Astronomy News for the Month of September 2016

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For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League's 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WB0WDF Cripple Creek 447.400 MHz repeater and Allstar nodes 28298, 28299 and 29436. We are also linked via Echolink, links are k0jsc-r and canoncty. More information on the WB0WDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

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

Questions to my Readers

For those of you who receive the email version of my newsletter:
What's your opinion of the recent changes to the newsletter? I have shortened it to 20-21 pages now. I would still like your opinions to the new changes and whether more changes are needed. Your honest opinions, criticisms and suggestions are much more beneficial to me in finding out what is useful, of interest, not useful and not of interest to my general readership, also what additions might enhance the newsletter as well.

Please send responses to with the subject: "Newsletter responses". Just copy/paste the questions in your email and answer accordingly.

Thank you in advance for your participation in helping me make this newsletter better.

1) Is the length of the newsletter too long, too short or just right?
2) Based on the table of contents above, which sections do you read/use the most?
3) Based on the table of contents above, which sections do you read/use the least?
4) For website visitors, Do you know you can subscribe to an email version of the newsletter?
5) For email subscribers, have you also visited the website?
6) I provide links to many astronomical terms I use in the web version of the newsletter, would you like me to add links to the terms in the email version as well?
7) What links do you use regularly?
8) What links should I eliminate?
9) The JPL/NASA/Mars missions sections are getting rather long. Should I just provide links, shorter excerpts, longer excerpts?
10) What do you think of the newsletter?
11) What suggestions do you have that might improve the newsletter?

Changes made so far:
1) Subscriber Gallery - Only the most recent image is posted.
2) Astronomy Links section is now just a link to the links section of the web page.
3) Less images in the Mission updates - links provided instead.
4) Mission updates are shorter.
5) Some of the older links have been removes.

*** Note: The web page will remain as is and may be enhanced depending on reader responses. ***

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

01 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 SSeptember

Start this month by looking west. Spot Venus and Jupiter before the set in the very early evening. Mars and Saturn are the two planets that will captivate observers for most of the evening hours providing spectacular views through backyard telescopes. Neptune reaches opposition this month providing the best views of this planet for the year. Autumn begins in the northern hemisphere providing cooler evenings and longer nights for plenty of comfortable evening viewing.


Is in inferior conjunction on the 12th. Mercury is stationary on the 21st. Mercury is at greatest western elongation (18° to the east of the Sun) on the 28th. Mercury puts on its best morning show of the year on this date. Mercury sets at 7:54 p.m. on the 1st. View mercury during the first week of September, after that, Mercury disappears in the Sun's twilight glow as it passes between the Sun and Earth. Look for Mercury in the morning sky during the latter half of the month before sunrise. Mercury rises about 5:29 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Virgo into Leo this month shining at magnitude -0.7.


Sets at 8:30 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:58 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the early evening towards the western horizon this month. Venus actually appears to climb higher, away from the Sun as the month progresses. Venus moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra shining at magnitude -3.9.


The Autumnal equinox occurs at 10:21 a.m. EDT on the 22nd.


Sets at 11:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:58 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars about an hour or so after sunset to the south-southwest about a third of the way above the horizon. Mars moves from the constellation of Scorpius into Sagittarius shining at magnitude -0.1.


Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th. Jupiter sets at 8:17 p.m. on the 1st. After conjunction, Jupiter rises about 6:37 a.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the early evening to the west soon after sunset during the first half of the month. Jupiter is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude -1.7.


Sets at 11:39 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:47 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn towards the southwest just ahead of Mars in the evening sky. Saturn is in the constellation of Ophiuchus shining at magnitude 0.5.


Rises at 9:11 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:11 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is visible in the late evening and early morning hours before sunrise. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.


Is at opposition on the 2nd, rising as the Sun sets. Neptune rises at 7:28 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:28 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the evening and early morning hours before dawn to the east-southeast. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Rises at 10:33 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:31 p.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres in the late evening and early morning skies this month. Ceres is in the constellation of Cetus shining at magnitude 8.1.


Sets at 2:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:09 a.m. by month's end. Look to the south to spot Pluto in the evening skies. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.2.

As always, good luck at spotting Neptune, Ceres and Pluto, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The 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 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings.

  • Comets

    Comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington is making its way through the constellation of Cancer the Crab this month. Shining around 12th magnitude, a minimum of an 8 inch telescope and very dark skies will be required to catch this glowing fuzzball in your sights.

