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Space and astronomy digest: May 2012

Last Updated on Friday, 27 April 2012 15:49
Published on Friday, 27 April 2012 15:32
The May digest of forthcoming space and astronomy events, from the Royal Astronomical Society. This month sees the launch of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, a conference on returning samples from asteroids and comets and an annular solar eclipse.
7 May: Launch of Falcon 9 (Dragon C2) spacecraft: first private flight to International Space Station
The (delayed) second test flight of the unpiloted Dragon spacecraft is now set to take place on 7 May. Built and launched by the Space X company, under contract to NASA as part of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme, Dragon C2 will blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. COTS aims to provide the United States with a private sector replacement vehicle to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), independent of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
In an important test, Dragon C2 will attempt to rendezvous and then dock with the ISS. If this is successful, the Station crew will remove cargo from the spacecraft and place cargo in it for return to Earth. After undocking, Dragon C2 will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere en route to its splashdown and recovery site in the Pacific Ocean off California.
Space X
Kirstin Grantham
Space X
Tel: +1 (202) 649 2716      
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
8 May: RAS public lecture: The Origin of Structure in the Universe
Astronomer and writer Dr Simon Mitton will give the latest Royal Astronomical Society public lecture at 1300 BST on 8 May. In his talk, he will review the history of attempts to understand the mechanics and structure of the universe from antiquity to the present and describe the astonishing progress made in this area in recent years.
RAS public lectures
Robert Massey
(details above)
11 May: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Sample return missions to small bodies: Burlington House, London
Astronomers and space scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society on 11 May, for a special conference on bringing samples of material from comets and asteroids to the Earth. Examples are the NASA mission to Comet 81P/Wild-2 and the JAXA mission to asteroid Hayabusa, both of which are helping scientists better understand the evolution of the Solar System. The meeting will see presentations on the analysis of material returned so far, new developments for analysis techniques and the prospects for future sample return missions.
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)
15 May: Launch of Soyuz TMA-04M to ISS
The launch of the latest mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for 15 May, when a Soyuz spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts and one astronaut will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazkakhstan. The crew, Russians Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and American Joe Acaba, will join three other occupants on the ISS and are expected to return to Earth in July.
NASA: Expedition 31
Michael Curie
NASA HQ, Washington DC
Tel: +1 202 358 1100
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
20 May: Annular solar eclipse: East Asia, North Pacific, North America
Annular eclipse - smallThe annular solar eclipse of 3 October 2005. Credit: Sancho Panza20 May sees an annular eclipse of the Sun. These happen when the Earth, Moon and Sun are exactly in line and the Moon partly blocks out the light of the Sun. Unlike total eclipses, when the whole of the bright solar surface (the photosphere) is obscured, the Moon is too far away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun, so a bright ring or annulus is left around the lunar silhouette, hence the term annular eclipse.
This eclipse is visible along a narrow track running from southern China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan (including T’aipei) Japan (including Osaka and Tokyo), the northern Pacific Ocean and the south-western United States including Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The maximum duration of the eclipse is 5 minutes and 40 seconds, as seen from just south of the Aleutian Islands.
Outside of this track, observers across central and east Asia, most of North America and Greenland will see a partial eclipse of varying duration, where the Sun is partly obscured but without the ring effect.
Although annular eclipses of the Sun are spectacular events, unlike total eclipses they should NOT be viewed with the unaided eye. Looking at the Sun without appropriate protection can cause serious and permanent damage to the eyes.
The eclipse can be safely studied using purpose-designed solar filters available from reputable astronomical suppliers. Without these, the only safe ways to observe the Sun are to use a pinhole or telescope to PROJECT the Sun’s image onto card or to look at the natural dappled images under trees.
Eclipses online: information on eclipses around the world
NASA: Annular solar eclipse of 20 May 2012
Night sky in May
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.
Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc