Saturday 13 December 2014

The Astrognome #4 'Christmas Tree'

Sat Dec 13th 2014.

The Astrognome Christmas tree has been put up today, only it's not a normal Christmas tree , but a large piece of twisted hazel from our garden. We used the same last year and we think it is pretty funky!! It was the idea of Mrs Astrognome!!

Sunday 7 December 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Sunday December 7th 2014

On December 7th 1979 Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin died she was one of the greatest of all women astronomers .

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin(1900-1979) was a British-born astronomer who became an authority on variable stars and the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy. She was one of the first women to advance to the rank of professor at Harvard University and the first woman to head a department there.

Cecilia Helena Payne was born May 10, 1900, in Wendover, England. She entered Cambridge University in 1919. As a woman in the field of astronomy, Payne met with many obstacles. A prominent professor, Ernest Rutherford, whose work helped reveal the structure of the atom, made fun of Payne as the only woman in his lectures, making the male students laugh. Although she felt intimidated, her love of astronomy ensured her success. She became a friend with young British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, who took her on as a tutorial student. Eddington went on to pioneer in the investigation of the internal structure of stars.

Payne completed her studies at Cambridge in 1923, earning a B.A. degree in 1923. Since at that time a woman could only earn “the Title of a Degree,” Payne sailed  to the United States in 1923 to seek greater opportunities. That year, she began studying at Radcliffe College, a private liberal arts college for women in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with close ties to Harvard University.

Not long before Payne came to America, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, Harlow Shapley, had started an astronomy program to encourage women to study at the Observatory. She was the second student to study at the observatory. Payne worked extensively at the Observatory, and Shapley became her thesis adviser. In two years, she earned a Ph.D. degree in astronomy from Radcliffe, the first doctorate awarded for research at the Harvard Observatory. Harvard had not yet established a doctoral program in the field. She also became the first woman to receive a doctorate in astronomy from Radeliffe.

Her work dealt with atmospheres of stars. She submitted her Ph.D. thesis—which became the book Stellar Atmospheres —-to Radcliffe College in 1925. Ukrainian-born American astrophysicist Otto Struve called Payne's dissertation “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” Struve, who contributed much to the study of stars, was known chiefly for his investigations of the spectra of stars.

From 1927 to 1938, she worked as Shapley's technical assistant at the Harvard Observatory. Shapley often kept Payne from using new electronic equipment, and he was responsible for keeping her name out of the Harvard or Radcliffe catalogs. She learned years later that he paid her salary out of “equipment expenses.” In 1934, the American astronomer Henry Norris Russell referred to Payne when he wrote that the best candidate in America to be his successor at Princeton University “alas, is a woman!” Russell was highly influential in the growth of theoretical astrophysics in the United States and was director of the observatory at Princeton University from 1912 to 1947. Neither Harvard nor Princeton would have considered a woman faculty member.

Also in 1934, Payne married Russian-born Harvard astronomer and astrophysicist Sergei Gaposchkin. They worked together on many variable star projects.

Payne-Gaposchkin's work at Harvard College Observatory remained unofficial and unacknowledged. None of the courses she taught at Harvard were listed in the catalog until 1945. In addition, she saw how women did the grunt work in her field. In the back rooms at the observatory, women laboured over the computations needed to measure star locations and catalog volumes of other scientists' results. Some of them had begun with high science talent, but had been discouraged in their efforts. They could lose their jobs if they married or if they complained about their low salaries.
Finally, in 1956, after a 31-year wait, Payne-Gaposchkin received the title of tenured professor of astronomy at Harvard, a position she held until 1966. She was the first woman to become a fully tenured professor at Harvard. At the same time, she became the first woman department chair, heading Harvard's Department of Astronomy from 1956 to 1960. Her own struggles as a woman in a field dominated by men helped Payne-Gaposchkin become a strong supporter of young women students.

Payne-Gaposchkin's accomplishments in astronomy were numerous. She discovered the chemical composition of stars. In particular, she discovered that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in stars and. therefore, in the universe. She also determined stellar temperatures. She learned these things from detailed study and analysis of the spectra of high luminosity stars.  This involved analyzing light from stars in distant galaxies by passing it through a prism, which broke it up into a rainbow like band of colours called a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum of visible light is red, the colour with the longest wavelength (distance between successive wave crests). At the other end is violet, which has the shortest wavelength. The spectrum of light sent out by any star has bright and dark lines that indicate the composition of the star's outer layers and atmosphere. The astronomers then compared the spectra of the light from the stars in the distant galaxies with spectra of similar stars in our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

The observations and analyses of variable stars made by Payne-Gaposchkin and Gaposchkin laid the foundation for all following work on variable stars and their use for clues to the structure of stars. Variable stars are stars that change their brightness. There are four main types: (1) pulsating variables, (2) exploding stars (also called cataclysmic variables), (3) eclipsing binaries, and (4) rotating stars.

