“A History of the Moon” – conference review

The Moon has truly touched every human life on earth and continues to exert a strong influence today: whether gravitationally, emotionally, scientifically or aspirationally. It is that rare thing: a heavenly body that we can aspire to touch and an astronomical phenomenon that appears to change in real-time, whilst remaining perpetually inviolate. On 19th November 2016, I attended a one-day conference on “A History of the Moon” at St Cross College, Oxford. It was extremely well attended – a full house – with an extremely varied audience doubtless drawn to the many different aspects of the programme. We were treated…

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What’s wrong with Pluto?

With NASA’s New Horizons probe 1 approaching Pluto on a fly-by with closest approach on track for July 14th, I thought it a good time to discuss Pluto’s role in the dwarf planet controversy. Those of us of a certain age were brought up on a simple view of the Solar System: the Sun, the nine planets (Mercury through Pluto), a collection of moons around most of the planets, the asteroid belt (I thought of this as interplanetary gravel between Mars and Jupiter) and a bunch of comets intermittently being drawn in from the not terribly specific depths of space.…

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2015 Comets to Look Out For

18 April 2015 After the success of C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), the Christmas comet of 20141, which rapidly and unexpectedly brightened to become visible to the naked eye, we’re obviously keen to see more in 2015. Probably the most famous current comet media celebrity is 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the home to the Rosetta orbiter and the Philae lander. It will reach its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015 but, even then, will not be particularly bright. I expect it reach about magnitude 9 at best and so won’t be visible in anything other than a reasonable telescope. Comet C/2014 Q1 (PanSTARRS)…

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Lunar Eclipse – 28 September 2015

5 April 2015 Following on from the impressive solar eclipse in March this year, we have a total lunar eclipse coming up in the early morning of 28 September. Lunar eclipses are more common than their solar cousins but can, nevertheless, be most impressive. Their mechanism is straightforward: as the Earth orbits the Sun, it casts a sweeping shadow away from the Sun as it moves. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon (as part of its own orbit around the Earth) falls into that shadow. By definition, a visible solar eclipse must occur during daylight; similarly, a visible lunar…

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