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RAS PN07/01: Space & Astronomy Digest February 2007

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 19:24
Published on Wednesday, 31 January 2007 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during February. It includes International Heliophysical Year and International Polar Year, the launch of five satellites to study Earth's auroras, and the Bullerwell Lecture on Climate-Driven Sea Level Change.

In 1957 a programme of international research, inspired by the International Polar Years of 1882 and 1932, was organised as the International Geophysical Year (IGY) to study global phenomena of the Earth and geospace. The International Heliophysical Year (IHY) and International Polar Year (IPY) of 2007 - 2008 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year.

The Primary Objectives of IHY are:
* Advancing our Understanding of the Heliophysical Processes that Govern the Sun, Earth and Heliosphere;
* Continuing the tradition of international research and advancing the legacy on the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year;
* Demonstrating the Beauty, Relevance and Significance of Space and Earth Science to the World.

The official IHY opening ceremony will take place at the United Nations in Vienna on 19-20 February. ( ). The first IHY science meeting will take place in Helsinki two weeks before, on 5-9 February ( ).

The International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 officially starts on 1 March 2007 with the official opening ceremony at the Palais de la Découverte science museum in central Paris. There will also be a ‘virtual launch’ that will include activities involving ice. These will be carried out in classrooms, science centres, galleries and homes around the world on that day.

The UK will be celebrating the LAUNCH OF IPY with a press conference and a series of presentations by leading polar scientists at the ROYAL SOCIETY, LONDON, ON 26 FEBRUARY. Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, will open the event and Professor Chris Rapley, Director of British Antarctic Survey - who will be in the Antarctic at the time - is recording a special message for the launch. The press contact for this event is Becky Allen ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).

On the same day, 26 February, the European Science Foundation and the European Polar Board will mark the launch of IPY in Europe with a day-long event at the European Parliament, #Strasbourg, focusing on polar research and its relevance for European citizens. The event features special guest speakers from the Russian federation, funding agencies and ministries. The press contact for this event is Becky Allen ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).

Space research during IPY focuses on space itself, particularly solar processes that impact earth’s outer atmosphere, on making measurements of distant space from polar regions, and on the use of satellite sensors in space to monitor polar conditions and processes. In partnership with the International Heliophysical Year, IPY scientists will explore global geoelectric circuits and the auroras, and relationships of those systems with meteorological and solar variations. Researchers will evaluate Antarctic sites for suitability as locations of future astronomical facilities to determine, for example, polarisation of the cosmic microwave radiation. Other researchers will make new polar geomagnetic measurements to help quantify a rapid field decrease that may signal a reversal of the Earth’s field and drift of the magnetic poles. Satellite sensors will provide large-scale views of snow and ice properties and dynamics, of ocean colour and roughness, of terrestrial geography and vegetation, and of atmospheric processes and properties.

Dr. Andrew Breen
UK IHY National Co-ordinator
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Tel: +44 (0)1970-622814
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Prof. Richard Harrison
UK IHY National Co-ordinator
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory - CLRC
Tel: +44 (0)1235-446884
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Dr. David Carlson
Director of IPY
British Antarctic Survey
Tel: +44 (0)1223-221468
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


International Heliophysical Year:

UK IHY web page:

International Polar Year:  

Planet Earth IPY feature (NERC):  

The Royal Aeronautical Society’s Space Group has organised a lecture by Patrick Wood, Programme Director, EADS Astrium, entitled ‘Skynet 5, Britain’s new military space system’. The lecture will take place at the Society’s headquarters, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1 at 18:00.

Skynet 5, providing the most flexible and advanced military satellite communications service to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), will be launched in 2007. This will be 50 years after Sputnik provided the first "beeps" from space and serves to illustrate the advances in satellite communications over the intervening period.

With a price tag of £2.5 billion (pounds), it is the most complex Private Funded Initiative (PFI) of its kind, consisting of an upgrade to both the Space and Ground infrastructure. Skynet 5 will deliver military satellite communication services to the Armed Forces until 2018. In this lecture Patrick Wood, the Programme Director for Skynet 5 will discuss the challenges that have been faced on the journey to the launch of the first satellite of the new series.


