Astronomy News for the Month of January 2017

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An Open Invitation

For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League's 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WB0WDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar nodes 28298, 28299 and 29436. We are also linked via Echolink, links are k0jsc-r and canoncty. More information on the WB0WDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

Interested in obtaining your Amateur Radio (Ham) License or your General Radio Operator's Licence (GROL)? Visit the South Metro VE Team website for more information. The South Metro VE Team provides test sessions on the 1st Saturday of each month at our new Eagle Street Facility, The City of Centennial, 7272 South Eagle Street, Centennial, Colorado 80112-4244 from 9am until 1pm.

The Colorado Astronomy Net is now on Facebook.
Please be sure to "Like" us!

 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
of the JPL Solar System Ambassador/NASA Outreach program.

For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador website.
(Click on the logo to link to the JPL SSA homepage.)

In this Newsletter...

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

15 day moon

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 January

"A slender crescent Moon hangs near dazzling Venus on the first evening of 2017. The nighttime's two brightest objects share the southwestern sky with Mars and Neptune, while Uranus lies much higher in the south. January mornings feature a trio of bright planets, with brilliant Jupiter leading the way for Saturn and Mercury." Astronomy Magazine, January 2017, p. 36.


Is stationary on the 8th. Mercury is at greatest western elongation (24° east of the Sun) on the 19th. Look for Mercury in the pre-dawn skies about 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury rises at 6:33 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:02 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is in the constellation of Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude -0.2 on the 15th.


Is at greatest eastern elongation (47° west of the Sun) on the 12th. Venus sets at 8:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:10 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 -4.6.


Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) at 9 a.m. EST on the 4th.


Sets at 9:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:31 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars about 30 minutes or so after sunset to the southwest. Mars moves from the constellation of Aquarius into Pisces shining at magnitude 1.0.


Rises about 12:56 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:00 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the early morning to the south before sunrise. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -2.0.


Rises at 5:52 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:04 a.m. by month's end. Saturn is visible in the early morning sky before sunrise to the southeast. Saturn is in the constellation of Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 0.5.


Sets at 1:00 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:57 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the evening skies this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.


Sets at 9:32 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:35 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is visible in the evening sky after the skies darken after sunset. Look for Neptune passing within 0.5° of Mars, Venus and the Moon this month. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets


Sets at 1:00 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:29 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is visible in the evening this month. Ceres moves from the constellation of Cetus into Pisces shining at magnitude 8.8.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 7th. Pluto is not visible this month as it is lost in the twilight glow of the Sun all month. Pluto moves into the morning sky after the 7th but will not be visible until late January or early February.Pluto sets at 5:13 p.m. on the 1st. Pluto rises about 5:40 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

  • 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.

    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

    "January begins a run of seven months that will feature five comets glowing at 7th magnitude or brighter. First up: Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, which lights up the evening sky in early January. Set up and be ready to view by 6 p.m. local time, when the comet lies 10° high in the southwest. There's only an hourlong window before 45P dips below the horizon." Astronomy Magazine, January 2017, p. 42.

  • 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

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    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, Saturn and Mercury in the morning skies before sunrise.
  • Try to spot some of the Quadrantids meteors streaking through the night sky during the first week on the month.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Melpomene is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Vesta is at opposition on the 17th between the constellations of Cancer and Gemini.
    • Eunomia is in the constellation of Sextans.
    • Irene is in the constellation of Leo.
    • Metis is in the constellation of Leo.
    • Amphitrite is in the constellation of Virgo.

    • 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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    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 - December 13, 2016
    Juno Captures Jupiter 'Pearl'

    Full Article & Images

    "This image, taken by the JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft, highlights the seventh of eight features forming a 'string of pearls' on Jupiter -- massive counterclockwise rotating storms that appear as white ovals in the gas giant's southern hemisphere. Since 1986, these white ovals have varied in number from six to nine. There are currently eight white ovals visible."

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

    The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

    Cassini - December 29, 2016
    Cassini Significant Events 12/14/16 - 12/27/16

    Full Article & Images

    "While steeply orbiting Saturn twice during these past two weeks, Cassini's activities were just about as numerous as during any other two-week period. The science and engineering teams squeezed in some time off during the holidays, but they also managed to accomplish all the work that Cassini requires in real time, including the largest B-branch Reaction Control System maneuver to date, while continuing to develop command sequences that will control Cassini over the months to come."

