Babe Among The Stars: A look back over 2009

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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

Review of 2009

Last year was designated the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). There were some events organised with the purpose of gaining the interest of people who normally don't bother with astronomy, and some astrological events which happened by accident (or grand design). In February the Astronomy Society of h2g2 was taken over by Deke, who rewrote some pages and invited contributors old and new. Here is the link for the homepage. From February until well into May there was a fabulous comet in our skies, Comet Lulin. It's this kind of picture at the Astronomy Picture of the Day website that makes me drool. In July an exhibition was held at Syon House in honour of Sir Thomas Harriot, who sketched the very first lunar map (that we know of) in 1609. Deke attended this event and kindly wrote it up for The Post. During the summer NASA gave the general public an opportunity to have their name sent to Mars on the next mission, planned for 2011. On 22 July there was a Total Solar Eclipse unfortunately only viewable from certain countries but our intrepid Researcher Beatrice travelled to China to witness it on our behalf and kindly wrote about it for The Post.

I am always interested to hear if anyone meets an astronomer, or hears about someone in their neck of the woods doing something interesting like searching for near-Earth objects (NEOs). B'Elana informed me about someone of her acquaintance, U Suessenberger, who discovered the inner Main Belt asteroid 221516 Bergen-Enkheim in 2006. The asteroid's elliptical orbit means it sometimes crosses the plane between Mars and the Earth, so it's one to keep an eye on!

Some of the most breathtaking space images I've seen have been supplied by the Hubble Space Telescope. Now earmarked for retirement, the HST had its last servicing in September, which involved the Space Shuttle and astronauts performing highly dangerous EVAs (extra-vehicular activities) with great success, so it will hopefully be providing us with more spectacular images like Messier 42 for a few more years. Although I announced several meteor showers due during the year, none were anything spectacular and I got little feedback. I didn't have much luck myself, although I did spot the odd one or two 'shooting stars' unexpectedly, which is always pretty special. I've always thought astrophotography was a specialist activity requiring expensive equipment but Moonhogg proved me wrong and he kept me supplied with snapshots of the night sky including alignments which I forecast, like the Venus/Moon close encounter which ended up being applied to the Amazing A-Z of Space, and his quarter moon which now graces the lunar phases entry. Deke's awesome full moon photo has been applied to the main Moon entry.

TV highlights of 2009 included James 'sod the peaches' May in space where he was rendered speechless by the spectacular view of the Earth from above. Lucky James also got a ride on the so-called 'vomit comet' which is part of astronaut training. That made me feel queasy just watching at home! To round the year off, there was a 'blue moon' partial lunar eclipse on 31 December (New Year's Eve). A picture of the predicted Blue Moon eclipse appeared just a couple of days later at APOD on 2 January; and submissions from viewers around the world were displayed at the Spaceweather website. Do check out those photos, there is actually a blue moon from Iran!! The lunar eclipse I saw had as big a slice out of it as the Iranian and Chinese ones, and I was glad I witnessed it as such events only occur 11 times per millennium!

This was the year that h2g2 finally got a 'galaxy' smiley smiley - galaxy and I'm indebted to Malabarista and the other talented artists for creating it and the rest of the fabulous new smileys. Special thanks to Taliesin for the gorgeous space scene he created for the Star Trek Transporter entry. Also, my gratitude extends to my journal followers and posters, texters and emailers, without whom I wouldn't get half the ideas for this column and other ditties I write up for the EG. Yes, that means you Prof, Ictoan, Hoggy, Deke, B'Elana, Pierce, Straighttalker, Beatrice, h5ringer, Icy North, pailaway, Gnomon, Clive the flying ostrich, AlsoRan80, Rich, dragonqueen, Woodpigeon, KWDave, Ivan and last but by no means least, lil. All the best for 2010 and do keep warm!

January Diary Dates

  • 13: Mercury 5° north of Moon
  • 15: New Moon
  • 15: Annular solar eclipse (Africa)
  • 17: Neptune 4° south of Moon
  • 18: Coma Berenicids meteor shower maximum
  • 27: Mars' closest approach
  • 30: Full Moon

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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