Wednesday 30 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook September 30th 1550 birth of Michael Mastlin

Michael Mastlin born Sept 30th 1550

Michael Mastlin was born on the 30th September 1550 at Goppingen in Germany. He was professor of astronomy and mathematics at Tubingen University.

 He taught Johann Kepler, he also observed the great comet of 1577 and suggested it was beyond the Moon.  He also discovered a comet in 1580.

  He explained what the ashen light from the Moon was. Today we call it Earth Shine.

He was one of the first European astronomers to observe the Supernova in Ophiuchus in 1604. He died on December 20th 1631.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Astrognome Astronomy The October Sky

During October evenings the autumn constellations are at their best. Ursa Major, or the Plough, is to all intents and purposes at its lowest in the North. The ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is not far from the overhead point.

The summer triangle of Altair, Deneb and Vega remains high up. The southern sky is dominated by the Square of Pegasus. The bright star Capella in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer is becoming more noticeable in the east. It will be overhead in winter evenings.

Image courtesy of Liverpool Astronomical Society

Although the four stars that form the Square of Pegasus are not the brightest, once found they will be easily recognised again. It is always an interesting project to count how many stars you can see within the square; you might be surprised by the result.

If you use the two right hand stars of the square and draw a line to the south you will reach a bright star very low in the sky. This star is Fomalhaut, in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish.

What’s up in the solar system?

The Planets in October
It is in the morning sky that all the action will take place this month. Around the 8th the very bright planets Venus and Jupiter, and the much fainter Mars, will form a large triangle in the sky before the Sun rises. Later, on the 26th, Jupiter and Venus will be very close to each other and make a spectacular sight in the sky before the Sun rises. Just for good measure, lower in the sky is the elusive planet Mercury.

Of the bright planets, only Saturn cannot be seen this month.  

Meteor Showers
On the night of the 21st/22nd the Orionid meteor shower will be on display. Although not as spectacular as other showers, a few meteors might be seen. Meteors are the remains left behind by comets as they orbit the Sun. If the Earth passes through these remains we see lots of meteors, which we call a meteor shower. The Orionid meteors come from comet Halley. 

Phases of the Moon for October, 
Last Quarter 4th, New Moon 13th, First Quarter 20th, Full Moon 27th.

The full moon in October is called the Hunter`s Moon. Following the Harvest Moon in September people living hundreds of years ago used the light from the moon in October to go out hunting to fill their larders with meat for the hunter.

Monday 28 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook 28th September 1981 death of Rudolf Thiel

Rudolf Thiel 23rd July 1899 - 28th September 1981
He was born on 23rd July 1899 in Kaiserslautern Germany. In 1917 he joined the Imperial German army as a pioneer; part of his job was to help the movement of troops.

After World War 1 he studied natural sciences in Bonn and Munich.
Although he published books in different areas of science, in astronomy he will best be remembered as the author of “And There Was Light” published in 1958.

The book describes the changing ideas of astronomy from the earliest times through to the 1950s and is written in a simple clear non mathematical way.

Rudolf Thiel died on September 28th 1981 in Germany

Thursday 17 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook 17th September 1764 birth of John Goodricke

John Goodricke 1764-1786

This is the story of one of the most unusual astronomers of all time. His name was John Goodricke and he was deaf and unable to speak. He would have a tragically short life but his contribution to astronomy would be immense.

He was born in Groningen in Holland on September 17th 1764 to Henry and Levina Goodricke. The Goodricke family were a typical English aristocratic family with their ancestral home being at Ribston Hall near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire.
His grandfather Sir John Goodricke was the powerhouse of the family and achieved some importance within political circles. When he heard of the birth of his grandson he was most pleased, but turned to dismay when shortly afterwards it was realised that the infant was deaf. There was a very strong stigma imposed on disabilities within the aristocracy at that time.

In the early 1770s the Goodricke’s returned to England to York, the young John Goodricke was sent to Edinburgh to a school run by Thomas Braidwood for deaf children. We have little information of this part of his life, it is possible he learnt to lip read, sign language had not yet been devised. In 1778 he was sent to the Warrington Academy which had no special provisions for children with special needs.

It was here that he developed a great interest in mathematics, science and in particular astronomy. He left the Warrington academy in 1781 and returned to York to live in the Treasurers House near York Minster. It was here that his astronomical career would begin. He began his astronomical journal on the 16th November 1781.

