Astronomy News for the Month of January 2020

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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 WØWYX 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WBØWDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar node 28368. We are also linked via Echolink - canoncty - courtesy of KØJSC and KØGUR. More information on the WBØWDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at We are also linked with Allstar nodes in Florida as well, courtesy of KA4EPS. The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

Obtain your Amateur Radio (Ham) License or your General Radio Operator's License (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 at 9am.

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 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.
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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.

Meteors galore on 2020's first weekend
"The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks before dawn January 4, when the Moon conveniently lies below the horizon. This image shows a sporadic meteor caught above a lake in the Sierra Nevada a couple of days after the 2014 Quadrantids. The random meteor was streaking through the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen." Sky This Week - Astronomy website
Tony Rowell

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

04 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 "TheSkyX" 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

"As 2020 opens, Venus lights up the south-western sky starting soon after sunset. It undergoes a rare close conjunction with Neptune during January's final week, when the two worlds appear within the same fields of view. But Neptune and its outer solar system sibling, Uranus, remain relatively easy evening targets all month. Most of the other planets inhabit the pre-dawn sky. Mars rises first and climbs clear of the southeastern horizon by the time twilight begins, while Jupiter and Saturn reappear in late January." Astronomy Magazine, January 2020, P. 36.


Is in superior conjunction on the 10th. Mercury rises at 7:06 a.m. on the 1st. After the 10th, Mercury returns to the evening sky, but is not visible until the last week of the month, low on the western horizon soon after sunset. Mercury sets around 6:32 p.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Aquarius this month shining at magnitude -1.0 on the 31st.


Sets at 7:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:40 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus soon after sunset to the southwest. On the evening of the 27th, Venus passes within 0.08° of Neptune. Both planets can be spotted in the same field of view with a modest telescope. Venus moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Aquarius shining at magnitude -4.0 on the 15th.

Earth Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 5th.

Rises at 4:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:49 a.m. by month's end. Look to the southeast about an hour before sunrise to spot Mars. Mars moves from the constellation of Libra into Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 1.5.


Rises at 7:06 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:30 a.m. by month's end. Having passed conjunction late last month, Jupiter is not visible until the last week of January. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -1.9 on the 31st.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. Saturn sets at 5:34 p.m. on the 1st. Saturn rises around 6:14 a.m. by month's end. Saturn is lost in both the evening and morning twilight glow for most of the month. Saturn is barely visible during the last few days of the month just minutes before sunrise, but may be too low to spot. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.6 on the 31st.


Is stationary on the 11th. Uranus sets at 2:03 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:02 a.m. by month's end. By the time the Sun sets and the skies darken, Uranus is high in the south and can be seen through a good pair of binoculars. Uranus is in the constellation of Aries shining at magnitude 5.8.


Sets at 10:07 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:09 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune to the southwest early in the evening. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. Ceres is not visible this month as it is lost in the evening and morning twilight glow of the Sun. Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 9.0.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. Pluto s not visible this month as it is lost in the evening and morning twilight glow of the Sun. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.4.

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.

    This year, meteor experts are predicting 2 meteors per minute during the short peak duration of several hours after the Moon sets around 1 a.m. local time on the 4th for North American observers.

    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. Try other frequencies as well... 6m FT8 digital - 50.313 Mhz & 50.276 Mhz, JP-65 digital mode and the carrier frequencies of the lower VHF bands for TV channels 2, 3 & 4.

  • Comets

  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2017 T2) should glow around 9th magnitude this month as it passes between the constellations of Cassiopeia and Perseus. An 8-inch telescope should be able to pick out this dim object from the suburbs. The best time to observe the comet will start around mid-month. On the evenings of the 26/27 the comet passes about 1° north to the Double Cluster in Cassiopeia.

  • 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

  • Look for Venus in the early evening sky soon after sunset.
  • Follow Neptune and Uranus in the evening as well.
  • Look for Mars in the early morning before sunrise.
  • Watch the Quadrantids meteor shower during the first week of the new year.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Cetus (in the tail).
    • Davida is at opposition on the 14th in the constellation of Gemini.
    • Astraea is at opposition on the 20th in the constellation of Cancer.

    • 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)

    JPL Latest News
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    December 27, 2019
    Media Meet NASA's Mars 2020 Rover and Builders

    Full Article & Images

    "Members of the media walked the clean-room floor at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 27 to glimpse the agency's Mars 2020 rover and speak with experts working on the mission. It was the media's only opportunity to see the rover from inside the clean room prior to its shipment to Cape Canaveral in February."

    Read the latest news and discoveries from JPL's dozens of active space missions exploring Earth, the solar system and worlds beyond.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions.

