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Space and astronomy digest: November 2012

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 15:33
Published on Friday, 02 November 2012 15:22

The November digest of upcoming space and astronomy news events. This month sees a total solar eclipse visible from Australia and the South Pacific, the possible launch of the X-37B spaceplane and a major meeting on developing instrumentation for the European Extremely Large Telescope.



8-9 November: RAS specialist discussion meeting: the E-ELT instrument roadmap: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London




In this two day meeting, astronomers will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society to discuss the instruments that can be developed for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). This telescope, which will be constructed at Cerro Amarzones in the Chilean Andes, should be operational in the early 2020s. Once complete it will be the largest optical / infrared telescope in the world, with a mirror 39 metres in diameter. The conference will include presentations on the latest concepts for scientific instruments for the telescope, many of which will see major involvement by UK scientists.

Appropriately the meeting takes place 150 years after William Huggins obtained the first spectrum from a star other than the Sun, a result he presented at the RAS.

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


RAS Specialist Discussion Meetings


The E-ELT instrument roadmap: meeting home page


Media contact

Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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9 November: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Lunar science as a window into the early evolution of the Solar System and conditions on the early Earth: Geological Society, Burlington House, London




The Earth and the Moon effectively make up a binary planet and are both thought to be a little more than 4500 million years old. The Earth, with its active geology and weather systems, now has little record of its early environment left. In contrast the Moon has a much more ancient surface and so allows scientists to better understand the shared early history of the two worlds and wider Solar System.

On 9 November, planetary scientists will come to the Geological Society to discuss how the lunar geological record can advance our understanding of our own planet and the conditions under which life was able to flourish here. Delegates at the meeting will discuss how future lunar exploration can help access this rich historical record.

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


RAS Specialist Discussion Meetings


Meeting programme


Abstracts of talks and posters


Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)



13 November: RAS lunchtime lecture: The Herschel Space Observatory: Exploring the Origins of Stars and Galaxies: Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, London




At 1 p.m. on Tuesday 13 November, Professor Matt Griffin of the University of Cardiff will give the latest RAS public lecture, on the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel was launched by the European Space Agency in May 2009 and is the largest telescope ever placed in space, with a mirror 3.5 metres across. It observes the Universe in far infrared light, radiation with a wavelength between 100 and 1000 times that of the visible light we see with our eyes. Professor Griffin will describe the Telescope and its suite of scientific instruments, and present some of the spectacular images and scientific results that have already come from this remarkable spacecraft.


RAS public lectures


Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


13 November: Launch of X-37B spaceplane


The latest launch of the US Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B is set to take place on or after 13 November, when it will be carried aloft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop an Atlas 5 rocket. Built for the US Air Force, the X-37B is a reusable robotic spaceplane designed to operate in Earth orbit for several months at a time, where it can carry out a variety of missions before making an autonomous landing.


US Air Force factsheet on X-37B


13 November (14 November in some locations): Total solar eclipse: Northern Australia and South Pacific Ocean


Solar Eclipse_Gansu_smallThe total solar eclipse of 1 August 2008, as seen from Gansu, ChinaA total eclipse of the Sun will take place on 13 November (London time), visible from a narrow track extending from Northern Australia across the South Pacific towards Chile. Depending on whether observers are east or west of the International Date Line, the event will take place on 13 or 14 November local time respectively.

Total solar eclipses take place when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned and the shadow of the Moon falls on the surface of the Earth. The Moon moves in front of the Sun, progressively blocking out more of the bright solar disk. Eventually observers directly within the lunar shadow briefly see totality, where the silhouette of the Moon completely covers the bright disk of the Sun, revealing the beautiful outer solar atmosphere or corona. After this the Moon moves slowly away from the Sun until the solar disk is visible in its entirety once again.

At the point of Greatest Eclipse, located in the ocean to the north east of New Zealand, totality lasts 4 minutes and 2 seconds. Observers away from this point but still within the path of totality will see a shorter event. The Australian city of Cairns is one of the largest settlements within the track and observers there will see 2 minutes of totality.

Away from the path of totality, the Moon will partially block out the disk of the Sun and only a partial eclipse can be seen. This will be visible in Papua New Guinea, the extreme eastern part of Indonesia, the eastern half of Australia, the whole of New Zealand, Polynesia, part of Antarctica and the southern part of Chile and Argentina.

Although eclipses of the Sun are spectacular events, they should NOT be viewed with the unaided eye except during the brief period of totality. Looking at the partially eclipsed Sun (visible before and after totality and from outside the total eclipse zone) without appropriate protection can cause serious and permanent damage to the eyes. The partial eclipse can be safely observed 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 that appear on the ground under trees in leaf through the same effect).


NASA Solar Eclipse guide


HM Nautical Almanac Office: Eclipses Online



20-21 November: European Space Agency Ministerial Council, Naples, Italy




The member states of the European Space Agency (ESA), including the UK, will hold their Ministerial Council meeting in Naples from 20-21 November. This important event, often described as the 'Ministerial', will see negotations between the different ESA members to set the objectives and priorities for European space activity over the next few years.


ESA: Call for media


UK media contact

Matt Goodman
UK Space Agency
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Night sky in November




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