Astronomy News for the Month of January 2014


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For amateur radio and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League 146.94 MHz repeater on Tuesday nights at 7PM local time.


Special Notice to Denver, CO residents and visitors to the area:

The Plains Conservation Center in Aurora hosts Full Moon Walks every month weather permitting on or near the night of the full Moon. Visit The Plains Conservation Center for more information and directions.

Also S&S Optika hosts Backyard Star Parties in Littleton several times a month, weather permitting. Come down and enjoy the fun and check out their fine selection of optical instruments.


 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 Advanced Observing Program.


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


01

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 - Plenty of planetary action starts the new year off right. Jupiter reaches opposition this month appearing brighter than it has for 13 months. Venus continues to shine in the early evening at least for the first week of January. Venus then disappears and reappears in the morning sky by the end of the month. When Venus disappears, Mercury appears in the evening sky. Later in the evening, Mars and Saturn continue to brighten in the early morning sky.
Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (18° above the western horizon) on the 31st. Mercury is visible, low on the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset during the last 2 weeks of January. Mercury sets about 6:52 p.m. on the 31st. Mercury moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Aquarius shining at magnitude -0.7 on the 31st.
Venus - Look for Venus during the first week of January, low in the west-southwest in the very early evening. Venus then disappears for about a week, as it reaches inferior conjunction on the 11th. Venus returns to the morning sky after the 15th. Venus sets about 6:06 p.m. on the 1st. Venus rises about 6:31 a.m. on the 15th and about 5:01 a.m. by month's end. Venus is stationary on the 31st. Venus will be easy to spot among the stars of the constellation Sagittarius shining at magnitude -4.7.
Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 4th.
Mars - Is at aphelion (154.9 million miles from the Sun) on the 2nd. Mars rises at 12:09 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:01 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars in the east after midnight and before sunrise. Mars is in the constellation of Virgo this month shining at magnitude 0.6.
Jupiter - Is at opposition on the 5th, rising as the sun sets. Jupiter is at its best for 2014. Jupiter rises at 4:59 p.m. on the 1st and about 2:39 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the evening and early morning skies after midnight. Jupiter is in the constellation of Gemini shining at magnitude -2.7.
Saturn - Rises at 3:21 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:30 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 12:02 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:00 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the evening sky after sunset. Spot Uranus with binoculars or a small telescope. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.
Neptune - Sets at 9:01 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:04 p.m. by month's end. Neptune can be spotted to the west in the early evening sky. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres - Rising at 1:59 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:15 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 8.4.
Pluto - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 1st. Pluto returns to the morning sky late in the month but is lost in the morning twilight glow. So for all intents and purposes, Pluto is not visible this month. Pluto rises at 7:10 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:13 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.2.

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 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 ISON (C/2012 S1) lost its brush with the Sun on Thanksgiving; however, the Earth crosses Comet ISON's orbital plane on the 16th and may be the last chance to spot any remains of the comet photographically. See the UniverseToday article.

    Elements and Ephemeris for Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)

  • 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

  • Find Mercury in the evening sky late in the month.
  • Observe Venus, in the early evening sky in the west-southwest and again before sunrise.
  • Check out Neptune and Uranus in the evening skies.
  • Catch Jupiter at its best in the evening sky.
  • View Mars in the morning after midnight.
  • View Saturn before sunrise.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Iris is in the constellation of Pisces.
    • Herculina is in the constellation of Taurus.
    • Melpomene is at opposition on the 28th in the constellation of Cancer.
    • Pallus is in the constellation of Hydra.
    • Vesta 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 30, 2013
    The Maelstrom

    ( Full-Res: PIA17145)

    "The vortex at Saturn's north pole -- seen here in the infrared -- takes on the menacing look of something from the imagination of Edgar Allen Poe. But really, of course, it's just another example of the amazing, mesmerizing meteorology on Saturn.

    The eye of the immense cyclone is about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) wide, 20 times larger than most on Earth. For another view of the vortex, see Vortex in Psychedelic Color.

    This view is centered on clouds at 89 degrees north latitude, 109 degrees west longitude. North is up and rotated 33 degrees to the left. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 14, 2013 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 750 nanometers.The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 45 degrees. Image scale is 3 miles (5 kilometers) per pixel."

    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 - December 23, 2013
    On Video: How Do We Get to Pluto? Practice, Practice, Practice

    "For someone who just came back from the future, Mark Holdridge looked pretty relaxed. The New Horizons mission manager sat outside mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory last July 14, watching the closing moments of a weeklong test of both team and spacecraft that replicated the closest nine days of flight toward and past Pluto - almost exactly as it will happen in July 2015.

    "We accomplished everything we set out to do, and then some," said Holdridge, who oversees the effort to plan each step of the New Horizons Pluto encounter. "Everything was very much as it will be in 2015. I think that's what really allowed us to learn a lot from the experience, figure out how to do things even better."

    For nine days in July 2013, it was July 2015. Operators programmed New Horizons' onboard computers to "think" the spacecraft was approaching and passing Pluto, to the point it executed each command and movement of the actual encounter. Gathered at APL's campus in Laurel, Md., mission navigation and operations teams guided spacecraft activity in real time; the science team examined simulated data in the same way they'll download, analyze and distribute the real stuff when Pluto and its moons slowly reveal their secrets to New Horizons' seven science instruments.

    "This rehearsal is the last big flight-vehicle practice we conduct before the encounter," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute. "Each aspect of it gets us ready for the one and only shot we'll have to explore the Pluto system."

    New Horizons team members view the Pluto flyby as the Super Bowl of space science - and you don't walk into the big game without practicing hard. Watch them gear up for this historic encounter on the planetary frontier in the two-part 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 - December 16, 2013
    Dawn Creates Guide To Vesta's Hidden Attractions

    Full image and caption

    "Some beauty is revealed only at a second glance. When viewed with the human eye, the giant asteroid Vesta, which was the object of scrutiny by the Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2012, is quite unspectacular color-wise. Vesta looks grayish, pitted by a variety of large and small craters.

    But scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, have re-analyzed the images of this giant asteroid obtained by Dawn's framing camera. They assigned colors to different wavelengths of light and, in the process, revealed in unprecedented detail not only geological structures that are invisible to the naked eye, but also landscapes of incomparable beauty.

    Researchers at Max Planck can now see structures such as melts from impacts, craters buried by quakes and foreign material brought by space rocks, visible with a resolution of 200 feet (60 meters) per pixel.

    "The key to these images is the seven color filters of the camera system on board the spacecraft," said Andreas Nathues, the framing camera team lead at Max Planck. Since different minerals reflect light of different wavelengths to different degrees, the filters help reveal compositional differences that remain hidden without them. In addition, scientists calibrated the data so that the finest variations in brightness can be seen."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER - December 19, 2013
    Beatles Legend, Antiwar Author among Those Honored by Newly Named Mercury Craters

    "The International Astronomical Union (IAU) -- the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 -- recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to 10 impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after "deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years."

    The newly named craters are

    • Barney, for Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972), an American-French playwright, poet, and novelist.

    • Berlioz, for Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), a French Romantic composer best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts.

    • Calder, for Alexander Calder (1898-1976), an American sculptor best known as the originator of the mobile, a type of kinetic sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended components that move in response to motor power or air currents.

    • Capote, for Truman Capote (1924-1984), an American author whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction include the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true-crime novel In Cold Blood.

    • Caruso, for Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), an Italian tenor who sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas and appeared in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic.

    • Ensor, for James Sidney Ensor (1860-1949), a Belgian painter and printmaker, considered an important influence on expressionism and surrealism.

    • Giambologna, for Jean Boulogne Giambologna (1529-1608), a Dutch sculptor known for his marble and bronze statuary in a late Renaissance or Mannerist style.

    • Lennon, for John Winston Ono Lennon (1940-1980), an English songwriter, musician, and singer who rose to worldwide fame as a founding member of the Beatles, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in the history of popular music.

    • Remarque, for Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), a German author best known for his novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which depicted the horrors of war from the viewpoint of young German soldiers.

