Friday 30 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook First NEO

The first known NEO (Near Earth Object) passed by the Earth on October 30th 1937. The asteroid called Hermes missed the Earth by 485,000 miles which by today’s near misses is quite a distance.

 It worried astronomers because until Hermes, astronomers were skeptical about asteroids hitting the Earth. It was only recovered again 66 years later in 2003. Hermes crosses the Earth’s orbit twice every 777 days but it is usually at a great distance and normally very faint.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook King James I and the comet of 1618

King James and the poem of the comet

The great comet of 1618 was one of the most spectacular comets in history. It was reported to have a tail over 100 degrees long and to be reddish in colour and was visible in the day time. As with the great comet of 1843 it was discovered by many observers.

King James and the poem of the comet

The great comet of 1618 was one of the most spectacular comets in history. It was reported to have a tail over 100 degrees long and to be reddish in colour and was visible in the day time. As with the great comet of 1843 it was discovered by many observers.

King James I

The comet was so visible in the sky that King James 1 who was so interested in it wrote a poem about the comet.

“King James on the blazeing starr: Octo: 28: 1618”

You men of Britaine, wherefore gaze yee so
Uppon an Angry starr, whenh as yee know
The sun shall turne to darknesse, the Moon to blood
And then twill be to late for to turne good
O be so happy then while time doth last
As to remember Dooms day is not past
And misinterpret not, with vaine Conceit
The Caracter you see on Heaven gate.
Which though it bring the world some news from fate
The letters such as no man can translate
And for to guesse at God Almightys minde
Where such a thing might Cozen all mankinde
Wherfore I wish the Curious man to keep
His rash Imaginations till he sleepe
Then let him dreame of Famine plague & war
And thinke the match with spaine hath causd this star
Or let them thinke that if their Prince my Minion
Will shortly chang, or which is worse religion
And that he may have nothing elce to feare
Let him walke Pauls, and meet the Devills there
And if he be a Puritan, and scapes
Jesuites, salute them in their proper shapes
These Jealousys I would not have a Treason
In him whose Fancy overrules his Reason
Yet to be sure It did no harme, Twere fit
He would be bold to pray for no more witt
But onely to Conceale his dreame, for there
Be those that will beleive what he dares feare.

I wonder how many other monarchs wrote poems about astronomical events?

Sunday 25 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Samuel Heinrich Schwabe

Samuel Heinrich Schwabe

Born in Germany on the 25th October 1789, Samuel Heinrich Schwabe was a pharmacist, but he was also very interested in astronomy and in 1826 he started to study the Sun. At this time astronomers thought there might be a planet going around the Sun inside the orbit of Mercury, it had already been given a name, Vulcan.

Schwabe thought that by observing the Sun he might see a planet or dark spot moving across the face of the Sun. Between 1826 and 1843 he observed the Sun on every clear day trying to detect Vulcan. He did not find the planet but what he did discover was a regular variation of sunspots on the Sun. He believed that around every 10 years the sunspot numbers were at their greatest. This solar cycle is now fully recognized; astronomers today watch the Sun carefully watching at solar maximum events for the giant flares that come from the sunspots and which can cause potentially massive amounts of harm to our modern electronic equipment here on Earth.

He believed that around every 10 years the sunspot numbers were at their greatest. This solar cycle is now fully recognized; astronomers today watch the Sun carefully watching at solar maximum events for the giant flares that come from the sunspots and which can cause potentially massive amounts of harm to our modern electronic equipment here on Earth.

 It is to Schwabe that the credit must go to this, one of the most important discoveries in astronomy.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Ariel and Umbriel Discovered

Ariel and Umbriel

On October 24th 1851 William Lassell observing from Liverpool discovered the moons Ariel and Umbriel which orbit Uranus. The two moons are nearly the same size.

Ariel is the fourth largest of the moons of Uranus. It was named after a mischievous airy spirit in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. The moon has a diameter of 719 miles.

Umbriel is the third largest moon. It is named after the dusky, melancholy sprite from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. The moon has a diameter of 727 miles.

Friday 23 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook John Goodricke and Delta Cepheus

Delta Cephei
John Goodricke was an incredibly gifted young astronomer living in York in the late 18th century, together with Edward Pigott they would go on to become the “Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy”. All this and Goodricke was deaf, unable to talk and would die before his 22nd birthday.

He had already explained the light variations of the star Algol in Perseus and discovered that Beta Lyra was a star varying in brightness.