Pulsating variables change in brightness as they expand and contract. They pulsate every few days to every 100 days. One type of pulsating variable is the Cepheid. Astronomers also call these stars Cepheid variables because they discovered the first one in the constellation Cepheus. Payne-Gaposchkin and other astronomers could tell the distance to Cepheid variables by comparing the apparent brightness of the stars with their luminosities. The discovery that other galaxies are distant systems that are not part of the Milky Way was made by observing cepheids.

Exploding stars burst unexpectedly with such tremendous energy that they hurl huge amounts of gas and dust into space. One type of exploding star Payne-Gaposchkin studied is called nova, plural novae. These stars become thousands of times brighter than normal. This brightness may last for a few days or even years, and then the star returns to its dim appearance. Some novae explode again and again. Another type of exploding star, called a supernova, is thousands of times as bright as an ordinary nova.

Eclipsing binaries are double stars, consisting of a pair of stars that move around each other. The stars move in such a way that one periodically blocks the other's light. This blocking reduces the total brightness of the two stars as seen from the earth. Eclipsing binaries are only one kind of double star.

From 1966 to 1979, Payne-Gaposchkin remained an emeritus professor of Harvard, and from 1967 to 1979 she was a staff member of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She wrote many academic books and textbooks, as well as the popular Stars in the Making (1952) and Stars and Clusters (1979). For 20 years, she edited the publications of the Harvard Observatory, including the journals Bulletin, Circular, and Annals, as well as books that appeared under the title of Harvard Monographs.

Several colleges awarded Payne-Gaposchkin honorary degrees. The Royal Astronomical Society elected her a member while she was still a student at Cambridge. She also became a member of the American Astronomical Society, American Philosophical Society, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She won a National Research Council Fellowship; Graduate Medal of the Radcliffe Alumnae Association; Annie Jump Cannon Award of the American Astronomical Society; Henry Norris Russell Prize, American Astronomical Society; Award of Merit, Radcliffe College; and the Rittenhouse Medal, Franklin Institute.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin died on Dec. 7, 1979.

Astronomy Scrapbook 7th December 2014

On December 7th 1905 astronomer Gerard Kuiper born

Gerard Kuiper was born in the Netherlands in 1905 and was educated at Leiden University as an astronomer with a doctoral dissertation on binary stars. He went to the United States in 1933 and obtained American citizenship in 1937. He is best known for suggesting that there is an asteroid belt beyond Neptune. This is the area of the solar system we now call the "Kuiper Belt".

Gerard Kuiper is regarded by many as the father of modern planetary science. He is well known for his many discoveries, including:

•1947: He correctly predicted carbon dioxide is a major component of the atmosphere of Mars.
•1947: He correctly predicted the rings of Saturn are composed of particles of ice.
•1947: He discovered Miranda, the fifth moon of Uranus.
•1949: He discovered Nereid orbiting Neptune.
•1949: He proposed an influential theory of the origin of our solar system, suggesting that the planets had formed by the condensation of a large cloud of gas around the sun.
•1951: He proposed the existence of what is now called the Kuiper Belt, a disk-shaped region of minor planets outside the orbit of Neptune, which also is a source of short-period comets.
•1956: He proved that Mars' polar icecaps are composed of frozen water and not of carbon dioxide as they had been previously assumed.
•1964: He predicted what the surface of the Moon would be like to walk on -- "like crunchy snow". This was verified by astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969.

His work laid the foundation for the spacecraft missions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 
Kuiper played an influential role in the development of infrared airborne astronomy in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967 the NASA four engine jet Convair 990 aircraft with an onboard telescope became available for infrared studies at an altitude of 40,000 feet. He used it extensively for spectroscopy of the sun, stars, and planets, discovering things about them that could not be found from ground-based observatories.  In 1974 The Kuiper Airborne Observatory was named in his honour.

He worked at Lick Observatory, Harvard, Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona. The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a research and educational unit in which many planetary scientists have been trained, was established under his guidance at the University of Arizona.

Gerard Kuiper died in 1973 from a heart attack while on holiday in Mexico. He was 68.

Friday 5 December 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical fact #13

The Before Yule Moon

The full Moon this month which occurs on December 6th is called the Before Yule Moon. Tradition says that between the full Moon in December and the feast of Yule on December 21st people had to go into the forest to chop down a tree to get their Yule Log to burn over the Christmas period.

