Jane Houston Jones: What's Up for November? MAVEN launches to Mars and Comet ISON should be visible before dawn.
Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, will explore the planet's upper atmosphere, ionosphere and their interactions with the sun and solar wind.
A 2013 launch allows mission scientists to collect data on Mars' atmosphere and how it's being lost to space at an active time in the 11-year solar cycle.
MAVEN will also relay data from the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers back to Earth as needed. The rovers are presently supported by Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005.
Sound effect: whoosh.
Jones: On November 27 Mars is a pretty sight, two-thirds of the way from the horizon to overhead. And the crescent moon is nearby.
Amateur astronomers and astrophotographers have used Mars as a signpost to find Comet ISON in the dawn sky for the last month. Comet viewing this month will occur an hour before dawn, so plan your viewing spot and set an alarm clock for a wake-up call.
Sound effect: clock ringing.
Jones: In early November Comet ISON may not have reached visibility to the unaided eye, but it will be easy to spot in backyard telescopes.
In mid-November the comet passes near Virgo's bright white star Spica. Both objects will appear about 20 to 25 degrees above the horizon, 45 minutes before sunrise.
Comet ISON is racing towards the sun at 5 degrees a day. To spot it, you'll need to be able to see the southeast horizon just before dawn.
On the 24th ISON passes near Saturn and Mercury only 10 degrees above the horizon. It should have an impressive tail facing away from the sun.
On November 25th and 26th Saturn and Mercury appear even closer together--less than one moon diameter between them.
On the 28th Comet ISON passes less than one solar diameter from the sun's surface. Will it live up to predictions? Remember never to look directly at the sun. You can damage your eyes.
You can see collections of images of the comet at: solarsystem dot nasa dot gov slash ISON and at NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign website: w w w dot isoncampaign dot org. And you can read about all of NASA's missions, including MAVEN, at: w w w dot nasa dot gov.
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
Page Editor: Tony Greicius