Astronomical & Astrological events in October 🌌

October 7th: Mercury enters Libra, Draconids Meteor Shower
October 15th: Uranus at Opposition
October 16th: Full Moon in Aries (Supermoon)
October 17th: Pallas exits Retrograde
October 18th: Venus enters Sagittarius
October 21st: Orionids Meteor Shower
October 22nd: Orionids Meteor Shower, Sun enters Scorpio
October 23rd: Jupiter quincunx Neptune
October 24th: Mercury enters Scorpio
October 30th: New Moon in Scorpio


Chasing shooting stars

It’s New Year’s Eve, and after a tense three days of searching in the heart of the South Australian outback, Professor Phil Bland has finally found the impact site. After leaping off his quad bike and running across the salty mud flats, he falls to his knees and thrusts his hand straight into a hole smashed into the landscape. His arm disappears nearly half a metre into the earth - and when it emerges again, there’s a mud-slathered rock clutched in his fist. 

“It’s an iron meteorite, mate!” are Bland’s first, breathless words. He holds it reverently, wiping off the thick, clay-like mud. He’s kneeling on Kati-Thanda, also known as Lake Eyre, and what he holds in his hands is a hunk of rock older than the Earth itself. 

It’s also the first proof that the Desert Fireball Network works. 

Built by Professor Bland’s research team at Curtin University, WA, the Desert Fireball Network is an automated meteor tracking system made up 49 digital cameras dotted across the Australian outback. Over the next few years, it’s projected to watch a third of Australian skies - and it does exactly what its name says. It looks for fireballs. 

As meteors from the wider solar system plough down into the Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic velocities, they burn up. For fleeting moments, they sear across the sky and light up the darkness. Often, bits of these meteors hurtle all the way down to the surface. The multiple cameras of the Fireball Network can spot a fireball and triangulate its path through the atmosphere, so its trajectory can be reconstructed in 3D. This can give information about the meteorite’s mass, its orbit and origins in the Solar System, and the location where it smashed into the surface. 

On November 27th last year, Professor Bland’s team got the heads up from their network that a fireball had blazed through the atmosphere and fallen to Earth in the middle of South Australia. Its landing site was narrowed down to within a small area in the bed of Lake Eyre, a massive salt lake, and so they knew they had to get to it fast: if too much rain came, any trace of the impact could be washed away. They organised to fly a spotter plane over the area to get eyes on the impact site, then the team flew across states, rented 4WDs and camping gear, got permission from the Arabana people, who are the traditional custodians of Kati-Thanda… Then finally, on December 31st, Bland pulled the meteorite from the mud just hours before heavy rains swept across Lake Eyre. 

It turns out that the meteorite itself is fairly ordinary - if you can call any 4.6 billion year old object ordinary - but the most interesting thing is that the Fireball Network could attach an orbit to it. It was traced it back to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where it used to be part of a larger asteroid that broke up in an impact. This gives it incredibly useful context that other meteorite discoveries don’t have. 

If the team can observe and study enough meteorites and their original orbits, they’ll be able to make a geological map of the solar system. This will give invaluable insights into the solar system’s formation, especially the formation of the planets. Hopefully, it will help answer questions like: how did the Earth form? How are planets made? 

If you want to keep updated on the project, you can download their app - which also lets you contribute by reporting fireball sightings of your own, from anywhere in the world!

All images courtesy of Fireballs in the Sky

Mission complete: Rosetta’s journey ends in daring descent to comet

ESA’s historic Rosetta mission has concluded as planned, with the controlled impact onto the comet it had been investigating for more than two years. 

Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST) with the loss of Rosetta’s signal upon impact. 

Rosetta carried out its final manoeuvre last night at 20:50 GMT (22:50 CEST), setting it on a collision course with the comet from an altitude of about 19 km. Rosetta had targeted a region on the small lobe of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, close to a region of active pits in the Ma’at region.

Credit: ESA

Thank you and good bye, Rosetta! I’ll post more comet photos tomorrow.

Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars, but critics aren’t convinced

Elon Musk has a plan to colonize Mars using the most powerful rocket ever built. At the end of 2015, Musk made history by launching and safely landing the Falcon 9 reusable rocket after sending it beyond sub-orbital space. But experts are already casting doubt, one even calling an aspect of the endeavor “delusional.”

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'Farewell Rosetta, you've done the job': Europe's comet chaser ends 12-year mission
'Mission complete' as orbiter joins Philae, its lander and sidekick, on surface

Europe’s comet-chasing space probe Rosetta performed its final task Friday, dipping out of orbit for a slow-motion crash onto the icy surface of the alien world it’s been following for more than a decade.

The probe was launched in 2004 and took a decade to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it released a lander in November 2014. It went silent after it struck 67P at about 7:20 a.m. ET., its gradual descent marked by a final series of tweets sent as the icy surface drew closer.

“Farewell Rosettta, you’ve done the job,” said mission manager Patrick Martin. “That is space science at its best.”

The European Space Agency steered the probe toward the four-kilometre-wide comet as slowly as possible (90 centimetres per second, roughly half walking speed) so it could take the unprecedented close-ups.

Because of the distance between the comet and Earth, confirmation of the impact took about 40 minutes to reach ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

“This is the culmination of tremendous scientific and technical success,” said mission manager Patrick Martin, addressing his team in Darmstadt, and viewers online.

“Flying to a comet and around a comet for two years … is a challenge and we’ve done it, and this tells you we’ve got the right people here and the best people you can get to do this job.”

The mission was “inspiring to many, was historic, was pioneering and it revolutionized how we understand comets and the solar system.”

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