June 23 – Discovery of Upsilon Andromedae b (1996)

I first mentioned this one several years ago as an add-on to another post, but I’m expanding, because I just discovered it also has a name these days, “Saffar“, which I will use in the text, but in the header I’ll stick to the name that actually tells you where it is. Upsilon Andromedae b (shortened to υ And b) was discovered in 1996 by Geoffrey Marcy and R. Paul Butler, as part of the Lick–Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which uses the Keck I telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Obviously, given the distances involved, it’s hard to be certain about anything, but Saffar is almost certainly a gas giant, and the vast difference between its hottest and coldest surface temperatures, suggest it is tidally locked to the host binary system, Upsilon Andromedae a.  Saffar orbits extremely close to its parents, as seems to be common in many exoplanets (they’re much easier to detect if they’re really big and really close to a star).

Location of the Upsilon Andromodae system (image: Stellarium)

The name Saffar is in recognition of a astronomer and teacher Ibn al-Saffar, who was born in Cordova, Spain, at an unknown date, and died in Denia (also Spain) in 1035.

The names of two other planets in this system (υ And c, “Samh”, and  υ And d, “Majriti”) are also named in honour of astronomers from Muslim Spain.  The entire system (so far) has been named by a Moroccan astronomy club.



June 15 – Launch of Soyuz TMA-19 (2010)

The launch, on June 16th, 2010, of Soyuz flight TMA-19, was the 100th mission to count as part of the International Space Station project (it was also the 106th Soyuz launch).

Mission Patch

The crew of TMA-19 were Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, and American flight engineers Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock.  These three formed half of the ISS Expedition 24 crew, and between them they have an impressive record of time spent in space.  Early astronauts, even those who’ve been to the Moon and back, spent very little time beyond the atmosphere. Neil Armstrong managed 8 days 14 hours, and Buzz Aldrin 12 days.  But the days of Space Station missions mean astronauts can end up spending years off the planet.  For the crew of TMA-19 the figures are: 672 days for Yurchikhin, 178 days for Wheelock and 163 days for Walker.

TMA-19 Crew. From Left to Right: Wheelock, Walker, Yirchikhin. (image credit: NASA)

June 08 – Discovery of Asteroid 146 Lucina (1875)

Prolific asteroid hunter Alphonse Borrelly discovered main belt asteroid 146 Lucina on June 8th, 1875. It was the fifth of his 18 asteroids, and is a dark, carbonacous asteroid, and fairly large, at around 131 to 132 km across.

The name is slightly ambiguous.  Lucina is the name given to the Roman goddess of childbirth, but there are two of them.  While it is usually an epithet given to the goddess Juno, it can also refer to Diana, as both of them were involved in the birthing business.


In 1982, observations of a stellar occultation by Lucina made at the Meudon Observatory in France and reported in the journal Icarus (vol 61, issue 2) recorded a secondary event, possibly caused by a small satellite.  This satellite was estimated to have a diameter of about 5.7 km, and to be about 1600 km from the asteroid.

In 2003, the case for a satellite was strengthened by observations of the orbital motion of Lucina, published in the proceedings of the 34th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference by Jean-Baptiste Kikwaya and others from the Vatican State Observatory.  It’s not absolute proof, but it’s looking likely that 146 Lucina may not be alone.


June 05 – Discovery of Asteroid 248 Lameia (1885)

June 5th, 1885 marks the discovery of asteroid 248 Lameia by Johann Palisa. Lameia is a main belt asteroid of about 50 km diameter, of unknown spectral type. It’s strange that we can know some things about these rocks very precisely, and others not at all. For example, the JPL Small Body Database tells me that the orbital period (year) of 248 Lameia is 1418.617077981085 days. That’s quite precise.

Vain Lamorna, A Study for Lamia – J W Waterhouse (1849–1917)

Lameia takes its name from Greek mythology, as do most early asteroid discoveries. Lamia was a queen of Lybia who made the mistake of becoming one of Zeus’ lovers. The affair panned out in the usual fashion, with Zeus’ wife, Hera, finding out about it, and turning Lamia into a child-eating monster, also seen in some stories to seduce men in order to feed on their blood.

These character flaws may in part be why there is so much about Lamia on the internet.  Or maybe it’s because she got her own character in the Final Fantasy franchise.




June 01 – Launch of Surveyor 1 (1966)

The Surveyors were a series of soft landing lunar probes designed to gather information about the Moon’s surface which was needed before committing to sending people up there (it would have been very embarrassing to watch a lunar module sink into the ground).  The first of these, Surveyor 1, was launched from Cape Canaveral on June 1st, 1966, using an Atlas-Centaur rocket, a modified form of the US Air Force’s Atlas ICBM.

Surveyor 1 as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, 1999 (image credit: NASA)

The main scientific instruments on board were a TV camera and a “strain gauge” to measure the forces on landing.

A slightly better photograph of a Surveyor model on Earth (image credit: NASA)

There were seven Surveyors in total, with landing sites spread out across the Moon, of which numbers 2 and 4 crashed.  Surveyor 1 was sent to check out the area known as the Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms), from where it took more than 11.000 photographs.  Procellarum is one of the lunar maria (seas), but being bigger than the rest it bears the name “ocean”.


May 31 – Launch of Shuttle Mission STS-124

2008: Space shuttle Discovery mission STS-124 was launched on May 31st to the International Space Station.  The crew of seven took with them a substantial part of the Japanese Experiment Module (the biggest single ISS module), a Buzz Lightyear figure, and spare parts for a malfunctioning toilet.  Spaceflight isn’t all glamour.

The mission, which lasted just under two weeks, blasted off from the John F Kennedy Space Centre at just after nine o’clock in the evening, docking with the ISS on June 2nd, and staying for nine days.

(Image credit: NASA)

The crew of STS-124 comprised mission commander Mark Edward Kelly, the only astronaut whose brother has also been into space, pilot Kenneth “Hock” Ham, who started flying on the advice of a schools careers counsellor, and  mission specialists Karen Nyberg, who is married to the pilot of STS-135, Ronald J Garan Jr., who took with him religious relics on behalf of a Carmelite order in Texas, Michael E Fossum, who later commanded ISS Expedition 29, Akihiko Hoshide, the third Japanese to walk in space, Gregory Chamitoff, apparently one of the very few people to have voted from space, and Garret E Reisman, now a consultant at SpaceX.

May 30 – Discovery of Saturn’s Moon, Anthe (2007)

2007 – Saturn’s tiny (1.8km wide) moon Anthe was first spotted in Cassini images taken on May 30th, 2007, although it is now known to have been in images taken as far back as 2004.

Anthe may be part of a dynamical family with the moons Methone and Pallene. This is appropriate if true, as they were sisters in mythology, three of the Alkyonides, who threw themselves into the sea when their father was killed by Herakles.

The following photograph is the best I could find on the internet.  It bears a striking resemblance to my best efforts at capturing Venus for posterity, but I promise you it isn’t.

Anthe (image credit: NASA)

Dust from Anthe is thought to be responsible for the creation of the Anthe Ring Arc, a faint ring arc of Saturn discovered in 2007, between the Methone Ring Arc and the Pallene Ring.



May 18 – Launch of Apollo 10 (1969)

Apollo 10 was the fourth of the crewed flights in the NASA Apollo program, launched this day in 1969.

As usual there was a three man crew: Tom Stafford and John Young got to try out the lunar module, while Eugene Cernan stayed in the command module.

(Image credit: NASA)

Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the big one: landing men on the Moon.  As such, it was a great success.  Stafford and Young in the lunar  module were successfully separated, and got to within 9 miles (~16 km) of the surface. The “descent stage” of the lunar module was then jettisoned,  just as it would if they had actually landed (I’m not sure if anyone knows whether it’s still in orbit?) and the crew used the “ascent stage” to get back to Cernan.

The three then jettisoned the ascent stage and successfully made it back to the Pacific Ocean (setting a new space speed record for a crewed vehicle along the way), where they were met by the USS Princeton.

There are those who say that the ascent stage of “Snoopy” (the nickname given to the lunar module) is still up there going round the Sun.  A British search has decided that they are 98% certain that the Earth-crossing asteroid 2018 AV2 is in fact the only crewed space vehicle to still be in orbit without its crew.




May 07 – Launch of STS-49 (Space Shuttle Endeavour) 1992

Today marks the launch the shuttle Endeavour in 1992 on mission STS-49 to retrieve and relaunch the intelsat 603 satellite.

This was the maiden voyage of Endeavour, lasting 9 days.  The crew (left to right in the photo below) were Kathryn C Thornton, Bruce E Melnick, Pierre J Thuot, Daniel C Brandenstein (mission commander), Kevin P Chilton (pilot), Richard J Hieb and Thomas D Akers.

Crew of Endeavour mission STS-49 (image credit: NASA)
Crew of Endeavour mission STS-49 (image credit: NASA)

The mission was a success, and included the first ever 3-astronaut EVA (spacewalk).  Four EVA’s were carried out in total (another first), but only one of them involved three crew members. The need for so many EVA’s was the result of the first two attempts to catch the Intelsat not going according to plan.  That was also the reasoning behind sending three of them outside for the third EVA.  It’s understandable when you see the size of the fish they were trying to reel in (below):

Catch of the day (Image credit: NASA)

May 06 – Daphnis

Today in 2005, Saturn’s moon Daphnis was discovered by the Cassini team.

Daphnis (image credit: NASA)
Daphnis (image credit: NASA)

Don’t be fooled by the large object at the bottom of the photograph: that’s Epimetheus, a moon about twelve times wider than Daphnis.  The birthday boy himself is a tiny, barely discernible dot towards the centre of the frame.  You might be surprised by the use of the word “boy” there, assuming Daphnis might be named after a Daphne.  But it wasn’t.  Daphnis was a shepherd (this is a shepherd moon), a very good friend of Pan, and the inventor of pastoral poetry.

Apollo and Daphnis (Perugino).
Apollo and Daphnis (Perugino).

The moon Daphnis, being ridiculously small, wasn’t an easy target to photograph. Fortunately, though, its position in the Keeler Gap within Saturn’s A ring gave it away by causing ripples within the ring. In order to stay within the Keeler Gap, Daphnis has to follow a near-perfect circular orbit. The difference between Daphnis’ perikrone and apokrone (closest approach to and furthest distance from Saturn) is only about 9 km (under 6 miles).

 1896  –  Asteroid 417 Suevia discovered by Max Wolf. Suevia is a K-type/S-type main belt asteroid of approximately 41 km (25.4 miles) diameter. it sweeps serenely round the Sun in an orbit ranging from 363 to 474 billion miles.