 A year earlier a distant cousin who was also an astronomer would also move to York, this was Edward Pigott. Edward Pigott lived with his father Nathaniel yet another astronomer at what is now No. 33 Bootham in York, the house still survives today is where William Arthur Evelyn (1860-1935) a pioneer of conservation in York lived.
Together John Goodricke and Edward Pigott they would forge an astronomical partnership that would push back the frontiers of astronomy. They would not only make discoveries but like true scientists they would try to explain them.
They were an odd couple, Goodricke a deaf youth of just 17, with his older cousin Pigott who had spent much of his life living in France and like to dress up French style. This was much more flowery than the more conservative English style. Today Pigott would have been described as a ‘dandy’

The only reason that the Pigotts were in York was that Nathaniel Pigott who was a distant cousin of Lady Anne Fairfax of Gilling Castle in North Yorkshire was trying to swindle her out of her inheritance! Edward played no part in this.

The two astronomers come together in 1781 just 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 quickly began observing the sky, the Pigotts observatory has been described as the 3rd best private observatory in England while Goodricke used a small telescope at the Treasurers House.

They knew of a star in the constellation of Perseus that was called Algol, its official title is Beta Perseus, as far back as 1669 astronomers had noticed that it changed in brightness. It is what astronomers refer to today as a variable star because it varies in brightness. The world Algol means ‘The Winking Demon’ as this star marks the eye of the medusa from Greek mythology.  

Goodricke observed the star and recorded that it remained at its brightest for  2 day, 20 hours, 48 minutes and 56 seconds, then it fades away for about 10 hours then recovers to it normal brightness. We know that today Goodricke’s observations are within a few seconds of modern estimates. This was of course using just his eye and a clock.  
Interestingly because Goodricke was deaf a servant used his finger to mark out the beat of the clock to accurately work out the time. Even now we can see how the mind of Goodricke was working because although he knew that Pigott was making observations of Algol from his observatory in Bootham Goodricke knew that if Pigott was using the chimes of the bells in York Minster to check the time it would take an extra half a second for the sound to reach Pigott.

Goodricke in particular and Pigott both assumed there was another body orbiting Algol and blocking the light, and they were of course correct. They believed that it could be a planet, we know today that it was another star. However the idea that a planet can change the amount of light we see from another star is one of the ways that astronomers use to discover planets around other stars.  They were over 200 years ahead of their time in thinking.

John Goodricke was only 19 in 1783 when he wrote to the Royal Society about his observations and thoughts on Algol.  He was unknown was deaf unknown outside of York, but Edward Pigott was good at networking and he knew anybody of importance in astronomy. He contacted his friend Nevil Maskelyne the astronomer royal explained what was happening and Goodricke’s work was published.

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

If Goodricke and Pigott had stopped here they still would have made a remarkable contribution to astronomy, this was just the start they were not going to stop now.
The 10th September 1784 would become a night to remember in York, with not just one but two new variable stars being discovered, they were by Goodricke  Beta Lyra in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre) and from Pigott eta Aquila in the constellation of Aquila (the Eagle).

The indefatigable Goodricke would discover another variable star on October 24th this was delta Cepheus in the constellation of Cepheus (the King). This star is of immense importance today it is used a distance marker because it allows astronomers when locating these so called Cepheid variables to determine how far away distant galaxies are. Goodricke could of course never know of the importance of this star.

These discoveries were due to their complete knowledge of the locations of stars in the sky by continuously observing the night sky.
More reports were sent to London, the astronomers there must have wondered what on earth was going on in York!  

Although Goodricke he did not know it his short life was nearly over, he died on the 20th April 1786 probably from pneumonia caught while observing the night sky. During the 1780s the river Ouse in York regularly froze over for up to 6 week each year giving an indication of how cold it was. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society a most prestigious honour for someone so young. Sadly he died two weeks before that letter arrived so he never knew of that honour.

Friday 11 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Jamestown and Halley's Comet

Jamestown and Halley’s Comet

Roughly 100 colonists left England in late December 1606 on three ships. On May 14th, 1607, they landed on a narrow peninsula, where they would begin their lives in the New World.A settlement which initially consisted of a wooden fort built in a triangle around a storehouse for weapons and other supplies, a church and a number of houses were built. The settlers would struggle with hunger, illness and the threat of attack by local native tribes.

