Babe Among the Stars: Review of 2010

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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 the Year 2010

For me, the most exciting discovery of 2010 was that of Zarmina's World, an extrasolar planet only three times the size of Earth and situated a mere 20 light years distant. Just saying 'Hello' and waiting for an instant reply would take 40 years though. I wonder what we'd talk about to someone from another planet, assuming we could find a common language to communicate in. I reckon swapping recipes might be a good start.

Two comets on note graced our skies in 2010, Comet Hartley 2 and Comet McNaught. The Astronomy Picture of the Day website published some spectacular pictures throughout the year, it's a rare day when I don't check out that day's pick. The website has been going since 1995 and it was the first place I referenced when I logged onto the Internet for the very first time, at my local library. I remember being blown away by the wonderful images and easy-to-understand explanations from the professional astronomers. All the images are archived, such as Comet Hale-Bopp, and some are recycled, but I guarantee you'll find something new for your desktop wallpaper. Their images of the two comets of 2010 included submissions by amateur photographers. The public submissions are not restricted to specific subjects, which can be anything from aurorae to clouds and this nightscape which includes an earthly horizon complete with distant lightning storm, then in the heavens there's a Perseid meteor, the planet Jupiter, the Pleiades star cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light years distant!

In February 2010 US President Barack Obama cancelled NASA's Constellation Moon landings programme which had been initiated by President George W Bush following the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003 which resulted in the loss of seven astronauts. In April President Obama announced: By the mid-2030s I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it. His words had a familiar ring - I recall the speech by President Kennedy about sending a man to the Moon - he, of course, didn't live to see it. Politicians and presidents come and go, and plans can be dumped by later incumbents. So forgive me for not getting too excited about projected plans for space missions by someone who will no longer be calling the shots by then.

I got a special birthday treat in May 2010, while walking to the pub to celebrate, I happened to spot the ISS going overhead. Not the first time I'd seen it but it was still an unexpected thrill! In August the annual Perseid meteor shower was hotly anticipated and I was lucky enough to be invited to the home of the chairman of the Cleethorpes and District Astronomy Club for the evening's viewing. It was my partner Gordon's first experience of a 'star party' and he thoroughly enjoyed it, although he spent more time chatting in the kitchen to the partners of the astronomers than actual meteor-spotting like us hardy souls outside! We managed to see an Iridium flare as well as multiple Perseids. Astronomers the world over polished off the year in grand style with a spectacular total lunar eclipse visible from Europe, east Asia, Australia, Pacific regions and the Americas on 21 December.

Detecting Extrasolar Planets in 2011

I'm delighted to announce that the Zooniverse team (who brought you Galaxy Zoo) have begun another task for home searching: detecting extrasolar planets. It's really quite simple, all you have to do is register with Planet Hunters (log in if you're already a member of Galaxy Zoo, sign up if you aren't), take the tutorial and away you go. It's highly addictive once you get going, so be warned!

Anniversaries coming up in 2011

  • On 21 May it is exactly 100 years since Scottish pioneering astronomer Williamina Fleming died.

  • On 12 April, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Major Yuri Gagarin made the first human flight in space. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this event I am planning a special BATS in April.

January 2011 Diary Dates

  • 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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