24th December 2018

Isaac Newton was born in 1643 in Woolsthorpe, England. His father was a wealthy, uneducated farmer who died three months before Newton was born. Newton’s mother remarried and he was left in the care of his grandmother.

Newton became interested in mathematics after buying a book at a fair and not understanding the math concepts it contained. Newton graduated with a bachelors degree in 1665. The further pursuit of an education was interrupted by the plague. Trinity College was closed due to the highly contagious, deadly disease. Newton went home. It was during this time that Newton started to pursue his own ideas on math, physics, optics and astronomy. By 1666 he had completed his early work on his three laws of motion. The university reopened and Newton took a fellowship in order to obtain his masters degree.

As the years progressed, Newton completed his work on universal gravitation, diffraction of light, centrifugal force, centripetal force, inverse-square law, bodies in motion and the variations in tides due to gravity. His impressive body of work made him a leader in scientific research. However, in 1679 his work came to standstill after he suffered a nervous breakdown. Upon regaining his health Newton returned to the university. He became a leader against what he saw as an attack on the university by King James II. The king wanted only Roman Catholics to be in positions of power in government and academia. Newton spoke out against the king. When William of Orange drove James out of England, Newton was elected to Parliament. While in London he became more enchanted with the life of politics than the life of research. After suffering a second breakdown in 1693 Newton retired from research. He became Warden of the Royal Mint in 1696. He became Master of the Royal Mint in 1699. Newton was very instrumental in developing techniques to prevent counterfeiting of the English money.

Throughout Newton’s career he was torn between his desire for fame and his fear of criticism. His overwhelming fear of criticism caused him to resist immediate publication of his work. As a consequence Newton often felt compelled to defend his work against plagiarism. One such dispute arose over calculus. Though Newton had been the first to derive calculus as a mathematical approach, Gottfried Leibniz was the first one to widely disseminate the concept throughout Europe. The dispute with Leibniz dominated the last years of his life. Newton died in 1727.

Source: https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/whos_who_level2/newton.html

But was he really born on Christmas Day?

Newton was born in England on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian calendar, the calendar in use in England at the time. But by the 1640’s, much of the rest of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar, (the one in general use today); according to this calendar, Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643. So we have this ambiguity where Isaac Newton could have correctly stated during his entire life that he was born on Christmas day, but according to our modern calendar this is not the case.

Nevertheless I couldn’t resist the idea of having someone of such great importance to astronomy linked with Christmas day, so I’m saying that Isaac Newton was (sort of!) born on Christmas day.




Space News – December 17th 2018

Josep Comas i Sola (17  December 1868 – 2 December 1937) was a Spanish astronomer and discoverer of minor planets, comets, and double stars. He was born of Catalan origin in Barcelona.

He wrote his first astronomy notes at 10, and was only fifteen when he published an article in a French specialist magazine.

He observed planets including Mars  and Saturn, measuring the rotation period of the latter. He wrote some books popularizing astronomy, and was first president of the Sociedad Astrónomica de España y América. He discovered the periodic comet 32P/Comas Solà, and co-discovered the non-periodic comet C/1925 F1 (Shajn-Comas Solà); he is also credited by the Minor Planet Center with the discovery of 11 asteroids during 1915–1930. Comas i Solà is also credited with the discovery of the double star SOL 1.

In 1905, Solà received the Prix Jules Janssen, the highest award of the Société astronomique de France, the French astronomical society. In 1907 he claimed to observe limb darkening of Saturn’s moon Titan, the first evidence that the body had an atmosphere. He was the head of Fabra Observatory since it was established in 1904.

The asteroids 1102 Pepita (from his nickname Pepito) and 1655 Comas Solà are named after him.


Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josep_Comas_i_Sol%C3%A0#cite_note-6


Space News – December 10th 2018

On Thursday, 13th December, Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 1.05 AU.

From Cork, it will be visible in the evening sky, becoming accessible at around 17:51 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 19° above the eastern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 22:22, 46° above the southern horizon. It will continue to be observable until around 03:12, when it sinks to 18° above the western horizon.

Source: https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20181213_18_100


Space News – December 3rd 2018

On December 7th, Mars and Neptune will share the same right ascension, with Mars passing 0°02′ to the north of Neptune.

At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse.

From Cork, the pair will be visible in the evening sky, becoming accessible at around 17:04 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 27° above your south-eastern horizon. They will then reach its highest point in the sky at 18:28, 30° above your southern horizon. They will continue to be observable until around 22:40, when they sink to 10° above your south-western horizon.

Mars will be at mag 0.1, and Neptune at mag 7.9, both in the constellation Aquarius.

The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.


Source: In-The-Sky.org


Space News – 26th November 2018

Insight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the first outer space robotic explorer to study the crust, mantle and core of Mars. Studying Mars’ interior structure answers important questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system as well as rocky exoplanets. Insight will also measure tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today. This mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.

The rocket that launched Insight also launched a seperate NASA technology experiemt: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These briefcase-sized Cubesats fly on their own path to Mars behind Insight.

Insight seeks to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission will also determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

Source: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/mission/overview/

UPDATE: Insight has successfully landed on the Martian surface.


Space News – 19th November 2018

Hendrik Christoffel van de Hulst was born on November 19th 1918 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He predicted theoretically the 21-cm (8.2inch) radio waves produced by interstellar hydrogen atoms. His calculations later were of great help in mapping the Milky Way  Galaxy, and were the basis for radio astronomy during its early development.

In addition to his work in radio astronomy, he made important contributions to the understanding of light scattering by small particles, the solar corona, and interstellar clouds. From the 1960’s Van de Hulst became a leader in international and European space research and development efforts.

Van de Hulst died on July 31st 2000 aged 81.




Space News – 12th November 2018

In the evening sky on Thursday, November 15, the waxing, slightly gibbous moon will be situated 3 degrees (or 3 finger widths) to the lower right of reddish planet Mars. The orbital path of the moon will carry it closer to Mars through the evening. The duo will set in the west at about midnight local time. Observers in most of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and southern South America will see the moon occult Mars at about 06:00 UT.

Source: https://www.space.com/16149-night-sky.html


Space News – 5th November 2018

Zond 6 was launched on November 10th 1968, and flew around the Moon on November 14th. It managed to take photos of both the near side and far side of the moon, but only one negative was recovered from the camera container.

Zond 6 used a reletively uncommon technique called “skip reentry”, to shed velocity upon returning to Earth. A few hours before reentry, on 17 November 1968, a faulty O-ring rubber gasket caused the cabin to depressurise, killing all the animal test subjects aboard. Also Zond 6’s parachutes deployed too early and it crashed in Kazakhstan, not far from the designated landing area.

For propaganda reasons the Soviet Union claimed the flight was a complete success.

Zond 6 was a precursor to a manned circumlunar flight which the Soviets hoped could occur in December 1968, meaning the USSR would be the first nation to have a manned circumlunar flight. However the delays caused by the failure of Zond 6 meant it was the United States with Apollo 8 which was the first nation to achieve this.

Source: Wikipedia:




Space News – 29th October 2018

Appropriately enough this year’s Dark Matter Day will take place on Halloween. Across Britain, the US and Europe, talks, demonstrations and parties highlighting the search for dark matter will be held on 31st October. “I don’t think you could pick a better date to celebrate a hunt for something that is as ephemeral and mysterious as dark matter,” said physicist Chamkaur Ghag, of University College London. “We can see its effects, but cannot detect it directly. It is the ultimate in ghostly phenomena.”

The existence of dark matter has both been controversial and frustrating to modern physicists. Dark Matter cannot be observed, but is inferred because of galaxies that rotate too quickly to hold themselves together. Approximately 85% of the universe’s total mass is believed to be made up of dark matter.

“Ever since Coperincus, we have known we are not located anywhere special in the universe,” said astronomer royal Martin Rees. “But now it transpires we are not even made of the dominant stuff in the cosmos. Most of it is made up of material from the dark side, the side we cannot yet see.”

Without dark matter there would be nothing to hold galaxies together, and hence no stars, no planets and no life, which is what has led scientists to promote the idea of Dark Matter Day.

Source: The Guardian: