Astronomy News for the Month of July 2015


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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.


26

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

This month continues with Jupiter and Venus prominently displayed in the evening skies all month. Watch these two planets as they now get farther and farther away as the month progresses. Check out Saturn nearly overhead after the Sun sets. Look for Uranus and Neptune as they continue to brighten in the pre-dawn and late evening skies. Mercury puts in a brief appearance in the early hours before dawn during the first two weeks of July. There are a couple of meteor showers beginning this month that continue into August, though not very big, they may provide some nice evening and nighttime meteor watching; a prelude to the Perseids next month.

Mercury

Is in superior conjunction on the 23rd. Mercury rises at 04:17 a.m. on the 1st. By mid month, Mercury disappears into the morning twilight glow returning to the evening sky by the end of the month. Mercury sets about 08:48 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low to the east about 30 minutes before sunrise during the first two weeks of the month. Mercury moves from the constellation of Taurus into Leo shining at magnitude -0.2 on the 1st.

Venus

Shines its brightest for this evening apparition, shining at magnitude -4.7 on the evening of the 9th. Venus is stationary on the 23rd. Venus sets at 10:51 p.m. on the 1st and about 08:42 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus high above the western horizon soon after sunset. Venus is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude -4.7.

Earth

Is at aphelion (94.5 million miles from the Sun) on the 6th.

Mars

Has returned to view in the morning sky this month but still remains very close to the horizon and will be difficult to spot through the morning twilight glow. Mars is in the constellation of Gemini this month shining at magnitude 1.6.

Jupiter

Sets at 10:52 a.m. on the 1st and about 09:07 p.m. by month's end. Jupiter is visible in the early evening. Look for Jupiter high overhead soon after sunset. Look for Jupiter and Venus now separating from each other, having passed conjunction on June 30th. Jupiter is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude -1.8.

Saturn

Rises at 5:09 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:04 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is well placed for evening viewing, appearing nearly overhead by the time the Sun sets and the skies darken. View Saturn all evening and well into the early morning hours after midnight this month. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.3.

Uranus

Is stationary on the 26th. Uranus rises at 1:12 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:07 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early morning sky to the east. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.

Neptune

Rises at 11:32 p.m. on the 1st and about 09:29 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the east in the late evening and early morning sky. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Is at opposition on the 25th, rising as the Sun sets. Ceres rises at 11:47 p.m. on the 1st and about 09:34 p.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres very low in the southeast in the late evening and early morning sky. Ceres may be more difficult to spot for those living in the more northerly latitudes. Ceres is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 7.6.

Pluto

Is at opposition on the 6th, rising as the Sun sets. Pluto is at its best viewing for the year. Pluto rises at 8:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:26 p.m. by month's end. On July 14, the New Horizons spacecraft will makes its closest approach to Pluto just before 8 a.m. EDT, passing about 7,770 miles from its surface. Look for Pluto to the south just above the handle of the teapot asterism. 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

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • 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.

    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."

  • Comets

  • Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is predicted to shine around 8th magnitude this month, passing through the southern constellations of the Phoenix, Grus and Tucana.

  • Comet 141P/Machholz may be visible for northern observers under dark skies using an 8-inch telescope or larger, passing through the constellations of Triangulum into Perseus.

  • 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.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Venus and Jupiter to the west soon after sunset.
  • Observe Saturn almost all night long.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Herculina is in the constellation of Serpens.
    • Lutetia is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Eunomia is in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Cetus.

    • 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 29, 2015
    Spirals in the D Ring

    Full-Res: PIA18321

    "Although the D ring of Saturn is so thin that it's barely noticeable compared to the rest of the ring system, it still displays structures seen in other Saturnian rings. Here the spiral structures in the D ring are on display.

    The D ring spirals, discovered in Cassini images, are believed to be due to a warp in the ring created in the early 1980s. The precise mechanism remains the subject of scientific debate. Over the course of the Cassini mission, scientists have been able to observe the spiral winding ever more tightly as it evolves. For more about the spiral, see Tilting Saturn's Rings and A Twisted Tale.

    (The bright specks and faint vertical streaks are merely image artifacts. The processes typically employed to remove these artifacts would also have degraded the exquisite details of the D ring which are visible here.)

    This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 22 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 6, 2013.

    The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 350,000 miles (563,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 131 degrees. Image scale is 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometers) per pixel."

    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 30, 2015
    New Horizons 'Speeds Up' on Final Approach to Pluto

    Pluto and Charon, Now in Color

    "With just two weeks to go before its historic July 14 flight past Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft tapped the accelerator late last night and tweaked its path toward the Pluto system.

    The 23-second thruster burst was the third and final planned targeting maneuver of New Horizons' approach phase to Pluto; it was also the smallest of the nine course corrections since New Horizons launched in January 2006. It bumped the spacecraft's velocity by just 27 centimeters per second - about one-half mile per hour - slightly adjusting its arrival time and position at a flyby close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto's surface.

