Monday 30 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Lunar Eclipse and the Death of a Pope

Lunar Eclipse and the death of a Pope

On November 30th 1099 there was an eclipse of the Moon visible over Europe. The maximum part of the eclipse began at 16.14 UT (Universal Time) and lasted for 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Somewhat earlier on the year on July 29th Pope Urban II died. He is best remembered for starting the First Crusade an attempt to capture the Holy Lands which had been captured by the Muslims between 632-661. This crusade lasted from 1096-1099.

Urban II died on 29 July 1099, fourteen days after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders, but before news of the event had reached Italy.

Friday 27 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Bieled Meteor Shower

Bieled Meteor Shower

In a couple of weeks’ time, we will be treated to the annual and spectacular Geminid meteor shower, however on this day in 1872 astronomers were going to witness one of the most spectacular meteor showers ever seen.

When a comet orbits the Sun it leaves a trail of dust behind it, if the Earth passes through this trail of dust we see lots of meteors or shooting stars. We see a meteor shower there are several good ones each year, and then sometimes there are surprises!

Comet Biela was seen on 27th February 1826, it had been seen earlier in 1772 and 1805. Its orbit was worked out to be about 6 ¾ years, it was seen again in 1832 but missed in 1839 due to unfavourable conditions. In 1846 it was observed to have split into two pieces. This had never been seen before.

 When it returned in 1852 it was clearly two comets travelling together separated by about 1.5 million miles. Again conditions in 1859 were poor the return of 1866 was eagerly awaited but nothing was seen. Astronomers showed little interest in the return of 1872.

On November 27th 1872 the world was treated to a fantastic meteor shower of several thousand meteors per hour entering the Earth’s atmosphere and burning up.
There have been many searches to try to see if comet Biela is still orbiting the Sun, astronomers believe that there have been other major meteor outbursts connected with the comet in 524 AD, 1741, 1798, 1830, 1838 1885 and 2011.

There is even a suggestion that the great fire in Chicago in 1871 was caused by a piece of comet Biela crashing into a barn and starting the fire!

Will comet Biela ever visit us again in the future? 

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Canopus


The second brightest star in the sky, Canopus is not visible from Britain; however form Australia at this time of the year it is high in the sky. The magnitude of Canopus is -0.7 and is officially known as alpha Carinae (The Keel).

At one time Carina was the brightest star in the constellation of Argo Navis this was the ship that Jason and the Argonauts used in their quest for the Golden Fleece. Argo Navis was so large and unwieldy that it was broken up into Carine (the Keel), Puppis (the Poop), Vela (the Sails) and Pyxis (the Compass).

Canopus lies about 300 light years away, because it is so bright it is very easy to find. In fact Canopus has a diameter over 70 times that of the Sun!

This star occurs in various science fiction stories, In "Dune" written by Frank Herbert, the dusty planet of Arrakis (the setting of the first book in particular) is one of the planets circling Canopus.  It also featured in several Star Trek stories including "The Eye of the Beholder" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

Monday 23 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Eclipse of the Moon 755 AD

Lunar Eclipse 755 AD

On November 23rd 755 AD an eclipse of the Moon was observed from England according to Simeon of Durham. The eclipse occurred near the star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus and the Moon turned a blood red colour. 

The planet Jupiter was so close to the Moon that during the latter stages of the eclipse Jupiter was occulted or was passed in front of by the Moon.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Venus Occults Jupiter 22/11/2065

Venus Occults Jupiter November 22nd 2065

In fifty years` time Venus will pass in front of or occult Jupiter. This is a rare event; the last time this happened was in 1818. The 1818 event occurred over the Far East and there is no record of any observations.

Unfortunately the 2065 event occurs at 12.47 UT when the two planets will be very close to the Sun making it very difficult or impossible to observe. 

Saturday 21 November 2015

Astrognome Astronomy The Southern Birds

The Four Southern Birds

To observers in the southern hemisphere this time of year the four southern birds, Grus the Crane, Pave the Peacock, Phoenix the Phoenix and Tucana the Toucan are high in the sky. None of these birds are visible from Britain.

Grus is probably the most distinctive; the brightest star alpha at magnitude 1.7 is called Alnair which in Arabic means the ‘bright one’. The other bright star is beta at magnitude 2.1. The constellation was created in 1603 by the German astronomer Johann Bayer. In earlier middle age time Grus was known as Phoenicopterus the Flamingo.

Phoenix the Phoenix was also added to the night sky in 1603 by Bayer. It commemorates the mythical bird that burns itself to death and then rises from the ashes. It is not as conspicuous as Grus and only has one bright star alpha whose name is Ankaa has a magnitude of 2.4, the meaning of which is not certain.

The next bird is Pavo the Peacock there is one bright star alpha t magnitude 1.9 which surprisingly does not have a name. This constellation was created by the Dutch explorers Peter Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in 1595.

The last of the southern birds is Tucana the Toucan, this constellation was also created by the Dutch explorers Peter Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in 1595. The brightest star alpha is only of magnitude 2.9. However Tucana the Small Magellanic cloud.

Friday 20 November 2015

Astrognome Astronomy Galaxies to the North and South

Galaxies to the North and South

At this time of year it is always great fun to try to find the Andromeda Galaxy the most distant object that can be seen with the eye without any optical aid. The Andromeda galaxy is about 2.2 million light years away. It is probably the most famous galaxy in the northern hemisphere.

