Monday 29 June 2015

Astronomy Scrapbook June 29th 1818 birth of Angelo Seechi

June 29th 1818 birth of Angelo Seechi pioneer of stellar spectroscopy

Between 1864 and 1868 the Italian Jesuit Angelo Seechi made the first really good spectroscopic survey of the brightest stars. He divided the stars into four types.

The four types were Type I White Stars, Type II Yellow Stars, Type III Orange Stars, Type IV Red Stars. He also undertook major research into the Sun. He died in 1878.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Astronomy Scrapbook June 27th 1825 death of Edward Pigott

Edward Pigott 1753-1825 one of the Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy

Edward Pigott the son of astronomer Nathaniel Pigott was born near London but lived a large part of his early life in France with his father. He helped to survey of the location of the large cities in the Austrian Netherlands. He moved to Wales where in 1779 he discovered 'The Black Eye Galaxy,' M64.

  He moved to the city of York in England in 1781 and worked with John Goodricke the deaf astronomer. Together they would become The Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy. They explained the variability of beta Persei the star that  marks the eye of Medusa which has just been killed by Perseus. The star has a proper name Algol which means the 'Winking Demon' They were the first people to suggest that there might be objects orbiting other stars!!

In 1783 Pigott discovered a comet, In 1784 he discovered the variable star eta Aquila a Cepheid type variable. After Goodrick's death in 1786 Pigott moved to the city of Bath where in 1795 he discovered the variability of the stars R Corona Borealis and R Scuti.

In 1802 following a period of peace during the Napoleonic wars he visited friends in France, When war began again he was captured and was placed under house arrest. A petition by French and English scientists to the French government that this very important astronomer should be released meant he got travel documents to have safe passage to Calais then back to England. He observed the great comets of 1807 and 1811.

He died on June 27th 1825 and is buried in Bridlington in East Yorkshire.

Friday 26 June 2015

Astronomy Scrapbook June 26th 1730 birth of Charles Messier

The Birth of Charles Messier Comet Hunter

The French astronomer Charles Messier was born in 1730, he was very interested in trying to discover as many new comets as he could . He kept seeing fuzzy objects while searching for comets which annoyed him.  In 1781 he produced his catalog of star clusters and nebulae.

He was not interested in nebulae he was a comet hunter, he listed the fuzzy nebular objects so that he could save time by not confusing them with comets. Comets when faint can look like fuzzy objects. Today few people remember any of the 13 comets he discovered, but everyone uses the M or Messier numbers of his catalog. I wonder what he might think of that. Messier died in 1817,

Monday 22 June 2015

Astronomy Scrapbook June 22nd 1978 Discovery of Charon

The Discovery of  Pluto's moon Charon

The New Horizons space craft is hurtling toward Pluto which it will reach next month it will give astronomers lots of information regarding this illusive little world , however 37 years ago something
quite amazing was happening.

The 22nd June 1978 was looking like a normal day for astronomer James Christy at the United States Navel Observatory in Washington D.C. with his family he was moving house at the end of the week, his boss gave him a simple job,  check some photographic plates of Pluto which had been deemed defective by astronomers at the Flagstaff observatory where they had been taken in April and May. Then Christy could get back to the serious job of moving house!  

                                    James Christy checking the 'defective photographic plates'

Christy noticed that there was something wrong, the image of Pluto should be round and there was an extension and it moved around Pluto. This wasn't a fault on the photographic plate this was a moon. A new body in the solar system.

This was a fantastic discovery, but can you image the reaction of his wife who is planning the house move waiting for her husband to help her when he tells her I have just discovered a moon orbiting Pluto and I will be busy for the next few days!!

                                    Charon is at the one o'clock position on the left hand image.

The story does have a happy ending because Christy was allowed to name his discovery and he called it Charon ( which in Greek mythology is the boat man who takes people across the river Styx from the land of the living to the land of the dead) which he pronounced "Shar-on" like Charlene his wife's name.