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Space and astronomy digest: December 2012

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2012 15:23
Published on Friday, 30 November 2012 15:01

The December digest of forthcoming space and astronomy news events, from the Royal Astronomical Society. This month sees two major space conferences in the UK; astronomy meetings on detecting particles from astrophysical objects and on exploring the outer planets and the maximum of the Geminids meteor shower.


3-5 December: European Space Solutions conference, London



The European Space Solutions conference takes place in London from 3-5 December. This major meeting will bring together business and the public sector to explore the ways in which space science and technology can make a difference to the lives and livelihoods of people across Europe.

Keynote speakers at the meeting include the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, the UK Minister for Universities and Science; Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group and Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).


Media contacts

Donna Reay
European GNSS Agency (GSA)
Tel. +32 498 985 210

Lena Klemm
European Satellite Navigation Competition
& GMES Masters
Tel. +49 8105 7727717
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European Space Solutions

Press programme and registration information


6 December: 8th Appleton Space Conference, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot, Oxfordshire


The 8th Appleton Space Conference will take place on 6 December. It will bring together scientists, engineers, writers, outreach specialists and other interested parties from the UK, Europe and NASA to consider a wide range of space-related issues from managing space debris to the influence of space on contemporary art.

Keynote speakers at the Conference include HRH Prince Andrew the Duke of York and Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

8th Appleton Space Conference

Conference programme


Media contact

Sarah Smart
Tel: +44 (0)1235 445742
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11 December: Launch of X-37B spaceplane



The (delayed) latest launch of the US Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B is set to take place on or after 11 December, 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


13-14 December: Maximum of Geminids meteor shower



2004 Geminids___smallAn all-sky image of the 2004 Geminids meteor shower. Credit: Chris L. Peterson, Cloudbait ObservatoryThe evening of 13 and morning of 14 December see the annual maximum of the Geminid meteor shower.

At its peak and in a clear, dark sky between 50 and 100 'shooting stars' or meteors may be visible each hour. Meteors are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed, which then burn up and superheat the air around them to create the characteristic short-lived streak of light seen from the ground. In this case the debris is associated with the asteroid-like object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.

The meteors appear to originate from a 'radiant' in the constellation of Gemini, hence the name Geminid. This year the Moon will not be present in the sky on the dates of maximum activity so the prospects for a good view of the shower are excellent. And unlike many astronomical phenomena, meteors are best seen without a telescope and are perfectly safe to watch.

International Meteor Organisation: Geminids 2012


14 December: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Future Exploration of the Outer Planets: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


On 14 December planetary scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society for a conference on the key science questions about the outer planets. The four worlds furthest from the Sun, the so-called gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and ice giants Uranus and Neptune, serve as natural planetary-scale laboratories for the fundamental physics and chemistry at work throughout our Solar system. With their retinues of moons they can also be viewed as miniature solar systems in their own right.

Delegates will consider planned and potential exploration missions, including the ESA JUICE probe to Jupiter and concepts for a NASA/ESA spacecraft that could explore Uranus. The scientists will also discuss how the planets can be observed using orbiting observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope now under construction.

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

Future exploration of the outer planets: meeting details


Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


14 December: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Particle Probes of the Extreme Universe: Geological Society, Burlington House, London



In the 20th century our understanding of the wider universe increased dramatically with the construction of ever more sophisticated telescopes that can observe the cosmos over the whole spectrum, detecting not just visible light but electromagnetic radiation from gamma rays to radio.

On 14 December astronomers will gather at the Geological Society to consider how the next revolution in astronomy may come from detecting the individual particles from some of the most extreme objects in the universe. Delegates at the meeting will consider the history of this science and how it has developed from the neutrinos detected from a nearby supernova in 1987. The scientists will then discuss the future prospects for the field and the opportunities it presents.

This meeting is timed to coincide with an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts of Mariko Mori's work, which visualises information from the SuperKamiokande neutrino detector situated in the Kamioka Observatory in Japan.

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

Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


18 December: RAS lunchtime lecture: Neutrino – the route to a new astronomy: Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, London



At 1 p.m. on Tuesday 18 December, Professor Frank Close OBE of the University of Oxford will give the latest RAS public lecture on the (still nascent) field of neutrino astronomy.

Neutrinos are light subatomic particles that interact very weakly with their surroundings. They are the product of nuclear reactions, including those that take place in the core of the Sun and during the explosions of massive stars as supernovae. In our own Solar system, neutrinos fly straight out of the solar core, with vast numbers passing straight through the Earth, only a handful of which are observed. Although difficult to detect, their ability to travel through dense matter means that they give an insight into conditions in environments that are impossible to observe with visible light, such as the interior of stars.

In his lecture, Professor Close will describe how astronomers make use of neutrinos to study the universe in ways that would have been unthinkable to physicist Wolfgang Pauli when he first proposed their existence in 1930.

RAS public lectures


Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


19 December: Soyuz TMA-07M mission to International Space Station


The launch of the latest mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to take place on or after 19 December. Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and US astronaut Thomas Marshburn will blast off in a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew will then travel to the ISS, where they will join the three inhabitants already on board. The spacecraft will remain docked to the ISS where it will serve as an emergency escape vehicle for Expedition 35, which begins in March 2013.

NASA: Expedition 34


Media contacts

John Yembrick
Headquarters, Washington, USA
Tel: +1 202 358 1100
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Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters
Johnson Space Center, Houston, USA
Tel: +1 281 483 5111
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Night sky in December



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