However what observers in the northern hemisphere might be excused for forgetting is that this is also a good time of the year in the southern hemisphere to look at their most famous galaxies the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC & SMC).

 Compared to the Andromeda galaxy the LMC which is in the constellation of Dorado & SMC in the constellation of Tucana are pretty close at around 160,000 to 200,000 light years away. However they are much brighter and are easily visible to the unaided eye. 

Thursday 19 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Pigott`s Comet

Comet Pigott

Edward Pigott one of the ‘Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’ also discovered a comet. On November 19th 1783 he noticed a small nebulous patch in the constellation of Cetus. He discovered the comet using a 2.5 feet long telescope made by Dolland. The comet was below naked eye visibility when discovered. Pigott last saw the comet on December 3rd 1783. Pigott was the first Englishman to discover a comet and have it named after him.

The comet was then lost to astronomers, this was because there were so few observations of the comet that it was not possible to work out the comet’s orbit. It was assumed to be a lost comet.
Then in January of 2003 the LINEAR survey found a “new” comet with their telescopes outside of Socorro, New Mexico.  The comet was designated Comet C/2003 A1 (LINEAR), a suggestion was made that it might be a return of long-lost Comet Pigott. Unfortunately, it was not possible to make a definite link between the 2003 LINEAR comet and Piggot’s comet of 1783.

On the night of September 10th 2009, Rich Kowalski of the Catalina Sky Survey was surveying the sky for unknown comet and asteroids when he came across a possible new comet. It was none other than Comet Pigott. When discovered in 1783 the comet was bright enough to be seen in a small telescope, today a powerful telescope is needed as the comet is around magnitude 17. Today we know that the comet has an orbital period of around 6 years.

In a 226 year period the comet has changed its name three times from comet Pigott, to comet Pigott-LINEAR, to comet Pigott-LINEAR-Kowalski.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Lunokhod 1

Lunokhod 1

On 17 November 1970 an interesting space craft landed on the surface of the Moon.  It carried the first remotely controlled robotic lunar rover, Lunokhod 1. The Lunokhod looked like a ‘giant saucepan on wheels’. For the next ten months the rover was driven by operators in the Soviet Union, with the total distance traveled being about 10 km. For comparison, in six years of operation the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has traveled about 12 km.

After landing, the rover drove down a ramp onto the lunar surface and tested its eight wheels. The rover was driven by solar power during the day; at night it parked and relied on thermal energy from a polonium-210 radioisotope heater to survive the cold (-150°C).

Lunokhod 1 sent back valuable data concerning the composition of the soil, close up views of the local topography, and important measurements of the soil.

Contact was lost with the rover on September 14, 1971, a second rover Lunokhod 2 would land on the Moon on 16th January 1973. It would not be until 1997 that another remote controlled rover the Mars Pathfinder would travel on another extra-terrestrial body.

Monday 16 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook John Goodricke begins his diary

November 16th 1781 John Goodricke begins his astronomical diary

John Goodricke was deaf and probably unable to speak, he moved to York in 1781 when he was just 17 years old, it was here that  on November 16th 1781 that he began his astronomical diary.

He would go on to explain why the star Algol in the constellation of Perseus varies in brightness, he also discovered the variable star Beta Lyra and the variable star Delta Cepheus, today Cepheid variables are used to work out the distances to other galaxies. He was one of the fathers of 'Variable Star Astronomy'

Tragically John Goodricke would die in 1786 before his 22nd birthday, probably from pneumonia.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Only Flight of the Buran


On November 15th 1988 the Russian Buran space shuttle took off for its maiden and as it turned out its only flight into space.

Buran landing after maiden flight
The American space shuttle programme is well known but what perhaps fewer people know is that the Russians also had a space shuttle, this was called Buran. The Buran (which means blizzard in Russian) was started in 1980. The idea was to have a reusable space shuttle to take Russians into space.

Buran being ferried to air show

The only Buran launch was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which was unmanned, it  completed two orbits of the Earth, and then successfully returned. The second mission was scheduled for 1993 but due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union it never took place.

The Buran shuttle was destroyed in 2002 in a hangar at Baikonur when it collapsed during a massive storm.

Destruction of Buran

Saturday 14 November 2015

Astrognome Scrapbook Mariner 9 at Mars

Mariner 9

The first space craft to enter orbit around another planet Mariner 9 entered orbit around Mars on November 14th 1971. The first Mars mission Mariner 4 flew past the red planet in 1965 and disproved the idea of life on Mars. Mariners 6 and 7 flew by Mars in 1969 and sent back more photos. Mariner 5 was sent to study Venus, Mariner 8 failed to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mariner 9 sent back the first really detailed images from the surface of Mars. Mariner 9 studied about 70% of the surface and sent back over 7,000 images, showing river beds, craters, massive extinct volcanoes including Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the Solar System. Mariner 9 images led directly to its reclassification from Nix Olympica, before Mariner 9 astronomers thought this was a mountain rather than a volcano.

Olympus Mons

Mars also has a grand canyon larger than the United States, it was named the Valles Marineris, in honour of Mariner 9 there was also evidence of wind and water erosion. Mars' small moons, Phobos and Deimos, were also photographed.

The mission was shut down in October 1972.