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 - 6 November

Just over five hundred years ago, on 7 November, 1492, a meteorite impacted Earth in the Alsace region of France, near a town called Ensisheim. Scientists have studied the 250lb space rock intently and described it as an LL chondrite type, (low iron and low metal). Chondrites are the most common stony meteorites, averaging eight out of every ten found. However, rocks from space are rarer than precious gems like diamond and heavy metals like gold, so their value is extremely high. You may think looking at lumps of rock in a museum is boring, but a little knowledge is a good thing. Get to know what a meteorite looks like and you may be able to identify one when out fossicking!

German astronomer Johannes Kepler ('the first astrophysicist' according to Dr Carl Sagan) died on 15 November, 1630, coincidentally during the Leonid meteor shower. Mourners after his funeral witnessed these 'shooting stars' and it was generally considered a salute from God. The comet whose journey through our neck of the woods provides us with the debris field for these spectacular astral fireworks is called Tempel–Tuttle, after the two men who discovered it independently in 1866. However, tracing back its history we have records of Chinese astronomers telling of a tremendous meteor storm during this time period in 902 AD. The comet has been calculated to have a period of 33 years, with the 1833 storm being particularly intense:

On the night of 12-13 November, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth... The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall.
- Agnes Mary Clerke, author of A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century

You all know I wear several hats on h2g2, and while I was sub-editing one Entry a few weeks ago I noticed this: 'But coincidence no doubt plays its part also, along with the media and Hollywood perpetuating the superstition, together with the soothsayers who have predicted that the asteroid Apophis will connect with the Earth destroying life as we know it on Friday, 13 April, 2036...' so I added a footnote: Astronomers say the Impact Probability is 2.2e-05 which means there is 0.0022% chance of Earth impact (or 1 in 45,000 chance), or 99.9978% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. We haven't yet reached the earlier-predicted 20/12/2012 (has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?) but just in case you'd like some more information on Apophis, here is the JPL NASA information page. I'll talk some more about 20/12/2012 in December!

November Diary Dates

  • 06: Neptune 1° south of the Moon—although if you're around Edinburgh way and have a powerful enough visual aid, you could witness an occultation.
  • 09: Uranus 4° south of the Moon
  • 13: Full Moon
  • 17: Leonids  meteor shower maximum
  • 21: Saturn 6° north of the Moon
  • 27: New Moon
  • 01 Dec: There will be a daytime occultation (from the UK) of Venus by the Moon. Then in the evening, it's Jupiter's turn to flirt with the Moon, they will appear just over a degree apart.

  • Chat about your celestial observances by starting a new conversation below

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