Astronomy News for the Month of July 2013

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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.

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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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In this Newsletter...

Background screen credits: NGC5775 - Imaged March 21/22, 2001 using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope as part of the Advanced Observing Program.

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


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 are also included in the reports.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for July - Venus and Saturn are the dominant planets in the evening sky this month. Observe Venus as it steadily moves to the south along the horizon. Saturn can also be spotted in the southern part of the sky heading west. Mars and Jupiter rise early in the morning and Mercury follows these two by the end of July. Pluto, Neptune and Uranus rise in the late evening but are best viewed toward midnight when the skies are much darker. 2 pair of conjunctions appear back to back the 3rd week of July. Look for Venus and Regulus together on the evening of the 21st. On the morning of the 22nd, look for Mars and Jupiter together in the morning sky. Bid farewell to Comet PANSTARRS as this very dim fuzzball passes through Draco the Dragon.
Mercury - Is in inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 9th. Mercury is stationary on the 20th. Mercury is at greatest western elongation (20° above the eastern horizon) on the 30th. Mercury is visible during the last week of July, low on the eastern horizon. Mercury rises about 4:29 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is in the constellation of Gemini shining at magnitude 1.0 on the 31st.
Venus - Doesn't climb too high in the western sky this month but does appear to progress towards the south this month. This is due to the shallow angle of the ecliptic, making it appear that Venus is moving sideways. Venus and Regulus are in conjunction on the 22nd but look for them in the western sky after sunset on the 21st. Venus sets about 10:06 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:44 p.m. by month's end. Venus moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo shining at magnitude -3.9.
Earth - Is at aphelion (94.5 million miles from the Sun) at 11:00 a.m. EDT on the 5th.
Mars - Has returned to the morning sky, rising at 4:17 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:47 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mars and Jupiter in conjunction on the morning of the 22nd. Mars moves from the constellation of Taurus into Gemini this month shining at magnitude 1.6.
Jupiter - Rises at 5:00 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:29 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter passes within 1° of Mars on the morning of the 22nd. Jupiter is in the constellation of Gemini shining at magnitude -1.9.
Saturn - Sets at 2:02 a.m. on the 1st and about midnight by month's end. Look to the southwest about 30° above the horizon to spot Saturn in the evening. Due to Saturn's relatively slow progress through the evening sky, Saturn can be viewed in the evening skies before midnight all month. If you have a telescope, check out the ring system and Saturn's shadow across the backside of the rings as well. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.6.
Uranus - Is stationary on the 17th. Uranus rises at 12:52 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:46 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early morning sky after midnight. Spot Uranus with binoculars or a small telescope. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.
Neptune - Is also visible in the morning and late evening sky with a small telescope this month rising at 11:19 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:15 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres - Ceres sets at 11:26 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:07 p.m. by month's end. Ceres moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo shining at magnitude 8.6.
Pluto - Reaches opposition on the 1st, rising as the Sun sets. Pluto is also at peak visibility this month. Pluto is visible in the late evening and early morning sky this month once the skies darken sufficiently to be spotted. Dark sky conditions are always required for this one. The first week of July should be an excellent time for trying to observe Pluto. Pluto rises at 8:08 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:03 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.0.

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 Southern Delta Aquarids - This meteor shower has a duration of July 14 - August 18. Maximum hourly rates of 15-20 occur on July 27.

  • The Northern Delta Aquarids extends from July 16 to September 10. Maximum occurs on August 13. The hourly rates reach a high of 10.

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

  • Comets

  • Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS is still visible in the northern constellations making it observable all night long. However, shining at 10th magnitude, observers will need at least an 8 inch telescope and dark skies to spot Comet PANSTARRS. PANSTARRS passes from the constellations of Ursa Minor, through Draco and into Boötes. On the evening on the 17th, Comet PANSTARRS passes through the same field of view that 11th-magnitude spiral galaxy NGC 5678 appears.

  • 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

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Saturn in the evening sky in the southwest.
  • Watch Venus and Regulus meet on the evening of the 21st.
  • Catch Jupiter, and Mars on the morning of the 22nd.
  • Comet PANSTARRS is barely visible all night in the northern sky.
  • A couple of meteor showers are visible at the end of this month.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)

    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 - June 18, 2013
    Cassini to Take Photo of Earth from Deep Space

    "PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Cassini spacecraft, now exploring Saturn, will take a picture of our home planet from a distance of hundreds of millions of miles on July 19. NASA is inviting the public to help acknowledge the historic interplanetary portrait as it is being taken.

    Earth will appear as a small, pale blue dot between the rings of Saturn in the image, which will be part of a mosaic, or multi-image portrait, of the Saturn system Cassini is composing.

    "While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini's vantage point 898 million [1.44 billion kilometers] away, the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We hope you'll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity."

