Astronomy News for the Month of October 2016

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For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League's 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WB0WDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar nodes 28298, 28299 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).

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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador website.
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In this Newsletter...

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

02 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 October

Begin your October nights looking west. It's easy to spot Venus low to the western horizon all month. Scan the skies to the southwest and catch Saturn and Mars. These two planets are then followed by Neptune and Uranus, though you will need a small telescope to spot these two. Ceres is at its best for this year too and is fairly close to Uranus, though you will need a telescope and dark skies to spot this dwarf planet. Also, look for the Orionids meteors on clear dark nights some time between the 7th and 28th. This shower peaks on the 21st, but any time before and after, you can expect to see a few of them streaking through the heavens.


Mercury rises at 5:29 a.m. on the 1st and about 7:46 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is in conjunction with Jupiter on the 11th, lying just 0.8° apart before sunrise. Mercury is in superior conjunction on the 27th. View Mercury during the first 3 weeks of October in the morning sky before sunrise. Mercury moves from the constellation of Leo into Libra this month shining at magnitude -0.8 on the 1st.


Sets at 7:58 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:54 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early evening towards the western horizon this month. Venus moves from the constellation of Libra into Ophiuchus shining at magnitude -3.9.




Sets at 10:58 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:42 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars about an hour or so after sunset to the south-southwest. Mars is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.2.


Rises about 6:37 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:07 a.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the early morning to the east before sunrise. Follow Jupiter and Mercury in the morning as they reach conjunction on the morning of the 11th. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -1.7.


Sets at 9:47 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:55 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn towards the west just ahead of Mars in the evening sky. Saturn is in the constellation of Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 0.6.


Is at opposition on the 15th, rising as the Sun sets. Uranus rises at 7:11 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:06 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible all night long this month. Uranus is also at its best this year this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.


Rises at 5:28 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:25 p.m. by month's end. Having reached opposition last month, Neptune is still visible for most of the night this month. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Is at opposition on the 21st, rising as the Sun sets. Ceres rises at 9:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:08 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is at its best this year this month. Ceres can be viewed almost all night long as long as you have nice dark skies. Ceres is in the constellation of Cetus shining at magnitude 7.5.


Sets at 12:09 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:05 p.m. by month's end. Look to the southwest, near Mars, to spot Pluto in the evening skies. 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 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.

    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 43P/Wolf-Harrington is now passing through the constellations of Leo, Hydra and Sextans this month. Shining around 11th magnitude, a minimum of an 8 inch telescope and very dark skies will be required to catch this glowing fuzzball during the first half of the month.

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

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

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • SObserve Venus, Saturn and Mars in the early evening after sunset.
  • SUranus and Ceres are at their best this month. Try to spot them after the skies darken to the east.
  • SLook for Jupiter and Mercury in the east before sunrise.
  • STry to spot some of the Orionid meteors streaking through the night sky around mid month.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Pallas is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Parthenope is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Melpomene is at opposition on the 23rd in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Eurynome is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Cancer.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.

    IOTA Logo

  • The Moon occults Aldebaran on the night of October 18/19. Begin your observing of the Moon around 8:30 p.m. local time on the 18th, when the Moon will pass in front of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus (the head "V" of the bull). The stars of this cluster will reappear around 11 pm EDT. About 2 hours later, observers south of a line from Southern California to the western Great Lakes will see 1st magnitude Aldebaran pass behind the Moon. Observers on this line will get to see a grazing occultation where the star will disappear and reappear between the mountains and valleys along the Moon's edge.

  • 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)
    Juno - August 27, 2016
    NASA's Juno Successfully Completes Jupiter Flyby

    Full Article and Image

    "NASA's Juno mission successfully executed its first of 36 orbital flybys of Jupiter today. The time of closest approach with the gas-giant world was 6:44 a.m. PDT (9:44 a.m. EDT, 13:44 UTC) when Juno passed about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) above Jupiter's swirling clouds. At the time, Juno was traveling at 130,000 mph (208,000 kilometers per hour) with respect to the planet. This flyby was the closest Juno will get to Jupiter during its prime mission.

    "Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California."

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

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

    Cassini - September 20, 2016
    NASA Scientists Find 'Impossible' Cloud on Titan - Again

    Full Article

    "The puzzling appearance of an ice cloud seemingly out of thin air has prompted NASA scientists to suggest that a different process than previously thought -- possibly similar to one seen over Earth's poles -- could be forming clouds on Saturn's moon Titan.

    Located in Titan's stratosphere, the cloud is made of a compound of carbon and nitrogen known as dicyanoacetylene (C4N2), an ingredient in the chemical cocktail that colors the giant moon's hazy, brownish-orange atmosphere."

    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 - September 14, 2016
    X-Rays from Pluto

    Full Article and Images

    "The first detection of Pluto in X-rays has been made using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in conjunction with observations from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

    As New Horizons approached Pluto in late 2014 and then flew by the planet during the summer of 2015, Chandra obtained data during four separate observations. During each observation, Chandra detected low-energy X-rays from the small planet. The main panel in this graphic is an optical image taken from New Horizons on its approach to Pluto, while the inset shows an image of Pluto in X-rays from Chandra."

    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 - September 01, 2016
    NASA Discovers "Lonely Mountain" on Ceres Likely a Salty-Mud


    "An isolated mountain near the equator of the dwarf planet Ceres resembles a volcanic dome, according to new observations from NASA's Dawn mission. Like the "Lonely Mountain" Erebor in J.R.R. Tolkien's mythology, Ahuna Mons on Ceres was once occupied by a dragon, but one that "breathed" ice, not fire. The mountain likely formed as a salty-mud volcano. Instead of molten rock, salty-mud volcanoes, or "cryovolcanoes," release frigid, salty water sometimes mixed with mud."

    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:


    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 -

    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 - July 1, 2016
    MAVEN Status Update

    "Based upon the 2016 Planetary Mission Senior Review Panel report, NASA this week directed nine extended missions, including MAVEN, to plan for continued operations through fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Final decisions on mission extensions are contingent on the outcome of the annual budget process."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - October 03, 2016
    NASA's Curiosity Rover Begins Next Mars Chapter

    Full article and Images

    "After collecting drilled rock powder in arguably the most scenic landscape yet visited by a Mars rover, NASA's Curiosity mobile laboratory is driving toward uphill destinations as part of its two-year mission extension that commenced Oct. 1.

    The destinations include a ridge capped with material rich in the iron-oxide mineral hematite, about a mile-and-a-half (two-and-a-half kilometers) ahead, and an exposure of clay-rich bedrock beyond that."

    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 26, 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: Busy Week of Science and Imaging for Opportunity - sols 4500-4506, September 20, 2016-September 26, 2016: :

    "Since leaving the "Lewis and Clark Gap" of Marathon Valley, Opportunity has been driving through "Bitterroot valley" toward her first waypoint of the new extended mission, "Spirit Mound."

    With the Sol 4500 (Sept. 20, 2016) drive, she arrived at the base of the mound. The rover then bumped to a parking position for imaging and access to possible surface targets on Sol 4502 (Sept. 22, 2016). Finally, on Sol 4505 (Sept. 25, 2016), Opportunity bumped to "Gasconade," a thin, bright and linear outcrop, another possible surface target. The Sol 4500 uplink had to be shortened to avoid an X-band fault due to a very late X-band pass and Earth set below the highly tilted rover deck. A Quick Fine Attitude (QFA) was also done on Sol 4500.

    Panoramic Camera (Pancam) images of Spirit Mound and a Navigation Camera (Navcam) panorama were done on Sol 4501 (Sept. 21, 2016), with dust devil monitoring the following morning. On Sol 4502 (Sept. 22, 2016) Pancam images of nearby boulders were taken before the drive and a post-drive Pancam mosaic of Spirit Mound was taken afterwards. Opportunity took more color Pancam images of Spirit Mound, performed a Pancam low sun survey, and took Microscopic Imager (MI) sky flats on Sol 4503 (Sept. 23, 2016), with a Pancam horizon survey the following morning.

    On Sol 4504 (Sept. 24, 2016), Opportunity took a 13-filter Pancam image of "Council Bluffs", a section of the ridge south of Gasconade, and Gasconade itself, followed by a Pancam 4x1 context panorama of the ridgeline including Council Bluffs. On Sol 4506 (Sept. 26, 2016), Opportunity collected a Navcam image of her tracks, took a Pancam image of "Portland," a breccia target, and a Pancam mosaic of the top of Spirit Mound above Gasconade.

    As of Sol 4506 (Sept. 26, 2016), the solar array energy production is 474 watt-hours with an elevated atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.892 and a solar array dust factor of 0.701.

    Total odometry as of Sol 4505 (Sept. 25, 2016) is 26.99 miles (43.44 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - September 15, 2016
    Some Ancient Mars Lakes Came Long After Others

    Full article and Image

    "Lakes and snowmelt-fed streams on Mars formed much later than previously thought possible, according to new findings using data primarily from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    The recently discovered lakes and streams appeared roughly a billion years after a well-documented, earlier era of wet conditions on ancient Mars. These results provide insight into the climate history of the Red Planet and suggest the surface conditions at this later time may also have been suitable for microbial life."

    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.

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - August 23, 2016
    Test for Damp Ground at Mars' Seasonal Streaks Finds None

    Full Article and Images

    "Seasonal dark streaks on Mars that have become one of the hottest topics in interplanetary research don't hold much water, according to the latest findings from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars.

    The new results from NASA's Mars Odyssey mission rely on ground temperature, measured by infrared imaging using the spacecraft's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). They do not contradict last year's identification of hydrated salt at these flows, which since their 2011 discovery have been regarded as possible markers for the presence of liquid water on modern Mars. However, the temperature measurements now identify an upper limit on how much water is present at these darkened streaks: about as much as in the driest desert sands on Earth.

    When water is present in the spaces between particles of soil or grains of sand, it affects how quickly a patch of ground heats up during the day and cools off at night."

    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 - 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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