Astronomy News for the Month of June 2016


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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 ringed planet reaches peak visibility this month when it lies opposite the Sun in our sky. The rings tilt 26° to our line of sight and should offer stunning views through telescopes of all sizes.
Credit: NASA/ESA/E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)


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


21 day moon

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 June

"Three spectacular planets dominate June's short nights. Saturn comes to opposition and peak visibility on June 2/3, less than two weeks after Mars reached the same orbital milestone. Meanwhile, Jupiter outshines both of them and delivers stunning views through a telescope during the evening hours. Two distant objects, Neptune and Pluto, are relatively easy to find as they wander near bright stars." Astronomy Magazine, June 2016, p. 36.

Mercury

Is at greatest western elongation (24° from the Sun) on the 5th. Mercury rises at 4:36 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:04 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low above the eastern horizon just before sunrise for the month of June. Mercury moves from the constellation of Aries into Gemini this month shining at magnitude -0.3 on the 15th.

Venus

Is in superior conjunction (passing on the far side of the Sun) on the 6th. Venus lies too close to the Sun this month to be spotted. Venus moves from the constellation of Taurus into Gemini shining at magnitude -4.0 on the 15th.

Earth

The Summer Solstice occurs at 6:34 p.m. EDT on the 20th.

Mars

Rises at 7:10 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:49 p.m. by month's end. Having reached opposition last month, Mars remains bright and in prime position for evening viewing. Look for Mars about an hour or so after sunset to the southeast. Mars is stationary on the 30th. Mars is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude -1.7.

Jupiter

Sets at 1:50 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:55 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the early evening towards the west soon after sunset. Jupiter is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude -2.0.

Saturn

Is at opposition, rising as the Sun sets, on the 3rd. Saturn appears at its best for 2016. Saturn rises at 8:13 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:06 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn low to the east in the evening. Saturn is visible all night long this month. Saturn is in the constellation of Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 0.1.

Uranus

Rises at 3:14 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:19 a.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early morning hours before sunrise. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

Neptune

Is stationary on the 14th. Neptune rises at 1:37 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:35 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the early hours before dawn to the east-southeast. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Rises at 3:38 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:06 a.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres in the pre-dawn skies before sunrise this month. Ceres is in the constellation of Cetus this month shining at magnitude 9.2.

Pluto

Rises at 10:38 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:38 p.m. by month's end. Look to the south to spot Pluto in the evening skies. 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 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." Tune your shortwave or your HF amateur radio to 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings.

  • Comets

    Comet PANSTARRS (C/2013 X1) is still very low just above the eastern horizon before sunrise. Observers in the southern U.S. will have a much better chance of viewing this comet than northern observers. Shining at 7th or 8th magnitude, Comet PANSTARRS passes through the constellation of Aquarius into Piscis Austrinus heading south 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 Cometography.com webpage.

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the evening.
  • Enjoy several meteor showers this month including a couple of daylight meteor showers that you may be able to detect with a short wave radio.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    Ocultations

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Subscriber Gallery

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    Member Meteor Sightings

    This is a new section where I will post meteor, fireball, etc sightings that have been published on the American Meteor Society's web site. I want to make this an active section of the web pages and newsletter and would like to publish the links to member sightings. If you have any published sightings, please provide me with the links and I will post them here for all to enjoy.

    Event ID Date/Time Location Observer Link
    3587-2015 2015-11-22 17:38 MST CO Kevin S 3587aw
    3829-2015 2015-12-05 18:06 MST Highlands Ranch, CO Burness A 3829a
    3871-2015 2015-11-13 01:55 MST CO Charles N 3871a

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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Cassini - May 6, 2016
    Enceladus Jets: Surprises in Starlight

    Full Image and Caption

    "During a recent stargazing session, NASA's Cassini spacecraft watched a bright star pass behind the plume of gas and dust that spews from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. At first, the data from that observation had scientists scratching their heads. What they saw didn't fit their predictions.

    The observation has led to a surprising new clue about the remarkable geologic activity on Enceladus: It appears that at least some of the narrow jets that erupt from the moon's surface blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn in its orbit."

    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.

    Raw images are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/index.cfm.

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

    Cassini Imaging Team - Archives from Dec. 2015 and earlier.

    New Horizons - May 27, 2016
    New Horizons' Best Close-Up of Pluto's Surface

    Full Image

    "This is the most detailed view of Pluto's terrain you'll likely see for a very long time. This mosaic strip - extending across the hemisphere that faced the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015 - now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. With a resolution of about 260 feet (80 meters) per pixel, the mosaic affords New Horizons scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.

    The complete mosaic can be downloaded here. Be sure to zoom in for maximum detail.

    Download MP4"


    It's always Pluto Time somewhere, and NASA wants to see your view.

    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 - April 19, 2016
    New Ceres Images Show Bright Craters

    Full Image

    "Craters with bright material on dwarf planet Ceres shine in new images from NASA's Dawn mission.

    In its lowest-altitude mapping orbit, at a distance of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres, Dawn has provided scientists with spectacular views of the dwarf planet.

    Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. Smooth material and a central ridge stand out on its floor. An enhanced false-color view allows scientists to gain insight into materials and how they relate to surface morphology. This image shows rays of bluish ejected material. The color blue in such views has been associated with young features on Ceres."

    Take a tour of weird Ceres!

    "Visit a 2-mile-deep crater and a 4-mile-tall mountain in the video narrated by mission director Marc Rayman. Get your red/blue glasses ready for the finale - a global view of the dwarf planet in 3D."