RAeS Space Group web site:  and click on ‘Next event’.

The British Geophysical Association (a joint association of the Geological Society of London and the Royal Astronomical Society) is holding its 2007 meeting on 8 February (10:00 - 16.30) and 9 February (10:00 - 15.30) on the theme ‘New Advances in Geophysics’. The meeting will take place in the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1.

This year the BGA’s annual meeting for the promotion of the most dynamic fields of geophysical research is devoted to ‘New Techniques and Discoveries in Marine Geophysics’. With new hydroacoustic networks, ocean bottom observatories and a new phase of ocean floor drilling, and with global geophysical events such as climate change, the devastating 2004 tsunami and the end of the oil honeymoon driving the agenda, marine geophysics has never been more topical.

In addition to the main programme, which includes talks about the latest in geophysics research, the meeting will also include the 2007 WILLIAM BULLERWELL LECTURE, ‘CLIMATE-DRIVEN SEA-LEVEL CHANGE’. The lecture will be given by Dr. Glenn Milne, University of Durham, on 8 February at 16:45 pm.

Sea-level change is one of the many responses of the Earth System to climate variation. Measurements of sea level change can, therefore, provide valuable information on the evolution of the climate system. Milne will outline the processes that cause sea levels to change as a consequence of climate variation and go on to discuss specific sea level data sets that have been useful in advancing our understanding of climate and sea level changes both in the recent geological past and at present. The presentation will focus, in particular, on: (i) the interpretation of rapid and large sea-level changes observed during the most recent deglaciation and (ii) the interpretation of 20th century sea level records as an indicator of anomalous warming.

The William Bullerwell Lecture is delivered annually by an outstanding young British geophysicist, and is named in honour of the first Chief Geophysicist of the Geological Survey (now British Geological Survey), who died in 1977.

Sheila Peacock
BGA Meetings Secretary
Tel: +44 (0)1189-827260
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


BGA ‘New Advances in Geophysics’ Meeting:  

British Geophysical Association web site:

Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, London W1, 16.00-18.00.
Talks will include:
Prof. Eva Grebel (Basel) - Near-field Cosmology with Local Group Dwarf Galaxies;
Prof. David Gubbins (Leeds) - The Influence of the Lower Mantle on the Earth’s Magnetic Field;
Prof. Michael Rowan-Robinson (Imperial College London) - The 2007 RAS Presidential Address: Terahertz Surveys - the Opening of the Far-infrared and Submillimetre Windows.

RAS Presidential Address poster:

The annual European Astrofest will be held at Kensington Town Hall on 9 and 10 February Speakers include:
* Dr. Iain Gilmour (Open University) - The Scarred Earth - Extraterrestrial Impacts and the Origin of Life;
* Dave Heather (European Space Agency) - SMART-1 and the Origin of the Moon;
* Prof. Jocelyn Bell-Burnell (University of Oxford) - Forty years of Pulsars;
* Michael Meyer (NASA) - Following the Water: Looking for Life on Mars AND The Future Exploration of Mars;
* Prof. Fred Taylor (University of Oxford) - Weather on the Planets.


On 10 February, Saturn reaches opposition, when it is precisely 180 degrees opposite the Sun. During the first half of February, as the Sun sets in the west, Saturn will rise in the east and continue to climb higher until it reaches its highest point, due south, around midnight. It will then be about 50 degrees above the horizon, as seen from central England, and not far from the bright star Regulus in the constellation of Leo. It will remain visible throughout the night.

Saturn will also be at its closest point to Earth this year during the beginning of February, at a distance of 762 million miles (more than 1.2 billion km) from Earth, so it will appear brighter to the naked eye and larger than usual in a telescope. In fact, because Saturn is slowly moving away from the Sun, it will not be this close again until 2029.


Saturn Observation Campaign web site:  

NASA’S THEMIS mission to discover the secrets of Earth’s auroras is scheduled to for launch by a Delta 2 rocket on 15 February. Lift off will take place from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

THEMIS consists of five identical spacecraft. Over a period of two years, this unique constellation of satellites will resolve the tantalising mystery of what causes the spectacular sudden brightening of the aurora borealis and aurora australis - the curtains of light that occur over the Earth’s northern and southern polar regions. These “northern lights” and “southern lights” are the visible manifestations of invisible energy releases, called geomagnetic substorms, in near-Earth space. THEMIS will not only seek to answer where and when substorms start, but will also provide clues as to how and why these space storms create havoc on satellites, terrestrial power grids, and communication systems. THEMIS is the fifth medium-class mission under NASA’s Explorer Programme.


NASA web site:

On 18 February, the planet Uranus will disappear behind the crescent Moon. This rare event will begin in the UK at 17:50 GMT, soon after sunset, and end at 18:40 (when Uranus will have set below the horizon). Unfortunately, the planet will be in twilight and close to the horizon, so it will not be visible without binoculars. Observers further north will have a better chance to see the event - in Scotland, Uranus will be six degrees above the horizon and further from the twilight.

ESA’s Rosetta comet chaser will fly past Mars on 25 February for the mission's next gravity assist. Since its launch in March 2004, Rosetta has been bouncing around the inner Solar System on a trajectory that will eventually culminate in a rendezvous with comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. Since the three-tonne spacecraft was too heavy to be launched directly to the comet, mission designers have included four planetary gravity-assists into its flight plan.

The Mars swingby is the second of these manoeuvres, following an Earth flyby in March 2005. After February’s Mars encounter, Rosetta will return to Earth’s vicinity on 13 November 2007.

The Mars flyby will be used to calibrate the scientific instruments on both the Rosetta orbiter and its small Philae lander. Scientists also intend to conduct a number of coordinated scientific observations involving instruments on Rosetta, Philae and ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, despite a short eclipse when Rosetta passes through the shadow of Mars. 


ESA web site:  

NASA’s New Horizons - the fastest spacecraft ever launched - will fly past Jupiter, the king of the planets, on 27-28 February. Just a year after it was dispatched on the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the spacecraft will receive a huge gravity assist from the giant planet and pick up even more speed on its voyage toward the planetary frontier.

New Horizons will make its closest pass to Jupiter on Feb. 28, threading its path through an “aim point” 1.4 million miles (2.3 million km) from the centre of Jupiter. The planet’s gravity will increase its speed by 14,400 km/h (9,000 mph)  - half the speed of a space shuttle in orbit - pushing it past 83,200 km/h (52,000 mph) and hurling it outward for a pass through the Pluto system in July 2015.

The mission team will use the flyby to test the probe’s systems and calibrate its seven science instruments. More than 700 observations of Jupiter and its four largest moons are planned from January through June, including scans of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere and dynamic magnetosphere; the most detailed survey yet of its faint ring system; maps of the composition and topography of the large moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto; and an unprecedented look at volcanic activity on Io. The flight plan also calls for the first-ever trip down the long ‘tail’ of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, and the first close-up look at the Little Red Spot, a recently formed storm south of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot.


NASA New Horizons web site:

Johns Hopkins University New Horizons web site:  

The National Space Centre, Leicester, is hosting a workshop entitled ‘Space: A Driving Force in Education, Careers and Workforce Development’, on 28 February. This workshop will bring together leading figures from science-based industry, the space sector, the science education sector, and Government - key individuals and organisations with a direct stake in providing the UK with future generations of scientists, engineers, technologists and science-trained managers.

New studies show that space delivers powerful messages that create an exciting context for science learning. The National Space Centre uses a space-oriented, interactive learning
environment to provide curriculum-tailored educational materials for pre Key Stage 4 students; training for their science teachers and access to advanced IT-based distance learning programmes. Based on this proven track record, the National Space Centre is
embarking on a new programme to:
• Engage 14  to 19 year-olds in the study of science and engineering through the inspiration of space;
• Stimulate them to consider courses and career options in science and engineering;
• Introduce them to the employers who need their skills.

Chris Darby
Programme Development Manager KS4/5
National Space Centre
Exploration Drive
Leicester LE4 5NS
Tel: 0116-258-2113
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


National Space Centre web site:


This release has been written in order to assist the media in planning and researching future stories related to space science and astronomy, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Dates and times may be subject to change.