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 5 - 18 June 08
On 6 June, 1761, there was a transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. This had been calculated by Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley (1656 - 1742), but he knew he would not live to see the event itself. Still, he left detailed plans and papers to ensure that expeditions were sent out in advance to the furthest reaches of the globe to witness and return precise recordings. As it was, the only successful observation from the southern hemisphere was by British astronomer Charles Mason at Cape Town, South Africa.
Last month saw the Phoenix Lander plunge to the surface of Mars. From a hitherto-unexplored region, the lander was able to start relaying video footage of the surface back to NASA almost immediately. The journey from Earth had taken ten months, so it was with much relief that the landing was successful. There is a British team involved and regular updates on the progress of the mission can be found at BBC News and also the NASA Phoenix homepage.
Outside of Time
The artistic impression of a giant black hole being ejected from its home galaxy at 2,650km/s looks rather like our 'flan' smiley, or possibly the 'ufo' one. Some scientists are claiming that evidence for this phenomenon exists, though others, including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, pooh-pooh the idea. The ejection is believed to be generated when two supermassive black holes venture too close to each other, and rather than merging, one boots the other more like a rugby player would deliver a kick to an ovaloid ball—the unleashed energy on a galactic scale releases a spectacular amount of gravitational radiation, and some researchers think this would cause an imbalance in space-time. Sounds like science fiction but if it's true it's not something you'd want a ringside seat for, this battle of the heavyweights is best viewed from far, far away.
The next transit of Venus will occur on 5 - 6 June, 2012, should you wish to plan your holiday around the event, Hawaii is recommended as the whole of the transit will be viewable from there. Although, don't be too disappointed if you can't get away, it will be possible to observe1 the last hour of the transit from the UK at sunrise on 6 June.
- 08 June: Mars is just over a degree north of the Moon, and an occultation will take place, but you'd have to be in New Zealand to witness it.
- 09 June: Saturn is 3° north of the Moon.
- 17 June: Antares (alpha Scorpii) is one of the four 'Royal' stars of ancient Persian culture. Antares is a binary system, although the companion managed to remain hidden until 1819. I recently wrote an article for the Edited Guide about the four 'Royal' stars and the possible astrological significance of the discovery of Antares B in connection with the birth of Queen Victoria, feedback is welcome and appreciated.
- 18 June: Full Moon (The Strawberry Moon).
Chat about your celestial observances at the h2g2