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Space and astronomy digest: January 2011

Last Updated on Friday, 31 December 2010 13:33
Published on Friday, 31 December 2010 13:25

Space and astronomy digest: January 2011 (RAS PN 10/67)

The latest digest of forthcoming space and astronomy events, from the RAS. Events this month include the Stargazing Live TV programmes, a partial solar eclipse and the maximum of the Quadrantid meteor shower.


3-5 January: ‘Stargazing Live’ programmes

For three successive nights, the BBC will be broadcasting the ‘Stargazing Live’ programmes, each transmitted from 2000 – 2100 GMT on the UK television channel BBC2. Presented by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’ Briain, the shows coincide with astronomical events including the maximum of the Quadrantid meteor shower and a partial solar eclipse.

Images made by research scientists using the most powerful telescopes on Earth will complement those of backyard astronomers and the programme also includes advice from experts on how to get started in astronomy using minimal or no equipment.

Partly supported by the RAS, local astronomical societies and schools will be taking part by hosting a range of community events, offering people across the UK the chance to become involved in this celebration of astronomy.

BBC: Stargazing Live


4 January: Maximum of Quadrantid meteor shower

Early on the morning of 4 January, the Quadrantid meteor shower reaches its annual peak. Meteors (or 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed, heating up and then disintegrating. The superheated air around them appears as a short-lived streak of light that quickly fades from view.
In this shower the meteors appear to emanate from a point in the long-defunct constellation of Quadrans Muralis (now part of the modern grouping Bootes) hence the name Quadrantid. The shower could be associated with the minor planet A/ 2003 EH1, an object which may be the comet C/ 1490 Y1, observed by astronomers in the far east more than five centuries ago.

This year the peak of the shower is predicted to be at 0110 GMT on 4 January and is a few hours before a partial solar eclipse, meaning that the Moon is New and its light will not affect views of the meteors.

At that time, with a clear sky and at sites far away from the lights of towns and cities, it may be possible to see more than 80 meteors each hour.
International Meteor Organisation


Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


4 January: Partial solar eclipse

On 4 January, people in Europe (including the United Kingdom), northern Africa and western Asia will be able to observe a partial eclipse of the Sun. Solar eclipses happen when the Moon is New and passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, blocking the Sun’s light to a degree that depends on the geometry of the event. (Most months the Moon and its shadow pass too far north or south for an eclipse to take place).

This time Northern Sweden will see the deepest eclipse, where the Moon will appear to block more than 80% of the visible solar surface, but the Sun will be low on the horizon throughout the event.

In the UK, the eclipse will be underway at sunrise. From London it will become visible when the Sun rises at 0806 GMT (all times that follow are GMT), with maximum eclipse at 0812, when two thirds of the Sun’s area will be obscured. The partial eclipse ends at 0931. Observers in other locations will see a different view and for example in Glasgow at deepest eclipse less than 40% of the Sun’s area will be blocked.

Partial solar eclipses can be spectacular, but looking at the Sun directly (whether during an eclipse or at other times) can lead to permanent and severe eye damage and even blindness. The RAS therefore supports advice from the UK Chief Medical Officer, UK Department of Health and the Royal National Institute of Blind People that observers should NOT look directly at the Sun during this event.

Observers should also NEVER look directly at the Sun through a telescope, pair of binoculars or similar optical equipment.

Safe methods for observing the eclipse include:

• Facing away from the Sun, using a pinhole in one piece of card to project the Sun on to another piece of card (observers should NOT look though the pinhole)
• Observing the Sun using properly designed and certified solar filters bearing the CE mark that are available from reputable astronomical suppliers

Full Department of Health advice on viewing the eclipse

HMNAO guide to eclipses

NASA eclipse home page



Robert Massey, RAS (details above)

UK Department of Health Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7210 5521


9-13 January: 217th American Astronomical Society Meeting, Seattle, United States

From 9-13 January, almost 2700 astronomers will gather in Seattle for the 217th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). The Meeting brings together researchers from across the world, who will be discussing the latest advances in their fields. A full programme of press conferences takes place at the Meeting, with associated releases available from the AAS Press Office.

AAS Press Information


Dr Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


11 January: RAS lunchtime lecture: Life under bombardment

Dr Jane Greaves of the University of St Andrews will give the latest RAS public lecture at 1300 GMT on 11 January. She will discuss the time early in the history of the Solar system when comets bombarded the planets. On Earth, some of these impacts were extreme enough to melt landmasses or remove the atmosphere.

In the present day humanity is relatively safe from these events, but Dr Greaves will show how other stars may have their own vast swarms of comets around them. Finally, she will discuss the implications of bombardment of other Earth-like planets and whether the development of life would be helped or hindered by these violent events.

RAS events and meetings


Robert Massey (details above)


14 January: RAS specialist discussion meeting: The early impact of Herschel: Results from the first year of the mission

On 14 January astronomers and space scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London, for a conference on the work of the Herschel Space Telescope. The largest infrared telescope ever placed in space, scientists have been using Herschel to study the universe since it began full operation in January 2010. Delegates will present the latest results, highlighting key findings from observations of objects in the Solar system, stars, star forming regions and distant galaxies.

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.

RAS events and meetings


Robert Massey (details above)


14 January: RAS specialist discussion meeting: The UK in Aurora II

The second UK in Aurora meeting will be held at the Geological Society, Burlington House, London on 14 January. Scientists will discuss developments in planetary science with topics including Mars, ExoMars missions and instruments and lunar science.

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.

RAS events and meetings


Robert Massey (details above)


All month: January’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: December and January



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.