November 2016 – Skies News

10/31/2016
November Skies – by Dick Cookman

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Polar Reversal?, Planet Plotting, November Moon

Focus Constellations: Camelopardalis, Auriga, Taurus, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cepheus, Cygnus, Lyra, Draco, Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Bootes

Comet Journal

Another month of bright and moderately bright comet absence…nothing is expected to exceed 11th magnitude, leaving observation opportunities to those with giant binoculars or telescopes. We await with excited anticipation the appearance of 4 Christmas, winter and Easter comets which may achieve naked eye visibility. These include comets 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, 2P Enke (see Taurid meteor shower below), V2 Johnson, and 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak.

Mars Landers

Opportunity departed from Marathon Valley on the western edge of Endeavour Crater, a basin 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter that was excavated by a meteor impact billions of years ago. The rover reached the edge of this crater in 2011 after more than seven years of investigating a series of smaller craters and establishing evidence for acidic ancient water that soaked underground layers and sometimes covered the surface. After extensive study of Marathon Valley, the rover traveled southward along the edge of the crater then descended into the half mile long Bitterroot Valley, a fluid-cut gully trending northeastward which drops into the crater depths. One goal for the new mission assigned to the rover includes examination of the gully to determine if it was cut by water or by mud or debris flows. A second goal is to compare rocks inside Endeavour Crater to the dominant type of sulfate rich rock examined on the plains explored by Opportunity before reaching the crater. The third science goal of the new extended mission is to find and examine rocks from a geological layer that was in place before the impact that excavated Endeavour Crater.

Upon reaching Spirit Mound, a prominent feature near the eastern terminus of Bitterroot Valley, Opportunity commenced investigation of rock exposures next to the mound. The science team has not yet determined whether the mound area will provide rocks old enough to meet the criteria of the third goal.

As of Sol 4521 (Oct. 11, 2016), the solar array energy production is 507 watt-hours. Total distance traveled on Mars is 26.99 miles (43.44 kilometers).

On Sol 1422 (August 5, 2016), after almost 4 years of travel on Mars, Curiosity arrived at the Murray Buttes region of lower Mt. Sharp, the Mt. Rainier size peak in the center of 96 mile wide Gale Crater. On Sol 1469 (Sept. 22, 2016), after detailed examination of the buttes and obtaining a drilling sample at Quela, Curiosity resumed its southeastward trek away from Murray Buttes toward younger rock. The rover veered to the southwest on Sol 1473 in order to avoid the possibility of getting stuck in a black sand dune field blocking the uphill path. Future progress is further jeopardized by lower solar energy availability associated with increasing levels of dust in the windy atmosphere. The steadily declining visibility has raised concern about the possible onset of a global dust storm.

On Sol 1489-90, October 12, 2016, the rover reached a location which was 100 meters above the site where the Murray Formation was first encountered. In the last 2 years the rover made amazing progress as it ascended the slope exposing the lower 100 meters of the rock layer forming the base of Mount Sharp, an incredible thickness of primarily lacustrine (lakebed) sedimentary rock!

On Sol 1491 (Oct. 16, 2016), Curiosity started preparation for another drilling project. The rover dumped the sample from Quela and observed that the wind moved the dump pile overnight for 2 consecutive days before the APXS was able to measure its chemical composition. On the 19th (Sol 1495), another drilling sample at Sebina was obtained before resuming the upward journey on Sol 1500 (Oct. 24, 2016). Numerous rock outcrops were examined and panoramic images obtained during the ensuing days as Curiosity traveled another 138 meters by Oct. 30th (Sol 1506) over a rising slope of rough terrain characterized rounded bedrock knobs and pointed pinnacles and dotted by slabs of Murray formation bedrock and boulders.

Meteor Showers

Two Meteor Showers dominate November—the relatively weak (<10 meteors/hour) northern Taurids (Nov. 12) from Comet Enk, and the Leonids (Nov. 17) from Comet 55P Temple-Tuttle. Dimmer meteors of each will be lost in the glare of the gibbous Moon. The Leonids have produced impressive meteor storms of up to 40 meteors per second, but the 2016 shower is expected to produce fewer than 20 per hour.

Polar Magnetic Reversal?

Numerous scientists have interpreted recent changes in the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field as potential evidence for a polar reversal in the near future. The last polar reversal was almost 800,000 years ago, and polar reversal frequency has averaged about 200,000 to 300,000 years over the last few million years. Some experts conclude that we are overdue. Geologic evidence for microbial extinction events associated with magnetic reversals escalates concern because magnetic intensity may decrease to zero during the interval of the reversal causing Earth’s surface to be subjected to intense bombardment by radiation from solar and cosmic sources. We are not certain about how long it takes for completion of a reversal.

Current theories as to reversal cause include the concept that the magnetic field is generated by convection cells in the outer liquid iron core of Earth. The rotation direction of these cells may control polarity of the magnetic field and may reflect relative rotation rates of the lower mantle and outer core. If the mantle is rotating faster than the core, the rotation direction of the cells will be opposite to that produced when it is rotating slower.

Recent measurements reveal that although the magnetic field intensity is decreasing, it is currently much higher than the long term average. At current rates, it will take 1000 years to drop to the long term average.

Planet Plotting

Mercury (-1.4 to -0.5) rises in Libra with the Sun at the beginning of the month after its October conjunction with the Sun. It dims as it rises later and appears higher in the sky each evening in November. On the 23rd, Mercury will appear slightly over 3° south of Saturn after sliding between Saturn and the 1st magnitude red supergiant Antares in Scorpius during previous evenings. Venus (-4.0 to -4.1) is visible in the southwestern sky after sunset in November and is approaching its best appartition of the year in December. It will move from Ophiuchus to Sagittarius and rise higher in the sky each evening of the month. Venus is below dimmer Saturn on the 1st and south of Saturn and a waxing crescent Moon on the 2nd. It will draw away from the ringed planet as it moves southward toward Mars in November. Saturn (+0.6 to +0.5) and Mars (+0.3 to +0.5) flank Venus in the southwestern sky after sunset. Mars will move southward slightly slower than Venus as both rise higher in the sky during November. Earth is orbiting away from Mars and Venus is catching up to Earth in its orbit.

Neptune (+7.9) in Aquarius and Uranus (+5.7) in Pisces are in the southern sky after sunset and set after midnight. Uranus moved through opposition last month and will gradually grow dimmer.

Jupiter (-1.7) rises in Virgo about 3 hours before the Sun on the 1st and after 2AM EST on the 30th.

Planet Constellation Magnitude Planet Passages

Sun……Libra, Scorpius……-26.8………….New Moon, 11/29, …………………………………………………………………7:18AM EST Mercury…Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus….-1.4 to -0.5 ……………………………………………………………Saturn, 3.4°N, ………………………………………………………….11/23 , 11AM EST
Venus..Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus..-4.0 to 4.1
Mars…. .Sagittarius, Capricornus..+0.3 to +0.5
Jupiter ………Virgo…………………..-1.7 Saturn…….Ophiuchus……..+0.6 to +0.5….Mercury, 3.4°S …………………………………………………………11/23, 11AM EST
Uranus…….Pisces…………..+5.7
Neptune…..Aquarius……….+7.9

November Moon

The New Moon of November is on the 29th at 7:18AM EST. The New Moon is the beginning of Lunation 1162 which ends 29.77 days later with the New Moon of December 29th at 1:53AM EST.

The Full Moon in November in Pisces occurs at 8:52AM EST on the 14th. It is called the “Beaver Moon”, a term inherited from our colonial American forebears. The Celts called it the “Dark Moon”, and on the other side of the Earth the Chinese refer to the November Moon as the “Whit,e Moon”. Medieval English thought of it as the “Snow Moon” and the Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people of northern Michigan recognize it as “Gashkadino-giizis(oog)” (Freezing Moon).

Lunar perigee distance (closest to Earth) is 222,524 miles or 55.90 Earth radii on the 14th at 6:21AM EST, the closest perigee of the year. Full Moon occurs 2.5 hours later, producing the largest “Supermoon” of the year. The Full Moon lineup of the Sun, Earth, and a nearby Moon will force seaside residents to be on the alert for unusually high tides which will also result in higher than normal “tidal bore waves” moving farther upstream in rivers draining into the sea. The Moon is at the apogee position in orbit (maximum orbital distance) at 252,621 miles (63.74 Earth radii) from Earth on the 27th at 3:08PM EST.

Cecil Adams’ reasons why we need the Moon:

“Reason #1: It got rid of primordial pollution. The moon most likely formed when some smaller planet struck Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, ejecting chunks of debris that eventually coalesced in orbit. Crucially, this collision may also have stripped away a thick proto-atmosphere that was trapping the heat of Earth’s molten surface. Without this rather violent development we might have ended up like Venus, where life is only imaginable by Ray Bradbury.”

Planet Constellation Magnitude Moon Passage ……………………………………………………………Moon Phase/Age

Sun……….Scorpius……….-26.8…………7:18AM EST, 11/29 ……………………………………………………………New ~ 0 days Mercury…Ophiuchus……..-0.5………..7.0°N,11PM EST, 11/30 ……………………………………………………..Waxing Crescent ~ ………………………………………………………………..1.65 days Venus……Ophiuchus……….-4.0……7.0°N, Midnight EDT, 11/2 ……………………………………………………..Waxing Crescent ~ …………………………………………………………………2.43 days Mars……..Sagittarius……….+0.4……….5.0°N, 7AM EST, 11/6 ………………………………………………………Waxing Crescent ~ ………………………………………………………………..6.72 days Jupiter……..Virgo…………….-1.7……….1.9°N, 9AM EST, 11/24 ……………………………………………………..Waning Crescent ~ …………………………………………………………………24.81 days Saturn…….Ophiuchus………+0.5………..4.0°N, 3PM EDT, 11/2 …………………………………………………….Waxing Crescent ~ ……………………………………………………………….3.06 days Uranus…….Pisces……………+5.7……….3.0°S, 6AM EST, 11/12 …………………………………………………….Waxing Gibbous ~ ……………………………………………………………….12.68 days Neptune……Aquarius……….+7.8………1.0°N, 10AM EST, 11/9 …………………………………………………….Waxing Gibbous ~ ……………………………………………………………….9.85 days 

October 2016 – Skies News

10/10/2016
October Skies by Dick Cookman

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Halloween, Planet Plotting, October Moon

Focus Constellations: Camelopardalis, Auriga, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cepheus, Cygnus, Lyra, Aquila, Hercules, Draco, Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Bootes

Comet Journal

October is not a good month for bright or even moderately bright comets. Nothing is expected to exceed 11th magnitude necessitating giant binoculars or telescopes for comet observation. There are 4 Christmas, winter and Easter comets which may achieve naked eye visibility. They include Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, Comet 2P Enke (see Taurid meteor shower below), Comet V2 Johnson, and Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak.

Mars Landers

Opportunity departed from the northern margin of Marathon Valley on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Sol 4453 (August 2, 2016) and headed south across the valley. The rover reached the southern side of the valley on Sol 4480 (August 30, 2016). After receiving its 10th mission extension on Sept. 1st, the rover entered a small valley (Lewis & Clark Gap) cutting through Wharton Ridge on the southern side of Marathon Valley. Opportunity then descended the ridge into Bitterroot Valley which trends northeastward and drops into the depths of Endeavour Crater. By Sol 4500 (Sept. 20, 2016) the rover reached Spirit Mound at the eastern terminus of Bitterroot Valley. After examining the rocks at a nearby surface feature (Gasconade), scientists plan to make detailed observations of the material making up the mound, then move the rover onto the vast floor of the 14 mile wide crater and compare the rocks of the floor to the sulfate-rich rock of the plains surrounding the crater.

From Sol 4473 (Aug. 23, 2016) through Sol 4514 (Oct. 4, 2016) Opportunity traveled 0.21 miles (0.34 kilometers) achieving a total distance on Mars of 26.99 miles (43.44 kilometers). Solar array energy production ranged from 453 to 582 watt-hours per day.

On Sol 1422 (August 5, 2016), after almost 4 years of travel on Mars, Curiosity arrived at the Murray Buttes region of lower Mt. Sharp, the Mt. Rainier size peak in the center of 96 mile wide Gale Crater. The buttes are an area of isolated exposures of younger sandstone resting above the lower 300 foot thick lake bottom mudstone of the 600 foot thick Murray Formation. Sandstone buttes and mesas are capped with a relatively cohesive rock layer which protects them from erosion. The scenic landscape is very reminiscent of spectacular areas in the American southwest. The sand making up the sandstone accumulated as sand dunes built on the underlying material of the Murray Formation. The sand dunes were later lithified into rock as minerals deposited by groundwater percolating through the sand cemented the sand grains together. Later erosion removed most of the lithified dune layer leaving the isolated remnants.

