top of page
  • Elizabeth Cocking

In this month: August 2021

15th August 1977

The Wow! signal is received by the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University. The original record, preserved by Ohio State History connection is shown below. This recording of a radio signal was extraordinary and it was

used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. A strong narrowband radio signal, it appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and had the characteristics of extraterrestrial origin. Astronomer Jerry Ehman discovered the signal a few days later while reviewing the recorded data. Impressed by the result he circled the reading on the computer printout and wrote the comment "Wow!" on its side, leading to the event's widely used name. The entire signal sequence lasted 72 seconds but has not been detected since, despite several attempts by Ehman and others. Many theories have been put forward on its origin but none adequately explain the signal.

12th August 2018

The Parker Solar Probe is launched by NASA to observe the outer corona of the Sun. On its closest approach it will

pass to within 6.2 million kilometres of the Sun and travel at a speed of 700,000 kilometres per hour or 0.064% the speed of light making it the fastest object humans have ever created. And, in case you’re wondering why the space craft won’t melt being so close to the Sun, it’s all to do with heat and temperature. While the particles in the corona are moving fast (temperature) they don’t actually transfer much energy to the spacecraft (heat). It also has a cutting-edge heat shield which keeps the instruments behind it at a comfortable temperature of 29.5 C.

The Parker Solar Probe is the first NASA spacecraft named after a living person, Eugene Parker, a physicist who predicted the existence of the solar wind. His photo and a copy of his 1958 scientific paper on solar physics along with the names of over 1.1 million people are mounted on a plaque installed below the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna. Image above : Artists impression courtesy NASA.

25th August 1609

Galileo demonstrates one of his first telescopes to the Venetian lawmakers including the Doge of Venice, Leonardo Donato. It is interesting that this first public presentation was not to the public or other scientists. Galileo first went to the politicians in the Senate. He was rewarded: they arranged a new professorship in Padua for him and a generous yearly pension. A year after the demonstration he published a brief treatise Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger) which described his findings made with his new telescope. Here is a link to an article featuring Dr Nick Lomb holding a replica of the telescope in 2009, during the 400 year anniversary.


24th August 1559 Sophia Brahe.

Sophia Brahe was a Danish astronomer and younger sister of the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. She frequently visited Tycho's observatory and assisted him with his astronomical work, specifically with a set of observations on 11th November 1572, which led to the discovery of the supernova SN 1572. She also made observations of the lunar eclipse on 8th December 1573. Sophia's assistance was also influential in Tycho's work on orbits, which was the basis of modern methods used to predict the positions of the planets.

The image left is a portrait of her dated at 1602 by an unknown artist courtesy wiki commons.

6th August 1830 Elizabeth Brown.

Elizabeth Brown was a British astronomer who specialized in solar observation, especially sunspots. Her daily recording of sunspots, including meticulous drawings, earned her a distinguished reputation. She also travelled widely following solar eclipses which she described in her work In Pursuit of a Shadow. She was instrumental in founding the British Astronomical Association in 1890 and became Director of the Association's Solar Section, a post which she held until her death in 1899. She also contributed to the activities of other observing sections, including the lunar, variable star, and coloured star sections. She was also one of the first women Fellows of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The photograph left shows her in her Observatory with her 31/2inch refractor telescope. Courtesy BAA archive.

19th August 1891 Milton La Salle Humason.

American astronomer. He dropped out of school and had no formal education past the age of 14. In 1917 he became a custodian at Mt Wilson Observatory and volunteered to be a night assistant. Despite a lack of formal education, he had a gift for instruments and was soon taking photographs with the new 100″ Hooker telescope. Recognizing his talent George Ellery Hale made him a staff member which was unprecedented as he did not have a Ph.D. or even a high school diploma. He soon made several key observational discoveries and became known as a meticulous observer obtaining photographs and difficult spectrograms of faint galaxies. His observations played a major role in the development of physical cosmology, including assisting Edwin Hubble in formulating Hubble's law. He discovered Comet C/1961 R1 Humason noted for its large perihelion distance. The crater Humason on the Moon is named after him as are "Humason-Zwicky stars". Image courtesy Mt Wilson Observatory.


bottom of page