Astronomy News for the Month of September 2015

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Special Notice to Denver, CO residents and visitors to the area:

The Plains Conservation Center in Aurora hosts Full Moon Walks every month weather permitting on or near the night of the full Moon. Visit The Plains Conservation Center for more information and directions.

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
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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 Advanced Observing Program.

The Full Moon slides through the southern part of Earth’s dark umbral shadow the night of September 27/28, mimicking this eclipse from April 14/15, 2014.
Credit: Richard McCoy

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


The Moon



Moon/Planet Pairs

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of 0.5°.

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The Planets & Dwarf Planets

Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. These reports provide predicted data for the planets for the first of each month for the current year. The rise and set times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month as well as meteor shower radiants are also included in the reports. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for July

Start your end of summer viewing in the mornings. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are now visible before dawn. Mercury makes a brief appearance during the first two weeks of September. Saturn remains spectacular in the evening. Uranus and Neptune are at their best for the year. But the best event this month is the total lunar eclipse which occurs on the evening of September 27/28. Most of North American observers will see all of the 72 minutes of totality. Europe, Africa and MiddleEast observers will see the eclipse before sunrise on the 28th.


Is at greatest eastern elongation (27° above the western horizon) on the 4th. Mercury is stationary on the 17th. Mercury is in inferior conjunction on the 30th. Mercury sets at 8:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:25 p.m. by month's end. Mercury is very low on the western horizon and will be difficult to spot without binoculars or a small telescope. Mercury lies about 3° above the western horizon for northern hemisphere observers just 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.1 on the 1st.


Is stationary on the 5th. Venus shines at its brightest at magnitude -4.8 on the morning of the 21st. Venus rises at 4:46 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:25 a.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early morning skies before sunrise. Venus moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo shining at magnitude -4.8 on the 15th.


The Autumnal equinox occurs at 4:21 a.m. EDT on the 23rd.


Rises at 4:27 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:05 a.m. by month's end. Mars is visible to the east in the morning before dawn. Mars moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo this month shining at magnitude 1.8.


Rises at 6:07 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:41 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter is visible in the early morning sky before sunrise. Look for Jupiter low in the east before dawn. Jupiter is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude -1.7.


Sets at 11:05 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:14 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is well placed for early evening viewing, appearing towards the west after the Sun sets. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.6.


Rises at 9:04 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:03 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the evening and early morning sky. Uranus in visible nearly all night long. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.


Rises at 7:25 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:25 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is still at its best for the year in September and can be viewed almost all night long. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Rises at 7:16 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:14 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is stationary on the 15th. The best time to spot Ceres will be around 10:00 p.m. local time when Ceres is highest above the southern horizon. Ceres may be more difficult to spot for those living in the more northerly latitudes. Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 8.4.


Rises at 4:23 p.m. on the 1st and about 2:24 p.m. by month's end. Look for Pluto to the south just above the handle of the teapot asterism in the late evening. 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 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.

    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 55.25 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings.

  • Comets

  • Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko passes through the constellation of Cancer this month. Estimates of its brightness varies between magnitude 10.5 and 13.5. City dwellers and suburbanites will have to travel away from the city to dark sky areas to spot this comet shorty before dawn this month.

  • No update on the survival of Comet 141P/Machholz which made its closest approach to the Sun on August 24th.

  • 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

    • Partial solar eclipse occurs on the 8th and is visible in southern Africa, southern Madagascar, parts of the Indian Ocean and Antarctica.

      Lunar Eclipses

    • Total lunar eclipse occurs on the 27th. Viewers in most of North America will see 72 minutes of totality. Viewers in most of Europe, Africa and the Middle East will see the eclipse before dawn on the 28th.

      When the eclipse happens worldwide
      Lunar eclipses look approximately the same all over the world and happen at the same time.
      The times displayed might be a minute or two off actual times.

      Event UTC Time Time in Denver* Visible in Denver
      Penumbral Eclipse begins Sep 28 at 12:11 AM Sep 27 at 6:11 PM No, below horizon
      Partial Eclipse begins Sep 28 at 1:07 AM Sep 27 at 7:07 PM Yes
      Full Eclipse begins Sep 28 at 2:11 AM Sep 27 at 8:11 PM Yes
      Maximum Eclipse Sep 28 at 2:47 AM Sep 27 at 8:47 PM Yes
      Full Eclipse ends Sep 28 at 3:23 AM Sep 27 at 9:23 PM Yes
      Partial Eclipse ends Sep 28 at 4:27 AM Sep 27 at 10:27 PM Yes
      Penumbral Eclipse ends Sep 28 at 5:22 AM Sep 27 at 11:22 PM Yes

      * The Moon is below the horizon in Denver some of the time, so that part of the eclipse is not visible.

