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Monday, 30 November 2009

Soyuz landing tonight / Japanese launch / Falcon 9 update

    NEWSALERT: Monday, November 30, 2009 @ 1634 GMT
        The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Looking for a job out of this world?
The top jobs and the best talents in
the space industry are on Space Careers.

Space Careers, a one-stop reference source
for employment in the space industry.

As the International Space Station nears completion, NASA and
international agencies are ramping up scientific utilization of the
outpost, particularly in fields of Earth science.

Three men who helped form the first six-person resident crew aboard the
International Space Station will finish their mission and return to Earth
tonight, capping a half-year in orbit by landing in a parachute-equipped
Soyuz descent capsule.


Be part of the future.

If you want to contribute to the future of space exploration, here's your
chance. Boeing's Exploration Ground Launch Services supports the NASA
Constellation Program at the Kennedy Space Center. For more information
and to express your interest, visit


In an unpublicized launch lacking fanfare, an H-2A rocket successfully
boosted Japan's most advanced spy satellite to orbit on Saturday from the
country's island space center.

Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and chief executive, provided an update on
Falcon 9 launch preparations at Cape Canaveral and set odds for success on
the low-cost booster's maiden flight early next year.

Space shuttle Atlantis has returned from its penultimate voyage, one that
delivered nearly 15 tons of spare parts and supplies meant to fortify the
future of the International Space Station. The landing occurred Friday at
9:44 a.m. EST on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 33.

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Scientists Explain Puzzling Lake Asymmetry on Titan

News release: 2009-180                                  Nov. 30, 2009

Scientists Explain Puzzling Lake Asymmetry on Titan

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers at the California Institute of Technology, NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, and other institutions suggest that the eccentricity of Saturn's orbit around the sun may be
responsible for the unusually uneven distribution of lakes over the northern and southern polar regions of
the planet's largest moon, Titan. A paper describing the theory appears in the Nov. 29 advance online
edition of Nature Geoscience.

Saturn's oblong orbit around the sun exposes different parts of Titan to different amounts of sunlight,
which affect cycles of precipitation and evaporation in those areas. Similar variations in Earth's orbit also
drive long-term ice-age cycles on our planet.

As revealed by Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, liquid methane
and ethane lakes in Titan's northern high latitudes cover 20 times more area than lakes in the southern
high latitudes. The Cassini data also show there are significantly more partially filled and now-empty
lakes in the north. (In the radar data, smooth features -- like the surfaces of lakes -- appear as dark areas,
while rougher features -- such as the bottom of an empty lake—appear bright.) The asymmetry is not
likely to be a statistical fluke because of the large amount of data collected by Cassini in its five years
surveying Saturn and its moons.

Scientists initially considered the idea that "there is something inherently different about the northern
polar region versus the south in terms of topography, such that liquid rains, drains or infiltrates the
ground more in one hemisphere," said Oded Aharonson of Caltech, lead author of the Nature
Geoscience paper.

However, Aharonson notes that there are no substantial known differences between the north and south
regions to support this possibility.  Alternatively, the mechanism responsible for this regional dichotomy
may be seasonal. One year on Titan lasts 29.5 Earth years. Every 15 Earth years, the seasons of Titan
reverse, so that it becomes summer in one hemisphere and winter in the other. According to this seasonal
variation hypothesis, methane rainfall and evaporation vary in different seasons -- recently filling lakes in
the north while drying lakes in the south.

The problem with this idea, Aharonson said, is that it accounts for decreases of about one meter per year
in the depths of lakes in the summer hemisphere. But Titan's lakes are a few hundred meters deep on
average, and wouldn't drain (or fill) in just 15 years.  In addition, seasonal variation can't account for the
disparity between the hemispheres in the number of empty lakes. The north polar region has roughly
three times as many dried-up lake basins as the south and seven times as many partially filled ones.

"How do you move the hole in the ground?" Aharonson asked. "The seasonal mechanism may be
responsible for part of the global transport of liquid methane, but it's not the whole story."  A more
plausible explanation, say Aharonson and his colleagues, is related to the eccentricity of the orbit of
Saturn -- and hence of Titan, its satellite -- around the sun.

Like Earth and other planets, Saturn's orbit is not perfectly circular, but is instead somewhat elliptical
and oblique. Because of this, during its southern summer, Titan is about 12 percent closer to the sun than
during the northern summer. As a result, northern summers are long and subdued; southern summers are
short and intense.

"We propose that, in this orbital configuration, the difference between evaporation and precipitation is
not equal in opposite seasons, which means there is a net transport of methane from south to north," said
Aharonson. This imbalance would lead to an accumulation of methane -- and hence the formation of
many more lakes -- in the northern hemisphere.

This situation is only true right now, however. Over very long time scales of tens of thousands of years,
Saturn's orbital parameters vary, at times causing Titan to be closer to the sun during its northern summer
and farther away in southern summers, and producing a reverse in the net transport of methane. This
should lead to a buildup of hydrocarbon -- and an abundance of lakes -- in the southern hemisphere.

"Like Earth, Titan has tens-of-thousands-of-year variations in climate driven by orbital motions,"
Aharonson said. On Earth, these variations, known as Milankovitch cycles, are linked to changes in solar
radiation, which affect global redistribution of water in the form of glaciers, and are believed to be
responsible for ice-age cycles. "On Titan, there are long-term climate cycles in the global movement of
methane that make lakes and carve lake basins. In both cases we find a record of the process embedded
in the geology," he added.

"We may have found an example of long-term climate change, analogous to Milankovitch climate cycles
on Earth, on another object in the solar system," he said.

The paper's co-authors are Caltech graduate student Alexander G. Hayes; Jonathan I. Lunine, Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, Ariz.; Ralph D. Lorenz, Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins
University, Laurel, Md.; Michael D. Allison, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York;
and Charles Elachi, director of JPL. The work was partially funded by the Cassini Project.

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


Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Touch Down!

Streams of smoke trail from the main landing gear tires as space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 11 days in space, completing the 4.5-million-mile STS-129 mission on orbit 171. On STS-129, the crew delivered 14 tons of cargo to the International Space Station, including two ExPRESS Logistics Carriers containing spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired next year.

Image Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Thanksgiving Sky Show

Happy Thanksgiving to all:

Space Weather News for Nov. 25, 2009

DOUBLE FLYBY ALERT:  Space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) this morning at 4:53 am EST.  Their separation sets the stage for  double flybys of many towns and cities on Wednesday evening, Nov. 25th, when Atlantis and the ISS will soar through the night sky side by side--a fantastic sight. Atlantis is not scheduled to land until Friday morning, Nov. 27th, so the double apparitions will continue on Thursday, Nov. 26th, Thanksgiving in the United States.  Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for flybys: .

