Astronomy - Woodpecker Attacks Space Shuttle

On Friday 26th February two members of the group attended the Walsall Astronomical Society meeting to see the guest speaker Donald (Don). Thomas. Don is a veteran of four Shuttle space missions.

STS-65 Columbia (July 8, 1994 – July 23, 1994)

STS-70 Discovery (July 13, 1995 – July 22, 1995)

STS-83 Columbia (April 4, 1997 – April 8, 1997)

STS-94 Columbia (July 1, 1997 – July 17, 1997)

A week before the scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-70 mission,  a Woodpecker made 205 holes in the soft foam insulation covering the huge external fuel tank of the Shuttle which is used to stop ice forming when tank is being filled with super-cold propellants, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The resulting damage led to one of the more unusual delays in the thirty year history of the Space Shuttle Program as NASA wrestled with what had happened, how to fix the damage, and how to prevent additional woodpecker attacks on its Space Shuttles in the future, one idea was to put balloons with painted eyes around the launch site. Forever nicknamed “The Woodpecker Shuttle Flight” the mission was also unique in that 4 of the 5 crewmembers assigned to the flight were from Ohio. After the governor of Ohio issued a proclamation making the fifth crewmember an “Honorary Ohioan” this flight also became known as “The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission”.



Astronomy - The Planets

The Planets

The Solar System


Terrestrial Planets


Mercury  Venus  Earth  Mars

Gas Giants


Jupiter  Saturn

Ice Giants

Uranus  Neptune




Mercury is one of four terrestrial planets in the Solar System, and is a rocky body like Earth It is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the one closest to the Sun, with an orbital period of about 88 Earth days, which is much faster than any other planet in the Solar System.

Seen from the Earth, it appears to move around its orbit in about 116 days. It has no known natural satellites. It is named after the Roman deity Mercury, the messenger to the gods.

A year on Mercury is just 88 days long. One solar day (the time from noon to noon on the planet’s surface) on Mercury lasts the equivalent of 176 Earth days.

Mercury is nearly tidally locked to the Sun and over time this has slowed the rotation of the planet to almost match its orbit around the Sun. Mercury also has the highest orbital eccentricity of all the planets with its distance from the Sun ranging from 46 to 70 million km.

Partly because it has almost no atmosphere to retain heat, Mercury's surface temperature varies each day more than any other planet in the Solar System, ranging from 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F) at night to 700 K (427 °C; 800 °F) during the day in some equatorial regions.

The poles are constantly below 180 K (−93 °C; −136 °F). Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets (about 1⁄30 of a degree)

Mercury consists of approximately 70% metallic and 30% silicate material. Mercury's density is the second highest in the Solar System at 5.427 g/cm3, only slightly less than Earth's density of 5.515 g/cm3.

Mercury's density can be used to infer details of its inner structure. Although Earth's high density results appreciably from gravitational compression, particularly at the core, Mercury is much smaller and its inner regions are not as compressed. Therefore, for it to have such a high density, its core must be large and rich in iron Mercury's core has a higher iron content than that of any other major planet in the Solar System.

Early in the Solar System's history, Mercury may have been struck by a planetesimalof approximately 1/6 that mass and several thousand kilometre’s across.

The impact would have stripped away much of the original crust and mantle, leaving the core behind as a relatively major component.

Mercury may have a molten core. In recent years scientists from NASA have come to believe the solid iron core of Mercury could in fact be molten. Normally the core of smaller planets cools rapidly, but after extensive research, the results were not in line with those expected from a solid core.

Scientists now believe the core to contain a lighter element such as sulphur, which would lower the melting temperature of the core material. It is estimated Mercury’s core makes up 42% of its volume, while the Earth’s core makes up 17%.

Surrounding the core is a 500–700 km mantle consisting of silicates. Based on data from the Mariner 10 mission and Earth-based observation, Mercury's crust is estimated to be 100–300 km thick.

One distinctive feature of Mercury's surface is the presence of numerous narrow ridges, extending up to several hundred kilometersin length.

It is thought that these were formed as Mercury's core and mantle cooled and contracted at a time when the crust had already solidified.

Only two spacecraft have ever visited Mercury. Owing to its proximity to the Sun, Mercury is a difficult planet to visit. During 1974 and 1975 Mariner 10 flew by Mercury three times, during this time they mapped just under half of the planet’s surface.

On August 3rd 2004, the Messenger probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, this was the first spacecraft to visit since the mid 1970’s.


Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is the second brightest object in the night sky after the Moon.

Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus is the second largest terrestrial planet and is sometimes referred to as the Earth’s sister planet due the their similar size and mass.

The surface of the planet is obscured by an opaque layer of clouds made up of sulphuric acid.

It takes 243 Earth days to rotate once on its axis. The planet’s orbit around the Sun takes 225 Earth days, compared to the Earth’s 365. A day on the surface of Venus (solar day) takes 117 Earth days.

Venus rotates in the opposite direction to most other planets. This means that Venus is rotating in the opposite direction to the Sun, this is also know as a retrograde rotation.

A possible reason might be a collision in the past with an asteroid or other object that caused the planet to alter its rotational path. It also differs from most other planets in our solar system by having no natural satellites.

Atmospheric pressure on Venus is 92 times greater than the Earth’s. While its size and mass are similar to Earth, small asteroids are crushed when entering its atmosphere, meaning no small craters lie on the surface of the planet.

The pressure felt by a human on the surface would be equivalent to that experienced deep beneath the sea on Earth.

The Earth and Venus are very similar in size with only a 638 km difference in diameter, Venus having 81.5% of the Earth’s mass. Both also have a central core, a molten mantle and a crust.

Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system. The average surface temperature is 462 °C, and because Venus does not tilt on its axis, there is no seasonal variation.

The dense atmosphere of around 96.5 percent carbon dioxide traps heat and causes a greenhouse effect.

It was only when radio mapping was developed in the 1960s that scientists were able to observe and measure the extreme temperatures and hostile environment.

It is thought Venus did once have oceans but these evaporated as the planets temperature increased.

A detailed study of Venus is currently underway. In 2006, the Venus Express space shuttle was sent into orbit around Venus by the European Space Agency, and is sending back information about the planet.

Originally planned to last five hundred Earth days, the mission has been extended several times. More than 1,000 volcanoes or volcanic centres larger than 20 km have been found on the surface of Venus.

The Russians sent the first mission to Venus. The Venera1 space probe was launched in 1961, but lost contact with base.

