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
3-D Printing in Space
Astronauts on the International Space Station used to have to wait months for the next supply rocket but since the installation of a 3-D printer they can create required items like tools straight away. Commander Barry Wilmore needed a ratcheting socket wrench so NASA emailed the instructions for the printer. This is the first tool ever manufactured away from Earth, and means the door is open for further development of the idea, including the possibility of creating a Moon base from the regolith (loose material covering the lunar surface). Sounds like science fiction doesn't it, but with each advance in technology we're getting closer to the Star Trek vision of the future.
Inner Planets Dance
Mercury and Venus put on a good show this month, although you'll need to be quick after sunset to view Mercury! From the 1st onwards the pair will be within 3° of each other and over the next couple of weeks they move closer towards each other until they are within one half of a degree. Venus is easily identified at almost −4 magnitude; Mercury is dimmer at −0.8 but will still be distinct in the twilight sky. This gives us ample opportunity to catch the two inner planets together, as we're bound to get one clear night out of ten, aren't we? Towards the end of the month, watch for the Moon appearing to pass between Mercury and Venus (from our vantage point, of course).
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) will be on view for astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere for the entire month of January. Unfortunately it's not brilliant at 8th magnitude so binoculars or a telescope will be required for viewing. Seek out the constellation Lepus - the Hare at the feet of Orion - the Hunter on 1 January. On 7 January it will pass closest to Earth at 43.6m miles (70.2m km). Mid-month it will be between Taurus and Aries and by the end of the month the comet will enter Andromeda.
January 2015 Diary Dates
- 01: Mercury and Venus are within 3° of each other
- 03: Quadrantids meteor shower peak
- 04: Earth is at perihelion (closest to the Sun)
- 04: Full Moon - the Wolf Moon, Old Moon, Ice Moon, or the Moon after Yule
- 08: The Moon passes 5° south of Jupiter
- 09: The Moon is at apogee (furthest from Earth)
- 10: Mercury and Venus are just half a degree apart
- 12: The 1.1km-wide asteroid 2007 EJ will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 16: The Moon passes 2° north of Saturn
- 17: The 1km-wide asteroid 1991 VE will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 19: Mars passes 0.2° south of Neptune
- 20: New Moon
- 21: The Moon passes between Mercury and Venus
- 21: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
- 22: The Moon passes 6° north of Venus
- 22: The Moon passes 4° north of Neptune
- 23: The Moon passes 4° north of Mars
- 23: Three of the Galilean moons transit Jupiter within eight hours
- 25: The Moon passes 0.6° north of Uranus
- 26: The 650m-wide asteroid 2004 BL86 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 29: The Moon passes 1.2° north of Aldebaran (alpha Tauri)
- 30: Comet Lovejoy reaches perihelion (1.29 Astronomical Units)
- 31: The 36m-wide asteroid 2008 CQ will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
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.