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Alastair has

an impressive

observatory and

various telescopes,

including the

largest one on the

Coromandel, for

those who want to

learn more about

the heavens.

On September 30 the Rosetta probe made a controlled crash

landing on the 4km long Comet 67P that it has been orbiting for

almost 2 years, as they looped around the sun together.

This end to a successful and daring mission was dictated by the

reduction in power from the spacecraft’s solar panels as it follows

the comet moving further from the Sun in its 6 year orbit. Without

power to keep the probes electronics warm it would eventually

freeze and die.

Although the spacecraft was never designed to land and had

no landing gear, it was still able to perform a slow motion crash

landing. Seven of Rosetta’s instruments kept gathering data until

the end, transmitting a wealth of information about the comet’s

dusty atmosphere as well as useful data about the interaction

between a small spacecraft and the gravitational field of a slowly

rotating 4x2 km body. The very last blurry photo from only 20m

above the surface shows a lumpy terrain with humps only a few cm

across and intriguing linear features.

Another closure came on 5 September, with the photographic

evidence of the location of the actual landing probe Philae, wedged

hidden along a dark ridge. Even crashed, she was able to transmit

some data when her solar panels briefly caught some energy from

the sunlight.

Rosetta has proven to be an unprecedented scientific goldmine,

demonstrating that comets consist of complex organic molecules

that include the building blocks of life as well as abundant water.

To see video of the mission control room during Rosetta’s final

landing see





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Venus, Saturn and Mars are now cearly visible

in the early evening sky when looking towards the

west. The most obvious is brilliant Venus, totally

covered in clouds laden with sulphuric acid and so reveals little

of its surface even in the largest telescope. Commonly known as

the ‘evening star’ this planet will still be well worth watching even

with powerful binoculars. It is rapidly approaching us and will get

significantly bigger and brighter from month to month.

Even more noticeable and somewhat startling will be its changing

shape… after beginning as an almost round disc in October it

gradually transforms into a half disc or ‘first quarter Venus’ by

the end of the year – becoming an ever thinning crescent late

January. In October it will be very low in the evening sky with

Saturn above and Mars even higher. However, by December it will

have become much closer to Mars and just to the left of the thin

crescent Moon on December 3rd & 4th.

Distinctly reddish, but fainter than Venus, Mars becomes fainter

through January as we move away. It will be easy to spot to the left

of the crescent Moon on November 6th & 7th or December 5th.

Slightly yellowish Saturn will only be visible low in the west after

twilight until early November when it disappears into the glow of

the setting Sun. Even a small telescope or powerful binoculars will

provide a glimpse of its rings – in a large telescope, a few of its 65

moons can also be seen.