On October 19th 1784 Goodricke started to observe Delta Cephei in the constellation of Cepheus (the King) and on October 23rd the indefatigable Goodricke was convinced that that star was varying in brightness. This star is of immense importance to astronomers today, Cepheid variable stars are  used today as distance markers because they allow astronomers when locating Cepheid variables in galaxies to determine how far away they are. Goodricke could of course never know of the importance of this star.

These discoveries were due to his complete knowledge of the locations of stars in the sky by continuously observing the night sky.

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.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Venera 9

Venera 9

The Venera 9 space craft was the first space craft to send back a picture from the surface of another planet. The Russian mission to Venus was launched on June 8th 1975 and arrived at Venus on October 20th 1975. The mission was in two parts the orbiter and lander. The orbiter mission lasted until December 25th 1975.

The Venera 9 lander touched down on the surface of Venus on October 22nd 1975 at the base of a hill near Beta Regio. The lander measured the surface temperature of Venus at +460 degrees  Centigrade with an atmospheric pressure 90 times that of the Earth. The single black and white picture showed a rocky area with 30-40 cm sharp stones and soil between them. The light on Venus was described by Russian scientists as being as bright as Moscow on a cloudy day in June.

Due to the very harsh conditions on the planet the landed had been designed to last for only 30 minutes but in fact it survived for 53 minutes before the harsh conditions on the surface of Venus destroyed the probe. 

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy The Island of Sicily in the Night Sky

Aries and Triangulum

Triangulum (or the island of Sicily) 

Below and between Gamma and Beta Andromeda lies a fairly bright triangle of stars which is called Triangulum the Triangle. It is unusual to find a constellation that looks like the picture it is supposed to represent but Triangulum is one of those few that does.

Its brightest stars are Beta at magnitude 3.1, Alpha at magnitude 3.6 and Gamma at magnitude 4.1. There is one important object in this constellation M33 the Pinwheel Galaxy. It lies between Alpha Triangulum and Beta Andromeda. It is face on to us and can easily be seen with binoculars. I am sure that people with good eyesight can see in from very dark sites. M33 is about 3 million light years away.

In mythology Pluto king of the underworld wanted to marry Proserpina daughter of Ceres . An arrangement was made whereby she would live six months of the year below ground with Pluto and the other six months above ground. As a wedding present she was given the island of Sicily which is represented in the sky as a triangle.


Beneath Triangulum is Aries The Ram.  This constellation was made famous by being the first sign of the Zodiac,  the point where the Sun’s yearly path amongst the stars cuts the celestial equator. Due to the shifting of the Earth’s axis this has now moved to the neighbouring constellation of Pisces. However the term “First Point of Aries “is still used today.

Alpha or Hamal at magnitude 2.0 is easy to see and is distinctly reddish in colour, the other two reasonably bright stars are Beta at magnitude 2.7 and Gamma at magnitude 4.0.

In Greek mythology, Aries represents the ram whose fleece was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. When King Athamus of Boetia took a second wife, Ino, she was resentful of his existing children, especially his son, Phrixus, and she wanted him sacrificed. Zeus responded to the pleadings of Phrixus' mother, Nephele, by sending a golden ram to save Phrixus and his sister Helle. Helle did not survive but Phrixus did and sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave its golden fleece to King Aettes. The fleece was eventually stolen by Jason.

Monday 19 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Thomas Cooke Telescope Maker of York

Thomas Cooke March 8th 1807- October 19th 1868, Telescope Maker of York

Thomas Cooke was born in the village of Allerthorpe in the East Riding of Yorkshire on 8th March 1807.Although born into a very poor family he would go on to become one of the greatest telescope makers of all time. (He had no connection with Thomas Cook, the holiday company).  His father was a shoe maker, and it was assumed that he would join the family business.

 However Cooke had other ideas, he wanted to follow his hero Captain James Cook (no relation) in exploring the world. When ready to join a ship at Hull he was persuaded at the last minute by his mother to stay in England. To earn money he opened a village school and taught mathematics to the sons and daughters of wealthy landowners.

He moved to York in 1829 still teaching, it was then that he made his first telescope, using the base of a whiskey tumbler for a lens and some tin to make the tube. 

In 1837 Thomas Cooke opened his first shop at No. 50 Stonegate in York with a loan of £100 from his wife’s uncle. Cooke had married Hannah Milner while teaching; she had been one of his pupils.

The instrument making business was an instant success. Cooke quickly gaining a reputation for high quality. Within a short period of time he was making not only telescopes but also, Microscopes, Opera Glasses, Spectacles, Electrical Machines, Barometers, Thermometers, Globes, Sundials, Mathematical Instruments, etc.!!

By 1844 business was so good that he had to move to new premises at No 12 Coney Street, York, here the orders for telescopes kept coming in as did a new venture for Cooke, making Turret clocks.  These behemoths are about the size of a medium family car and weigh about ¾ of a ton.  They can still be found in church and factory clock towers.

In 1855 he exhibited instruments at the Universal Exhibition in Paris and visitors were much impressed. Again the orders increases and yet bigger workshops were needed. 

In 1856 The Buckingham Works was built on the site of the home of the second duke of Buckingham at Bishophill in York. It was one of Britain’s first purpose built telescope factories. Many of Cooke’s finest instruments would be made here; the factory would be used by Cookes until the 1940s.

An order for a telescope was received from Prince Albert in 1860, and a magnificent instrument was built, in recognition for this work and under order from H M commissioners Cookes` at the 1862 exhibition in London were given a very prominent position for their display, and they received an embarrassingly large amount of orders. 

Also at the great exhibition in 1862 was Robert Newall from Gateshead, a millionaire who had made his fortune making wire. He was also interested in astronomy.

He purchased two lenses 25 inches (63.5 cm) across and asked Cooke if he could make him a telescope. He said he could and that it would take a year. Unfortunately Cooke was making a rare mistake. It took not one but six years to complete, it was actually completed a year after his death. When finished the telescope tube was 32 feet (960cm) long and the whole instrument weighed 9 tons. It was the biggest telescope in the world and it had been made in York.  

Around 1866 Thomas Cooke started to produce steam cars, at least four and possibly six were produced. He used three wheels rather than four because he found it was easier to devise a steering system for just a single wheel.

 The steam cars travelled at 15 mph; unfortunately they were banned from the roads because they travelled too quickly. In those days a man with a red flag had to walk in front of any vehicle that was not pulled by a horse. The speed of a walking man is only about 4 mph. It would therefore be very dangerous to walk in front of this Steam Car.

In frustration he took the steam engine and placed it into a boat in which he travelled up and down the River Ouse. He wryly commented that no one with a red flag would bother him there.

Thomas Cooke worked incredibly hard during his life, one problem he had was he spent too much time working; sadly he literally wore himself out.

Thomas Cooke died on the 19th October 1868.

After the death of Thomas Cooke, the company was run for the next 25 years by his two sons Thomas Cooke Jnr who was an optician and Charles Frederick Cooke who was an engineer.

In 1893 H D Taylor who was Optical Manager at the Buckingham Works designed the Cooke Photographic Lens; it would become the basic design for nearly all future camera lenses.

The last major astronomical project, a large transit instrument for the Greenwich Observatory began in 1932, it proved to be a disaster for Cooke’s. The company was hit hard by the great depression in the early 1930s and many of their skilled workers were laid off.

In 1938 Cookes sold the astronomical side of the business to Grubb Parsons of Newcastle. A new factory the Haxby Road site was built in 1939. In 1948 the Buckingham Works was sold to the Northeastern Electricity Board.

On the 1st January 1963 a new company Vickers Instruments was formed and replaced Cooke Troughton and Simms as a trading company.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Andromeda


Linked with Pegasus is Andromeda, the princess of the legend in which Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Cetus all have important roles. Andromeda’s main stars are arranged in a rough line of stars from the square of Pegasus towards Perseus. 

Alpha or Alpheratz is the ‘stolen’ star from the square of Pegasus is of magnitude 2.1 then moving towards Perseus from Alpha there is Delta magnitude 3.2, Beta magnitude 2.0 and Gamma magnitude 2.1.

The most famous object in Andromeda is Messier 31 (M31) the Andromeda Galaxy.  This is the most distant object that can be seen with your eye without using an optical aid!! M31 is around 2.2 million light years away.

To find M31 locate Beta or Mirach then look upwards towards two fainter stars Mu magnitude 3.9 and Nu magnitude 4.4.  The Andromeda Galaxy lies close to Nu. If you struggle with very dark observing sites M31 can easily be seen in binoculars.

It was only after World War 1 that astronomers realised that the Andromeda Nebula as it was known as was not in our galaxy. It was a galaxy in its own right.  It was Edwin Hubble in 1923 that realised that the Andromeda Galaxy might be about 750,000 light years away. This figure was re defined in 1952 by Walter Baade to be about 2.2 million light years.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy The Old North Star

The Old North Star

The North Star today is alpha Ursa Minor (the Small Bear) its name is Polaris and is the brightest star in the group. It marks the end of the tail of the small bear. To find it you have to find the pointers in Ursa Major (the Large Bear) then draw a line through them until you reach a bright star all on its own this is Polaris the North Star.

