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  • Elizabeth Cocking

Astronomical happenings in November

11th November 1572

Supernova SN1572, also called B Cassiopeiae, is first observed by Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe.

The “new star” was a type 1a supernova in the constellation of Cassiopeia, approximately 11,000 light years from Earth and one of eight supernovae visible to the naked eye in historical records. It brightened to about the magnitude of Venus (–4) and was visible during the day for about two weeks. The supernova slowly faded and by March 1574 was no longer visible with the naked eye in the night sky. Follow-up observations at the time were not possible as the telescope was not invented and in use until 1608.

Other observers claim to have observed the supernova as early as 1571 however it was Brahe’s extensive work and observations that were first recorded and as such the supernova of 1572 is often called "Tycho's Supernova".

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS

14th November 1971

NASA’s Mariner 9 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it reaches Mars.

The probe narrowly beat two Soviet probes which arrive only weeks later. The aim of the mission was to study the Martian surface and atmosphere, but when the spacecraft arrived Mars was engulfed in a global dust storm, which in itself was a serendipitous discovery, as astronomers had suspected these dust storms existed, but it was the first time they had seen them up close. After the dust storms subsided several months later the spacecraft mapped 85% of the Martian surface collecting valuable information about the atmosphere and surface of Mars. It sent back 7,329 pictures, including images of Olympus Mons, Valles Marineris, and the moons Phobos and Deimos.

The current location of Mariner 9 is unknown. It is likely that it entered the Martian atmosphere and either burned up or impacted the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

13th November 1998

The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory announces the discovery of the 1,000th pulsar.

The university used the 64-metre Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia, which had a “multibeam receiver” installed on it, consisting of thirteen hexagonally arranged receivers that allow simultaneous observations. This gave astronomers from Europe, Australia, and the United States the opportunity to find pulsars much faster than before. The announcement came 31 years after Jocelyn Bell discovered the first pulsar in 1967 while she was a student at Cambridge University.

Pulsars are highly magnetized rotating neutron stars that emits beams of electromagnetic radiation at regular intervals out of their magnetic poles. They are very useful tools for astronomers to calculate cosmic distances and for research on gravity.

BORN in November

11th November 1875

Vesto Melvin Slipher. American astronomer.

Most known for his work on spiral galaxies, such as the Milky Way and Andromeda, his initial goal was to measure how fast these galaxies were moving. His discoveries were confirmed ten years later when Edwin Hubble used the Mount Wilson Observatory reflector to view the galaxies much more clearly.

He was the first to perform the first measurements of radial velocities for galaxies and the first to discover that distant galaxies are redshifted, providing the first empirical evidence for the expansion of the universe. He was also the first to relate these redshifts to velocity.

Slipher spent most of his working life at Lowell Observatory during which time he was responsible for hiring Clyde Tombaugh and supervising the work that led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

The crater, Slipher, on the Moon: the crater, Slipher, on Mars: and the asteroid, 1766 Slipher, are all named after him.

The Image left is from his daughter's photogrpahivc album and shows Slipher inspecting a dinosaur track credit: Unknown, “V.M. Slipher with Dinosaur Track,” Lowell Observatory Archives,

19th November 1918

Hendrik Christoffel van de Hulst. Dutch astronomer.

In 1944, while still a student at the University of Utrecht, he predicted the existence of the 21-cm radio waves produced by interstellar hydrogen atoms. His calculations later proved valuable in mapping the Milky Way Galaxy and were the basis for radio astronomy during its early development. After his discovery he participated with Jan Oort and C.A. Muller to use radio astronomy to map out the neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way which first revealed its spiral structure. He spent most of his career at Leiden University. In addition to his work in radio astronomy he published widely on the solar corona and interstellar clouds. During the 1960’s he became a leader in international and European space research and development. He retired in 1984.

The Asteroid 2413 van de Hulst is named in his honour.

The image left is from creative commons and is a photograph of van de Hulst at the Nederlandse Astronomenconferentie, Dalfsen, May 1967.

19th November 1956

Eileen Marie Collins. Retired NASA astronaut.

Collins was the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle, STS-63, and the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission, STS-93, which launched in July 1999 and deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. In 2005 she commanded STS-114, NASA's "return to flight" mission after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. During this mission she became the first astronaut to fly the Space Shuttle orbiter through a complete 360-degree pitch manoeuvre so astronauts aboard the ISS could take photographs of its belly to ensure there was no threat from debris-related damage during re-entry. She is recognized by the Encyclopedia Britannica as one of 300 women who have changed the world.

An astronomical observatory - the Eileen Collins Observatory - run by Corning Community College in New York, USA, is named in her honour. It is used to teach astronomy classes and provides monthly viewing sessions for the public,

Image left: Eileen Collins 1998, courtesy NASA.


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