Our summer almanac 06.08.2010 – 12.08.2010

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.


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