A group of three South African Universities (UCT, UKZN and UWC) have won a significant Royal Society (UK) - National Research Foundation Joint Collaborative Programme grant with the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) at the University of Portsmouth, for a proposal entitled Dark Energy : Research and Training Synergies between South Africa and the UK.
During a recent international conference on extrasolar planets in Suzhou (near Shanghai), China, the UK's leading team of planet-hunting astronomers, the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP), announced the discovery of three new planets.
Every 6.88 years a nondescript little comet rounds the Sun at just over 2 AU, never getting closer than 1.06 AU to Earth. With an orbit that lies entirely between Mars en Jupiter and an estimated nucleus diameter of 3.4 km, 17P/Holmes barely gets bright enough to register on long exposure photographic or CCD images.
The public reaction to the bright comet C/2006 P1 McNaught was adequately covered in MNASSA (Koorts 2007). Therefore rather than go over similar material again, this article addresses questions that were asked of me concerning the brightness of this comet.
A common assumption today is that there is really nothing more to say about the age of the universe or the cosmic distance scale. After all, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has spoken and everything is now known to incredible accuracy.
In the 1830s, the double star α Centauri was the subject of the first successful stellar parallax measurement. For almost eighty years it remained the nearest star known. However, in 1915 at the Union Observatory in Johannesburg, R.T.A. Innes found a faint object near α Cen with a similar proper motion. Its parallax was measured over the following two years by J.G.E.G. Voûte at the Cape and by Innes himself. The latter, on the basis of inadequate data, declared it to be closer than α and named it 'Proxima Centaurus'. The first statistically significant data that implied it truly is the nearest star were published in 1928 by H.L. Alden, based on observations at the Yale Southern Station in Johannesburg. Discordant results continued however to appear until 1966. The measurements made by the Hipparcos astrometric satellite appear to have established its proximity beyond question.
Octans is not exactly a constellation that would attract much attention and in addition, it doesn't really contain any bright stars. But don't underestimate our Polar constellation. It contains at least seven galaxies, about two open star clusters and nearly 32 double stars.