When the great pyramids were built in Egypt Polaris was not the North Star the much fainter Thuban in the constellation of Draco the Dragon had that honour. It was closest to the pole in around 2800 BC.

Although Thuban is alpha Draco it is not the brightest star in Draco. It is in fact only the 8th brightest. It is an A class giant star making it appear white in the sky,  lying at a distance of about 300 light years from Earth. Thuban can be found between the tail of the Big Bear and Kocab the fairly bright red star in Ursa Minor.

There is a suspicion that Thuban might vary in brightness, when Bayer catalogued the constellation s in 1603 it must have been brighter than Gamma which is now the brightest star in Draco.

The Earth wobbles very slightly over a period of about 26,000 years. So a line drawn from the north pole of the Earth and pointed into space will change during time.
As we have seen around 5,000 years ago Thuban was the north star, today it is Polaris in Ursa Minor, moving forward to the year 14,000 AD it will be the bright star Vega in Lyra one of the summer triangle stars that will be the north star.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Appleby Bridge Meteorite

Appleby Bridge Meteorite

It was 1914; World War 1 was in its first year when an event occurred at Appleby Bridge near Wigan in Lancashire, England, a visitor from outer space,  a meteor crashed to the ground.

It was the evening of Tuesday 13th October 1914 around 8.45 pm when local residents heard a thunderous detonation and saw a sudden and spectacular brightening of the night sky.

Many may have thought it was some kind of secret enemy weapon coming towards them from a Zeppelin airship. It was nothing whatsoever to do with the enemy but a meteorite.

On the following day an unusual stone was found embedded into the ground at Halliwell Farm. It was a Chondrite meteorite. It weighed 33 pounds (15 Kg) and was covered in a burnt powder with an interior of light grey spots of gold and metal.

Monday 12 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy UV Ceti

UV Ceti

Not far from Tau Ceti is the prototype star for a class of red dwarf stars that can dramatically brighten in a very short period of time. This is UV Ceti. These are sometimes referred to as Flare Stars.

These are red dwarf stars with a mass of only a few tenths of that of the Sun. They are much cooler and dimmer than the Sun. Due to them being very faint they are not easily found and most are seen within 50 or so light years from the Sun.

UV Ceti is about 8.4 light years distant and normally is of magnitude 12 however it has been known to flare up in brightness to magnitude 6.8 in around 20 seconds before fading away again. 

It is thought that this brightening could be caused by massive flares on these stars. These flares are totally unpredictable and at most will only last for a few minutes. If you are looking in near Tau Ceti through binoculars and suddenly a star appears you could be watching a flare from UV Ceti.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Tau Ceti

Tau Ceti

In Cetus there is an unremarkable looking star of magnitude 3.5 called Tau Ceti. It’s a dwarf star with a type G spectrum similar to that of the Sun. In fact it is the closest solitary G type star to the Sun. It is somewhat smaller and is less massive than the Sun and lies about 12 light years.

In December 2012 astronomers discovered evidence to suggest that there are 5 planets orbiting Tau Ceti. 

Whether any of them would be able to support life is unknown. In 1960 Project Ozma was begun looking for evidence of life around other stars and Tau was on the list of stars to monitor.

 However it would be very ironic if life was discovered there in the future because Tau Ceti has been a popular destination for science-fiction writers including Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Larry Niven and has been mentioned in Star Trek and Dr Who, plus many other films, TV programmes and Books. 

Friday 9 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Draconid Meteor Shower

Draconid Meteor Shower

The Draconid meteor shower, also sometimes known as the Giacobinids, is one of the two meteor showers to annually grace the skies in October. The Draconids are at maximum on the 8th / 9th October. They owe their name to the constellation Draco the Dragon, and are created when the Earth passes through the dust debris left by comet Giacobini-Zinner. The comet takes about 6.6 years to orbit the Sun.

Although the Draconids have been responsible for some of the most spectacular meteor showers in recorded history, most recently in 2011, not sure it will be so good this year but you now. It’s worth having a look after 9.00 pm. 

Astrognome Scrapbook October 9th 1992 Peekskill Meteorite

Peekskill Meteorite

This is probably one of the most famous recent meteorite events. 

The meteorite fell on October 9th 1992 in Peekskill in the state of New York in the USA.  The meteorite which weighed around 26 pounds (12 Kg) was about 1 foot (0.30 m) across , it was a Chondrite or stone meteorite and it crashed into a parked car!!