The USA also lost their first probe to Venus, Mariner 1, although Mariner 2 was able to take measurements of the planet in 1962.

The Soviet Union’s Venera3 was the first man-made craft to land on Venus in 1966.


Jupiter is the fourth brightest object in the solar system.

Only the Sun, Moon and Venus are brighter. It is one of five planets visible to the naked eye from Earth.

Jupiter is named after the king of the Roman gods. To the Greeks, it represented Zeus, the god of thunder.

The Mesopotamians saw Jupiter as the god Mardukand patron of the city of Babylon. Germanic tribes saw this planet as Donar, or Thor.

Jupiter has the shortest day of all the planets. It turns on its axis once every 9 hours and 55 minutes. Jupiter orbits the Sun once every 11.8 Earth years.

From our point of view on Earth, it appears to move slowly in the sky, taking months to move from one constellation to another.

It is the largest planet with a mass about three hundred times that of the Earth.

Jupiter’s interior is made of rock, metal, and hydrogen compounds.

There are layers of compressed hydrogen gas, liquid metallic hydrogen, and a core of ice, rock, and metals.

Jupiter has unique cloud features of colourful bands and swirling clouds. Which are the top of a dynamic gaseous atmosphere extending deep into the planet.

The atmosphere at the poles and the equator rotate at different rates giving rise to high winds. The largest feature is the Great Red Spot which is a huge storm rotating anti-clockwise. It is so large that three Earths could fit inside it, which has been observed for over three hundred years.

Jupiter’s interior is made of rock, metal, and hydrogen compounds. Below Jupiter’s massive atmosphere (which is made primarily of hydrogen), there are layers of compressed hydrogen gas, liquid metallic hydrogen, and a core of ice, rock, and metals.

Jupiter has a thin ring system.

Its rings are composed mainly of dust particles ejected from some of Jupiter’s smaller worlds during impacts from incoming comets and asteroids. The ring system begins some 92,000 kilometres above Jupiter’s cloud tops and stretches out to more than 225,000 km from the planet. They are between 2,000 to 12,500 kilometres thick.

Eight spacecraft have visited Jupiter.

Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini, Ulysses, and New Horizons missions. The Juno mission is its way to Jupiter and will arrive in July 2016.


Saturn was known to the ancients, including the Babylonians and Far Eastern observers. It is named for the Roman god Saturnus, and was known to the Greeks as Cronus.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the most distant that can be seen with the naked eye.

Saturn is the second largest planet and is best known for its fabulous ring system that was first observed in 1610 by the astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Like Jupiter, Saturn is a gas giant and is composed of similar gasses including hydrogen, helium and methane

Its polar diameter is 90% of its equatorial diameter, this is due to its low density and fast rotation.

Saturn turns on its axis once every 10 hours and 34 minutes giving it the second-shortest day of any of the solar system’s planets. Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years.

.Saturn’s upper atmosphere is divided into bands of clouds. The top layers are mostly ammonia ice. Below them, the clouds are largely water ice.

Below that are layers of cold hydrogen and sulphur ice mixtures. Saturn has oval-shaped storms similar to Jupiter’s.

The region around its north pole has a hexagonal-shaped pattern of clouds. Scientists think this may be a wave pattern in the upper clouds. The planet also has a vortex over its south pole that resembles a hurricane-like storm.

Eventually, deep inside, the hydrogen becomes metallic. At the core lies a hot interior.

Saturn has the most extensive rings in the solar system. The rings are made mostly of chunks of ice and small amounts of dust. The rings stretch out more than 120,700 km from the planet, but are amazingly thin: only about 20 meters thick.

Four spacecraft have visited Saturn.

Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and the Cassini-Huygens mission have all studied the planet.

Cassini continues to orbit Saturn, sending back a wealth of data about the planet, its moons, and rings.




Uranus was officially discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781. At first Herschel thought it was a comet, but several years later it was confirmed as a planet. Herschel tried to have his discovery named “Georgian Sidus” after King George III.

The name Uranus was suggested by astronomer Johann Bode. The name comes from the ancient Greek deity Ouranos.

Uranus turns on its axis once every 17 hours, 14 minutes. The planet rotates in a retrograde direction, opposite to the way Earth and most other planets turn. Uranus makes one trip around the Sun every 84 Earth years.

Like the other gas giants, it has a hydrogen upper layer, which has helium mixed in. Below that is an icy “mantle, which surrounds a rock and ice core.

The upper atmosphere is made of water, ammonia and the methane ice crystals that give the planet its pale blue colour.

With minimum atmospheric temperature of -224°C Uranus is nearly coldest planet in the solar system.

The upper atmosphere of Uranus is covered by a methane haze which hides the storms that take place in the cloud decks.

Uranus has two sets of very thin dark coloured rings.

The ring particles are small, ranging from a dust-sized particles to small boulders. There are eleven inner rings and two outer rings. They probably formed when one or more of Uranus’s moons were broken up in an impact.

The first rings were discovered in 1977 with the two outer rings being discovered in Hubble Space Telescope images between 2003 and 2005.

Only one spacecraft has flown by Uranus.

In 1986, the Voyager 2 spacecraft swept past the planet at a distance of 81,500 km. It returned the first close-up images of the planet, its moons, and rings.


It is not visible to the naked eye and was first observed in 1846. Its position was determined using mathematical predictions.

It was named after the Roman god of the sea.

The atmosphere of Neptune is made of hydrogen and helium, with some methane. The methane absorbs red light, which makes the planet appear a lovely blue. High, thin clouds drift in the upper atmosphere.

Large storms whirl through its upper atmosphere, and high-speed winds track around the planet at up 600 meters per second. One of the largest storms ever seen was recorded in 1989. It was called the Great Dark Spot. It lasted about five years.

Despite being smaller than Uranus, Neptune has a greater mass.

Below its heavy atmosphere, Uranus is made of layers of hydrogen, helium, and methane gases. They enclose a layer of water, ammonia and methane ice. The inner core of the planet is made of rock.

Neptune has a very thin collection of rings.

They are likely made up of ice particles mixed with dust grains and possibly coated with a carbon-based substance.

Only one spacecraft has flown by Neptune.

In 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft swept past the planet. It returned the first close-up images of the Neptune system.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has also studied this planet, as have a number of ground-based telescopes.

Astronomy - The Sun


The Sun

Margret Grove

It is easy to say that it is a seething mass of gas that keeps the Earth warm and gives us light but it is so much more than that.

It is our Star and all the planets revolve around it. It is massive compared to any of the planets in our solar system. Having said that it is known as a Yellow Dwarf Star. This is explained by the comparative sizes of other stars in the Milky Way e.g. Sirius is twice as big as the sun and 25 times more luminous. Pollux is 8 times larger than the sun and Pollux is dwarfed by Arcturus which is 26 times larger. One of the largest star is VY Canus Majoris and could hold about 3 billion suns. Larger in size but not mass, this goes to Peony Nebular star, 170 times the mass of the sun.

Now for a few Stats.

The sun is approx. 93 million miles (150 Km) away from the earth.  Known in the world of Astronomy as AU. 1 astronomical unit.

Diam. 1,392,684 Km

Earth diam.  12,742 Km

Equatorial circum. 4,370,005 Km

Mass 333,060 times that of earth

Surface temp. 5,500 deg. C

Centre temp.   15 million deg. C

The surface area is just under 12,000 times that of earth

Age, at present, is approx. 4.6 billion yrs.

The sun is an almost perfect sphere as there is only a 10 Km difference between the polar and equatorial diameter. No fewer than 1 mil. Earths would fit into the sun. Even Jupiter is 1/000 the volume of the sun.

The Structure and Activity


At the core, energy is generated by Nuclear Fusion as Hydrogen converts into Helium. Because hot objects can expand the sun would explode like a giant bomb if it were not for its enormous gravitational force.

Surrounding the core is the Radiative zone. This zone is so densely packed with matter that energy from the core can take as long as 100,000 yrs. to reach the surface. The radiative zone accounts for 70% of the suns radius and the temperature ranges from 1.5 to 15 million deg C.

Surrounding this radiative zone is the convective zone. Here the pockets of gas rise, by convection, towards the solar surface, carrying energy upwards much faster than the radiative zone.

Covering the convective zone is the Photosphere which is only approx. 60 miles thick.

It appears to have a smooth spherical surface speckled by cooler areas known as sunspots. There are two parts to a sunspot, an inner known as the umbra and an outer known as the penumbra. The darker inside area has a temperature of 2,500 deg C and in contrast the outer is 3,500 deg C. The streaky filaments are called fibrils.   Sun spots are caused by local magnetic activity and they often appear in pairs which have opposite polarity. Like the poles of a magnet.



The Photosphere is also the point at which the suns hot gas becomes transparent letting light flood through.

It then merges with an upper hotter layer that is called the Chromosphere.

Extending far beyond this point is the suns outer atmosphere called the Corona. This is only visible at the time of a total Solar Eclipse.

The Corona is even hotter than the Chromosphere and seethes with activity as eruptions of Plasma burst through it.

These seething balls of Plasma are never the same two days running. They are in constant magnetic turmoil resulting in the most dramatic events in the solar system. Heat and light are not the only things our star gives us as it often hurls vast amounts of electrically charged particles towards us. This can disable power grids and wreck satellite systems.

On the sun’s surface are bright white spots or areas where solar flares have occurred. These are sudden bursts of energy from the surface and are often the warning of a far more dramatic event to take place, that of a Coronal mass ejection. These can send solar particles towards earth at the speed of light. They can overwhelm the earth’s magnetic field channeling energy poleward and producing spectacular aurorae. In massive eruptions the aurorae can be seen near the tropics.



                      Solar Flare                                                               Aurora

The suns magnetic field sometimes tangle to the point that they snap releasing pent up energy. When this happens, loops of plasma known as Prominences erupt from the solar surface following the magnetic lines making beautiful loops. These can extend up into space for anything up to 300,000 miles and last from a few days to months.  If they are seen against a dark space background they are called prominences but if they are seen coming towards the earth, then they are referred to as filaments.


Solar Prominence


The sun is 75% Hydrogen and 25% Helium. There are trace elements of heavier material these include oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, silicon, magnesium, neon, iron and Sulphur.

Every second 4 million tons of matter are converted into pure energy.

As well as the rays of light we can see there are those we cannot see. These are Radio waves and infrared through to ultraviolet waves. Observatories use different wave lengths to capture images that allow us to see things that would otherwise be invisible. 

I will talk a little about H-alpha waves a little later on.

Just a point of interest- scientists traced sunspots activity by studying tree rings. Carbon levels in tree rings are lower during the time of sunspot abundance and greater when there are fewer sunspots.

From a peaceful surface there is a build up to storms and back again. This cycle takes 22 years. The stormy times are called a solar Maximum and the peaceful ones are called a solar minimum. This process is caused by the changes in the magnetic field which becomes twisted before breaking down and renewing itself. This also reverses the suns magnetic poles.  Solar maximum is also associated with not only greater sunspot activity but with solar flares, coronal mass ejection and brighter aurorae on earth.


Solar Eclipse

There are surely not many things that are more spectacular than a total solar eclipse. This happens when the moon is perfectly aligned between the sun and the earth blocking out the light allowing the corona to be seen with clarity. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun but the sun is 400 times further away enabling us to see this event.

At the same time our atmosphere becomes very eerie as the temperature drops, it goes dark and the birds stop singing and everything appears very still.

Because of the suns tilt of 5deg an eclipse occurs approx. every 18 months.  This can be seen from various parts of the world according to the position of the moon.

Sometimes the moon disk fails to completely cover the sun allowing the edge to be seen. This is called an annular eclipse. In fact, an eclipse can look both total and annular depending on where you are on earth. This is caused by the elliptical orbit of the moon around the earth. The further away the moon is from the earth the more sun we will be seen hence an annular eclipse.



Annular Eclipse

Astronomers will capture wonderful pictures of this event.

The next total eclipse is 2026 when it is expected that up to 95% of the sun will be covered. The next complete one is September 2090 with maximum duration in Cornwall.

Life of the Sun

The suns life began approx. 4.5 billion years ago and will continue for another 4-5 billion years when it will have burned off all its hydrogen and helium and will eventually collapse into a white dwarf. That is it in a nutshell. Now let’s take a closer look.

Before the sun was born space looked empty but it was in fact filled with gas and dust. Most of the material was hydrogen and helium and some of it was left over remnants of the violent death of a star. Waves of energy travelling through space pressed these particles closer together and gravity caused them to collapse in on themselves.

It began to spin into a disk and in the centre the material formed what is called a protostar. Over the course of the next 100,000 years. the temperature and pressure increased causing the start of the fusion of hydrogen into helium which drives the sun we know today.

Not all the material was used to form the sun and the remainder eventually formed the planets. Although the sun is considered an average star it is perfect for us to orbit. It is neither too large and fast burning or too small and dim.

