September 15 2010 Astronomy Newsletter
Here are the latest articles from the Astronomy site at BellaOnline.com.
(1) Absolute Beginners - Moonwatching
We take the Moon for granted, because it's so close to us and easy to see. But it's a beautiful and interesting object as it goes through its monthly changes. If you use a pair of binoculars, you can learn to recognize many of its main features. Some of them are visible without binoculars too.
(2) Astronomy Joins BellaOnline Games
Need a break from what you're doing? Want to test your astronomy vocabulary and knowledge? Find out about astronomy games and quizzes on bellaonline.
(1) 221 years ago Friday (September 17, 1789) William Herschel discovered Mimas, satellite of Saturn. It wasn't called Mimas at the time. About half a century later William's son John – also a great astronomer – named all of the known moons of Saturn. Since Saturn was the leader of the Titans, he named the moons for the Titans who were the elder gods. They fought against the rise of the Olympian gods, but were defeated.
Today we associate Titans with giants, though this wasn't the case in classical mythology – the giants were something else. But if Titans were giants, Mimas would be badly named. It is round, but it has the distinction of being the smallest known round object in the Solar System. If an object is *too* small, it won't be round, because there isn't enough gravitational force to settle it into a spherical shape. The asteroids, for example, are all sorts of odd shapes.
(2) Count back 33 years from Saturday to September 18, 1977 and it's the day Voyager 1 took a lovely family snapshot of the Earth and the Moon together. Both are in the crescent phase. The Moon is farther away than the Earth and not as bright, so it had to be brightened in the picture so that it would show up. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpegMod/PIA00013_modest.jpg
(3) On September 18, 2006 Anousheh Ansari became the first woman to fund her own trip to the International Space Station. While in space, she carried out some experiments on behalf of the European Space Agency. Ms Ansari was born in Iran, but has lived in the USA since she was a teenager. I was delighted to discover that she was taking astronomy courses with Swinburne Astronomy Online, since I also studied with them. I will admit that we weren't classmates.
On Thursday last week I attended the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010 awards at the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The weather was unexpectly dry and warm and there were many familiar faces of British astronomy in attendance. The photographs are breathtaking.
The BBC site has a slideshow of the winners with some commentary by Dr Marek Kukula the Royal Observatory's Public Astronomer. I liked the larger version of the pictures that it includes – and of course you can pause the slideshow for a longer look.
However if you want to see all of the finalists and get more information, you can go straight to the site of the National Maritime Museum at http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/winners/.
I don't have much to say about observing this week, except to remind you about the Moonwatch on Saturday and that Jupiter is still the jewel in the sky. Next week there will be an Absolute Beginners article about observing the outer planets – including Jupiter, of course.
Please visit astronomy.bellaonline.com for even more great content about Astronomy.
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Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor
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