Archive for August, 2010

Our summer almanac 27.08.2010 – 02.09.2010

Posted in astronomical time on August 27, 2010 by espacelab

From Summer to Autumn
While the Summer Triangle still dominates the night sky, the stars of autumn are rising in the east, most notably the stars of the great constellation of Pegasus, the Winged Horse. The brightest star in the Square of Pegasus is Alpheratz.

The month named after the emperor Augustus ends, and the ninth month of the year begins, carrying a name, September, that means the seventh month, a leftover of the old Roman ten month calendar.

The Ancient Egyptian New Year

August 29 was the New years Day for the ancient Egyptians, celebrated with ceremonies that began when the brightest star in the heavens, Sirius, appeared on top of the point of obelisks that were set up to be precisely aligned with observation points on the ground below. So what was it that was so special about August 29?

The Egyptian calendar, like most calendars, was organized around what is most important to people in their lives and livelihood. For the ancient Egyptians the pattern of their everyday life was shaped by the great African river Nile. The Nile is the longest river in the world. Its source is the river Luvironza in Burundi, and it flows over 4000 miles to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Because the Nile floods regularly at almost exactly the same time of year, the Egyptians who depended on the annual flood to water and replenish the soil with rich alluvial deposits, were very interested in predicting when this would happen.

When rainfall and the melting snows of the mountains of Ethiopia eventually increased the water level thousands of miles downstream, the ancient Egyptians marked the rise in water using a gauge on the river bank. Using this Nilometer they could then count the days from the high water mark until the next flood, and that would be roughly a year. However, there were periods of time when the floods did not come abundantly, times of climatic variation and drought, and this had a disastrous impact on the lives and welfare of everyone.

Then, later on, the ancient Egyptian astronomers noticed that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at dawn in a direct line with the rising Sun once a year, and that this astronomical event coincided with the annual flood of the river Nile. This particular astronomical event, and the particular day upon which it occurred became very important as the first day of the month dedicated to the Egyptian god Thoth, and the beginning of a new year.

By timing the appearance of Sirius from year to year the Egyptian astronomers were able to calculate that the length of the year was one quarter of a day longer than 365 days. so the Egyptian year was accurate to a margin of 11 minutes and 24 seconds to the solar year, 2000 years before Julius Caesar was inspired to adopt this calendar for Rome in 46 BC.

Water in space

This week 2 September 2010 ESA’s Herschel infrared space observatory discovered that ultraviolet starlight is the key ingredient for making water in space. It is the only explanation for why a dying star is surrounded by a gigantic cloud of hot water vapour.

Every recipe needs a secret ingredient. When astronomers discovered an unexpected cloud of water vapour around the old star IRC+10216 in 2001, they immediately began searching for the source. Stars like IRC+10216 are known as carbon stars and are thought not to make much water. Initially they suspected the star’s heat must be evaporating comets or even dwarf planets to produce the water. Now, Herschel’s PACS and SPIRE instruments have revealed that the secret ingredient is ultraviolet light, because the water is too hot to have come from the destruction of icy celestial bodies.

What is ultraviolet light?
Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays. It is not visible light for human beings and so the name means “beyond violet” (from Latin ultra, “beyond”), violet being the color of the shortest wavelengths of visible light.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and that includes visible light, invisible light like Ultra Violet and Infra Red and radio waves. The graphic above sets out the range the electromagnetic spectrum extends from low frequencies used for modern radio to gamma radiation at the short-wavelength end, covering wavelengths from thousands of kilometers down to a fraction of the size of an atom. The long wavelength limit is the size of the universe itself, while it is thought that the short wavelength limit is in the vicinity of the Planck length, although in principle the spectrum is infinite and continuous.

This image shows a false-colour image of the Sun’s corona as seen in deep ultraviolet by the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope. The Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) is an instrument on the SOHO spacecraft used to obtain high-resolution images of the solar corona in the ultraviolet range. The EIT wavelengths are of great interest to solar physicists because they are emitted by the very hot solar corona but not by the relatively cooler photosphere of the Sun; this reveals structures in the corona that would otherwise be obscured by the brightness of the Sun itself. EIT was originally conceived as a viewfinder instrument to help select observing targets for the other instruments on board SOHO, but EIT is credited with a good fraction of the original science to come from SOHO, including the first observations of traveling wave phenomena in the corona, characterization of coronal mass ejection onset, and determination of the structure of coronal holes, the areas where the Sun’s corona is darker, colder, and has lower-density plasma than average. These were found when X-ray telescopes in the Skylab mission were flown above the Earth’s atmosphere to reveal the structure of the corona.

The Julian Calendar
The Julian calendar, a reform of the Roman calendar, was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and came into force in 45 BC. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year, known at least since Hipparchus. A tropical year (also known as a solar year), for general purposes, is the length of time that the Sun takes to return to the same position in the cycle of seasons, as seen from Earth; for example, the time from vernal equinox to vernal equinox, or from summer solstice to summer solstice. It has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added to February every four years. Hence the Julian year is on average 365.25 days long.

The problem with the previous Roman Calendar system was that the average Roman year would have had 366¼ days over four years, giving it an average drift of one day per year relative to any solstice or equinox. So the calendar became more and more out of synchronization with the solar year.

Julius Caesar, having spent some time in Egypt was aware of the the fact that the Egyptian calendar had a fixed year of 365 days, drifting by one day against the sun in four years. When Caesar returned to Rome in 46 BC, according to Plutarch, he called in the best philosophers and mathematicians of his time to solve the problem of the calendar. Eventually, it was decided to establish a calendar that would be a combination between the old Roman months, the fixed length of the Egyptian calendar, and the 365¼ days of the Greek astronomy.

Although the new calendar was much simpler than the pre-Julian calendar, the pontifices added a leap day every three years, instead of every four years. According to Macrobius, the error was the result of counting inclusively, so that the four-year cycle was considered as including both the first and fourth years; perhaps the earliest recorded example of a fence post error. The following problem illustrates the error:
If you build a straight fence 100m long with posts 10m apart, how many posts do you need?

A common intuition is to divide 100 by 10 and thus answer 10. This is incorrect; the fence has 10 sections, but it has 11 posts.

After 36 years, this resulted in three too many leap days. Augustus remedied this discrepancy by restoring the correct frequency. He also skipped three leap days in order to realign the year.

The Julian calendar remained in use into the 20th century in some countries as a civil calendar, but has been replaced by the Gregorian calendar in nearly all countries. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches have replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar, but the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Estonia and Finland) still use the Julian calendar for calculating the dates of moveable feasts. Some Orthodox churches have adopted the Revised Julian calendar for the observance of fixed feasts, while other Orthodox churches retain the Julian calendar for all purposes. The Julian calendar is still used by the Berber people of North Africa, and on Mount Athos.

The Julian reform set the lengths of the months to their modern values. However, a 13th century scholar, Sacrobosco, proposed a different explanation for the lengths of Julian months which is still widely repeated but is certainly wrong. He then said Augustus changed this to:
31, 28/29, 31, 30, 31, 30, 31, 31, 30, 31, 30, 31
so that the length of Augustus would not be shorter than (and therefore inferior to) the length of Iulius, giving us the irregular month lengths which are still in use.

The evidence disproving this theory includes a wall painting of a Roman calendar (shown above) predating the Julian reform which confirms the accounts that the months were already irregular before Julius Caesar reformed them:
29, 28, 31, 29, 31, 29, 31, 29, 29, 31, 29, 29.

The Gregorian Calendar
The Julian calendar was in general use in Europe and Northern Africa from the times of the Roman Empire until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII needed to create adjustments that were required because too many leap days had been added. On average, the astronomical solstices and the equinoxes advance by about 11 minutes per year against the Julian year. As a result, the calculated date of Easter gradually moved out of phase with the March equinox. Consequently the Julian calendar gained a day about every 134 years. By 1582, it was ten days out of alignment from where it supposedly was in the year 325 during the Council of Nicaea, when the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom included settling the calculation of the date of Easter.

The Gregorian calendar was soon adopted by most Catholic countries (e.g. Spain, Portugal, Poland, most of Italy). Protestant countries followed later, and the countries of Eastern Europe adopted the “new calendar” even later.

In Britain and the the British Empire (including the American colonies), Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. Crowds of angry people were shouting “Give us back our eleven days!”. Eleven days had been taken out of the calendar!

Detail from an “Election Entertainment” by William Hogarth, featuring the anti-Gregorian calendar banner “Give us our Eleven Days”, 1755.

The British calendar, still following the Julian Calendar devised by Julius Caesar, and because it had been in use for centuries, was 11 days ahead of the true solar year. The adjustment of the calendar would bring Britain into line with all the European countries that had adopted the reforms of 1582 instituted by Pope Gregory XIII, in what is now known as the Gregorian Calendar.

Russia remained on the Julian calendar until 1918 (1 February became 14 February), after the Russian Revolution (which is thus called the “October Revolution” though it occurred in Gregorian November)


Our summer almanac 20.08.2010 – 26.08.2010

Posted in astronomical time on August 20, 2010 by espacelab

The Veil Nebula
The Veil Nebula, is part of the Cygnus Loop, radio source W78, or Sharpless 103. Other parts of the loop include the ‘Eastern Veil’, the ‘Western Veil’ or ‘Witch’s Broom Nebula’, and Pickering’s Triangular Wisp. It is a large, relatively faint supernova remnant in the constellation Cygnus.

The source supernova exploded some 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, and the remnants have since expanded to cover an area of ~3×3 degrees; about 6 times the diameter or 36 times the area of a full moon. The distance to the nebula is not precisely known, with estimates ranging from 1,400 to 2,600 light-years. It was discovered on 1784 September 5 by William Herschel.

Detail of the Veil Nebula as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Moon is shrinking!

It was announced by NASA on 19 August that the Moon is shrinking!

The NASA website says:
NASA’s LRO Reveals ‘Incredible Shrinking Moon’

ewly discovered cliffs in the lunar crust indicate the moon shrank globally in the geologically recent past and might still be shrinking today, according to a team analyzing new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft. The results provide important clues to the moon’s recent geologic and tectonic evolution.

The moon formed in a chaotic environment of intense bombardment by asteroids and meteors. These collisions, along with the decay of radioactive elements, made the moon hot. The moon cooled off as it aged, and scientists have long thought the moon shrank over time as it cooled, especially in its early history. The new research reveals relatively recent tectonic activity connected to the long-lived cooling and associated contraction of the lunar interior.

“We estimate these cliffs, called lobate scarps, formed less than a billion years ago, and they could be as young as a hundred million years,” said Dr. Thomas Watters of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington. While ancient in human terms, it is less than 25 percent of the moon’s current age of more than four billion years. “Based on the size of the scarps, we estimate the distance between the moon’s center and its surface shrank by about 300 feet,” said Watters, lead author of a paper on this research appearing in Science August 20.

“These exciting results highlight the importance of global observations for understanding global processes,” said Dr. John Keller, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “As the LRO mission continues in to a new phase, with emphasis on science measurements, our ability to create inventories of lunar geologic features will be a powerful tool for understanding the history of the moon and the solar system.”

The scarps are relatively small; the largest is about 300 feet high and extends for several miles or so, but typical lengths are shorter and heights are more in the tens of yards (meters) range. The team believes they are among the freshest features on the moon, in part because they cut across small craters. Since the moon is constantly bombarded by meteors, features like small craters (those less than about 1,200 feet across) are likely to be young because they are quickly destroyed by other impacts and don’t last long. So, if a small crater has been disrupted by a scarp, the scarp formed after the crater and is even younger. Even more compelling evidence is that large craters, which are likely to be old, don’t appear on top any of the scarps, and the scarps look crisp and relatively undegraded.

As the moon contracted, the mantle and surface crust were forced to respond, forming thrust faults where a section of the crust cracks and juts out over another. Many of the resulting cliffs, or scarps, have a semi-circular or lobe-shaped appearance, giving rise to the term “lobate scarps”. Scientists aren’t sure why they look this way; perhaps it’s the way the lunar soil (regolith) expresses thrust faults, according to Watters.

Because the scarps are so young, the moon could have been cooling and shrinking very recently, according to the team. Seismometers emplaced by the Apollo missions have recorded moonquakes. While most can be attributed to things like meteorite strikes, the Earth’s gravitational tides, and day/night temperature changes, it’s remotely possible that some moonquakes might be associated with ongoing scarp formation, according to Watters. The team plans to compare photographs of scarps by the Apollo Panoramic Cameras to new images from LRO to see if any have changed over the decades, possibly indicating recent activity.

Raksha Bandhan August 24
Raksha Bandhan is the Hindu festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. “Raksha Bandhan” means a thread for protection.
Raksha Bandhan celebrates brotherhood and love. It is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Sravana in the lunar calendar.

The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie.

Traditionally, during the festival sisters tie a rakhi, a bracelet made of interwoven red and gold threads, around their brothers’ wrists to celebrate their relationship.

Breaking news 25 August
The Guardian reports: New solar system looks much like home.
The newly discovered solar system may contain the largest number of planets ever found orbiting another star. Astronomers have discovered a new solar system 127 light years away that is tantalisingly similar to our own.

The team used observations from the European Southern Observatory (Eso) in Chile to find five Neptune-like planets orbiting a Sun-like star called HD 10180. The planets are closer to their star than Mars is to the Sun.

They also have some evidence that two more planets might be in the star system, one of which would have the lowest mass of any extrasolar planet ever found. If the existence of these two additional planets is confirmed, the discoveries would make the HD 10180 solar system very similar to our own, with seven planets (to our eight) and a regular pattern of orbits. “We have found what is most likely the system with the most planets yet discovered,” said Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva in Switzerland. “This remarkable discovery also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research: the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets. Studies of planetary motions in the new system reveal complex gravitational interactions between the planets and give us insights into the long-term evolution of the system.”

The five gas giants are between 13 and 25 times as massive as the Earth and take between six and 600 days to orbit the star, writes Lovis in a paper published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

One of the two as-yet-unconfirmed planets is likely to be similar to Saturn, with a minimum mass of around 65 Earths and an orbit of 2,200 days. The other planet would be the least massive exoplanet ever discovered, say astronomers, with a mass around 1.4 times that of the Earth.

The similarities end there, however. The rocky planet is likely to orbit very close to its star – just 2% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. A single “year” on this planet would last only 1.18 Earth days. Scientists have confirmed the existence of 15 “extrasolar systems” that have at least three planets and the previous record-holder was 55 Cancri, which has five planets in orbit around it.

The latest discovery was announced today at an international meeting at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France.

Our summer almanac 13.08.2010 – 19.08.2010

Posted in astronomical time on August 13, 2010 by espacelab

Star Watchers
During summer evenings our night sky is dominated by three bright stars, including Vega in the constellation Lyra the Lyre. The other two stars are Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. It is called the Summer Triangle by star watchers everywhere, even though this is not an official name in the way that the constellation’s names define the parts of the sky these stars belong to.

Very low in the south you can just see the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, chasing the Hunter Orion across the sky. The main bright star in Scorpius is Antares, which means ‘the rival of Mars’. Just like Mars, the star Antares is very red in colour. The stars of the Milky way are very abundant in Scorpius, so it is a pity it is difficult to see from our latitudes.

In ancient times stars were not only used to tell the times of the seasons, as in our Summer Triangle, but also to tell the time at night from hour to hour. While a sundial is a great way to tell the time in sunshine, at night there are only stars to help guide the timekeeper. In ancient Egypt astronomers found 36 stars that were very useful in marking off the hours as they were tracked across the sky from east to west. These stars were known as ‘the decans’

Qi Xi
In Chinese mythology, there is a love story of Qi Xi (七夕) in which Niu Lang (牛郎, Altair) and his two children (β and γ Aquilae) are separated from their mother Zhi Nü (織女, Vega) who is on the far side of the river, the Milky Way. However, one day per year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, magpies make a bridge so that Niu Lang and Zhi Nü can be together again for a brief encounter. The Japanese Tanabata festival, in which Vega is known as orihime (織姫), is also based on this legend.