The sun is approx. half way through its life and possibly its most stable. It has not changed much in the first half and will remain stable for another 4 billion years.

This is now the time for change. It will have burned off all its hydrogen by then but the helium will continue to burn. During this last period of time and while the hydrogen and helium burn the core will continue to shrink allowing the outer layers to move closer to the centre increasing the spin and gravitational pull. This in turn increases the rate at which the burning takes place.

In 3.5 billion years. the sun will be 40% brighter. An increase in luminosity also means an increase in heat. This will cause the oceans to boil and the ice caps will have long disappeared. In these conditions life as we know it will not exist.

The earth’s atmosphere will absorb this heat producing a moist greenhouse effect. This is what gave Venus the environment it has today.

In short our earth will be another hot dry Venus.

The last stage of the sun the core will burn and with the ash it will become unstable and collapse under its own weight. This will cause the core to heat up and become denser, the sun will then grow into a Red Giant. At this stage it will take in Mercury Venus and possibly our earth. Even if earth survives the intense heat would have scorched everything out of existence.


Red Giant

Finally The Death of the Sun

The red giant stage will last for approx. 120 million years. Eventually the core will ignite violently in a helium flash where most of the mass will be converted into carbon in a matter of minutes. It will shrink to around 10 times its current size and 50 times its luminosity with a temperature a little lower than today.

When all the activity has ceased then it will become a white dwarf star slowly cooling down over trillions of years.


To learn more about the sun any observations has to be made above the earth’s atmosphere. A number of countries have launched missions to do just that. Information received has improved our knowledge and understanding of the suns magnetic field and the way its solar wind interacts with the planets.

Hopefully we will be able to predict any massive and dangerous solar storm that may be unleashed in our direction.

Here are just a few     

1960 – 1968 Pioneer 5-9. Nasa

1974 Nasa and Germany sent Helios A

1976 Nasa and Germany sent Helios B

1991 and 2006 Japan

Others have been Soho, Genesis, Sterio A and B

There are others planned.

Pioneer 5 the earliest mission took a path between Venus and the earth and confirmed the existence of an interplanetary magnetic field for the first time.

Also how this field was affected by solar flares.

The Helios spacecraft studied the solar wind and magnetism.

These were also the fastest spacecraft achieving 44 miles per second. They are no longer functional but remain in orbit.

Soho is still working today returning spectacular images of the suns activities and violent weather

Do we need the Sun?

The simple answer is Yes.

Sunlight is absorbed through our skin to help our bodies to produce and use vitamins.

Plants need the sunlight to produce energy through photosynthesis and since plants form the basis of the food chain it would seem to be essential.

All animals depend on plants either directly or indirectly.

It gives us warmth, warming the atmosphere we enjoy today.

And of course it gives us light.

With these benefits there are always downsides.

Too much sun and just like anything else that is hot it will burn. Many people will have experienced this and degrees can vary from red areas through to blistering and deep skin burns needing skin grafts.

The more tragic result of long and frequent exposure to the sun is the abnormal changes made to the skin cells causing cancer. We have all been warned and given the appropriate advice but alas not always heeded.

We are continually being warned not to look at the sun with the naked eye.

Permanent damage to the retina would result rendering the person irreversibly blind.

Anyone having a telescope is aware never to point it at the sun let alone look through an eye piece. Not only would you be blind it would ruin your telescope.

So, it is imperative that we have the sun and I think we will all agree that it gives us a wonderful feeling of wellbeing.

And my personal last word is to treat the sun with respect.

Astronomy - The Night Sky

The Night Sky

The Night Sky


Astronomy Coordinate Systems

It is helpful (though incorrect) to imagine all the stars to be fixed onto the inside of a vast crystalline dome - the celestial sphere.

Absolute distances between stars are of less importance than their angular separation in the sky. Adopting the Babylonian system of angular measure, the distance from horizon to zenith (directly overhead) is 90°. From North to South along the horizon is 180°.

The constant proportions of the human body give fairly accurate references that you can use to estimate angular separations in the night sky:

Held at arms length

The Azimuthal angle is the number of degrees measured clockwise from True North to the star's position projected onto the horizon (ranging from 0 to 360°).

 The Altitude of the star is its elevation in degrees from the horizon (ranging from -90° to +90°).

This co-ordinate system can only be used if the precise time is also stated, since stars move about the observer.


The Magnitude System

The most obvious thing about stars is that they are all different brightness or apparent magnitudes. We must distinguish this from the absolute magnitude of the star (the brightness if it were exactly 32 light year away). It is tempting to believe that the fainter stars are the most distant and the brighter ones are close by. This is untrue, in fact Sir Arthur Eddington stated that most of the bright stars we can see are the "Whales among the fishes". There are many nearby stars that are too faint too pick out.

In 130 B.C. Hipparcos devised a scale of apparent magnitude where the brightest stars were of the 1st magnitude (1M) and the faintest visible with the naked eye were 6th magnitude. It so happens that a 1M star is 100 times as bright as a 5M star. Since this is a logarithmic scale, the difference between one magnitude and the next is nearly 2.5 times

The limit of naked eye visibility is 6.5M.

 10 x 50 binoculars can show stars down to 9M

 Larger telescopes can detect greater magnitudes.

 The scale is extended backwards for objects brighter than 1M. For instance

• Vega in Lyra is 0M

• Sirius is mag -1.4M

• Venus attains -4.4M

• A Full Moon is -12.7M

• The Sun is -26.7M

Larger telescopes can detect greater magnitudes.


Some of the brighter stars appear to form groups in the sky, these we call constellations. Most constellations were named a very long time ago by the Greeks or Arabs. People thought they could see the shapes of animals or their gods and named the constellations after them. In most cases it is very hard to imagine how they saw the shape that the star pattern is supposed to represent but we still use the same names today.

Astronomy - The Moons of Jupiter


The Moons of Jupiter

There are 67 known moons of Jupiter. This gives Jupiter the largest number of moons with reasonably stable orbits of any planet in the Solar System.

The most massive of the moons are the four Galilean moons, which were independently discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius and were the first objects found to orbit a body that was neither Earth nor the Sun.

Simon Marius January 20, 1573 – January 5, 1625 was a German astronomer. He was born near Nuremberg, but he spent most of his life in the city of Ansbach.

In 1614 Marius published his work describing the planet Jupiter and its moons. Here he claimed to have discovered the planet's four major moons some days before Galileo Galilei.

Regardless of priority, the mythological names by which these satellites are known today (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) are those given them by Marius.

