Astronomy News for the Month of June 2015

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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 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WB0WDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar nodes 28298, 28299, 29436 and 40764 (linked to the RMRL 449.875 Eldorado Mountain repeater). More information on the WB0WDF repeater links and Allstar nodes can be found at The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

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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.

S&S Optika hosts Backyard Star Parties in Littleton several times a month, weather permitting. Come down and enjoy the fun and check out their fine selection of optical instruments.

 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 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 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 May

This month begins with Jupiter and Venus prominently displayed in the evening skies all month. Watch these two planets as they get closer and closer, passing each other at their closest on the last day of the month. Having just passed opposition last month, check out Saturn, also in the evening sky. Look for Uranus and Neptune as they continue to brighten in the pre-dawn skies. Mercury puts in a brief appearance in the early hours before dawn. There are also several meteor showers this month including a couple daylight showers that will be of interest to amateur radio enthusiasts and listeners alike.


Is stationary on the 11th. Mercury is greatest western elongation (22° above the eastern horizon) on the 24th. Mercury rises at 5:38 a.m. on the 1st and about 04:17 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low to the east about 30 minutes before sunrise during the last three weeks of the month. Mercury is in the constellation of Taurus shining at magnitude -0.1 on the 30th.


Is at greatest eastern elongation (45° above the western horizon) on the 6th. Venus sets at 11:42 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:51 p.m. by month's end. On the evenings of June 12 and 13, Venus passes just north of the Beehive Cluster (M44). Look for Venus high above the western horizon soon after sunset. Venus moves from the constellation Gemini into Leo shining at magnitude -4.5.


The Summer Solstice occurs at 12:38 p.m. EDT on the 21st.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 14th. Mars is lost in the Sun's glow and is not visible this month. Mars will return to view later this summer. Mars moves from the constellation of Taurus into Gemini this month.


Sets at 12:40 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:52 p.m. by month's end. Jupiter is visible all evening. Look for Jupiter high overhead soon after sunset. Look for Jupiter and Venus passing within 0.3° of each other on the 30th. Jupiter moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo shining at magnitude -1.9.


Rises at 7:16 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:09 p.m. by month's end. View Saturn all night long this month. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.1.


Rises at 3:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:12 a.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 5.9.


Is stationary on the 12th. Neptune rises at 1:34 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:32 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the east in the early morning sky. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets


Is stationary on the 6th. Ceres rises at 1:44 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:47 p.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres very low in the southeast in the early morning sky. Ceres may be more difficult to spot for those living in the more northerly latitudes. Ceres moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Microscopium shining at magnitude 8.6.


Rises at 10:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:31 p.m. by month's end. 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 Arietids Meteor Shower - This is the strongest daylight meteor shower of the year. The duration extends from May 22 to July 2, with maximum activity occurring on June 8. The hourly rate is near 60 at maximum.

  • The June Lyrids - This shower is active during June 10 to 21, producing predominantly blue and white meteors at a maximum hourly rate of 8 per hour on June 15. The average magnitude of this shower is near 3, while 32% of the meteors leave trains.

  • The Zeta Perseids - This daylight shower occurs during May 20 to July 5. Maximum occurs on June 13. Radar surveys have revealed the activity of this shower to be near 40 per hour.

  • The June Boötids - This shower is currently active during June 27 to July 5 and possesses a maximum of activity that falls on the 28th... The shower is notable in that its meteors are primarily faint, with an average magnitude near 5; however, bright meteors do occur regularly.

    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 be a naked eye object by the end of the year, but observers in the southern hemisphere may get to see Comet Catalina glowing around 8th or 9th magnitude as it passes through the constellation of Sculptor this month.

  • 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.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Venus and Jupiter to the west soon after sunset.
  • Observe Saturn almost all night long.
  • Enjoy the several daylight and night time meteor showers throughout the month.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Herculina is in the constellation of Serpens.
    • Pallas is at opposition on the 11th in the constellation of Hercules.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Eunomia is in the constellation of Pisces.

    • 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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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Cassini - May 28, 2015
    Cassini Prepares for Last Up-close Look at Hyperion

    Full-Res: PIA07740

    "NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make its final close approach to Saturn's large, irregularly shaped moon Hyperion on Sunday, May 31.

    The Saturn-orbiting spacecraft will pass Hyperion at a distance of about 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) at approximately 6:36 a.m. PDT (9:36 a.m. EDT). Mission controllers expect images from the encounter to arrive on Earth within 24 to 48 hours."

    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: "

    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 - May 28, 2015
    So Far, All Clear: New Horizons Team Completes First Search for Pluto System Hazards

    "NASA's New Horizons team has analyzed the first set of hazard-search images of the Pluto system taken by the approaching spacecraft itself - and so far, all looks clear for the spacecraft's safe passage.