  • 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

  • An annular solar eclipseannular solar eclipse will be visible over part of Africa on the 1st.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs on the afternoon of the 16th across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Spot Mercury and Jupiter before sunset early in the month.
  • Observe Mars and Saturn in the early evening after sunset.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Pallas is in the constellation of Equus.
    • Parthenope is at opposition on the 29th in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Melpomene is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Vesta 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)
    Juno - August 27, 2016
    NASA's Juno Successfully Completes Jupiter Flyby

    Full Article and Image

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

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

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

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

    Cassini - August 25, 2016
    Cassini Significant Events 08/17/16 - 08/23/16

    Full Article

    "The Cassini Spacecraft's time in orbit is getting shorter. This refers to the long term, of course, since the Grand Finale is a little over a year away. But it also refers to each orbit Cassini makes of Saturn. Since Aug. 10, each full orbit of the planet has been taking only twelve days to complete. Late next month Cassini will shorten its orbit period further, to 9.6 days, and then to eight days in November. By the end of Cassini's tour of Saturn next year, the orbits will have shortened to an awfully brief 6.5 days.

    Add to this Cassini's orbit's high inclination -- more than 50 degrees off the equatorial ring plane -- and it's clear the quicker orbits offer a wide range of astounding views, which change dramatically every day. To illustrate, this week's account is accompanied by links to simulated viewing geometry at several points."

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

    Raw images are available at

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

    Cassini Imaging Team - Archives from Dec. 2015 and earlier.

    New Horizons - August 10, 2016
    Pluto: What a Journey!

    Full blog

    "Posted on August 4, 2016 at 1:05 pm by ptalbert.

    This blog is from Hal Weaver, who joined the New Horizons team in May 2002, his first assignment after taking a job at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He started out as the principal investigator for the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and in 2003 became the New Horizons project scientist.

    Now that most of the New Horizons science data have been downlinked to Earth, it seems only fitting to reflect on the long journey that took us to the frontier of our solar system. Below are some personal memories I'd like to share about this incredible voyage of discovery."

    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 03, 2016
    What's Inside Ceres? New Findings from Gravity Data

    Full Article

    "In the tens of thousands of photos returned by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the interior of Ceres isn't visible. But scientists have powerful data to study Ceres' inner structure: Dawn's own motion.

    Since gravity dominates Dawn's orbit at Ceres, scientists can measure variations in Ceres' gravity by tracking subtle changes in the motion of the spacecraft. Using data from Dawn, scientists have mapped the variations in Ceres' gravity for the first time in a new study in the journal Nature, which provides clues to the dwarf planet's internal structure.

    "The new data suggest that Ceres has a weak interior, and that water and other light materials partially separated from rock during a heating phase early in its history," said Ryan Park, the study's lead author and the supervisor of the solar system dynamics group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California."

    Take a tour of weird Ceres!

    "Visit a 2-mile-deep crater and a 4-mile-tall mountain in the video narrated by mission director Marc Rayman. Get your red/blue glasses ready for the finale - a global view of the dwarf planet in 3D."

    Ceres Topographic Globe Animation

    Ion propulsion isn't something found only in science fiction. Ion engines are a real deal and drive NASA's Dawn spacecraft, en route to dwarf planet Ceres. Big things do come in small packages.

    Dawn's Virtual Flight over Vesta

    Ceres Fly By

    A gallery of images can be found online.

    For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page.

    MESSENGER - May 30, 2016
    The MESSENGER mission is officially ended but there is a lot to learn about the planet closest to our Sun. Visit the new, updated MESSENGER website:


    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    Video Animation

    The MESSENGER app is available for download from iTunes.

    For more information on the MESSENGER mission, visit the MESSENGER home page.

    Pack Your Backpack

    Calling all explorers! Tour JPL with our new Virtual Field Trip site. Stops include Mission Control and the Rover Lab. Your guided tour starts when you select a "face" that will be yours throughout the visit. Cool space images and souvenirs are all included in your visit.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions -

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.

    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

    "The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) began in 1948, a decade before NASA. We are the world's only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets and Pluto. LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    MAVEN - July 1, 2016
    MAVEN Status Update

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

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - August 26, 2016
    Sols 1443-1445: A SAM-filled weekend plan

    Mission Updates

    "The drive planned on Wednesday did not execute due to an unanticipated flight software interaction. However, the problem is now understood and we will attempt the drive again next week.