ISS FLYBY ALERTS: Would you like a phone call or text message when the ISS is about to fly over your back yard?  Sign up for Spaceweather PHONE:

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Thin Blue Line

The thin line of Earth's atmosphere and the setting sun are featured in this image photographed by the crew of the International Space Station while space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission was docked with the station.

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Martian meteorite surrenders new secrets of possible life

    NEWSALERT: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 @ 1827 GMT
        The latest news from Spaceflight Now

This beautiful one piece set features
the Apollo program emblem surrounded
by the individual mission logos.

Compelling new data that chemical and fossil evidence of ancient microbial
life on Mars was carried to Earth in a Martian meteorite is being elevated
to a higher plane by the same NASA team which made the initial discovery
13 years ago.

Atlantis and the International Space Station parted company at 4:53 a.m.
EST today after a week-long visit by the shuttle that delivered two large
pallets of spare parts meant to keep the outpost flying for many years to

SFN+ Subscribers can watch an end-to-end tour of the shuttle-station

The U.S. Air Force has released new images of its experimental new X-37B
space plane as the secretive mission's launch date next April draws near.
The spacecraft will test unspecified technologies before returning to a
landing on a runway.

A spinning antenna on NASA's QuikSCAT satellite has failed after more than
a decade of operations, leaving weather forecasters without a critical
tool to measure winds inside distant hurricanes and adding fuel to a
political firestorm on a potential replacement.

Eleven weeks after winning the contract from a troubled competitor, an
International Launch Services Proton rocket gave a powerhouse European
communications satellite a successful ride to orbit Tuesday.

The Atlantis astronauts used the shuttle's maneuvering thrusters to boost
the International Space Station's altitude by more than a mile early
Tuesday, participated in a change-of-command ceremony aboard the lab
complex and then bid their station colleagues farewell before closing
hatches to set the stage for undocking Wednesday.

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

The Way Home

Seen over the Mediterranean Sea, near the Algerian coast, the space shuttle Atlantis is featured in this image photographed by the Expedition 21 crew on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 4:53 a.m. EST on Nov. 25, 2009.

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Cassini Captures Ghostly Dance of Saturn's Northern Lights

IMAGE/VIDEO ADVISORY: 2009-176                         November 24, 2009

Cassini Captures Ghostly Dance of Saturn's Northern Lights

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

PASADENA, Calif. – In the first video showing the auroras above the northern latitudes of Saturn,
Cassini has spotted the tallest known "northern lights" in the solar system, flickering in shape and
brightness high above the ringed planet.

The new video reveals changes in Saturn's aurora every few minutes, in high resolution, with three
dimensions. The images show a previously unseen vertical profile to the auroras, which ripple in the
video like tall curtains. These curtains reach more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) above the edge of
the planet's northern hemisphere.

The new video and still images are online at: ,
and .

Auroras occur on Earth, Jupiter, Saturn and a few other planets, and the new images will help
scientists better understand how they are generated.

"The auroras have put on a dazzling show, shape-shifting rapidly and exposing curtains that we
suspected were there, but hadn't seen on Saturn before," said Andrew Ingersoll of the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a member of the Cassini imaging team that processed the
new video. "Seeing these things on another planet helps us understand them a little better when we
see them on Earth."

Auroras appear mostly in the high latitudes near a planet's magnetic poles. When charged particles
from the magnetosphere -- the magnetic bubble surrounding a planet -- plunge into the planet's upper
atmosphere, they cause the atmosphere to glow. The curtain shapes show the paths that these charged
particles take as they flow along the lines of the magnetic field between the magnetosphere and the
uppermost part of the atmosphere.

The height of the curtains on Saturn exposes a key difference between Saturn's atmosphere and our
own, Ingersoll said. While Earth's atmosphere has a lot of oxygen and nitrogen, Saturn's atmosphere
is composed primarily of hydrogen. Because hydrogen is very light, the atmosphere and auroras reach
far out from Saturn. Earth's auroras tend to flare only about 100 to 500 kilometers (60 to 300 miles)
above the surface.

The speed of the auroral changes in the video is comparable to some of those on Earth, but scientists
are still working to understand the processes that produce these rapid changes. The height will also
help them learn how much energy is required to light up auroras.

"I was wowed when I saw these images and the curtain," said Tamas Gombosi of the University of
Michigan in Ann Arbor, who chairs Cassini's magnetosphere and plasma science working group. "Put
this together with the other data Cassini has collected on the auroras so far, and you really get a new

Ultraviolet and infrared instruments on Cassini have captured images of and data from Saturn's
auroras before, but in these latest images, Cassini's narrow-angle camera was able to capture the
northern lights in the visible part of the light spectrum, in higher resolution. The movie was assembled
from nearly 500 still pictures spanning 81 hours between Oct. 5 and Oct. 8, 2009. Each picture had an
exposure time of two or three minutes. The camera shot pictures from the night side of Saturn.

The images were originally obtained in black and white, and the imaging team highlighted the auroras
in false-color orange. The oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's upper atmosphere contribute to the colorful
flashes of green, red and even purple in our auroras. But scientists are still working to determine the
true color of the auroras at Saturn, whose atmosphere lacks those chemicals.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the
Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA
Headquarters in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed,
developed and assembled at JPL.  The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder,

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

NASA TV to Broadcast Space Station Crew Soyuz Landing Events

NASA TV to Broadcast Space Station Crew Soyuz Landing Events

HOUSTON -- NASA Television will air the events surrounding the landing of three International Space Station crew members who will return to Earth Dec. 1. The space travelers have lived and worked aboard the space station for the past six months. NASA TV coverage will include the broadcast of farewells aboard the orbiting laboratory, hatch closure and undocking on Nov. 30, and the deorbit burn and landing on Dec. 1. Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency, Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko and Flight Engineer Bob Thirsk of the Canadian Space Agency will undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the station at 9:53 p.m. CST Nov. 30. They will land in Kazakhstan at about 1:16 a.m. (1:16 p.m. Kazakhstan time) on Dec. 1. The three men spent 188 days in space, including 186 days aboard the station, following their Soyuz launch on May 27 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. NASA's Jeff Williams took over command of the station on Nov. 24 from De Winne, who served as the first European Space Agency commander of the complex. Williams also will lead the new Expedition 22 crew along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev. Expedition 22 begins with the undocking of the Soyuz Monday evening. It will be the first time the station has been tended by only two crew members since July 2006. Oleg Kotov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, NASA's Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Space Agency, are set to launch in another Soyuz vehicle from Kazakhstan on Dec. 21 and join Expedition 22 on the station on Dec. 23. Upcoming NASA TV Soyuz landing programming events (all times CST): Monday, Nov. 30: -- 6:30 p.m. Farewells and Hatch Closure (hatch closure scheduled at 6:53 p.m.) -- 9:30 p.m. Undocking (undocking scheduled at 9:53 p.m.) Tuesday, Dec. 1: -- 12 a.m. Deorbit burn and landing (deorbit burn scheduled at 12:25 a.m.; landing scheduled at 1:16 a.m.) For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information,


For more about the space station, visit:

- end -

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Atlas 5 launch a success / Atlantis mission continues well

    NEWSALERT: Monday, November 23, 2009 @ 2324 GMT
        The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Looking for a job out of this world?
The top jobs and the best talents in
the space industry are on Space Careers.

