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Space and astronomy digest: February 2012

Last Updated on Monday, 30 January 2012 16:53
Published on Monday, 30 January 2012 16:38

The February digest of upcoming space and astronomy events, from the RAS. This month sees the annual Astrofest conference, the launch of the LARES satellite to investigate Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and a conference on the geophysics of the cryosphere.



9 February: Launch of LARES satellite


The (delayed) launch of the LAser RElativity Satellite (LARES) is now scheduled for 9 February 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.


9-10 February: BGA / RAS Specialist New Advances in Geophysics Meeting: The Geophysics of the Cryosphere and Glacial Products: Properties, Processes and Technical Advances


Applied geophysics has played a major role in the exploration of the world's ice masses and their geological settings for more than half a century. On 9 and 10 February, geophysicists will gather for a two-day British Geophysical Association / RAS conference at the Geological Society of London to discuss the latest results in this area, considering permafrost, seasonally frozen ground and snow and other frozen materials.

The meeting is the annual conference of the British Geophysical Association, a joint association of the RAS and the Geological Society of London.

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.

Meeting home page

British Geophysical Association


Robert Massey
(details above)



10 February: RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting: Mean Field Electrodynamics and Large-Scale Cosmic Magnetic Fields: Present Problems & Future Trends


One of the most important theoretical problems in astrophysics is to explain the generation of global scale magnetic fields, as observed in stars, galaxies and the discs of material accreting around objects like black holes. The vast majority of the modelling of cosmic magnetic fields has been performed within the theory of the 'mean field electrodynamics'. On one level, this has proved to be extremely successful but some serious problems remain, leading to a resurgence of interest in dynamo theory.

On 10 February researchers from all areas of dynamo theory – from those trying to understand the basics of the theory to those seeking to explain specific examples of observed astrophysical large-scale fields – will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society in order to discuss the current difficulties and the possible ways forward.

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.

Meeting home page


Robert Massey
(details above)



10-11 February: European Astrofest 2012, London


On 10 and 11 February, several thousand people will come to Kensington Conference and Events Centre in London for the European Astrofest 2012, organised by Astronomy Now magazine. This conference and trade exhibition for the general public attracts people from across the UK and Europe who will hear talks from some of the leading figures in astronomy.

Keynote speakers this year include: BAFTA award-winning particle physicist Dr. Simon Singh, who will offer a beginner's guide to the big bang and cosmology; lunar expert Dr. Noah Petro from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who will present some of the finest imagery returned from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Professor Don Kurtz on the latest findings of the acclaimed planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, solar physicist Dr. Lucie Green who will present a 360-degree view of our Sun and Dr. Stuart Clark, who will consider the Sun's role in climate change. Former MP Lembit Opik will also entertain the crowds with his story of the Opik-Oort debris cloud, and why it could spell trouble for the Earth in the future.



Dr Emily Baldwin
Website Editor, Astronomy Now
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



300 solar mass starArtist's impression of different sized stars, from a 0.1 solar red dwarf through a Sun-like star and a blue dwarf with 8 solar masses to the newly-discovered 300 solar mass star R136a1. Image: ESO / M. Kornmesser14 February: RAS public lecture: Professor Paul Crowther: Monster Stars


At 1300 GMT on Tuesday 14 February, Professor Paul Crowther of the University of Sheffield will give a public lecture on 'Monster Stars' at the Royal Astronomical Society.

In his talk he will discuss how stars come in all manner of sizes from dwarfs to giants and supergiants. The smallest would fit within the M25, while the largest would extend beyond the orbit of Saturn if relocated to the centre of our Solar System.

Professor Crowther will introduce the different types of star, explaining how the mass, rather than the size of a star dictates how long it will live for and how it will die. His lecture will then focus on the search for the most massive, so-called "monster stars" in the Universe, which shine up to ten million times brighter than our Sun, albeit only for a few million years.

RAS Public Lectures

Press release on 300 solar mass star (2010)


Dr Robert Massey
(details above)



Night sky in February


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





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.

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