Each full Moon of the year has its own special name. The December full moon is the 'Before Yule Moon'. The full moon this month occurs on December 6th.

Tradition says that between the full Moon in December and the feast of Yule on December 21st people had to go into the forest to chop down a tree to get their 'Yule Log' to burn over the Christmas period. The kindling used to light the fire would be embers from the previous year’s Yule Log.

Monday 17 November 2014

The Astrognome #3

There is a lot going on in space at the moment, the Rosetta mission is exploring Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Curiosity rover is on Mars together with a small armada of space craft which are orbiting the Red Planet. There are probes watching the Sun and studying the changing climate of the Earth.

Mars Today pod at University of York

If you are thinking about a space exhibition for the future, take a look at the Astrognome website, and if you want to see what an example of an Astrognome pod looks like, the Mars Today pod (see attached image) will be at the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) at the STEM centre at the University of York until the end of November.   
If you would like to discuss the possibilities of an Astrognome exhibition visiting your museum please contact me.

The Astrognome

Astronomy Scrapbook Monday 17th November 2014

November 17th 1970 Lunokhod lands on the Moon

The Americans used astronauts and moon buggies to explore the surface of the Moon. The Russians decided that they would send unmanned remote controlled rovers to the Moon. In much the same way that the surface of Mars is being explored today by the Curiosity rover.

The Lunokhod looks very strange by to-days standards however  it  was the first remote controlled robot rover to travel on an astronomical body beyond the Earth.

It looked like a giant saucepan on 8 wheels it was 2.3 meters long and carried many pieces of equipment to study the Moon. The Lunokhod landed in the Sea of Rains and during a 10  month mission on the Moon traveled about 6.5 miles. Over 20,000 photos from the surface of the Moon were taken.

In 1973 the Russians would put Lunokhod 2 onto the surface of the Moon.
Lunokhod 1

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Tuesday 11th November 2104

November 11th 923 Arab astronomers observe eclipse of the Sun

The Arab astronomer Abu al Hassan Ali ibn Amajur observed a total solar eclipse of the Sun from modern day Iraq. This eclipse was not visible in Britain.

November 11th 1572 Tycho Brahe observes Supernova in Cassiopeia.

The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe the last of the great pre- telescopic astronomers first observed the bright star in the constellation of  Cassiopeia. Today we now know it was a supernova. This is a star that destroys itself in a massive explosion. Although he was not the first to see it Tycho observed it continuously until it faded from view,  hence its name today is Tycho's Star. Astronomers refer to it as Supernova SN1572.

Little Gnome Weather Fact #6 Armistice Day and Mushy Peas

November 11th 1938 How good weather and a  promotional flight ended up in court.

November 11th 1938 and a  Captain Michelmore is under contract with the mushy pea manufacturer Batchelor’s to advertise their product by trailing a banner behind his biplane aircraft over Manchester.

Poor weather had grounded him in previous days. His contract says that he must contact Batchelor’s before each flight. However in those days phones were often not reliable and he cannot contact Batchelor’s.

On this day the weather is good so at mid morning he takes off but he has forgotten one detail, at the stroke of 11.00 o’clock the crowd in Salford`s main square bow their heads and remain silent to commemorate armistice day.

At precisely this moment Captain Michelmore arrives overhead with the aircraft engine roaring and the banner telling people to ‘Eat Batchelor’s Peas’

The two minute silence finishes and Batchelor’s head office is jammed with complaints.

An action for defamation and breach of contract follows. The case sets a precedent for recovery of damages in breaches of contract cases.

Little Gnome Weather Fact #5 St Martin's Day

November 11th is St Martin's day.

According to weather folklore

If ducks do slide on St Martins day at Christmas they will swim, if ducks do swim at St Martins day at Christmas they will slide.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #5

October 29th 1932 Arctic Football

In sleet, snow, thick mud and an Arctic wind Blackburn Rovers play Sheffield United in the old football first division. The game is tough for both players and supporters. During the second half the match is suspended for 10 minutes to allow players some respite.

However when the game resumes the referee losses consciousness, but a sterner made linesman takes over. The weather is so bad that 3 Sheffield United players refuse to return to the pitch. Blackburn went on to win 3-0.

The weather was not only bad in Blackburn at Blackpool 5 Chelsea players had to leave the field suffering from exposure.

Monday 13 October 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Monday 13th October 2014

October 13th 1914 Apple bridge Meteorite.

At 8.45 pm on the evening of  October 13th 1914 in the early days of World War 1 a meteorite landed  at a farm near Appleby Bridge close to Wigan in  Lancashire.

A bright fireball and a loud explosion was reported from  Manchester, Liverpool, Halifax, Northwich, Bolton, Macelesfield, plus many other towns.

The meteorite which was of a stone type weighed 15 kg. It was the second largest meteorite that has struck England. The largest being the Wold Cottage meteorite in the East Riding of Yorkshire which weighed 28 kg and landed in 1795.

Cast of the Appleby Bridge Meteorite

The meteorite was recovered the following morning  by workman from a field at Halliwell Farm near Appleby Bridge where it had  landed.

 Very few people thought it might be a rock from outer space, most thought it was caused by a bomb dropped from a German Zeppelin airship which was attacking England.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Sunday 12th October 2014

October 12th 1964 First 3 man space craft in space.

The Russian spacecraft Voskhod 1 became the first craft to take 3 people into space. The crew comprised of Vladimir Komarov, Boris Yegorov and Knostantin Feoktistov.  Boris Yegorov a doctor and Feoktisov a scientist were the first scientists to have taken part in orbital flight. The mission lasted one day.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #4

Frost and the October Moon?

According to weather lore if there is no frost on the night of the full Moon in October there will be no frost until the full Moon in November.

Will we be frost free until November?

Little Gnome Astronomical fact # 12

The Hunter`s Moon

Today the Moon is full, in some parts of the world there will be an eclipse of the Moon. This full Moon is known as the Hunters Moon.

All full moons have their own names they usually can be traced back hundreds of years to the monastic period of English history.

Last month we saw the Harvest Moon, many hundreds of years ago farmers used the light from the Moon to help get their crops harvested. This month they would use the moonlight to go hunting with their bow and arrows and spears to kill animals, they would cure the meat so they would have food over the winter months.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical Fact #11

October 7th 1959 First pictures of the far side of the Moon.

The first time people had ever seen the far side of the Moon was revealed on October 7th 1959 when the Russian probe Luna 3 took this grainy black and white image.

Astronomy Scrapbook Tuesday October 7th 2014

October 7th 1964 SYNCOM 3

On this day SYNCOM 3 is used for the first time for a trans Pacific transmission of television pictures between the USA and Japan prior to the covering of the Olympic Games opening on October 10th.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Astrognome #2, Mars Today pod arrives in York

Astrognome Arrives in York 

The red planet has arrived in York in the form of the Astrognome’s MARS TODAY pod. It will be on display at the National Science Learning Centre at the University of York during October and November.


Mars Rover

There is also a one sixth scale model of the International Space Station Astrognome pod. In 2015 Tim Peake will become the first Briton to visit the ISS.   

one sixth scale model of ISS

Details of all Astrognome exhibitions can be found at

Thursday 25 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Thursday 25th September 2014

September 25th 1795 discovery of R CrB

25th September 1795 The Sooty Star

This star now known as R CrB was discovered to variable by Edward Pigott while living in the city of Bath.

Pigott had worked with John Goodricke in the 1780s in York where they became the ‘Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’.  After Goodricke`s death in 1786 Pigott move to Bath to continue his astronomical work.

R Crb is the prototype of a small class of rare variables stars that remain at maximum brightness and then suddenly and unexpectedly fade from sight. When R Crb is at its brightest it can easily be seen with binoculars. Then it will begin to fade in brightness for a few weeks until binoculars are not powerful enough to find it and a telescope is required to see the star.

It is believed that clouds of carbon form around the star, then condenses and blocks the light as it turns into a ‘soot cloud’. Later when the cloud clears the star returns to its normal brightness, until  the next time.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Thursday 18th September 2014

September 18th 1965 Comet Ikeya-Seki discovered

One of the brightest comets of the last 1,000 years, the comet was discovered independently within 15 minutes of each other by the amateur Japanese astronomers Karou Ikeya and Tsutomu Seki.

The comet is of the sun grazing group type of comets. At its brightest Ikeya Seki had a magnitude of -11,its tail was 40 degrees long.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

The Astrognome #1 17th September 2014

The Mars Today pod part of the Astrognome`s Mars exhibition can be seen at the European Space Agency`s Education centre in the STEM centre at the University of York from October 1st until the end of November.

This pod shows a Mars rover exploring the surface of the planet against a painted back- scene of the Martian surface. Watch a film of NASA`s Curiosity rover as it explores Mars. In addition to the graphic panels much more information can be  found on touch screen computers.

The pod which is full size measures 4 metres square but they can be designed to fit the floor space in any museum or science centre.

In addition there will be a one sixth scale model of a pod showing the International Space Station (ISS) where Tim Peake will become the first British astronaut to visit the ISS in 2015.

Kind Regards

Martin Lunn MBE FRAS
The Astrognome

For more details please go to

Astronomy Scrapbook Wednesday 17th September 2014

September 17th 1764 the birth of John Goodricke.

