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Space and astronomy digest: March 2012

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 17:40
Published on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 17:17

The March digest of upcoming space and astronomy news events, from the RAS. Highlights are the launch of the Edoardo Amaldi ATV and the NUSTAR X-ray telescope, a public lecture on the end of life on Earth and the 2012 National Astronomy Meeting that will bring 850 scientists from across Europe to the city of Manchester.


9 March: Launch of Edoardo Amaldi Automated Transfer Vehicle, Kourou spaceport, French Guiana



The European Space Agency (ESA) is scheduled to launch the latest Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), named after the Italian physicist Edoardo Amaldi, on 9 March. The ATV will take off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana and deliver supplies to the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). This is the third use of an ESA-built ATV, a spacecraft that docks fully automatically with the Zvezda module of the Space Station. The ISS crew remove the cargo and then fill the empty ATV with waste over a few months. Like its predecessors, the Edoardo Amaldi spacecraft will then be undocked and directed to a controlled re-entry and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

ESA – Automated Transfer Vehicle


ESA Media Relations, Paris
Tel: +33 1 5369 7299
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



9 March: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling and Auroral Emissions at Planets in Our Solar System and Beyond: Burlington House, London


On 9 March planetary scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society for a specialist discussion meeting on displays of auroras and associated radio emission generated by the interaction between the magnetic field (magnetosphere) and the ionised upper atmosphere (ionosphere) in the planets of our Solar System and those in orbit around other stars.

The scientists will present and discuss the latest research in this area and consider how magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling works for the Earth, Jupiter, Saturn and known extrasolar planets.

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
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.


9 March: RAS specialist discussion meeting: The Origin of Dust in Galaxies in the Herschel and ALMA Era



Dust grains are ubiquitous in the material between the stars (the interstellar medium) in galaxies. They are responsible for the formation of molecular hydrogen, absorb and re-emit up to 90% of the energy in galaxies and provide an effective coolant for star formation.

On 9 March astronomers will gather at a conference at the Geological Society, where they will present and discuss the latest results in this area, augmented by the analysis of data from the recently-launched Herschel and Planck space observatories.

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


Robert Massey
(details above)


13 March: RAS public lecture: Dr Ian Crawford: The Far Future of the Sun, Earth and Life in the Solar System



In the latest free public lecture at the Royal Astronomical Society Dr Ian Crawford, Reader in Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck College London and Senior Secretary of the RAS, will discuss the long-term evolution of the Sun and its effect on the future habitability of the Solar System. The lecture will take place at 1 p.m. on Tuesday 13 March.

Dr Crawford will explain how when the Sun becomes a red giant star in about 6 billion years time - and probably long before that - life on Earth will become impossible. On the other hand, Mars and the icy moons of the outer solar system will become more habitable, albeit relatively briefly. Dr Crawford will also explain how the Solar System will be affected by a collision between our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy that will take place at around the same time.

RAS public lectures

Robert Massey
(details above)


21 March: Launch of Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NUSTAR)



nustar-silverArtist's concept of the NUSTAR X-ray observatory in orbit. Credit: NASA / JPL-CaltechOn 21 March the NASA Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NUSTAR) X-ray telescope is set for launch atop a Pegasus XL rocket that will be carried aloft by an L-1011 Stargazer plane, a modified Lockheed L-1011 passenger airliner. The aircraft, rocket and payload will take off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific and the telescope will be deployed in an orbit 550 km above the Earth for a planned 2 year mission.

NUSTAR will be the first observatory to image the sky in the high energy X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The spacecraft will be used to take a census of collapsed stars (e.g. white dwarfs and neutron stars) and black holes surrounding the centre of our Galaxy, map material created in recent supernova explosions and investigate the mechanism powering the jets of particles from the supermassive black holes found in the most active galaxies. The mission will also map microflares on the Sun and respond to events like gamma ray bursts.

NUSTAR mission home page


Whitney Clavin, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, USA
Tel: +1 818 354 4673
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


27-30 March: RAS National Astronomy Meeting, Manchester, United Kingdom



Around 850 astronomers and space scientists are expected to travel to Manchester for the 2012 RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2012) that will run from Tuesday 27 to Friday 30 March. This major astronomy conference, one of the largest in Europe, is a joint meeting of the RAS and the German Astronomische Gesellschaft (AG) and is principally sponsored by the RAS, the AG and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2012 is being organised by the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

The conference incorporates the annual meetings of the Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar Terrestrial (MIST) and UK Solar Physics (UKSP) groups.

Sessions at the conference will see scientists presenting the latest research on a wide area of topics including objects in our own Solar System; planets around other stars, stars in our Galaxy, the magnetic universe, the material between the stars, telescopes and instrumentation and the interaction between the Sun and the Earth.

Bona fide members of the media are cordially invited to attend the conference and can register at no cost. A press room and associated facilities will be open through the Meeting. During the week, we expect to send out between 15 and 20 embargoed press releases that will cover research identified as being of interest to the general public.

2012 RAS National Astronomy Meeting


Robert Massey
(details above)


Night sky in March



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