Astronomy Events for September 2010

Sept 1: The Moon is nearly 2 degrees SW of Pleiades after midnight

Sept 1: Venus is just 1 degree SW of Spica in the west after sunset

Sept 2: The Moon is within 8 degrees North of Aldebaran

Sept 3: Mercury Inferior Conjunction

Sept 8: New Moon

Sept 11: A Waxing Crescent Moon (only 14% illuminated) is just 1 degree away from bright Venus at 8:00pm in the western sky

Sept 14: The Moon stands within 4.5 degrees from Antares

Sept 15: First Quarter Moon

Sept 19: Mercury Greatest Western Elongation

Sept 21: Both Jupiter (Angular dia. 50 arc sec) and Uranus (Angular dia. 3.7 arc sec) are at opposition. Both the planets will be just 49’35” apart in the constellation Pisces.

Sept 23: Full Moon

Sept 28: The Moon and Pleiades are 5.5 degrees apart


Saturn: Very low in the western evening sky and will be lost in the glare of sun after mid September.

Mars: In the western evening sky in the constellation Virgo. The planet shines at mag. 1.5. The planet will be nearly 2 degrees from Spica on 5th.

Venus: The brightest light in the western evening sky for the whole month. On 1st September the planet will be just 1 degree from Spica. On 11th the planet will be again 1 degree from beautiful Crescent Moon making a lovely scene fits in almost any wide-field instrument.

Neptune: Shines at mag. 7.8 throughout the month in the constellation Capricornus.

Jupiter & Uranus: Both planets will be at opposition on September 21st and will be just 49’35” apart at that time. It will be great opportunity to see both planets together in one field of view when both are at opposition.

Mercury: The planet will emerge from the eastern morning sky around 10th September. Mercury will be at greatest Western Elongation on 19th. At that time the planet will be 18 degrees from sun.

Sky for September 2010

[caption id="attachment_701" align="alignleft" width="1016" caption="Star chart for September 2010 with constellations"][/caption]

P R Chandramohan/AASTRO

Kepler spacecraft Discovers Multiple Planets Transiting a Single Star

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star.

The transit signatures of two distinct Saturn-sized planets were seen in the data for a sun-like star designated "Kepler-9." The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c. The discovery incorporates seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system. The findings will be published in the  issue of  journal Science.

Kepler's ultra-precise camera measures tiny decreases in the stars' brightness that occur when a planet transits them. The size of the planet can be derived from these temporary dips.

[caption id="attachment_695" align="aligncenter" width="550" caption="An artist's concept of two Saturn-sized planets in the Kepler-9 planetary system."][/caption]

The distance of the planet from the star can be calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star. Small variations in the regularity of these dips can be used to determine the masses of planets and detect other non-transiting planets in the system.

In June, mission scientists submitted findings for peer review that identified more than 700 planet candidates in the first 43 days of Kepler data. The data included five additional candidate systems that appear to exhibit more than one transiting planet. The Kepler team recently identified a sixth target exhibiting multiple transits and accumulated enough follow-up data to confirm this multi-planet system.

Scientists refined the estimates of the masses of the planets using observations from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The observations show Kepler-9b is the larger of the two planets, and both have masses similar to but less than Saturn. Kepler-9b lies closest to the star with an orbit of about 19 days, while Kepler-9c has an orbit of about 38 days. By observing several transits by each planet over the seven months of data, the time between successive transits could be analyzed.

