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

August was eclipse month, and if you couldn't view them yourself, who wouldn't want the job of sifting through all the photographs submitted to the Astronomy Picture of the Day website? On 1 August there was a total solar eclipse. This uncanny coincidence of the Sun and the Moon appearing exactly the same size from our vantage point is purely serendipitous. The Sun is 400 times the diameter of the Moon, and also 400 times further away. This will not always be so, because the Moon is moving away from us (extremely slowly, but still...). It's hard to imagine that one day the Moon will no longer allow us to see the Sun's corona. During the solar eclipse last month, the path of totality began in Canada, moved through Greenland and Russia before ending in China. This composite image of totality was taken by a special solar telescope in Kochenevo, Russia. A couple of weeks later it was time for the next eclipse, this time lunar, when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon the Earth casts a shadow on the Moon's surface. This was only a partial lunar eclipse and probably went unnoticed by most. However, those who could photograph it did so and submitted the results to APOD. This composite image was prepared from photographs taken at one of the best vantage points — Athens, Greece. APOD went one further and pasted two images together for this day's treat: August Moons. The photo on the left from Novosibirsk, Siberia, shows us the otherwise-invisible daytime planets Mercury and Venus as well as the Sun's corona. The photo of the lunar eclipse in the right-hand image was taken from the bank of the Odet River, Quimper, west France. With astonishing skill (or great luck), not only is the eclipsed Moon reflected in the water below but so is the Earth's shadow, having covered a chunk of its natural satellite.

September Birthdays

11 September is the birthday of American former astronaut Captain Robert Crippen, who will be 71 years old. Captain Crippen commanded three Space Shuttle missions during his tenure with NASA. Russian cosmonaut and pilot Colonel General Gherman Stepanovich Titov was also born on 11 September. He orbited the Earth in 1961 when he was 25 years and 11 months old; he retains the record of the youngest person to go into space. Titov suffered a heart attack and died in 2000 aged 65 years. There is a crater on the Moon named in his honour.

12 September 1725 was the birthdate of an unlucky French astronomer. He is probably best remembered for his delightful name: Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisière. He travelled to India to observe the 1761 transit of Venus, but didn't reach his destination in time due to the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763) between England and France being in full swing. Guillaume survived severe illness and almost getting killed by a hurricane, but remained in India to view the 1769 event, when, just during the transit, there were clouds blocking the Sun. Guillaume was so depressed that he couldn't even write his report to the French Academy of Sciences. When he eventually returned home after an absence of over ten years, Guillaume found he had been presumed dead, his wife had remarried and his job at the French Academy of Science had been given to someone else.

17 September, 1930, is a shared birthdate for two American astronauts. Captain Edgar Mitchell was the 6th man to walk upon the surface of the Moon, and Lt Gen Thomas Patten Stafford commanded (among others) Apollo 10 during his six spaceflights.

18 September, 1944 was the birthday of Colonel Lacy Veach, an American astronaut who flew in both the Space Shuttles Columbia and Discovery. One of his jobs in space was to make observations of the Aurora. Colonel Veach was still employed by NASA when he was diagnosed with cancer. He succumbed to the disease in 1995.

On 21 September German-American astronaut Richard Hieb will be 53 years old. He holds the record for the longest-lasting EVA (space walk) at 8½ hours. During one mission in 1992 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour he collated 213 space hours orbiting the Earth 141 times, clocking up 3.7 million miles — and two years later his mission bettered even that: 236 orbits of the Earth, adding 6.1 million miles to his personal tally.

Swedish astronomer Pehr Wargentin was born on 22 September, 1717. He was the first Director of the Observatory in Stockholm. During his career he studied and wrote about the Jovian moon system. The Wargentin Crater on Earth's Moon was named in his honour.

Diary Dates

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