the MAVEN spacecraft revealed the ups and downs of hydrogen escape-and therefore water loss. The escape rate peaked when Mars was at its closest point to the sun and dropped off when the planet was farthest from the sun. The rate of loss varied dramatically overall, with 10 times more hydrogen escaping at the maximum."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - January 17, 2017
    Mars Rover Curiosity Examines Possible Mud Cracks

    Full Article & Images

    "Scientists used NASA's Curiosity Mars rover in recent weeks to examine slabs of rock cross-hatched with shallow ridges that likely originated as cracks in drying mud.

    "Mud cracks are the most likely scenario here," said Curiosity science team member Nathan Stein. He is a graduate student at Caltech in Pasadena, California, who led the investigation of a site called "Old Soaker," on lower Mount Sharp, Mars. Mars Rover's Mastcam View of Possible Mud Cracks

    If this interpretation holds up, these would be the first mud cracks -- technically called desiccation cracks -- confirmed by the Curiosity mission. They would be evidence that the ancient era when these sediments were deposited included some drying after wetter conditions. Curiosity has found evidence of ancient lakes in older, lower-lying rock layers and also in younger mudstone that is above Old Soaker."

    To follow the Mars Curiosity rover and NASA on Foursquare, visit: http://www.foursquare.com/MarsCuriosity and http://www.foursquare.com/NASA

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare, visit:http://www.nasa.gov/connect/foursquare.html.

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

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - January 24, 2017

    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)."

    OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Celebrates 13 Years of Operations on Mars - sols 4617-4623, January 18, 2017-January 24, 2017:

    "Opportunity celebrated her 13th birthday on Sol 4623 (January 24, 2017 PST). She spent it as she has most recent sols -- heading south along the rim of Endeavour Crater.

    The rover is currently trying to make rapid progress toward the next major scientific objective, the gully about a kilometer south of the current location. Toward that end Opportunity has been doing a lot of driving. Though the terrain is particularly rough and steep, she managed to travel about 256 feet (78 meters) in four drives during this latest period.

    As of Sol 4623 (Jan. 24, 2017), the solar array energy production was 416 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.684 and a solar array dust factor of 0.650.

    Total odometry is 27.26 miles (43.87 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - January 25, 2017
    Similar-Looking Ridges on Mars Have Diverse Origins

    Full Article & Image

    "Thin, blade-like walls, some as tall as a 16-story building, dominate a previously undocumented network of intersecting ridges on Mars, found in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    The simplest explanation for these impressive ridges is that lava flowed into pre-existing fractures in the ground and later resisted erosion better than material around them."

    MARS RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER HIRISE IMAGES
    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - January 04, 2017
    NASA Mars Odyssey Orbiter Resumes Full Operations

    Full Article and Images

    "MARS ODYSSEY MISSION STATUS REPORT
    UPDATED Jan. 4, 2017, at 2 p.m. PST
    NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has resumed full service following recovery after entering a safe standby mode on Dec. 26, 2016.

    The orbiter resumed communication relay assistance to Mars rovers on Dec. 30, 2016. Science observations of Mars by instruments on Odyssey resumed on Jan. 3, 2017, with its Thermal Emission Imaging System, and on the next day with its High Energy Neutral Spectrometer and the Neutron Spectrometer."

    Video - What might it look like if you were walking around on Mars?

    See the Mars As Art Gallery

    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.

    Journey to Mars - September 02, 2016
    InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars
    NASA Approves 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

    "InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior.

    NASA is moving forward with a spring 2018 launch of its InSight mission to study the deep interior of Mars, following final approval this week by the agency's Science Mission Directorate."

    Learn more about the InSight Mission.

    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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    UT Logo

    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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    FH

    Keep looking UP!
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