In addition to the two confirmed giant planets, Kepler scientists also have identified what appears to be a third, much smaller transit signature in the observations of Kepler-9. That signature is consistent with the transits of a super-Earth-sized planet about 1.5 times the radius of Earth in a scorching, near-sun 1.6 day-orbit. Additional observations are required to determine whether this signal is indeed a planet or an astronomical phenomenon that mimics the appearance of a transit.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit

Credit: Science@NASA/AASTRO Kerala

Commemorating Vainu Bappu,architect of the revival of astronomical studies in India

Today,August 10th  is the birthday of Manali Kallat VAINU BAPPU, who was a great astronomer and president of the International Astronomical Union. Being one of the greatest astronomers of India, Vainu has contributed much to the revival of optical astronomy in Independent India. Vainu was born on August 10, 1927 . He was the only child of Manali Kukuzhi and Sunanna Bappu. Vainu Bappu was not only excelled in studies but took active part in debates, sports and other extra curricular activities. However astronomy to which he was exposed from an early age became his passion. Being a keen amateur astronomer, even as an undergraduate, he had published papers on variable star observations. After getting his Masters degree in physics from Madras University, Vainu Bappu joined the prestigious Harvard University on a scholarship.

Within a few months of his arrival at Harvard University, Bappu discovered a comet and it was named Bappu-Bok-Newkirk after him and his colleagues Bart Bok and Gordon Newkirk. He completed his Ph D in 1952 and joined the fellowship. He and Colin Wilson made an important observation about the luminosity of particular kind of stars. This important observation came to known as the Bappu-Wilson effect and is used to determine the luminosity and distance of these kinds of stars. He came back to India in 1953 and played a major role in building the Uttar Pradesh State Observatory in Nainital. In 1960, he look over a as the director of the kodaikanal observatory and contributed a lot in the modernization of it. In 1986, he established the observatory with a powerful telescope in Kavalur, Tamilnadu.

He was awarded the "Donhoe Comet Medal" by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1949. He was elected as the President of the International Astronomical Union in 1979. He was also elected as the Honorary Foreign Fellow of the Belgium Academy of Sciences and was an Honorary Member of the American Astronomical Society. He died on 19 August 1982 but his name will always be remembered in the history of modern indian astronomy. He was the first indian astronomer whose name had tagged to a comet bappu-bok-new kirk.

The Indian Institute of Astrophysics owes its birth to the vision and dynamism of M.K.Vainu Bappu. Vainu Bappu is also responsible for the revival of optical astronomy in independent India. In 1960 at the young age of 33, when Bappu arrived in Kodaikanal as the Director of the Observatory, he had already established himself as India's foremost optical astronomer. The seminal paper on the Wilson-Bappu effect had been published three years earlier and had opened up a new field of study - stellar chromospheres. As primarily a solar observatory, Kodaikanal had made impressive strides in solar work but the facilities at the observatory were inadequate for night time astronomy. While Bappu directed the solar work with dedication, he also started looking for a good astronomical site in peninsular India where a stellar observatory could be built. A decade-long effort led him finally to a spot in the Javadi Hills of Tamilnadu, next to the village of Kavalur, where he established the premier stellar observatory of the country. He undertook the pioneering though arduous task of building indigenuously a large optical telescope for the observatory at Kavalur. In 1986, when the late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the indigenuously built 234-cm telescope at Kavalur, both the telescope and the observatory were named after Vainu Bappu, who had died rather suddenly in 1982, before the completion of his dream project.

Soon after coming to Kodaikanal, Bappu had also initiated action to create an autonomous research institute, which led to the formation of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in 1971. Today IIA has three field stations - the solar physics Observatory at Kodaikanal, the Vainu Bappu Observatory at Kavalur and the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle in Ladakh. The Institute has its headquarters in Bangalore and another campus in Hoskote, the remote station to operate its telescopes in Hanle. The Institute also runs in Gauribidanur a low frequency radio observatory for solar observations.


Kerala man in charge of NASA Mars Orbiter Project

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a new project manager: Phil Varghese,  a native of Kerala, India.He came to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1971 to study physics, earned his doctorate at the University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore., and then worked with computer and aerospace companies. He began his work at JPL as an engineer on NASA's Mars Observer Project and has managed another veteran NASA Mars mission - the Mars Odyssey orbiter - since 2004. Varghese has worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., since 1989.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been examining Mars with six advanced instruments since 2006. It has returned more data than the total from all other NASA missions that have flown farther than the moon.

