Astronomy News for the Month of October 2017

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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...

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.

"Earth-based telescopes easily show Uranus' distinctive blue-green color. This 2006 Hubble Space Telescope image also reveals banding in the atmosphere as well as a rare transit by the planet's moon Ariel (the white dot) and its shadow (to the right)."
NASA/ESA/L. Sromovsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

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

08 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

Jupiter has disappeared from the evening sky, but Saturn, Uranus and Neptune remain. This month, Uranus reaches opposition and its best viewing for the year. Mornings are best for viewing the inner planets, Venus and Mars. Mercury switches places with Jupiter as it returns to the evening sky. The Orionids meteor shower peaks during the latter part of October. Comet PANSTARRS passes just south of the Pleiades heading west into Aries.


Sets at 6:35 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:33 p.m. by month's end. Mercury is in superior conjunction on the 8th. Mercury returns to the evening sky after this. Observers living in the southern US and further south may be able to spot Mercury in the evening twilight glow later in the month about 30 minutes after sunset to the west-southwest. Mercury moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra this month shining at magnitude -0.4 on the 31st.


Rises at 4:54 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:03 a.m. by month's end. Look for Venus shining brightly in the early morning hours before sunrise, appearing to descend toward the eastern horizon as the month progresses. Venus moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude -3.9.




Venus appears 0.2° from Mars on October 5.
On the 17th, a crescent Moon joins the two,
mirroring this scene from January 31, 2017.
Matthew Dieterich




Rises at 5:07 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:42 a.m. by month's end. Mars is at aphelion (154.9 million miles from the Sun) on the 7th. Mars is visible low in the east and is best viewed at least 30 minutes before sunrise. Mars moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude 1.8.


Sets at 7:32 p.m. on the 1st. Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th. Jupiter rises around 7:05 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter disappears into the evening twilight glow before mid-month, so try to spot it hanging low in the west early in the month. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -1.7.


Sets at 10:27 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:35 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is easily spotted soon after sunset towards the west-southwest. Saturn is in the constellation of Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 0.5.


Reaches opposition on the 19th, rising as the Sun sets. Uranus rises at 7:22 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:17 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is at its best viewing for the year and is visible almost all night long this month. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.


Rises at 5:35 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:32 p.m. by month's end. By the time the skies darken, Neptune should be high enough above the eastern horizon to be observed. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Rises at 2:16 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:54 a.m. by month's end. Ceres is best viewed at least an hour or so before sunrise to the south-southeast. Ceres is in the constellation of Cancer shining at magnitude 8.7.


Sets at 12:17 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:12 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is visible in the late evening but is best viewed when it is highest in the sky toward the southwest. 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.

    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

  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) is passing south of the Pleiades during the first week of October. PANSTARRS is heading west toward Aries shining around 11th magnitude. The best time to spot this comet will be during the last two weeks of the month when the Moon will not interfere with viewing. An 8 inch telescope and dark skies will be required to spot this one.

  • 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

  • Enjoy Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in the evening skies after sunset.
  • Look for Venus and Mars in the morning skies before sunrise.
  • Try to observe some of the Orionids during the latter half of the month.
  • Try to spot Comets PANSTARRS in Taurus.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Julia is in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Iris is at opposition on the 29th in the constellation of Aries.
    • Pallas is at opposition on the 28th in the constellation of Eridanus.
    • Massalia is in the constellation of Orion.
    • Flora is in the constellation of Gemini.

    • 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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    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
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    Large Solar Storm Sparks Global Aurora and Doubles Radiation Levels on the Martian Surface
    September 29, 2017

    Full Article & Images

    "An unexpectedly strong blast from the Sun hit Mars this month, observed by NASA missions in orbit and on the surface.

    "NASA's distributed set of science missions is in the right place to detect activity on the Sun and examine the effects of such solar events at Mars as never possible before," said MAVEN Program Scientist Elsayed Talaat, program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington, for NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission.

    The solar event on Sept. 11, 2017 sparked a global aurora at Mars more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen by the MAVEN orbiter, which has been studying the Martian atmosphere's interaction with the solar wind since 2014."

    "Read the latest news and discoveries from JPL's dozens of active space missions exploring Earth, the solar system and worlds beyond."

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions -

    For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador web site at

    Juno - September 6, 2017
    Jupiter's Auroras Present a Powerful Mystery

    Full Article & Images

    "Scientists on NASA's Juno mission have observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter's polar regions that contribute to the giant planet's powerful auroras - only not in ways the researchers expected.

    Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard the Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft, a team led by Barry Mauk of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter's magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts. This is 10 to 30 times higher than the largest auroral potentials observed at Earth, where only several thousands of volts are typically needed to generate the most intense auroras -- known as discrete auroras -- the dazzling, twisting, snake-like northern and southern lights seen in places like Alaska and Canada, northern Europe, and many other northern and southern polar regions."

    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 - September 15, 2017
    NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn

    Full Article & Images

    "A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close today, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet.

    "This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it's also a new beginning," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.""

    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 7, 2017
    First Official Pluto Feature Names

    Full Article & Images

    "The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features, approved names of 14 surface features on Pluto in August 2017. The names were proposed by NASA's New Horizons team following the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015."

    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 27, 2017
    First Official Pluto Feature Names

    Full Article & Images

    "Ten years ago, NASA's Dawn spacecraft set sail for the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: giant asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. The mission was designed to deliver new knowledge about these small but intricate worlds, which hold clues to the formation of planets in our solar system." 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.

    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 29, 2017
    Large Solar Storm Sparks Global Aurora and Doubles Radiation Levels on the Martian Surface

    Full Article & Images

    "An unexpectedly strong blast from the Sun hit Mars this month, observed by NASA missions in orbit and on the surface.

    "NASA's distributed set of science missions is in the right place to detect activity on the Sun and examine the effects of such solar events at Mars as never possible before," said Elsayed Talaat, program scientist for MAVEN at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

    The solar event on Sept. 11, 2017 sparked a global aurora at Mars more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen by the MAVEN orbiter, which has been studying the Martian atmosphere’s interaction with the solar wind since 2014."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - September 30, 2017
    Sol 1831: Quite a Diffracting Weekend!

    Full Article & Images

    "The science team has been waiting quite a long time for this moment. Back in late March, nearly 180 Mars-days ago and when Curiosity was investigating the last stretches of the Bagnold Dunes before continuing towards Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity's scoop gathered a sample called "Ogunquit Beach." In order to quantitatively determine the mineral assemblage present in this sample of a sand dune, Curiosity would have to deliver the sample to the CheMin X-ray diffractometer instrument. However, because of the ongoing troubles with the arm's drill feed, Curiosity has been stuck with Ogunquit Beach in "storage" and unable to deliver the sample to CheMin - until this weekend! Tomorrow, at around 7:30am PDT, Curiosity will be given the "all clear" to deliver Ogunquit Beach to CheMin. Throughout the weekend, CheMin will analyze this sample, precisely measuring diffraction data for deriving its mineral assemblage, and will send the data back to Earth. The science team is very excited to be crossing this milestone, and we can't wait to compare Ogunquit Beach to the other measurements of the Bagnold Dunes acquired over the last few years."

    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 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - September 19, 2017

    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 Continues to Survey 'Perseverance Valley' During Winter - sols 4849 - 4854, Sept. 13, 2017 - Sept. 19, 2017:

    "Opportunity is continuing the winter exploration of "Perseverance Valley" on the west rim of Endeavour Crater.

    Winter continues to constrain activity. Sols 4849, 4852 and 4854 (Sept. 13, Sept. 16 and Sept. 19, 2017), were recharge sols with little to no science activity. However, the rover continues to make good progress is surveying the valley.

    On Sol 4850 (Sept. 14, 2017), Opportunity collected a 10x1-frame Panoramic Camera (Pancam) stereo panorama. This was continued on Sol 4854 (Sept. 19, 2017), with a 14x1-frame Pancam stereo panorama, filling out the data set for a complete digital elevation model at this location in the valley. The robotic arm was used on Sol 4851 (Sept. 15, 2017), to set up for an early morning test of the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the morning of Sol 4854 (Sept. 19, 2017). A Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic was collected prior to the APXS placement. The test of the APXS showed that good quality data can be collected in the winter early morning (versus the normal late night).

    As of Sol 4854 (Sept. 19, 2017), the solar array energy production was 283 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.524 and a solar array dust factor of 0.507.

    Total odometry is 27.97 miles (45.02 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - July 14, 2017
    For Moratorium on Sending Commands to Mars, Blame the Sun

    Full Article & Image

    "This month, movements of the planets will put Mars almost directly behind the sun, from Earth's perspective, causing curtailed communications between Earth and Mars.

    NASA will refrain from sending commands to America's three Mars orbiters and two Mars rovers during the period from July 22 to Aug. 1.

    "Out of caution, we won't talk to our Mars assets during that period because we expect significant degradation in the communication link, and we don't want to take a chance that one of our spacecraft would act on a corrupted command," said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - September 28, 2017
    A Fresh Look at Older Data Yields a Surprise Near the Martian Equator

    Full Article and Images

    "Scientists taking a new look at older data from NASA's longest-operating Mars orbiter have discovered evidence of significant hydration near the Martian equator -- a mysterious signature in a region of the Red Planet where planetary scientists figure ice shouldn't exist.

    Jack Wilson, a post-doctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, led a team that reprocessed data collected from 2002 to 2009 by the neutron spectrometer instrument on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft. In bringing the lower-resolution compositional data into sharper focus, the scientists spotted unexpectedly high amounts of hydrogen -- which at high latitudes is a sign of buried water ice -- around sections of the Martian equator.

    An accessible supply of water ice near the equator would be of interest in planning astronaut exploration of Mars. The amount of delivered mass needed for human exploration could be greatly reduced by using Martian natural resources for a water supply and as raw material for producing hydrogen fuel."

    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 - October 3, 2017
    Another Chance to Put Your Name on Mars

    Full Article and Images

    "When it lands on Mars in November of 2018, NASA's InSight lander will be carrying several science instruments -- along with hundreds of thousands of names from members of the public.

    In 2015, nearly 827,000 people signed up to add their names to a silicon microchip onboard the robotic spacecraft. NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving the public another chance to send their names to Mars.

    New submissions will be accepted through Nov. 1, 2017, at the following link:

    "Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," said Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet."

    This fly-your-name opportunity comes with "frequent flier" points reflecting an individual's personal participation in NASA's exploration of Mars. These points span multiple missions and multiple decades. Participants who sent their names on the previous InSight opportunity in 2015 can download a "boarding pass" and see their "frequent flier" miles.

    As part of this frequent flier program, a chip carrying the names of 1.38 million people also flew aboard the first flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2014. NASA is building Orion to carry astronauts to deep space destinations that will enable future missions to Mars."

    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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