Astronomy News for the Month of September 2014


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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.


15

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 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

"September brings longer hours of darkness to the Northern Hemisphere and a plate of planetary delicacies sure to whet every observer’s appetite. Mars and Saturn serve as the main course for early evening viewers following a brief appetizer featuring Mercury. After darkness falls, Neptune and Uranus provide hearty side dishes. Dessert arrives during the predawn hours as the two brightest planets -- Venus and Jupiter -- deliver a sweet finale." Astronomy Magazine, September 2014, p.44.

Mercury

Is at greatest eastern elongation (26° above the western horizon) on the 21st. Mercury can be found very low on the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset for most of the month. For northern hemisphere observers, this means about 3-4° at most. Mercury sets about 8:17 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:21 p.m. by month's end. Mercury is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.0 on the 15th.

Venus

Rises at 5:16 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:25 a.m. by month's end. Venus is easily spotted in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves from the constellation Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude -3.9.

Earth

The Autumnal Equinox occurs at 10:29 p.m. EDT on the 22nd.

Mars

Sets at 10:28 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:38 p.m. by month's end. On the evening of the 27th, look for Mars passing about 3° from Antares, which means Rival of Mars, and note their similarities. Mars moves from the constellation of Libra into Ophiuchus this month shining at magnitude 0.7.

Jupiter

Rises at 4:04 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:35 a.m. by month's end. As Jupiter continues to rise earlier each day in September, the views of Jupiter will get much better, especially through a telescope. Check out the Galilean moons as they orbit Jupiter this month. Jupiter is in the constellation of Cancer shining at magnitude -1.8.

Saturn

Sets at 10:31 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:40 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn in the southwest soon after sunset. For observers in Hawaii, look for the Moon passing in front of Saturn on the evening of the 27th. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.6.

Uranus

Rises at 8:53 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:53 p.m. by month's end. Look for Uranus in the evening and early morning skies. Try to spot Uranus with the naked eye under a dark sky, but it's easier to spot with a good pair of binoculars. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.

Neptune

Rises at 7:18 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:19 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the evening and early morning skies. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Sets at 11:11 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:29 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.

Pluto

Is stationary on the 22nd. Pluto sets at 1:56 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:54 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

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 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 4 to the September 14. The Epsilon Perseids peaks on the night of the September 9, morning of September 10. Observers may expect to see up to 5 or 6 meteors per hour during the peak.

    Perseid Meteors vs the Supermoon
    a href="http://youtu.be/JkKzMAzT5fs">Video

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

  • Comets

  • September features two comets for Northern Hemisphere observers. The first is designated PANSTARRS (C/2012 K1), which should hit 6th magnitude as it climbs into view before dawn during the month’s second half...

    If you live in the southern United States, you might glimpse 8th-magnitude Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1). By late September, Siding Spring has made its way north to southern Scorpius, where it appears low in the southwest after darkness falls from the southern tier of states...

    A third comet, Oukaimeden (C/2013 V5), could be a nice subject for observers south of the equator, particularly if it has an outburst and brightens past its predicted 6th-magnitude peak. In early September, it lies in the morning sky on the opposite side of M48 from PANSTARRS." Astronomy Magazine, September 2014, p. 50.

  • 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

  • Check out the 3rd Super Moon of 2014 on the evening of the 8th.
  • Look for Mars and Saturn to the southwest.
  • Pluto may be visible with large scopes later at night.
  • Find Neptune and Uranus in the evening and early morning sky.
  • Observe Venus and Jupiter in the early morning sky before sunrise.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Libra.
    • Victoria is at opposition on the 8th in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Harmonia is at opposition on the 1th in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Hebe is in the constellation of Eridanus.
    • Juno is in the constellation of Canis Minor.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.
    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 25, 2014
    Clumpy Ringlets

    Full-Res

    "Although it appears empty from a distance, the Encke gap in Saturn's A ring has three ringlets threaded through it, two of which are visible here.

    Each ringlet has dynamical structure such as the clumps seen in this image. The clumps move about and even appear and disappear, in part due to the gravitational effects of Pan.

    This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 27 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 11, 2013. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 199,000 miles (321,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 121 degrees. Image scale is 1 mile (2 kilometers) per pixel."

    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:
    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov "

    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 29, 2014

    New Horizons Commanded into Last Pre-Pluto Slumber

    "Rest up, New Horizons -- you have a busy 2015 ahead.

    NASA's Pluto-bound spacecraft was put into hibernation this morning, following a successful 10-week annual checkout period. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, verified that New Horizons entered hibernation at 9:21 a.m. EDT. With New Horizons now beyond Neptune's orbit -- more than 2.75 billion miles from Earth -- that signal needed just over four hours to reach the mission operations center through NASA's Deep Space Network.

    "This is the final hibernation period on the flight to Pluto," says Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. "When we wake up in December, it's to prepare for encounter, which begins the following month!"

    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 - June 5, 2014
    NASA Helps 'Angry Birds Space' Find Asteroids Deeper in Space

    "After a couple of years and hundreds of millions of downloads, the space-based struggle between birds and pigs moves beyond the International Space Station and Mars, and deeper into the final frontier. The latest update from Rovio Entertainment sends Angry Birds Space into NASA's next target for future human exploration - asteroids!

