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Space and astronomy digest: January 2012

The January digest of upcoming space and astronomy events. This month sees the launch of an Italian probe to investigate general relativity, a special conference on the history of astronomical imaging and the maximum of the Quadrantids meteor shower.


4 January: Peak of Quadrantids meteor shower


The morning of 4 January sees the annual maximum of the Quadrantids meteor shower. Meteors or 'shooting stars' are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed, where they burn up and super-heat the air around them, producing the characteristic short-lived streak of light visible from the ground. In this case the debris may be associated with the minor planet 2003 EH1, possibly the remnant of a comet seen 500 years ago by astronomers in the Far East.

Quadrantids appear to emanate from a point in the sky (the radiant) in the direction of the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis that now lies near Ursa Major, the constellation that includes the Plough grouping of stars familiar to UK observers. From Britain, the radiant will be visible throughout the night, but the shower is best observed in the hours after the waxing gibbous Moon sets (around 0330 GMT in the south of England and up to an hour later further north) and before the beginning of morning twilight (at about 0600 GMT). The peak of activity is predicted to be at 0720 GMT, when perhaps 80 meteors an hour may be visible from then still dark locations further east such as the Atlantic seaboard of North America.

International Meteor Organisation: Quadrantids


8-12 January: 219th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society


The American Astronomical Society winter meeting will take place from 8 to 12 January 2012 in Austin, Texas in the United States. This major international conference will bring together more than 2700 scientists who will present and discuss the latest research in astronomy and space science.

Sessions at the meeting will cover topics from planets in our own Solar System to worlds around other stars, black holes, the formation of galaxies and cosmology.

219th AAS meeting


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

A press room will operate throughout the meeting and registration is complementary for bona fide working journalists (contact Rick Fienberg for details).


10 January: RAS public lecture: LOFAR: A Radio Telescope the Size of Northern Europe!


Dr Edward Daw of the University of Sheffield will give the first RAS lunchtime lecture of 2012 at 1300 GMT on Tuesday 10 January. In his talk, he will discuss the LOw Frequency ARray for radio astronomy (LOFAR), a radio telescope that includes thousands of separate receivers spread across the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden and the UK. Dr Daw will outline how the instrument works and present some of its first discoveries.

RAS Public Lectures

Dr Robert Massey
(details above)


13 January: The History of Astronomical Imaging


On 13 January, astronomers and historians of science will gather at the Geological Society for a specialist discussion meeting on the history of astronomical imaging, from the earliest drawings and paintings to photography and the state of the art digital images obtained from modern telescopes. Delegates at the meeting will consider the history and technology of imaging and the implications of representing physical phenomena in different ways, particularly where the radiation emitted by the phenomenon is invisible to the human eye.

Meeting home page


Robert Massey
(details above)

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


13 January: A Comparison of Solar Eruption Models from Local and Global Perspectives: Observation and Theory


In a specialist discussion meeting on 13 January at the Royal Astronomical Society, solar physicists will consider the mechanisms responsible for outbursts from our nearest star. The delegates will discuss the latest theoretical models that seek to explain how these eruptions take place and how these ideas compare with results from space-based solar observatories including SOHO, Hinode, STEREO and the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Meeting home page

Robert Massey
(details above)

Bona fide members of the media who wish to attend this meeting should present their credentials at the registration desk in the Royal Astronomical Society for free admission.


End January: Launch of LARES satellite


LARESAn artist's impression of the LARES satellite. Credit: ASIThe launch of the LAser RElativity Satellite (LARES) is scheduled for the end of January 2012. This Italian-built mission will be the first to use the Vega launcher developed for the European Space Agency (ESA). The satellite is set to take off from the ESA spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana and is designed to enter an orbit 1400 km above the Earth.

LARES is entirely passive, made of tungsten alloy with 92 reflectors that will reflect the light from ground-based lasers that will track the satellite in its orbit. Scientists hope this will allow more accurate measurements of some of the observed effects predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. These include 'frame dragging' where the rotation of a massive object, in this case the Earth, distorts spacetime and thus affects the motion of satellites in orbit around it. LARES is designed to measure this effect to an accuracy of 1%.

LARES home page (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana)

Guiseppina Piccirilli
Agenzia Spaziale Italiana
Tel: +39 06 856 7431
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Night sky in January


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,, 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

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