Astronomy News for the Month of March 2017

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An Open Invitation

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 and 29436. We are also linked via Echolink, links are k0jsc-r and canoncty. More information on the WB0WDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

Interested in obtaining your Amateur Radio (Ham) License or your General Radio Operator's Licence (GROL)? Visit the South Metro VE Team website for more information. The South Metro VE Team provides test sessions on the 1st Saturday of each month at our new Eagle Street Facility, The City of Centennial, 7272 South Eagle Street, Centennial, Colorado 80112-4244 from 9am until 1pm.

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 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.
(Click on the logo to link to the JPL SSA homepage.)

In this Newsletter...

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

"A waxing crescent Moon appeared just east (left) of Aldebaran on April 10, 2016, moments after our satellite passed in front of the 1st-magnitude star. A fatter crescent Moon occults Aldebaran on March 4."
Astronomy Magazine, March 2017, p. 36.
Philippe Moussette

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

17 day moon

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 March

"This month opens with a stunning view of Venus suspended beneath a crescent Moon in evening twilight. Mars and Uranus join these brilliant objects in the western sky after sunset, but the more distant worlds pale in comparison. The waxing Moon visits Aldebaran on March 4, blocking the 1st-magnitude star from view across most of the United States. And Mercury begins its best evening appearance of 2017 in late March.

Jupiter climbs into view later in the evening, and it remains a fine sight until dawn. It shares the early morning sky with beautiful Saturn and, in the month’s final days, Venus on a return visit after having passed between the Sun and Earth." Astronomy Magazine, March 2017, p. 36.


Is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 6th. Look for Mercury after the 20th in the evening skies just above the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury sets at 5:26 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:03 p.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Aquarius into Aries this month shining at magnitude -0.4 on the 31st.


Is stationary on the 2nd. Venus is in inferior conjunction on the 25th. Venus sets at 8:38 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:34 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early evening towards the west during the first two weeks of the month. Venus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude -4.8 on the 1st.


Daylight Saving Time begins for most of US on the 12th at 2 a.m. local. The Vernal Equinox occurs at 6:29 a.m. EDT on the 20th.


Sets at 9:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:15 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars about 30 minutes or so after sunset to the west. Mars moves from the constellation of Pisces into Aries shining at magnitude 1.4.


Rises at 9:05 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:15 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the late evening to the east and follow Jupiter across the night sky into early morning to the west before sunrise. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -2.4.


Rises at 2:23 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:26 a.m. by month's end. Saturn is visible in the early morning sky before sunrise to the southeast. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.5.


Sets at 9:12 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:18 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early evening skies this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 1st. Neptune is not visible this month. Neptune will be returning to the morning skies in April. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets


Sets at 10:23 p.m. on the 1st and about 11:20 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is visible in the early evening this month. Ceres moves from the constellation of Cetus into Aries shining at magnitude 9.1.


Rises at 3:53 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:54 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is visible in the early morning skies before sunrise. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.2.

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

  • There are a few minor meteor showers but none that produce rates much higher than 2-5 per hour, except the Gamma Normids that extend over the period of March 11 to 21, with the maximum occurring on March 16. The maximum rate reaches about 5-9 meteors per hour.

    Meteor Shower Radiant Report

    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

    "By the end of March, Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak should be a decent sight through binoculars and might even grow bright enough to see with the naked eye.

    The comet swings within 13 million miles of Earth in late March, its closest approach yet. And it treks through Ursa Major, so it rides high in the sky for much of the night. The best views should come late in the month when the Moon is out of the sky. The comet then lies near the bowl of the Big Dipper, passing within 1° of magnitude 1.8 Dubhe (Alpha [α] Ursae Majoris) on the evening of the 27th. If predictions hold, it could reach 5th or 6th magnitude.

    Astroimagers should keep an eye on Comet PANSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) as well. On March 1, the 7th-magnitude object sits between the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae in Sagittarius. And on the 8th, it passes 1° north of the bright globular cluster M22." Astronomy Magazine, March 2017, p. 42.

  • Comet 41P passes from the constellation of Leo into Ursa Major.
  • Comet Johnson (C/2015 V2) is in the constellation of Hercules.
  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) passes from the constellation of Capricornus into Sagittarius.

  • For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets, visit the Observable Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

    For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's webpage.

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Venus and Mars in the early evening after sunset.
  • Try to observe Uranus, Neptune and Ceres after the skies darken to the southwest.
  • Look for Jupiter in the late evening and early morning skies before sunrise.
  • Look for Saturn and Mercury in the morning skies before sunrise.
  • Try to spot Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak later in the month in Ursa Major.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)

    IOTA Logo

  • On the evening of March 4th, the Moon occults 1st magnitude Aldebaran Observers in most of the United States, this occultation will be visible.

    Occultation times in local time on March 4, 2017:

    New York City, New York
    Aldebaran disappears: 11:10 p.m. EST
    Aldebaran reappears: 11:31 p.m. EST

    St. Louis, Missouri
    Aldebaran disappears: 9:52 p.m. CST
    Aldebaran reappears: 10:42 p.m. CST

    Denver, Colorado
    Aldebaran disappears: 8:33 p.m. MST
    Aldebaran reappears: 9:33 p.m. MST

    Seattle, Washington
    Aldebaran disappears: 7:21 p.m. PST
    Aldebaran reappears: 7:50 p.m. PST

    Information from IOTA and EarthSky.

  • 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)
    JPL Latest News - February 22, 2017
    NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

    The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water -- key to life as we know it -- under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

    This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven."

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    For more information on the TRAPPIST-1 system, visit:

    For more information on exoplanets, visit:

    FREE TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanet Poster "NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water." p> Learn more about this exoplanet

    Download poster

    Juno - February 17, 2017
    NASA's Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, while avoiding the risk of a previously-planned engine firing that would have reduced the spacecraft's orbital period to 14 days.

    "Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we've received are nothing short of amazing," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do -- preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery."

    Juno has successfully orbited Jupiter four times since arriving at the giant planet, with the most recent orbit completed on Feb. 2. Its next close flyby of Jupiter will be March 27."

    NASA's JunoCam website can be visited at:

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

    The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

    Cassini - February 15, 2017
    Like a Mini Solar System

    Full Article & Images

    "'Saturn plus its moons are like the sun plus the planets,' said Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist. Saturn's moons also orbit Saturn in generally the same plane and in the same direction as one another* like planets in a solar system. "And Saturn's ring disk is like going back in time to before the planets formed," Spilker said."

    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

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

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

    New Horizons - February 23, 2017
    New Horizons, IAU Set Pluto Naming Themes

    Full Article & Images

    "The International Astronomical Union (IAU) -- the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features -- has approved themes submitted by NASA's New Horizons team for naming surface features on Pluto and its moons.

    In 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft delivered the first close-up views of Pluto and its five moons -- amazing images of distant and surprisingly complex worlds, showing a vast nitrogen glacier as well as ice mountains, canyons, cliffs, craters and more. The IAU's action clears the way for the mission team to propose formal names for dozens of individual surface features."

    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 - February 16, 2017
    Dawn Discovers Evidence for Organic Material on Ceres

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists using the spacecraft's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) detected the material in and around a northern-hemisphere crater called Ernutet. Organic molecules are interesting to scientists because they are necessary, though not sufficient, components of life on Earth." A gallery of images can be found online.

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


    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:

    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    (Click Link above for Full Article & Images)


    "After more than 10 years in operation, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury on April 30, 2015, at a speed of more than 3.91 kilometers per second (8,750 miles per hour), marking the end of operations for the hugely successful Mercury orbiter. At the MESSENGER Nears End of Operations media and public event, scientists and engineers discussed the mission's accomplishments, providing the top 10 scientific discoveries, as well as the technological innovations that grew out of the mission."

    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 - October 19, 2016
    MAVEN Observes Ups and Downs of Water Escape from Mars

    Full Article & Images

    "After investigating the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet for a full Martian year, MAVEN has determined that escaping water does not always go gently into space.

    Sophisticated measurements made by a suite of instruments on the MAVEN spacecraft revealed the ups and downs of hydrogen escape-and therefore water loss. The escape rate peaked when Mars was at its closest point to the sun and dropped off when the planet was farthest from the sun. The rate of loss varied dramatically overall, with 10 times more hydrogen escaping at the maximum."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - February 27, 2017
    Martian Winds Carve Mountains, Move Dust, Raise Dust

    Full Article & Images

    "On Mars, wind rules. Wind has been shaping the Red Planet's landscapes for billions of years and continues to do so today. Studies using both a NASA orbiter and a rover reveal its effects on scales grand to tiny on the strangely structured landscapes within Gale Crater.

    NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, on the lower slope of Mount Sharp -- a layered mountain inside the crater -- has begun a second campaign of investigating active sand dunes on the mountain's northwestern flank. The rover also has been observing whirlwinds carrying dust and checking how far the wind moves grains of sand in a single day's time."

    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) - February 14, 2017

    SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:

    "Opportunity is located on the rim of Endeavour crater, about to leave the rim and get back on the plains of Meridiani.

    The rover is not leaving the crater, just setting up for faster progress south along the rim toward the next major scientific objective, the gully now less than a kilometer away.

    Opportunity completed the last in-situ (contact) measurements on Sol 4638 (Feb. 9, 2017). The rover collected a Microscopic Image (MI) mosaic of the surface outcrop and then placed the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the same for a multi-hour integration. On Sol 4640 (Feb. 11, 2017), Opportunity drove about 92 feet (28 meters) to the southwest, just at the edge of the plains of Meridiani. The geologic formations at the rims edge exhibit extensive scours and grooves. So, the science team is collecting extensive Navigation Camera (Navcam) and color Panoramic Camera (Pancam) panoramas at this location. The rover also benefited from a cleaning event of dust off the solar arrays sometime around Sol 4637 (Feb. 8, 2017).

    As of Sol 4643 (Feb. 14, 2017), the solar array energy production was an improved 484 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.816 and an improved solar array dust factor of 0.716.

    Total odometry is 27.36 miles (44.03 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - February 08, 2017
    One Role of Mars Orbiter: Check Possible Landing Sites

    Full Article & Image

    "At an international workshop this week about where NASA's next Mars rover should land, most of the information comes from a prolific spacecraft that's been orbiting Mars since 2006.

    Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the basis for evaluating eight candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover mission. The landing site workshop this week in Monrovia, California, will narrow the Mars 2020 candidate list to four or fewer sites. MRO observations have been used to identify, characterize and certify past landing sites and are also in use to assess possible sites for future human-crew missions."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - January 04, 2017
    NASA Mars Odyssey Orbiter Resumes Full Operations

    Full Article and Images

    UPDATED Jan. 4, 2017, at 2 p.m. PST
    NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has resumed full service following recovery after entering a safe standby mode on Dec. 26, 2016.

    The orbiter resumed communication relay assistance to Mars rovers on Dec. 30, 2016. Science observations of Mars by instruments on Odyssey resumed on Jan. 3, 2017, with its Thermal Emission Imaging System, and on the next day with its High Energy Neutral Spectrometer and the Neutron Spectrometer."

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

    See the Mars As Art Gallery

    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 - September 02, 2016
    InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars
    NASA Approves 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

    "InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior.

    NASA is moving forward with a spring 2018 launch of its InSight mission to study the deep interior of Mars, following final approval this week by the agency's Science Mission Directorate."

    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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