Astronomy News for the Month of October 2014

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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 447.400MHz 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.

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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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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 August

Begin your autumn evenings by viewing Mars and Saturn low in the southwest. Continue your stargazing and catch Neptune and Uranus after the sky darkens. Look for Jupiter after midnight and observe the Jovian moons as they pass in front of the planet and eclipse each other during the month. Early morning risers are greeted with a brief glimpse of Venus before its conjunction with the Sun early in the month and then Mercury after its conjunction later in the month. The highlights for North American observers are the two eclipses. A total lunar eclipse occurs before dawn on the 8th and a partial solar eclipse occurs on the afternoon of the 23rd.


Is stationary on the 4th. Mercury is in inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 16th. Mercury is stationary again on the 25th. Look for Mercury during the first few days of October very low to the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. After that, Mercury disappears from view for a couple of weeks, returning to the morning sky during the last week of the month, rising just before 6 a.m. Mercury is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -0.5 on the 31st.


Is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 25th. Venus rises at 6:25 a.m. on the 1st. Venus can be spotted low above the eastern horizon before sunrise for the first 2 weeks of October. Venus then disappears from view for the rest of the month. Venus will return to the evening sky next month. Venus moves from the constellation Virgo into Libra shining at magnitude -4.0 in the 15th.




Sets at 9:38 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:10 p.m. by month's end. Mars can be spotted low in the southwest soon after sunset. Mars moves from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude 0.7.


Rises at 2:35 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:55 a.m. by month's end. For Jupiter, October begins a series of eclipses and occultations of the Jovian moons, due to Jupiter's orbital plane being closely aligned with our line of site to the planet. Jupiter moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo shining at magnitude -2.0.


Sets at 8:40 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:48 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn low in the southwest soon after sunset. Check out Saturn's ring system through a telescope this month before it gets more difficult to see by the end of the month. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.6.


Is at opposition on the 7th, rising as the Sun sets. Uranus rises at 6:53 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:48 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is at its best for the year this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.


Rises at 5:19 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:15 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the evening skies. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Sets at 9:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:13 p.m. by month's end. Ceres can be spotted in the early evening skies after sunset, once the sky darkens. Ceres is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 9.0.


Sets at 11:54 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:53 p.m. by month's end. 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

  • The Draconids - This meteor shower is associated with periodic comet Giacobini-Zinner. The duration may extend from October 6 to 10, though the point of maximum is very sharply defined within a 4-hour interval on October 9, but the annual maximum hourly rates are not consistent. The radiant rarely produces any recognizable shower except during years especially close to the parent comet's perihelion passage. The meteors are slow and tend to be relatively faint. They are generally yellow.

  • The Orionids - The duration of this meteor shower extends from October 15 to 29, with maximum occurring on (the morning of) October 21. The maximum hourly rate is usually about 20 and the meteors are described as fast.

  • The Southern Taurids - This meteor shower is active from September 10 to November 20. Maximum occurs on the morning of October 10. Maximum hourly rate is 5 meteors per hour. The meteors are described as bright and move more slowly than typical meteors, making them prime subjects for imaging and viewing.

    For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.

  • Comets

  • Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) passes 81,000 miles from Mars and appears within 2 minutes of arc from the planet on the 19th. The two objects pass each other around 3 a.m. EDT. Mars shines at 0.9 magnitude and Comet Siding Spring glows at 8th magnitude during their passing.

  • Comet Siding Spring - Encounter with Mars

  • Comet Oukaimeden (C/2013 V5) could possibly glow around 7th magnitude during the first week of the month but is close to the southwestern horizon making it more difficult to spot.

  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2012 K1) passes through the constellation of Puppis glowing around 6th magnitude this month.

    A 4 inch or larger telescope may be needed to spot these comets.

  • 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.

  • Lunar Eclipse

  • A total lunar eclipse occurs on the 8th for observers in North America.

    Time Zone Partial Umbral
    eclipse begins
    Total eclipse
    Total eclipse
    Partial eclipse
    9:15 UT 10:25 UT 10:55 UT 11:24 UT 12:34 UT
    Daylight Time
    Oct. 8, 2014
    5:15 am EDT 6:25 am EDT 6:55 am EDT 7:24 am EDT 8:34 am EDT
    Daylight Time
    Oct. 8, 2014
    4:15 am CDT 5:25 am CDT 5:55 am CDT 6:24 am CDT 7:34 am CDT
    Daylight Time
    Oct. 8, 2014
    3:15 am MDT 4:25 am MDT 4:55 am MDT 5:24 am MDT 6:34 am MDT
    Daylight Time
    Oct. 8, 2014
    2:15 am PDT 3:25 am PDT 3:55 am PDT 4:24 am PDT 5:34 am PDT
    Daylight Time
    Oct. 8, 2014
    1:15 am ADT 2:25 am ADT 2:55 am ADT 3:24 am ADT 4:34 am ADT
    Standard Time
    Oct. 7-8, 2014
    11:15 pm HAST
    Oct 7
    12:25 am HAST
    Oct 8
    12:55 am HAST
    Oct 8
    1:24 am HAST
    Oct 8
    2:34 am HAST
    Oct 8

    Also check out for other locations and times.

  • Solar Eclipse

  • A partial solar eclipse occurs on the 23rd for observers in North America.

    Time Zone Solar eclipse
    Solar eclipse
    of solar disk
    Daylight Time
    Philadelphia, PA
    5:51 pm EDT 6:18 pm EDT Sunset before
    end of eclipse
    Daylight Time
    St. Louis, MO
    4:41 pm CDT 5:47 pm CDT Sunset before
    end of eclipse
    Daylight Time
    Denver, CO
    3:18 pm MDT 4:35 pm MDT 5:44 pm MDT 45%
    Daylight Time
    San Francisco, CA
    1:52 pm PDT 3:15 pm PDT 4:32 pm PDT 39%
    Daylight Time
    Anchorage, AK
    11:55 am ADT 1:11 pm ADT 2:28 pm ADT 55%

    Also check out for other locations and times.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Mars and Saturn to the southwest.
  • Find Neptune and Uranus in the evening and early morning sky.
  • Observe Venus and Jupiter in the early morning sky before sunrise.
  • Observe the Total Lunar Eclipse on the morning of the 8th.
  • Observe the Partial Solar Eclipse on the afternoon of the 23rd.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Victoria is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Hebe is in the constellation of Eridanus.
    • Juno is in the constellation of Cancer.

    • 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 - September 29, 2014
    Cassini Watches Mysterious Feature Evolve in Titan Sea


    "NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest seas on Titan. It has now been observed twice by Cassini's radar experiment, but its appearance changed between the two apparitions.

    Images of the feature taken during the Cassini flybys are available at:

    The mysterious feature, which appears bright in radar images against the dark background of the liquid sea, was first spotted during Cassini's July 2013 Titan flyby. Previous observations showed no sign of bright features in that part of Ligeia Mare. Scientists were perplexed to find the feature had vanished when they looked again, over several months, with low-resolution radar and Cassini's infrared imager. This led some team members to suggest it might have been a transient feature. But during Cassini's flyby on August 21, 2014, the feature was again visible, and its appearance had changed during the 11 months since it was last seen."

    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 - September 18, 2014

    One Last Slumber

    "On Aug. 29 we put New Horizons into hibernation for the final time. This last hibernation lasts 99 days and ends on Dec. 6. It's a little hard for some of us on the mission team to believe that after seven-plus years of hibernating through most of the 2.5-billion mile journey from Jupiter to Pluto and the inner reaches of the Kuiper Belt, the final, short leg of cruise is actually upon us.

    We will wake New Horizons for the last time in just 10 weeks! When we do that, encounter preparations will begin, and six weeks later, the Pluto encounter itself will begin.

    Wow. We are here. We've reached other end of the planetary system. Twenty-five years after first wondering if Pluto might someday be explored, we are about to do just that!"

    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 - September 16, 2014
    Dawn Operating Normally After Safe Mode Triggered

    "The Dawn spacecraft has resumed normal ion thrusting after the thrusting unexpectedly stopped and the spacecraft entered safe mode on September 11. That anomaly occurred shortly before a planned communication with NASA's Deep Space Network that morning. The spacecraft was not performing any special activities at the time.

    Engineers immediately began working to restore the spacecraft to its normal operational state. The team determined the source of the problems, corrected them, and then resumed normal ion thrusting on Monday night, Sept. 15.

    "This anomaly presented the team with an intricate and elaborate puzzle to solve," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    After investigating what caused the spacecraft to enter safe mode, the Dawn team determined that it was likely triggered by the same phenomenon that affected Dawn three years ago on approach to the protoplanet Vesta: An electrical component in the ion propulsion system was disabled by a high-energy particle of radiation."

    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 - September 12, 2014
    Second of Four Planned Maneuvers Extends MESSENGER Orbital Operations

    "MESSENGER mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., conducted the second of four maneuvers designed to raise the spacecraft's minimum altitude sufficiently to extend orbital operations and delay the probe's inevitable impact onto Mercury's surface until early next spring.

    The first of the four maneuvers, completed on June 17, raised MESSENGER to an altitude at closest approach from 115 kilometers (71.4 miles) to 156.4 kilometers (97.2 miles) above the planet's surface. Because of progressive changes to the orbit over time, the spacecraft's minimum altitude continued to decrease.

    At the time of this most recent maneuver, MESSENGER was in an orbit with a closest approach of 24.3 kilometers (15.1 miles) above the surface of Mercury. With a velocity change of 8.57 meters per second (19.17 miles per hour), the spacecraft's four largest monopropellant thrusters (with a small contribution from four of the 12 smallest monopropellant thrusters) nudged the spacecraft to an orbit with a closest approach altitude of 94 kilometers (58.4 miles). This maneuver also increased the spacecraft's speed relative to Mercury at the maximum distance from Mercury, adding about 3.2 minutes to the spacecraft's eight-hour, two-minute orbit period.

    This view shows MESSENGER's orientation soon after the start of the maneuver."

    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 - September 23, 2014
    MAVEN Status Update: Sept. 22, 2014

    "David F. Mitchell, MAVEN Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center"

    "Right on schedule last night at 9:50 p.m. EDT, the MAVEN spacecraft fired its main engines for 33 minutes and 26 seconds in order to slow down the spacecraft enough to capture into Mars orbit. Following that event at about 10:30 p.m. EDT, David Folta, the Goddard Mission Design/Navigation lead-stationed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-made the call that we were all waiting for, "Based on observed navigation data, congratulations, MAVEN is now in Mars orbit!"

    The spacecraft team listening on the net at the Lockheed Martin Mission Operations Center erupted with cheers of happiness and relief. Our one shot to get MAVEN safely into Mars orbit had been successful. For some on the Project, it was the culmination of 11 years of work and for many others, it is now the beginning of the science mission."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - September 25, 2014

    NASA Rover Drill Pulls First Taste From Mars Mountain
    Full image and caption)

    "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has collected its first taste of the layered mountain whose scientific allure drew the mission to choose this part of Mars as a landing site. Late Wednesday, Sept. 24, the rover's hammering drill chewed about 2.6 inches (6.7 centimeters) deep into a basal-layer outcrop on Mount Sharp and collected a powdered-rock sample. Data and images received early Thursday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, confirmed success of this operation. The powder collected by the drilling is temporarily held within the sample-handling mechanism on the rover's arm."

    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) - September 23, 2014

    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: Opportunity's Heading to a Small Crater Called 'Ulysses' - sols 3786-3792, September 17, 2014-September 23, 2014 :

    "Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater heading towards "Marathon Valley," a putative location for abundant clay minerals.

    The rover is headed to a near-term target, a small crater named "Ulysses." The rover is moving closer to Ulysses to get a peek inside. On Sol 3787 (Sept. 18, 2014), Opportunity drove a little over 44 feet (13.5 meters) in rocky terrain, requiring the use of Visual Odometry to safely navigate. On Sol 3789 (Sept. 20, 2014), the rover moved closer to the rim of Ulysses, but the drive stopped after 15 feet (4.6 meters) because Visual Odometry was not tracking on the last steps. An evening Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer measurement of atmospheric argon was performed on Sol 3790 (Sept. 21, 2014). The rover continued closer to Ulysses on the next sol with a 13-feet (4-meter) bump. High slip prevented the rover from completing the turn for communication at the end of the drive.

    Recently, there were more Flash-related events. Two more "amnesia" events occurred on the evenings of Sols 3786 and 3789 (Sept. 17 and Sept. 20, 2014). And two Flash write errors to Bank 7 occurred on Sols 3791 and 3792 (Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, 2014). All these events were benign and did not impact the rover's operation. The project continues to investigate. Otherwise, Opportunity continues in good health.

    As of Sol 3792 (Sept. 23, 2014), the solar array energy production was 639 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.889 and a solar array dust factor of 0.740.

    Total odometry is 25.34 (40.77 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - August 13, 2014
    Tall Boulder Rolls Down Martian Hill, Lands Upright

    (Full image and caption)

    The track left by an oblong boulder as it tumbled down a slope on Mars runs from upper left to right center of this image. The boulder came to rest in an upright attitude at the downhill end of the track. The HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this view on July 3, 2014.

    "A track about one-third of a mile (500 meters) long on Mars shows where an irregularly shaped boulder careened downhill to its current upright position, seen in a July 3, 2014, image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    The shadow cast by the rock in mid-afternoon sunlight reveals it is about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. In the downward-looking image, the boulder is only about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) wide. It happened to come to rest with its long dimension vertical. The trail it left on the slope has a pattern that suggests the boulder couldn't roll smoothly or straight due to its shape."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - August 6, 2014
    Orbiter Completes Maneuver to Prepare for Comet Flyby

    Odyssey over Mars' South Pole
    NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft passes above Mars' south pole in this artist's concept illustration. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since October 24, 2001.

    "NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has successfully adjusted the timing of its orbit around Mars as a defensive precaution for a comet's close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19, 2014.

    The orbiter fired thrusters for five and a half seconds on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The maneuver was calculated to place the orbiter behind Mars during the half hour on the flyby date when dust particles released from comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring are most likely to reach Mars. The nucleus of the comet will miss Mars by about one-third of the distance between Earth and Earth's moon.

    "The modeling predictions for comet Siding Spring suggest a dust-particle impact would not be likely in any case, but this maneuver has given us an added protection," said Mars Odyssey Project Manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Those dust particles will be traveling so fast that even one hit could end our mission."

    The Tuesday maneuver did not change the shape of Odyssey's orbit, but tweaked the timing. The spacecraft is in a near-polar orbit, circling Mars about once every two hours. The maneuver used four trajectory-correction thrusters, which each provide about 5 pounds (22 newtons) of force. It consumed less than one percent of the orbiter's remaining fuel.

    Mars Odyssey has worked at the Red Planet longer than any other Mars mission in history. NASA launched the spacecraft on April 7, 2001, and Odyssey arrived at Mars Oct. 24, 2001. Besides conducting its own scientific observations, the mission provides a communication relay for robots on the Martian surface."

    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

    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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