    Cassini will start obtaining the Earth part of the mosaic at 2:27 p.m. PDT (5:27 p.m. EDT or 21:27 UTC) and end about 15 minutes later, all while Saturn is eclipsing the sun from Cassini's point of view. The spacecraft's unique vantage point in Saturn's shadow will provide a special scientific opportunity to look at the planet's rings. At the time of the photo, North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean will be in sunlight."

    Raw images are available at

    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 - June 22, 2013
    New Horizons within 6 astronomical units of Pluto!
    Where Is New Horizons?

    "The computer-generated images below are simulated views of New Horizons' location in the solar system. The images were created using the Satellite Tool Kit (STK) software, which was developed by Analytical Graphics, Inc. Images are updated every hour.

    Click here to follow New Horizons as it passes each planet's orbit, starting with our own Moon.

    Current Position

    This image shows New Horizons' current position. The green segment of the line shows where New Horizons has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft's path toward Pluto and beyond. Positions of stars with magnitude 12 or brighter are shown from this perspective, which is above the Sun and "north" of Earth's orbit.

    What Is an AU? The graphics on these pages note New Horizons' distance from Earth, Jupiter and Pluto in AU, or Astronomical Units. One AU is the average distance between the Sun and Earth, about 93 million miles or 149.6 million kilometers.

    Heliocentric Velocity. The current position graphic also notes the spacecraft's heliocentric velocity - its speed with respect to the Sun - in kilometers per second. One kilometer per second is equivalent to 0.62 miles per second, or 2,237 miles per hour.

    What Is 2002 JF56? On June 13, 2006, New Horizons passed approximately 102,000 kilometers (nearly 63,500 miles) from asteroid 2002 JF56, a small, relatively unknown body less than 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter. At that distance, the asteroid was so small that the Ralph imager could just barely resolve it. (The higher-resolution LORRI camera couldn't open its door until late August, to guard against accidental Sun pointing. So while LORRI could have resolved the asteroid, the camera couldn't observe it for safety reasons.)

    But the "encounter" with 2002 JF56 was still highly useful to New Horizons. The team successfully tested Ralph's optical navigation and moving-target-tracking capabilities, using this flight test to gain valuable experience in tracking moving targets for the Jupiter and Pluto flybys.

    In January 2007 the asteroid was renamed "APL" in honor of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's leading role in New Horizons and other NASA missions.

    Full Trajectory: Overhead View

    This image shows New Horizons' current position along its full planned trajectory. The green segment of the line shows where New Horizons has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft's future path. Positions of stars with magnitude 12 or brighter are shown from this perspective, which is above the Sun and "north" of Earth's orbit.

    Full Trajectory - Side View

    This image shows New Horizons' current position along its full planned trajectory. The green segment of the line shows where New Horizons has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft's future path. Positions of stars with magnitude 12 or brighter are shown from this perspective, which is slightly above the orbital plane of the planets."

    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 - March 25, 2013
    NASA Scientists Find Moon and Asteroids Share Cosmic History

    "NASA and international researchers have discovered that Earth's moon has more in common than previously thought with large asteroids roaming our solar system.

    Scientists from NASA's Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), Moffett Field, Calif., discovered that the same population of high-speed projectiles that impacted our lunar neighbor four billion years ago, also hit the asteroid Vesta and perhaps other large asteroids.

    The research unveils an unexpected link between Vesta and the moon, and provides new means for studying the early bombardment history of terrestrial planets. The findings are published in the March issue of Nature Geoscience.

    "It's always intriguing when interdisciplinary research changes the way we understand the history of our solar system," said Yvonne Pendleton, NLSI director. "Although the moon is located far from Vesta, which is in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, they seem to share some of the same bombardment history."

    The findings support the theory that the repositioning of gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn from their original orbits to their current location destabilized portions of the asteroid belt and triggered a solar system-wide bombardment of asteroids billions of years ago called the lunar cataclysm.

    The research provides new constraints on the start and duration of the lunar cataclysm, and demonstrates that the cataclysm was an event that affected not only the inner solar system planets, but the asteroid belt as well."

    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 - June 21, 2013
    International Astronomical Union Approves Ten New Names for 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 famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities. The newly named craters are

    Bechet, for Sidney Bechet (1897-1959), an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. Bechet was one of the first important soloists in jazz and was perhaps the first notable jazz saxophonist.

    Damer, for Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828), an English sculptor. Damer produced busts in Neoclassical style, and her subjects were drawn largely from friends and colleagues in Whig circles, including Lady Melbourne and King George III.

    David, for Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), an influential French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of his era.

    Duccio, for Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1318), an Italian artist, active in the city of Siena in Tuscany, where he was born, in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

    Erté, for Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), a Russian-born French artist and designer known by the pseudonym Erté, the French pronunciation of his initials, R.T. Erté flourished in a variety of fields, including fashion, jewelry, graphic arts, costume, and set design for film, theater, and opera, and interior decor.

