Astronomy and Space Exploration
Page last modified 11/5/2019
Space shuttle programme 1981 - 2011
Jupiter exploration – see Appendix 1
Mars exploration – see Appendix 2
Moon exploration – see Appendix 3
Saturn exploration – see Appendix 4
Venus exploration – see Appendix 5
14/9/2015, Gravity waves generated by a collision between two Black Holes were detected by interferometers at the LIGO facility in the US.
14/7/2015, The space probe New Horizons reached Pluto.
12/11/2014, The Philae Lander touched down onto a comet, 320 million miles from Earth; the first such landing accomplished. Although the craft bounced and ended up partially shaded from the Sun, useful data was returned until the probe finally ‘died’ on 9/7/2015.
6/9/2014, A small meteorite landed in woods near Managua, Nicaragua, leaving a crater 5 metres deep and 24 metres across.
15/2/2013, A large meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia; 1,491 were injured and over 4,000 buildings damaged.
25/8/2012, Voyager I became the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
24/6/2012, Three Chinese astronauts successfully docked with an orbiting module, making China the 3rd country to accomplish this mission.
21/7/2011, The Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Centre, concluding the Space Shuttle Programme.
8/7/2011, After making 134 missions, the space shuttle Atlantis made the final space shuttle fight.
16/12/2009, Astronomers reported the discovery of an exoplanet where liquid water might exist.
10/2/2009, A Russian and an American satellite collided, creating large amounts of space debris.
9/12/2008, Scientists confirmed the existence of a Black Hole at the centre of the Milky Way.
28/9/2008, Space X launched the first private satellite, Falcon I, into orbit.
2007, The first FRB, or Fast Radio Burst, was observed. The mechanism of their origin remains uncertain.
24/8/2006, Pluto was officially demoted from ‘planet’ to ‘dwarf planet’ by the International Astronomical Union,
19/1/2006, The New Horizons space probe was launched towards Pluto.
12/10/2005, The second Chinese space flight, Shenzhou 6, was launched, taking Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng into orbit for 5 days.
9/8/2005, The space shuttle Discovery landed in the US, after taking off on 26/7/2005.
26/7/2005, The US launched its first space shuttle mission since the Columbia broke up on re-entry in early 2003.
5/11/2003, Voyager I became the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
1/2/2003, The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.
31/10/2000. One astronaut and two cosmonauts became the first inhabitants of the International Space Station.
20/9/2000, Gherman Titov, Soviet cosmonaut who was the second person to orbit the Earth, died.
8/1/1998, Scientists announced that the expansion rate of the universe was increasing.
31/3/1997. The Pioneer space probe ended its useful life 6 billion miles from Earth.
19/9/1996. The US spacecraft Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir.
6/10/1995, Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz announced the discovery of the first extra-solar planet, 51 Pegasi b.
29/6/1995, The space shuttle Columbia docked for the first time with the Russian Mir space station.
18/12/1993, The first corrected images from the Hubble Telescope were taken.
10/12/1993. The Hubble telescope was successfully repaired in space by Shuttle astronauts. Its mirror had been slightly misshapen, blurring its vision of deep space. The Shuttle landed safely on 13/12/1993.
2/12/1993. The Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on a mission to repair flaws in the Hubble Space Telescope.
28/3/1993, Type II supernova detected in M81.
19/1/1993 The space shuttle Endeavour landed after a 6-day mission.
28/10/1991, The American Galileo spacecraft made a close approach to 951 Gaspra, becoming the first space probe to visit an asteroid.
19/5/1991, Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, lifted off with two Soviet astronauts to join up with the Soviet Mir space station.
6/10/1990, The Ulysses space probe was launched. It went into polar orbit around the Sun, investigating its north and south poles. The probe was decommissioned on 30/6/2009.
27/6/1990, Scientists admitted that the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in April 1990, had a wrongly-shaped mirror.
25/4/1990. The Hubble Space telescope was launched from the Space Shuttle ‘Discovery’.
25/8/1989. Voyager 2 sent back pictures of Neptune and its moon, Triton, flying within 5,000 kilometres of the planet.
18/1/1989, Astronomers discovered a pulsar in the remnants of Supernova 1987A.
29/9/1988, NASA recommenced space flights, grounded after the Challenger disaster.
23/2/1987, A tank full of 7,000 tons of ultrapure water detected a flash of neutrinos at the same time as a supernova was seen, proving the theory that supernovae collapsed into neutron stars.
5/2/1987, Japan launched the Astro-C satellite to observe neutron stars and Black Holes, using X rays and gamma rays.
19/2/1986, The USSR launched the Mir space station.
28/1/1986. The US space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take off o its 10th flight, killing 7 astronauts. 90 seconds after blast off from Cape Canaveral, and nine miles up. An ‘O’ ring failed due to the extreme and unseasonal cold; ice had to be chipped from the shuttle before take-off. The fuel tanks containing liquid hydrogen and oxygen ignited. Rescue ships reached the crash site a few miles offshore but were held up for an hour due to the rain of burning debris. There were five men and two woman on board, including a schoolteacher, Mrs Christa McAutcliffe. It was President Reagan’s idea to send a schoolteacher into space, and she won the competition from over 11,000 applicants. Her husband and two children were amongst the thousands of spectators. The space shuttle fleet was grounded for three years, and this disaster was a factor in the termination of the shuttle programme in 2011.
24/1/1986. US spacecraft Voyager 2 passed within 51,000 miles of the cloud tops of Uranus. The space probe detected an ocean of water some 6,000 miles deep.
14/10/1984, Martin Ryle, English radio astronomer, died aged 66.
28/8/1984, The space shuttle Discovery made its maiden flight.
25/7/1984, Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space.
7/2/1984, Bruce McCandless made the first space walk without an attachment to the spacecraft, from the space shuttle Challenger.
3/2/1984, The space shuttle Challenger was launched on its 10th mission.
13/6/1983. The US spacecraft Pioneer 1 became the first man-made object to leave the Solar System.
26/1/1983, IRAS, the Infra-Red Astronomy Satellite, was launched. It observed astronomical phenomena from bodies too cool to emit visible light. It stopped functioning on 22/11/1983.
22/3/1982. The US space shuttle Columbia made its third flight.
12/11/1981, The US Space Shuttle Columbia became the first space vehicle to make a second trip.
14/4/1981, The space shuttle Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force base, California, after 2 days in space.
12/4/1981. The USA launched its first space shuttle, Columbia, from Cape Canaveral, crewed by Robert Crippen and John Young.
11/7/1979. America’s Skylab I fell to earth after 34,981 orbits in six years. It had been launched on 14/5/1973. Debris landed in Australia.
22/6/1978, Charon, a satellite of Pluto, was discovered.
24/1/1978, A Soviet nuclear-powered satellite, Cosmos 954, crashed in north-western Canada, spilling radioactive debris. The Canadian government presented Moscow with a 6 billion dollar bill for the clean-up, of which Moscow eventually paid half.
15/8/1977, Radio astronomers at Ohio State University picked up a powerful radio burst at 1420 Megahertz. This was thought to be a frequency at which intelligent aliens might broadcast as it is a significant radio absorption and emission frequency of hydrogen atoms. It was dubbed the ‘Wow’ signal after the comment scribbled on the radio transcript document by Jerry Ehman. In 2016 astronomers decided it might have been from passing comets.
18/2/1977, The Space Shuttle Enterprise went on its maiden ‘flight’ on the top of a Boeing 747 plane.
17/7/1975. The crews of Apollo 18 (USA) and Soyuz 19 (USSR) visited each other’s capsules in the first such joint space venture between the two countries. They shook hands 140 miles over the south coast of Britain. The Apollo 18 mission was reckoned to have cost US$ 500 million, and the expense of this put an end to the Apollo project.
15/7/1975, Apollo 18 was launched, crewed by Vance Brand, Thomas Stafford, and Donald Slayton.
16/11/1974, The Arecibo radio telescope beamed a message towards the M13 star cluster encoding information about mankind, in case any aliens are there to receive it.
19/7/1974, The Soviet space probe Soyuz 14 returned safely to Earth.
29/3/1974. The US spacecraft Mariner 10 sent back the first photos of the planet Mercury.
8/2/1974, America’s final Skylab mission ended after 84 days, as Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue returned to Earth.
14/5/1973. The US put Skylab I into orbit. It eventually returned to earth on 11 July 1979 after 34,981 orbits.
7/3/1973, Comet Kohoutek was discovered by Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek.
5/1/1972, President Nixon authorised a US$ 5 ½ billion space shuttle programme.
30/6/1971. The USSR spacecraft Soyuz 11 returned to earth but the 3 cosmonauts were found dead in their seats.
24/4/1971 The Russian spacecraft Soyuz 10 linked up with the orbiting Salyut space station.
19/4/1971, The Soviet Union launched the world’s first space station, Salyut 1.
24/4/1970, China launched its first satellite.
11/2/1970, Japan launched its first Earth satellite.
18/5/1969, Apollo 10 was launched, crewed by Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan.
3/3/1969, Apollo 9 was launched, manned by James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart.
11/10/1968, The USA’s Apollo 7 spacecraft was launched flawlessly by its 700 ton Saturn 1B rocket and began 10 days and 21 hours in space. It was crewed by Walter Schirra, Don Eiselle and Walter Cunningham.
27/3/1968. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space in 1961, was killed in a plane crash near Moscow, on a routine training flight.
28/11/1967, The first pulsar was discovered by radio astronomers at Cambridge, England. The regular radio pulses were initially thought to be signals from intelligent aliens.
24/4/1967. The first space casualty occurred when Vladimir Komarov was killed as the Russian spacecraft Soyuz I crashed to earth after leaving orbit. It came to Earth on the steppes of Orenburg.
27/1/1967, Fire broke out on the spacecraft Apollo I during ground tests at Cape Kennedy. Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were killed. Normally fire-resistant plastics ignited in the pure oxygen used by the astronauts.
18/7/1966, The US launched the Gemini 10 spacecraft, crewed by John Young and Michael Collins.
17/3/1966. US astronauts docked in space.
3/6/1966, Gemini 9 was launched, with 2 astronauts on board.
15/3/1966, The US spacecraft Gemini 8 was launched, with Neil Armstrong and David Scott.
1965, Technicians working for the Bell Telephone Company reported radio interference at 3.2 cm wavelength which they initially blamed on birds. In fact the radiation was from space and confirmed the Bug Bang Theory, which had first been proposed by the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre in 1927. In fact Us astronomer Robert Dicke had calculated the expected frequency of this radiation a year earlier in 1964, as the ‘afterglow’ of the Big Bang.
4/12/1965, The US spacecraft Gemini 7 was launched, crewed by Frank Borman and James Lovell.
21/8/1965, The US launched the spacecraft Gemini 5, crewed by Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad. It orbited the Earth for 8 days before a safe splashdown in the Atlantic.
3/6/1965, Gemini IV was launched, crewed by James McDivitt and Edward White. During the flight, Edward H White became the first man to walk in space, for 20 minutes.
23/3/1965, US spacecraft Gemini I was launched, crewed by Virgil Grissom and John Young.
18/3/1965. The first walk in space, lasting about 10 minutes, was made by Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, from the spaceship Voskhod 2.
19/1/1965, The unmanned Gemini 2 was launched on a suborbital test of various spacecraft systems, in preparation for the first US mission to send two astronauts into space.
1964, US astronomer Robert Dicke proposed that space should contain the ‘afterglow’ of the Big bang, in the form of radio waves. In 1965 this radiation was picked up, at a frequency of 3.2 cm, by the Bell Telephone Company; they initially attributed such radio waves to interference by birds.
12/10/1964. Russia launched the first three man space ship.
5/6/1964, The first British space flight, as the Blue Streak rocket took off from Woomera in Australia.
17/6/1963, The USSR achieved the first link-up of two spacecraft in space. Valentina Tereshkova (26) aboard the Vostok 6 rocket met with Valery Bykovsky (28) who had been orbiting Earth aboard Vostok 5 for two days. Crowds celebrated in the streets of Moscow.
16/6/1963. Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space. She was born to a peasant family in Maslennikovo, Russia, in 1937, and made her first parachute jump aged 22 with a local aviation club. Her enthusiasm for skydiving brought her to the attention of the soviet space programme, which wanted a woman in space in the early 1960s. Tereshkova was launched into space on 16/6/1993 from Tyaturum aboard Vostok 6, guided by an automatic control system. After just under 3 days in space, and 48 Earth orbits, Vostok 6 re-entered the atmosphere and Tereshkova successfully parachuted to Earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet. She later received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards.
15/5/1963, US astronaut Gordon Cooper, launched in an Atlas rocket, made 22 orbits of the Earth.
5/2/1963, Maarten Schmidt identified red shifts in quasars.
29/9/1962, Canada launched its first satellite, the Alouette.
22/7/1962, The Mariner 1 spacecraft flew erratically several minutes after launch and had to be destroyed after less than five minutes, at a cost of $4,000,000 for the satellite and $8,000,000 for the rocket. The $12 million dollar loss was later traced to the omission of an overbar in the handwritten text from which the computer programming for the rocket guidance system was drawn.
14/6/1962, The European Space Research Organisation was formed in Paris.
26/4/1962, Britain’s first satellite, Ariel, was launched from Cape Canaveral.
20/2/1962. Astronaut John Glenn made three orbits of the Earth in his spacecraft Mercury VI, the first American in orbit. Bad weather on 26/1/1962 at Cape Canaveral had delayed his launch.
25/5/1961, US President Kennedy announced the Apollo space programme. Tests began on the Saturn-1 rocket system.
5/5/1961. The Americans put Alan Shephard into space for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 116 miles before splashing down 303 miles from the launch site. He was the second man and the first American to reach space. However the Russian space flight on 12/4/1961 had lasted 108 minutes and circled the Earth.
12/4/1961. Yuri Gagarin (1934-68) made the first orbit of the Earth, at an altitude of 300km, in his spaceship Vostok 1. He took off from Tyuratom in Kazakhstan, made a single Earth-orbit, and landed near Engels in the Saratov region.
22/8/1960. Two dogs returned to Earth in a Soviet space craft. The Russian dogs, named Byelka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Arrow) returned on board Sputnik V, along with 40 mice, two rats, and some plants, as they prepared for a human launch. President John F Kennedy angrily asked US scientists why the first pair of space dogs were called Strelka and Byelka and not Rover and Fido.
15/5/1960, Sputnik IV was launched.
14/3/1960, Jodrell Bank radio telescope set a record for the furthest communication with a man made object. Radio communications were established with the US satellite Pioneer 5, over 407,000 miles away.
28/3/1959, Two monkeys returned alive to earth after being sent into space by the USA.
12/1/1959, A US$ 400 million contract for the Mercury US space programme was awarded to the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St Louis.
29/7/1958. NASA, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, was founded.
15/5/1958, The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 3 into Earth orbit.
21/3/1958. London Planetarium opened in Marylebone Street, the first planetarium in Britain.
31/1/1958, The US Army at Cape Canaveral launched America’s first Earth satellite, Explorer I. This led to the accidental discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth, when the satellite’s radiation meters suddenly showed zero readings. US astronomer James Van Allen realised that the meters had been overloaded and broken down.
4/1/1958, Sputnik 1 disintegrated after completing 1,367 orbits of the Earth. It had travelled some 43 million miles in 92 days.
3/11/1957. The Soviets sent a dog into Earth-orbit. The dog, called Laika (meaning ‘barker’) was a Siberian husky rounded up as a stray. She probably died of overheating after measuring systems on board the Sputnik 2 failed, after a few hours in orbit 2,000 miles above Earth. The space capsule continued to orbit Earth until April 1958 when after 2,570 orbits it crashed to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere. Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space, in April 1961 aboard Vostok 1. The Soviets sent 13 more dogs into space, 8 of which survived.
11/10/1957. The radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, planned by Sir Bernard Lovell, went into operation.
4/10/1957. The first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik I, by the USSR was launched from Tyuratam, 170 miles east of the Aral Sea. It weighed 80 kg.
24/4/1957. The BBC broadcast Patrick Moore’s ‘The Sky at Night’ for the first time.
30/3/1957, Yelena Kondakova, Russian astronaut, was born
12/1/1957, President Eisenhower urged the USSR to agree to a ban on warfare in space.
2/1/1956, The British Astronomer-Royal said the idea of space travel was ‘bilge’.
18/4/1955. Albert Einstein, born 14/3/1879, died in Princeton, New Jersey, of a stroke. He was born to a middle class German family of Jewish ancestry. Einstein graduated in 1900 from the Federal institute of technology in Zurich; he worked hard in the laboratory but skipped lectures. He completed his general theory of relativity in 1915 and received the Nobel Prize in 1922. He became an American citizen in 1940 after having signed a famous letter to President F D Roosevelt warning that Germany might try and build an atomic bomb.
30/11/1954, Mrs Hewlett Hodges, of Sylacauga, Alabama, USA, became the only person to have been struck be a meteorite. The 4kg rock crashed through the roof of her house, bounced off a radio, and hit her hip, causing a massive bruise but no other injuries.
26/8/1952, The Soviet Union announced the first successful intercontinental ballistic missile test.
1951, US astronomers Harold Ewen and Edward Purcell measured, from Harvard University, the 1.42 GHz radio waves from the Milky Way, the signature of clouds of neutral hydrogen gas, which is what collapses to form new stars.
1950, Atmospheric pollution forced the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, to move to Herstmonceaux, Sussex.
26/1/1949, The first test photograph was made at Mount Palomar observatory.
3/6/1948, The large telescope on Mount Palomar, California, with its 5 metre aperture lens, came into service.
27/3/1945. The last German V-2 rocket fell on Britain, at Orpington. (see 8/9/1944). The Allies then overran the last V-2 launching site. In all, 1,050 rockets fell on England, each carrying a ton of explosive with a range of 200 miles. The V-2s were designed by Werner von Braun, who surrendered to the Americans in 1945. Von Braun was given US citizenship and helped design the rockets for the US space programme, including the Saturn rockets and the Apollo missions.
8/9/1944, The first V-2 fell in on Chiswick in the London area, killing three people. By the end of the war, 1,100 V-2s fell in England an a further 1,675 on the continent, mainly on Antwerp. V-2 stood for Vergeltungswaffe, or ‘reprisal weapon’. The V-2 rocket weighed 12 tons and travelled at 3,600 mph, faster than sound, so there was no warning of its imminent arrival. It had a range of 200 miles and carried a one ton bomb. The Germans fired them from launchers in The Netherlands, but the explosions in London were attributed, by the authorities, to gas explosions to mislead the German intelligence. The earlier V-1 rocket was slower and had a shorter range; V-1 strikes on London ceased as the Allies captured the launch sites in France.
13/6/1944. The first V-1 flying bomb, or doodlebug, to hit Britain landed on a house in Southampton, killing three people. Within 24 hours, others hit London.
1942, The Sun’s radio emissions were first discovered by the British scientist Robert Hey. However at the time the radio noise was attributed to jamming by the Germans.
8/1/1942, Stephen Hawking, astrophysicist, was born.
25/5/1939, Sir Frank Dyson, British astronomer and director of Greenwich Observatory, died.
1938, The German-born US physicist Hans Boethe (2/7/1906 – 6/3/2005) began to work out the nuclear reactions that produce energy within the Sun. he received a Physics Nobel Prize for this work in 1967/
25/1/1938. The aurora borealis, or northern lights, were seen as far south as London’s West End and throughout Western Europe. It was due to intense sunspot activity.
1937, The US astronomer Grote Reber built the first radio telescope.
30/10/1937. The 500,000 ton asteroid Hermes missed the earth by 485,000 miles.
6/3/1937, Valentino Tereshkova, Russian astronaut and first woman in space in 1963, was born.
9/11/1934, Carl Sagan, US astronomer, was born in New York.
9/3/1934. Yuri Gagarin, first man in space, was born near Smolensk, son of a collective farmer.
1933, Frank Zwicky and Walter Baade first theorised that supernovae might produce neutron stars
14/11/1933, Fred Haise, US astronaut, was born in Biloxi, Mississippi.
1932, The US engineer Karl Jansky (1905-50) became the first person to detect radio waves from space. He discovered these waves accidentally because they caused static whilst he was researching long-distance radio communications for the Bell Telephone Company. However there was little interest in radio astronomy until after World War Two.
30/8/1931, John Swigert, US astronaut, was born in Denver, Colorado.
17/9/1930, Thomas Stafford, US astronaut, was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma.
13/3/1930, The discovery of Pluto was announced this day.
18/2/1930. American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet Pluto from a series of pictures taken during the previous month at the Lowell Observatory.
1929, US astronomer Edwin Hubble found that the further a galaxy was away from Earth, the more its light was red-shifted. This red-shift had first been observed in 1912 by another US astronomer, Vesto Slipher. Hubble worked out that this effect was caused by the galaxies receding from us as the Universe expands. See 1842.
25/3/1928, James Lovell, American astronaut, was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
3/4/1926, Virgil Grissom, third man in space, was born.
30/3/1926, American physicist Robert Goddard successfully tested the world’s first liquid-propellant rocket.
18/11/1923, Alan Shepard, the first US astronaut in space, was born in East Derry, New Hampshire.
21/10/1923, The world’s first planetarium opened, in Munich.
27/3/1923, The astronomer and broadcaster Patrick Moore was born in Pinner.
10/12/1921, Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics, for his work on Relativity.
18/7/1921, John Glenn, US astronaut and first man to orbit the Earth, was born in Cambridge, Ohio.
1919, British astronomer Arthur Edington verified Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by observing stars whose position was close to the Sun, during a solar eclipse in the South Pacific, and confirming that their apparent position had shifted due to the Sun’s gravity as the Theory predicted.
27/9.1918, Martin Ryle, English radio astronomer, was born (died 1984).
12/11/1916, Percival Lowell, US astronomer who predicted the existence of the planet Pluto prior to its discovery in 1930, died in Flagstaff, Arizona.
1918, Harrow Shapley discovered the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
24/6/1915, Professor Fred Hoyle, British astronomer and science fiction writer, was born.
31/8/1913, The astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell, pioneer in the field of radio astronomy was born in Gloucestershire. 23/3/1912, Wernher von Braun, German rocket scientist, was born in Wirsitz.
2/10/1910, The asteroid Interamnia, seventh largest in the Solar System (300 km in diameter) was discovered by Italian astronomer Vincenzo Cerulli from an observatory in Teramo.
18/5/1910. The Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet; some people feared disaster.
21/10/1909, Halley’s Comet was sighted from Cambridge Observatory, UK.
11/9/1909, Halley’s Comet was first observed, at Heidelberg.
13/7/1908, An explosion 1,000 x greater than Hiroshima flattened 80 million trees over 800 square miles near the River Tungaska, Siberia. It is thought to have been a meteor or comet.
25/6/1894, Hermann Julius Oberth, designer of the V2 flying rocket bombs that plagued London at the end of World War two, was born this day.
21/1/1892, John Couch Adams, English astronomer associated with the discovery of the planet Neptune, died.
2/1/1892, Sir George Airy, Astronomer-Royal who modernised the Greenwich Observatory, died at Alnwick, Northumberland.
8/1885, The first supernova outside the Milky Way galaxy was seen, in the Andromeda ‘nebula’ (now known to be another galaxy). At its peak it was estimated to have been 15 million times as bright as the Sun.
17/10/1883, The Ben Nevis observatory was opened.
14/3/1879. Albert Einstein, physicist and mathematician, was born in Ulm, Bavaria, to Jewish parents.
11/2/1868, Jean Foucault, French physicist who measured the speed of light, died in Paris.
8/1/1868, Sir Frank Dyson, British astronomer, was born in Measham, then in Derbyshire.
31/12/1864, Robert Aitken, US astronomer (died 29/10/1951) was born.
1860, Fraunhofer Lines in the light emitted by the Sun were identified as corresponding to the emission frequencies of light emitted by certain elements heated to incandescence. This discovery was made by German scientists Gustav Kirchhoff (1824-87) and Robert Bunsen (1811-99), who also invented the Bunsen burner. The dark lines in the Sun’s spectrum had been first spotted by English scientist William Wollaston in 1802; he thought they were merely boundaries between the various colours. Joseph von Fraunhofer studied the lines more closely and plotted 574 of them. Some 25,000 such lines are now known to exist in the Sun’s light, and that from other stars, identifying which chemical elements are present in those stars.
2/6/1858, G B Donati, Italian astronomer, discovered the comet now named after him.
13/3/1855, Percival Lowell, US astronomer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
23/9/1846. The German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the planet Neptune. This followed predictions made by Leverrier and Adams.
19/6/1846, Antonio Abetti, Italian astronomer who studied the minor planets, was born (died 20/2/1928).
1843, German amateur astronomer Heinrich Schwabe worked out that the length of the sunspot cycle on the Sun was 11 years. He had initially been looking for a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury.
1842, Christian Doppler amounted, in Prague, the Doppler Effect; that motion changed the wavelength of light. This principle is used to determine the velocity of stars relative to Earth. The hypothesis was tested for sound waves by Buys Ballot in 1845. See 1929.
1838, The German astronomer Friedrich Bessel announced the first calculation of a distance from Earth to another star. He used triangulation from two different points in the Earth’s orbit to measure the apparent change in position of the star, 61 Cygni, and came up with 10.3 light years (modern figure 11.08 L Y). Another astronomer, the Englishman Thomas Henderson, had also made calculations of the distance to Alpha Centauri, and announced these the following year.
28/2/1831, Edward James Stone, British astronomer, was born (died 9/5/1897).
1823, An observatory was built on Ben Nevis, Scotland, to study sun-spots.
25/8/1822, The astronomer Sir William Herschel died. He discovered Uranus in 1781.
5/6/1819, John Couch Adams, who co-discovered Neptune, was born near Launceston, Cornwall.
12/4/1817, Charles Messier, French astronomer who made a list of nebulae known as the Messier catalogue, died.
1/9/1804, The asteroid Juno was discovered by Professor Harding.
1801, French astronomer Joseph Lalande published a catalogue of the 47,390 known stars.
1/1/1801, Guiseppe Piazzi at Palermo, Italy discovered Ceres, the largest of the minor planets.
7/3/1792. Sir John Herschel, the astronomer who mapped the stars of the southern hemisphere, was born in Slough.
13/3/1781. Astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. He called it Georgium Sidus (George’s Star) in honour of King George III.
1750, English astronomer Thomas Wright (1711-86) first proposed that the Milky Way was a collection of stars like the Sun.
14/1/1742. The Astronomer-Royal Edmond Halley died at Greenwich aged 85.
15/11/1738, Sir William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781, was born in Hanover, Germany.
31/12/1719, John Flamsteed, first Astronomer-Royal, , died. His catalogue of stars for ship’s navigators was still incomplete after 40 years of work.
1705, Edmund Halley, English astronomer (1656-1742), calculated the orbital period of the comet named after him.
1668, Isaac Newton built the first reflecting telescope.
10/12/1684, Isaac Newton’s derivation of Kepler’s Laws of Gravity was read in a paper to The Royal Society by Edmund Halley.
12/7/1682, Death of Jean Picard, astronomer who first calculated the circumference of the Earth.
1675, Cassini discovered that the rings of Saturn are separated by breaks, still known as the Cassini Divisions.
10/8/1675. Charles II established Greenwich Observatory, at Flamsteed House, Greenwich. Its foundation stone was laid this day.
4/3/1675, Charles II appointed John Flamsteed as the first Astronomer-Royal.
1672, Cassini discovered Rhea, a satellite of Saturn.
2/1669, Isaac Newton first described his reflecting telescope in a letter to Henry Oldenburg (1619-77), first Secretary of the Royal Society.
8/11/1656. Edmond Halley, who discovered Halley’s comet, was born in London. He was the first to realise that comets do not appear at random, but have predictable orbits.
29/3/1652, ‘Black Monday’ – a total eclipse of the Sun in Britain caused anxiety.
19/8/1646, John Flamsteed, first Astronomer Royal, was born in Denby, near Derby.
25/12/1642, Isaac Newton was born at Woolsthorpe, near Grantham, the son of a farmer.
8/1/1642, Galileo, Italian mathematician physicist and astronomer, professor at the University of Padua, died.
24/11/1639, A transit of Venus across the Sun was first observed by Jeremiah Horrocks.
1638, The first variable star was identified as such by Dutch astronomer Phocyclides. The star, Mir Ceta, had earlier been observed fading from view by David Fabricius in 1596.
6/11/1638, James Gregory, Scottish mathematician who gave a demonstration of the first practical reflecting telescope, was born.
12/4/1633, The trial of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition began. At the end of which he would be ordered to recant his belief that the Sun not the Earth was the centre of the Universe, as heretical.
7/11/1631, Pierre Gassendi observed the transit of Mercury across the Sun. This was the first observation of a planetary transit.
15/11/1630, Johannes Kepler, astronomer, died in Regensburg, Germany.
1627, The German astronomer, Kepler, catalogued the position of 1,005 stars.
26/2/1616. The Church ordered Galileo to abandon his theory that the Sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the Universe.
28/1/1613, Galileo noted the undiscovered planet Neptune but failed to realise what it was. Neptune was officially discovered 233 years later by John Couch Adams.
1610, Sun spots first observed by Harriott, Fabricias, and Scheiner.
2/10/1608, The Dutch lensmaker Jan Lippershey first demonstrated the telescope.
24/10/1601, Tycho Brahe, Danish Royal Astronomer, died in Benatky, near Prague, Czechoslovakia.
17/2/1600, Italian astronomer Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake, for the heresy of suggesting that the stars were distant suns, possibly with their own planets.
1577, The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe catalogued 777 stars.
8/8/1576, The first purpose-built observatory was constructed in Denmark.
20/1/1573, Simon Marius was born in Gunzenhausen, Germany. He was the first astronomer to mention Andromeda.
11/11/1572. The astronomer Tycho Brahe saw a ‘new star’, a supernova, in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The fixed stars were meant to be eternal, unchanging. Along with Copernicus’ assertion that the Sun, not the earth, is the centre of the Universe, this undermined traditional church cosmology.
27/12/1571, Johannes Kepler, astronomer, was born. He discovered that planets have elliptical orbits
15/2/1564, Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy.
14/12/1546, Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and mathematician, was born in Knudstrup.
24/5/1543. The Polish astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus died of apoplexy. Born on 19/2/1473, in Torun, Poland, Copernicus is regarded as the founder of modern astronomy. When his father died, Copernicus’ uncle Lucas Waczenrode became his guardian. In 1491 Copernicus went to the University of Krakow to study Latin, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and philosophy. He returned home after 4 years without a degree, and studied Canon Law at the University of Bologna so as to have a church career. From a turret on the walls of Bologna Cathedral, Copernicus studied the stars, and in 1530 produced a 400 page treatise, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the revolutions of the celestial spheres). This put forward the idea that the earth rotated on its own axis daily and annually around the Sun. It was published in the year of his death, 1543, and greeted with a hostile reception as it challenged the ancient teaching that the earth was the centre of the Universe.
19/2/1473, Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish astronomer, was born in Torun, Poland.
1420, The Mongol ruler Ulugh Beg established a large observatory at Samarkand, probably inspired by earlier Muslim observatories such as the one at Maragha, Azerbaijan. The Samarkand observatory was much larger than its predecessors. Ulugh Beg completed a large star catalogue in 1439. However this work was destroyed by his son Adballatif after Ulugh Beg was murdered in 1449, because Adballatif had been exiled on the advice of astrologers.
1259, Nasreddin (1201-74), ruler of Iran, completed his observatory at Maragha. It had a staff of 15 and a library of 400,000 books, and observational enabled Nasreddin to compile accurate tables of planetary motion.
1232, First recorded use of rockets, by the Chinese military against the Mongols.
1092, In China, Su Sung built a ‘cosmic engine’; an apparatus showing the changing position of celestial objects in the sky.
1080, Arzachel, Arab astronomer, suggested that planetary orbits were elliptical.
4/7/1054, Chinese astronomers recorded a supernova so bright it could be seen in daylight for 23 days and at night for almost 2 years. This now forms the Crab nebula.
968, The Byzantine historian Leo Diaconus made the first recorded reference to the Sun’s corona.
964, Al-Sufi published an illustrated text, the Book of Fixed Stars.
813, A school of astronomy opened in
635, The Chinese observed that the tail of a comet always points away from the Sun.
517, Aryabhata wrote a manual of astronomy.
Ca. 120 BCE, Hipparchus of Nicaea died (born ca. 190 BCE). He calculated the distance from the Earth to the Moon, as 238,600 miles (384,000 km).
Ca. 230 BCE, Death of Aristarchus (born ca. 310 BCE). He was one of the first to assert that neither the Earth nor the Sun were the centre of the Universe – a principle rediscovered by Copernicus nearly 2,000 years later. Aristarchus observed the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse, and calculated that the Earth was 3x the diameter of the Moon.
240 BCE, The Greek astronomer Eratosthenes (276 – 194 BCE) calculated the circumference of the Earth. He noticed that the Sun cast no shadow in Aswan, Egypt, but in the same day of the year in Alexandria, 800km further north, it was 7 degrees off vertical. From this Eratosthenes calculated the Earth’s circumference as around 40,000 km. This is very close to the true figure of 40,007 km, through the Poles. He also suggested that the Earth moved around the Sun. However Claudius Ptolemy (87-150) believed the Earth to be at the centre of the Universe; it was this Ptolemaic view that prevailed in Church thinking right down to the time of Copernicus.
265 BCE, Aristarchus of Samos estimated the distance between the Earth and the Sun by observing the angle between Sun and Moon when the Moon was exactly half-full.
352 BCE, First recorded sighting of a supernova, by the Chinese.
375 BCE, Democritus of Greece first recognised that the Milky Way is composed of stars like the Sun.
385 BCE, The Greek astronomer, Heracleides, became the first person to suggest that the planets Venus and Mercury orbited the Sun.
435 BCE, The Metonic Cycle, about 19 years, was discovered by Metos of Athens. It is a multiple of the lunar and solar calendars, can predict eclipses, and forms the basis of the Greek and Jewish calendars.
472 BCE, Pythagoras was born. He provided the first scientific proof that the Earth is round; the star Canopus could be seen at Alexandria, Egypt, but not further north in Athens, Greece; also the shadow of the Earth on the Moon in a lunar eclipse was curved, so the Earth must also be curved.
17/7/709 BCE, An eclipse of the Sun was recorded in China.
19/3/721 BCE, An eclipse of the Sun was recorded by the Babylonians.
3/5/1375 BCE, The first total eclipse of the Sun recorded outside China, by the Babylonians.
1775 BCE, The Babylonians, under Hammurabi, compiled star charts and records of planetary motions.
21/10/2137 BCE. The first recorded total eclipse of the sun, in China.
Appendix 1 - Jupiter exploration
27/8/2016, The NASA space probe Juno successfully skimmed the planet Jupiter, the start of an 18-month mission to gather data on the planet.
5/7/2016, The space probe Juno entered polar orbit around Jupiter.
5/8/2011, The Juno space probe was launched towards Jupiter.
21/9/2003. The Galileo space probe ended its mission with a plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere.
2/3/1998, Data sent from the Galileo probe indicated that Jupiter’s Moon Europa had an ocean of liquid water beneath a frozen crust of ice.
7/12/1995, The space probe Galileo entered orbit around Jupiter, and sent a probe into the planet’s atmosphere.
4/3/1979, Voyager 1 photographed Jupiter’s rings, approaching within 290,000 kilometres of the planet on 5/3/1979.
20/8/1977. The Voyager I space craft was launched on a journey via Jupiter and Saturn, later to become the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
6/4/1973, The space probe Pioneer 11 was launched. Passing Jupiter a year after Pioneer 10 it continued on to Saturn, which it reached in 1979.
3/3/1972, The space probe Pioneer 10 was launched. It became the first probe to cross the asteroid belt, crossing it between July 1972 and February 1973. It arrived at Jupiter in December 1973. It has now left the solar system and is predicted to reach the red star Aldebaran in 2 million years’ time.
1671, Csssini discovered Iapetus, a satellite of Jupiter.
1664, Robert Hooke first noted Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, also discovering the rotation of Jupiter.
17/5/1630, The belts of the planet Jupiter were first observed.
7/1/1610, Galileo first observed four of the moons of Jupiter.
Appendix 2 - Mars exploration
6/8/2012, Curiosity, the US space probe, successfully landed on Mars.
26/11/2011, The US launched its probe Curiosity towards Mars.
25/5/2008, NASA successfully landed a probe on the north polar regions of Mars.
23/1/2004, The Mars Express space probe found evidence of frozen water at Mars’ south pole.
11/12/1998, The Mars Climate Orbiter was launched from Cape Canaveral; the craft was later lost because one team was using metric and another using imperial measurements.
27/9/1997, The Pathfinder probe on Mars ceased functioning, after 2 months on the planet’s surface.
4/7/1997, NASA’s Pathfinder probe landed on the surface of Mars.
4/12/1996, NASA launched the Pathfinder probe towards Mars.
7/7/1988, The first of two Soviet probes was sent to study Phobos, a moon of Mars. The second probe was launched on 12/2/1988. Later, Phobos I was accidentally sent a ‘suicide’ instruction.
3/9/1976. The US spacecraft Viking 2 landed on Mars after a journey lasting 359 days. It landed in the Utopia Planitia region and broadcast back the first colour pictures of the planet.
7/8/1976. The Viking 2 probe entered orbit around Mars.
20/7/1976. The US spacecraft Viking I landed on Mars after an 11-month journey from Earth. On 31/7/1976 NASA released the famous ‘face on Mars’ photograph.
20/8/1975, NASA launched the Viking I probe towards Mars.
2/3/1972, The US spacecraft Pioneer 10 blasted off to Mars and Jupiter, a 21-month long mission.
30/5/1971, Mariner 9 was launched by the US at Cape Kennedy on a mission to Mars.
25/2/1969, Mariner 6 was launched from Cape Canaveral, to fly by Mars.
15/7/1965, Mariner 4 flew by Mars, returning images of the planet’s surface. It revealed that Mars was covered with impact craters, demonstrating a lack of geological activity. A measurement of the changes in radio transmissions as the signals passed through the Martian atmosphere also showed that surface pressure was 94% less than had been predicted, at about 1% of Earth sea level pressure and was mostly carbon dioxide and that the Martian ice caps were actually frozen CO2.
28/11/1964, Mariner 4 was launched; 228 days later it passed within 9,700 kilometres of Mars.
1963, The space probe Mars I orbited Mars.
11/8/1877, The two small moons of Mars were first seen by US astronomer Asaph Hall.
1671, Cassini calculated the distance from Earth to Mars. From this he deduced the distances of all the planets from the Sun.
Appendix 3 - Moon exploration
24/1/1990, Japan sent the first probe to the Moon since 1976. It placed a small satellite in lunar orbit.
16/6/1977, Werner von Braun, German-born pioneer of rocketry who worked under the Nazis, then assisted in the American manned flights to the Moon programme, died in Alexandria, Virginia, USA.
7/12/1972, The US spacecraft Apollo 17 was launched, crewed by Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Dr Harrison Schmitt. Cernan and Schmitt made the 6th Moon landing.
20/4/1972. Apollo 16 landed on the Moon.
16/4/1972, Apollo 16 was launched with John Young, Charles Duke, and Thomas Mattingley. Young and Duke made the 5th Moon landing.
5/2/1971. US spacecraft Apollo 14, launched on 31/1/1971, landed on the Moon. Mitchell. Shephard and Mitchell made the 3rd Moon landing.
31/1/1971, The US spacecraft, Apollo 14, the third mission to the Moon, was launched with a three-man crew. On board were Alan Shephard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar
17/11/1970. The unmanned Russian spacecraft Luna 17 landed on the Moon and released the first moon walker vehicle.
17/4/1970, The Apollo 13 astronauts were rescued after their craft failed 200,000 miles from earth and they had to navigate back home by the Sun. They crashed into the Pacific Ocean and were picked up by the US Navy. Apollo 13 was launched on 11/4/1970. An oxygen tank in the service module exploded, destroying both oxygen tanks and blowing the side off the service module; this was later determined by NASA to have been caused by wires in a fan thermostat having been tested at too high a voltage, burning off the insulation and causing a short circuit when the fan was activated. There was now insufficient oxygen for both power and breathing. The three astronauts retreated to the lunar module, designed only for two people, and shut down the main module until required for the Earth landing. Having reported the famous words “Houston we have a problem” the astronauts had no option but to continue out to orbit the Moon, being out of Earth contact for a period, until returning home.
11/4/1970, The US spacecraft Apollo 13 was launched.
14/11/1969. The US launched Apollo 12, crewed by Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean. Conrad and Bean made the 2nd Moon landing on 19/11/1969.
24/7/1969, The Apollo 11 astronauts returned successfully to earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
22/7/1969, Apollo 11 left the Moon.
20/7/1969. Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon. He said, as he emerged from the Eagle lunar module, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. The Eagle had separated from the Apollo 11 spacecraft. See 7/10/1968 and 19/11/1969. The Apollo 11 mission had launched from Cape Canaveral on 16/7/1969.
21/12/1968. The first flight of a man around the Moon, when Apollo 8 was launched. It was crewed by Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders.
9/1/1968, The space probe Surveyor VII landed near the lunar crater Tycho.
10/8/1966, America’s first Moon satellite, Orbiter 1, was launched.
2/6/1966. The US unmanned spacecraft Surveyor made the first soft landing on the Moon.
3/2/1966, The Soviet unmanned spacecraft, Luna IX, made the first soft landing on the Moon.
15/12/1965, US astronauts achieved the first rendezvous of two vehicles in space. Gemini 6, crewed by Walter P Shirra and Thomas P Stafford, met alongside Gemini 7, crewed by Frank Borman and James A Lovell. The two craft then orbited together, about 3 metres apart, completing two earth orbits at an altitude of 315 kilometres. This exercise was vital in planning the manned lunar programme, where a lunar module would detach from the command ship to land on the Moon, then rejoin the main ship to return to Earth.
31/7/1964, NASA succeeded in landing the Ranger 7 probe on the Moon.
26/10/1963, Khrushchev said the USSR would not race the US to get a man on the Moon.
13/11/1962. America launched its biggest rocket yet, the Saturn booster, in its effort to reach the Moon.
9/9/1962. President Kennedy called for the USA to launch a full speed drive for the Moon and first place in space over Russia, so that space will be an area of peace and not a terrifying theatre of war.
27/1/1962, An unmanned US craft passed within 20,000 miles of the moon.
7/10/1959, The first photographs of the far side of the Moon were transmitted by the Russian spacecraft Lunik III.
14/9/1959, The first man-made object landed on the Moon; the Russian space probe Lunik II, near the Mare Serenitatis.
2/1/1959, The Russians launched Lunik 1, the first rocket to pass near the Moon, from Tyuratam.
14/3/1934, Eugene Cernan, one of the sixth pair of US astronauts to land on the Moon, was born in Chicago, Illinois.
31/10/1930, Michael Collins, US astronaut who piloted the command module during the first Moon landing, was born in Rome, Italy.
24/9/1930, John Young, US astronaut, whose spacecraft made the 5th landing on the Moon, was born in San Francisco, California.
5/8/1930. Birth of US astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
2/6/1930, Charles Conrad, American astronaut whose spacecraft made the second landing on the Moon, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
11/4/1930. US scientists predicted that man would have landed on the Moon by 2050.
20/1/1930. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, second man on the Moon, was born at Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
18/6/1178, A violent explosion was seen on the face of the Moon. Later, astronomers calculated this may have been the meteor that created the crater known as Giordano Bruno.
Appendix 4 - Saturn exploration
15/9/2017, The Cassini spacecraft, which had been orbiting Saturn since 2004, dived into Saturn’s atmosphere to be destroyed. The spacecraft had almost run out of fuel, making it uncontrollable. This was to ensure the spacecraft did not crash into Enceladus, where a subsurface ocean of liquid water is believed to exist, and possibly contaminate it with terrestrial bacteria.
1/7/2004, The Cassini space probe arrived at Saturn.
15/10/1997, The Cassini space probe was launched. It spend 13 years orbiting Saturn before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere to destruction on 15/9/2017.
12/11/1979, The NASA probe Voyager 1 passed within 140,000 kilometres of Saturn, taking high-resolution pictures of the cloud tops.
1/9/1979, The US spacecraft Pioneer 1 visited Saturn, passing by the planet 21,000 kilometres away.
20/8/1977. The Voyager I space craft was launched on a journey via Jupiter and Saturn, later to become the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
5/9/1977, The US launched the Voyager 2 spacecraft to add to the information gathered by Voyager 1 on Saturn. It continued on to Uranus, then to Neptune, where it arrived in September 1989, its last planetary visit.
6/4/1973, The space probe Pioneer 11 was launched. Passing Jupiter a year after Pioneer 10 it continued on to Saturn, which it reached in 1979.
25/3/1655, Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, was discovered by Christiaan Huygens.
Appendix 5 - Venus exploration
4/5/1989, The US space shuttle launched the Magellan probe to make a radar map of the surface of Venus.
4/11/1982, Soft landing on Venus by the Soviet space probe Venera 14.
1/3/1982, Soft landing on Venus by the Soviet space probe Venera 13.
9/12/1978, Two US spacecraft reached Venus, sending back pictures of its surface hidden below clouds. On 5/12/1978 the Pioneer I craft went into orbit around Venus, analysing the atmosphere and mapping the surface by radar. This day the Pioneer 2 craft launched probes which landed, surviving the hellish conditions for four hours.
8/6/1975, The USSR launched the Venera 9 probe towards Venus. It landed on the surface, transmitting data and pictures for 53 minutes.
5/2/1974. The US spacecraft Mariner 10 sent back pictures of Venus.
16/5/1969, The Russian spacecraft Venus 5 touched down on Venus.
18/10/1967, The Soviet space probe Venera 4 made the first soft landing on Venus.
1/3/1966, The Russian spacecraft Venera III became the first man-made object to land on another planet when it made a hard landing on Venus. It had been launched on 16/11/1965.
16/11/1965, The Russians launched Venus III on a voyage to Venus.
14/12/1962. Mariner II sent back the first close-up pictures of the planet Venus.
27/8/1962, The US spacecraft Mariner II was launched, on a space mission, to Venus.
1961, The Soviet space probe Venera I orbited Venus.