Babe Among the Stars: BATS review of the year 2014

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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

BATS review of the year 2014

On 1 January 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.

1-8 March was National Astronomy Week in the UK. My own local club, Cleethorpes Astronomy Society, hosted open evenings as well as its usual monthly meeting. March's guest speaker was local astronomer Paul Money, whom I've met several times now. He was the astronomer on board the plane when I took an aurora flight on 2 February 2011, the first one from Humberside Airport.

In August the Rosetta spacecraft reached comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 6.5 billion km journey lasting ten years. Here is a video of the (speeded-up) rotation of the 5km-sized comet. Rosetta is now in orbit of the comet and preparations began to land a robotic European Space Agency probe called Philae on the comet itself on 12 November. The deployment worked but the lander had a bumpy landing and ended up in the wrong place, so scientists were worried about the life of the solar-powered battery. The probe's batteries failed after about 60 hours but in that time the ESA managed to collect data which will take years to be analysed. At the time of writing Philae is in hibernation, but as the comet heads towards the Sun the lander's solar panels may receive enough sunlight to recharge its batteries and be able to work again.

October 4-10 was World Space Week, decreed in 1999 by the UN General Assembly. This year's theme was 'Space: Guiding Your Way'. On 19 October, Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) shot past Mars. Up till 2013 scientists thought the comet was going to impact Mars' surface, but later it was projected to miss the red planet by 132,000km. That is what astronomers call a 'close shave' and, thankfully, no comet in recorded history has passed the Earth so closely.

Looking forward to 2015

A taster of celestial events to look forward to in 2015 are: a Total Solar Eclipse1 on 20 March; a Total Lunar Eclipse2 on 4 April; spacecraft Dawn is expected to arrive at dwarf planet Ceres in April; in mid-July spacecraft New Horizons will arrive3 in Pluto's neck of the woods, pootle around for about five months then head for the Kuiper Belt before exiting the Solar System, and a partial solar eclipse will occur on 13 September. The second total lunar eclipse of the year will take place on 28 September – it will be more widely visible than the first – this time people in Europe, Africa, the Americas, western Asia and eastern Pacific areas will have a grandstand view!

The lander Philae on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko may garner enough energy to recharge its batteries on its journey towards the Sun. Fingers crossed the ESA has more success with its historic venture.

December 2014 Diary Dates

  • 01: The Moon passes 1.2° north of Uranus
  • 06: Full Moon: the Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon or Moon before Yule
  • 11: The Moon passes 5° south of Jupiter
  • 12: Mars is at perihelion (closest to the Sun)
  • 12: The Moon is at apogee (furthest from Earth)
  • 14: Geminid meteor shower peak
  • 15: Algol (beta Persei) will be at its faintest
  • 19: The Moon passes 1.5° north of Saturn
  • 21: Winter solstice (longest night/shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, shortest night/longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • 22: New Moon
  • 24: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
  • 24: Track Santa
  • 25: The Moon passes 6° north of Mars
  • 26: The Moon passes 4° north of Neptune
  • 28: The Moon passes 1° north of Uranus

  • 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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Galaxy Babe

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1Visible only from Northern Atlantic regions, the Faroe Islands and the North Pole.2Visible from the Americas, Asia, Australia and the Pacific.3You can follow the countdown here.

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