Astronomy News for the Month of September 2020


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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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In this Newsletter...


Background screen credits: NGC5775
Imaged March 21/22, 2001
using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope
as part of the Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program.


"Neptune reaches opposition this month on September 11. This image, taken in September 2010, shows the blue-colored ice giant (center) and its largest moon, Triton." Astronomy Magazine, p. 36, September 2020.
Damian Peach


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


10 day moon

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 "TheSkyX" 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

"Mars is nearing its highly anticipated peak this month and is a few weeks away from its 2020 opposition -- a very favorable one for Northern Hemisphere observers. The Red Planet is best viewed after midnight, once it reaches higher elevation. Early evenings are dominated by Jupiter and Saturn, whose spectacular presence beckons you to get your scope. Mercury makes a brief and challenging appearance shortly after sunset late in the month, while Venus dazzles the predawn sky." Astronomy Magazine, September 2020, P. 36.

Mercury

Sets at 8:05 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:30 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low to the west about 30 minutes after sunset during the latter half of the month. Mercury moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo shining at magnitude 0.0 on the 30th.

Venus

Rises at 2:50 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:34 a.m. by month's end. Look for Venus in the east before sunrise. Venus moves from the constellation of Gemini into Leo shining at magnitude -4.2 on the 15th.

Earth

The Autumnal Equinox occurs at 9:31 a.m. EDT on the 22nd.

Mars

Rises at 9:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:28 p.m. by month's end. Mars is stationary on the 9th. Mars is now visible in the evening to the east, but still best observed around midnight when it is highest in the southern sky. Mars is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude -2.1.

Jupiter

Sets at 2:14 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:18 a.m. by month's end. Jupiter is stationary on the 12th. Look for Jupiter soon after sunset. Jupiter will be one of the first objects to be spotted to the south once the Sun sets. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -2.5.

Saturn

Sets at 2:56 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:55 a.m. by month's end. As with Jupiter, look for Saturn in the evening sky after sunset to the south. Saturn is stationary on the 28th. Now is a great time to get your binoculars or telescope out and observe Saturn in the evening sky. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.4.

Uranus

Rises at 9:53 p.m. on the 1st and around 7:53 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is also visible in the evening but is still best viewed around midnight under dark skies. Uranus is visible for most of the night. Uranus is in the constellation of Aries shining at magnitude 5.7.

Neptune

Is at opposition on the 11th, rising as the Sun sets. Neptune rises at 7:51 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:51 p.m. by month's end. Neptune can be spotted to the southeast once the skies darken. Neptune can be observed all night long. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Rises at 8:26 p.m. on the 1st and around 6:11 p.m. by month's end. The best time to spot Ceres will be around midnight, when it is highest in the south. Ceres is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Pluto

Sets at 2:36 a.m. on the 1st and around 12:37 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is still between Jupiter and Saturn and may be visible if skies are dark enough. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.7.

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.

    Meteor Shower Radiant Report

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

    Meteor Scatter (or Meteor burst communications) - "is a radio propagation mode that exploits the ionized trails of meteors during atmospheric entry to establish brief communications paths between radio stations up to 2,250 kilometres (1,400 mi) apart." Tune your shortwave or your HF amateur radio to 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings. Try other frequencies as well... 6m FT8 digital - 50.313 Mhz & 50.276 Mhz, JP-65 digital mode and the carrier frequencies of the lower VHF bands for TV channels 2, 3 & 4.

    Meteor Rx How-To by Terry Bullett (WØASP)

  • Comets

  • "With a short period of 5.5 years, Comet 88P/Howell has returned to keep us company through early winter. You may not remember its name because that extra half-year placed Earth on the other side of the solar system during its last passage. Only every 11 years are we in a good position to view it.

       The comet's closest approach to the Sun occurs on the 26th, and it should glow around 9th magnitude all month. A green halo will be easy to capture for a small telephoto lens on a tracking mount. Under country skies, a 4-inch scope will visually pick up this small gray fuzz." Astronomy Magazine, September 2020, P. 42.

  • 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

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Mars and Uranus in the late evening and early morning.
  • Look for Comet Howell in the late evening.
  • Look for Venus in the morning before sunrise.
  • Look for Mercury in the early evening sky during the last half of the month.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Massalia is in Aquarius.
    • Fortuna is at opposition on the 11th in constellation of Pisces.
    • Leto is at opposition on the 29th in constellation of Cetus.
    • Parthenope is in constellation of Cetus.
    • Papagena is in constellation of Eridanus.
    • Flora is in constellation of Cetus.

    • 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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    Subscriber Gallery

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    Member Meteor Sightings

    In this section 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 CO Burness A 3829a
    3871-2015 2015-11-13 01:55 MST CO Charles N 3871a
    986-2020 2020-02-21 22:20 MST CO Lukas S 986
    3716-2020 2020-07-24 23:22 MST CO Lukas S 3716

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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)

    JPL Latest News
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    August 24, 2020
    NASA Engineers Checking InSight's Weather Sensors

    Full Article & Images

    "Weather sensors aboard NASA's InSight Mars lander stopped providing data on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, a result of an issue affecting the sensor suite's electronics. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California are working to understand the cause of the issue.

    Called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), the sensors collect data on wind speed and direction, air temperature and pressure, and magnetic fields. Throughout each Martian day, or sol, InSight's main computer retrieves data stored in APSS' control computer for later transmission to orbiting spacecraft, which relay the data to Earth."

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

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions.

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

    Juno - August 6, 2020
    'Shallow Lightning' and 'Mushballs' Reveal Ammonia to NASA's Juno Scientists

    Full Article & Images

    "New results from NASA's Juno mission at Jupiter suggest our solar system's largest planet is home to what's called "shallow lightning." An unexpected form of electrical discharge, shallow lightning originates from clouds containing an ammonia-water solution, whereas lightning on Earth originates from water clouds.

    Other new findings suggest the violent thunderstorms for which the gas giant is known may form slushy ammonia-rich hailstones Juno's science team calls "mushballs"; they theorize that mushballs essentially kidnap ammonia and water in the upper atmosphere and carry them into the depths of Jupiter's atmosphere.

    The shallow-lightning findings will be published Thursday, Aug. 6, in the journal Nature, while the mushballs research is currently available online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets."

    Images from NASA's JunoCam.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: Juno and Mission Juno.

    The public can follow the Juno mission on Facebook and Twitter.

    New Horizons - July 17, 2020
    Memories of an Amazing Encounter

    Full Article & Images

    "No Sleep Until After the Flyby

    Gabe Rogers, an engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, was the New Horizons Guidance and Control subsystem lead during the mission's historic flyby of Pluto in July 2015. He currently serves as New Horizons' deputy mission system engineer.

    Guidance and Control system lead Gabe Rogers awaits the outcome of a May 2015 trajectory correction maneuver in the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute)

    By the Pluto flyby on July 14, 2015, most of the New Horizons engineering team was running on fumes. The spacecraft had been operating in 3-axis (observation) mode for most of the year, conducting optical navigation, long-distance science, and the occasional trajectory correction maneuver to stay on course. Given the cadence of communications with New Horizons through NASA's Deep Space Network, sometimes I would be on shift starting at 6 a.m., only to start another shift at 8 p.m. the same day."

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the ninth planet - visit the New Horizons home page.

    TESS - August 11, 2020
    NASA’s Planet Hunter Completes Its Primary Mission

    Full Article & Images

    "On July 4, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) finished its primary mission, imaging about 75% of the starry sky as part of a two-year-long survey. In capturing this giant mosaic, TESS has found 66 new exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, as well as nearly 2,100 candidates astronomers are working to confirm.

    “TESS is producing a torrent of high-quality observations providing valuable data across a wide range of science topics,” said Patricia Boyd, the project scientist for TESS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As it enters its extended mission, TESS is already a roaring success."

    For more information on the TESS mission, visit the Latest Tess Stories page.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    MARS WEATHER
    Mars Daily Weather Report

    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 combines all aspects of space exploration through our expertise in science, engineering, mission operations, and scientific data analysis. As part of CU, LASP also works to educate and train the next generation of space scientists, engineers and mission operators by integrating undergraduate and graduate students into working teams. Our students take their unique experiences with them into government or industry, or remain in academia to continue the cycle of exploration.

    LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    LASP/MAVEN - August 6, 2020
    MAVEN: A new look at Mars' ultraviolet nighttime glow

    Full Article & Images

    "Every night on Mars, when the sun sets and temperatures fall to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit and below, an eerie phenomenon spreads across much of the planet's sky: a soft glow created by chemical reactions occurring tens of miles above the surface.

    An astronaut standing on Mars couldn't see this "nightglow"--it shows up only as ultraviolet light. But it may one day help scientists to better predict the churn of Mars' surprisingly complex atmosphere."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars 2020 - Perseverance - August 21, 2020
    Follow NASA's Perseverance Rover in Real Time on Its Way to Mars

    Full Article & Images

    "The last time we saw NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission was on July 30, 2020, as it disappeared into the black of deep space on a trajectory for Mars. But with NASA's Eyes on the Solar System, you can follow in real time as humanity's most sophisticated rover -- and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter traveling with it -- treks millions of miles over the next six months to Jezero Crater.

    "Eyes on the Solar System visualizes the same trajectory data that the navigation team uses to plot Perseverance's course to Mars," said Fernando Abilleira, the Mars 2020 mission design and navigation manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "If you want to follow along with us on our journey, that's the place to be." "

    Learn more about the upcoming Mars 2020 (Perseverance) mission.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - August 3, 2020
    8 Martian Postcards to Celebrate Curiosity's Landing Anniversary

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has seen a lot since Aug. 5, 2012, when it first set its wheels inside the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) basin of Gale Crater. Its mission: to study whether Mars had the water, chemical building blocks, and energy sources that may have supported microbial life billions of years ago.

    Curiosity has since journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life. Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today."

    Follow the Mars Curiosity rover on Foursquare.

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare.

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - August 12, 2020
    Celebrate Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Views From Above

    Full Article & Image

    "Marking its 15th anniversary since launch, one of the oldest spacecraft at the Red Planet has provided glimpses of dust devils, avalanches, and more.

    Since leaving Earth 15 years ago, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has reshaped our understanding of the Red Planet. The veteran spacecraft studies temperatures in Mars' thin atmosphere, peers underground with radar, and detects minerals on the planet's surface. But perhaps what it's become best known for are stunning images.

    Among its instruments, MRO carries three cameras: The Mars Color Imager (MARCI) has a fisheye lens that produces a daily global view. The Context Camera (CTX) provides 19-mile-wide (30-kilometer-wide) black-and-white terrain shots. Those images, in turn, offer context for the tightly focused images provided by MRO's third camera, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), which produces the most striking views."

    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 - June 8, 2020
    Three New Views of Mars' Moon Phobos

    Full Article and Images

    "Three new views of the Martian moon Phobos have been captured by NASA's Odyssey orbiter. Taken this past winter and this spring, they capture the moon as it drifts into and out of Mars' shadow.

    The orbiter's infrared camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), has been used to measure temperature variations across the surface of Phobos that provide insight into the composition and physical properties of the moon. Further study could help settle a debate over whether Phobos, which is about 16 miles (25 kilometers) across, is a captured asteroid or an ancient chunk of Mars that was blasted off the surface by an impact."

    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 - InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars - August 24, 2020
    NASA Engineers Checking InSight's Weather Sensors

    Full Article and Images

    "Weather sensors aboard NASA's InSight Mars lander stopped providing data on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, a result of an issue affecting the sensor suite's electronics. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California are working to understand the cause of the issue.

    Called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), the sensors collect data on wind speed and direction, air temperature and pressure, and magnetic fields. Throughout each Martian day, or sol, InSight's main computer retrieves data stored in APSS' control computer for later transmission to orbiting spacecraft, which relay the data to Earth.

    APSS is in safe mode and unlikely to be reset before the end of the month while mission team members work toward a diagnosis. JPL engineers are optimistic that resetting the control computer may address the issue but need to investigate the situation further before returning the sensors to normal."

    Interactive selection of raw images taken by the cameras aboard InSight.

    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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