    Larrocha, for Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009), a Spanish pianist considered one of great piano legends of the 20th century. Larrocha won multiple Grammy Awards, a Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, and in 1995 she became the first Spanish artist to win the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Prize.

    Laxness, for Halldór Kiljan Laxness (1902-1998), a twentieth-century Icelandic writer of poetry, newspaper articles, plays, travelogues, short stories, and novels. Laxness received the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature and is the only Icelandic Nobel laureate.

    Monk, for Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982), an American jazz pianist and composer, considered one of the giants of American music. Monk made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "'Round Midnight" and "Straight, No Chaser."

    Rikyu, for Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), a Japanese Tea Master who was the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including rustic simplicity, directness of approach, and honesty of self.

    Varma, for Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), an Indian artist recognized for his depiction of scenes from the two great epics of India: the Mahabharata and Ramayana. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art.

    These ten newly named craters join 104 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:"

    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.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - June 21, 2013
    NASA Announces Winners of 2012 George M. Low Award

    "WASHINGTON -- Two companies that share a commitment to teamwork, technical and managerial excellence, safety, and customer service have been selected to receive NASA's premier honor for quality and performance, the George M. Low Award.

    NASA recognizes URS Federal Technical Services Inc. of Germantown, Md., in the large business award category and ATA Engineering Inc. of San Diego in the small business award category. ATA Engineering Inc. was involved in the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission.

    "NASA's industry partners are crucial in our work to reach new destinations and expand our nation's capabilities, and we're happy to recognize these two companies with the high honor of the George M. Low Award," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Their success both in space and on the ground has demonstrated excellence and innovation that will help us reach our challenging goals and keep America the leader in space exploration."

    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) - June 24, 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: Opportunity Exceeds 37 Kilometers of Odometry! - sols 3345-3350, Jun. 21, 2013-Jun. 24, 2013 :

    "Opportunity is in good health, although the robotic arm elbow joint potentiometer is acting up.

    On Sol 3346 (June 22, 2013), the rover continued the trek toward 'Solander Point' with a 295-foot (90-meter) drive due south. On Sol 3347 (June 23, 2013), Opportunity imaged the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) bit to assess remaining bit life. On the next sol, Opportunity exceeded 23 miles (37 kilometers) of odometry with a 318-feet (97-meter) drive. On Sol 3349 (June 25, 2013), a long drive was planned, but was terminated after only 207 feet (63 meters) when the potentiometer on the robotic arm elbow indicated an unexpected motion, stopping the drive. This potentiometer is a sensor that can indicate if the arm has moved, which is not intended during a drive. Investigation of the joint and the use of before and after images showed no joint motion.

    A drive was planned on Sol 3350 (June 26, 2013), and stopped almost immediately due to an even larger anomalous reading of that same potentiometer. The plan ahead is to conduct a set of diagnostics on the joint potentiometer.

    As of Sol 3350 (June 26, 2013), the solar array energy production was 457 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.805 and a solar array dust factor of 0.607.

    Total odometry is 23.05 miles (37.09 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - June 12, 2013
    Mars Water-Ice Clouds Are Key to Odd Thermal Rhythm

    "PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found that temperatures in the Martian atmosphere regularly rise and fall not just once each day, but twice.

    "We see a temperature maximum in the middle of the day, but we also see a temperature maximum a little after midnight," said Armin Kleinboehl of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who is the lead author of a new report on these findings.

    Temperatures swing by as much as 58 degrees Fahrenheit (32 kelvins) in this odd, twice-a-day pattern, as detected by the orbiter's Mars Climate Sounder instrument.

    The new set of Mars Climate Sounder observations sampled a range of times of day and night all over Mars. The observations found that the pattern is dominant globally and year-round. The report is being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

    Global oscillations of wind, temperature and pressure repeating each day or fraction of a day are called atmospheric tides. In contrast to ocean tides, they are driven by variation in heating between day and night. Earth has atmospheric tides, too, but the ones on Earth produce little temperature difference in the lower atmosphere away from the ground. On Mars, which has only about one percent as much atmosphere as Earth, they dominate short-term temperature variations throughout the atmosphere.

    Tides that go up and down once per day are called "diurnal." The twice-a-day ones are called "semi-diurnal." The semi-diurnal pattern on Mars was first seen in the 1970s, but until now it had been thought to appear just in dusty seasons, related to sunlight warming dust in the atmosphere.

    "We were surprised to find this strong twice-a-day structure in the temperatures of the non-dusty Mars atmosphere," Kleinboehl said. "While the diurnal tide as a dominant temperature response to the day-night cycle of solar heating on Mars has been known for decades, the discovery of a persistent semi-diurnal response even outside of major dust storms was quite unexpected, and caused us to wonder what drove this response."

    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.)

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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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    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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