Mars Odyssey began orbiting Mars in 2001 and is the longest-active spacecraft studying the Red Planet. Varghese previously managed the Deep Space 1 technology demonstration mission, which flew past asteroid Braille and comet Borrelly using solar-powered ion propulsion.

JPL's Jim Erickson managed the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project from December 2006 to February 2010, succeeding the project's original manager, Jim Graf. Erickson now manages JPL's Deep Space Network and Mission Service Planning and Management Program. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Manager Dan Johnston served as acting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project manager for the past four months.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey for NASA.


[caption id="attachment_684" align="aligncenter" width="1000" caption="2010 August sky"][/caption]

August 1: A Waning Gibbous Moon stands 11 degrees N-NE of Jupiter after midnight.Mars and Saturn are nearly 2 degrees apart in West just after sunset.

August 3: Last Quarter Moon.

August 5: The Moon (32% illuminated) stands within 4 degrees from Pleiades (M45) in east before dawn.Venus-Saturn-Mars forms a perfect triangle in West at the time of dusk. The triangle will barely fit within standard 10x50 binoculars.

August 7: Mercury Greatest Eastern Elongation.

August 8: Venus and Saturn within 3 degrees apart after sunset in West.

August 10: New Moon.

August 12-13: The Perseids Meteor Shower will peak in a “moon-free” night!

August 13: Accumulation of a very thin Crescent Moon joining a beautiful trio of Venus, Saturn and Mars in the West after sunset.

[caption id="attachment_683" align="aligncenter" width="981" caption="Don’t miss to watch beautiful accumulation of a very thin Crescent Moon joining a beautiful trio of Venus, Saturn and Mars in the West after sunset."][/caption]

August 14: A Waxing Crescent Moon is within 4 degrees from Spica at dusk in the West.

August 16: First Quarter Moon.

August 17: The Moon is within 5 degrees West of Antares at the time of dusk.

August 18: Venus and Mars are about 2 degrees apart and Venus' Greatest Eastern Elongation.

August 20: Neptune is at opposition, Mag. 7.8 in the constellation Capricornus.

August 24: Full Moon.

August 26: The Moon is around 8.5 degrees from Jupiter.

August 31: Venus is nearly 1 degree W-SW of Spica at 8:00pm in West.


MERCURY: Mercury is very low in the West during this month. The inner-most planet will be at greatest elongation on 7th August.

VENUS: Venus will remain in group with Saturn and Mars through out the month. The brightest planet will provide beautiful show with Mars and Saturn in the Western evening sky after sunset. Venus is at greatest elongation on 18th August. Venus will pass very close from Saturn on 8th August and will pass very close from Mars on 19th. On August 31st, the planet will be just 1 degree from Spica.

SATURN & MARS: Both planets will remain in group with Venus throughout the month. On August 1st, both will be placed within 2 degrees from each other. On August 13th a Crescent Moon will join them.

NEPTUNE: The planet will enter the constellation Capricornus on 14th August. This month is a good time to observe Neptune as it is near opposition on August 20th. The planet will show an angular disc of 2.4” and will shine at magnitude 7.8th.

JUPITER & URANUS: Both planets are in Pisces. Both will be nearly 3 degrees from each other and will get closer and closer during month.

v s / AASTRO

Talk on Astrophotography

As a part of its monthly public lecture series,AASTRO is going to conduct a presentation on 'Basic Techniques on Astrophotography' on August 4th , Wednesday at Kerala State Science and technology Museum, Thiruvananthapuram. The talk will be delivered by Shri.Ramachandran who is a member of Royal Astronomical Society and  an expert in this field. This is the 9th consecutive public talk AASTRO is arranging which participates academia, astronomy and science enthusiasts, students and public together. The talk will start by 5.30 in the evening and will be followed by a discussion and interactive session on the topic. Further details can be obtained from programme cordinator Shri.Vaishakhan Thampi Ph : +91-9846608238