Jupiter's regular satellites are believed to have formed from a circumplanetary disk, a ring of accreting gas and solid debris analogous to a protoplanetary disk.

They may be the remnants of a score of Galilean-mass satellites that formed early in Jupiter's history.

The Galilean moons are by far the largest and most massive objects to orbit Jupiter, with the remaining 63 moons and its rings together comprising just 0.003% of the total orbiting mass.


Ganymede is the largest moon of Jupiter and in the Solar System, and the only moon known to have a magnetic field. It is the seventh satellite outward from Jupiter and third of the Galilean moons. it orbits Jupiter in roughly seven days.

Ganymede has a diameter of 5,268 km (3,273 mi), 8 % larger than the planet Mercury, but its mass is only 45 % that of Mercury. Ganymede is 2 % larger than Saturn's Titan (second-largest moon of the Solar System). At 2.02 times the mass of the Moon, it is the most massive planetary satellite. It is the ninth-largest object in the Solar System, and the largest without a substantial atmosphere.

Ganymede is composed of approximately equal amounts of silicate rock and water ice. It has an iron-rich, liquid core, and an internal ocean that may contain more water than all of Earth's oceans combined Its surface is composed of two main types of terrain.

Dark regions, saturated with impact craters and dated to four billion years ago, cover about a third of the satellite. Lighter regions, crosscut by extensive grooves and ridges and only slightly less ancient, cover the remainder.

The cause of the light terrain's disrupted geology is not fully known, but was likely the result of tectonic activity due to tidal heating.

Beginning with Pioneer 10, spacecraft have been able to examine Ganymede closely. The Voyager probes refined measurements of its size, whereas the Galileo craft discovered its underground ocean and small magnetic field which is buried within Jupiter's much larger magnetic field and would show only as a local variations of the field lines.


The next planned mission to the Jovian system is the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), due to launch in 2022. After flybys of all three icy Galilean moons, the probe is planned to enter orbit around Ganymede.


Callisto  is the second-largest moon of Jupiter, after Ganymede. It is the third-largest moon in the Solar System.

Callisto has about 99% the diameter of the planet Mercury but only about a third of its mass. It is the fourth Galilean moon of Jupiter by distance, with an orbital radius of about 1883000 km. It is not in an orbital resonance like the three other Galilean satellites—Io, Europa, and Ganymede—and is thus not appreciably tidally heated.

Callisto's rotation is tidally locked to its orbit around Jupiter, so that the same hemisphere always faces inward; Jupiter appears to stand nearly still in Callisto's sky.

Callisto is composed of approximately equal amounts of rock and ices, with a density of about 1.83 g/cm3, the lowest density and surface gravity of Jupiter's major moons.

Compounds detected spectroscopically on the surface include water ice, carbon dioxide, silicates, and organic compounds.

Investigation by the Galileo spacecraft revealed that Callisto may have a small silicate core and possibly a subsurface ocean of liquid water at depths greater than 100 km.

The surface of Callisto is the oldest and most heavily cratered in the Solar System.

It does not show any signatures of subsurface processes such as plate tectonics or volcanism, with no signs that geological activity in general has ever occurred, and is thought to have evolved predominantly under the influence of impacts.

Prominent surface features include multi-ring structures, variously shaped impact craters, and chains of craters  and associated scarps, ridges and deposits.

Callisto is surrounded by an extremely thin atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide and probably molecular oxygen, as well as by a rather intense ionosphere.

Callisto is thought to have formed by slow accretion from the disk of the gas and dust that surrounded Jupiter after its formation.

Various space probes from Pioneers 10 and 11 to Galileo and Cassini have studied Callisto.

Because of its low radiation levels, Callisto has long been considered the most suitable place for a human base for future exploration of the Jovian system.


Io is the innermost of the four Galilean moons of the planet Jupiter.

It is the fourth-largest moon, has the highest density of all the moons, and has the least amount of relative water of any known object in the Solar System.

With over 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System.

This extreme geologic activity is the result of tidal heating from friction generated within Io's interior as it is pulled between Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites.

Several volcanoes produce plumes of sulphur and sulphur dioxide that climb as high as 500 km (300 mi) above the surface. Io's surface is also dotted with more than 100 mountains that have been uplifted by extensive compression at the base of Io's silicate crust. Some of these peaks are taller than Mount Everest.

Unlike most satellites in the outer Solar System, which are mostly composed of water ice, Io is primarily composed of silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron-sulphide core. Most of Io's surface is composed of extensive plains coated with sulphur and sulphur-dioxide frost.

Io's volcanism is responsible for many of its unique features. Its volcanic plumes and lava flows produce large surface changes and paint the surface in various subtle shades of yellow, red, white, black, and green.

Numerous extensive lava flows, several more than 500 km (300 mi) in length, also mark the surface.

In 1979, the two Voyager spacecraft revealed Io to be a geologically active world, with numerous volcanic features, large mountains, and a young surface with no obvious impact craters.

The Galileo spacecraft performed several close flybys in the 1990s and early 2000s, obtaining data about Io's interior structure and surface composition.

These spacecraft also revealed the relationship between Io and Jupiter's magnetosphere and the existence of a belt of high-energy radiation cantered on Io's orbit.

Further observations have been made by Cassini–Huygens in 2000 and New Horizons in 2007, as well as from Earth-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope.


Europa, is the smallest of the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter, and the sixth-closest to the planet. It is also the sixth-largest moon in the Solar System.

Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and was named after Europa, the legendary mother of King Minos of Crete, and lover of Zeus (the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter).

Slightly smaller than the Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and has a water-ice crust and probably an iron–nickel core.

It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is striated by cracks and streaks, whereas craters are relatively rare.

Europa has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extra-terrestrial life.

The predominant model suggests that heat from tidal flexing causes the ocean to remain liquid and drives ice movement similar to plate tectonics, absorbing chemicals from the surface into the ocean below.

Also, sea salt from a subsurface ocean may be coating some geological features on Europa, suggesting that the ocean is interacting with the seafloor.

This may be important in determining if Europa could be habitable.

Europa has been examined by a succession of space probe flybys, the first occurring in the early 1970s.

The Galileo mission, launched in 1989, provides the bulk of current data on Europa.

No spacecraft has yet landed on Europa, but its intriguing characteristics have led to several ambitious exploration proposals.

In addition, the Hubble Space Telescope detected water vapor plumes similar to those observed on Saturn's moon Enceladus, which are thought to be caused by erupting cry geysers.

The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer will conduct two flybys of Europa.

Astronomy - Cassini Begins Epic Final Year at Saturn

Cassini Begins Epic Final Year at Saturn

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004 for a close up study of the planet, its rings and moons. During its journey, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean within Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.



Between Nov. 30 2016 and April 22 2017, Cassini will circle high over and under the poles of Saturn, diving every seven days a total of 20 times through the unexplored region at the outer edge of the main rings.

"We're calling this phase of the mission Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we'll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "In addition, we have two instruments that can sample particles and gases as we cross the ring plane."

On many of these passes, Cassini's instruments will attempt to directly sample ring particles and molecules of faint gases that are found close to the rings. During the first two orbits, the spacecraft will pass directly through an extremely faint ring produced by tiny meteors striking the two small moons Janus and Epimetheus.

Ring crossings in March and April will send the spacecraft through the dusty outer reaches of the F ring.

Even though we're flying closer to the F ring than we ever have, we'll still be more than 4,850 miles (7,800 kilometres) distant

The F ring marks the outer boundary of the main ring system; Saturn has several other, much fainter rings that lie farther from the planet. The F ring is complex and constantly changing: Cassini images have shown structures like bright streamers, wispy filaments and dark channels that appear and develop over mere hours.

The ring is also quite narrow—only about 500 miles (800 kilometres) wide. At its core is a denser region about 30 miles (50 kilometres) wide.

Cassini is expected to determine the mass of Saturn's rings by tracking radio signals from the spacecraft as it flies close to the rings.

The rings, which are made of small, icy particles spread over a vast area, are extremely thin – generally no thicker than the height of a house. Thus, despite their giant proportions, the rings contain a surprisingly small amount of material.

During the Grand Finale, Cassini will make the closest-ever observations of Saturn, mapping the planet's magnetic and gravity fields with exquisite precision and returning ultra-close views of the atmosphere.

Scientists also hope to gain new insights into Saturn's interior structure, the precise length of a Saturn day, and the total mass of the rings which may finally help settle the question of their age.

The spacecraft will also directly analyse dust-sized particles in the main rings and sample the outer reaches of Saturn's atmosphere both first-time measurements for the mission.



Cassini Orbits of Saturn


The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

The Cassini orbiter and its two on board cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations centre is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Astronomy - Stephen Hawking

Old News

Cassini Completes Final Close Enceladus Flyby

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from the mission's final close flyby of Saturn's active moon Enceladus. Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometres) on Saturday, Dec. 19.
Although the spacecraft will continue to observe Enceladus during the remainder of its mission (through September 2017), it will be from much greater distances — at closest, more than four times farther away.

Christmas Eve Asteroid

Asteroid 2003 SD220 will safely fly past Earth on Dec. 24 at a distance of 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometres). Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have generated the highest-resolution images to date of this asteroid using the Deep Space Network's 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at Goldstone, California. The radar images were acquired between Dec. 17 and Dec. 22, when the distance to this near-Earth object (NEO) was narrowing from 7.3 million miles (12 million kilometres) to almost the flyby distance.
Asteroid 2003 SD220 is highly elongated and at least 3,600 feet [1,100 meters] in length.
Three years from now, the asteroid will safely fly past Earth again, but even closer, at a distance of 1.8 million miles (2.8 million kilometres). The 2018 flyby will be the closest the asteroid will get to Earth until 2070, when it is expected to safely fly past our planet at a distance of about 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometres).

The first Full Moon on Christmas Day since 1977

This is the first Full Moon to occur on Christmas Day since 1977; another one won’t arrive until 2034.

Geminids set to light up winter sky in year's best meteor shower

From 13 to 15 December, weather permitting, sky watchers across the world will be looking up as the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak, in potentially one of the best night sky events of the year.

New News

Venus and Saturn Conjunction

A very close conjunction between them occurring on Saturday, 9 January.
If the weather permits you to view Moon, Venus and Saturn in the same binocular field of view or just with the naked eye 7th Jan in the southeast.

Comet Catalina

Should be visible with binoculars if you have a dark sky, but a telescope would be ideal. Between the 14th and 17th the comet will pass by two stunning galaxies: M51, the whirlpool galaxy and M101, a fainter spiral galaxy.

The Constellation Orion

Winter is also the best time to view the constellation Orion in the south-eastern sky. Even in the city, you’ll see that its stars have different colours. Not telescope needed, just look up a few hours after sunset! The colourful stars of Orion are part of the winter circle of stars.

January 18th: Two Great Lunar Craters

This is a great night to observe two of the greatest craters on the Moon, Tycho and Copernicus.  Tycho is towards the bottom of Moon in a densely cratered area called the Southern Lunar Highlands. It is a relatively young crater which is about 108 million years old.  Copernicus is about 800 million years old and lies in the eastern Oceanus Procellarum beyond the end of the Apennine Mountains.   It is 93 km wide and nearly 4 km deep and is a classic "terraced" crater.   Both can be seen with binoculars.

Tim Peake Launch to International Space Station

Tim Peake successful launch to the International Space Station on the 15th Dec. They had a Problem with automatic docking guidance system and had to use manual docking, which delayed transfer from the Soyuz to the space station.

The Origin of the Universe
Stephen Hawkins

According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, in the beginning, there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals. The leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally, man.

Aristotle, the most famous of the Greek philosophers, believed the universe had existed forever. Something eternal is more perfect than something created. He suggested the reason we see progress was that floods, or other natural disasters, had repeatedly set civilization back to the beginning.
If one believed that the universe had a beginning, the obvious question was what happened before the beginning?

The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, felt there were logical contradictions, or antimonies, either way. If the universe had a beginning, why did it wait an infinite time before it began? He called that the thesis. On the other hand, if the universe had existed for ever, why did it take an infinite time to reach the present stage?

In 1915, Einstein introduced his revolutionary General Theory of Relativity. In this, space and time were no longer Absolute, no longer a fixed background to events. Instead, they were dynamical quantities that were shaped by the matter and energy in the universe. They were defined only within the universe, so it made no sense to talk of a time before the universe began.

Hubble found that stars are not uniformly distributed throughout space, but are gathered together in vast collections called galaxies. By measuring the light from galaxies, Hubble could determine their velocities. He was expecting that as many galaxies would be moving towards us as were moving away. This is what one would have in a universe that was unchanging with time. But to his surprise, Hubble found that nearly all the galaxies were moving away from us. Moreover, the further galaxies were from us, the faster they were moving away. The universe was not unchanging with time as everyone had thought previously. It was expanding. The distance between distant galaxies was increasing with time.

The expansion of the universe was one of the most important intellectual discoveries of the 20th century, or of any century. It transformed the debate about whether the universe had a beginning. If galaxies are moving apart now, they must have been closer together in the past. If their speed had been constant, they would all have been on top of one another about 15 billion years ago. Was this the beginning of the universe? Many scientists were still unhappy with the universe having a beginning because it seemed to imply that physics broke down.

The Steady State theory, proposed by Bondi, Gold, and Hoyle in 1948.
In the Steady State theory, as galaxies moved apart, the idea was that new galaxies would form from matter that was supposed to be continually being created throughout space. The universe would have existed for ever and would have looked the same at all times. This last property had the great virtue, from a positivist point of view, of being a definite prediction that could be tested by observation. But the observations showed more faint sources than predicted, indicating that the density sources were higher in the past. This was contrary to the basic assumption of the Steady State theory, that everything was constant in time. For this, and other reasons, the Steady State theory was abandoned.

If Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is correct, there will be a singularity, a point of infinite density and space time curvature, where time has a beginning. Observational evidence to confirm the idea that the universe had a very dense beginning came in October 1965, a few months after my first singularity result, with the discovery of a faint background of microwaves throughout space.
The only reasonable interpretation of the background is that it is radiation left over from an early very hot and dense state. As the universe expanded, the radiation would have cooled until it is just the faint remnant we observe today.
The other interpretation of our results, which is favoured by most scientists, is that it indicates that the General Theory of Relativity breaks down in the very strong gravitational fields in the early universe. It has to be replaced by a more complete theory. One would expect this anyway, because General Relativity does not take account of the small scale structure of matter, which is governed by quantum theory. This does not matter normally, because the scale of the universe is enormous compared to the microscopic scales of quantum theory. But when the universe is the Planck size, a billion trillion trillionth of a centimetre, the two scales are the same, and quantum theory has to be taken into account.

However, when one combines General Relativity with Quantum Theory, Jim Hartle and I realized that time can behave like another direction in space under extreme conditions. This means one can get rid of the problem of time having a beginning, in a similar way in which we got rid of the edge of the world. Suppose the beginning of the universe was like the South Pole of the earth, with degrees of latitude playing the role of time. The universe would start as a point at the South Pole. As one moves north, the circles of constant latitude, representing the size of the universe, would expand. To ask what happened before the beginning of the universe would become a meaningless question, because there is nothing south of the South Pole.
The beginning of the universe would be governed by the laws of science.

The picture Jim Hartle and I developed of the spontaneous quantum creation of the universe would be a bit like the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water.

These would correspond to mini universes that would expand but would collapse again while still of microscopic size. They are possible alternative universes but they are not of much interest since they do not last long enough to develop galaxies and stars, let alone intelligent life. A few of the little bubbles, however, grow to a certain size at which they are safe from re collapse. They will continue to expand at an ever increasing rate.

The universe expanded by a factor of million trillion trillion in a tiny fraction of a second. Unlike inflation in prices, inflation in the early universe was a very good thing. It produced a very large and uniform universe, just as we observe. However, it would not be completely uniform. In the sum over histories, histories that are very slightly irregular will have almost as high probabilities as the completely uniform and regular history. The theory therefore predicts that the early universe is likely to be slightly non-uniform. These irregularities would produce small variations in the intensity of the microwave background from different directions. The microwave background has been observed by the Map satellite, and was found to have exactly the kind of variations predicted. So we know we are on the right lines.

The General Theory of Relativity and the discovery of the expansion of the universe shattered the old picture of an ever existing and ever lasting universe. Instead, general relativity predicted that the universe, and time itself, would begin in the big bang. It also predicted that time would come to an end in black holes. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background and observations of black holes support these conclusions. This is a profound change in our picture of the universe and of reality itself. Although the General Theory of Relativity predicted that the universe must have come from a period of high curvature in the past, it could not predict how the universe would emerge from the big bang. Thus general relativity on its own cannot answer the central question in cosmology: Why is the universe the way it is? However, if general relativity is combined with quantum theory, it may be possible to predict how the universe would start. It would initially expand at an ever increasing rate.

During this so called inflationary period, the marriage of the two theories predicted that small fluctuations would develop and lead to the formation of galaxies, stars, and all the other structure in the universe. This is confirmed by observations of small non uniformities in the cosmic microwave background, with exactly the predicted properties. So it seems we are on our way to understanding the origin of the universe, though much more work will be needed.

Despite having had some great successes, not everything is solved. We do not yet have a good theoretical understanding of the observations that the expansion of the universe is accelerating again, after a long period of slowing down. Without such an understanding, we cannot be sure of the future of the universe. Will it continue to expand forever? Is inflation a law of Nature? Or will the universe eventually collapse again? New observational results and theoretical advances are coming in rapidly. Cosmology is a very exciting and active subject. We are getting close to answering the age old questions. Why are we here? Where did we come from?   

A lively discussion took place on Steven Hawkins theory and alternative views.

Members of the group brought along items of interest which was shared with those present. 


Astronomy - Space Travel

The first animals sent into space were fruit flies aboard a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on 20 February 1947 from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Albert II, a rhesus monkey, became the first monkey in space on 14 June 1949, in a U.S.-launched V-2,


On 22 July 1951, the Soviet Union launched the R-1 IIIA-1 flight, carrying the dogs Tsygan  and Dezik  into space, but not into orbit.

The launch of the first human-made object to orbit Earth, the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957 The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit. It was a 58 cm (23 in) diameter polished metal sphere, with four external radio antennae to broadcast radio pulses. It was visible all around the Earth and its radio pulses were detectable.

On 3 November 1957, the second-ever orbiting spacecraft carried the first animal into orbit, the dog Laika, launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft (nicknamed 'Muttnik' in the West).

The first human spaceflight was launched by the Soviet Union on 12 April 1961 as a part of the Vostok program, with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard.

On a flight lasting 108 minutes he became the first human being to leave the confines of the Earth's atmosphere.

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 spacecraft and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched by a Redstone rocket.

Following this success, President John F. Kennedy announced on May 25, 1961, the dramatic and ambitious goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

This was the beginning of the Apollo program.

The Soviet manned space programme continued and on August 6, 1961, German Titov completed over 17 orbits in Vostok 2, before returning to Earth safely at the beginning of the 18th orbit.

The first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn who made a total of 3 orbits in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. Interestingly, he became the oldest person to fly in space, when at age 77, he flew on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95) on October 29, 1998.

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. She completed 48 orbits of the Earth in her three days in space.

Another milestone in space exploration was established when Alexei Leonov became the first person to leave the spacecraft in a specialized spacesuit to conduct a 12 minute "spacewalk".

In December 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the Moon and became the first humans to see its far side and Earthrise with their own eyes.

Apollo 11 finally achieved the program goal. Six hours after landing at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took the “small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” off the Lunar Module, named Eagle, onto the surface of the Moon.

NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 (exactly 20 years to the day after Gagarin’s flight!) and continued to set high marks of achievement and endurance.

Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station.

The first space station was Salyut 1, launched by the Soviet Union April 19, 1971. Like all the early space stations, it was "monolithic", intended to be constructed and launched in one piece, and then manned by a crew later.

Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 were built with two docking ports, which allowed a crew to man the station continually through crew exchange during visits of Soyuz spacecraft.

Skylab was the United States' first space station. It was visited by crews three times between 1973 and 1974.

Unlike previous stations, the Soviet space station Mir had a modular design. A core unit was launched, and additional modules, generally with a specific role, were added later.

The core module of the International Space Station was launched in 1998 and additional modules were brought to the station by the Space Shuttle.

On November 2 2000, the first crew, Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, arrived on board and the station has been manned continuously ever since.

The cost and risk of manned space flight has been high. The first confirmed in-flight fatality in the history of spaceflight occurred on April 24, 1967. Colonel Vladimir Komarov was killed when his Soyuz 1 spacecraft crashed during its return to Earth following parachute failure.

The crew of Soyuz 11, Georgiy Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov were killed on June 30, 1971, by exposure to the vacuum of space after undocking from the Salyut 1 space station. These are the only recorded fatalities in space.

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the vehicle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members The Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew, were lost on February 1, 2003, during re-entry at the end of a two-week mission,

Several astronauts and cosmonauts have also been lost in training accidents. The most serious single incident occurred on January 27, 1967, during a pre-launch test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral. A fatal fire claimed the lives of all three crewmembers, and the Command Module cabin was destroyed.

Into the future more commercial involvement in space travel is supplementing government expenditure.




Astronomy - New Planet


New Planet Discovered In Our Solar System

The California Institute of Technology researchers say they have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object is said to have a mass about 10 times that of Earth it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. This is based on a prediction following observations of objects moving in the Kuiper belt.


NASA Juno spacecraft broke the record for the most distant solar-powered craft

The milestone occurred at 11 a.m.. on Wednesday, Jan. 13, when Juno was about 493 million miles from the sun.


Five planets appear for rare cosmic viewings

Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter will be visible in the early morning sky from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20, looking South.


Signs of second largest black hole in the Milky Way

Astronomers using a 45-meter radio telescope have detected signs of an invisible black hole with a mass of 100,000 times the mass of the Sun around the centre of the Milky Way.


Stephen Hawking - Reith Lectures

Do Black Holes have hair Radio 4 on 24th Nov basic facts about Black Holes

Black Holes ain’t as black as they are painted Radio 4 on 1st Dec expands on nature of Black Holes

Both available as podcasts BBC i-player with video clips and download transcripts.


New evidence that moon formed by head on collision with the Earth 100 million years after Earth formed. German scientist analyzed moon rock samples chemical signature in oxygen atoms same as Earth.

Hubble space telescope finds high velocity gas cloud called Smith Cloud circling the Galaxy.

Antarctic fungi survives 18 months on International Space Station in conditions similar to Mars

Data from New Horizon spacecraft points to more water ice on Pluto’s surface than previous thought.

30th anniversary of Challenger Space Shuttle disaster on 28th January 1986.

Unusual silica formations observe red by Spirit rover on Mars, tiny nodules witch look like heads of cauliflower may have been formed by microbes.   

Rogue planet moving through space now found to be orbiting 600 billion miles parent star.

Plants being grown on the International Space Station producing seed to be grown on earth involving school children in the experiment.

Astronomy - Review of the Year 2015


Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope 70 year Anniversary December 14th
Founded by Sir Bernard Lovell December 14th 1945 70 years ago using ex army radar equipment he was given two weeks permission to use the site at Jodrell Bank. After getting government funding the largest radio telescope dish in the world was completed in 1957, now Grade-1 listed the Lovell Telescope played a leading role in the development of the new science of Radio Astronomy receiving Heritage Lottery Funding.
Used to track the first Russian rocket to the moon following requests from USA and Russia as neither had equipment to track the rocket to prove that it had landed.


Early Days at Jodrell Bank




Former Apache helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake first British Astronaut to join the crew of the International Space Station for a six months period on the 15th December making him the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years. Tim is one of six astronauts who have been selected from among 8,000 hopefuls After more than three years of training with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Astronaut Program. He will carry out a comprehensive science program and take part in a European education outreach programme in the build up to and during his mission.
For the first time in 30 years, the UK Government is now showing its support for manned space flight by funding International Space Station operations.
The turnaround came at a European Space Agency ministerial council meeting in 2012, where the UK Space Agency agreed to make a contribution of £16 million.


A paper entitled National Strategy: Space Environments and Human Spaceflight, published by the UK Space Agency in July this year, formally confirmed the new policy.


Major Tim Peake



Neil reviewed some recent newspaper articles covering changes to the Earth's magnetic field and the possible effects.


Review of 2014-2015


Topics covered


Origins of the Universe,
Earth/Sun Atmosphere and Magnetic Fields,
The Solar System,
Planets, Exoplanets,
Space Missions,
Dark matter, Dark Energy,
Black Holes, Nebulae, Gases.




Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope 28th March 2014,  2nd September 2015
Discovery Centre


National Space Leicester Centre 6th May 2015

Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium largest in the UK.
The iconic 42 metre high semi-transparent  Rocket Tower, which is clad in high-tech ETFE “pillows is home to Blue Streak which was used as the  first stage of Europe’s first satellite launcher program, Europa. It was launched for the first time in Australia in 1964, and Thor Able rockets.


Space Guard Centre Knighton, 2nd October 2013, 3rd September 2014
The National Near Earth Objects Information Centre


Drax Project
The aim of the DRAX project is to install and operate a 24 inch Schmidt Camera (from Cambridge) at the Spaceguard Centre to conduct a wide field sky survey to detect Near Earth Objects. This instrument was built in 1950 by Grubb-Parsons of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.


The group had a lively discussion around some of the above areas.