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  • Elizabeth Cocking

Astronomical happenings in January

New Years Eve fireworks over Manly, Toner Stevenson

Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Cocking continues this astronomical blog post sequence in 2024. Each month she looks back on astronomical happenings, and the birth date of people in astronomy to highlight historical events, observations and discoveries. We hope you enjoy this first post for this year..

12th January 1820

The idea of forming an Astronomical Society of London is conceived when fourteen “gentlemen astronomers” gather for dinner at the Freemason's Tavern in London. The original objective of the society was simply the promotion of astronomy. The first meeting of the Council and the Society was held on the 10th March 1820. Amongst the fourteen astronomers were John Herschel (pictured below) and Charles Babbage.

On the 7th March 1831 King William IV signed a Royal Charter and the society then became The Royal Astronomical Society. Its aims are to encourage and promote the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics, and closely related branches of science.

Portrait of Herschel by Alfred Edward Chalon, c. 1829

25th January 2004

The rover Opportunity lands on the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The mission was planned to last for three months but Opportunity exceeded its operating plan and was active until its final contact on the 10th June 2018. During this time the rover travelled over 45 kilometres. Opportunity, and its sister rover Spirit, showed that Mars had wet and warm conditions in its ancient past that were potentially hospitable to life. The image above is an artists rendition courtesy JPL/Caltech/NASA

27th January 2015

The East Dome (pictured below) at Sydney Observatory is officially opened by the NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant and the Minister for Disability and Ageing, The Hon. John Ajaka. Find out more here.

The dome offers ground level entry with a lift providing access for aged and disabled people to the observatory telescope viewing platform. The telescope has a purpose-built articulated relay eyepiece, suitable for those in wheelchairs. The building also features a display about the history of the dome.The Building was designed by the NSW Government Architect's Office, project managed by Pure Projects and Danny Grant, built by Zadro Constructions. Astronomer Andrew James was the project accessibility consultant, Andrew Jacob the Curator, Geoff Wyatt astronomy technical advisor, Carey Ward and Tim Morris Conservators and Toner Stevenson the project instigator.


22nd January 1592

Pierre Gassendi. French astronomer. He was the first to observe the Transit of Mercury in November 1631 using the Rudolphine tables of Johannes Kepler. In December of the same year, he watched for the transit of Venus, but unfortunately this event occurred when it was night-time in Paris.

The lunar crater Gassendi is named after him.

27th January 1902

Margaret Mayall. American astronomer (pIctured left). She was Director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) from 1949 to 1973. In her early years at Harvard College Observatory, she assisted Annie Jump Cannon in the classification of the spectra of faint stars and completed the unfinished work upon Cannon’s death. In 1958 she won the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy.

Besides her professional work in astronomy, Mayall had a lifelong interest in promoting the work of amateur astronomers, especially encouraging popular interest in astronomy at all levels.

29th January 1935

Luboš Kohoutek. Czech astronomer and discoverer of minor planets, asteroids and comets, including Comet Kohoutek which was visible to the naked eye in 1973. He discovered a large number of planetary nebulae and also discovered numerous asteroids, including the Apollo asteroid 1865 Cerberus.

The main-belt asteroid 1850 Kohoutek is named after him. The image below is of Kohoutek at the NASA Johnson Centre during the Skylab 4 Mission in 1973.


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