    Ceres Topographic Globe Animation

    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

    Ceres Fly By

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER - May 30, 2016
    The MESSENGER mission is officially ended but there is a lot to learn about the planet closest to our Sun. Visit the new, updated MESSENGER website:

    "UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF PLANET MERCURY"

    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    Video Animation

    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 - May 13, 2016
    MAVEN data used for award-winning NASA Scientific Visualization Studio video

    "A 3-D animation created by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio using data from the MAVEN mission to Mars is the corporate winner of the inaugural Data Stories video contest sponsored by Science magazine for videos that tell stories about data. The video explains how the solar wind is driving particles from the upper atmosphere of Mars into space, which may have caused the planet to dry out and cool over the eons.

    Created from research conducted by the entire MAVEN team, the video also won the People's Choice award voted on by social media followers."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - April 27, 2016
    Curiosity Mars Rover Crosses Rugged Plateau

    Full-Circle Vista from 'Naukluft Plateau' on Mars

    "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has nearly finished crossing a stretch of the most rugged and difficult-to-navigate terrain encountered during the mission's 44 months on Mars.

    The rover climbed onto the "Naukluft Plateau" of lower Mount Sharp in early March after spending several weeks investigating sand dunes. The plateau's sandstone bedrock has been carved by eons of wind erosion into ridges and knobs. The path of about a quarter mile (400 meters) westward across it is taking Curiosity toward smoother surfaces leading to geological layers of scientific interest farther uphill.

    The roughness of the terrain on the plateau raised concern that driving on it could be especially damaging to Curiosity's wheels, as was terrain Curiosity crossed before reaching the base of Mount Sharp. Holes and tears in the rover's aluminum wheels became noticeable in 2013. The rover team responded by adjusting the long-term traverse route, revising how local terrain is assessed and refining how drives are planned. Extensive Earth-based testing provided insight into wheel longevity."

    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) - May 24, 2016

    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: Investigating the Soil Exposed with the Rover Wheel - sols 4378-4384, May 17, 2016-May 24, 2016: :

    "Opportunity is exploring 'Marathon Valley' on the rim of Endeavour crater, inspecting specific outcrops for evidence of clay minerals.

    Previously, the rover used the left-front wheel to scuff a red vein feature to break up and expose its compositional material for further investigation. On Sol 4379 (May 18, 2016), Opportunity bumped 6 feet (1.75 meters) back towards the scuff to set up for an in-situ (contact) investigation of the scuffed material. The rover also collected some targeted Panoramic Camera (Pancam) 13-filter images and a Navigation Camera (Navcam) panorama.

    On Sol 4381 (May 21, 2016), Opportunity began the contact investigation using the robotic arm to collect a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of the scuff and then place the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the same. On the next sol, the rover offset the APXS on the scuff by about 1 centimeter and performed another integration. Opportunity continued on the next sol with yet another APXS offset placement, more MI mosaics and some more targeted Pancam 13-filter imaging.

    As of Sol 4384 (May 24, 2016), the solar array energy production is 636 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.605 and a solar array dust factor of 0.756.

    Total odometry is 26.59 miles (42.79 kilometers), more than a marathon."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - May 26, 2016
    NASA Radar Finds Ice Age Record in Mars' Polar Cap

    Full caption and related image

    "Scientists using radar data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have found a record of the most recent Martian ice age recorded in the planet's north polar ice cap.

    The new results agree with previous models that indicate a glacial period ended about 400,000 years ago, as well as predictions about how much ice would have been accumulated at the poles since then.

    The results, published in the May 27 issue of the journal Science, help refine models of the Red Planet's past and future climate by allowing scientists to determine how ice moves between the poles and mid-latitudes, and in what volumes."

    New Gravity Map Gives Best View Yet Inside Mars:

    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 - May 01, 2016
    Mars Close Approach to Earth:
    May 30, 2016

    "Simply go outside and look up, contact your local planetarium, or look for a star party near you.

    In 2016, the planet Mars will appear brightest from May 18 to June 3.

    Mars Close Approach is May 30, 2016. That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers). Mars reaches its highest point around midnight -- about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one third of the distance between the horizon and overhead. Mars will be visible for much of the night.

    By mid-June, Mars will become fainter as Mars and Earth travel farther away from each other in their orbits around the Sun.

    Miss seeing Mars Close Approach in 2016? The next Mars Close Approach is July 31, 2018."

    Note: Mars is still in optimal position for viewing all evening and night in June.

    Video - What might it look like if you were walking around on Mars?

    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.

    Journey to Mars - March 09, 2016
    InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars
    NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

    "NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.

    InSight's primary goal is to help us understand how rocky planets -- including Earth -- formed and evolved. The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch.

    InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France's space agency, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch.

    "The science goals of InSight are compelling, and the NASA and CNES plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We're excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018."

    NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will redesign, build and conduct qualifications of the new vacuum enclosure for the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the component that failed in December. CNES will lead instrument level integration and test activities, allowing the InSight Project to take advantage of each organization's proven strengths. The two agencies have worked closely together to establish a project schedule that accommodates these plans, and scheduled interim reviews over the next six months to assess technical progress and continued feasibility."

    Learn more about the InSight Mission.

    Mars Missions Status

    New Mars missions are being planned to include several new rover and sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page and the Mars Exploration page.

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    Astronomy Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

    Green Laser

    Colorado Astronomy Links

    Radio Astronomy Links

    Other Astronomy Links

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    Astronomical Lexicon

    Definitions of astronomical terms. Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

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    UT Logo

    Read the Universe Today Newsletter by clicking on the logo.

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    Acknowledgments and References

    Much of the information in this newsletter is from Astronomy® Magazine (Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages, and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my bookshelves.

    The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and corrections. Please feel free to send me any new links or articles to share as well. I will try to accommodate any reasonable requests. Please feel free to send questions, comments, criticisms, or donations to the email address listed below. Enjoy!

    More Acknowledgements and References

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    FH

    Keep looking UP!
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