Space Careers, a one-stop reference source
for employment in the space industry.

An international telecommunications satellite that will bridge the
Atlantic with a broad reach to four continents was successfully hauled
into orbit today aboard an Atlas 5 rocket that completed its last purely
commercial launch for the foreseeable future. Liftoff came at 1:55 a.m.
EST from Cape Canaveral.



Onboard rocket camera footage always dazzles and the video from shuttle
Atlantis' external fuel tank and solid boosters didn't disappoint. The
inspiring views of the spacecraft rocketing toward orbit are presented
here for Spaceflight Now+Plus users with launch audio.


Be part of the future.

If you want to contribute to the future of space exploration, here's your
chance. Boeing's Exploration Ground Launch Services supports the NASA
Constellation Program at the Kennedy Space Center. For more information
and to express your interest, visit


Astronauts Bobby Satcher and Randy Bresnik took a five-hour, 42-minute
spacewalk today to install an oxygen tank on the International Space
Station's Quest airlock module, set up a materials science space exposure
experiment and carry out a variety of station assembly get-ahead tasks.

Astronaut Randy Bresnik carried out a spacewalk Saturday awaiting word of
the birth of his second child. Responding to a wake-up call from Houston
early Sunday, he delivered the news that his wife Rebecca had given birth,
saying "good morning, Houston. Good morning, Rebecca, good morning, Wyatt,
and good morning to our little girl."

Space shuttle Atlantis crew members Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik
completed a six-hour spacewalk Saturday that installed an experimental
communications antenna package and wireless video relay, moved a
measurement probe, deployed two external payload attachment fixtures for
future use, plus a few other odds and ends. One final EVA of the mission
is planned for Monday.

The first two attempts to dislodge the stuck Spirit rover from a
calamitous Martian sand pit yielded little progress, but the mission's
project manager said he is encouraged the wheeled robot even moved at all.

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Mike Foreman

Astronaut Mike Foreman performed tasks on the exterior of the International Space Station during the second spacewalk of the STS-129 mission to the orbital outpost. Astronauts Foreman and Randy Bresnik were in the midst of the second of three scheduled spacewalks for this shuttle crew, working in cooperation with the five current crewmembers for the orbital outpost and with their five Atlantis crewmates.

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

The Brightness of the Sun

The bright sun greets the International Space Station in this Nov. 22 image, taken from the Russian section of the orbital outpost and photographed by the STS-129 crew. The 11-day STS-129 mission installed a number of station upgrades and prepared the station for the installation of Node 3, which is slated for another mission.

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

A Different View

On flight day four of the STS-129 mission, a member of the crew photographed the aft section of space shuttle Atlantis through a window from aboard the International Space Station. Reflections on the window are visible in this image. The 11-day shuttle mission continued maintenance and upgrades to the orbital outpost.

Image Credit: NASA
Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Monday, 23 November 2009

SPA ENB No. 276

                 The SOCIETY for POPULAR ASTRONOMY
         Electronic News Bulletin No. 276  2009 November 22

Here is the latest round-up of news from the Society for Popular
Astronomy.  The SPA is Britain's liveliest astronomical society, with
members all over the world.  We accept subscription payments online
at our secure site and can take credit and debit cards.  You can join
or renew via a secure server or just see how much we have to offer by

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

Initial news coming through from this year's Leonid maximum
suggests enhanced activity was indeed seen, but not quite to any of
the predicted stronger-event timings (the possible storm-proportion
rate predictions were heavily revised downwards to merely "good to
strong" shortly after ENB 275 was published, archived at . It is too early for a proper assessment, with
fresh data still arriving continually, but the "live" International Meteor
Organization (IMO) Leonids webpage (at ) has
indicated so far that there may have been two peaks with Zenithal
Hourly Rates (ZHRs) of 100 or more on November 17, one for half an
hour or so centred around 20:15 UT (possibly the more active, with
ZHRs of ~110-120), the other for about fifteen minutes between
21:00-21:15 UT (ZHRs ~95-120). The predictions mostly suggested
the highest Leonid activity would occur sometime between 21:00-
22:00 UT, as well as several lesser potential maxima on November 17
and 18. These preliminary ZHR values and timings are, of course,
subject to revision.

Results arriving at the SPA so far have suggested the better skies for
British observers near the expected maxima were on November 16-
17, primarily from parts of central-southern England (Leics, Worcs &
Oxon) and northwest Northern Ireland. November 17-18 seems to have
been a lot poorer for most places, with yet more heavy rain. Some
comments can be found on the Observing Forum's "Leonids" topic, at: .  Intriguingly, several UK fireballs have been
reported from November 15-16 and 16-17 so far, a couple of which
appear to have been possible Taurids. However, the most spectacular
was a Leonid at 05:47 UT on November 16-17, as witnessed from
Lancashire and Co. Londonderry. The Northern Ireland observer,
Martin McKenna, estimated it was brighter than full Moon, and left a
persistent train for about ten minutes afterwards! Though not operating
his camera at the critical instant, when the initial surprise wore off,
Martin managed to secure a number of images of the event's train, as
it twisted and changed with time due to high-altitude winds blowing in
different directions only a few vertical kilometres apart. Some of his
images can be seen among the Leonid reports on the UK Weather
World's Space Weather Forum here: .

Any fresh observations of this fireball, or any others (a fireball is a
meteor of magnitude -3 or brighter), made from the British Isles or
nearby, would be welcomed by the Section. The minimum details
needed are:

1) Exactly where you were (give the name of the nearest town or large
village and county if in Britain, or your geographic latitude and
longitude if elsewhere in the world);

2) The date and timing of the event; and

3) Where the fireball started and ended in the sky, as accurately as
possible, or where the first and last points you could see of the trail
were if you did not see the whole flight.

More advice and a fuller set of details to send (including an e-mail
report form) are given on the "Making and Reporting Fireball
Observations" page of the SPA website, at: .
Please keep sending in your "ordinary" Leonid observations too!

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

As followers of the Observing Forum topic on this shower (at  ) will already know, the Orionids also
produced an enhanced return this year, another in the consecutive
series that began in 2006, and despite generally negative
expectations for 2009 in advance (as discussed in ENB 275). A
belated warning was issued by the IAU for possibly increased Orionid
activity however, circulated just a few days before the expected peak.
Unfortunately, weather conditions across much of the UK were again
rather poor, and very few detailed observations have arrived from here
covering what took place. Luckily though, we were fortunate in
receiving some excellent support from meteor watchers overseas,
including those of the North American Meteor Network (NAMN; ), data kindly provided very soon after
the event by NAMN leader Mark Davis, and the radio observers who
routinely report to the Radio Meteor Observation Bulletins (RMOBs;
see: ), helpfully submitted by RMOB editor Chris
Steyaert in the form of RMOB 195 for October 2009. Further
comments, including some positive UK reports, can be read on the
UK Weather World's Space Weather Forum "Orionids 2009" topic at: . The list of contributing observers to date is as
follows, where "R" means radio and "V" visual results were provided
by that individual.

Salvador Aguirre (Mexico; NAMN; V), Enric Algeciras (Spain; RMOB;
R), "aliblincow" (Scotland; V), Orlando Benitez (Canary Islands; RMOB;
R), Mike Boschat (Nova Scotia, Canada; NAMN, V & RMOB, R), Jeff
Brower (British Columbia, Canada; RMOB; R), Willy Camps (Belgium;
RMOB; R), John Coussens (Belgium; RMOB; R), Tibor Csorgei
(Slovakia; NAMN; V), Mark Davis (South Carolina, USA; NAMN; V),
Gaspard De Wilde (Belgium; RMOB; R), David Entwistle (England;
RMOB; R), Karl-Heinz Gansel (Germany; RMOB; R), William Godley
(Oklahoma, USA; NAMN; V), Richard Hill (North Carolina, USA;
NAMN; V), Javor Kac (Slovenia; NAMN; V), Mike Linnolt (Hawaii, USA;
NAMN; V), Grigoris Maravelias (Crete; NAMN; V), Pierre Martin
(Ontario, Canada; NAMN; V), Paul Martsching (Iowa, USA; NAMN; V),
Alastair McBeath (England; V), Martin McKenna (Northern Ireland; V),
Mike Otte (Illinois, USA; RMOB; R), Jean-Louis Rault (France; RMOB;
R), Steve Roush (Arizona, USA; RMOB; R), Wayne Sanders (British
Columbia, Canada; RMOB; R), Andy Smith (England; RMOB; R), Chris
Steyaert (Belgium; RMOB; R), Wesley Stone (Oregon, USA; NAMN;
V), Dave Swan (England; RMOB; R), Richard Taibi (Maryland, USA;
NAMN; V), Istvan Tepliczky (Hungary; RMOB; R), Dirk Van Hessche
(Belgium; RMOB; R), Felix Verbelen (Belgium; RMOB; R), William
Watson (New York, USA; NAMN; V), Graham Winstanley (England; V),
Kim Youmans (Georgia, USA; NAMN; V).

Orionid activity was not strongly enhanced, but ZHRs between 30-45
persisted from October 19-20 to 23-24, as shown by both the SPA
data, and the more extensive IMO preliminary results. While ZHRs of
about 30 were predicted for this year anyway, their persistence beyond
the normal October 21 maximum date was not. The IMO's "live"
Orionids page is still available off the homepage. In
more detail, the IMO dataset has indicated average Orionid ZHRs were
about 35 throughout October 20, 21 and 22. They then seem to have
risen to around 40-45 on October 23, before falling back to ~25 by the
24th, and dropping further thereafter. These values remain preliminary
only however, and may change later after a full analysis.

On October 22, while the enhanced shower activity was still underway,
the IAU were already claiming unusually high rates of bright Orionids
had been seen on October 20. However, this seemed to have been
based on just one observer's data. The SPA magnitude distributions
over the whole of the shower's extended peak (based on 467 Orionids
and 223 sporadics) yielded mean magnitudes, corrected to ideal sky
conditions, of +2.6 and +3.4 respectively, both quite normal statistics,
with no unexpected excess of bright Orionids at all. About 36% of
Orionids left persistent trains, again much as usual.

Assistant Meteor Director David Entwistle and I have examined
various aspects of the radio meteor data during the best from the
Orionids this year, with some additional input from observer-analyst
Jeff Brower, which results overall demonstrated a quite clear Orionid
response, lasting for a week or so centred around October 21-22.
From past years, similar radio meteor behaviour has tended to
indicate above average, but not outstanding, Orionid activity, when
compared with the visual findings. In greater detail, based on from 17
to 21 viable radio datasets a day (8 from North America and 13 from
Europe), a reasonably obvious peak in echo counts due to the
Orionids was registered on October 21, with good activity detected by
most operational systems from October 19 to 23 inclusive, tailing off
into October 24. There was an indication that modestly increased
numbers of brighter meteors (assumed to be from echoes that
produced longer than normal radio reflections) were present from
October 21-24 inclusive, and that similar events may have been
occurring, probably at a somewhat lower rate, from October 19. A
loose "peak" in such longer echoes was suggested as lasting across
both October 22 and 23. There seemed little evidence for a specific
time-dependency beyond the "day" level in all this, as most systems
registered generally increased meteor counts whenever the Orionid
radiant was clear of the horizon on the dates above. It has not been
possible to check so readily for these 'radio-bright' meteors during the
Orionids before, thus it is not certain how significant this aspect may be.
As always, some caution needs to be exercised when considering
radio meteor results, because of the considerable difficulties in
carrying out the analyses, but this is our best attempt at a full examination.

Many thanks go to all our contributing observers and correspondents
during the shower - with particular commiserations to those whose
watching was thwarted by the weather.

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

Since the previous ENB, the autumn had been a relatively quiet one for
fireball sightings reported to the Section, until close to the Leonid
maxima, as noted above, probably because of some very unhelpful
British skies overnight during the last couple of months. Our Recent
Fireball Sightings page at: , has continued to be
updated with what reports have come through. Interestingly - and
thankfully! - the number of "sky lanterns" mistaken for meteoric fireballs
has fallen significantly in recent weeks, presumably as people realise
meteors need a clear sky to be seen in, not the UK's persistent clouds!

A couple of fireballs in October were of particular note, though not seen
from the British Isles. The first was a spectacular detonating daylight
event on October 8, at about 03:00 UT (around 11 a.m. local time) over
the islands of Indonesia, which produced a blast wave that was
detected by a number of infrasound detectors there. These detections
enabled the object's atmospheric location to be determined as high
above the city of Bone in southern Sulawesi. SPA and UK Weather
World Forum topics at and
respectively had links to more information, including a published report
on the event.

Closer to home, a very bright fireball was imaged from the Netherlands
around 18:00 UT on October 13-14, enabling Dutch Meteor Society
analysts to estimate a trajectory for the object. David Entwistle's
posting near the end of the SPA Observing Forum topic at  gave a link to the DMS's webpage, where
more details can be found.