John Goodricke 1764-1786, One of the Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy

This is the story of John Goodricke, one of the most talented astronomers of all time. Deaf from a very early age, he had a tragically short life but his contribution to astronomy was immense.

The Goodrickes were an English aristocratic family with an ancestral home, Ribston Hall, near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire. John was born in Groningen, Holland on September 17th, 1764 to Henry and Levina. Sadly, after an illness early in his life, the infant John was found to be deaf.

In the early 1770s John’s parents returned to England and settled in York. The young John was sent to Edinburgh to a school for deaf children run by Thomas Braidwood. We have little information about this part of his life; it is possible he learnt to lip read and probably to speak as well. Sign language had not yet been devised. In 1778 he was sent to the Warrington Academy, a famous Dissenting school which had no special provisions for children with disabilities.

It was at the Warrington Academy that he developed a great interest in mathematics, science and astronomy. After three years he left Warrington to live in the Treasurer’s House near York Minster, now in the keeping of The National Trust. It was here that his astronomical career was to begin. His astronomical journal started on November 16th 1781.

 A year earlier a distant cousin had also moved to York. Edward Pigott lived with his father Nathaniel in a house that survives to this day as No. 33 Bootham. Edward and his father were both astronomers.

Together John Goodricke and Edward Pigott forged a partnership that would push back the frontiers of astronomy.  Not only would they make discoveries but like true scientists they would try to explain them, and their five year partnership would make York one of the astronomical centres of the world.

The two astronomers came together in 1781, a few months after William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus from his home in the city of Bath. The scientific community was abuzz with all things astronomical. They must have seemed an odd couple; Goodricke, a deaf youth of just 17, and his older cousin Pigott who, having spent much of his life living in France, liked to dress in the flamboyant French style.
The Pigott’s observatory has been described as the third best private observatory in England, while Goodricke observed from a room in the Treasurer’s House using a small telescope.

Pigott and Goodricke knew of a star in the constellation of Perseus called Algol, or Beta Perseus. The constellation depicts Perseus holding the head of the Medusa.  Algol marks the eye of the Medusa. 

As far back as 1669 astronomers had noticed something odd about this star. It is what we refer to today as a variable star, because it varies in brightness. The world Algol means ‘The Winking Demon’.  Goodricke observed the star and recorded that it remained at its brightest for 2 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, and then faded away for about 10 hours before recovering again to its normal brightness. Goodricke’s observations came very close to modern estimates, even though he had only his eyes and a clock to work with.  

As Goodricke couldn’t hear the clock ticking, a servant beat out the seconds with a finger so he could accurately work out the time. Goodricke was obsessed by precise timing. When he was observing Algol from the Treasurer’s House and Pigott was doing the same from his observatory in Bootham a few hundred metres away, he worked out that if they used the chimes of the bells in York Minster, they needed to allow for the extra time it took for the sound to reach Pigott.

Goodricke and Pigott correctly deduced that there was another body orbiting Algol, causing the light to vary. They believed that it could be a planet; we know today that it was another star. Today astronomers find planets around other stars using the principles put forward by Goodricke and Pigott. Their ideas were over two hundred years ahead of their time.

John Goodricke was only nineteen in 1783 when he wrote to the Royal Society about his observations and thoughts on Algol.  He was deaf and unknown outside of York, but Edward Pigott moved in the right circles and knew everyone of importance in astronomy. He contacted his friend the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne and soon Goodricke’s work was published.

The effect on the astronomical community was electrifying. All over the country people were observing Algol and Goodricke was awarded the Copley medal by the Royal Society, the highest award they could give.  

Goodricke and Pigott had made a remarkable contribution to variable star astronomy and this was just the start of their endeavours.

September 10th 1784 would become a night to remember in York, with not just one but two new variable stars being discovered. Goodricke found Beta Lyra in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre), while Pigott was discovering Eta Aquila in the constellation of Aquila (the Eagle).

The indefatigable Goodricke was to discover another variable star, Delta Cepheus in the constellation of Cepheus (the King), on October 24th 1784. This star is of immense importance today as it is a prototype for the Cepheid type variables which are used to determine how far away galaxies are. Goodricke could never know of the importance of this star to astronomy.

More reports were sent to The Royal Society. Astronomers in London must have wondered what on earth was going on in York!

Goodricke’s short life was nearly over. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society; a most prestigious honour for someone so young, but never knew about his election because he died on April 20th 1786, two weeks before the letter arrived. He was only twenty one, and observing the night sky in the very cold conditions of the time probably contributed to his death from pneumonia.

