NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our Sun.
The recent launch by government of the South African National Space Agency marked the dawn of a new space era in the country's history. The agency will begin operating in April. Meanwhile Africa's bid to host the global science initiative, the Square Kilometre Array telescope, was boosted this month with an announcement of significant breakthroughs.
The South African Council for Space Affairs is established in terms of the Space Affairs Act (Act 84 of 1993) to oversee space-related activities of South Africa. The Council is mandated to take care of the country's space-related interests and to ensure compliance with international agreements, conventions and treaties ratified by South Africa. In terms of international law, states are responsible for supervising the space activities of their nationals and companies.
South Africa, like all other countries nowadays, is critically reliant on space technology. Space applications are so embedded in our modern lives that most people are unaware of how much use they make of space technology, every day. Government is also a very significant user of space technology and is often the actor in the space value chain that picks up the costs of space applications and infrastructure. This is certainly the case for "public good" space activities, such as Earth observation. In 2003, a number of government Departments started to consider South Africa's reliance on space technology as a country, and how government could use its resources in this domain more effectively. These discussions led to the conclusion that South Africa needed a national space agency to coordinate all the previously disparate space-related activities carried out by a number of government Departments and their agencies.
The weekend of 4-6 March 2011 saw the birth of the Southern Star Party (SSP), held at a dark campsite on a farm between Bonnievale and McGregor in the Western Cape. A weekend filled with talks, workshops, demonstrations, stargazing, astrophotography and overall camaraderie was shared by 55 stargazers from as far as George and even Limpopo. Attendees' experience levels were a good mix, ranging from novice through to expert. Even though a number of valuable lessons were learnt, judging by the feedback received, the first ever Southern Star Party was generally regarded as a resounding success.
Neither Uranus nor Neptune are visible to the naked eye, and it was the advent of the telescope that made their discovery possible. Sir William Herschel, arguably the father of observational astronomy, discovered Uranus by accident, using his home-made telescope, on 13 March 1781. However the prediction of its position proved difficult, even taking into account the perturbations produced by the other known planets and by 1845 astronomers began to suspect that the answer to the problem was due to another planet orbiting beyond Uranus.
After the launching of the first unmanned artificial Earth satellite SPUTNIK 1 in October 1957, the next logical step was to place a man in orbit about the Earth. There were no ground rules as to how this would be done as it was virgin territory. It was decided to recruit COSMONAUTS - the Russian equivalent of an ASTRONAUT - from the Soviet Air Force in late 1959 and twenty Air Force pilots between the ages of 25 to 35 were selected on 25 February, 1960.
Following the inauguration of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in late 2005, on-sky images revealed that all was not well... The telescope's image quality (IQ) specification was not met as stars showed a hideous variety of field-dependent aberrations and distortions. To add further insult, these mangled images appeared to be unstable as a function of time and most other parameters one could think of.
Contrary to the present day disposable era we live in, Stardust-NExT was the second time that a spacecraft had been reused for a second mission, saving as much as 90% of the cost of a new mission. The first occurrence was when the original Deep Impact craft was redeployed as the EPOXI mission as was reported in MNASSA 68, 7&8, August 2009, p.129. It was this very same Deep Impact spacecraft which flew past Comet Tempel 1 on Independence Day (4 July) 2005, releasing a 370kg copper slug onto the comet's surface, taking data and pictures as if flew past, supplemented by Earth-bound observations. Due to the dust kicked up by the impactor, it was not possible to see the resultant crater, nor the effects it had on the comet surface.
Colloquia form an important part of a research facility, often as a sort of prepublication discussion or a discussion of an individual's current research, and as such it is virtually impossible to "publish" this material. However by recording the topics discussed in the form below does indicate to those, who are unable to attend, what current trends are and who has visited to do research: it keeps everyone 'in the loop' so to speak.
Columba the Dove, a small southern starry constellation of only 270 square degrees, is one that has many tales woven around it. The original name for this constellation was Columba Noae or Noah's Dove, with the starry bird appearing to be flying just off the compass of Jason's ship, the combined constellations of Vela, Carina, Puppis and Pyxis. The constellation appeared correctly on Bayer's plate of Canis Major but was formally published by Augustin Royer in 1679. According to ancient tales the starry dove was being sent out by Jason to search for dry land in the hope of bringing back the branch and leaf of an olive tree.