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

October saw the completion of the Section's webpage upgrade, which
has been on-going throughout IYA2009. Aside from a few fresh tweaks
to existing pages, this final stage also saw the revision of the "Coping
with very high meteor activity" page, in anticipation of the potential for
a Leonid storm this month. As noted above, that prediction had
evaporated before the amended page had gone online, but the
information is something all meteor observers need to be aware of, in
case unexpectedly strong meteor rates should appear one night when
nothing is predicted. This page and all the Section's others can be
accessed from the Meteor homepage, at: .

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

For the first time, the International Meteor Conference (IMC) is to be
held in the British Isles, from September 16 to 19, 2010, at Armagh in
Northern Ireland, organized by IMO members currently working as
professional astronomers at the famous Armagh Observatory. Details
are still being finalized for bookings and costs, but registration is
expected to open early in the New Year, and it is anticipated that the
price to attend, which will include all Conference sessions, the
excursion, full-board accommodation (in the Armagh City Youth Hostel),
and a copy of the meeting's Proceedings, will be around 150 Euros.
More information can be found on the IMC 2010 webpage, , while photos and notes from past IMCs
can be found elsewhere on the IMO website. The IMC's official
language is English, and all meteor enthusiasts, amateur or
professional, will be welcome to attend.

By Alastair McBeath, SPA Meteor Section Director

IYA2009's last major shower, the Geminids, have a moonless
maximum expected on December 14 around 05h UT. New Moon is on
December 16. The Geminid radiant rises around sunset and reaches
a usefully-observable elevation for meteor watchers by about 20h UT
from Britain. After this, it remains well-placed for the rest of the night,
culminating around 02h. Highest ZHRs should be ~120 judging by
recent returns, and observed rates from the UK on December 13-14
under clear, very dark skies could be a meteor a minute or more
throughout the post-midnight hours, if its activity is of this strength again.
This is because Geminid rates often remain close to their maximum
levels for 6 to 10 hours to either side of their best, and activity is
normally good, if lower, for a night or two before, and sometimes a night
after, the maximum in an average year. Thus pleasing shower rates
may be glimpsed then, even if clouds intervene on the peak night.
Geminids are medium speed and often bright meteors, though few
leave glowing persistent trains after them. Much lower Geminid rates
may be seen away from the maximum in any moonless skies available
between roughly December 7 to 17. For more information on
December's meteor activity as a whole, and a Geminid radiant chart,
see our December meteor activity webpage at: .
Good luck, and clear skies!


On Nov. 6 at 2132 UT, asteroid 2009 VA passed the Earth just 14,000 km
above the surface, well inside the distance of geosynchronous
satellites.  If it had hit, the ~6-metre space rock would have
disintegrated in the atmosphere as a spectacular fireball, causing no
significant damage to the ground.  2009 VA was discovered just 15
hours before closest approach by astronomers working at the Catalina
Sky Survey.  In early October, with no warning, a ~10-metre asteroid
hit the atmosphere above Indonesia and exploded.  The break-up was so
powerful that it triggered nuclear-test-ban sensors thousands of
kilometres away.  A just-released analysis of infrasound data shows
that the asteroid detonated with an energy equivalent to about 50,000
tons of TNT, similar to that of a `small' atomic bomb.

BBC News

Data from three spacecraft, including India's Chandrayaan probe, show
that very fine films of water coat the particles that make up the
lunar soil.  The rock and soil samples returned by the Apollo missions
were found to be ever so slightly 'damp' when examined in the
laboratory, but scientists could never rule out the possibility that
the water in the samples got in only after they were brought back to
Earth.  The only safe scientific conclusion they could draw at the
time was that the lunar surface was all-but bone dry.  Now a remote
sensing instrument on Chandrayaan-1, India's first mission to lunar
orbit, has confirmed that there is a real water signal at the Moon.

Two other satellites looking at the Moon -- the US Deep Impact probe
and the US--European Cassini spacecraft -- confirm the Chandrayaan
findings.  Both collected their Moon data long ago (in the case of
Cassini, 10 years ago), but the significance of what they saw is only
now being realised.  The quantity of water is seen to increase the
closer the observations are made to the poles -- the very places the
Apollo missions never went.  Scientists suspect the water is created
in the soil in an interaction with the solar wind, fast-moving
particles that constantly stream away from the Sun.  Harsh space
radiation triggers a chemical reaction in which oxygen atoms already
in the soil acquire hydrogen nuclei to make water molecules and the
simpler hydrogen-oxygen (OH) molecule.

Researchers have also said that preliminary data from the 'Lunar
Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite' (LCROSS) indicate that water
exists in a permanently shadowed lunar crater.  On Oct. 9, the LCROSS
spacecraft and a companion rocket stage made twin impacts in crater
Cabeus near the Moon's south pole.  A plume of debris travelled at a
high angle beyond the rim of Cabeus and into sunlight, while an
additional curtain of debris was ejected more laterally.  Evidence of
water was seen in both the high-angle vapour plume and the ejecta
curtain created by the impact.

Science Daily

The MESSENGER spacecraft's third fly-by of Mercury has given
scientists, for the first time, an almost complete view of the
planet's surface and revealed some dramatic changes in Mercury's
comet-like tail.  The spacecraft's cameras and instruments revealed 6%
of the planet's surface never before seen at close range, One of the
spacecraft's instruments conducted its most extensive observations to
date of Mercury's ultra-thin atmosphere or 'exosphere'.  Material in
the exosphere comes mainly from the surface of Mercury, knocked aloft
by solar radiation, solar-wind bombardment and meteoroid vaporization.
The wispy gaseous envelope is stretched by solar radiation pressure
into a long, comet-like tail, which seems to be changing as Mercury
moves round the Sun.

The observations also show that calcium and magnesium in the exosphere
exhibit different seasonal changes from sodium -- a difference that
researchers do not understand.  After MESSENGER enters Mercury orbit
in 2011, it can make a continuous study of seasonal changes in all
exospheric constituents.  That will provide key information on the
relative importance of the processes that generate, sustain, and
modify Mercury's atmosphere.  Approximately 98% of Mercury's surface
has now been imaged.  After MESSENGER goes into orbit, it will see the
polar regions, which are the only remaining unobserved areas of the


The widespread idea that Mars is red owing to rocks being rusted by
the water that once flooded the planet may not be correct.  Recent
laboratory studies show that red dust may be formed by the ongoing
grinding of surface rocks, and liquid water need not have played any
significant role in the formation process.  Mars should really look
blackish, between its white polar caps, because most of the rocks at
mid-latitudes are basalt.  Accurate knowledge of the composition and
mineralogy of the planet is vital in understanding the structure and
evolution of the near-surface environment and its interaction with the
atmosphere, as well as in searching for potential habitats on Mars.
Fine red dust covers Mars' surface and is even present in the
atmosphere, dominating the weather and sometimes becoming so thick
that it plunges the planet into darkness.

