Astronomy News for the Month of January 2018


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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.


"On October 8, 2014, the Full Moon passed into Earth's umbral shadow
and created this stunning total lunar eclipse. On January 31, observers across
more than half the globe can witness a similar event."
Damian Peach


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


14 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 "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 January

The Moon takes top billing this month with the Full Moon on the 1st. This will be the second of 3 "Supermoons" in a row. The first occurred last month. The third "Supermoon" also appears this month. The Full Moon on the 31st is also a "Supermoon", it is also a "Blue Moon" (the second full Moon in a single month) and will also be a Full Lunar Eclipse as well. Uranus and Neptune are well placed for early evening viewing soon after sunset. Venus also disappears behind the Sun early in the month, returning to the evening sky by month's end. Look for Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky before sunrise. Before dawn on the 7th, Mars passes within 0.2° of Jupiter. On the morning of the 11th, look for the waning crescent Moon passing just north of both Mars and Jupiter.

Mercury

Is at greatest western elongation (23°) on the 1st. Mercury rises at 5:37 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:43 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is visible in the morning sky for the first 3 weeks of the month, then disappears into the morning twilight glow. Mercury moves from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Capricornus this month shining at magnitude -0.3 on the 1st.

Venus

Is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 9th. Venus is not visible this month. Venus will return to the evening sky in late winter. Venus moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Capricornus.

Earth

Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 3rd.

Mars

Rises at 2:54 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:28 a.m. by month's end. On the morning of the 7th before dawn, Mars is within 0.2° of Jupiter. Look to the southeast to spot Mars as it moves from the constellation of Libra into Scorpius shining at magnitude 1.4.

Jupiter

Rises at 3:07 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:26 a.m. by month's end. Watch Jupiter and Mars throughout the month. Mars appears to get closer to Jupiter until the 7th when these two planets will pass each other and then recede as the month progresses. Jupiter is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude -1.9.

Saturn

Has returned to the morning sky this month, but will be low just a few degrees above the eastern horizon. On the morning of the 13th, look for Saturn and Mercury within 0.6° of each other. The best time to spot Saturn will be during the last week of the month to the east when it will be about 10° above the eastern horizon. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.5.

Uranus

Sets at 1:21 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:17 p.m. by month's end. By the time the Sun sets, Uranus will easily be visible towards the southwest through a good pair of binoculars. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.

Neptune

Sets at 9:44 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:47 p.m. by month's end. By the time the skies darken well after sunset, Neptune will be visible in the southwest with a small telescope. Neptune will be lower and further west than Uranus so look for Neptune first when you begin your evening viewing. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Is at opposition on the 31st, rising as the Sun sets. Ceres rises at 7:08 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:25 p.m. by month's end. Once the skies darken, Ceres may be spotted to the east maybe an hour or two after sunset. Ceres moves from the constellation of Leo into Cancer shining at magnitude 7.1.

Pluto

Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 9th and is not visible this month. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius.

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 Quadrantids - This shower is generally visible between December 28 and January 7, with a very sharp maximum of 45 to 200 meteors per hour occurring during January 3 and 4. The meteors tend to be bluish and possess an average magnitude of about 2.8.

    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.

  • Comets

  • Comet PANSTARRS (C/2016 R2) is passing through Taurus this month, passing the head of the bull (The Hyades) and near the Pleiades by the end of the month. The best time to spot this comet will be during the middle of the month. An 4 inch telescope (or larger) and dark skies will be required to spot this 10th to 11th magnitude fuzzball.

  • 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

  • A Total Lunar Eclipse occurs on the night of the 31st, visible to much of North America, the Pacific Ocean, Asia and Australia.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Enjoy the Full Moon on the 1st.
  • Enjoy Uranus and Neptune in the evening skies after sunset.
  • Look for Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars in the morning skies before sunrise.
  • Try to observe some of the Quadrantids meteors during the first week of the month.
  • Try to spot Comet PANSTARRS in Taurus.
  • Watch the Total Lunar Eclipse on the 31st.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Iris is in the constellation of Aries.
    • Pallas is in the constellation of Eridanus.
    • Massalia is in the constellation of Taurus.
    • Flora is at opposition on the 2nd in the constellation of Gemini.
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Libra.