Just a few months later on September 11th 1607 an old friend appeared in the sky. A comet which we know today as Halley’s Comet but of course at that time Halley had yet to be born.

It was discovered by Kepler in Prague and was of the first magnitude so it was bright. The comet which at first had no tail, it was described as looking ‘pale and watery’. The tail when it did form was described as being long and bright.
It passed through Ursa Major, Bootes, Serpens and Ophiuchus. It was last seen in Europe on October 26th 1607.

The comet although discovered in Europe would have been visible to those settlers in Jamestown. It is interesting to imagine what those early settlers must have thought when they saw this comet in the sky. This was just after they had built their settlement. And of course this was at a time when many people were very superstitious and believed  that comets bought bad lack and were the bringers of doom and despair.


Thursday 10 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Sept 10th 1784 A Night to remember in York

A night to remember

September 10th 1784, was a night to remember in York. The astronomers John Goodricke a deaf youth and the older but flamboyant Edward Pigott were observing the night sky. They would on that night discover not one but two variable stars. They would change the course of history in the study of variable stars.

John Goodricke

Edward Pigott

On this night Goodricke discovered the variability of Beta Lyrae which today we know is an eclipsing variable. Pigott discovered Eta Aquilae, which is a Cepheid type variable. Delta Cephei would later be discovered by Goodricke.

Beta Lyrae (beta looks like the letter B)

Eta Aquilae (eta looks like the letter n)

 They had already explained what cause the light variations of the star Algol also known as ‘the winking demon’. They believed that there were two objects orbiting each other causing the light of the star to change. Some of their ideas were two hundred years ahead of their time. They would both go on to discover other variable stars; Pigott had also discovered a comet from York.

 Until that night only four variable stars were known to astronomers.  Today astronomers know of thousands of variable stars.

They worked together in York for only four years; Goodricke would die before his 22nd birthday. Together they would become “The Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy”

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Birth of William Bond September 9th 1789

William Cranch Bond

William Bond was born in Maine in America on Sept 9th 1789. He co discovered the 8th satellite of Saturn, Hyperion and was responsible for some of the earliest astronomical photography.

Bond was a watchmaker who became interested in astronomy after observing the total solar eclipse of June 16th 1806 which was total over America. He built a home observatory that was one of the finest in the United States at that time.

Bond independently discovered many comets, at one point he was the only American astronomer observing the Great Comet of 1811. In recognition of his efforts, he was appointed the first astronomical observer at Harvard College in 1839. He became the first director of the Harvard Observatory in 1847 and was elected an associate of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society in 1849 the first American so honoured.

Harvard Observatory

In 1848 Bond undertook extensive studies of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, and on the 16th September of that year he discovered Hyperion in collaboration with his son George Phillips Bond (1825–65). The English astronomer William Lassell independently discovered Hyperion the same night.

Hyperion as seen by Cassini 

On July 17th 1850 the Bonds took the first recognizable daguerreotype (an early sort of camera) picture of a star, Vega the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra.

Vega photographed through the 15 inch at Harvard

That same year, they discovered the dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring), which Lassell discovered independently only a few nights later.

C ring is the Crepe ring

After William Bond died on Jan 29th 1859, his son George Phillips Bond succeeded him as director of the Harvard Observatory.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Alpha Capricorni

Alpha Capricorni

If you can locate the Square of Pegasus and draw a line from the top left hand star through the square and past the bottom right hand star and continue this line you will reach the brightest star in the rather faint constellation of Capricorn the Sea Goat. Capricorn is quite low down in the sky and mist will obscure your view. Its always fun to try to find these constellations!

Alpha or Al Giedi which comes from the Arabic word meaning 'billy goat 'is a naked eye double star, but it is not a tru physical double merely an optical double. Alpha (2) at magnitude 3.6 is confusingly brighter than Alpha (1) at magnitude 4.2. They are separated by 378 seconds of arc.Alpha (2) is 117 light years away while Alpha (1) is 1600 light years away. This means that Alpha (1) is actually a much brighter star, it is only fainter because it is much further away.

In ancient times the two Alphas were closer together than they are now. The closer star has moved a little bit further away from its neighbour. It was however not until the 17th century that the two stars were seen separately with the naked eye.