In a recent laboratory study, scientists at the Mars Simulation
Laboratory used a novel technique to simulate sand transport on Mars.
They sealed sand (quartz) samples in glass flasks and mechanically
tumbled them for several months, turning each flask ten million times.
After gently tumbling pure quartz sand for seven months, almost 10% of
the sand had been reduced to dust.  When scientists added powdered
magnetite, an iron oxide present in Martian basalt, to the flasks they
were surprised to see it getting redder as the flasks were tumbled.

Reddish-orange material deposits, which resemble mineral mantles
known as desert varnish, started appearing on the tumbled flasks.
Subsequent analysis of the flask material and dust has shown that the
magnetite was transformed into the red mineral haematite, through a
completely mechanical process without the presence of water.  The
scientists suspect that, as the quartz sand grains are tumbled around,
they get quickly eroded and an alteration of minerals through contact
ensues.  The first experiments show that this process occurs not only
in air but also in a dried carbon dioxide atmosphere, i.e. in
conditions that resemble those occurring on Mars.


The IAU has approved a new designation and name for the 50th confirmed
satellite of Jupiter, S/2003 J 17, which was re-discovered this past
August.  What a pity that the name is not recorded here!  The IAU has
also approved the name 'Weywot' for the satellite of the trans-
neptunian minor planet (50000) Quaoar.


Scientists using the Spitzer space telescope have discovered an
enormous and previously unknown infrared ring around Saturn.  If the
ring could be seen in the night sky, it would span the width of two
Full Moons.  The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian
system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The
bulk of its material starts about six million kilometres away from the
planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometres.  One
of Saturn's furthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the new-found ring,
and is probably the source of its material.  The ring is tenuous,
consisting of widely dispersed particles of ice and dust.  Spitzer's
infrared camera was able to observe the glow of the cool dust, which
has a temperature of only about 80 Kelvin.

The discovery may help to solve a long-standing riddle of one of
Saturn's moons.  Iapetus has a strange appearance -- one side is
bright and the other is really dark.  Cassini first noticed the moon
in 1671, and years later realized it has a dark side, now named
Cassini Regio in his honour.  Saturn's outsize ring could explain how
Cassini Regio came to be so dark.  The ring is circling in the same
direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of
Saturn's moons are all going the opposite way.  According to the
scientists, some of the dark and dusty material from the outer ring
moves inward toward Iapetus and collides with it, blackening the
leading hemisphere (like our Moon, Iapetus remains in a fixed
orientation with respect to its orbital travel).

Astronomers have also discovered a satellite orbiting within the outer
B ring in Saturn's rings.  The satellite, designated 2009 S 1,
protrudes above the rings by approximately 150 m; the inferred
diameter of the satellite, assuming an orbit co-planar with the ring
material, is consequently approximately 300 m.


Astronomers have found that Sun-like stars that host planets have
destroyed their lithium much more efficiently than 'planet-free'
stars.  For almost 10 years astronomers have tried to find out what
distinguishes stars with planetary systems from their barren cousins.
They have now found that the amount of lithium in Sun-like stars
depends on whether or not they have planets.  The low abundance of
lithium in the Sun, as compared to otherwise similar stars, has been
known for some time but not understood.

The astronomers made an analysis of 500 stars, including 70 planet-
hosting ones.  Most of the stars were monitored for several years with
the 'High-Accuracy Radial-Velocity Planet Searcher' (HARPS) attached
to ESO's 3.6-metre telescope.  The astronomers looked in particular at
Sun-like stars, almost a quarter of the whole sample.  They found that
the majority of stars hosting planets possess less than 1% of the
amount of lithium shown by most of the other stars.  Unlike most other
elements lighter than iron, the light nuclei of lithium, beryllium and
boron are not normally produced in significant amounts in stars.
Instead, it is thought that lithium, composed of just three protons
and four neutrons, was mainly produced just after the Big Bang, 13.7
billion years ago.  Most stars will thus have the same amount of
lithium, unless they have destroyed it themselves.  It seems still not
to have been explained why having planets would destroy lithium.  But
the empirical result promises to provide astronomers with an effective
way to search for planetary systems -- low-lithium stars are worthy of
further significant observing efforts.


Astronomers using the Hubble telescope report that the central star in
Eta Carina has recently brightened to magnitude 5.1.  It now accounts
for half of the total light seen in the Homunculus nebula, compared to
less than 10% before 1995.  Eta Carinae is one of the most massive and
luminous stars in our galaxy, and is suspected to be a binary system
with a period of 5.54 years.  In 1822, the star brightened to 2nd
magnitude, and in 1827 to 1st magnitude.  Fifteen years later it
outshone all stars in the sky apart from Sirius.  It then faded to 8th
magnitude in 1900 but has slowly been getting brighter since then.
Such massive stars have a lifetime of only one million years and Eta
Carinae is expected to end its life as a supernova within the next
100,000 years or so.

University of California, Berkeley

An unusual supernova rediscovered in 7-year-old data may be a new type
of exploding star.  The supernova was detected in 2002 in the galaxy
NGC 1821, in the constellation Lepus, by the Katzman Automatic Imaging
Telescope (KAIT) at Lick Observatory as well as by amateur
astronomers, but at the time it was erroneously classified as a common
Type II supernova.  Now it has been realized to be an unusual kind of
supernova more akin to a Type Ia.  The spectrum had been obtained with
the Keck I telescope, 7 days after discovery.  Follow-up images made
by KAIT showed that the brightness of SN 2002bj dropped off so
rapidly that the supernova disappeared from sight 20 days after its
discovery.  An image of that area of the sky taken seven days prior to
discovery showed no supernova, so it had brightened and dimmed into
obscurity in less than 27 days, whereas most supernovae brighten and
dim over 3 to 4 months.

The supernova's rapidity, coupled with its faintness, the strong
signature of helium in the spectrum of the explosion, and the absence
of hydrogen points toward helium detonation on a white dwarf.
A suggested theoretical explanation involves AM Canum Venaticorum
(AM CVn) binary systems, which are composed of two white dwarfs, one
of which is primarily made of helium that is being slowly transferred
onto its companion.  White dwarfs are stars that have burned their
hydrogen down to carbon and oxygen or, in some particular cases, to
helium.  In AM CVn systems, when enough helium has been accumulated on
the surface of the primary white dwarf, an explosion occurs; but the
explosion is nothing like a regular Type Ia explosion because the
white dwarf survives the detonation of the helium shell instead of
being totally disrupted.  The event has similarities to both a nova
and a supernova.  Novae occur when hydrogen falls onto a star and
accumulates in a shell that can flare up as brief thermonuclear
explosions.  SN 2002bj is a 'super' nova, generating about 1,000 times
the energy of a standard nova.


