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.
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.
27 years ago, in April 1990 the Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off carrying what was to become one of the most successful scientific missions of all time, The Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble and the images it produces, have more than any other mission since the heady days of the Apollo space programme, brought the magic of space to the public. Hubble has probed the depths of space and brought it’s wonders to our magazines, televisions and computer screens where humanity has looked on in awe.
For the last number of months, Venus had dominated the western sky after sunset. Now it is moving into the twilight on it’s journey around the Sun. In the evening sky, the planet Jupiter will dominate proceedings over the coming months. Jupiter, a gas giant consisting primarily of hydrogen and helium gases is the largest planet in our solar system with a diameter of almost 140,000 km. These nights, Jupiter rises in the east shortly after eight o’clock and there is no mistaking it, as only the moon or Venus shines brighter in the night sky. It glows with a silvery brilliance that is unmistakable.