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
Breaking News: Lost Beagle Turns Up on Mars
A 12 year old mystery has been solved. Beagle 2, a probe sent to Mars, was presumed lost since contact failure on Christmas Day 2003. Millions watching on television as the European mission team, including the despondent Prof Colin Pillinger, will probably never forget the disappointment on their faces as realisation dawned. Years of work and no doubt a lot of money had resulted in no data at all. Fast-forward a dozen years to 16 January 2015, when it was announced that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had imaged shapes on the Martian surface which corresponded with elements of Beagle 2. They were just 5km from its intended landing spot and one element was deemed not to have deployed. Close, but no cigar, then, but a near-perfect attempt nonetheless. Prof Pillinger died in May 2014; what a shame he wasn't spared another year so he'd have learned of the fate of the Beagle 2.
Comet Lovejoy passed perihelion (closest to the Sun) on 30 January, at a distance of 1.29 Astronomical Units. I'm pleased to report that there was a clear sky on the night of 16 January in my neck of the woods and I managed to spot the comet naked-eye in the constellation Taurus before I even raised my binoculars. I can only describe it as a fuzzy blob, it's not as beautiful as Hale-Bopp was, nor as spectacular as Comet Holmes was in 2007. But still, it was my first glimpse of a comet in over seven years. Comet Lovejoy is an esteemed visitor and we'll not get a chance to witness its return once it has passed beyond our view. Its next expected sojourn into the inner solar system is thousands of years away. If you'd like to see Comet Lovejoy for yourself, here's a map. From the beginning of February onwards, it'll be shooting through Andromeda, skirt into Perseus and on through Cassiopeia. If you haven't got dark skies, don't worry, here are some images for you.
February 2015 Diary Dates
- 01: Venus is within a degree of Neptune
- 03: Full Moon - the Snow Moon
- 04: The Moon passes 5° south of Jupiter
- 06: The Moon is at apogee (furthest from Earth)
- 06: Jupiter is at its brightest of 2015 at −2.6 magnitude
- 12: The Moon and Saturn are within 2°
- 15: The 88m-wide asteroid 2015 AZ43 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 17: The Moon passes 3° north of Mercury
- 18: New Moon
- 19: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
- 19: Chinese New Year (Year of the Goat/Sheep)
- 20: The Moon passes 2° north of Venus and within 1.5° of Mars
- 21: Venus and Mars are within half a degree of each other
- 21: The Moon passes 0.3° north of Uranus
- 25: The Moon passes 1° north of Aldebaran (alpha Tauri)
- 27: The 1.6 km-wide asteroid 2000 EE14 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.