Space and astronomy digest: July and August 2011
The summer digest of space and astronomy events, from the RAS. Events in the next two months include the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the arrival of the Dawn mission at the asteroid Vesta, the launch of a Russian space-based radio observatory and the launch of the Juno mission to Jupiter.
8 July: Final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis
The end of NASA's Space Shuttle programme will come closer on 8 July, when the window opens for the final launch of Atlantis from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The 12-day mission, designated STS-135, will be the final journey of a Shuttle into space, carrying a crew of four astronauts and more than 3.5 tonnes of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) and testing a robotic refuelling system.
STS-135 will be the 135th Shuttle flight and will bring the project to an end, more than 30 years after the first flight of Columbia in the spring of 1981. The astronauts selected to travel on this final flight are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
Media information on STS-135
16 July: Dawn spacecraft arrives at asteroid Vesta
Launched in 2007, Dawn is a NASA spacecraft on a mission to explore one of the largest asteroids, 4 Vesta, and the dwarf planet 1 Ceres. These objects are in stable orbits in the so-called 'main belt' of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter and are about 530 km and 940 km in size respectively.
On 16 July, Dawn will arrive at and enter orbit around Vesta, where it will spend the next year studying the giant asteroid. Objects like Vesta and Ceres are thought to have remained intact since their formation and so could give scientists an insight into the earliest history of the Solar system. During its visit, Dawn will image, map and analyse Vesta in great detail, with scientific goals that include confirming the presence of a metallic core.
Stuart Wolpert, UCLA
Dawn mission home page
18 July: Launch of Spektr R radio astronomy observatory
The Russian Spektr R (or RadioAstron) observatory is set to be launched on or after 18 July. Spektr R will be carried into space using a Zenit2SB-Fregat launch vehicle that will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The observatory will operate in an eccentric orbit that initially sees it travel between a minimum distance (perigee) of 10,000 km and a maximum distance (apogee) of 390,000 km from the centre of the Earth. Over time the gravitational influence of the Moon will increase the perigee distance to 70,000 km.
Once in orbit, a 10-m radio antenna will unfold and Spektr R will form part of a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) that includes ground based radio observatories around the world. This network will act as a giant radio telescope, observing the universe at wavelengths from 2 to 92 cm. The distance between the ground and space-based antennae will allow angles as small as 7 micro arc seconds (or 1 / 500 millionth of a degree) to be resolved, or the equivalent of being able to discern a penny on the surface of the Moon.
Astro Space Center
RadionAstron home page
5 August: Launch of NASA Juno mission to Jupiter
The window for the launch of the Juno spacecraft opens on 5 August and will see it lift off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas V 551 rocket. After a 5-year journey the probe will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016. En route, it will use the gravitational field of the Earth to accelerate towards the giant planet in a so-called 'gravity assist' manoeuvre.
On arrival, Juno will enter an 11-day polar orbit around Jupiter and then study the planet for a year, approaching as close as 4800 km above the top of the Jovian atmosphere. To protect its electronic systems, the spacecraft will avoid the regions of intense radiation found near Jupiter and it also carries a titanium radiation shield.
Juno will study the atmosphere, magnetosphere and gravitational field of Jupiter and assess physical conditions on and connected to the giant planet, including the water content, the behaviour of the deep atmosphere and the aurora.
D. C. Agle
NASA Juno mission home page
Juno home page
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.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.
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