938,900,000 km at 30km/s. It’s quite a ride when you think about it. Throw in 366 rotations at an equatorial speed of 1,674.4 km/h and the whole thing sounds pretty hair raising.
2012. It’s almost over and another arbitrarily set New Year is upon us. So here goes the Astronomer’s Den 10 big moments of the astronomy year…some shared, some personal.
Three heavenly moments.
Spring time conjunction…
In the UK the weather this year has been appalling and we seem to be odds on for our wettest year on record, but it didn’t begin like this and the first three months of the year were some of the driest we have ever had and with that came clear crisp air and views night after night of a spectacular conjunction between the skies two brightest planets- Jupiter and Venus. We watched them move together in the purple evening sky and just when we though it couldn’t get any more beautiful they were joined by the moon. Truly breath taking sight and one that got many looking up.
The weather played havoc with my next big moment but it was an example of perseverance and optimism triumphing in the face of adversity. The view of the last Transit of Venus for 117 years was always going to be limited from London on a clear, perfect day but we were very far from that. A hardy band from the Baker Street Irregulars and others had gathered in my classroom to watch the live NASA feed from Hawaii and await our time at dawn. The clouds covered us all night, we placed our telescopes out more in hope than expectation, but….well read here to find out what happened….
Galaxy watching in Devon…
This one is very much a personal moment and was one of those nights of astronomy that you are lucky to have from time to time. Perfect skies, no moon, one of the darkest skies in the UK and stunning views of galaxies far, far away…oh and there was some noctilucent cloud on view just to cap it all!
Three moments in space.
Place one in this section has to go to the Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity landing in the Summer. Hands up who didn’t think it would work? I was privileged enough to witness the landing at the Natural History Museum in London along with a group of hardy and early rising astronomers and planetary scientists and I don’t think i have ever heard such a big sigh of relief
50 years of UK space…
An amazing anniversary was marked this year. We were third in space and while at time the presence has been small the UK has always been there and it was a history to be proud of and read about. But the best for UK space was yet to come…
“oh and 20 million for Orion…”
While other nations in Europe were looking to scale back and trim budgets the UK did quite the reverse and increased our space budget. Not only that the UK put funds into manned space programs reversing a decades old policy set against the idea. The biggest surprise though was £20 million for the Orion space craft. The UK government finally seems serious about space.
Three stars that faded.
Father of Radio Astronomy…
He was a giant in not just the UK but also the world astronomy community. The debt science and mankind owes Sir Bernard Lovell is immense and or course Jodrell Bank is a modern masterpiece and as much a part of our cultural landscape as Stonehenge or Big Ben.
Man on the Moon…
Neil Armstrong. What else can I add? One of the 20th Centuries greatest icons and one of the best of us.
We knew it was coming and if you had seen The Sky at Night recently it was obvious Patrick Moore was not well, but the news hit the UK astronomy community hard. The greatest astronomy educator, inspiration to several generations of amateurs and professionals and a wonderful story teller – and it was an incredible story he was telling us – was dead.
In at number 1…
While I have grouped the previous nine by type and not in any particular order my last big moment is also my biggest. It to some degree is a personal one but it was something that was shared first with everyone who came and then with the wider audience of the BBC Sky at Night. The first AstroCamp was a triumph even if I may be a little bias (!) and I am not sure Ralph, Tom and myself have yet to fully come down from the happy cloud we have been on since. It was a fantastic weekend and it was made by all the amazing people who came along and shared astronomy.
All that remains is to say is Happy New Year everyone, thanks for reading and may I wish you all clear skies, good seeing, clean optics and a universe full of wonder to explore!