Babe Among the Stars: Asteroid Impact

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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

Asteroid Impact

On New Year's Day an asteroid, 2014 AA, was discovered by the Mount Lemmon Survey (whose job it is to detect NEOs - Near Earth Objects). The following DAY, it entered the Earth's atmosphere and what remained plunged into the ocean somewhere between West Africa and Central America. The asteroid was only 3-4m in diameter, but there are much larger NEOs out there. Going over the stats for January I found asteroid 2007 SJ, which measures 1.9km (that's over a mile wide), had a close encounter with Earth on the 21st. Luckily for us it passed way beyond the orbit of the Moon. If you want to keep track of NEOs and PTAs (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) I can recommend which changes daily. They provide lots of interesting info such as sunspot count, aurora activity which you can set to your own (continent) location, comet data and photo galleries.

Stargazing Live report

The BBC's Stargazing Live was a huge success. Who could fail to be amused by presenter Dara Ó Briain taking a trip on the so-called 'vomit comet'? And, glutton for punishment that he is, experiencing 5G inside a centrifuge? Prof Brian Cox talked in his own inimitable way about the aurora, the shape of the Milky Way and the prospect of life on other worlds.

Dr Chris Lintott was a guest who appealed for the public's help in detecting gravitational lenses on images of distant galaxies. Known as 'citizen science', this kind of participation has reaped rewards since first launch, remember Hanny's Voorwerp? I took part in the search for gravitational lenses myself and was disappointed when there was no data left to classify. They managed to announce on the show that a new galaxy had been detected via this method and they got one of the 'discoverers' on webcam talking about it, and spent the rest of the show calling the galaxy by his name. There are rules about naming celestial objects but I'm not going to go into that here.

Other interesting guests included Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham, and the ex-commander of the ISS, Colonel Chris Hadfield. Dr Carolyn Porco was my favourite guest though, she was an eloquent, enthusiastic speaker and quite captivating to listen to. Regular readers of my BATS column may remember the 'wave at Saturn' project for when Cassini was lined up to take a photo of the Earth (19 July, 2013). It was Dr Porco and her team who conceived the idea of everyone on Earth smiling on that day and NASA co-ordinated the concurrent 'wave'.

Meteorite Medals

Recovered fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteorite (which are more valuable than gold) have been minted into seven Gold Medals which will be presented on the first anniversary of the event, 15 February 2014, at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Vying for meteorite medals will be speed skaters, cross-country skiers and ski-jumpers.

February Diary Dates

There's no New Moon this month! This follows on from January having two new moon phases, and will be followed by March also having two new moons. This month's full moon coincides with St Valentine's Day.

  • 01: The Moon passes 4° north of Mercury and 5° north of Neptune
  • 03: The Moon passes 3° north of Uranus
  • 08: Alpha Centaurids meteor shower peaks (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 10: Theta Centaurids meteor shower peaks (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 11: The Moon passes 5° south of Jupiter
  • 12: The Moon is at apogee (furthest from Earth)
  • 14: Omicron Centaurids meteor shower peaks (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 14: Full Moon: the Snow Moon
  • 15: (pre-dawn) Venus will be at her brightest (−4.9 magnitude)
  • 15: 1st anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteorite event
  • 19: The Moon passes 3° south of Mars
  • 21: The Moon passes 0.3° south of Saturn
  • 25: The Moon passes 0.4° north of Venus
  • 27: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
  • 27: The Moon passes 3° north of Mercury

  • 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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