Babe Among the Stars

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Babe Among the Stars: 28 Feb 08

28 February in the year 1704 was the birthdate of French astronomer Louis Godin. He travelled to modern-day Ecuador to take some measurements that might aid him in calculating the size of planet Earth. He wrote the 11-volume Academy of Science, and there's a crater on the Moon named 'Godin' after him.

Today is usually the last day of February, but 2008 happens to be a leap year, so tomorrow is the once-every-four-years Leap Year Day. On this day, the red star Antares (alpha Scorpii) will be just over half a degree north of the moon, well worth seeking out with binoculars.

A little astronomical knowledge can be a good thing, even possibly saving your life! On 29 February, 1504, Christopher Columbus was in the New World and desperate for supplies. He convinced the local population of Native Americans to assist by informing them that the moon would change colour that night. He knew there was a lunar eclipse due thanks to his Ephemeris (an astronomical table) and the locals were so impressed by his 'power' that they replenished his galley with fruit and water.

On 2 March, 1972, Pioneer 10 was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a mission to explore the outer planets of our Solar System. It sent back images of the Jovian system in December 1973 and a decade later flew by Neptune. The last successful contact with Pioneer 10 was in January 2003, as far as we know, it's still travelling through space, carrying its message from humankind. The Pioneer Plaque has a diagram of our solar system engraved upon it, and also depicts a nude couple, the male with his right arm raised in greeting. The Plaque was designed by cosmologist and author of Cosmos Dr Carl Sagan, and Dr Frank Drake, the SETI founder, responsible for the famous Drake Equation. Now heading in the general direction of red giant star Aldebaran, the 'Eye of the Bull' in the constellation   Taurus, Pioneer 10 should arrive there in about two million years.

March Diary Dates

  • There are a few meteor shower maximums in early March:
    • Rho Leonids: 13 Feb - 13 Mar (maxim 1 - 4 Mar)
    • Pi Virginids: 13 Feb - 8 Apr (maxim 3 - 9 Mar)

  • 3 Mar: Jupiter is 4° north of the moon, with ocular aids you should be able to make out some of Jupiter's moons.

  • 5 Mar: Venus is just 0.2° south of the moon. Quite a pairing!

March phases of the Moon
  • 29 Feb: Last quarter
  • 07 Mar: New Moon
  • 21 Mar: Full Moon (The Worm Moon)

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the A413876
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