Astronomy News for the Month of September 2013


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An Open Invitation

For amateur radio and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League 146.94 MHz repeater on Tuesday nights at 7PM local time.


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.

Also S&S Optika hosts Backyard Star Parties in Littleton several times a month, weather permitting. Come down and enjoy the fun and check out their fine selection of optical instruments.


 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
of the JPL Solar System Ambassador/NASA Outreach program.

For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador website.
(Click on the logo to link to the JPL SSA homepage.)

Solar System Ambassadors Program Accepting Applications

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassadors Program (SSA), a nationwide network of space enthusiast volunteers, will accept applications from September 1 through September 30, 2013.

Highly motivated individuals will be given the opportunity to represent NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as volunteer Solar System Ambassadors to the public for a one-year, renewable term beginning January 1, 2014.

While applications will be sought nationwide, interested parties from the following states are especially encouraged to apply: Alaska, Delaware, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia. SSA hopes to add 100 new volunteers to the program in 2014.

To learn more about the Solar System Ambassador Program, visit http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/. The Announcement of Opportunity and application form will be available on that website beginning September 1.

If you have questions about this opportunity, contact Kay Ferrari, SSA Coordinator, by email at ambassad@jpl.nasa.gov.


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.


13

The Moon

Phases

Apogee/Perigee

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 are also included in the reports.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for September - Venus and Saturn can be spotted low in the west-southwest all month. Mercury joins Venus and Saturn during the last weeks of the month. However, due to the low angle of the ecliptic (the path the planets take through the sky), these three planets do not get very high above the horizon. Observe Venus, Saturn and Mercury in the early evening. Neptune and Uranus are prime for evening and late night viewing. Neptune reached opposition in August and Uranus will reach opposition in October. Mars and Jupiter rise early in the morning and are both prominent in the constellations of Gemini and Cancer and are visible before sunrise. Comet ISON may also be visible in the morning sky as well.
Mercury - Is visible during the last week of the month, low on the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury sets about 7:31 p.m. on the 30th. Mercury moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude -0.1 on the 30th.
Venus - Continues it's sideways motion across the early evening sky as the month progresses. Venus sets about 9:03 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:29 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early evening towards the west-southwest. Venus will be easy to spot as it moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra shining at magnitude -4.1.
Earth - The Autumnal equinox occurs at 4:44 p.m. EDT on the 22nd.
Mars - Rises at 3:23 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:00 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mars in the east before sunrise. Also look for Mars on the mornings of the 8th and 9th before sunrise near M44, the Beehive cluster. Mars moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo this month shining at magnitude 1.6.
Jupiter - Rises at 1:55 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:18 a.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the early morning skies after midnight. Jupiter is in the constellation of Gemini shining at magnitude -2.1.
Saturn - Sets at 10:00 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:10 p.m. by month's end. Look to the west-southwest to spot Saturn in the early evening. Try to spot Saturn in the early twilight while it is still fairly high above the horizon. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.7.
Uranus - Rises at 8:42 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:42 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the evening and early morning sky after midnight. Uranus is approaching opposition next month so is also approaching its best viewing as well. Spot Uranus with binoculars or a small telescope. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.
Neptune - Having reached opposition last month, remains close to its best viewing in September. Neptune rises at 7:11 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:12 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres - Sets at 8:44 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:22 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 8.6.
Pluto - Is stationary on the 20th. Pluto sets at 1:48 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:46 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.0.

As always, good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Alpha Aurigids - This shower's duration seems to persist from August 25 to September 6. Maximum occurs on September 1. The annual maximum hourly rate may be as high as 9, but outbursts of over 30 occurred in 1935, 1986, and 1994, and observers recorded up to 130 meteors per hour in 2007.

  • The Epsilon Perseids meteor shower is a relatively new meteor shower which can be observed from September 4th through the 14th. The Epsilon Perseids peaks on the night of the 9th, morning of the 10th. Observers can expect to see up to 5 or 6 meteors per hours during the peak.

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

  • Comets

  • Comet ISON may prove to be one of the best comets to appear in our lifetime. Comet ISON may become visible in 8 to 10 inch telescopes this month and possibly smaller apertures by month's end. Comet ISON brightens in the morning sky about 2 hours before sunrise. Comet ISON can be spotted just north of M44, the Beehive cluster in early September. Mars is also close by.

  • 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 Cometography.com webpage.

  • Eclipses

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Venus and Saturn in the evening sky in the west-southwest.
  • Check out Neptune and Uranus in the late evening skies.
  • Catch Jupiter, and Mars in the morning after midnight.
  • Try getting a glimpse of Comet ISON in the early morning sky.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    Ocultations

    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 - August 28, 2013
    Cassini Data: Saturn Moon May Have Rigid Ice Shell

    "An analysis of gravity and topography data from the Saturnian moon Titan obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggests there could be something unexpected about the moon's outer ice shell. The findings, published on Aug. 28 in the journal Nature, suggest that Titan's ice shell could be rigid, and that relatively small topographic features on the surface could be associated with large ice "roots" extending into the underlying ocean.

    The study was led by planetary scientists Douglas Hemingway and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who used data from Cassini. The researchers were surprised to find a counterintuitive relationship between gravity and topography.

    "Normally, if you fly over a mountain, you expect to see an increase in gravity due to the extra mass of the mountain," said Nimmo, a Cassini participating scientist. "On Titan, when you fly over a mountain, the gravity gets lower. That's a very odd observation."

    One potential explanation is that each bump in the topography on the surface of Titan is offset by a deeper "root" that is big enough to overwhelm the gravitational effect of the bump on the surface. The root could act like an iceberg extending below the ice shell into the ocean underneath it. In this model, Cassini would detect less gravity wherever there is a big chunk of ice rather than water because ice is less dense than water.

    "It's like a big beach ball under the ice sheet pushing up on it, and the only way to keep it submerged is if the ice sheet is strong," said Hemingway, the paper's lead author and a Cassini team associate. "If large roots under the ice shell are the explanation, this means that Titan's ice shell must have a very thick rigid layer."

    If these findings are correct, a thick rigid ice shell makes it very difficult to have ice volcanoes, which some scientists have proposed to explain other features seen on the surface. They also suggest that convection or plate tectonics are not recycling Titan's ice shell, as they do with Earth's geologically active crust."

    Raw images are available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/index.cfm.

    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 - August 23, 2013
    The PI's Perspective
    Late in Cruise, and a Binary Ahoy

    "New Horizons has just completed a summer of intensive activities and entered hibernation on Aug. 20. The routine parts of the activities included thorough checkouts of all our backup systems (result: they work fine!) and of all our scientific instruments (they work fine too!). We also updated our onboard fault protection (a.k.a. "autonomy") software, collected interplanetary cruise science data, and tracked the spacecraft for hundreds of hours to improve our trajectory knowledge. Added to this mix of routine summer wake-up activities for New Horizons were two major activities that had never been performed before.

    The first of these, conducted in early July, was planned imaging of Pluto and its largest satellite, Charon. As you can see from the image and caption above, we accomplished this using our LORRI long-focal length camera. Seeing these images, revealing our target as a true planetary binary, viscerally signaled to me that we’re nearing our destination and the end of the long, 3-billion-plus mile cruise we set out on back in January 2006."

    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 - 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."

    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 - July 22, 2013
    Looking Back at Us

    • Date Acquired: July 19, 2013, 11:54:41 UTC
    • Image Mission Elapsed Time (MET): 1016558881
    • Instrument: Wide Angle Camera (WAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
    • WAC Filter: 2 (clear filter)
    • Field of View: The WAC has a 10.5° field of view

    "The pair of bright star-like features in the upper panel are not stars at all, but the Earth and Moon! MESSENGER was at a distance of 98 million kilometers (61 million miles) from Earth when this picture was taken. The computer-generated image in the lower left shows how the Earth appeared from Mercury at the time. Much of the Americas, all of Europe and Africa, the Middle East, and much of Asia were visible.

    MESSENGER took this image as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of Mercury. Mercury has no moons that we know of. If any exist, they must be small (less than a few kilometers), or we would have seen them by now. The strategy for the satellite search involves taking multiple images of locations at predetermined distances from Mercury, from 2.5 to 25 times the planet radius. Pictures of these points in space are captured at intervals ranging from seconds to nearly an hour, depending on their distances from Mercury. A moving satellite will appear at different positions in images of the same region of space taken at different times.

    The Earth and Moon appear very large in this picture because they are overexposed. When looking for potentially dim satellites, long exposures are required to capture as much light as possible. Consequently, bright objects in the field of view become saturated and appear artificially large. In fact, the Earth and Moon are each less than a pixel in size, and no details on either can be seen. The "tails" pointing downward from the Earth and Moon are artifacts caused by the image saturation. These can be seen clearly in the zoomed image in the center lower panel.

    This image was taken on the same day that images with Earth in the scene were acquired by the Cassini spacecraft, as part of a mosaic of the backlit Saturn system (http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/waveatsaturn)."

    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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    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

    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 - August 28, 2013

    NASA Mars Rover Views Eclipse of the Sun by Phobos

    "PASADENA, Calif. - Images taken with a telephoto-lens camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity catch the larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos, passing directly in front of the sun -- the sharpest images of a solar eclipse ever taken at Mars.Phobos does not fully cover the sun, as seen from the surface of Mars, so the solar eclipse is what's called a ring, or annular, type. A set of three frames from Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam), taken three seconds apart as Phobos eclipsed the sun, is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17356.

    The images are the first full-resolution frames downlinked to Earth from an Aug. 17, 2013, series. The series may later provide a movie of the eclipse. Curiosity paused during its drive that day to record the sky-watching images.

    "This event occurred near noon at Curiosity's location, which put Phobos at its closest point to the rover, appearing larger against the sun than it would at other times of day," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a co-investigator for use of Curiosity's Mastcam. "This is the closest to a total eclipse of the sun that you can have from Mars."

    Observations of the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, by Curiosity and by the older, still-active Mars rover Opportunity are helping researchers get more precise knowledge of the moons' orbits. During the Aug. 17 observation, the position of Phobos crossing the sun was a mile or two (two or three kilometers) closer to the center of the sun's position than researchers anticipated."

    To follow the Mars Curiosity rover and NASA on Foursquare, visit: http://www.foursquare.com/MarsCuriosity and http://www.foursquare.com/NASA

    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) - August 27, 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: Examining Rocks Around Boulder Field - sols 3405-3410, Aug. 22, 2013-Aug. 27, 2013 :

    "Opportunity is at the base of 'Solander Point' on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover is navigating around a large boulder field examining the geologic contacts in this area.

    On Sol 3405 (Aug. 22, 2013), Opportunity backed away from the target 'Platypus' to image it with the color Panoramic Cameras, then moved about 13 feet (4 meters) navigating around the boulder field for surface targets to investigate. Navigation Camera images of the rover tracks were also collected.

    On Sol 3407 (Aug. 24, 2013), Opportunity moved 35 feet (10.7) meters further within the boulder field, skirting some large rocks. On the following sol, the rover collected a measurement of atmospheric argon using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer.

    On Sol 3410 (Aug. 27, 2013), Opportunity drove about 118 feet (36 meters) approaching an exciting geologic contact.

    As of Sol 3410 (Aug. 27, 2013), the solar array energy production was 373 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.646 and a solar array dust factor of 0.525.

    Total odometry is 23.77 miles (38.26 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - August 14, 2013
    Swapping Motion-Sensing Units

    "The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is now using its Inertial Measurement Unit 2 and has resumed normal relay operations and science observations.

    PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is switching from one motion-sensing device to a duplicate unit onboard.

    The veteran orbiter relies on this inertial measurement unit (IMU) for information about changes in orientation. This information is important for maintaining spacecraft attitude and for pointing the orbiter's large antenna and science-observation instruments.

    The spacecraft has two identical copies of this motion-sensing device, called IMU-1 and IMU-2. Either of them can be used with either of the spacecraft's redundant main computers. Each contains three gyroscopes and three accelerometers.

    "The reason we're doing this is that one of the gyroscopes on IMU-1 is approaching its end of life, so we want to swap to our redundant unit early enough that we still have some useful life preserved in the first unit," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Manager Reid Thomas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif."

    MARS RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER HIRISE IMAGES
    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - May 08, 2013
    Mars As Art Lands At Dulles Airport

    "The majestic beauty of the Red Planet is featured in a vivid collection of images taken by Mars spacecraft, now on exhibit at Dulles airport in Washington, DC through November 30."

    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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    Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

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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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    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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