    • 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

    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)
    JPL Latest News
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    December 22, 2017
    Arecibo Radar Returns with Asteroid Phaethon Images

    Full Article & Images

    "After several months of downtime since Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory Planetary Radar has returned to normal operation, providing the highest-resolution images to date of near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon during its December 2017 close approach to Earth. The radar images, which are subtle at the available resolution, reveal the asteroid is spheroidal (roughly ball-shaped) and has a large concavity, or depression, at least several hundred meters in extent near its equator, and a conspicuous dark, circular feature near one of the poles. Arecibo's radar images of Phaethon have resolutions as fine as about 250 feet (75 meters) per pixel."

    "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 - December 18, 2017
    NASA Solves How a Jupiter Jet Stream Shifts into Reverse

    Full Article & Images

    "Speeding through the atmosphere high above Jupiter's equator is an east-west jet stream that reverses course on a schedule almost as predictable as a Tokyo train's. Now, a NASA-led team has identified which type of wave forces this jet to change direction.

    Similar equatorial jet streams have been identified on Saturn and on Earth, where a rare disruption of the usual wind pattern complicated weather forecasts in early 2016. The new study combines modeling of Jupiter's atmosphere with detailed observations made over the course of five years from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i. The findings could help scientists better understand the dynamic atmosphere of Jupiter and other planets, including those beyond our solar system."

    NASA's JunoCam website can be visited at:

    https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

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

    Cassini - December 20, 2017
    Happy Holidays 2017

    "Holiday greetings from the Cassini mission to Saturn.

    Credit
    NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech"

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

    More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:
    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

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

    New Horizons - December 21, 2017
    New Horizons Enters Last Hibernation Period Before Kuiper Belt Encounter

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has entered its last hibernation phase before its January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

    Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, verified that New Horizons - acting on commands uplinked to its main computer the week before - went into its hibernation mode today at 9:31 a.m. EST. With the spacecraft now about 3.8 billion miles (nearly 6.2 billion kilometers) from Earth, the radio signals carrying that confirmation message from New Horizons needed five hours and 42 minutes - traveling at the speed of light - to reach the APL mission operations center through NASA's Deep Space Network station near Madrid, Spain."

    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 - December 12, 2017
    Bright Areas on Ceres Suggest Geologic Activity

    Full Article & Images

    "If you could fly aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the surface of dwarf planet Ceres would generally look quite dark, but with notable exceptions. These exceptions are the hundreds of bright areas that stand out in images Dawn has returned. Now, scientists have a better sense of how these reflective areas formed and changed over time -- processes indicative of an active, evolving world.

    "The mysterious bright spots on Ceres, which have captivated both the Dawn science team and the public, reveal evidence of Ceres' past subsurface ocean, and indicate that, far from being a dead world, Ceres is surprisingly active. Geological processes created these bright areas and may still be changing the face of Ceres today," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Raymond and colleagues presented the latest results about the bright areas at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday, Dec. 12."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER

    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:

    UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF PLANET MERCURY
    for resources, to learn, and to explore.

    (Click Link above for Full Article & Images)

    TOP 10 SCIENCE RESULTS AND TECHNOLOGY INNOVATIONS

    "After more than 10 years in operation, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury on April 30, 2015, at a speed of more than 3.91 kilometers per second (8,750 miles per hour), marking the end of operations for the hugely successful Mercury orbiter. At the MESSENGER Nears End of Operations media and public event, scientists and engineers discussed the mission's accomplishments, providing the top 10 scientific discoveries, as well as the technological innovations that grew out of the mission."

    The MESSENGER app is available for download from iTunes.

    For more information on the MESSENGER mission, visit the MESSENGER home 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 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 - December 13, 2017
    MAVEN Sheds Light on Habitability of Distant Planets

    Full Article & Images

    "How long might a rocky, Mars-like planet be habitable if it were orbiting a red dwarf star? It's a complex question but one that MAVEN can help answer.

