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Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
Background screen credits: NGC5775 - Imaged March 21/22, 2001 using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope as part of the Advanced Observing Program.
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|Planetary Highlights for May - Mercury and Venus will join Jupiter in the evening sky this month. These three planets will all join one another for a spectacular conjunction during the last week of May. Saturn remains visible all evening and night having just passed opposition last month. Uranus and Neptune have returned to the morning sky as well but observers will need binoculars or a small telescope to spot them. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks at the end of the first week of May. Comet PANSTARRS dims beyond naked eye observability this month but remains an attractive sight through binoculars or small telescopes.|
|Mercury - Is in superior conjunction on the 11th. Mercury is visible during the last week of May low on the western horizon. Mercury sets about 7:28 p.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Pisces into Gemini shining at magnitude -0.5 on the 31st.|
|Venus - Also returns to the evening sky this month having been gone from the skies for several months. Venus sets about 9:43 p.m. by month's end. Venus moves from the constellation of Aries into Taurus shining at magnitude -3.9 on the 31st.|
|Earth - N/A.|
|Mars - Is not visible this month having reached conjunction last month. Mars will return to the morning sky in June. Mars moves from the constellation of Aries into Taurus this month.|
|Jupiter - Still shines brightly in the early evening sky. Jupiter sets at 10:49 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:18 p.m. by month's end. On the evening of May 27th, look for Jupiter, Venus and Mercury in conjunction low in the western sky soon after sunset. Jupiter is in the constellation of Taurus shining at magnitude -1.9.|
|Saturn - Is still near its best for the year having just passed opposition. Saturn rises at 7:21 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:09 p.m. by month's end. Look to the east to spot Saturn in the evening. Saturn is visible nearly all night. The view through a telescope reveals the ring system tilted 18° to our line of site, making the view of the ringed planet quite spectacular. Saturn moves from the constellation of Libra into Virgo shining at magnitude 0.2.|
|Uranus - Rises at 4:46 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:48 a.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the early morning sky before the Sun rises with binoculars or a small telescope. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.|
|Neptune - Leads Uranus by a little over an hour all month. Neptune is visible in the morning sky with a small telescope this month rising at 3:22 a.m. on the first and about 1:21 a.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.|
|Ceres - Ceres sets at 1:55 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:39 a.m. by month's end. Ceres is in the constellation of Gemini shining at magnitude 8.8.|
Is visible in the morning sky after midnight rising at 12:16 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:08 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.
As always, good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.
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For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.
For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's Cometography.com webpage.
(From west to east)
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|Cassini - April 29, 2013
Cassini Gets Close-up Views of Large Hurricane on Saturn
Narrated video about a hurricane-like storm seen at Saturn's north pole by Cassini.
Both a terrestrial hurricane and Saturn's north polar vortex have a central eye with no clouds or very low clouds. Other similar features include high clouds forming an eye wall, other high clouds spiraling around the eye, and a counter-clockwise spin in the northern hemisphere.
A major difference between the hurricanes is that the one on Saturn is much bigger than its counterparts on Earth and spins surprisingly fast. At Saturn, the wind in the eye wall blows more than four times faster than hurricane-force winds on Earth. Unlike terrestrial hurricanes, which tend to move, the Saturnian hurricane is locked onto the planet's north pole. On Earth, hurricanes tend to drift northward because of the forces acting on the fast swirls of wind as the planet rotates. The one on Saturn does not drift and is already as far north as it can be.
"The polar hurricane has nowhere else to go, and that's likely why it's stuck at the pole," said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
"Such a stunning and mesmerizing view of the hurricane-like storm at the north pole is only possible because Cassini is on a sportier course, with orbits tilted to loop the spacecraft above and below Saturn's equatorial plane," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet."
Raw images are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/index.cfm.
|New Horizons - February 28, 2013
Pluto Moons: The Votes Are In
"The public has spoken, choosing candidate names for Pluto's newest and smallest moons. "Vulcan" and "Cerberus" topped the list after more than 450,000 total votes were cast.Read More."
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 - March 25, 2013
NASA Scientists Find Moon and Asteroids Share Cosmic History
"NASA and international researchers have discovered that Earth's moon has more in common than previously thought with large asteroids roaming our solar system.
Scientists from NASA's Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), Moffett Field, Calif., discovered that the same population of high-speed projectiles that impacted our lunar neighbor four billion years ago, also hit the asteroid Vesta and perhaps other large asteroids.
The research unveils an unexpected link between Vesta and the moon, and provides new means for studying the early bombardment history of terrestrial planets. The findings are published in the March issue of Nature Geoscience.
"It's always intriguing when interdisciplinary research changes the way we understand the history of our solar system," said Yvonne Pendleton, NLSI director. "Although the moon is located far from Vesta, which is in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, they seem to share some of the same bombardment history."
The findings support the theory that the repositioning of gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn from their original orbits to their current location destabilized portions of the asteroid belt and triggered a solar system-wide bombardment of asteroids billions of years ago called the lunar cataclysm.
The research provides new constraints on the start and duration of the lunar cataclysm, and demonstrates that the cataclysm was an event that affected not only the inner solar system planets, but the asteroid belt as well.
The moon rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts have long been used to study the bombardment history of the moon. Now the ages derived from meteorite samples have been used to study the collisional history of main belt asteroids. In particular, howardite and eucrite meteorites, which are common species found on Earth, have been used to study asteroid Vesta, their parent body. With the aid of computer simulations, researchers determined that meteorites from Vesta recorded high-speed impacts which are now long gone.
Researchers have linked these two datasets, and found that the same population of projectiles responsible for making craters and basins on the moon were also hitting Vesta at very high velocities, enough to leave behind a number of telltale impact-related ages.
The team's interpretation of the howardites and eucrites was augmented by recent close-in observations of Vesta's surface by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. In addition, the team used the latest dynamical models of early main belt evolution to discover the likely source of these high velocity impactors. The team determined that the population of projectiles that hit Vesta had orbits that also enabled some objects to strike the moon at high speeds.
"It appears that the asteroidal meteorites show signs of the asteroid belt losing a lot of mass four billion years ago, with the escaped mass beating up on both the surviving main belt asteroids and the moon at high speeds" says lead author Simone Marchi, who has a joint appointment between two of NASA's Lunar Science Institutes, one at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, and another at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. "Our research not only supports the current theory, but it takes it to the next level of understanding."
A gallery of images can be found online.
For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page.
|MESSENGER - March 26, 2013
Newly Named Mercury Craters Honor Hawaiian Guitarist, Beloved Young Adult Author
"The International Astronomical Union (IAU) -- the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 -- recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities. The newly named craters are
Ray Espiritu, a mission operations engineer on the MESSENGER team, submitted Pahinui's name for consideration. "I wanted to honor the place where I grew up and still call home even after many years away," he says. "The Pahinui crater contains a possible volcanic vent, and its name may inspire other scientists as they investigate the volcanic processes that helped to create Mercury, just as investigation of Hawaiian volcanoes helps us understand the volcanic processes that shape the Earth we know today."
These nine newly named craters join 95 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft's first Mercury flyby in January 2008."
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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JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.
|Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - April 25, 2013
Curiosity Wins National Air and Space Museum Trophy
"The team in charge of successfully landing NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's highest group honor at a dinner in Washington on Wednesday night, April 24. The 2013 Trophy for Current Achievement honors outstanding achievements in the fields of aerospace science and technology.
The Mars Science Laboratory Project built and operates the rover Curiosity, which has been investigating past and current environments in Gale Crater on the Red Planet since its dramatic sky-crane landing in August 2012. The rover has 10 science instruments to investigate whether an area within Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life."
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) - April 26, 2013
SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:
"No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010).
More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011. The remaining, pre-sequenced ultra-high frequency (UHF) relay passes scheduled for Spirit on board the Odyssey orbiter will complete on June 8, 2011.
Total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."
OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Rover Telemetry Expected Today - sols 279-3290, Apr. 14, 2013-Apr. 26, 2013 :
"Opportunity has moved into position for the coming three-week solar conjunction period at "Cape York" on the rim of Endeavour Crater.
This location, called 'Big Nickel,' is the last in-situ (contact) target before the rover departs from Cape York, once solar conjunction is concluded.
Solar conjunction is when the Sun comes between Earth and Mars, which occurs about once every 26 months. During this time there will be diminished communications to Opportunity. The team will suspend sending the rover new commands between April 9 and April 26. The rover will continue science activities using a long-term set of commands to be sent beforehand. No new images are expected to be returned during this time.
On Sol 3255 (March 21, 2013), after completing the investigation of the 'Newberries' at the location called 'Kirkwood,' Opportunity drove over 82 feet (25 meters) straight north toward the location called 'Big Nickel.' On Sol 3257 (March 23, 2013), the rover completed the approach to 'Big Nickel' with a 13-foot (4-meter) drive. In order to reach a specific surface target, Opportunity performed a modest, 0.8 inch (2-centimeter) bump on Sol 3260 (March 26, 2013).
With the rover precisely positioned, the plan ahead is to sequence the robotic arm to collect a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of the target, called 'Esperance' and place the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for an overnight integration.
On Sols 3255, 3256 and 3257 (March 21, 22 and 23, 2013), Opportunity benefitted from some dust cleaning of the solar arrays, improving energy production.
As of Sol 3260 (March 26, 2013), the solar array energy production was 590 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.760 and an improved solar array dust factor of 0.654.
Total odometry is 22.15 miles (35.65 kilometers)."
Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.
|Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - April 17, 2013
NASA Mars Orbiters Have New Project Managers
"PASADENA, Calif. -- Two NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars, both working long past their original prime missions, have new project managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dan Johnston is the new project manager for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and David Lehman is now project manager for NASA's Mars Odyssey.
Johnston has worked on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission from its inception in 2000, through launch in 2005 and during operations in Mars orbit since 2006. He was the mission's design manager during development. Later roles have included mission manager and, since 2010, deputy project manager.
Johnston, a Louisiana native, earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, worked in private-industry support of NASA space shuttle mission operations, and joined JPL in 1989. He lives in La Crescenta, Calif.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned more data than all other Mars missions combined, observing Mars' surface, subsurface and atmosphere in unprecedented detail and radically expanding our knowledge of the Red Planet.
"The project's major challenge is to balance the science that the mission is continuing with the needs for serving as a communication relay for rovers," Johnston said. "Keeping the orbiter in service is our number-one priority."
Lehman managed NASA's twin-spacecraft Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) Project from its inception in 2006 through the 2012 completion of its work orbiting Earth's moon.
Lehman's career has taken him from undersea to deep space. Before joining JPL in 1980, he was a U.S. Navy submarine officer. At JPL, his accomplishments have included managing NASA's Deep Space 1 Project, which tested 12 innovative technologies, such as ion propulsion and autonomous navigation, on its way to an asteroid flyby. Lehman holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from Colorado State University, Fort Collins. The New Mexico native now lives in Pasadena, Calif.
Mars Odyssey has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2001, began systematic science observations there in early 2002, and broke the previous record for longest-working Mars spacecraft in December 2010. The mission's longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of seasonal changes on Mars from year to year, in addition to communication-relay service for Mars rovers.
Lehman said, "Odyssey is a major asset for NASA's Mars Program both for its science and as a relay. There is a lot of work being done by a lean team to keep it running smoothly."
MARS RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER HIRISE IMAGES
More information about the MRO mission is available online.
|Mars Odyssey Orbiter - March 20, 2013
Sun in the Way Will Affect Mars Missions in April
"PASADENA, Calif. - The positions of the planets next month will mean diminished communications between Earth and NASA's spacecraft at Mars.
Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun, from Earth's perspective. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during that near-alignment. To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are preparing to suspend sending any commands to spacecraft at Mars for weeks in April. Transmissions from Mars to Earth will also be reduced.
The travels of Earth and Mars around the sun set up this arrangement, called a Mars solar conjunction, about once every 26 months.
"This is our sixth conjunction for Odyssey," said Chris Potts of JPL, mission manager for NASA's Mars Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001. "We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different."
The Mars solar conjunctions that occur once about every 26 months are not identical to each other. They can differ in exactly how close to directly behind the sun Mars gets, and they can differ in how active the sun is. The sun's activity, in terms of sunspots and solar flares, varies on a 22-year cycle."
"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
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|
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More Acknowledgements and References
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