    Observational Opportunities

  • Observe Saturn in the evening sky.
  • Catch a glimpse of Mercury soon after sunset.
  • Try to spot Neptune and Uranus later in the evening.
  • Look for Venus, Mars and Jupiter before sunrise.
  • Enjoy the Total Lunar Eclipse on the evening of the 27th.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)

    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 31, 2015
    Entranced by a Transit

    Full-Res: PIA18330

    "Saturn's moon Dione crosses the face of the giant planet in this view, a phenomenon astronomers call a transit. Transits play an important role in astronomy and can be used to study the orbits of planets and their atmospheres, both in our solar system and in others.

    By carefully timing and observing transits in the Saturn system, like that of Dione (698 miles or 1,123 kilometers across), scientists can more precisely determine the orbital parameters of Saturn's moons.

    This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 0.3 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 21, 2015."

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

    Raw images are available at

    Cassini Imaging Team

    For the latest mission status reports, visit Cassini Mission Status web page. The speed and location of the spacecraft along its flight path can be viewed on the Present Position webpage.

    New Horizons - August 24, 2015
    Where Are the Pluto Pictures?

    "Why hasn't this website included any new images from New Horizons since July? As planned, New Horizons itself is on a bit of a post-flyby break, currently sending back lower data-rate information collected by the energetic particle, solar wind and space dust instruments. It will resume sending flyby images and other data in early September.

    The team will dive back into data analysis and the pace of news and image releases will pick up with the team's activity. New Horizons - which is healthy and operating normally - will continue to send data back to Earth through fall 2016.

    Stay tuned!"

    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 - August 25, 2015
    Dawn Sends Sharper Scenes from Ceres

    Full image and caption

    "The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures.

    "Dawn is performing flawlessly in this new orbit as it conducts its ambitious exploration. The spacecraft's view is now three times as sharp as in its previous mapping orbit, revealing exciting new details of this intriguing dwarf planet," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    At its current orbital altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), Dawn takes 11 days to capture and return images of Ceres' whole surface. Each 11-day cycle consists of 14 orbits. Over the next two months, the spacecraft will map the entirety of Ceres six times.

    The spacecraft is using its framing camera to extensively map the surface, enabling 3-D modeling. Every image from this orbit has a resolution of 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel, and covers less than 1 percent of the surface of Ceres."

    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 - August 3, 2015
    MESSENGER Team Celebrates 11th Anniversary of Launch

    "Eleven years ago today -- at 2:15:56 am EDT -- NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft was launched aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and after more than 6 1/2 years in transit it became the first spacecraft to orbit the innermost planet in our solar system.

    The spacecraft is no more; on April 30 it impacted the surface of Mercury, as expected. But the team of scientists and engineers who built and operated the probe continues to analyze the many terabytes of data acquired.

    "MESSENGER the spacecraft may be no more, but the information it provided about Mercury continues to expand what we know about the planet and the origin of our solar system," said James Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "The spacecraft already far exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to more fabulous results that will come from the analysis of the archived data."

    In a video released today, "Making Mercury Whole," MESSENGER team members recount some highlights of the mission, originally planned to orbit Mercury for only one year, but ultimately orbiting the planet for more than four years."

    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 - June 20, 2015
    MAVEN Results Find Mars Behaving Like a Rock Star

    "If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a "Mohawk" of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, "wears" a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored "new media" workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.

    The MAVEN spacecraft was launched toward Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to discover how the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere, transforming its climate from one that could have supported life billions of years ago into its present cold and barren state."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - August 19, 2015

    NASA's Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock
    Full image

    Looking Up at Mars Rover Curiosity in 'Buckskin' Selfie
    This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin." The MAHLI camera on Curiosity's robotic arm took multiple images on Aug. 5, 2015, that were stitched together into this selfie. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is driving toward the southwest after departing a region where for several weeks it investigated a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. The hydrogen indicates water bound to minerals in the ground.

    In this "Marias Pass" region, Curiosity successfully used its drill to sample a rock target called "Buckskin" and then used the camera on its robotic arm for multiple images to be stitched into a self-portrait at the drilling site. The new Curiosity selfie from a dramatically low angle is online at:

    The rover finished activities in Marias Pass on Aug. 12 and headed onward up Mount Sharp, the layered mountain it reached in September 2014. In drives on Aug. 12, 13, 14 and 18, it progressed 433 feet (132 meters), bringing Curiosity's total odometry since its August 2012 landing to 6.9 miles (11.1 kilometers).