Pigott moved to the city of Bath where he continued observing the night sky and in 1795 he discovered the variable stars R Corona Borealis and R Scutum. I have christened Goodricke and Pigott ‘The Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’.


Saturday 13 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Saturday September 13th 2014

September 13th 1902 Crumlin Meteorite fell.

On the 13th September 1902 a meteorite weighing 9 pound and 5 and a half ounces landed  at Crosshill Farm ,Crosshill which is a mile north of the village of  Crumlin,  County Antrim, Northern Ireland.. The meteorite is  7 1/2 inches long, 6 1/2 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches thick. The meteorite was sen to fall by people picking apples in the fields.

The Crumlin meteorite is the largest stone which has been seen to fall from the sky to the British Isles for eighty-nine years, and is larger than any which has fallen in England itself since the year 1795.

The caption of the cartoon reads:
The British Museum has “Collared” another Irish Treasure…the remarkable meteorite that fell near Belfast during the period of the British Association’s visit to the city in September last. Dublin “Daily Express,” November 13, 1902.

Astronomy Scrapbook Saturday 13th September 2014

Sept 13th 2006 Pluto relegated to dwarf planet.

On the 13th September 2006 the planet Pluto was relegated by the International Astronomical Union to the status of a dwarf planet.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in America in 1930 and became the solar system`s 9th planet. However astronomers suspected that Pluto which was a long way from the Sun and was also very small There doubts right from the beginning as to whether it was a planet or large asteroid.

In 2005 the trans neptunium object now known as Eris was discovered, it was slightly larger than Pluto. Astronomers had to decide whether to classify Eris as a planet or dwarf planet.

 They decided on the latter, because they assumed many more objects the size of Eris would be discovered in the future and we could very easily end up with a solar system containing many dozens of planets.

On this basis because Eris was larger, Pluto was re classified as a dwarf planet.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Tuesday 9th September 2014

September 9th 1658 an early Isaac Newton experiment

A 16 year old boy in Lincolnshire amuses himself trying to calculate the the wind`s force. First he jumps with the wind, then directly against it. After measuring the length of each leap, and comparing it with the length he can jump in still weather, he rates the storm in feet.

Isaac Newton claims that this is one of his earliest experiments.

Monday 8 September 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical fact # 11

A Night to Remember in York Sept 10th 1784

John Goodricke and Edward Pigott were two astronomers who lived in York during the late 18th century and for a brief moment in time they made York one of the astronomical centres of the world. It was on September 10th 1784 that a fantastic night in the history of astronomy occurred with not one but two variable stars being discovered from York. They are the “Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy”

The city of York has been described as a snapshot of English history but the astronomical part of York`s story if often overlooked.

They started their observing careers by explaining the light variations of the star Algol in the constellation of Perseus. Algol which marks the eye of the Medusa in the sky is called ‘the winking demon’ and was known by astronomers to change in brightness but they did not know why. Goodricke and Pigott correctly guessed that the changes are due to the fat that there are two stars passing in front of or eclipsing each other causing the light to change.

However on the 10th September 1784 Edward Pigott discovered that the star eta Aquila was changing in brightness he rushed over to Goodricke to tell him the exciting news only for Goodricke to show him that the Beta Lyra was also varying.  Until 1784 only four variable stars were known to astronomers.

 John Goodricke and Edward Pigott both came to York in 1781 they were distant cousins, Goodricke was only 17 a deaf youth and Pigott at 28 much older and having lived in France had a very flamboyant dress style compared to Goodricke’s English conservative  aristocratic style.

Pigott observed from his father`s house in Bootham, York,  it was described as the 3rd best private observatory in England, while Goodricke observed with a small telescope from the Treasurers House near York Minster.

They not only discovered that some stars change in brightness, they then as true scientists, they tried to explain what was causing those changes. In fact some of their ideas such as their conclusions regarding Algol are similar to those used today by astronomers looking for planets around other stars. Their thinking was over 200 years ahead of their time.

Goodricke would discover another variable star, delta Cepheus which is used by astronomers today to work out the distances to galaxies. Pigott also discovered a comet while in York.

 Their partnership would only last for 4 years Goodricke died in 1786 aged 21 probably from pneumonia he had been made a fellow of the Royal Society for his work but sadly died before the letter reached him. Pigott moved to city of Bath where he carried on his astronomical work.

There is another anniversary concerning shortly, this will be the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Goodricke on September 17th 1764.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #3

September 3rd 1928 How a cold day and an open window changed medicine for ever with a wonder drug.

On a cool day Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming  returns from holiday to discover piles of culture dishes with bacteria lying around, he left a window open in his lab, he notices that one of the dishes is contaminated with a greenish yellow mould . Fleming then notices that between the mould  and the bacteria is a clear halo where the bacteria had not grown.

