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
The Longest Meal
Quite a remarkable image was produced by scientists studying data supplied by the Hubble Space Telescope of a star 'eating' a gas giant planet in close proximity. The star (Wasp-12) is a yellow dwarf (comparable to our own Sun) residing in the Auriga constellation, about 600 light years distant. The planet (Wasp-12 b) is so close to the star that it takes just over one Earth day to complete one orbit. Scientists expect the planet to be completely consumed over the course of the next ten million years, when hopefully the star will belch its appreciation.
Regular readers will recall the magnificent Comet Holmes of 2007, which became a media megastar in October 2007 when it had an eruption, brightening the comet by a factor of a million to 3rd magnitude. The eruption made the comet easy to spot with the unaided eye, even in cities with heavy light pollution. The comet's fleeting visit changed the familiarity of the constellation Perseus, which took on a new look again in 2010 with the appearance of another comet, this time Comet McNaught (2009 R1) (Comet McNaught). Scotsman Robert McNaught of Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory has so far discovered 56 comets and over 400 asteroids! Viewable between midnight right up to pre-dawn, Comet McNaught soon developed a tail the closer it got to the Sun. Comet McNaught was featured as Astronomy Picture of the Day's star-of-the-day for 7 June, 2010. The celestial firework was honoured again on 17 June where it displayed a green coma (head) and two tails. Ancient cultures thought comets were portents of momentous events, so one wonders what's in store. At the time of writing Comet McNaught is still 'incoming' — it won't reach perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) until 2 July, after this BATS issue has been published, so there's still time for things to change. No doubt APOD, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, will keep us posted with information and the usual spectacular images.
July Diary Dates
There are six minor activity meteor showers this month, as well as the better-faring Delta Aquarids (which those in the Northern Hemisphere don't often get to witness) so it's well worth keeping watch any clear night between 10-20 July. Do please add 12 August to your sky-viewing diary for next month as that's when the Perseids are due to give us a great show (fingers crossed).
- 01: Neptune 5° south of Moon
- 02: Comet McNaught reaches perihelion (closest point to the Sun)
- 04: Jupiter 7° south of Moon
- 10: Venus and Regulus (alpha Leonis) will come within one degree of each other in the constellation Leo 'the lion'
- 11: New Moon
- 11: Total Solar Eclipse visible from north-east New Zealand, South Pacific regions including Easter Island, the tip of South America and Patagonia
- 26: Full Moon (the Buck Moon, the Hay Moon, the Crane Moon or the Summer Moon)
- 27: Mercury and Regulus less than half a degree apart (around 11pm)
- 28-31: Delta Aquarids meteor shower maximum (better viewed from Southern Hemisphere)
- 30: Mars and Saturn within 2° of each other
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.