So, we can see how in late summer, the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky, inspired the Chinese over the centuries to tell the following love story, of which there are many variations:

A young cowherd named Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; pinyin: niú láng; literally “[the] cowherd”), came across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he stole their clothes and waited to see what would happen. The fairy sisters elected the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (simplified Chinese: 织女; traditional Chinese: 織女; pinyin: zhī nǚ; literally “[the] weaver girl”, the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She agreed to do so, but since Niulang had seen her naked, she agreed to his request for marriage. She proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinü’s mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven. (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.) On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess discovered this and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.

Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).

But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋, “the bridge of magpies”, Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon.

Qixi Festival
Qixi Festival (Chinese: 七夕节; Mandarin Pinyin: qī xī jié; Jyutping: cat1 zik6 zit3; literally “The Night of Sevens”), also known as Magpie Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar. This year it takes place on 16 August.

It is sometimes called Chinese Valentine’s Day (Simplified Chinese: 情人节 Pinyin: Qíng rén jié) in recent decades.
Young girls traditionally demonstrate their domestic arts, especially melon carving, on this day and make wishes for a good husband.

Our summer almanac 06.08.2010 – 12.08.2010

Posted in astronomical time on August 6, 2010 by espacelab

Messier 52 (also known as M 52 or NGC 7654) is an open cluster in the Cassiopeia constellation. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1774. M52 can be seen from Earth with binoculars.

On the trail of Comets
In this seven day period the Perseid meteor shower reaches its maximum on August 12. The best chance of seeing a shooting star spectacular is from the early hours to dawn on August 12. These shooting stars are bits of debris left by the trail of a comet called Swift-Tuttle. This comet was last seen passing near the Sun in December 1992, and was first seen in 1862, making its period 130 years. People will see it next time in the year 2122.

Swift-Tuttle on its last visit to our part of the Solar System

Chasing a comet
In our summer almanac post for 16 July astroclock makes mention of the European Space Agency project called Rosetta which is all about chasing and catching up with a comet. This comet is called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Basically this comet is a large dirty snowball that orbits the Sun once every 6.6 years, but it may hold secrets about the origins of our Solar System.

However, little is known about it, despite its regular visits to the inner Solar System. Most of the time, its faint image is drowned in a sea of stars, making observations with Earth-based telescopes extremely difficult. However, during its short-lived excursions to the inner Solar System, the warmth of the Sun causes ices on its surface to evaporate and jets of gas to blast dust grains into the surrounding space. Unfortunately, although this enveloping ‘coma’ of dust and gas increases 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s brightness, it also completely hides the comet’s nucleus.

This is what the ESA website says about comets and this mission:

Comets are the most primitive objects in the Solar System. Many scientists think that they have kept a record of the physical and chemical processes that occurred during the early stages of the evolution of our Sun and Solar System.

The abundance of volatile material in comets makes them particularly important and extraordinary objects. This characteristic demonstrates that comets were formed at large distances from the Sun and have been preserved at low temperatures since their formation. Cometary material therefore represents the closest we can get to the conditions that occurred when the Sun and our Solar System were born.

Rosetta’s task is to rendezvous with the comet while it still lingers in the cold regions of the Solar System and shows no surface activity.

After releasing a lander onto the dormant nucleus, the orbiter will chase Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it charges headlong towards the inner Solar System at speeds of over to 100 000 kilometres per hour.

How to catch up with comets
Unfortunately, no existing rocket, not even the powerful European-built Ariane-5, has the capability to send such a large spacecraft directly to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Instead, Rosetta will bounce around the inner Solar System like a ‘cosmic billiard ball’, circling the Sun almost four times during its ten-year trek to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Along this roundabout route, Rosetta has already entered the asteroid belt twice and has gained velocity from gravitational ‘kicks’ provided by close fly-bys of Mars (2007) and Earth (2005, 2007 and 2009).

