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  • Elizabeth Cocking

In this month: June 2022


10th June 2003

NASA launches the rover Spirit to explore Mars and search for signs of past life on the planet. One of two rovers sent to Mars, its “twin” Opportunity landed three weeks later. Spirit studied the history of the climate and water at sites on Mars where conditions may once have been favourable to life. Spirit uncovered strong evidence that Mars was once much wetter than it is now and helped scientists better understand the Martian wind. In 2009 the rover became stuck in the soft soil at a site called "Troy" near Gusev crater. After months of troubleshooting NASA stopped efforts to free the rover and eventually ended the mission on the 25th May 2011. The rover had been silent since March 2010. By the time it stopped, Spirit had travelled about 7.73 kilometres across the Martian plains. It had operated for six years, two months and nineteen days, far outlasting the originally planned 90-day mission.

Image above: The McMurdo Panorama and image taken as part of Spirit's work on Mars (April 18, 2006) and completed the part shown here on Sol 980 (Oct. 5, 2006). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

26th June 2012

Pluto’s moon Styx is discovered by a team using the Hubble Space Telescope who were searching for potential hazards in advance of the Pluto flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. The discovery provided additional information on how the Pluto system formed and evolved.

Measurements made by the New Horizons spacecraft showed that Styx is very irregularly shaped, measuring approximately 16 km × 9 km × 8 km. As of 2022 it is the smallest known moon of Pluto.

Originally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, and sometimes referred to as P5.

Styx is named for the mythological river that separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead. All of Pluto's moons are named for mythological figures associated with the underworld. This painting by Peter Paul Rubens shows Achilles being dipped into the River Styx - making all but his heel immortal.

Credit: Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

27th June 2018

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 lands on the asteroid Ryugu. Its mission, to return fragments of the asteroid to Earth. After arriving at the asteroid, Hayabusa2 deployed two rovers and a small lander on the surface. It surveyed the asteroid for a year and a half, fired an impactor into the surface to create an artificial crater and took samples. On the 6th December 2020 the spacecraft swooped by Earth and dropped the landing capsule containing the asteroid samples.

The capsule made a fiery entry through the Earth’s atmosphere and parachuted to a soft landing inside the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia. These samples containing the precious asteroid material will provide scientists with key information about the formation of the Solar System.

Image left: Japan's Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu. Credit: ESA


9th June 1812, Johann Gottfried Galle.

German astronomer. On the 23rd September 1846 he was the first person to view the planet Neptune and know what he was looking at. French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier had predicted the existence and position of Neptune and sent the coordinates to Galle for verification. Galle found Neptune within 1° of the predicted position on the same night he received Le Verrier's letter. A crater on the Moon, the "happy face" crater on Mars, the asteroid 2097 Galle, and a ring of Neptune have all been named in his honour.

21st June 1863, Maximillian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf.

German astronomer. He was a pioneer in the field of astrophotography. In 1891 he adapted a camera to a motor-driven telescope to search for asteroids, all previous discoveries had been made by direct observation. In his lifetime he discovered over 240 of them.

Using time exposure of the skies, Wolf demonstrated that asteroids, because of their orbital motion, would show up in the photograph as a short line rather than a point of light, which denoted a star. The lunar crater Wolf as well as the main-belt asteroids 827 Wolfiana and 1217 Maximiliana are named in his honour.

Photo right: Ed Schultz studio, Heidelberg.

3rd June 1900, Adelaide Ames.

American astronomer. She studied at Radcliffe College, where there was a recently created graduate program in astronomy and graduated in 1924 as the first woman with an M.A. in astronomy. She found work as a research assistant at Harvard College Observatory (HCO). During her tenure there she worked with Harlow Shapley on the Shapley-Ames catalogue, which lists galaxies beyond the 13th magnitude.

From their observations of approximately 1250 galaxies, they found evidence of clustering near the north pole of the Milky Way that differs from the south pole. These results were significant because their finding deviated from the general assumption of isotropy (uniformity of distribution of galaxies). Ames was a member of the American Astronomical Society and a contemporary of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, her closest friend at HCO.


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