Astronomy News for the Month of January 2013


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


26

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 are also included in the reports.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for January - Jupiter continues to dominate the evening sky. Mars can still be spotted in the evening sky just a couple hours after the Sun sets. Uranus and Neptune are also visible through small telescopes in the early evening. Venus is slowly disappearing in the twilight glow before sunrise this month, but Saturn continues to rise earlier and is prominent in the early morning sky. The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks in early January.
Mercury - Is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 18th. Mercury has disappeared from view this month and returns to the evening sky at the end of the month. Try to spot Mercury on the 31st when it makes a brief appearance just after sunset. Mercury sets about 5:16 p.m. on the 31st. Mercury moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Capricornus shining at magnitude -1.2 on the 31st.
Venus - Is visible in the early morning sky before sunrise shining through the morning twilight. Venus rises at 7:13 a.m. on the 1st and about 7:43 a.m. by month's end. Venus moves from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Capricornus shining at magnitude -3.9.
Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 1st at midnight EST.
Mars - Is at perihelion on the 24th (128.4 million miles from the Sun). Mars sets at 5:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:59 p.m. by month's end. Look to the west to spot the Red Planet setting about 2 hours after the Sun sets on the 1st and about 90 minutes after the Sun by the end of the month. Mars moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Aquarius shining at magnitude 1.2.
Jupiter - Is stationary on the 30th. Jupiter sets at 6:15 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:06 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter dominates the evening sky and most of the early morning sky after midnight this month. Jupiter is in the constellation of Taurus shining at magnitude -2.6.
Saturn - Rises at 3:04 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:11 a.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn in the east before sunrise. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.6.
Uranus - Sets at 11:40 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:44 p.m. by month's end. Uranus will be in the southwest soon after the Sun sets and will be visible in the early evening. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.
Neptune - Sets at 8:10 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:14 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the early evening to the west soon after sunset. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres - Sets at 8:20 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:19 a.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres in the east in the evening soon after the Sun sets. Ceres is in the constellation of Taurus shining at magnitude 7.5.
Pluto - Will return to the morning sky this month but is still lost in the twilight glow for most of the month. Pluto rises at 08:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:10 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.2.

As always, good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Quadrantids - This shower is generally visible between December 28 and January 7, with a very sharp maximum of 45 to 200 meteors per hour occurring during January 3 and 4. The meteors tend to be bluish and possess an average magnitude of about 2.8.

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

  • Comets

  • Comet C/2012 K5 LINEAR is traveling through the constellations of Auriga and Taurus, passing west of Orion into Eridanus this month. This comet is expected to glow around 10th magnitude dimming quickly to 14th magnitude by the end of the month, so dark skies will definitely be needed. The best time to catch comet K5 will be during the first week of January. On the evenings of the 2nd and 3rd, K5 passes between M36 and M37. A 6 to 8 inch telescope and dark skies will be needed to view this comet.

  • 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

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Jupiter dominates the evening sky all month.
  • Venus and Saturn are prominent in the morning sky before sunrise.
  • The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 3rd/4th.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Pallus is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Taurus.
    • Metis is at opposition on the 1st in the constellation of Gemini.
    • Irene is in the constellation of Virgo.

    • 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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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Cassini - December 31, 2012
    Small Moon Makes Big Waves

    Full-Res: PIA14641

    "Saturn's small moon Daphnis is caught in the act of raising waves on the edges of the Keeler gap, which is the thin dark band in the left half of the image. Waves like these allow scientists to locate small moons in gaps and measure their masses. For more on Daphnis (5 miles, or 8 kilometers across) and the Keeler gap, see Wave Shadows in Motion and Discovery of the Wavemaker (movie).

    This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 13 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 14, 2012.

    The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 483,000 miles (778,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 4 degrees. Image scale is 3 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. The F ring has been brightened by a factor of 1.5 relative to the main rings to enhance visibility.

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo."

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

    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 - November 28, 2012
    Halfway Between Uranus and Neptune, New Horizons Cruises On

    "Today the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft passed the halfway point between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, zooming past another milepost on its historic trek to the planetary frontier.

    New Horizons, launched in January 2006 and set to visit the Pluto system in July 2015, is the first spacecraft to cross this distant region since NASA's Voyager probes in the late 1980s. New Horizons is now more than 25 astronomical units from Earth – one AU being the distance between the Earth and sun, 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers. New Horizons crossed the orbit of Uranus on March 18, 2011. It'll pass the orbit of Neptune on Aug. 25, 2014 – exactly 25 years after Voyager 2 made its historic exploration of that planet. The distance between the orbits of the two gas giants is about a billion miles.

    So far, New Horizons has traveled more than 2.3 billion miles since launch. Pluto itself is a "mere" 711 million miles (1.14 billion kilometers) away from the spacecraft – nearly eight times the distance between Earth and the sun – and currently closer to New Horizons than any other planet."

    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 - December 06, 2012
    What is Creating Gullies on Vesta?

    "Like a Hollywood starlet constantly retouching her makeup, the giant asteroid Vesta is constantly stirring its outermost layer to present a young face. Data from NASA's Dawn mission show that a form of weathering that occurs on the moon and other airless bodies we've visited in the inner solar system does not alter Vesta's outermost layer in the same way. Carbon-rich asteroids have also been splattering dark material on Vesta's surface over a long span of the body's history. The results are described in two papers released today in the journal Nature.

    "Dawn's data allow us to decipher how Vesta records fundamental processes that have also affected Earth and other solar system bodies," said Carol Raymond, Dawn deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "No object in our solar system is an island. Throughout solar system history, materials have exchanged and interacted."

    Over time, soils on Earth's moon and asteroids such as Itokawa have undergone extensive weathering in the space environment. Scientists see this in the accumulation of tiny metallic particles containing iron, which dulls the fluffy outer layer. Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) and framing camera detected no accumulation of such tiny particles on Vesta, and this particular protoplanet, or almost-planet, remains bright and pristine."

    Dawn's Virtual Flight over Vesta

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER - December 21, 2012
    Recently Named Mercury Craters Honor Blues Singer and Animation Pioneer

    "The International Astronomical Union (IAU) recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities. The newly named craters are:

    • Catullus, for Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC-ca. 54 BC), a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.

    • Disney, for Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (1901-1966), an American film maker, actor, and animator who, along with his brother Roy O. Disney, co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which later became one of the best-known motion picture producers in the world.

    • Hopper, for Edward Hopper (1882-1967), a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. Although he was most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching.

    • Joplin, for Scott Joplin (1868-1917), an African-American composer and pianist who wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, the "Maple Leaf Rag," became ragtime's first and most influential hit and has been recognized as the archetypal rag.

    • Kobro, for Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951), a prominent Polish sculptor who co-founded the AR ("Revolutionary Artists" or "avant-garde Actual"). She is credited with revolutionizing thinking about sculpture. Her work explored the relations between the art object, the audience, and the surrounding space.

    • Komeda, for Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969), a Polish film music composer and jazz pianist best known for his work in film scores. He wrote the scores for Roman Polanski's films "Rosemary's Baby," "The Fearless Vampire Killers," "Knife in the Water," and "Cul-de-sac." His album "Astigmatic" (1965) is widely regarded as one of the most important European jazz albums.

    • Kyosai, for Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), a Japanese artist who attained a reputation as a caricaturist. In addition to his caricatures, Kyosai painted a large number of pictures and sketches, often choosing subjects from the folklore of his country.

    • Popova, for Lyubov Popova (1889-1924), a Russian painter, graphic artist, theatrical designer, applied artist, and illustrator. She painted in a Cubo-Futurist style and designed fabrics and agitprop books and posters.

    • Waters, for McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield (1915-1983), an African-American blues musician, generally considered the father of modern "Chicago blues." He was a major inspiration for the British blues explosion in the 1960s and is ranked No. 17 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

    These nine newly named craters join 86 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft's first Mercury flyby in January 2008. "Kawanabe Kyosai, 19th century Japanese artist and now namesake of Kyosai crater on Mercury, changed the first character of his name from one meaning 'crazy' in Japanese to one meaning 'enlightenment' upon being released from prison," notes William Vaughan, a Ph.D. student at Brown University who, as a member of MESSENGER Geology Discipline Group, was involved in selecting the names. "I hope that careful study of Kyosai crater will similarly reward us with enlightenment about Mercury's enigmatic geology."

    The MESSENGER app is available for download.

    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

    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.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - December 27, 2012
    NASA Encourages Public To Explore Its Curiosity With New Rover-Themed Badge On Foursquare

    "WASHINGTON -- NASA and the mobile application Foursquare have teamed up to help the public unlock its scientific curiosity with a new rover-themed Curiosity Explorer badge. Users of the Foursquare social media platform can earn the badge by following NASA and checking in at a NASA visitor center or venue categorized as a science museum or planetarium. Upon earning the badge, users will see a special message on Foursquare:

    "Get out your rock-vaporizing laser! You've explored your scientific curiosities just like NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars. Stay curious and keep exploring. You never know what you'll find."

    The launch of the badge follows the October check-in on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover, which marked the first check-in on another planet. Foursquare users can keep up with Curiosity as the rover checks in at key locations and posts photos and tips, all while exploring the Red Planet.

    After landing in Gale Crater in August, Curiosity began a 23-month mission that includes some of Mars' most intriguing science destinations. The mission's main science destination will be Mount Sharp, a mountain about 3 miles (5 kilometers) tall. First, Curiosity is investigating targets on flatter ground near the mountain, seeking clues in the rocks and soil that would indicate whether Mars ever was capable of supporting microbial life. It also is taking pictures of the trip, beaming them back to Earth for all to share.

    NASA has been on Foursquare since 2010 through a strategic partnership with the platform. This partnership, launched with astronaut Doug Wheelock's first-ever check-in from the International Space Station, has allowed users to connect with NASA, and enabled them to explore the universe and rediscover Earth.

    The partnership launched the now-expired NASA Explorer badge for Foursquare users, which encouraged them to explore NASA-related locations across the country. It also included the launch of a NASA Foursquare page, where the agency continues to provide official tips and information about the nation's space program.

    NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission and its Curiosity rover for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

    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) - December 18, 2012

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

    "No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010).

    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: Shoulder Work At 'Copper Cliff' - sols 3159-3165, Dec. 12, 2012-Dec. 18, 2012 :

    "Opportunity is working at "Matijevic Hill" (named in honor of Jake Matijevic) at the inboard edge of "Cape York" on the rim of Endeavour Crater. There, the rover has been conducting in-situ (contact) science measurements at a location called "Copper Cliff."

    On Sol 3160 (Dec. 13, 2012), Opportunity began taking images with its Microscopic Imager (MI) for a mosaic of a surface target. Partway through the activity, the rover's robotic arm experienced a stall in the shoulder azimuth joint. This has been seen a few times before when the arm is commanded to move at a slow rate, but not the slowest rate. Magnetic detents normally hold the motor armature when unpowered, and under certain slow-rate conditions they are able to restrain the armature from spinning. At higher rates, the armature has enough momentum to keep spinning, while at the slowest rates a higher stall threshold is used. Activities on Sol 3162 (Dec. 15, 2012) confirmed the joint is OK, and an offset placement of the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) was completed.

    On Sol 3165 (Dec. 18, 2012), Opportunity bumped about 18 feet (5.5 meters) to the west to reach a new set of surface targets in this Copper Cliff area. The rover will likely continue in-situ investigations in the area through the coming holiday.

    As of Sol 3165, the solar array energy production was 533 watt-hours with an increased atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.955 and a solar array dust factor of 0.607.

    Total odometry is 22.02 miles (35438.37 meters)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 05, 2012
    Orbiter Spies Where Rover's Cruise Stage Hit Mars

    "During the 10 minutes before the NASA Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere to deliver the rover Curiosity to the surface, the spacecraft shed its cruise stage, which had performed vital functions during the flight from Earth, and then jettisoned two 165-pound (75-kilogram) blocks of tungsten to gain aerodynamic lift.

    Cameras on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have imaged impact scars where the tungsten blocks and the broken-apart cruise stage hit about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of where Curiosity landed on Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (Aug. 6, UTC).

    The images from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera are online at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16456.

    Although hundreds of new impact sites have been imaged on Mars, researchers do not get independent information about the initial size, velocity, density, strength, or impact angle of the objects. For the Mars Science Laboratory hardware, such information is known, so study of this impact field will provide information on impact processes and Mars surface and atmospheric properties.

    The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been examining Mars with six science instruments since 2006. Now in an extended mission, the orbiter continues to provide insights about the planet's ancient environments and about how processes such as wind, meteorite impacts and seasonal frosts are continuing to affect the Martian surface today. This mission has returned more data about Mars than all other orbital and surface missions combined.

    More than 27,000 images taken by HiRISE are available for viewing on the instrument team's website: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu. Each observation by this telescopic camera covers several square miles, or square kilometers, and can reveal features as small as a desk."

    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 - December 04, 2012
    NASA Announces Robust Multi-Year Mars Program; New Rover To Close Out Decade Of New Missions

    "WASHINGTON -- Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives.

    "The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."

    The planned portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

    The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.

    The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president's challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

    The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade."

    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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    Links and Other Space News

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

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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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    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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