February 14 – Launch of Luna 20

Launched this day in 1972, Luna 20 was part of the Soviet Union’s unmanned answer to the USA’s manned Moon missions. The main aim was to return samples to Earth, and Luna 20 was the eighth mission to attempt this. It’s mission was to finish the job that Luna 18 was supposed to have completed the previous September. Luna 18, however, had ceased transmitting as soon as it hit the Moon, suggesting a less than perfect landing.

Luna 20 returns home
Luna 20 returns home

Luna 20 was more successful. It landed in the Apollonius highlands, near the Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility) on February 21st. Holiday snaps were taken with the panoramic camera, and the on-board drill took some soil samples (55 grams). These were launched back to Earth the next day and landed near the copper mining town of Jezkazgan, (now in Kazakhstan, but at the time in the USSR) on Feb 25th.

On this day in 2008, OGLE-2006-BLG-109 Lb was discovered. Yes, I know, it’s not the easiest name to remember, but it is slightly more exciting than it sounds. OGLE-2006-BLG-109 Lb is an extra-solar planet, orbiting the star OGLE-2006-BLG-109 L in Sagittarius (which means that to avoid writing it again I’m just going to use the “b” as the name of the planet). It is believed that the solar system to which “b” belongs has some planets similar in size to Jupiter or Saturn, and possibly some more Earth-sized. “b” was discovered using a technique called gravitational lensing (“OGLE” stands for Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment).

And it wouldn’t be the same without a quick asteroid, so today is the day that Johann Palisa added 304 Olga to his expanding collection. He first spotted it on February 14th 1891. Palisa was 42 at the time, so maybe he’d decided Valentine’s Day was a young man’s game.