Since time immemorial people have looked up at the night sky and tried to make sense of, and understand it. Pinpricks of light twinkling and glittering. Bright stars that seem to form patterns with neighbouring stars. Harvests were made, seeds planted and fields ploughed on the rising and setting of particular patterns. These patterns are what we call constellations. In simpler times, people spent more of their lives outside, were closer to nature, and so it is easy to understand how these stellar patterns held a special significance for cultures all over the world.
When I was in secondary school, the first few pages of my geography book proclaimed our place in the universe. Earth was the third planet from the sun. One of nine planets in orbit around it. That was it, nine planets. Sure, there was a lot of talk about planets around other stars and Star Trek’s starship Enterprise would pay a visit to some of them every week. But in the real world we knew of nine.
Cassini mission winds down
Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission to Saturn sent it’s final images back to earth last week before plunging into the planet in a planned manoeuvre. It spent 13 years in orbit around the ringed planet, carried out some spectacular science and beamed some great images back to earth.
Observing the partial solar eclipse
On Monday the 21st August, the Moon will line up between the Earth and the Sun creating a solar eclipse. Unlike other total solar eclipses in recent years which have been hard to get to, totality for this eclipse is visible from mainland USA and so will generate significant media coverage.
Catch a falling star
Every day the earth is bombarded from space with millions of pieces of sand, dust and specks of rocks. When these pieces of debris hit our atmosphere at speeds in excess of 50 km/second they burn up and can be seen as spectacular streaks across the night sky. These are shooting stars and are visible every night if the sky is clear. However, there are certain times of the year when the Earth passes through a cloud of dust and debris and creates many more shooting stars.