In a eureka moment he realises that the mould must be releasing a substance that is stoping the growth of the bacteria. Fleming names the active ingredient of his mould 'Penicillin' after the Penicillium notatum mould from which it comes.

Monday 25 August 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical Fact #10

George Alcock discovers his first comet.

George Alcock of Peterborough England one of the greatest of all comet and Nova hunters discovered his first comet on August 25th 1959. This was the first comet discovered in Britain since 1894. Alcock would go on to discover 5 comets and 5 nova.

Astronomy Scrapbook Monday 25th August 2014

August 25th 1835 Great Moon Hoax

It could have been an April`s fool joke but it was August. A series of articles published in the New York newspaper the Sun regarding the supposed discovery of life and civilization on the Moon.

The discoveries were attributed to Sir John Herschel possibly the best astronomer of the time and son of Sir William Herschel who had discovered the planet Uranus in 1781.

Sir John was observing at the Cape Observatory in South Africa and was completely unaware of these stories. In the 1830s it took weeks for messages to travel from South Africa to America by sailing boat.

The stories told of fantastic animals on the Moon including bison, goats, unicorns and bat winged humanoids who built temples. There were also oceans, trees and beaches on the Moon.

These ‘discoveries’ were made using the most massive of telescopes using entirely new scientific principles. The sales of the newspaper increased due to the stories. Eventually, the authors said that the observations had been stopped by the destruction of the telescope.

Apparently the Sun had caused the lens to act as a "burning glass," setting fire to the observatory. It would take several weeks before people realised that the stories were just a great hoax.

Even today it is unclear which of the Sun`s reporters were responsible. We know that at first Herschel was amused saying that more people were reading about him. However later he became annoyed at having to answer such silly questions from people regarding the Moon

Sunday 24 August 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #2

St Bartholomew's Day Weather Lore

August 24th is St Bartholomew day. There was a frost which is unusual for August, this does not bode well with the weather lore according to the St Bartholomew day predictions.

'If this day be begins with a frost the cold weather will soon come, and a hard winter will follow'.

Friday 22 August 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Friday August 22nd 2014

August 22nd 1852 the asteroid Fortuna discovered

August 22nd 1852 the asteroid Fortuna was discovered by J R Hind using a 7 inch Dollond refractor at the George Bishop observatory in Regent’s Park London.

 Fortuna is asteroid number 19 and is named after the Roman god of luck. Fortuna has a diameter of 225 km and is one of the larger asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. 

Thursday 21 August 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Thursday 21st August 2014

 August 21st 1785 birth of George Bishop.

 George Bishop (1785- 1861) was born on August 21st 1785 in Leicester he made his fortune as a wine merchant, but his great passion in life was astronomy.  In 1836 in the grounds of his home in South Villa in Regent`s Park, London he built an astronomical observatory.

George Bishop' s Regents Park Observatory 

The observatory was equipped with a 7 inch Dollond refractor. The Rev William Rutter Dawes used the telescope from 1839-1844 until poor health forced him to leave. In October 1844 John Russell Hind became the observatory`s astronomer.

 Between 1847 and 1854 Hind discovered 10 asteroids from the observatory, they were, 7 Iris, 8 Flora, 12 Victoria, 14 Irene, 18 Melpomene, 19 Fortuna, 22 calliope, 23 Thalia, 27 Eutepe and 30 Urania.

 Another asteroid 29 Amphitrite was discovered in 1854 by Albert Marth Hind`s young assistant.

After the death of George Bishop in 1861, the observatory dome and instruments were moved to Twickenham in west London to avoid the more polluted skies of the capital.
The observatory operated until 1877 when the instruments and library were donated to Royal Observatory at Naples.

The original Regent`s Park observatory no longer exists.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Little Gnome Weather Fact #1

August 20th 1795 The Aeolian Harp and Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

While sitting in a garden in Somerset, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge listens to the mysterious tones created by the Aeolian harp a stringed instrument played by the wind alone.  This ‘transposing of the spirit of the wind’ inspires a poem.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘And that simplest lute, plac`d length-ways in the clasping casement, hark! How by the desultory breeze caress`d, like some coy maid half-yielding to her lover, It pours such sweet upbraiding’   

Little Gnome Astronomical Fact #9

August 20th 1964 INTELSAT Formed.

The USA, Australia, Canada, the UK, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, and the Vatican City sign the International Communication Satellite System agreement. Between 1964 and 2001 INTELSAT was an intergovernmental consortium owning and managing a series of communication satellites providing international broadcast services. The system was privatised in 2001. 

Earlybird being prepared

Its first satellite INTELSAT 1 which was called Early Bird was launched on April 6th 1965; it was placed in geostationary orbit above the Atlantic Ocea

Astronomy Scrapbook August 20th 2014

August 20th 1920 Nova Cygnus discovered

W F Denning discovered Nova Cygnus 1920 on August 20th 1920 while observing from his home in Bristol, England. At its brightest the Nova reached magnitude 1.8 which is slightly brighter than the North Star.

Astronomers today believe it was one of the brightest and fastest galactic nova observed. It increased in brightness nearly 13.5 magnitudes and declined 3 magnitudes in only 16 days.

A nova the word means ‘new’ in Latin is a binary star system where two stars orbit close to each other. One star which is hotter than the other will pull gas from its companion onto itself. When enough gas hits the hotter star it sizzles or sends out a shell of gas which makes the star become brighter, we see this and call it a Nova. A Nova can repeat this process several times.

It is believed that the star now called V476 Cygnus is about 4,000 light years away and at its brightest was about 250,000 times brighter than the Sun.

Astronomy Scrapbook Wednesday 20th August 2014

August 20th 1977 Voyager 2 launched
Its mission was to explore the outer planets of the solar system.

The Voyager 1 and 2 space craft were updated versions of the highly successful Mariner space missions built by NASA.

voyager 2

This is the time line so far of Voyager 2

1977 Aug. 20 Voyager 2 launched from Kennedy Space Flight Center

1979 July 9 Voyager 2 makes its closest approach to Jupiter

1981 Aug. 25 Voyager 2 flies by Saturn

1986 Jan. 24 Voyager 2 has the first-ever encounter with Uranus

1989 Aug. 25 Voyager 2 is the first spacecraft to observe Neptune

 Voyager 2 begins its trip out of the Solar System

2007 Sept 5 Voyager 2 crosses Termination Shock

2016 expected to enter interstellar space

2025 power supply will probably fail

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical Fact #8

Aug 19th Kappa Cygnids reach Maximum
The Kappa Cygnids meteor shower peaks on the 19th August, it has been regularly observed since the middle of the 19th century, but it often gets overlooked by people observing the Perseids. The average number of meteors is about 6 per hour.

Although a minor shower William Denning observing in the 1880s and 1890s was struck by their speed, leaving a short streak and in many cases the nucleus bursting.

 As the Kappa Cygnids came so close to the Perseids it was only in the early 20th century that the duration of the shower, from July 26th- September 1st and its peak on the 19th August were recognised.

More Kappa Cygnids are plotted than any other August meteor shower apart from the Perseids. It is unclear if the meteor stream is absent some years due to the fact that the shower has never been the focus of intensive observations.

Astronomy Scrapbook Tuesday 19th August 2014

August 19th 1960 Belka and Strelka return from Space

Strelka and Belka
On August 19th 1960 the first creatures safely returned to Earth  after being sent into space.

On board Sputnik 5 were two dogs Belka (which means Whitey) and Strelka (Arrow)  and there was also one grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats and some flies that went up with them, all of which survived the mission too.  However it was Belka and Strelka that had the most publicity.

Both dogs were strays, both were female, Strelka would later have puppies and one Pushinka (Fluffy) was given to Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter. This was of course at the height of the cold war.

Their mission paved the way for Yuri Gagarin in 1961 to become the first person to go into space.

Monday 18 August 2014

Astronomy Scrapbook Monday August 18th 2014

On August 18th 1877 the moon Phobos was discovered orbiting Mars

Discovery of Phobos
Phobos the larger of the two small moons of Mars was discovered by the American Asaph Hall at the U S Naval observatory in Washington on August 18th 1877. Hall also discovered Deimos, Mars's other and smaller moon, a few days earlier on 12 August 1877.

They were discovered because Hall`s wife Angeline Stickney Hall was convinced there were moons orbiting Mars. She kept prodding her husband to search for the moons and following her encouragement he finally he found them.

Angeline Stickney Hall

His wife could not use the telescope to search for the moons because under the rules of the day a woman was not allowed to be in the observatory on her own, it was considered too dangerous and it was certainly not permitted for her to be on her own with a male colleague in the observatory.  This made life  a little difficult for women astronomers in the 19th century.

The moons are very small and quite possibly are captured asteroids. The larger Phobos has an enormous crater which is called Stickney after his Asaph Hall’s wife.
In an uncanny prediction, Jonathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels published in 1726 refers to the astronomers of his fictional land Laputa having discovered two moons of Mars.

It was 150 years after the publication of Swift’s book that two moons of Mars were actually discovered!