18 year old Michelle Knapp was indoors when she heard a loud bang outside. She went onto her driveway where she discovered a hole in the boot of her car, there was also a hole underneath her car and embedded in her driveway was a meteorite. It was still warm and smelt of sulphur.

She had recently purchased her $300 Chevrolet Malibu car; it was quickly purchased by a meteorite dealer for $10,000. The meteorite itself was purchased for $69,000.  Both the car and meteorite have been seen in museums in America.

The meteorite was observed and filmed by many observers on the East coast of America; it was described as a huge greenish fireball.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Mira the Wonderful Star

Mira the Wonderful Star

The constellation of Cetus which in mythology represented the sea monster sent by Neptune to eat the princess Andromeda has today become a harmless whale.
It is a large constellation the only bright stars being alpha whose name is Menkar at magnitude 2.5 and beta whose name is Diphda is somewhat brighter at magnitude 2.0. It has been suggested that Diphda is variable possibly explaining why it is brighter than Menkar. However Cetus is host to one of the most celebrated stars in the sky. This is omicron ceti or to use the name is best known as Mira the Wonderful.

Mira has a long history. It was first seen by the Dutch astronomer David Fabricius in 1596 who recorded it as being of the third magnitude.  A few weeks later it could not be seen. Johann Bayer the German astronomer who labelled the stars in the constellations using the Greek alphabet gave Mira the designation of omicron in 1603. It soon vanished from view again. Apart from a supernova, Mira Ceti was probably the first star discovered that changed in brightness.

Astronomer observed that Mira appears and disappears with reasonable regularity. It reaches a maximum brightness about every 331 days. It was the celebrated Polish astronomer Hevelius who drew lots of new constellations in the night sky that we still use today who suggested because of the bizarre nature of the star that it was called Mira the Wonderful. A name we still use today.

Mira can become as bright as about magnitude 2.0 then fading down to magnitude 10 when even binoculars will net allow you see it. The periods are never exact and the maximum brightness can vary from 1.7 to as faint as 4.0. If it becomes particularly bright it will completely change the outline of Cetus and on occasions Mira has been known to trigger reports of a nova in Cetus.

Mira is a red giant star approaching the end of its life. It is about 350 light years away and about 700 times the size of the Sun. It is the prototype star for a whole class of several thousand Mira type variable stars.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Oct 7th 1959 First Picture of Far Side of Moon

First Photograph of Far Side of the Moon

For thousands of years people have looked up into the night sky to see the familiar sight of the Moon.

 It was only on October 7th 1959 that people got to see what the other side of the Moon looked like.
It was the Russian space craft Luna 3 which took 
 by today’s standards a very blurry picture that gave scientists their first glimpse of the far side of the Moon.

 Luna 3 took 29 pictures from about 40,000 miles above the surface of the Moon.

That first photograph was shown live on the BBC TV programme the Sky at Night with Patrick Moore. He always considered that this was one of the great highlights of the long running series. 

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook, solar eclipse on October 6th 1241 and Mongol Invasion of Europe

Eclipse of the Sun and Mongol Invasion of Europe

Events which happen in the sky can often be interpreted by astrologers as portents of doom.  It is quite possible that when this eclipse occurred people would have been thinking back a few months earlier to the great Mongol invasion of Hungary and Europe.
On October 6th 1241 an eclipse of the Sun was seen over Europe 5 months after the battle of Mohi in modern day Hungary.

The battle took place on April 11th 1241 and saw the defeat of the Hungarian forces trying to stop the Mongol invasion of Europe. Following the battle most populated areas were destroyed in Hungary and around 25% of the country’s population were killed.

Monday 5 October 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook October 5th 1880 death of William Lassell

William Lassell 1799-1880

William Lassell,was born on June 18, 1799 in Bolton, Lancashire, England.

Lassell started a brewery business about 1825. He became interested in astronomy and, in 1844, began construction of a 24-inch reflecting telescope. 

With this telescope, the first of its size to be set in an equatorial mounting, he discovered Triton on Oct. 10, 1846, only 17 days after Neptune itself had been discovered.


In 1848 his co discovered another satellite around Saturn, Hyperion with William and George Bond. Two years later Lassell made his first sighting of the dark inner ring of Saturn (called the crepe ring); he spent the entire night verifying the discovery only to find in his morning newspaper an article announcing the Bond’s discovery of the same phenomenon.

Lassell also discovered Ariel and Umbriel satellites of Uranus during 1851–52 while at Malta, and there in 1861 he erected a 48-inch reflector, which he used to observe and catalogue hundreds of new nebulae.

 He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1849 and was president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1870 to 1872.

He died on October 5th 1880 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England