The July and August digest of upcoming space and astronomy events, from the RAS. Events in the next two months include the EWASS conference in Rome, the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon and the departure of the Dawn mission for the dwarf planet Ceres.
1 – 6 July: European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS), Rome, Italy
EWASS will bring together more than 650 astronomers and space scientists for one of the largest astronomy meetings in Europe. The conference includes sessions on science with the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array, solar physics, the evolution of galaxies and the universe, and results from Herschel and ALMA. EWASS is organised by the European Astronomical Society and the Societa Astronomica Italiana.
A limited number of free registrations are available for accredited journalists.
EWASS home page
14 -15 July: Launch of Soyuz mission to International Space Station (ISS)
The launch window for the Soyuz TMA-05M mission to the ISS opens on 14 July. The Soyuz spacecraft will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Soyuz will carry three astronauts to the ISS as part of Expedition 32: Yuri Malenchenko from Russia, Sunita Williams from the United States and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan. The astronauts are expected to live and work on the ISS for around six months.
NASA: Expedition 32
Russian Federal Space Agency
15 July: Occultation of Jupiter and its moons
For observers in southern Britain, the morning of 15 July sees the waning crescent Moon pass in front of Jupiter and its moons in a so-called occultation. These are comparatively rare events and with the right equipment can be spectacular and offer good photo opportunities for amateur astronomers.
Prospects and timings for the event vary with location. The Moon will appear to completely cover Jupiter to the southeast of a line joining Lowestoft and Weymouth. Northwest of this line observers will see a grazing occultation, where Jupiter is only partly concealed by the Moon. To the northwest of a line from Sleaford to Ilfracombe the Moon will appear to slide past Jupiter.
As the four easily visible Galilean moons of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) are more or less in a line running along the lunar limb, they are occulted in a similar way. Observers along a line from King's Lynn to Plymouth see Io occulted, while observers along the Sleaford to Ilfracombe line see Callisto occulted.
The event takes place while Jupiter and the Moon are low in the sky and the sky will be brightening as sunrise approaches. According to HM Nautical Almanac Office, in London the Moon will be 10 degrees above the north-eastern horizon and from further west as low as 5 degrees. From London the occultation begins at around 0255 BST and ends at 0311 BST, whilst in for example Taunton (to the south of Bristol) the occultation starts at 0258 BST and ends at 0308 BST.
Note that although perfectly safe to observe with the unaided eye, the occultation is best viewed with at least a good pair of binoculars or better still a telescope, with which Jupiter will be seen as a disk and the Galilean moons will be easily visible.
"The grazing occultation of Jupiter on 2012 July 15", Jean Meeus, Journal of the British Astronomical Association
HM Nautical Almanac Office
6 August: Curiosity rover lands on Mars
The NASA Mars Science Laboratory mission is scheduled to land on Mars on the morning of 6 August. The mission will deliver the Curiosity rover, the largest ever sent to the red planet, to a landing site near the mountain Aeolis Mons in Gale Crater, just to the south of the Martian equator.
Remote controlled from Earth, Curiosity has a mass of 900 kg, is designed to explore Mars for at least a year and will cover a minimum range of between 5 and 20 km. The mission will try to determine whether Mars could once have supported life, better understand its climate and geology and do some of the groundwork for a future human mission to the planet.
Scientific instruments on board the rover will sample the atmosphere and surface material, searching for the chemical building blocks of life, investigate the composition of rocks and soils and characterise the radiation that reaches the surface from the Sun and from galactic cosmic rays.
JPL: Mars Science Laboratory
Tel: +1 202 358 1726
Tel: +1 202 358 0321
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Tel: +1 818 354 5011
12 August: Maximum of Perseid meteor shower
12 August sees the maximum of the annual Perseid meteor shower, predicted to be at around 1400 BST (daytime in the UK). Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. In this case the material comes from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992. This shower of meteors appears to originate from a 'radiant' in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name Perseid.
The shower is active from around 17 July to 24 August, although for most of that period only a few meteors an hour will be visible. From the UK the best time to see the Perseid shower is likely to be on the morning of 12 August before dawn, when as many as 60 meteors an hour may be visible. This year prospects for the shower are relatively good, although the light from the waning crescent Moon will interfere with the view to some extent.
International Meteor Organisation: Meteor Shower Calendar 2012
20-31 August: International Astronomical Union General Assembly (IAU GA), Beijing, China
The General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union meets from 20 to 31 August at the China National Convention Center in Beijing. This triennial meeting is the world's largest gathering of astronomers and space scientists, with more than 3000 delegates expected to attend.
As well as a full range of scientific presentation and discussion sessions, the General Assembly is one of the global meetings where international cooperation in astronomy is organised and where decisions on fundamental issues facing the science are taken.
Full press office facilities will be available throughout the meeting and journalists are cordially invited to attend.
IAU General Assembly
CONTACTS (for free media registration)
Lars Lindbergh Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Tel: +49 89 320 06 761
Mob: +49 173 38 72 621
Chinese Press Officer
Raquel Yumi Shida
IAU Deputy Press Officer
Tel: +49 89 320 06 177
Mob: +49 151 11 055 413
23 August: Launch of NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission
On 23 August the window opens for the launch of the RBSP mission. This will see two space probes begin a two year mission orbiting within the radiation belts that surround the Earth, belts made up of particles held in place by the terrestrial magnetic field. The spacecraft are set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in the United States, atop an Atlas V-401 rocket.
Once in space, they will travel in elliptical orbits that bring them as close as 600 km and as far as 32000 km from the surface of the Earth, in order to sample the diverse regions that make up the radiation belts. By using two spacecraft, scientists hope to distinguish between belt events that happen simultaneously, those that happen at a single point and those that move from one point to another over time.
NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Tel: +1 301 286 7745
Tel: +1 202 358 2484
26 August: Dawn spacecraft departs asteroid Vesta
An image of a 15 km wide crater on Vesta, from the Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA The Dawn mission, a NASA spacecraft in orbit around the asteroid Vesta since July 2011, is set to depart for its next target, the dwarf planet Ceres, on 26 August. Dawn has mapped and studied Vesta in the year since it arrived, sending back the first detailed images of this small world and helping scientists to establish that it has a large metal-rich core.
The journey to Ceres, a body 975 km across, will take two and a half years, with Dawn expected to enter orbit around the dwarf planet in February 2015. The spacecraft will then study Ceres for the following five months.
University of California Los Angeles
Tel: +1 310 206 0510
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Tel: +1 818 354 0850
D. C. Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Tel: +1 818 393 9011
Night sky in July and August
Information on stars, planets, comets, meteor showers and other celestial phenomena is available from the British Astronomical Association (BAA), the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) and the Jodrell Bank night sky guide.
The Night Sky: Jodrell Bank
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS, www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc