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Space and astronomy digest: November 2010

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 October 2010 11:49
Published on Friday, 29 October 2010 19:49

The latest digest of forthcoming space and astronomy news events, from the RAS. This month sees the last flight of the Discovery Space Shuttle, the EPOXI flyby of Comet Hartley 2 and a scientific conference on five years of results from Venus Express.

Artist's impression of Venus Express at its destination. Credit: ESA


















2 November: Launch of Discovery to International Space Station (ISS)

The launch window for the final flight (STS-133) of the Discovery Space Shuttle opens on 2 November. Discovery is targeted for launch from Kennedy Space Center at 1217 GMT (1617 EDT), carrying seven astronauts into orbit to continue the construction of the ISS. The crew will attach equipment including the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module for storage, a science experiment platform and a navigation sensor. Inside Leonardo is the Robonaut R2, a humanoid robot primarily designed to teach engineers how robots behave in the absence of gravity.

STS-133 is expected to last 11 days, during which time the astronauts will carry out 2 spacewalks. This coincides with a period when the ISS and Discovery will be visible from the UK, moving across the sky in the early evening in what will be one of the last chances for British observers to see the Shuttle in the night sky.

NASA Shuttle page

Heavens Above


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4 November: EPOXI flies by Comet Hartley 2

EPOXI is the name of the spacecraft originally used in the Deep Impact mission that successfully used a projectile to excavate a crater in Comet Tempel 1 on 4 July 2005. The main space probe has been reused to study planets around other stars (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization or EPOCh) and in the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI), abbreviations combined in the name EPOXI.

Since the Tempel 1 encounter, EPOXI has followed an orbit around the Sun, making three flybys of the Earth to change its course towards Hartley 2 (officially designated as 103 P/Hartley). On 4 November EPOXI will make its closest approach to Hartley 2 at 1402 GMT (1002 EDT), passing within 700 km of its nucleus and sending back images and data to scientists on Earth.

EPOXI home page


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9 November: RAS lunchtime lecture: The search for gravity waves

Professor Mike Cruise of the University of Birmingham will give the latest RAS public lecture at 1300 GMT on 9 November. He will discuss the as yet undetected gravitational radiation, predicted by Einstein in his 1915 general theory of relativity. This should manifest itself as changes in the geometry of space-time which travel out from massive objects undergoing very high acceleration.

By the time these gravity waves reach the Earth, the movements expected to be seen in detectors are smaller than the nucleus of an atom so are incredibly difficult to observe. Worldwide technological progress means that the first detections are expected in the next few years, when astronomers will gain an entirely new way of observing the Universe.

In his lecture, Professor Cruise will explain progress so far and talk about the prospects for what could be a revolutionary new tool for studying the cosmos.

RAS events and meetings

Robert Massey (details above)

12 November: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Five years of Venus Express and a look to the future

Planetary scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society in London on 12 November, for a special meeting to discuss the latest results from the Venus Express mission, in orbit around Earth's torrid 'sister planet' since 2005. Delegates will share findings on the Venusian atmosphere, from its weather to its interaction with the Sun and look forward to the Japanese Akatsuki mission due to arrive at Venus in December. The scientists will also discuss the proposed European Venus Explorer balloon mission.

Bona fide members of the media who wish to attend this meeting should present their credentials at the reception desk of the RAS for free admission.

Five years of Venus Express

RAS events and meetings

Robert Massey (details above)

12 November: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Novel methods for the exploitation of large astronomical and cosmological datasets

Very large datasets are becoming increasingly common in astrophysics and cosmology and their efficient exploitation is a key scientific challenge. On 12 November theorists, observers and statisticians will gather at the Geological Society for a conference where they will discuss how to maximise the scientific return from observatories and instruments and some of the opportunities this presents.

Bona fide members of the media who wish to attend this meeting should present their credentials at the reception desk of the Geological Society for free admission.

Meeting home page

RAS events and meetings

Robert Massey (details above)

18 November: Launch of Falcon 9 rocket

The next launch of the Falcon 9 commercial space vehicle (delayed from earlier this year) is set for 18 November, when it is scheduled to carry another prototype Dragon spacecraft into Earth orbit. Earlier this year the rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) placed its first payload in orbit.

On this flight the Dragon module should complete several orbits of the Earth, before for re-entering the atmosphere en route to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Southern California about four hours after launch in the first journey of its kind for this spacecraft.

The Falcon 9 rocket and its successors, designed with reusable launch stages, are eventually intended to carry the Dragon with astronauts and / or cargo on board, to the International Space Station. This flight will be the first under the auspices of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme.


All month: November's night sky

Information on stars, planets, comets, meteor showers and other celestial phenomena is available from the British Astronomical Association (BAA).


BAA Sky Notes


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, 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.