    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

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

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

    New Horizons - December 02, 2016
    Scientists Probe Mystery of Pluto's Icy Heart

    Full Article & Images

    "Was Pluto's frozen heart formed in an ancient impact basin and was it once closer to the north pole? And does the icy heart conceal a subsurface ocean?

    Scientists are offering several new scenarios to explain the formation of Pluto's frozen heart-shaped feature, first spotted by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Researchers have focused on the heart's western lobe, informally named Sputnik Planitia, a deep basin containing three kinds of ices -- frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide -- and appearing opposite Charon, Pluto's large, tidally locked moon. While many scientists suspect that the western half of Pluto's heart formed within a basin created long ago by the impact of a large Kuiper Belt object onto Pluto, at least one new scenario requires no impact."

    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.


    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:

    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    (Click Link above for Full Article & Images)


    "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 -

    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 - 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 - December 21, 2016
    Sols 1566-1568: Preparing for the holidays

    Full Article & Images

    "Today was our last tactical planning day before the team takes a break over the holidays. But that doesn't mean that Curiosity will be resting! A group of science team members and operations staff assembled an 8-sol plan that will execute over December 22-30, focused on environmental monitoring and change detection. Today's tactical planning was aimed at creating a 3-sol plan that will take place over New Year's, from December 31 - January 2. When we return to normal operations on January 3, we'll dive right back in to a campaign investigating some interesting fracture patterns at "Old Soaker," seen in the Mastcam image above."

    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) - December 13, 2016

    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: Rover Performs Several Drives to Ancient Gully - sols 4576-4582, December 07, 2016-December 13, 2016: :

    "Opportunity is making progress towards the next science objective of the extended mission. The rover is headed toward an ancient water-carved gully about a kilometer south of the rover's current location on the rim of Endeavour Crater.

    The recent plans have emphasized driving. On Sol 4577 (Dec. 8, 2016), Opportunity intended a 59-feet (18-meter) drive to the southwest. However, the rover only achieved just over 39 feet (12 meters). The rover was using visual odometry (VO) to monitor her progress. After the 12-meters of progress VO failed to resolve surface features sufficiently to establish progress and stopped the drive. This is not uncommon when the local terrain around the rover may have few features or shadows of the rover confuse the algorithm.

    On Sol 4580 (Dec. 11, 2016), the rover made further progress to the southwest covering over 49 feet (15 meters). Because the rover is driving on slopes tilted away from the Sun, power has been constrained and drives limited in distance. Some sols following the drives have been 'recharge' sols, sols with limited rover activity. Another drive on Sol 4582 (Dec. 13, 2016), added another 56 feet (17 meters) again towards the southwest. And as always, extensive Navigation Camera (Navcam) and Panoramic Camera (Pancam) images have been collected following each drive.

    As of Sol 4582 (Dec. 13, 2016), the solar array energy production is 411 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.836 and a solar array dust factor of 0.675.

    Total odometry is 27.12 miles (43.65 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 20, 2016
    Small Troughs Growing on Mars May Become 'Spiders'

    Full Article & Image

    "Erosion-carved troughs that grow and branch during multiple Martian years may be infant versions of larger features known as Martian "spiders," which are radially patterned channels found only in the south polar region of Mars."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - December 28, 2016
    Orbiter Recovering from Precautionary Pause in Activity

    Full Article and Images

    "NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been in service at Mars since October 2001, put itself into safe mode -- a protective standby status -- on Dec. 26, while remaining in communication with Earth.

    The Odyssey project team has diagnosed the cause -- an uncertainty aboard the spacecraft about its orientation with regard to Earth and the sun -- and is restoring the orbiter to full operations. Odyssey's communication-relay service for assisting Mars rover missions is expected to resume this week, and Odyssey's own science investigations of the Red Planet are expected to resume next week.

    The orbiter's knowledge of its orientation was restored Dec. 26 by resetting the inertial measurement unit and the circuit card that serves as interface between that sensor, the flight software and the star tracker, for determining spacecraft attitude. The mission last experienced a similar fault and solution in December 2013."

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

    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.

    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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