Cosmic Howlers
January 2023

The 120-seater [Royal Observatory Greenwich] planetarium’s architecture cleverly reflects its astrological position…  (Time Out: Essential London for Visitors 2011, 12, p49)

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An easy one to start off with! It is the usual and tiresome confusion between astronomical and astrological – the Royal Observatory Greenwich is, of course, an astronomical organisation.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG) comprises the buildings and grounds of what was previously known as the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) when it was an operational scientific establishment.

Famous for being adopted as the prime meridian of longitude, the scientific work of the RGO was relocated elsewhere in the latter half of the 20th century, and the ROG site is now maintained almost exclusively as a museum, although the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT) became operational for astronomical research in 2018.


Venus, the brightest object in the night sky except for the full Moon, rises about 5pm.  (The Daily Telegraph, April Night Sky, 2011)

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Venus can never rise at about 5pm.

Venus is known as an inferior planet, meaning that it’s closer to the Sun than the Earth. Geometry dictates that it can therefore never be more than about 48° away from the Sun in the sky (known as its greatest elongation), either in the morning or the evening.  This means that Venus can never rise more than about 3∙25 hours before or after the Sun itself – so if it could rise at 5pm, this would mean the Sun having to rise in the late evening or early afternoon…!


…helium is the most abundant element in the Sun …  (Nature, 532, 175, 2016)

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Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Sun. The composition of the Sun is 73% Hydrogen, 25% Helium and 2% other elements.


Like the myth, Perseus the constellation harbours a favourite object, the variable star Mira.  (An Astronomer’s Tale by Gary Fildes, Century Books, 2016)

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The variable star Mira is actually in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). Perseus does contain a star with the similar name of Miram (also designated as η Persei (Eta Persei)). Although it is not a variable star, Miram is a fine binary system – Eta Persei A is a yellow supergiant star with a diameter more than 200 times that of our Sun, while its companion Eta Persei B is a blue dwarf star.
Miram has a visual magnitude of 3∙76 and should be easily visible in a dark sky.


The [New Horizons] flypast of Ultima Thule may … help resolve the mysteries of the Big Bang 4∙6 billion years ago and arguments about its cause.  (The Times, 2019 January 2, p23)

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The Big Bang actually took place 13∙7 billion years ago. There is confusion here with the age of our Solar System, which was formed 4∙6 billion years ago!