    Today's three-sol weekend plan is focused on SAM activities and contact science. On the first sol we'll do a SAM pre-conditioning activity to prepare the sample cup prior to delivery of the Marimba2 drill sample. We'll also acquire a ChemCam observation of the target "Viana 2" to assess the chemistry of the local bedrock and nodules. Then we'll take a Mastcam mosaic to document several light-toned ridges and possible channel features, followed by several environmental monitoring activities. In the afternoon we'll drop off the Marimba2 sample to SAM, and the evolved gas analysis will occur overnight. The second sol contains ChemCam observations of "Ganda" and "Catabola," followed by DRT and contact science on "Ganda," and MAHLI and another short APXS integration on the target "Andulo." This is a very power heavy and complex plan, so the third sol will be relatively light, with a ChemCam passive and Mastcam multispectral observation on "Ganda," and additional ChemCam LIBS target at "Calonda," and some Mastcam deck monitoring. Sounds like a busy weekend!
    By Lauren Edgar"

    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 23, 2016

    SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:

    "More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011. The remaining, pre-sequenced ultra-high frequency (UHF) relay passes scheduled for Spirit on board the Odyssey orbiter will complete on June 8, 2011.

    Total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."

    OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Continues to Study Grooves - sols 4466-4473, August 16, 2016-August 23, 2016: :

    "Opportunity is wrapping up the exploration 'Marathon Valley' on the rim of Endeavour crater. The rover has found itself in an area where there are grooves carved in the rock outcrop suggestive of fluvial action.

    Opportunity continues to conduct a very extensive visual documentation campaign of these grooves. On Sol 4468 (Aug. 18, 2016), the rover bumped two meters to set up for taking short-baseline stereo imagery. In addition, a small rock dubbed 'Muffler II' was found in the robotic arm (IDD) workplane on Sol 4470 (Aug. 20, 2016), and targeted for Microscopic Imager (MI) and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). A further offset MI and APXS campaign was completed on Sol 4473 (Aug. 23, 2016).

    Total odometry is 26.78 miles (43.10 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - July 29, 2016
    Mars Gullies Likely Not Formed by Liquid Water

    Full article and Image

    "New findings using data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that gullies on modern Mars are likely not being formed by flowing liquid water. This new evidence will allow researchers to further narrow theories about how Martian gullies form, and reveal more details about Mars' recent geologic processes.

    Scientists use the term "gully" for features on Mars that share three characteristics in their shape: an alcove at the top, a channel, and an apron of deposited material at the bottom. Gullies are distinct from another type of feature on Martian slopes, streaks called "recurring slope lineae," or RSL, which are distinguished by seasonal darkening and fading, rather than characteristics of how the ground is shaped. Water in the form of hydrated salt has been identified at RSL sites. The new study focuses on gullies and their formation process by adding composition information to previously acquired imaging."

    New Gravity Map Gives Best View Yet Inside Mars:

    Simulated Flyover of Mars Canyon Map

    This animation simulates a flyover of a portion of a Martian canyon detailed in a geological map produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and based on observations by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The landforms include a series of hills called Candor Colles.

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - July 04, 2016
    Test for Damp Ground at Mars' Seasonal Streaks Finds None

    Full Article and Images

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

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

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

    Video - What might it look like if you were walking around on Mars?

    See the Mars As Art Gallery

    Dulles Airport Full News Release

    Global Martian Map

    "A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online.

    The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large image are at THEMIS."

    Daily Mars Odyssey THEMIS Images
    Can be found at the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) website.

    The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established by the Planetary Data System.

    Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page.

    Journey to Mars - March 09, 2016
    InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars
    NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

    "NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.

    InSight's primary goal is to help us understand how rocky planets -- including Earth -- formed and evolved. The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch.

    InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France's space agency, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch.

    "The science goals of InSight are compelling, and the NASA and CNES plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We're excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018."

    NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will redesign, build and conduct qualifications of the new vacuum enclosure for the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the component that failed in December. CNES will lead instrument level integration and test activities, allowing the InSight Project to take advantage of each organization's proven strengths. The two agencies have worked closely together to establish a project schedule that accommodates these plans, and scheduled interim reviews over the next six months to assess technical progress and continued feasibility."

    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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