Astronomy News for the Month of July 2014


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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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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 Advanced Observing Program.


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


04

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 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 July

Begin the month by observing Jupiter during the first couple of days of July. Jupiter will disappear by the second week, returning to the morning skies next month. Find Mars in the southwest followed by Saturn. If you can get to a nice dark sky viewing site and a large telescope, Pluto will appear at its best for the year early in the month. Look for Neptune and Uranus in the early morning hours. Venus and Mercury can be spotted before sunrise. The Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower peaks at the end of the month.

Mercury

Is stationary on the 1st. Mercury is at greatest western elongation (21° above the eastern horizon) on the 12th. Mercury is visible, low on the eastern horizon about 90 minutes before sunrise for the most part of July. Mercury rises at 4:50 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:17 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Taurus into Cancer shining at magnitude 0.0.

Venus

Rises at 3:39 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:10 a.m. by month's end. Venus will be easy to spot moving from the constellation Taurus into Gemini shining at magnitude -3.8.

Earth

Is at aphelion (94.5 million miles from the Sun) on the 3rd.

Mars

Sets at 1:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:38 p.m. by month's end. Observe Mars with binoculars or a small telescope in the evening skies. Mars is in the constellation of Virgo this month shining at magnitude 0.2.

Jupiter

Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 24th. Jupiter sets at 9:33 p.m. on the 1st. Jupiter rises about 5: 32 a.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter within a half hour of sunset during the first couple of days of July. Jupiter moves from the constellation of Gemini into Cancer shining at magnitude -1.8.

Saturn

Is stationary on the 21st. Saturn sets at 2:37 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:34 a.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn in the southwest soon after sunset. View Saturn through a telescope to truly appreciate the planet and its ring system tilted at 21° to our viewing angle. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.4.

Uranus

Is stationary on the 22nd. Uranus rises at 1:02 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:56 p.m. by month's end. Look for Uranus in the early morning skies after midnight. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.

Neptune

Rises at 11:25 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:22 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the late evening and early morning skies. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Sets at 2:51 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:54 a.m. by month's end. Ceres and Vesta, the two brightest asteroids, travel the closest they have ever been since their discovery. During the first week of July, the pair close from 19 minutes of arc to within 10 minutes of arc (1/3 the size of the full moon). On the evenings of the 4th and 5th, both Ceres and Vesta can be spotted within the same field of view in a telescope. Ceres is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 8.4, Vesta shines at magnitude 7.1 (about 3 times brighter than Ceres).

Pluto

Reaches opposition on the morning of the 4th. Pluto is at its best visibility this month. Pluto rises at 8:19 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:15 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

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 Southern Delta Aquarids - This meteor shower has a duration of July 14 - August 18. Maximum hourly rates of 15-20 occur on July 28/29.

  • 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

  • Look for Comet PANSTARRS (C/2012 K1) passing through Leo the Lion his month. Comet PANSTARRS C/2012 K1 is expected to brighten to around 7th or 8th magnitude in July. A 4 inch or larger telescope will still be needed to spot the comet early in the month before it becomes more difficult to spot as the Moon continues to brighten.

  • 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

  • Look for Jupiter after sunset during the first week of the month.
  • Next, look for Mars and Saturn to the southwest.
  • Pluto may be visible with large scopes later at night.
  • Find Neptune and Uranus in the early morning sky.
  • Observe Venus and Mercury in the early morning sky before sunrise.
  • Try to spot some of the Southern Delta Aquarids streaking through the evening and morning skies later in the month.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Pallus is in the constellation of Leo.
    • Vesta in the constellation of Virgo.
    • Amphitrite is in the constellation of Sagittarius.
    • Psyche is in the constellation of Capricornus.
    • Victoria is in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Hebe is in the constellation of Pisces.

    • 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 - June 25, 2014
    Cassini Celebrates 10 Years Exploring Saturn

    "It has been a decade since a robotic traveler from Earth first soared over rings of ice and fired its engine to fall forever into the embrace of Saturn. On June 30, the Cassini mission will celebrate 10 years of exploring the planet, its rings and moons.

    The Cassini spacecraft, carrying the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004, for a four-year primary mission. Since 2008, NASA has granted the mission three extensions, allowing scientists an unprecedented opportunity to observe seasonal changes as the planet and its retinue completed one-third of their nearly 30-year-long trek around the sun.

    "Having a healthy, long-lived spacecraft at Saturn has afforded us a precious opportunity," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "By having a decade there with Cassini, we have been privileged to witness never-before-seen events that are changing our understanding of how planetary systems form and what conditions might lead to habitats for life."

    After 10 years at Saturn, the stalwart spacecraft has beamed back to Earth hundreds of gigabytes of scientific data, enabling the publication of more than 3,000 scientific reports. Representing just a sampling, 10 of Cassini's top accomplishments and discoveries are:

    • The Huygens probe makes first landing on a moon in the outer solar system (Titan)
    • Discovery of active, icy plumes on the Saturnian moon Enceladus
    • Saturn's rings revealed as active and dynamic -- a laboratory for how planets form
    • Titan revealed as an Earth-like world with rain, rivers, lakes and seas
    • Studies of Saturn's great northern storm of 2010-2011
    • Studies reveal radio-wave patterns are not tied to Saturn's interior rotation, as previously thought
    • Vertical structures in the rings imaged for the first time
    • Study of prebiotic chemistry on Titan
    • Mystery of the dual, bright-dark surface of the moon Iapetus solved
    • First complete view of the north polar hexagon and discovery of giant hurricanes at both of Saturn's poles

    "It's incredibly difficult to sum up 10 extraordinary years of discovery in a short list, but it's an interesting exercise to think about what the mission will be best remembered for many years in the future," Spilker said.

    Further details about each of these top-10 discoveries are available at:
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/cassinifeatures/10thannivdiscoveries/

    In celebration of the 10th anniversary, members of the Cassini team selected some of their favorite images for a gallery, describing in their own words what makes the images special to them. The gallery is available at:
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/cassinifeatures/10thannivimages/

    While Cassini was originally approved for a four-year study of the Saturn system, the project's engineers and scientists had high hopes that the mission might carry on longer, and designed the system for endurance. The spacecraft has been remarkably trouble-free, and from an engineering standpoint, the main limiting factor for Cassini's lifetime now is how much propellant is left in its tanks. The mission owes a great deal of its longevity to skillful and efficient piloting by the mission's navigation and operations teams.

    "Our team has done a fantastic job optimizing trajectories to save propellant, and we've learned to operate the spacecraft to get the most out of it that we possibly can," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "We're proud to celebrate a decade of exploring Saturn, and we look forward to many discoveries still 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. More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:
    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov "

    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 - June 23, 2014

    The PI's Perspective
    What If Voyager Had Explored Pluto?

    "As I mentioned in my previous PI Perspective, New Horizons crosses the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet explored by the Voyager mission, late this August. Voyager's flyby of Neptune was in August 1989, 25 years ago!

    Across flights launched in 1977 and spanning the entirety of the 1980s, Voyagers 1 and 2 performed the historic, first detailed reconnaissance of our solar system's four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus). The essentially identical Voyagers were launched with a core mission to explore the Jupiter and Saturn systems, and each spacecraft carried a powerful and diverse scientific instrument suite. After Saturn, Voyager 2 was tasked with reconnoitering Uranus and Neptune during an extended mission.

    Although Pluto's orbital position relative to Neptune made it impossible for Voyager 2 to travel to it from Neptune, Voyager 1 actually could have reached Pluto after its Saturn flyby, had it been targeted to do so. In fact, NASA and the Voyager project actually considered this option, but eliminated it in 1980 -- going instead with the very exiting but lower-risk opportunity to investigate Saturn's large, scientifically enticing, cloud-enshrouded and liquid-bearing moon Titan.

    But if Voyager 1 had been sent to Pluto, it would have arrived in the spring of 1986, just after Voyager 2's exploration of Uranus that January. As New Horizons approaches Pluto in 2015, it's fun to think what we might have found almost 30 years ago had Voyager 1 - rather than New Horizons - been first to Pluto."

    What is Pluto?

    On 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 - June 5, 2014
    NASA Helps 'Angry Birds Space' Find Asteroids Deeper in Space

    "After a couple of years and hundreds of millions of downloads, the space-based struggle between birds and pigs moves beyond the International Space Station and Mars, and deeper into the final frontier. The latest update from Rovio Entertainment sends Angry Birds Space into NASA's next target for future human exploration - asteroids!

    "Beak Impact" takes flight Thursday. It is a new astronomical struggle that blends the excitement of the world's most popular mobile gaming application with the science, technology, and information surrounding the agency's future missions into deep space.

    "The collaboration with Rovio and Angry Birds Space is an extraordinary opportunity to reach millions of gamers and use the fictional universe to point players to real information about asteroids, why NASA studies them and how they fit into our exploration path to Mars," said David Weaver, associate administrator for the Office of Communications at Headquarters in Washington. "It is a great opportunity to educate, inform, and even inspire players about space exploration, all while playing one of the most popular interactive games ever created."

    The agency has embarked on an important mission to detect, track, and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten our home planet. And a part of NASA's effort to send humans to Mars is to capture and explore an asteroid. Hidden in the various levels of "Beak Impact" are direct links to NASA information about the spacecraft and missions that will tell us more about these celestial bodies."

    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 17, 2014
    MESSENGER Modifies Orbit to Prepare for Low-Altitude Campaign

    "MESSENGER successfully completed the first orbit-correction maneuver of its Second Extended Mission this morning to raise its minimum altitude above Mercury from 113.9 kilometers (70.8 miles) to 155.1 kilometers (96.4 miles). This maneuver is the first of four designed to modify the spacecraft's orbit around Mercury so as to delay the spacecraft's inevitable impact onto Mercury's surface and allow scientists to continue to gather novel information about the innermost planet.

    During the primary phase of the MESSENGER mission, the spacecraft's orbit around Mercury was highly eccentric, drifting between 200 and 500 kilometers (124 to 311 miles) above Mercury's surface at closest approach, and between 15,200 and 14,900 kilometers (9,445 to 9,258 miles) above the surface at its farthest point, and completing an orbit every 12 hours. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, conducted several spacecraft maneuvers to counter the perturbing forces that caused MESSENGER's lowest orbital altitude to drift upward, away from its preferred observing geometry, and early in MESSENGER's First Extended Mission conducted a pair of maneuvers to reduce the orbital period to eight hours.

    "In this final phase of the mission, the opposite effect is happening," explained the mission trajectory lead Jim McAdams of APL. "To extend the mission, we need to raise the minimum altitude by increasing the Mercury-relative speed of the spacecraft when it is farthest from Mercury."

    For this latest orbit adjustment, MESSENGER was 82.9 million kilometers (51.5 million miles) from Earth and 69.8 million kilometers (43.3 million miles) from the Sun. The 3.2-minute-long maneuver -- which used two of the four largest monopropellant thrusters, with a small contribution from four of the 12 smallest monopropellant thrusters -- began at about 10:53 a.m., EDT. APL mission controllers verified the start of the maneuver 4.6 minutes later, when the first signals indicating spacecraft thruster activity reached MESSENGER's Mission Operations Center via NASA's Deep Space Network tracking station outside of Madrid, Spain."

    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 - June 26, 2014

    NASA's Curiosity Rover Team Today Features Women

    Women of Mars, in Mars Yard at JPL
    Some of the women working on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates the Curiosity Mars rover, gathered for this photo in the Mars Yard used for rover testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    Full image and caption

    "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover this week completed its first Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- since landing in August 2012. Each day of the rover working on Mars requires several dozen rover team members completing tasks on Earth. To celebrate reaching this longevity milestone, which had been set as one of the mission's goals from the start, the Curiosity team planned staffing a special day, with women fulfilling 76 out of 102 operational roles.

    "I see this as a chance to illustrate to girls and young women that there's not just a place for them in technical fields, but a wide range of jobs and disciplines that are part of the team needed for a project as exciting as a rover on Mars," said Colette Lohr, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    "There's no practical way any one person could learn all the disciplines needed for operating Curiosity," she said. "It takes a team and we rely on each other."

    Disciplines range from soil science to software engineering, from chemistry to cartography, in duties ranging from assessing rover-temperature data freshly arriving from Mars to choosing where to point the rover's cameras. Descriptions of the roles, along with names and locations of the team members filling them today, are part of Curiosity Women's Day information available at: http://go.usa.gov/9d3x"

    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) - June 24, 2014

    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 Has Enough Energy for Some Late-Night Work - sols 3697-3703, June 18, 2014-June 24, 2014 :

    "Opportunity is exploring the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover is continuing south along the ridgeline that forms the spine of the crater rim, collecting color imagery of targets and outcrops along the way.

    With ample energy, Opportunity has been able to conduct some late-night activities. On Sol 3697 (June 18, 2014), the rover collected an atmospheric argon measurement with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), and took advantage of a Phobos moon imaging opportunity. On Sol 3698 (June 19, 2014), the rover proceeded just over 82 feet (25 meters) to the south with another Phobos imagining opportunity that night, and an argon measurement on the next night. Sol 3700 (June 21, 2014), was the first sol of a 2-sol 'touch 'n go' with the collection of a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic and subsequent APXS measurement on a surface target of opportunity. The rover then drove on the next sol, heading 42 feet (13.5) meters south.

    On Sol 3703 (June 24, 2014), Opportunity began an approach to a surface target with a 31 feet (9.4-meter) move. Also, the project continues with the spacecraft clock correction, moving the clock about 3 seconds back each sol. There have been no Flash-related anomalies and the rover continues in good health.

    As of Sol 3703 (June 24, 2014), the solar array energy production was 743 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.652 and a solar array dust factor of 0.894.

    Total odometry is 24.60 miles (39.59 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - May 22, 2014
    NASA Mars Weather Camera Helps Find New Crater on Red Planet

    Full image and caption

    "Researchers have discovered on the Red Planet the largest fresh meteor-impact crater ever firmly documented with before-and-after images. The images were captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

    The crater spans half the length of a football field and first appeared in March 2012. The impact that created it likely was preceded by an explosion in the Martian sky caused by intense friction between an incoming asteroid and the planet's atmosphere. This series of events can be likened to the meteor blast that shattered windows in Chelyabinsk, Russia, last year. The air burst and ground impact darkened an area of the Martian surface about 5 miles (8 kilometers) across."

    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 27, 2014
    NASA, Khan Academy Collaborate to Bring STEM Opportunities to Online Learners

    "NASA and Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website, today debuted a series of online tutorials designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The announcement of the new collaborative effort was made today at the 6th annual White House Science Fair.

    The interactive education lessons invite users to become actively engaged in the scientific and mathematical protocols that NASA uses everyday to measure our universe, to explore the exciting engineering challenges involved in launching and landing spacecraft on Mars, and to learn about other space exploration endeavors and destinations.

    Exciting and realistic simulations, challenges and games transport students deep into STEM subjects, blending NASA's space exploration expertise with Khan Academy's compelling approach to online self-paced learning. The innovative collaboration on this pilot program began last summer with NASA supplying technical content and subject matter experts to ensure authenticity of the learning experiences and Khan providing proven expertise in delivering interactive online learning experiences for millions of learners worldwide.

    These dynamic educational materials are free and available on Khan Academy at

    https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/nasa

    In just the past two years, Khan Academy's free online educational materials have reached over 100 million learners worldwide and delivered over 2 billion exercise problems.

    NASA has been using its unique programs, assets, facilities and expertise to inspire students since the agency's inception in 1958. To learn more about NASA's education programs and opportunities, please visit http://www.nasa.gov/education."

    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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    Keep looking UP!
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