Matter is not distributed uniformly in the Universe.  In our cosmic
vicinity, stars form in galaxies, and galaxies usually form groups and
clusters.  Some cosmological theories would like matter also to
clump on a still larger scale in the so-called 'cosmic web', in which
galaxies are embedded in filaments stretching between voids.  The
filaments are millions of light-years long and constitute the skeleton
of the Universe: galaxies gather around them, and galaxy clusters form
at their intersections.  Scientists do not know how they would swirl
into existence.  Although massive filamentary structures have been
observed at relatively small distances from us, solid proof of their
existence in the more distant Universe has been lacking.

Now astronomers have discovered a large structure around a cluster of
galaxies about seven billion light-years away. They have studied the
structure in some detail, estimating the distances of over 150
galaxies, and hence obtaining a three-dimensional view of the
structure.  They have identified several groups of galaxies
surrounding the main cluster and were able to distinguish tens of such
clumps, each typically ten times as massive as our own Milky Way
galaxy (some as much as a thousand times more massive), while they
estimate that the mass of the cluster amounts to at least ten thousand
times the mass of the Milky Way.


According to scientists at Durham University, 'stellar nurseries'
within the first galaxies gave birth to stars at a much more rapid
rate than previously supposed.  The research looked back 12.5 billion
years to one of the most distant known galaxies, seen as it appeared
about one billion years after the Big Bang.  Taking advantage of
gravitational lensing, the scientists observed the rapid bursts of
star formation in the galaxy, called MS1358arc.  Within the star-
forming regions, new stars were being created at a rate of about 50
stars per year -- around 100 times faster than had been previously

The researchers say that the galaxy, which measures 6,000 light years
across, has all the characteristics that would allow it to evolve into
a galaxy such as our Milky Way.  Given the size of the star-forming
regions, we would expect it to be forming stars at a rate of about one
Sun per year, but it seems to be much more active than that.


Astronomers using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory have discovered a
group of galaxies at a record distance.  The cluster, named JKCS041,
is 10.2 billion light-years away -- a billion light-years further away
than the previous record holder.  Galaxy clusters are the Universe's
largest objects bound by gravity, and experts hope that the findings
will help them understand better how the cosmos has changed over time.
Scientists think that JKCS041 is at the farthest point at which galaxy
clusters could exist in the early Universe.  They do not believe that
gravity can work fast enough to make galaxy clusters much earlier, but
have detected what they believe to be the light from individual
galaxies out to about 13 billion light-years.

National Geographic

Designed to scan the heavens thousands to billions of light-years
beyond the Solar System for gamma rays, the Fermi gamma-ray space
telescope has also detected 17 gamma-ray flashes associated with
terrestrial storms, and some of those flashes have contained a
surprising signature of anti-matter.  During two recent lightning
storms, Fermi recorded gamma-ray emissions of a particular energy that
could have been produced only by the decay of energetic positrons, the
anti-matter equivalent of electrons.  The observations are the first
of their kind for lightning storms.  The 17 flashes Fermi detected
occurred just before, during and immediately after lightning strikes,
as tracked by the World-Wide Lightning Location Network.

During lightning storms previously observed by other spacecraft,
energetic electrons moving toward the craft slowed down and produced
gamma rays. The unusual positron signature seen by Fermi suggests that
the normal orientation for an electric field associated with a
lightning storm somehow reversed, Modellers are now trying to dream up
how the field reversal could have occurred.  Recording gamma-ray
flashes -- which might harm aeroplanes in storms -- isn't new; the
first were found by Compton in the early 1990s, and the RHESSI
satellite, which primarily looks at X-ray and gamma-ray emissions from
the Sun, has found some 800 terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

BBC News

The US and European space agencies have signed a 'letter of intent'
that ties their Mars programmes together.  The agreement allows
scientists and engineers to begin the joint planning of missions.  The
union will start with a European-led orbiter in 2016, and continue
with surface rovers in 2018, and perhaps a network of landers in 2018.
The ultimate aim is a mission to return Mars rock and soils.

Bulletin compiled by Clive Down

(c) 2009 the Society for Popular Astronomy
Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Sunday night launch planned for Atlas 5 rocket (Monday Moring U.K)

Nov. 23  Atlas 5  •  Intelsat 14
Launch window: 0550-0720 GMT (12:50-2:20 a.m. EST)
Launch site: SLC-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket (AV-024) will launch the commercial Intelsat 14 communications spacecraft. Built by Space Systems/Loral, this satellite will provide telecommunications services over the Atlantic Ocean Region. The rocket will fly in the 431 vehicle configuration with a four-meter fairing, three solid rocket boosters and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. Delayed from Oct. 14. Scrubbed Nov. 14 due to glitch in pyrotechnic assembly. [Nov. 18]
News Headlines

Sunday night launch planned for Atlas 5 rocket
The Atlas 5 rocket returned to its launching pad at Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 on Saturday morning, primed for a second shot at hauling the Intelsat 14 commercial telecommunications satellite into orbit on Sunday night.
   MISSION STATUS CENTER - live updates!
Atlas/Intelsat 14 launch timeline
Posted: November 9, 2009

T-00:02.7 Engine Start
The Russian-designed RD-180 main engine is ignited and undergoes checkout prior to launch.
T+00:01.1 Liftoff
The three strap-on solid rocket boosters are lit as the Atlas 5 vehicle, designated AV-024, lifts off and begins a vertical rise away from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
T+02:09 Jettison SRBs
Having burned out of propellant approximately 40 seconds earlier, the spent solid rocket boosters are jettisoned to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.
T+04:27 Main Engine Cutoff
The RD-180 main engine completes its firing after consuming its kerosene and liquid oxygen fuel supply in the Atlas first stage.
T+04:33 Stage Separation
The Common Core Booster first stage of the Atlas 5 rocket separates from the Centaur upper stage. Over the next few seconds, the Centaur engine liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen systems are readied for ignition.
T+04:43 Centaur Ignition 1
The Centaur RL10 engine ignites for the longer of the two upper stage firings. This burn will inject the Centaur stage and Intelsat 14 spacecraft into a parking orbit.
T+04:51 Nose Cone Jettison
The payload fairing that protected the Intelsat 14 spacecraft during launch is separated once heating levels drop to predetermined limits.
T+18:24 Centaur Cutoff 1
The Centaur engine shuts down after arriving in a planned parking orbit. The vehicle enters a lengthy coast period lasting nearly 95 minutes before arriving at the required location in space for the second burn.
T+1:53:24 Centaur Ignition 2
The Centaur re-ignites over the southeastern Indian Ocean to accelerate the payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit from the parking achieved earlier in the launch sequence.
T+1:54:57 Centaur Cutoff 2
At the conclusion of its second firing, the Centaur will have delivered the Intelsat 14 spacecraft into the targeted orbit.
T+1:58:03 Spacecraft Separation
The Intelsat 14 commercial communications satellite is released into orbit from the Centaur upper stage to complete the AV-024 launch.

