COSMIC SNOWBALLS

I know we’ve had a bit of snow recently but not like the big dirty snowball that’s on its way to us now.
Its official name is Comet Machholtz, after Don Macholtz the amateur astronomer from California who discovered it last August.

“Dirty Snowball”? Yes basically that’s what they are made up of, ice and some rock
When can I see it and Where? If you followed my advice and bought binoculars you’ll be able to see it just north of a small star cluster called the “Seven Sisters” or Pleiades, high in the southern sky at the moment, if you’re lucky enough to live in a dark location it will be visible as a small fuzzy ball its tail is barely discernable. It’s at its brightest now but will be in the sky for the next few months.

BIG DEAL some of you might say, but it turns out that these “snowballs” may hold the key to life on Earth, they are now recognised as being so important that different space agencies have sent craft to recover material from them (returning to Earth presently) to landing a probe on one(on its way) and even shooting an 800lb copper bullet at one, that’s happening on the 4th of July next. I’ll fill you in on these missions in my next article.

The real BIG NEWS is that man is attempting to land a craft on another Moon,
The difference is that this is no ordinary moon, as we know it. This is TITAN the planet Saturn’s largest moon, difference being that Titan is bigger than two of our planets and has an atmosphere containing methane and various hydrocarbons and although so far from the Sun is about 60 deg C warmer than it should be, possibly due to a greenhouse effect, there may also be petrol-like lakes or even seas – definite no smoking area – Titan may resemble a primordial Earth.

Hope fully we wont have too long to wait as on FRIDAY 14th JAN next the joint ESA NASA and Italian Space Agency probe, Huygens will enter Titans atmosphere and parachute down to the surface.
The descent will take about 2 hours and Huygens will be taking a series of measurements and photos, should it survive the landing, hopefully on liquid, it will transmit data for another 2 hours to the mother ship, Cassini, which will then relay this to Earth, even at the speed of light it will take more than an hour for the signals to reach us.

You can watch this live from ESA Mission Control in Germany on BBC 2’s “STARDATE, MISSION to TITAN” AT 23:30 on the 14th.

The International Space Station will be flying over Waterford again this week
Wed 12th 18:57:55 (hour: min: sec) for 2 min
Thurs 13th 17:49:43 for 3 min
Thurs 13th 19:23:21 for 1.5 min
Fri 14th 18:14:21 for 4 min
Sat 15th 18:39:43 for 3 min.
For further info Check out www.ardkeen.ie/starman

DAS will have an observing session at the Mahon Falls Car park members will be informed of details by text as usual.

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