    Curiosity is carrying with it some of the sample powder drilled from Buckskin. The rover's internal laboratories are analyzing the material. The mission's science team members seek to understand why this area bears rocks with significantly higher levels of silica and hydrogen than other areas the rover has traversed."

    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) - August 25, 2015

    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)."

    OPPURTUNITY UPDATE: Brushing a Rock and In-Situ Studies - sols 113-4119, August 19, 2015-August 25, 2015: :

    "Opportunity is in 'Marathon Valley' on the west rim of Endeavour Crater exploring for phyllosilicate clay minerals.

    The rover is operating in persistent RAM mode (not using Flash for data storage). The rover is in the midst of a grind campaign on the surface target, 'Pvt. Robert Frazer.' On Sol 4114 (Aug. 20, 2015), Opportunity ground about 2.5 millimeters into the surface to expose fresh outcrop using the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) on the end of the robotic arm. This was to be followed on the next sol by a brushing to remove the grind tailings from the surface site. But, a sequencing error prevented the RAT from initiating the brush activity. The project diagnosed the problem on the Surface System Testbed (SSTB) rover at JPL and confirmed the corrective action.

    Meanwhile, the rover continued the remote sensing of the valley with several Panoramic Camera (Pancam) panoramas collected of the North Wall of Marathon Valley plus some 13-filter Pancam images of selected surface targets. An Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer APXS measurement of atmospheric argon was collected on the evening of Sol 4116 (Aug. 22, 2015). The plan ahead is to complete the brushing of the freshly ground surface target for detailed in-situ (contact) measurements.

    As of Sol 4119 (Aug. 25, 2015), the solar array energy production was 404 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.652 and a solar array dust factor of 0.590.

    Total odometry is 26.41 miles (42.51 kilometers), more than a marathon."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - August 11, 2015
    One Decade after Launch, Mars Orbiter Still Going Strong

    Full image and text

    "Among the many discoveries by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since the mission was launched on Aug. 12, 2005, are seasonal flows on some steep slopes, possibly shallow seeps of salty water. This July 21, 2015, image from the orbiter's HiRISE camera shows examples within Mars' Valles Marineris. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

    Ten years after launch, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has revealed the Red Planet's diversity and activity, returning more data about Mars every week than the weekly total from all six other active Mars missions. And its work is far from over.

    The workhorse orbiter now plays a key role in NASA's Journey to Mars planning. Images from the orbiter, revealing details as small as a desk, aid the analysis of potential landing sites for the 2016 InSight lander and Mars 2020 rover. Data from the orbiter will also be used as part of NASA's newly announced process to examine and select candidate sites where humans will first explore the Martian surface in the 2030s.

    An Atlas V rocket launched the orbiter on an early Florida morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 12, 2005, propelling it on a course toward 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 - June 25, 2015
    NASA Seeks Ideas for Where on Mars the Next Giant Leap Could Take Place

    "NASA is advancing the Journey to Mars by starting the conversation about where humans may one day land on the Red Planet. The agency is hosting a conference this fall to collect proposals on areas on Mars that would be of high scientific research value while also providing natural resources to enable human explorers to safely land, live and work on Mars.

    NASA's first Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will be held Oct. 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. The conference will start the process for choosing sites on Mars that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft along with any future missions over the coming decades could then further image to create better maps and provide valuable scientific data of these potential Exploration Zones.

    NASA hopes to engage scientists, technologists and experts in human exploration during the conference, fostering collaboration among the teams that will enable humans to live on and explore Mars in the coming decades.

    Potential "Exploration Zones" will need to offer compelling science research while also providing resources that our astronauts can take advantage of during their pioneering of the Red Planet. First explorers are expected to be limited to about 60 miles (100 km) of travel from their landing site due to life support and exploration technology requirements."

    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.

    *** NEW ***#Journey to Mars - August 18, 2015
    InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars
    Send Your Name to Mars on NASA's Next Red Planet Mission

    "Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA's journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA's InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year.

    Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface," said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you're showing that you're part of that journey and the future of space exploration."

    Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 8. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, go to:

    The fly-your-name opportunity comes with "frequent-flier" points to reflect an individual's personal participation in NASA's journey to Mars, which will span multiple missions and multiple decades. The InSight mission offers the second such opportunity for space exploration fans to collect points by flying their names aboard a NASA mission, with more opportunities to follow."

    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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