Babe Among the Stars: Farewell to Klim Churyumov, and Apophis Update

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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

Klim Churyumov

Russian astronomer Klim Churyumov died on 15 October 2016, he was 79 years old. He was co-discoverer, with Svetlana Gerasimenko, of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was the target of the Rosetta spacecraft and Philae probe. He followed the Rosetta project throughout its 12-year mission and lived to see its conclusion.

Apophis - the 'Doomsday Asteroid'

Celestial-diva comets seem to grab all the astronomy headlines, and why not? They are a source of mystery and wonder. Where have they been? What have they seen? Questions we're never likely to know the answers to. All we can do is track their orbits. With luck they'll just present us Earthlings with a glorious show in our skies and then shoot off into deep space again. In a straw poll most adults would probably be able to remember a comet or two, one they saw themselves like Hale-Bopp, the one mentioned in history books (Halley's), or the one that slammed into Jupiter, what's-its-name (Shoemaker-Levy 9). Comets are not the only near-Earth objects though. There are asteroids as well, although you'd be hard-pressed to find a non-astronomer who could name even one asteroid. Within the next few decades though, asteroid 99942 Apophis, or just 'Apophis' for ease of memory, is bound to become a media star. Asteroid Apophis is around 325 metres (1,066 ft) in size, and is due to pass the Earth on Friday, 13 April, 2036, but that will only worry the superstitious. Astronomers say the Impact Probability of Apophis is 2.2e-05 which means there is 0.0022% chance of Earth impact (or 1 in 45,000 chance), or to put it another way, there's 99.9978% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. There are other big asteroids out there, and most we don't even know about.

November 2016 Diary Dates

This month's full moon coincides with the closest perigee of the year, so keep your eyes peeled for the 'supermoon'. In fact, it'll be a super-hypermoon as this is the closest the Moon has been to Earth since January 1948. It won't come this close again until November 2034, so I hope I've given you enough notice.

The Leonid meteor shower should provide some celestial fireworks, and I wish I could see such a spectacle as this lady recorded:

On the night of 12-13 November, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth... The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall.
- Agnes Mary Clerke, author of A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century
  • 02: The 21m-asteroid 2016 UX5 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 02: The Moon passes 4° north of Saturn
  • 03: The Moon passes 7° north of Venus
  • 04: The 31m-asteroid 2016 TG55 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 05: Bonfire Night (UK). There will be bonfires, fireworks and rockets, which tend to spoil astronomy parties
  • 05: The 39m-asteroid 2016 UE will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 06: The Moon passes 5° north of Mars
  • 06: The 1.2km-asteroid 2007 LS will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 09: All four Galilean moons will be on one side of Jupiter
  • 09: The Moon passes 1° north of Neptune
  • 10: The 260m-asteroid 2004 KB will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 12: The Moon passes 3° south of Uranus
  • 14: The Moon is at perigee (closest of the year)
  • 14: Full Moon (a 'super-hypermoon')
  • 15: The Moon passes 0.4° north of Aldebaran (alpha Tauri)
  • 17: Leonid meteor shower peaks
  • 18: Mercury passes 3° north of Antares (alpha Scorpii)
  • 19: The 2.2km-asteroid 2002 QF15 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 21: All four Galilean moons will be on one side of Jupiter
  • 24: The Moon passes 1.9° north of Jupiter
  • 24: The 1km-asteroid 2009 TB8 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 27: The Moon is at apogee
  • 28: The 2.4km-asteroid 5143 Heracles will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 29: New Moon
  • 30: The Moon passes 7° north of Mercury
  • 30: All four Galilean moons will be on one side of Jupiter
  • 30: Jupiter will be 8° north of Spica (alpha Virginis)

  • 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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