    • Vieira da Silva, for Maria Elena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992), a Portuguese-born French painter of intricate, semiabstract compositions.

    These ten newly named craters join 114 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft's first Mercury flyby in January 2008. More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey's planetary nomenclature web site: http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/.

    "The MESSENGER team is delighted that the IAU has named an additional 10 impact craters on Mercury," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University. "We are particularly pleased that eight of the 10 individuals honored made all or many of their artistic contributions in the Twentieth Century, the same century in which the MESSENGER mission was conceived, proposed, and approved for flight. Imagine."

    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.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - December 20, 2013

    Curiosity Team Upgrades Software, Checks Wheel Wear

    "The team operating NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed a software upgrade on the vehicle and is next planning a check of wear and tear on the rover's wheels.

    "Curiosity is now operating on version 11 of its flight software," said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, which operates Curiosity.

    This is the third upgrade version since Curiosity's landing on Mars16 months ago. Completing the switch from version 10 took about a week. An earlier switch to version 11 prompted an unintended reboot on Nov. 7 and a return to version 10, but the latest transition went smoothly.

    These upgrades allow continued advances in the rover's capabilities. For example, version 11 brings expanded capability for using the Curiosity's robotic arm while the vehicle is on slopes. It also improves flexibility for storing information overnight to use in resuming autonomous driving on a second day.

    An upcoming activity will be driving to a relatively smooth patch of ground to take a set of images of Curiosity's aluminum wheels, using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover's arm.

    "We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," Erickson said. "Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain. The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover's ability to drive. However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives."

    Curiosity's recent driving has crossed an area that has numerous sharp rocks embedded in the ground. Routes to future destinations for the mission may be charted to lessen the amount of travel over such rough terrain, compared to smoother ground nearby."

    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 07, 2013

    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: Communications Slow, But Expected to Return to Normal This Week - sols 3508-3509, Dec. 06, 2013-Dec. 07, 2013 :

    "Opportunity is up on 'Solander Point' at the rim of 'Endeavour Crater.'

    The rover is maintaining favorable northerly tilts for improved energy production. Mars Odyssey went into safe mode and was unable to provide relay support for Opportunity since Sol 3509 (Dec. 7, 2013). The rover was healthy as of that sol. A Direct-To-Earth (DTE) transmission from Opportunity occurred on Sol 3512 (Dec. 10, 2013), providing a small amount of rover telemetry. That telemetry indicated a healthy rover. A drive was sequenced for Opportunity on Sol 3512. The results of that drive will have to wait on the return to relay service of Odyssey.

    Odyssey exited safe-mode on Dec. 10, 2013, and is expected to return to relay service later this week.

    As of Sol 3509 (Dec. 7, 2013), the solar array energy production was 268 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.587 and a solar array dust factor of 0.468.

    Total odometry is 24.05 miles (38.70 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 10, 2013
    NASA Mars Spacecraft Reveals a More Dynamic Red Planet

    "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed to scientists slender dark markings -- possibly due to salty water -- that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly close to the Martian equator.

    "The equatorial surface region of Mars has been regarded as dry, free of liquid or frozen water, but we may need to rethink that," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson, principal investigator for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

    Tracking how these features recur each year is one example of how the longevity of NASA orbiters observing Mars is providing insight about changes on many time scales. Researchers at the American Geophysical Union meeting Tuesday in San Francisco discussed a range of current Martian activity, from fresh craters offering glimpses of subsurface ice to multi-year patterns in the occurrence of large, regional dust storms.

    The seasonally changing surface flows were first reported two years ago on mid-latitude southern slopes. They are finger-like features typically less than 16 feet (5 meters) wide that appear and extend down steep, rocky slopes during spring through summer, then fade in winter and return the next spring. Recently observed slopes stretch as long as 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)."

    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 - May 08, 2013
    Mars As Art Lands At Dulles Airport

    "The majestic beauty of the Red Planet is featured in a vivid collection of images taken by Mars spacecraft, now on exhibit at Dulles airport in Washington, DC through November 30."

    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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    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

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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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