Data source: United Launch Alliance.

Atlas launch ground track

This map illustrates the ground track that the Atlas 5 rocket will follow during launch. Credit: ULA
Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Cassini's Big Sky - The View from the Center of Our Solar System


Feature                                                                           Nov 19, 2009

Cassini's Big Sky - The View from the Center of Our Solar System

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

When NASA's Cassini spacecraft began orbiting Saturn five years ago, a dozen
highly-tuned science instruments set to work surveying, sniffing, analyzing and
scrutinizing the Saturnian system.

But Cassini recently revealed new data that appeared to overturn the decades-old
belief that our solar system resembled a comet in shape as it moves through the
interstellar medium (the matter between stars in our corner of the Milky Way

Instead, the new results suggest our heliosphere more closely resembles a bubble
– or a rat – being eaten by a boa constrictor: as the solar system passes through
the "belly" of the snake, the ribs, which mimic the local interstellar magnetic field,
expand and contract as the rat passes. An animation is available here

"At first I was incredulous," said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator of the
Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument (MIMI) at Johns Hopkins University's Applied
Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "The first thing I thought was, 'What's wrong
with our data?'"

Krimigis and his colleagues on the instrument team published the Cassini findings
in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Science, which featured complementary results
from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). Together, the results create
the first map of the heliosphere and its thick outer layer known as the heliosheath,
where solar wind streaming out from the sun gets heated and slowed as it interacts
with the interstellar medium.

The Cassini data also provide a much more direct indication of the thickness of the
heliosheath, whereas scientists previously had to rely on calculations from models.
The new results from Cassini show that the heliosheath is about 40 to 50
astronomical units (3.7 billion to 4.7 billion miles) thick and that NASA's twin
Voyager spacecraft, which are traveling through the heliosheath now, will cross
into true interstellar space well before the year 2020. Estimates as far out as 2030
had been suggested.

"These new data from Cassini really redefine our sense of our home in the galaxy,
and we can now do better studies of whether our solar system resembles those
elsewhere," Krimigis said.

The Voyagers have sent back rich data on the heliosphere and heliosheath, but just
at two locations. Scientists want more context. One way to learn about the region is
to track energetic neutral atoms streaming back toward the sun from the

Energetic neutral atoms form when cold, neutral gas collides with electrically-
charged particles in a cloud of plasma, which is a gas-like state of matter so hot that
the atoms split into an ion and an electron. The positively-charged ions in plasma
can't reclaim their own electrons, which are moving too fast, but they can steal an
electron from the cold gas atoms. Since the resulting particles are neutrally
charged, they are able to escape magnetic fields and zoom off into space. The
emission of these particles often occurs in the magnetic fields surrounding planets,
but also happens when the solar wind mingles with the interstellar medium.

How did Cassini, with 22,000 wire connections and 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) of
cabling specifically tweaked to get the most out of its investigation of the solar
system's second largest gas bag, recently end up helping to redefine how we look
at our entire solar system?

Krimigis and his Cassini colleagues working with MIMI weren't sure their
instrument could pick up emissions from far-out, exotic locations, such as from the
boundary of our heliosphere, the region of our sun's influence.

Last year, after spending four years focused on the energetic electrons and ions
trapped in the magnetic field that surrounds Saturn, as well as the offspring of
these particles known as energetic neutral atoms, the team started combing
through the data from the instrument's Ion and Neutral Camera, looking for
particles arriving from far beyond Saturn.

"We thought we could get some hits from energetic neutral atoms from the
heliosheath because Cassini has really been in an excellent position to detect these
particles," said Don Mitchell, MIMI instrument scientist and a researcher at the
Applied Physics Laboratory.

Cassini was farther away from the sun than previous spacecraft trying to image the
heliosphere and even swung very far away from Saturn on some of its orbits,
Mitchell said. The data would likely be free of much of the interference that
hampered other efforts.

Mitchell, Krimigis and their team were able to stitch together data from late 2003 to
the summer of 2009. They created a color-coded map of the intensity of the
energetic neutral atoms and discovered a belt of hot, high-pressure particles where
the interstellar wind flowed by our heliosheath bubble.

The data matched up nicely with the IBEX images of lower-energy particles and
connected that data set to the Voyager data on higher-energy particles.

"I was initially skeptical because the instrument was designed for Saturn's
magnetosphere," Mitchell said, "But our camera had long exposures of months to
years, so we could accumulate and map each particle that streamed through the
tiny aperture from the far reaches of the heliosphere. It was luck, but also a lot of
hard work."

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

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and


Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Space Shuttle Atlantis

This view of the aft portion of the space shuttle Atlantis, including the three main engines, was provided by the Expedition 21 crew during a survey of the approaching vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station. As part of the survey and every mission's activities, Atlantis performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver. The image was photographed with a digital still camera, using a 400mm lens at a distance of about 600 feet (180 meters).

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A Partial View

Backdropped by the blackness of space, a partial view of Space Shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system pods and docking mechanism are featured in this image photographed by the STS-129 crew from an aft flight deck window.

Image Credit: NASA

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Great Fireball over the Western USA

Space Weather News for Nov. 18, 2009

FIREBALLS AND METEORS:  As forecasters predicted, the Leonid meteor shower peaked during the late hours of Nov. 17th, favoring sky watchers in Asia with an outburst of 100+ meteors per hour.  Just as the outburst was dying down, an even bigger event took place over the western USA. Something hit Earth's atmosphere and exploded with an energy equivalent of 0.5 to 1 kiloton of TNT.  Witnesses in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and elsewhere say the fireball "turned night into day" and "shook the ground" when it exploded just after midnight Mountain Standard Time. Researchers who are analyzing infrasound recordings of the blast say the fireball was not a Leonid.  It was probably a small asteroid, now scattered in fragments across the countryside.  Efforts are underway to measure the trajectory of the asteroid and guide meteorite recovery efforts.

Please visit for images and updates.
Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Geminid Meteor Watch And Committee Meeting....

The annual Committee meeting will be at my house in Kessingland on Sunday December 13th and anyone is welcome to attend.
There will be a buffet and teas with Red and White wines optional and if the skies are clear enough there will be a Geminid Meteor Skywatch of which I will have my big Binoculars and telescope out as well to view a few of the wonderful deep sky objects.
Optionally you can bring a bottle of wine along if you wish to..
I also hope to get some space food in so people can try as well-freeze dried ice cream as well as freeze dried apples and strawberries from the Moon Missions, space shuttle and ISS etc...
Alternatively if the skies are clouded over I have a DVD of the Hubble Space telescope-15 years of discovery which is a fantastic absorbing documentary about the H.S.T....
Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)