Babe Among the Stars: A Near Miss and a Black Dot on the Sun

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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

A Near Miss and a Black Dot on the Sun

NEOs (Near Earth Objects) such as asteroids sometimes cross the Earth's orbital path and some even pass very close to our planet. These flybys are quite hard to predict in advance because they give off no light of their own, so can't be seen even by dedicated NEO skywatchers. Such a close shave occurred on 13 May, when the 42' asteroid 2012 JU shot through somewhere around halfway between the Earth and the Moon. This is what astronomers call 'a close shave' and such an encounter reminds us that we effectively live in a cosmic shooting gallery. The Earth has been targeted before; one such impact 65 million years ago led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. So we can heave a sigh of relief as asteroid 2012 JU disappears – until the next one heads in our direction of course!

June 2012 Diary Dates

June sees the astronomical event of the year in the form of the planet Venus and its transit across the face of the Sun. This phenomenon was first witnessed (as far as we know) by British amateur astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks in 1639. These transits have been viewed since by the likes of Captain Cook, Charles Mason and King George III, along with members of the British Royal Family. The 2004 transit, the first for 122 years, was the most-witnessed in history; famous viewers included Dr Brian May who joined Sir Patrick Moore in his garden to record the event for The Sky At Night. I also watched the 2004 transit, and I have every intention of witnessing the last one of my lifetime, even though I'm in the UK and will only catch the very last part. The Venus transit of 2012 will be visible in its entirety from Alaska, Hawaii, most of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean and eastern Asia. North America will be able to see the start of the transit at sunset on 5 June, while South Asia, the Middle East, and most of Europe will catch the end of the transit at sunrise on 6 June. If you miss it then you'll need to live a very long time to catch a glimpse of the next Venus transit, which will occur on 11 December, 2117. Please remember that observing the Sun can be dangerous so take the appropriate precautions to protect your eyesight. Ensure that any children intending to view the transit are adequately supervised and warned about the dangers of looking directly at the Sun to avoid permanent eye damage.

  • 04: Full Moon: the Strawberry Moon/Honey Moon
  • 04: Partial lunar eclipse: visible from Asia, Australia, Pacific regions and the Americas
  • 05/06: Venus transits the Sun
  • 10: Moon passes 6° north of Neptune
  • 12: Moon passes 5° north of Uranus
  • 15: Venus is 4° north of Aldebaran
  • 16: Moon passes 1° north of Jupiter
  • 17: Moon passes 2° north of Venus
  • 19: New Moon
  • 20: Summer solstice (Northern Hemisphere)/Winter solstice (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 21: Moon passes 6° south of Mercury
  • 24: Mercury close to Pollux1 (beta Geminorum)
  • 26: Moon passes 6° south of Mars
  • 28: Moon passes 6° south of Saturn
  • 30: Mercury close to the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44)

  • 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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1This star has a confirmed extrasolar planet, HD 62509 b.

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