    While it may appear to be a minute adjustment for a spacecraft moving 32,500 miles per hour, the impact is significant. New Horizons Mission Design Lead Yanping Guo, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, says without the adjustment, New Horizons would have arrived 20 seconds late and 114 miles (184 kilometers) off-target from the spot where it will measure the properties of Pluto's atmosphere. Those measurements depend on radio signals being sent from Earth to New Horizons at precise times as the spacecraft flies through the shadows of Pluto and Pluto's largest moon, Charon."

    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 22, 2015
    Ceres Spots Continue to Mystify in Latest Dawn Images

    "The closer we get to Ceres, the more intriguing the distant dwarf planet becomes. New images of Ceres from NASA's Dawn spacecraft provide more clues about its mysterious bright spots, and also reveal a pyramid-shaped peak towering over a relatively flat landscape.

    "The surface of Ceres has revealed many interesting and unique features. For example, icy moons in the outer solar system have craters with central pits, but on Ceres central pits in large craters are much more common. These and other features will allow us to understand the inner structure of Ceres that we cannot sense directly," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California."

    Ion propulsion isn't something found only in science fiction. Ion engines are a real deal and drive NASA's Dawn spacecraft, en route to dwarf planet Ceres. Big things do come in small packages.

    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 - May 07, 2015
    MESSENGER Finds Evidence of Ancient Magnetic Field on Mercury

    "Mercury's magnetic field, generated by a dynamo process in its outer core, has been in place far longer than previously known, a paper by MESSENGER Participating Scientist Catherine Johnson reports.

    About 4 billion years ago, Mercury's magnetic field could have been much stronger than today, as indicated by low-altitude observations made by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft that revealed evidence of magnetization of ancient crustal rocks on Mercury.

    The MESSENGER spacecraft crashed onto Mercury last week [April 30, 2015] after running out of fuel, but the mission provided a trove of new information on the planet closest to the Sun."

    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.

     

    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 - June 20, 2015
    MAVEN Results Find Mars Behaving Like a Rock Star

    "If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a "Mohawk" of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, "wears" a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored "new media" workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.

    The MAVEN spacecraft was launched toward Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to discover how the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere, transforming its climate from one that could have supported life billions of years ago into its present cold and barren state."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - June 03, 2015

    Mars Conjunction
    Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun

    "Fast facts:
    -- In June 2015, Mars will pass almost directly behind the sun from Earth's perspective, a geometry called Mars solar conjunction.
    -- Mars solar conjunction happens about every 26 months.
    -- Because the sun disrupts radio transmissions between Earth and Mars during conjunction, communications are curtailed.

    This month, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth's perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

    The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands."

    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, 2015

    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)."

    OPPURTUNITY UPDATE: Rover In Good Health After Communication Blackout - sols 4053-4058, June 19, 2015-June 24, 2015: :

    "Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater at the 'Spirit of St. Louis' crater near the entrance of 'Marathon Valley.'

    The Earth-Mars Solar Conjunction command moratorium and communication blackout has just ended. Telemetry is again being received from the Opportunity and the rover is in good health. Normal tactical planning has resumed with the Sol 4059 (June 25, 2015) plan.

    As of Sol 4055 (June 21, 2015), the solar array energy production was 477 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.797 and a solar array dust factor of 0.644.

    Total odometry is 26.33 miles (42.37 kilometers), more than a marathon."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - June 08, 2014
    NASA Spacecraft Detects Impact Glass on Surface of Mars

    Full image and text

    "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars. Though formed in the searing heat of a violent impact, such deposits might provide a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

    During the past few years, research has shown evidence about past life has been preserved in impact glass here on Earth. A 2014 study led by scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found organic molecules and plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina. Schultz suggested that similar processes might preserve signs of life on Mars, if they were present at the time of an impact."

    Simulated Flyover of Mars Canyon Map

    This animation simulates a flyover of a portion of a Martian canyon detailed in a geological map produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and based on observations by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The landforms include a series of hills called Candor Colles.

    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 - June 25, 2015
    NASA Seeks Ideas for Where on Mars the Next Giant Leap Could Take Place

    "NASA is advancing the Journey to Mars by starting the conversation about where humans may one day land on the Red Planet. The agency is hosting a conference this fall to collect proposals on areas on Mars that would be of high scientific research value while also providing natural resources to enable human explorers to safely land, live and work on Mars.

    NASA's first Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will be held Oct. 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. The conference will start the process for choosing sites on Mars that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft along with any future missions over the coming decades could then further image to create better maps and provide valuable scientific data of these potential Exploration Zones.

    NASA hopes to engage scientists, technologists and experts in human exploration during the conference, fostering collaboration among the teams that will enable humans to live on and explore Mars in the coming decades.

    Potential "Exploration Zones" will need to offer compelling science research while also providing resources that our astronauts can take advantage of during their pioneering of the Red Planet. First explorers are expected to be limited to about 60 miles (100 km) of travel from their landing site due to life support and exploration technology requirements."

    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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    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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