Astronomy News for the Month of September 2018


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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 WØWYX 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters. The RMRL 146.94 repeater is also linked with the WBØWDF 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 courtesy of KØJSC and KØGUR. More information on the WBØWDF repeater links and Allstar nodes and Echolinks can be found at k0jsc.com. We are also linked with Allstar nodes in Florida as well, courtesy of KA4EPS. The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

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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 appears at its best for the year in September. Although a telescope will show its tiny blue-gray disk, you won’t see the stunning detail the Voyager 2 spacecraft revealed when it flew past in 1989." Astronomy Magazine, September 2018, p.36.
NASA/JPL


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


22 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 SSeptember

"Four bright planets line up across September’s early evening sky. Venus and Mars provide the bookends for this bonanza, with Jupiter and Saturn sandwiched between. You can look for Uranus and Neptune to come to the fore later in the evening. Neptune reaches opposition and peak visibility September 7, but it remains an inviting object all month. And Mercury rules the predawn sky early this month as it wraps up one of its finest morning appearances of the year." Astronomy Magazine, September 2018, p.36.

Mercury

Is in superior conjunction on the 20th. Mercury will be visible low to the east about 30 minutes before sunrise during the first half of the month. Mercury rises at 5:04 a.m. on the 1st. Mercury will return to the evening sky after the 20th. Mercury sets about 7:03 p.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of Leo into Virgo this month shining at magnitude -0.8 on the 1st.

Venus

Sets at 9:01 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:28 p.m. by month's end. Venus shines it's brightest this month on the 21st, reaching magnitude -4.8. Venus is easy to spot to the west soon after sunset. Venus is in the constellation of Virgo this month shining at magnitude -4.7 on the 15th.

Earth

The Autumnal Equinox occurs at 9:54 p.m. EDT on the 22nd.

Mars

Is at perihelion (128.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 16th. Mars is still well placed for early evening viewing, rising at 5:55 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:13 p.m. by month's end. The global dust storm seems to be abating, making for better observation of the Red Planet. Mars is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude -1.7 on the 15th.

Jupiter

Sets at 10:23 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:39 p.m. by month's end. Jupiter can be easily spotted to the southwest soon after sunset all month. Jupiter is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude -1.9.

Saturn

Is stationary on the 6th. Saturn sets at 1:12 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:12 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is still near its peak visibility this month and looks quite spectacular through a telescope. In the vicinity of Saturn this month are the deep sky objects, the Trifid Nebula (M20), the Lagoon Nebula (M8). Observe this region of the Milky Way with a good pair of binoculars. Saturn is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 0.4.

Uranus

Rises at 9:34 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:33 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is rising early enough to be observed in the evening sky. Uranus is in the constellation of Aries shining at magnitude 5.7.

Neptune

Is at opposition on the 7th, rising as the Sun sets. Neptune rises 7:42 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:42 p.m. by month's end. Neptune is well placed for evening viewing as well. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres

Sets at 8:48 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:20 p.m. by month's end. Ceres will be difficult to spot now that it is setting within an hour or so after the Sun as it is nearly lost in the evening twilight glow. Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 8.6.

Pluto

Is stationary on the 30th. Pluto sets at 2:24 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:25 a.m. by months end. Pluto lies almost halfway between Saturn and Mars. 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.

    Viewing the Perseids this year will hopefully be spectacular as they will not be hindered by moonlight during most of the duration of the showers. The period of August 6 through the 19th will provide ample opportunities to see many of these meteors streaking through the evening and night skies.

    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.

  • Comets

    Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner passes closest to the Sun and the Earth during the second week of this month, hopefully brightening to around 6th or 7th magnitude. Comet Giacobini-Zinner is passing through the constellations of Auriga into Gemini passing near several star clusters (M36, M37 & M38) during the second week of the month as well. Luckily, the Moon will not interfere with viewing during this time. 9th magnitude. Look for this comet during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the month around midnight when the Moon will not interfere with viewing.

  • 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

  • Enjoy most all of the planets during the evening skies after sunset.
  • Watch the Perseids meteor shower before, during and after its peak in mid-August.
  • Try to spot Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner passing through Cassiopeia.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    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

    August 30, 2018
    Martian Skies Clearing over Opportunity Rove

    Full Article & Images

    "A planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, which was first detected May 30 and halted operations for the Opportunity rover, continues to abate.

    With clearing skies over Opportunity's resting spot in Mars' Perseverance Valley, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe the nearly 15-year-old, solar-powered rover will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures -- if the rover is able to do so. To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online."

    "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 29, 2018
    How a NASA Scientist Looks in the Depths of the Great Red Spot to Find Water on Jupiter

    Full Article & Images

    "For centuries, scientists have worked to understand the makeup of Jupiter. It's no wonder: this mysterious planet is the biggest one in our solar system by far, and chemically, the closest relative to the Sun. Understanding Jupiter is key to learning more about how our solar system formed, and even about how other solar systems develop.

    But one critical question has bedeviled astronomers for generations: Is there water deep in Jupiter's atmosphere, and if so, how much?"

    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 Legacy - July 30, 2018
    Group Portrait

    Full Article & Images

    "On July 29, 2011, Cassini captured five of Saturn's moons in a single frame with its narrow-angle camera. This is a full-color look at a view that was originally published in September 2011 (see PIA14573)."

    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 - August 28, 2018
    Ultima in View

    New Horizons Makes First Detection of Kuiper Belt Flyby Target

    Full Article & Images

    "NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has made its first detection of its next flyby target, the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, more than four months ahead of its New Year's 2019 close encounter.

    Mission team members were thrilled -- if not a little surprised -- that New Horizons' telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA's Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team's first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft's own cameras."

    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 - July 24, 2018
    What Looks Like Ceres on Earth

    Full Article & Images

    "With its dark, heavily cratered surface interrupted by tantalizing bright spots, Ceres may not remind you of our home planet Earth at first glance. The dwarf planet, which orbits the Sun in the vast asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is also far smaller than Earth (in both mass and diameter). With its frigid temperature and lack of atmosphere, we're pretty sure Ceres can't support life as we know it.

    But these two bodies, Ceres and Earth, formed from similar materials in our solar system. And, after combing through thousands of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres since 2015, scientists have spotted many features on Ceres that look like formations they've seen on Earth."

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    TESS - August 06, 2018
    NASA's Planet-Hunting TESS Catches a Comet Before Starting Science

    Full Article & Images

    "Before NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) started science operations on July 25, 2018, the planet hunter sent back a stunning sequence of serendipitous images showing the motion of a comet. Taken over the course of 17 hours on July 25, these TESS images helped demonstrate the satellite's ability to collect a prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky -- all critical factors in finding transiting planets orbiting nearby stars."

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

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

    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

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

    MAVEN - August 09, 2018
    Tracing Mars Atmospheric Loss through Time: the Three Devils

    Full Article & Images

    "Why is the surface of Mars no longer habitable?

    Sounds like a straightforward question, right? However, those nine words comprise one of the most vexing questions in planetary science. There is now overwhelming evidence that Mars was once a place where liquid water flowed on the surface and, thus, life as we know it could have thrived, at least episodically. Orbiters have identified branching networks of valleys that most likely were carved by rainwater or snowmelt. Rovers have driven through ancient streambeds and found minerals that can only be formed over many years underwater. However, such stable surface water requires an atmospheric surface pressure much higher than today's ~7 millibars (<1% of Earth's pressure) to prevent evaporation and cause greenhouse warming."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - August 30, 2018
    Sol 2156: The Story of Stoer

    Full Article & Images

    "After an extremely productive couple of weeks, we are finishing up our work at Stoer! We'll take some quick ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the tailings dump pile [two sols] before packing up and starting our drive up the ridge towards our next drill location. As we leave Stoer, I'd like to take some time to share the story of how and why we came to drill this particular location."

    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) - August 29, 2018

    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: Team Continues to Listen for Opportunity - sols 183 to 5189, Aug. 23, 2018 - Aug. 29, 2018:

    "No signal from Opportunity has been heard since Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018). The dust storm on Mars continues its decay with atmospheric opacity (tau) over the rover site decreasing.

    It is expected that Opportunity has experienced a low-power fault and perhaps, a mission clock fault and then, an up-loss timer fault. The project is continuing to listen for the rover either during the expected fault communication windows, or listening over a broader range of times using the Deep Space Network Radio Science Receiver.

    The project is also sending a command three times a week to elicit a beep if the rover happens to be awake.

    Total odometry is unchanged at 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - July 30, 2018
    Mars Terraforming Not Possible Using Present-Day Technology

    Full Article & Image

    "Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet."

    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 - July 27, 2018
    Mars in our Night Sky

    Full Article and Images

    "Mars Close Approach to Earth

    See Mars in the Night Sky!

    Simply go outside and look up, contact your local planetarium, or look for a star party near you.

    In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30

    Mars Close Approach is July 31, 2018

    That is the point in Mars' orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Mars reaches its highest point around midnight -- about 35 degrees above the southern horizon, or one-third of the distance between the horizon and overhead. Mars will be visible for much of the night.

    By mid-August, Mars will become fainter as Mars and Earth travel farther away from each other in their orbits around the Sun.

    Miss seeing Mars Close Approach in 2018? The next Mars Close Approach is Oct. 6, 2020."

    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 28, 2018
    NASA's InSight Has a Thermometer for Mars

    Full Article and Images

    "Ambitious climbers, forget Mt. Everest. Dream about Mars.

    The Red Planet has some of the tallest mountains in the solar system. They include Olympus Mons, a volcano nearly three times the height of Everest. It borders a region called the Tharsis plateau, where three equally awe-inspiring volcanoes dominate the landscape.

    But what geologic processes created these features on the Martian surface? Scientists have long wondered -- and may soon know more.

    NASA and DLR (German Aerospace Center) plan to take the planet's temperature for the first time ever, measuring how heat flows out of the planet and drives this inspiring geology. Detecting this escaping heat will be a crucial part of a mission called InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    InSight will be the first mission to study Mars' deep interior, using its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument to measure heat as it is conducted from the interior to the planet's surface. This energy was in part captured when Mars formed more than 4 billion years ago, preserving a record of its creation. That energy is also due to the decay of radioactive elements in the rocky interior."

    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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