    This image shows the results of the New Horizons team's first search for potentially hazardous material around Pluto, conducted May 11-12, 2015, from a range of 47 million miles (76 million kilometers). The image combines 48 10-second exposures, taken with the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to offer the most sensitive view yet of the Pluto system.

    The left panel is a combination of the original images before any processing. The combined glare of Pluto and its large moon Charon in the center of the field, along with the thousands of background stars, overwhelm any faint moons or rings that might pose a threat to the New Horizons spacecraft.

    The central panel is the same image after extensive processing to remove Pluto and Charon's glare and most of the background stars, revealing Pluto's four small moons - Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra - as points of light. The right panel overlays the orbits and locations of all five moons, including Charon. Remaining unlabeled spots and blemishes in the processed image are imperfectly removed stars, including variable stars which appear as bright or dark dots. The faint grid pattern is an artifact of the image processing. Celestial north is up in these images."

    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 - May 28, 2015
    Ceres' Bright Spots Come Back Into View

    "A new view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 23, shows finer detail is becoming visible on the dwarf planet. The spacecraft snapped the image at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) with a resolution of 1,600 feet (480 meters) per pixel. The image is part of a sequence taken for navigational purposes."

    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 -

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.


    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

    "The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) began in 1948, a decade before NASA. We are the world's only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets and Pluto. LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    MAVEN - May 14, 2015
    Auroras on Mars

    "One day, when humans go to Mars, they might find that, occasionally, the Red Planet has green skies.

    In late Dec. 2014, the MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars's northern hemisphere. The "Christmas Lights," as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - May 08, 2015

    Quick Detour by NASA Mars Rover Checks Ancient Valley
    Full image

    "This April 16, 2015, panorama from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a detailed view toward two areas on lower Mount Sharp chosen for close-up inspection in subsequent weeks: "Mount Shields" and "Logan Pass."

    This detailed panorama from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a view toward two areas on lower Mount Sharp chosen for close-up inspection: "Mount Shields" and "Logan Pass."

    The scene is a mosaic of images taken with Mastcam's right-eye camera, which has a telephoto lens, on April 16, 2015, during the 957th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars, before that sol's drive. The view spans from southwest, at left, to west-northwest. The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth."

    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) - May 19, 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 Restored to Normal Operations After a Reset Error - sols 4018-4023, May 14, 2015-May 19, 2015: :

    "Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater at the 'Spirit of St. Louis' crater near the entrance of 'Marathon Valley.' The rover had been exploring the outcrops inside the Spirit of St. Louis crater.

    On Sol 4018 (May 14, 2015), the project attempted to restore the rover to master sequence control after an unexplained reset on Sol 4017 (May 13, 2015). However, an operational error prevented the use of the high-gain antenna (HGA), and the rover did not receive subsequent recovery commands.

    The rover was successfully restored to normal operations on Sol 4020 (May 16, 2015). On that sol, Opportunity executed a very small turn-in-place of only 4.6 degrees to position a surface target within reach of the robotic arm instruments. That evening, an overnight atmospheric argon measurement using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) was made. Another amnesia event occurred on the evening of Sol 4021 (May 17, 2015), but it was benign with no loss of data. On Sol 4023 (May 19, 2015), the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) was used to brush a surface target for in-situ (contact) investigation. After the brushing, a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic was collected, followed by the placement of the APXS for a multi-hour integration.

    As of Sol 4023 (May 19, 2015), the solar array energy production was 536 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 1.105 and a solar array dust factor of 0.727.

    Total odometry is 26.28 miles (42.30 kilometers), more than a marathon."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - April 02, 2014
    Team Returning Orbiter to Duty After Computer Swap

    "Mission Status Report Updated on April 8th at 2:05 p.m. PT

    The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has restored the spacecraft to full service, following last week's unplanned swap of duplicate computers on the orbiter. The mission resumed communication-relay operations on April 4 and subsequently resumed observations with all of its science instruments.

    NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at Mars since 2006, made an unplanned switch on Wednesday from one main computer to a redundant one onboard, triggering a hiatus in planned activities.

    Sensing the computer swap, the orbiter put itself into a precautionary safe standby mode. It remained healthy, in communication and fully powered. The mission's operations team expects the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to resume full duty within a few days, including communication relays and science observations.

    The orbiter has experienced this type of unplanned computer swap six times previously, starting in 2007 and including two occasions in 2014."

    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.

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - May 04, 2015
    Traffic Around Mars Gets Busy

    "Fast Facts:
    --Five active spacecraft are orbiting Mars, an increase of two since last summer
    --An enhanced system warns if two orbiters may approach each other too closely

    NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.

    Last year's addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India's Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.

    It's not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA's other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA's and India's orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits."

    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

    ***New*** 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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