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In this Month: February

4th February 1600

Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler meet for the first time near Prague. Kepler arrived at Tycho’s new observatory, Benatek Observatory, hoping that Brahe would share his observations of the stars and planets. Over the next two months Kepler analysed some of Tycho's observations of Mars. In August of 1600, Kepler returned to Prague to work on the Rudolphine Tables.

Image Left: Engraving from the book: Tycho Brahe (1598), Astronomiae instauratae mechanica

3rd February 1966

The Soviet spacecraft, Luna 9, makes the first survivable landing of a human-made object on another celestial body, landing on the Moon in the Ocean of Storms region. The most important discovery from the mission was confirming that the ground could support a heavy lander and a foreign object would not sink into the lunar dust. Communications with the spacecraft lasted 8 hours and 5 minutes.

Image left: Lunar 9 Model Memorial Museum of Astronautics (Moscow).

18th February 2003

Comet NEAT, formally known as C/2002 V1, comes to within 14.8 million kilometres of the Sun, or 0.1 AU, putting it much closer than the planet Mercury. During its pass near the Sun it was hit by a coronal mass ejection. The comet’s surface reached a temperature of about 1000 kelvin (nearly 730o Celsius) creating a broad dust tail. It became the brightest of more than 600 comets studied by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Photos revealed the solar wind in unprecedented detail as it bombarded the comet.


16th February 1664

Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. Swiss astronomer and mathematician. He is known for his collaboration with Giovanni Cassini on the explanation of the astronomical phenomenon of zodiacal light - a faint elongated cone of light sometimes seen in the night sky extending from the horizon along the ecliptic -and for inventing the "push" or "shadow" theory of gravitation, a mechanical explanation for Newton's gravitational force. During his working life he had a close association with both Christiaan Huygens and Isaac Newton. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London at the age of 24.

10th February 1842

Agnes Mary Clerke Irish Astronomer. Clerke was not a practical astronomer, instead collating, interpreting and summarising the results of astronomical research. She achieved fame as the author of A History of Astronomy.In 1888 she spent three months at the Cape Observatory, South Africa, where she became sufficiently familiar with spectroscopic work to be able to write about this newer branch of the science.

As a member of the British Astronomical Association she regularly attended its meetings, as well as those of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1903, she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a rank previously held only by three other women (Caroline Herschel, Mary Somerville and Anne Sheepshanks). One of her many publications is shown left.

The lunar crater Clerke is named after her.

23rd February 1966

Didier Patrick Queloz. Swiss astronomer. He is a professor at the University of Cambridge and the University of Geneva. In 1995, together with Michel Mayor, he discovered 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet orbiting a sun-like star, 51 Pegasi. For this discovery he shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics with James Peebles and Michel Mayor.

Artists rendering left courtesy of NASA.


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