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In this month: June 2021


22nd June 1633

The Roman Catholic Inquisition hands down its sentence and finds Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei guilty of heresy. Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy", namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the Universe and the Earth is not at the centre and moves.

He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life. His offending work, a publication called 'Dialogue Concerning the two chief World Systems' was banned, and publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future. This painting by Henri Julien Detouche dates only to 1900 and captures Galileo as a young man explaining his observations. through the recently invented telescope.

3rd June 1965

Gemini 4 launches from Cape Canaveral, USA. On this flight Ed White becomes the first American to perform a spacewalk. (The first spacewalk was done by Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov on 18th March 1965).

The spacewalk started over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and lasted 23 minutes, ending over the Gulf of Mexico. White floated out of the spacecraft, using a Hand-Held Manoeuvring Unit (popularly known as a "zip gun") which expelled pressurized oxygen to provide thrust for controlling his travel. He ventured 4.6 metres away from the spacecraft and began to experiment with manoeuvring. Gemini 4 was the first American flight to perform many scientific experiments in space, including the use of a sextant to investigate the use of celestial navigation for lunar flight in the Apollo program. Image of Ed White Credits: NASA/Jim McDivitt

11th June 2008

NASA launches the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope from Cape Canaveral, USA. The telescope, named in honour of Enrico Fermi an Italian physicist and pioneer in high-energy physics, observes the cosmos using the highest-energy form of light, mapping the entire sky every three hours. It gives astronomers the chance to study how black holes accelerate jets of gas outward at fantastic speeds, physicists can investigate subatomic particles at energies far greater than those seen in ground-based particle accelerators, and cosmologists gain valuable information about the birth and early evolution of the Universe. In 2010 Fermi observed the first gamma-ray emission from a nova. It had been previously thought that novae did not generate enough energy to produce gamma rays.


12th June 1843

David Gill, Scottish astronomer. He was a meticulous observer and had a knack for getting the best out of his instruments. Image below: around 1860, Lick Observatory archive.

His solar parallax observations and calculations of distances to the nearest stars are proof of his outstanding work. He was a pioneer in the use of astrophotography, making the first photograph of the Great Comet of 1882. From 1879 to 1906 he was Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Royal Observatory at Cape of Good Hope and President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1909–1911.

The lunar crater Gill and the Martian crater Gill are named after him.

23rd June 1942

Sir Martin John Rees. British cosmologist and astrophysicist. He is the fifteenth and current Astronomer Royal, appointed in 1995. Rees is the author of more than 500 research papers and has made contributions to the origin of cosmic microwave background radiation as well as galaxy clustering and formation. His studies of the distribution of quasars led to the final disproof of the steady state theory. The Asteroid 4587 Rees and the Sir Martin Rees Academic Scholarship at Shrewsbury International School are named in his honour.

2nd June 1949

Heather Anita Couper. British astronomer, broadcaster and science populariser. After studying astrophysics at the University of Leicester, Couper was appointed senior planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

She subsequently hosted two television series – The Planets and The Stars – as well as making many TV guest appearances. On radio she presented the award-winning programme Britain’s Space Race as well as the 30-part series Cosmic Quest.

In 1984 she was elected President of the British Astronomical Association, the first woman and the second-youngest person to hold the position. Couper was appointed Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College in 1993 – the first female professor in the 400-year history of the college – and held the position until 1996. She served on the Millennium Commission, for which she was awarded a CBE in 2007. Heather Couper passed away in February 2020. Asteroid 3922 Heather is named in her honour. Image left: BAA Journal Obituary.


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