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Astronomical anniversaries in the month of June

25th June 1997

A Russian uncrewed cargo spacecraft collides with the Mir Space Station during a docking attempt knocking out much of its power supply and resulting in significant damage to the space station.

The damaged solar array of the Spektr module following the collision between Mir and the Progress M-34 freighter

The three person U.S.-Russian crew escape injury. The spacecraft carried supplies including food, water, and oxygen for the crew aboard Mir, as well as equipment for conducting scientific research, and fuel for adjusting the station's orbit and performing manoeuvers. Among its cargo were two new spacesuits, three fire extinguishers, oxygen candles, and equipment to facilitate repairs to Mir's life support system.

Following the collision Progress M-34 was manoeuvred away from the station before being deorbited on the 2nd July 1997. The spacecraft was destroyed during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

2nd June 2003

The European Space Agency (ESA) launches the first planetary mission attempted by the Agency. The spacecraft had a relatively short interplanetary voyage as it was launched when the orbits of Earth and Mars brought them closer than they had been in about 60,000 years.

Mars Express illustration highlighting MARSIS antenna by NASA/JPL/Corby

The spacecraft contained the lander, Beagle 2, which was released on the 19th December 2003 and reached Mars on the 25th December 2003, however no signals have ever been received from the lander and the mission was declared lost. Due to its valuable science return Mars Express has been granted several mission extensions. It is due to operate until the 31st December 2026 making it the second longest surviving, continually active spacecraft in orbit around a planet other than Earth, behind NASA's still active 2001 Mars Odyssey.

26th June 2014

Arrokoth, a small Kuiper Belt object, is discovered by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft team using the Hubble Space Telescope. It is the most distant object explored by a spacecraft at an average distance of 6.5 billion kilometres from the Sun and approximately 1.6 million kilometres beyond Pluto. It takes about 293 Earth years for the small world to make a single orbit around the Sun. Overall, Arrokoth measures about 35 kilometres long by 20 kilometres wide by10 kilometres thick. It takes 15.92 hours to rotate on its axis, which is extremely tilted, with respect to the plane of its orbit, by 98 degrees. When New Horizons flew past, Arrokoth's south pole was pointed almost directly at the Sun.

Arrokoth is very red and is the reddest outer solar system object visited by a spacecraft so far.


18th June 1799

William Lassell

English astronomer. He is remembered for his improvements to the reflecting telescope and his discoveries of four planetary satellites.

In 1846, Lassell discovered Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle.

In 1848, he independently co-discovered Hyperion, a moon of Saturn and in 1851 he discovered Ariel and Umbriel, two moons of Uranus.

At the University of Liverpool, UK, the William Lassell prize is awarded each year to the student graduating with the highest grades in Physics with Astronomy in the B.Sc. program.

The crater Lassell on the Moon; a crater on Mars; the asteroid 2636 Lassell; and a ring of Neptune are named in his honour.

Image left: William Lassell, courtesy of The Science Museum, London.

17th June 1800

William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse.

Irish astronomer.

Parsons built several giant telescopes. His 72-inch telescope built in 1845 and known as the "Leviathan of Parsonstown" was the world's largest telescope in terms of aperture size until the early 20th century. He had to invent many of the techniques used for constructing the Leviathan because its size was without precedent and earlier telescope builders had guarded their secrets or had not published their methods.

The telescope was considered a marvellous technical and architectural achievement. Using this telescope Rosse observed and catalogued a large number of nebulae, it was the first to reveal the spiral structure of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Lord Rosse performed astronomical studies and discovered the spiral nature of some nebulas, today known to be spiral galaxies. He served as President of the Royal Society from 1848 to 1854.

Image: Restored Parsons Leviathan telescope at Birr Castle estate, Ireland. Photo T. Stevenson.

16th June 1965

Andrea Mia Ghez.

Ghez's research focuses on the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. In 2020 she became the fourth woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing one half of the prize with Reinhard Genzel (the other half being awarded to Roger Penrose).

The Nobel Prize was awarded to Ghez and Genzel for their discovery of a supermassive compact object, now generally recognized to be a black hole in the Milky Way’s galactic centre. In 2012 she became the first woman to win, in any field, the Crafoord Prize, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, one of the most internationally renowned prizes given in the field of sciences,

Ghez is also very committed to the communication of science to the general public, and inspiring young girls into science.

Her work can be found in many public outlets including TED, NOVA’s Monster of the Milky Way, Discovery’s Swallowed by a Black Hole, and Griffith Observatory. Image: Andrea Ghez at the 2019 Meeting of the APS.


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