Since the area appeared to be a likely candidate for the 14th drill site, a location near the base of one of the buttes was chosen for drilling. After an aborted drilling attempt at Quela on Sol 1461 (Sept. 15, 2016), the drilling problem was assessed and a second attempt on Sol 1466 (Sept. 19, 2016) recovered an appropriate sample of drilling powder. Curiosity resumed its uphill trek away from Murray Buttes and toward the younger rock above the Murray Formation. Detailed measurements made of the sandstone of the Murray Formation at the Kopong outcrop on Sol 1473 (Sept. 27, 2013) revealed details in the cross-bedded layering, rock texture, and abundant light colored mineral veins lacing through the rock layers which were formed as calcite crystals were precipitated from ground water percolating through the fractured bedrock.

Analysis of gases measured by the regular atmospheric sampling conducted by Curiosity reveals that the ratios of isotopes of xenon and krypton indicate unexpected abundances of certain isotopes. This can be explained by cosmic ray bombardment of barium and bromine on the Martian surface altering them to xenon and krypton which then escaped to the atmosphere.

As part of the two year mission extension commencing on Oct. 1st, the next year will be devoted to examination of the upper part of the Murray Formation and the following year will concentrate on the overlying Hematite Unit (a ridge which is 1.5 miles away and is capped with material rich in hematite) and the more distant Clay Unit. Both were initially identified from orbit by the Compact Imaging Spectrometer on board the Reconnaissance Orbiter. Due to their compositions, these younger units are likely to have formed in wet environments and may yield additional data about the moist environments on ancient Mars which could have provided conditions favorable for microbial life.

Meteor Showers

October Meteor Showers include the Camelopardalids (10/5), the Draconids (10/8), the Taurids (10/10), the Delta Aurigids (10/11), the Epsilon Geminids (10/18), the Orionids (10/21), and the Leo Minorids (10/24). All but 3 are minor showers. The Draconids consist of debris shed from from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner during previous passages. They are extremely variable ranging from 10 to 60 meteors per hour and occasionally storming to 100’s to 1000’s per hour. The Taurids (~5 per hour) are from Comet 2P Enke and the Orionids (~20 to 70 meteors per hour in dark skies) are the remnants of Comet Halley.

Halloween

As with most of our holidays, the origin of Halloween is related to an astronomical event. It is the eve of All Saints Day on Nov. 1st, a cross-quarter day, half way between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Some cultures recognized transitions between seasons on the cross-quarter days half way between the equinoxes and solstices (the “quarter” days). The quarter days were considered to be the middle of each season. The cross-quarter days include Candlemas (Groundhog Day), Beltane (May Day), Lamas, and All Saints Day (Hallowmas or Hallow’s mass). Hallow’s can refer to saints, the relics of saints, or the shrines in which the relics are kept. Hallowmas was established to replace an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of summer when the dead were believed to arise for one night. People would commemorate the event by dressing up and acting like the undead.

Planet Plotting

Venus (-3.9 to -4.0) is visible in the southwestern sky after sunset in October. During the month, it will move from Libra, through Scorpius, and into Ophiuchus and will be about 3.0° south of Saturn at 4AM EDT on the 30th.

Saturn (+0.5 to +0.6) and Mars (+0.1 to +0.3) spend October in the southwestern sky in Ophiuchus and Sagittarius respectively. In early October they set before 10PM EDT and by the end of the month they set about 8PM EDT.
Neptune (+7.8) in Aquarius and Uranus (+5.8) in Pisces rise before sunset and set in the wee hours after midnight. Uranus is at its brightest of the year on the 15th at 1PM EDT when it is at opposition.

Jupiter (-1.7) in Virgo moved into the morning sky after its conjunction with the Sun on Sept. 26th. It rises slightly after 7AM EDT in early October and after 5:30AM EDT by the end of the month. Mercury (-0.9 to -1.4) rises in Leo at about 5:30AM EDT at the beginning of the month and will be found less than a degree NNE of Jupiter on the morning of the 11th. It grows brighter as it moves through Virgo and rises with the Sun after 7AM EDT at month’s end. After Superior Solar Conjunction at noon on the 30th, Mercury will move into evening skies.