    "Beak Impact" takes flight Thursday. It is a new astronomical struggle that blends the excitement of the world's most popular mobile gaming application with the science, technology, and information surrounding the agency's future missions into deep space.

    "The collaboration with Rovio and Angry Birds Space is an extraordinary opportunity to reach millions of gamers and use the fictional universe to point players to real information about asteroids, why NASA studies them and how they fit into our exploration path to Mars," said David Weaver, associate administrator for the Office of Communications at Headquarters in Washington. "It is a great opportunity to educate, inform, and even inspire players about space exploration, all while playing one of the most popular interactive games ever created."

    The agency has embarked on an important mission to detect, track, and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten our home planet. And a part of NASA's effort to send humans to Mars is to capture and explore an asteroid. Hidden in the various levels of "Beak Impact" are direct links to NASA information about the spacecraft and missions that will tell us more about these celestial bodies."

    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 - August 1, 2014
    MESSENGER Team Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Launch

    "Ten years ago, on August 3, 2004, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a risky mission that would take the small satellite dangerously close to Mercury's surface, paving the way for an ambitious study of the planet closest to the Sun. The spacecraft traveled 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers) -- a journey that included 15 trips around the Sun and flybys of Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury three times -- before it was inserted into orbit around its target planet in 2011.

    "We have operated successfully in orbit for more than three Earth years and more than 14 Mercury years as we celebrate this amazing 10th anniversary milestone," said MESSENGER Mission Operations Manager Andy Calloway, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "The MESSENGER spacecraft operates in one of the most challenging and demanding space environments in our Solar System, and we have met that challenge directly through innovation and hard work, as exemplified by the stunning discoveries and data return achievements. Our only regret is that we have insufficient propellant to operate another 10 years, but we look forward to the incredible science returns planned for the final eight months of the mission."

    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.

     

    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 - August 29, 2014
    Status Update

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

    "MAVEN continues on a smooth journey to Mars. All spacecraft systems are operating nominally. Since we are now in a "pre-Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) moratorium", all instruments are powered off until after we arrive at the Red Planet.

    We had scheduled a final Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-4) for September 12th. The first and second TCMs occurred in December 2013 and February 2014, respectively. The scheduled TCM-3 in July was cancelled because the flight path at the time did not warrant a correction maneuver. As a result of a meeting held on August 26th, it now appears that TCM-4 will also be cancelled. We are tracking right where we want to be. On September 4th we will make a final decision on cancelling this last TCM."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - August 22, 2014

    Mars Rover Team Chooses Not to Drill 'Bonanza King'
    (
    Full image and caption)


    Candidate Drilling Target on Mars Doesn't Pass Exam

    This image from the front Hazcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the rover's drill in place during a test of whether the rock beneath it, "Bonanza King," would be an acceptable target for drilling to collect a sample. Subsequent analysis showed the rock budged during the Aug. 19, 2014, test.

    "Evaluation of a pale, flat Martian rock as the potential next drilling target for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover determined that the rock was not stable enough for safe drilling.

    The rock, called "Bonanza King," moved slightly during the mini-drill activity on Wednesday, at an early stage of this test, when the percussion drill impacted the rock a few times to make an indentation.

    Instead of drilling that or any similar rock nearby, the team has decided that Curiosity will resume driving toward its long-term destination on the slopes of a layered mountain. It will take a route skirting the north side of a sandy-floored valley where it turned around two weeks ago."

    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 28, 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: Flash-Memory Reformat Planned - sols 3759-3766, August 21, 2014-August 28, 2014 :

    "Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater heading toward 'Marathon Valley', a putative location for abundant clay minerals. However, flash-memory induced resets have increased in occurrence, preventing meaningful science until this problem can be corrected. The project is developing plans to reformat the flash file system to correct the problem.

    A flash-memory reformat was done successfully five years ago on Spirit, but this will be the first time on Opportunity. The project is preparing the rover for the reformatting. With no master sequence running, the flash memory is being systematically emptied of science data products. On Sol 3762 (Aug. 24, 2014), the project activated a new communication table on the rover, insuring predictable communication for the next several weeks. Due to the complexity of the frequent resets hitting during high-gain antenna passes causing subsequent X-band faults, the team sent a real-time command of a special sequence that converts the next several X-band passes to use the low-gain antenna. This was completed on Sol 3766 (Aug. 26, 2014).

    The next step in the plan is to boot the rover into a mode that does not use the flash file system. This will allow confirmation of the health of the rover independent of the flash file system. Also, the operations team has sequenced a checksum test of the lower portion of flash to get some data on the physical heath of the flash memory chips in general. Remaining science data will be returned from the flash file system prior to the reformat.

    The rover remains power positive with a healthy energy balance, thermally stable and communicative both over X-band with the DSN and via UHF relay with the orbiters.

    As of Sol 3764 (Aug. 26, 2014), the solar array energy production was 680 watt-hours with an estimated atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.858 and a solar array dust factor of 0.753.

    Total odometry as of Sol 3765 (Aug. 27, 2014) is 25.28 miles (40.69 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."

    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 - 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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