Shining light on the mountain
August 6 is the Orthodox Christian feast commemorating the sudden emanation of radiance from the person of Jesus that occurred on the mountain and known as the Transfiguration. In the Orthodox view the Transfiguration is not only a feast in honor of Jesus, but a feast of the Holy Trinity, for all three Persons of the Trinity are interpreted as being present at that moment: God the Father spoke from heaven; God the Son was the one being transfigured, and God the Holy Spirit was present in the form of a cloud.

The Tranfiguration is ranked as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox liturgical calendar, and is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil beginning on the eve of the Feast.

Grapes are traditionally brought to church to be blessed after the Divine Liturgy on the day of the Transfiguration. If grapes are not available in the area, apples or some other fruit may be brought. This begins the “Blessing of First Fruits” for the year.

Unidentified flying objects
Unidentified flying object (commonly abbreviated as UFO or U.F.O.) is the popular term for any apparent and mysterious aerial phenomenon that cannot be easily or immediately identified. Studies show that after careful investigation, the majority of UFOs can be identified as ordinary objects or phenomena. The most commonly found identified sources of UFO reports are:

Astronomical objects (bright stars, planets, meteors, re-entering man-made spacecraft, artificial satellites, and the moon). Aircraft (Aerial advertising and other aircraft, missile launches). Other atmospheric objects and phenomena (birds, unusual clouds, kites, flares). Light phenomena (mirages, Fata Morgana, moon dogs, searchlights and other ground lights, etc.). Balloons (weather balloons, prank balloons, large research balloons).

Balloons over Basingstoke
High altitude balloons are unmanned balloons, usually filled with helium or hydrogen that are released into the stratosphere, generally reaching between 60,000 to 120,000 feet (18 to 37 km). The most common type of high altitude balloons are weather balloons. Other purposes use as a platform experiments in the upper atmosphere. Modern balloons generally contain electronic equipment such as radio transmitters, cameras, or satellite navigation systems, such as GPS receivers.

These balloons are launched into what is termed “near space” – the area of Earth’s atmosphere where there is very little air, but which is not high enough to be in the realm of satellites.

In Basingstoke on 8 August the Balloons over Basingstoke annual event saw many hot air balloons fill the late afternoon sky.

Crop Circles
Hampshire and Wiltshire are famous for the phenomenon of crop circles. Crop circles are associated in popular culture with UFO’s and mysterious circumstances, including weather phenomena and ball lightning. They are in fact made by people with amazing skills and creative design flair, and intended to capture our imaginations. The view from a hot air balloon will reveal these design in their full glory.

The month of Ramadan begins 11 August
Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان‎ Ramaḍān) (also Ramadhan, Ramadaan , Ramazan ) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. It is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God (Arabic: الله‎, trans: Allah) and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. As compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards about eleven days each year depending on the moon. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind, being the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Hilāl (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon indicates the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan.

There are disagreements each year however on when Ramadan starts. This stems from the tradition to sight the moon with the naked eye and as such there are differences for countries on opposite sides of the globe. More recently however, some Muslims are leaning towards using astronomical calculations to avoid this confusion. For the year of 1431 Hijri, the first day of Ramadan was determined to be August 11th, 2010.

In many Muslim and non-Muslim countries with large Muslim populations, the faithful will abstain from food from dawn to sunset. At sunset, the family will gather the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. The meal starts with the ritual eating of a date — just as Prophet Muhammad was believed to have done. Then it’s time for a prayer to thank Allah followed by the meal. In many homes, this is a simple meal of fruits and vegetables along with traditional Middle Eastern fare.

Over time, Iftar has grown into banquets and small festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at mosques or banquet halls, where a hundred or more may gather at a time.
Most markets close down during evening prayers and the Iftar meal, but then re-open and stay open for a good part of the night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours. In many Middle Eastern countries, this can last late into the evening, to early morning. However, if they try to attend to business as usual, it can become a time of personal trials, fasting without coffee or water.