This is a reminder that your ASSA membership is due for renewal by 1 July 2009. The subscription renewal forms will be included in the next issue (June 2009) of MNASSA - the amount is unchanged at R100 per year. Members who joined halfway through the financial year must also renew then.
The CSIR Archive in Pretoria at present contain the Archives of the former Union (later Republic) Observatory, which was located in Observatory, Johannesburg. This institution formed part of the CSIR and was merged with SAAO when the latter was created in 1972.
The unusually shaped comet Lulin reached perihelion (0.41 AU) on 24 February 2009 when it reached almost naked eye brightness, an easy binocular target under moderately dark skies. It was well placed for viewing, passing close by Saturn when it was near opposition. In long exposure pictures Lulin appeared noticeably green in colour, caused by cyanogen (CN: a poisonous gas found in many comets) and diatomic carbon (C2) in its Jupiter-sized atmosphere.
All eyes were on the Obama administration to see what his first proposed budget for NASA would look like. Taking into account the current economic climate, most people were not disappointed with the $2.4 billion increase over 2008 funding levels which effectively continues to support the Bush administration's directive to finish the Space Station and retire the Shuttle in 2010 and to return astronauts to the Moon around the end of the next decade.
On 15 January 2009, President Kgalema Motlanthe signed a Bill into law that paves the way towards the creation of South Africa's own Space Agency later this year. The National Space Agency Act will pull together all space-related activities under one banner and will provide for the establishment of a National Space Agency to implement a space programme in South Africa. It will also implement the National Space Strategy which was approved by Cabinet in December last year, to stimulate the capability to place South Africa among the leading nations in the innovative use of space science and technology.
At the time when virtually every soccer fan on Earth's attention will be focused on South Africa, a Japanese spacecraft with a very precious load is scheduled to make a parachute landing in Australia. On board this JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) probe, Hayabusa, is potentially the first ever rock sample from an asteroid.
Kepler, in search of Earth sized exoplanets, and Herschel, covering a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimetre, are expected to soon be vastly expanding our knowledge of the Universe. The Kepler Mission was successfully launched on 7 March while the Herschel Space Observatory was due to be launched on 16 April 2009.
Despite the vastness of space and satellite operators constantly looking out for possible collisions, two large satellites collided on Tuesday, 10 February 2009. One was Cosmos 2251, a defunct communications satellite launched in 1993 by the Russian Ministry of Defence. The other, Iridium 33, which was still operational, is one of a constellation of 66 satellites forming part of a global satellite phone communications network. Needless to say, the Iridium satellite no longer works - the impact left it spinning out of control.
The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is well underway by now. Numerous projects and events, all under the theme "The Universe, yours to discover", have already been realised while others are still being implemented or are already running.
Anthony (Tony) Patrick Fairall was born 15 September 1943 in London, the United Kingdom. In the early years of his childhood, Tony and his family moved frequently; first to South Africa (Johannesburg) in 1948 and later to Zimbabwe (Harare) in 1953 (then Salisbury, Rhodesia). It was in Salisbury, at the Prince Edward school where Tony became interested in Astronomy, and was later inspired to pursue a career in Astronomy by the popular works of Sir Patrick Moore, with whom Tony maintained a life-long friendship.
This event was first reported to me on 18 February in a phone call by Mr. André Carstens from Wellington (South Africa). He told me about an observation that he and a group of friends (~ 6 people) made on Friday, 13 Feb 2009 at about 20h00 SAST.
In October 1957 the first artificial earth satellite was launched. Most of the world was prepared for this and expected it to be launched by the United States as much fanfare had been made about it. However the free world was shocked when the USSR was the first nation to accomplish this momentous achievement, despite having announced their intentions well beforehand. Their announcement appeared to be basically ignored so when the actual launch occurred the western world was totally unprepared and there was a wild scramble to gather data on the satellite.
Ursa Major, the Big Dipper or Big Bear, also known as the Plough, is essentially a northern constellation. (For the purpose of this article I will refer to this constellation by its more common name, the Big Dipper.) This constellation is only just visible low down on the northern horizon as we approach autumn here in the southern hemisphere but is totally invisible from positions further south. Thanks to my favourably situated northern observatory the greater part of the constellation's seven brightest stars, representing the shape of a Big Dipper, are visible to me as a bonus.
We tend to blame the politicians for all the holidays, but scientists and school teachers can be equally guilty. In 1988, physicist Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium, instigated the first celebration of Pi Day. Pi Day is observed on 14 March (3/14, using the American style of writing dates), due to π being roughly equal to 3.14. If you visit the Exploratorium on this day you will find the staff (and visitors) marching around one of its circular spaces, consuming fruit pies (pizza pies have since been added to the menu).