AKA Citizen Science Opportunity!
On this date in 607, Halley's comet reached its perihelion (the point when it is closest to the Sun). People feared comets back then, thinking they were messages of doom from the gods.
On this date in 1781, Sir William Herschel accidentally discovered Uranus. When he first spotted it, through his telescope, he thought it was a star. However, each night as he watched, it moved against the backdrop of steady stars, so Herschel thought it was either a planet or a comet. Finally Herschel and other astronomers determined that it was indeed a planet, and Herschel got the honor of naming it.
He named it Georgium Sidus, or “Georgian Planet,” in honor of King George III of England. But astronomers outside of England didn't like the name, and some suggested going back to Roman gods, which were used to name the planets known since ancient times. (Uranus was the god of the sky.)
On this date in 1930, Clyde Thombaugh announced his February 18th discovery of Pluto.
On this date in 1969, Apollo 9 returned to Earth. This was a crucial step to getting men onto the moon, because it was the first manned flight with the Apollo lunar hardware and the first manned flight of the lunar module.
On this date in 1971, an unmanned satellite called Explorer 43 was launched to study the region between Earth's atmosphere and the Moon.
On this date in 1997, many people who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, went outside at night to spot the comet Hale-Bopp. However, they were distracted from their observation goal by a series of lights that immediately got dubbed “UFOs.”
Do you know what a UFO is?
If you guessed that it's an alien spaceship, sorry, you're wrong. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object. When people say that they saw a UFO, it just means that they saw something in the night sky and that they are not at all sure what that something was!
In this case, a lot of people claimed that these particular UFOs were alien spacecraft. However, we now know that they weren't alien spaceships. They aren't even UFOs anymore, because they have been positively identified: they were flares dropped from military planes. The flares had little parachutes and took a long time to drop—but they weren't flying, they weren't vehicles, and they certainly weren't vehicles for little green men!
So far in human history, we have never had any alien spaceships visit. (Rats!) Maybe that will happen some day, but it isn't very likely, because stars are REALLY far apart!
On this date in 2010, YOU will go out and look at the night sky. Won't you?
There is a program going on from now until March 16 (which is Tuesday) called the GLOBE at Night program. A lot of people all over the world are needed to go outside, find the constellation Orion, and compare the stars they see with a sky map. Then observers report to the GatN people, who will put together the data and find out how much light pollution there is in different parts of Earth. Even if you live in a big city with lots of lights, and so your night sky is pretty much washed out, the GatN people need your input!
To participate, check out the GLOBE at Night website.
By the way, GatN is a regular program that happens for two weeks in March every year. The past four years, more than 35,000 observations have been made by people from more than 100 different countries!
Learn more about Uranus.
The information is expressed very simply here.
This site is better for older kids; there are three levels of explanations, and the site is in Spanish as well as English!
Take this quiz on Uranus!
1.The planet that Uranus most resembles is _______.
2.Uranus was the first planet discovered with a / an ____.
A. equation B. telescope C. human-made satellite
3. Uranus' weirdest feature is that it _____.
A. is lying on its side. B. has a really long oval-shaped orbit
C. is sometimes further away from the Sun than Neptune
4. True or False - Uranus has rings
5. The intensity of the Sun's light on Uranus is _____ that on Earth.
A. ½ B. ¼ C. 1/10 D. 1/400
ANSWERS: 1.Neptune 2.B 3.A (Uranus probably got smacked by something really big a long time ago and got knocked “onto its side,” because it isn't revolving around the Sun while spinning like a top, like the other planets, but instead it is rolling around the sun like a bowling ball. Choices B and C are both false.) 4.True 5.D