solar system

Recovering the Lost Lunar Photographs

Recovering the Lost Lunar Photographs

Maybe you remember that we had an article on the very first image of the Earth taken from abroad?[1] It was an image taken in 1966 by one of the Lunar Orbiter space probes, which had the task of taking closeup pictures of the lunar surface to find a well suited landing spot for the upcoming Apollo Moon missions. Well, you might wonder, how these photographs came back to Earth. Well, the…
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Percival Lowell and the Search for Pluto

Percival Lowell and the Search for Pluto

On March 19, 1915, American astronomer Percival Lowell began to make photographies of the sky in the Lowell Observatory, which was founded by him, to search for a planet beyond Neptune. 15 years later, the dwarf planet Pluto was discovered on these photographies. “Formulae are the anaesthetics of thought, not its stimulants and to make any one think is far better worth while than cramming him with ill-considered, and therefore indigestible, learning.” –…
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Giovanni Schiaparelli and the Martian Canals

Giovanni Schiaparelli and the Martian Canals

On March 14, 1835, Italian astronomer and science historian Giovanni Schiaparelli was born. He is remembered best for his observations of planet Mars, where he discovered a dense network of linear structures on the surface of Mars which he called “canali” in Italian, meaning “channels” but the term was mistranslated into English as “canals” indicating that the observed structures should be of artificial origin. Early Years Schiaparelli graduated in 1854 from the…
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Sir William Herschel and the Discovery of Uranus

Sir William Herschel and the Discovery of Uranus

On March 13, 1781, Sir William Herschel for the first time observed planet Uranus while in the garden of his house at 19 New King Street in the town of Bath, Somerset, England (now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy), but initially reported it (on April 26, 1781) as a “comet“. “A knowledge of the construction of the heavens has always been the ultimate object of my observations…” – William Herschel, Astronomical Observations relating…
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Nikolaus Copernicus and the Heliocentric Model

Nikolaus Copernicus and the Heliocentric Model

On February 19, 1473, Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nikolaus Copernicus was born, who established the heliocentric model, which placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center of the universe. With the publication of his research he started the so-called Copernican Recolution, which started a paradigm shift away from the former Ptolemaic model of the heavens, which postulated the Earth at the center of the universe, towards the heliocentric model with the…
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The Exploration of Asteroid Eros

The Exploration of Asteroid Eros

On February 14, 2000, NASA space probe NEAR Shoemaker entered orbit of the asteroid Eros to study the near-Earth asteroid from close orbit over a period of a year. The mission succeeded in closing in with the asteroid and orbited it several times, finally terminating by touching down on the asteroid on 12 February 2001. Discovery Eros was throughout history often object of scientific research, due to its larger size. The asteroid…
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Lost on Mars – The Ill Fate of the Beagle 2 Space Mission

Lost on Mars – The Ill Fate of the Beagle 2 Space Mission

On February 11, 2004, the British Mars landing spacecraft Beagle 2 that formed part of the European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express mission was abandoned due to all contact with it was lost. “HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for…
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Deep Impact and the Comet 9P/Tempel

Deep Impact and the Comet 9P/Tempel

On January 12, 2005, NASA space probe Deep Impact was launched. It was designed to study the interior composition of the comet 9P/Tempel, by releasing an impactor into the comet, which successfully collided with the comet’s nucleus. Mission Background The main mission of Deep Impact was to explore the interior of Temple 1 by placing a 372 kg heavy projectile (impactor) into the trajectory of the comet, which hit it and left a…
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Jeremiah Horrocks and the Transit of Venus

Jeremiah Horrocks and the Transit of Venus

On January 3, 1641, English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks passed away. He was the first scientist to demonstrate that the Moon moved around the Earth in an elliptical orbit and was the only person to predict the transit of Venus of 1639. Background Jeremiah Horrocks grew up in a well educated family and was introduced to astronomy in early years. He was occupied with many astronomical tasks as a young boy and enrolled at…
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Urbain Le Verrier and the hypothetical Planet Vulcan

Urbain Le Verrier and the hypothetical Planet Vulcan

On 2 January 1860, French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier announced the discovery of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet inside the Mercury orbit, to a meeting of the Académie des Sciences in Paris. Despite the lack of any reliable observation, Le Verrier really was convinced until his death that he had discovered a new planet. It was Einstein’s special theory of relativity and a completely new understanding of the laws of gravity that modified the predicted…
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