Friday 4 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Solar Eclipse in 1187 and the fall of Jerusalem

Solar Eclipse September 4th 1187

Battle of Ḥattin
An eclipse of the Sun took place on September 4th 1187 it was a long eclipse lasting for 4 minutes and 5 seconds. At its widest the path of totality was 276 kilometres wide.
Stars were said to have been seen from Jerusalem. 

A partial eclipse of the Sun was recorded in England. According to Gervase of Canterbury there was a sign in the Sun at midday, it was like the Moon, and grew dim, but after a little time it filled and shone out again. 

Many things astronomical are linked to historical events and this is no exception. It was on July 4th 1187 that in northern Palestine near the village of Hattin that the Christian crusader armies of Guy de Lusignan who was king of Jerusalem from 1186-92 were defeated by the Muslim forces of Saladin.

Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin in October 1187 and many of the gains made by the early crusades were lost.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook The Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian calendar

If you were living in England or one of its colonies a rather strange event was about to happen today, you would go to bed on September 2nd 1752 and wake up on September 14th 1752. You were now using the Gregorian calendar and eleven days had effectively been skipped over.

By adopting the Gregorian calendar England and its colonies had aligned itself with the rest of Western Europe.

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII had introduced his Gregorian calendar to replace the Julian calendar that had been introduced by Julius Caesar inn 46 BC. The Julian calendar introduced an extra day every four years in February. This made the calendar slightly too long.

Pope Gregory XIII

The Gregorian calendar uses a variation that adds leap days in years divisible by four, unless the year is also divisible by 100. If the year is also divisible by 400, a leap day is added regardless. While this formula may sound confusing, it did resolve the lag created by Caesar’s earlier scheme.

Although Pope Gregory’s calendar was adopted by Catholic countries in Europe, Protestant ones did not. In England there were riots when people protested demanding that the government give them their eleven days back.

In the American colonies Benjamin Franklin said “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”

Benjamin Franklin

 Julius Caesar’s calendar reform of 46 B.C. instituted January 1 as the first of the year. In the Middle Ages, European countries used days that carried greater religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation). The latter, known as Lady Day because it celebrates the Virgin Mary, marked the beginning of the year in Britain until January 1, 1752. 

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Some Small Summer Constellations

Some Small Summer Constellations

We have spent all summer watching the summer triangle but there are some smaller constellations which are worth watching before we go into autumn.

Let’s begin with Delphinus which might be small but it is easily found. It lies near Aquila and although there are no bright stars, they are easily found because they are close together and it looks like a star cluster. Many beginners have confused it with the Pleiades.

The stars alpha and beta have very strange names, alpha is Svalocin and beta is Rotanev. They were given by Niccolo Cacciatore an astronomer at the Palermo observatory in Sicily.  The Latinized version of his name is Nicolaus Venator, spell these names backwards and you will discover the names of Alpha and Beta Delphini.
Delphinus is an ancient Greek constellation and according to legend a long time ago a boat was sailing across the sea, on board was a musician called Arion, his music was so charming that a dolphin was a charmed by his music. Half way across the sea the ship’s crew robbed him and threw him overboard where he would have drowned were it not for the dolphin who rescued him. And for that good deed the gods decided to place a dolphin in the sky.  

Our second small constellation is another ancient Greek constellation Equuleus the Little Horse or the Foal. It adjoins Aquila and Delphinus. In mythology it represents the foal given by Mercury to Castor one of the heavenly twins.
Equuleus is very faint and quite difficult to locate, none of the four main stars are very bright

The next small constellation is Sagitta the Arrow, a small constellation only the Southern Cross which is not visible from Britain is smaller. Sagitta lies north of Aquila. The stars although faint make the shape of an arrow.
Another of the ancient Greek constellations Sagitta was an arrow shot by Apollo against the one eyed Cyclops.

The last of the small summer constellations is Vulpecula the Fox. It is not an ancient constellation; it was added to the sky in the late 17th century by the Danish astronomer Johann Hevelius. Originally it was called Vulpecula et Anser, The Fox and Goose, however the Goose has long disappeared.

There are no bright stars,  but the planetary nebula M27 the Dumbell nebula is in Vulpecula it has a magnitude of 7.5 it is just seen with binoculars. It is about 1,000 light years away.

M27 the Dumbell Nebula

In 1967, the first pulsar, PSR B1919+21, was discovered in Vulpecula by Jocelyn Bell at Cambridge. A Pulsar is the remains of a massive star explosion called a supernova.