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  • Elizabeth Cocking

In this month: November

27th November 1783

The first reference to black holes is mentioned by John Michell, an English natural philosopher, in a paper for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. He called them "dark stars". Michell suggested that there might be many "dark stars" in the universe, and today astronomers believe that black holes do indeed exist at the centres of most galaxies. Michell proposed that astronomers could detect "dark stars" by looking for star systems which behaved gravitationally like two stars, but where only one star could be seen. It was an extraordinarily accurate prediction.

2nd November 2000

Permanent habitation of the International Space Station (ISS) begins. The first ISS component was launched in 1998, with the first long-term residents arriving on 2 November 2000 making it the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, having surpassed the previous record of 9 years and 357 days by the Mir space station.

Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab

12th November 2014

The first soft landing on a comet.

The image above is an Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab. The robotic lander Philae lands on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko . The lander touched down on the comet but bounced when its anchoring harpoons failed to deploy and a thruster designed to hold the probe to the surface did not fire. Despite the landing problems, the probe's instruments obtained the first images from a comet's surface. Several of the instruments on Philae made the first direct analysis of a comet, sending back data that will be analysed to determine the composition of the surface.

BORN in November

Wellcome Library no. 4183i

15th November 1738 Sir William Herschel. German-born British astronomer.

Most of his prolific work in many areas of astronomy was done with his sister, fellow astronomer Caroline Herschel. In 1781 he discovered the planet Uranus while surveying stars using a telescope that he had built himself. Herschel would go on to identify almost a thousand double stars, discover the movement of the solar system through space and together with his son John would catalogue more than 4,600 nebulae. Craters on the Moon and Saturn’s moon, Mimas, are named for him. The etching above is 1896 Lithograph. Genre/Technique: Portrait prints. Lithographs, credit Wellcome Trust.

29th November 1803 Christian Doppler. Austrian mathematician and physicist.

He is famous for his principle known as the Doppler Effect, which states that the observed frequency of a wave depends on the relative speed of the source and the observer. The effect causes the sudden change in pitch, such as in a passing siren, as well as the red shift seen by astronomers. He used this concept to explain the colour of binary stars.

2nd November 1885 Harlow Shapley. American scientist.

He used RR Lyrae stars to estimate the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Sun's position within it and provided the first accurate model of the Milky Way. By observing Cepheid variable stars in globular clusters, Shapley calculated the distance to each cluster in the galaxy. He was head of the Harvard College Observatory. Among his many awards during his career was the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society awarded in 1934.

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