Planet Constellation Magnitude Planet Passages

Sun………….Virgo…………-26.8………….New Moon, 10/30, …………………………………………………………………1:38AM EDT Mercury…Leo,Virgo….-0.9 to -0.1.4…….Superior Conjunction, …………………………………………………………….10/27, Noon EDT ……………………………………………………….Jupiter, 0.9°S …………………………………………………………10/10, Midnight EDT Venus..Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus..-3.9 to 4.0….Saturn, 3.0°N …………………………………………………………….10/30, 4AM EDT
Mars…. .Sagittarius..+0.1 to +0.3
Jupiter ………Virgo………….-1.7…………….Mercury, 0.9°N …………………………………………………………10/10, Midnight EDT Saturn…….Ophiuchus……..+0.5 to +0.6….Saturn, 3.0°S ……………………………………………………………..10/30, 4AM EDT
Uranus…….Pisces…………..+5.7
Neptune…..Aquarius……….+7.8 to +7.9

October Moon

The New Moon of October is on the 30th at 1:38AM EDT. The New Moon is the beginning of Lunation 1161 which ends 29.86 days later with the New Moon of November 29th at 7:18AM EST.

The Full Moon in October in Pisces occurs at 12:23AM EDT on the 16th. It is normally called the “Hunters Moon”. It was also the “Hunters Moon” for the Celts and Chinese mark the October Moon as the “Kindly Moon”. To Medieval English, it was the “Blood Moon” and the Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people of northern Michigan celebrate it as “Binaakwe-giizis” (Falling Leaves Moon).

It was also called the “Hunters Moon” in Colonial America. After the Harvest Moon in the previous month when the fields were reaped, hunters moved into the fields seeking game feeding on the crop remants and hiding in the stubble. The products of the hunt resupplied their larders in preparation for the oncoming winter.

The Moon is at the apogee position in orbit (maximum orbital distance) at 252,336 miles (63.67 Earth radii) from Earth on the 4th at 7:03AM EDT. It is again at aphelion at 252,688 miles (63.76 Earth radii) from Earth on the 31st at 3:29PM EDT. Perigee distance (closest to Earth) is 222,364 miles or 56.11 Earth radii on the 16th at 7:34PM EDT. Since Full Moon occurs when the Moon is closer to Earth than usual, the Full Moon appears as a large “Supermoon”. The Full Moon lineup of the Sun, Earth, and a nearby Moon will force seaside residents to be on the alert for unusually high tides which will also result in higher than normal “tidal bore waves” moving farther upstream in rivers draining into the sea.

Planet Constellation Magnitude Moon Passage ……………………………………………………………Moon Phase/Age

Sun…………Virgo…………..-26.8…………1:38AM EDT, 10/30 ……………………………………………………………New ~ 0 days Mercury……Virgo……………-1.4………..4.2°NNE,1PM EDT, 10/30 ……………………………………………………..Waxing Crescent ~ ………………………………………………………………..0.18 days Venus………Virgo……………-3.9………..5.0°N, 1PM EDT, 10/3 ……………………………………………………..Waxing Crescent ~ …………………………………………………………………3.33 days Mars……Sagittarius…………+0.1……….7.0°N, 8AM EDT, 10/8 ………………………………………………………Waxing Crescent ~ ………………………………………………………………..8.12 days Jupiter……..Virgo…………….-1.7……….0.4°N, 6AM EDT, 10/28 ……………………………………………………..Waning Crescent ~ …………………………………………………………………28.04 days Saturn…….Ophiuchus………+0.5………..4.0°N, 4AM EDT, 10/6 …………………………………………………….Waxing Crescent ~ ……………………………………………………………….5.96 days Uranus…….Pisces……………+5.7……….3.0°S, 10PM EDT, 10/15 …………………………………………………….Waxing Gibbous ~ ……………………………………………………………….15.71 days Neptune……Aquarius……….+7.8………1.2°N, 2AM EDT, 10/13 …………………………………………………….Waxing Gibbous ~ ……………………………………………………………….12.87 days