    "The MAVEN mission tells us that Mars lost substantial amounts of its atmosphere over time, changing the planet's habitability," said David Brain, a MAVEN co-investigator and a professor at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP, at the University of Colorado Boulder. "We can use Mars, a planet that we know a lot about, as a laboratory for studying rocky planets outside our solar system, which we don't know much about yet.""

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - December 20, 2017
    Sols 1911-1912: Filling Up on Pre-Holiday Data Treats

    Full Article & Images

    "This morning we found ourselves back on familiar ground, near the targets "Lismore" and "Leadhills" that we imaged back on sol 1905. We drove here to take a closer look at the transition between the blue-gray and red rocks in order to understand the geologic processes that may be responsible for this color change. Since we pulled up right alongside this transition, we were able to plan a monster, 180 frame Mastcam stereo mosaic that will cover the entire area with very high-resolution color information. Downlinking all of these frames from Mars to Earth may take some time, but fortunately we'll have some great opportunities to get big data downlinks during the upcoming holiday. I'm very much looking forward to spending the break unwrapping the data bundles and seeing what's there!"

    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 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - December 18, 2017

    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 Takes Extensive Imagery to Decide Where to Go - sols 4935 - 4942, Dec. 11, 2017 - Dec. 18, 2017:

    "Opportunity is continuing her winter exploration of "Perseverance Valley" on the west rim of Endeavour Crater.

    The rover is positioned upstream of a fork in the flow channels. The team is collecting imagery to decide which fork, the north fork or the south fork, to explore next. To support that decision, extensive imagery is being collected on almost every sol.

    On Sol 4941 (Dec. 17, 2017), the robotic arm was used to collect a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of a surface target within the work volume of the arm. The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) was then placed on that target.

    With the upcoming holidays, the rover will remain in place for a while. This will allow multiple sols of APXS integration on this target. Late on Sol 4942 (Dec. 18, 2017), Opportunity collected a twilight panorama using the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) color stereo imager.

    As of Sol 4942 (Dec. 18, 2017), the solar array energy production was 390 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.459 and a solar array dust factor of 0.622.

    Total odometry is 28.01 miles (45.08 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - November 20, 2017
    Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water?

    Full Article & Image

    "Dark features on Mars previously considered evidence for subsurface flowing of water are interpreted by new research as granular flows, where grains of sand and dust slip downhill to make dark streaks, rather than the ground being darkened by seeping water.

    Continuing examination of these still-perplexing seasonal dark streaks with a powerful camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows they exist only on slopes steep enough for dry grains to descend the way they do on faces of active dunes."

    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 - October 4, 2017
    Examining Mars' Moon Phobos in a Different Light

    Full Article and Images

    "NASA's longest-lived mission to Mars has gained its first look at the Martian moon Phobos, pursuing a deeper understanding by examining it in infrared wavelengths.

    The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter observed Phobos on Sept. 29, 2017. Researchers have combined visible-wavelength and infrared data to produce an image color-coded for surface temperatures of this moon, which has been considered for a potential future human-mission outpost."

    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 - October 3, 2017
    Another Chance to Put Your Name on Mars

    Full Article and Images

    "When it lands on Mars in November of 2018, NASA's InSight lander will be carrying several science instruments -- along with hundreds of thousands of names from members of the public.

    In 2015, nearly 827,000 people signed up to add their names to a silicon microchip onboard the robotic spacecraft. NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving the public another chance to send their names to Mars.

    New submissions will be accepted through Nov. 1, 2017, at the following link:

    https://mars.nasa.gov/syn/insight

    "Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," said Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet."

    This fly-your-name opportunity comes with "frequent flier" points reflecting an individual's personal participation in NASA's exploration of Mars. These points span multiple missions and multiple decades. Participants who sent their names on the previous InSight opportunity in 2015 can download a "boarding pass" and see their "frequent flier" miles.

    As part of this frequent flier program, a chip carrying the names of 1.38 million people also flew aboard the first flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2014. NASA is building Orion to carry astronauts to deep space destinations that will enable future missions to Mars."

    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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