    For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador web site.

    Juno - December 12, 2019
    NASA's Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery

    Full Article & Images

    "Jupiter's south pole has a new cyclone. The discovery of the massive Jovian tempest occurred on Nov. 3, 2019, during the most recent data-gathering flyby of Jupiter by NASA's Juno spacecraft. It was the 22nd flyby during which the solar-powered spacecraft collected science data on the gas giant, soaring only 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) above its cloud tops. The flyby also marked a victory for the mission team, whose innovative measures kept the solar-powered spacecraft clear of what could have been a mission-ending eclipse."

    Images from NASA's JunoCam.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: Juno and Mission Juno.

    The public can follow the Juno mission on Facebook and Twitter.

    New Horizons - December 6, 2019
    The PI's Perspective: What a Year, What a Decade!

    Full Article & Images

    "New Horizons is healthy and performing well as it flies ever onward, at nearly one million miles per day! This month we're collecting new data on the Kuiper Belt's charged particle and dust environment, and observing two distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) to learn about their surface properties, shapes and rotation periods, and to search for satellite systems."

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store.

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

    Dawn - April 10, 2019
    NASA's Dawn Mission Honored by Space Foundation

    Full Article & Images

    "The Space Foundation presented NASA's Dawn mission with the 2019 John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration at the opening ceremony of the foundation's 35th Space Symposium on April 8, 2019.

    Dawn is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Project Manager Marc Rayman of JPL and Dave Gallagher, associate director for strategic integration at JPL, accepted the award in front of about a thousand symposium attendees in Colorado Springs, Colorado."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    TESS - December 31, 2019
    NASA to Announce New Discoveries at Annual Astronomy Meeting

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA researchers will present new findings on a wide range of astrophysics and other space science topics at the 235th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Saturday, Jan. 4, through Wednesday, Jan. 8, in Honolulu. NASA-related briefings will stream live on the agency’s website."

    For more information on the TESS mission, visit the Latest Tess Stories page.

    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 Daily Weather Report

    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 combines all aspects of space exploration through our expertise in science, engineering, mission operations, and scientific data analysis. As part of CU, LASP also works to educate and train the next generation of space scientists, engineers and mission operators by integrating undergraduate and graduate students into working teams. Our students take their unique experiences with them into government or industry, or remain in academia to continue the cycle of exploration.

    LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    LASP/MAVEN - December 12, 2019
    Brilliant Martian aurora sheds light on Mars' changing climate

    Full Article & Images

    "A type of Martian aurora first identified by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft in 2016 is actually the most common form of aurora occurring on the Red Planet, according to new results from the mission. The aurora is known as a proton aurora and can help scientists track water loss from Mars' atmosphere."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - December 10, 2019
    Two Rovers to Roll on Mars Again: Curiosity and Mars 2020

    Full Article & Images

    "Curiosity won't be NASA's only active Mars rover for much longer. Next summer, Mars 2020 will be headed for the Red Planet. While the newest rover borrows from Curiosity's design, they aren't twins: Built and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, each has its own role in the ongoing exploration of Mars and the search for ancient life. Here's a closer look at what sets the siblings apart."

    Follow the Mars Curiosity rover on Foursquare.

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare.

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 10, 2019
    NASA's Treasure Map for Water Ice on Mars

    Full Article & Image

    "NASA has big plans for returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024, a stepping stone on the path to sending humans to Mars. But where should the first people on the Red Planet land?

    A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters will help by providing a map of water ice believed to be as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) below the surface."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - August 23, 2019
    What's Mars Solar Conjunction, and Why Does It Matter?

    Full Article and Images

    "The daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks.

    That's because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers."

    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 - InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars - November 6, 2019
    Common Questions about InSight's 'Mole'

    Full Article and Images

    "Q: Why can't you pick up the 'mole' and move it to another spot?

    A: The mole is part of the instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, and was designed to be housed within HP3's support structure. The support structure of HP3 was outfitted with a knob, or "grapple point," that the robotic arm can grasp in order to move it from the lander's deck onto the Martian surface. Designed to be housed within the support structure, the mole itself has no grapple point and was not intended to be grasped or moved.

    Even if the mole could be moved, relocating it would be an unlikely solution. The team is confident that the probe has been unable to dig because the soil doesn't provide enough friction. Anywhere you move the mole near the lander would likely pose the same problem. The strategy of "pinning" -- pressing the robotic arm's scoop against the side of the mole -- compensates for that lack of friction and helped the mole progress downward in early October."

    Interactive selection of raw images taken by the cameras aboard InSight.

    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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