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
2016 Review of the Year
What a year 2016 has been! Stargazing Live was on television during January, providing a feast for astronomy lovers. Guests included Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was the first person to detect pulsars, and retired astronaut Chris Hadfield1. The video clips of comedian John Bishop going through astronaut training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, broadcast throughout the Stargazing Live programmes, were very insightful and my personal admiration for John Bishop grew to a new level.
In early March there was a Total Solar Eclipse. Totality was only visible from Indonesia, but other areas saw a partial eclipse: Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Micronesia and Hawaii. On 9 May the planet Mercury transited the Sun. The previous time this occurred from our vantage point on Earth was November 2006. It was viewable from South America, western parts of Europe and Africa, and the eastern side of North America. The next Mercury transit (seen from Earth) will take place on 11 November, 2019. Interestingly, a Mercury transit of the Sun has been observed offworld - on 3 June 2014 to be precise, by the Curiosity rover on the red planet Mars.
British astronaut Major Tim Peake was on the International Space Station when he received the news that he was being honoured in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. Major Peake becomes a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, so he is now entitled to use the letters CMG after his name and rank. This honour is normally bestowed upon people serving the UK overseas, but it is the first time it has been conferred for 'extraordinary service beyond our planet'. It's also the first time an honour has been awarded whilst the recipient was off-world. Major Tim Peake returned to Earth in mid-June, having completed 2,976 orbits of Earth, during which he was reporting to his fans on his Twitter account, with accompanying photos of our beautiful planet.
The best ride I've been on, ever!
- Major Tim Peake describing his journey back to Earth
NASA's Juno orbiter arrived at Jupiter on 4 July. Launched on 5 August, 2011, Juno is expected to orbit Jupiter 37 times over the next two years, gathering and storing information about the Solar System's largest planet. For more information on the Juno mission, check out the NASA: Juno mission homepage for live updates.
During August planetary scientists publicised their discovery of a planet, tentatively named Proxima b, in orbit around the closest star to our own Sun, a red dwarf called Proxima Centauri. Hopefully in the future we will be able to send a robotic probe to visit the alpha Centauri system and say hi to any Proxima b denizens. At only 4.2 light years distant, it'll only take a few centuries to get a reply back!
On 30 September there was a black moon (2nd New Moon of the month), but those in the UK and later time zones had to wait another month for their black moon. Also at the end of September, the spacecraft Rosetta which delivered Philae to the surface of Comet C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko (aka Comet 67P) and was still in tow, was directed to crash into the comet. The impact brought an end to the 12-year mission, which ESA scientists declared a 'great success'. Co-discoverer of the comet, Russian astronomer Klim Churyumov, died aged 79 on 15 October 2016. He had followed the Rosetta mission with great interest and lived just long enough to see its conclusion.
Beagle 2, lost on Mars since Christmas Day 2003, was found in 2015, but it had not crashed as previously thought. Unfortunately, this year's attempt also failed but the Schiaparelli probe did not survive its impact with the planet's surface.
November's full moon coincided with the closest perigee of the year, so eyes were peeled for the 'supermoon'. In fact, it was a super-hypermoon as it was the closest the Moon had been to Earth since January 1948. Luna won't come this close to Earth again until November 2034, but there will be other supermoons to enjoy in the meantime.
GB's Astronomy Picture of the Year
Last year we were stunned by the revelation of the heart-shaped region on Pluto. This giant heart-shaped sunspot is surely in the running for this year's romantic astronomy picture of the year. Check out the tiny Earth on the image for size comparison!
This image of a Supermoon is quite possibly the best I have ever seen!
December 2016 Diary Dates
- 13: Geminids meteor shower peaks
- 13: The 15m-asteroid 2015 YA will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 13: The 15m-asteroid 2015 XX169 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 14: Full Moon (the Cold or Long Nights Moon)
- 21: Winter solstice (Northern Hemisphere)/Summer solstice (Southern Hemisphere)
- 21: The 11m-asteroid 2015 YQ1 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 22: The 1.4km-asteroid 2006 BZ7 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
- 22: Ursids meteor shower peaks
- 29: New 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.