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Space and astronomy digest: January 2014

Last Updated on Monday, 23 December 2013 15:20
Published on Monday, 23 December 2013 15:18

The digest of upcoming space and astronomy news events, from the RAS. This month sees the world's largest annual astronomy conference and the peak of a lesser known meteor shower.


3 January: Peak of Quadrantids meteor shower

Early January sees the annual maximum of the Quadrantid meteor shower. Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. These heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground.

Quadrantids 2009 smallSeveral Quadrantid meteors, including a bright fireball (top right), radiate out from the radiant in Boötes at the height of the shower on 3 January 2009. The stars of the Plough are towards the bottom of the image. Credit: Pete Lawrence. Click for a full resolution imageIn a meteor shower, the Earth passes through a trail of debris associated with a comet or minor planet, in the case of the Quadrantids thought to be the object 2003 EH1, which may be related to a comet observed in the fifteenth century. The higher density of debris leads to a sharp increase in the number of meteors seen.

The Quadrantids appear to emanate from a point located in the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, not far from the familiar asterism of the Plough. They are best viewed in the northern hemisphere and this year the International Meteor Organisation (IMO) predicts that numbers will reach a peak at 1930 GMT on the evening of 3 January, when several tens of meteors may be seen each hour. The Moon will be a slender crescent on that date, setting early in the evening, so its light will not interfere significantly with our view of the shower.

International Meteor Organisation: Quadrantids


5-9 January, 223rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Washington DC, USA

The biannual meetings of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are the largest astronomy conferences in the world, typically attracting more than 3000 astronomers and space scientists from across the globe.

The January meeting will cover research topics including the planets and moons of the Solar system; worlds around nearby stars, the formation of evolution of stars, the structure of our own and other galaxies and the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. The world’s leading experts in these fields will present newsworthy results at a full programme of press briefings throughout the conference.


Press information for the conference is available at

The AAS offers complimentary meeting registration to bona fide working journalists and public-information officers. To register contact AAS Director of Communications Dr Rick Fienberg via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


10 January: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Ionising processes in atmospheric environments of planets, brown dwarfs and M dwarfs: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

On 10 January scientists will gather at the Geological Society for a specialist discussion meeting on the atmospheres of very low-mass stars and extrasolar planets. Many of these objects are cold enough that clouds form and affect the local chemistry and appearance, with prominent planetary examples the giant gas planet HD189733b and the ‘super-Earth’ GJ1214b.

This meeting will bring together astrophysicists, geologists and meteorologists, who will present and discuss the latest research in this rapidly developing field.

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

Meeting description


Robert Massey
(details above)


10 January: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Geomagnetic field dynamics and structure on timescales from minutes to decades: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

Over the last few decades, new observation platforms, especially satellites, and combinations of measurement types have greatly advanced our understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field. In the process they have also highlighted how complicated it is to unravel its various contributions on decadal and shorter timescales.

On 10 January scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society to present and discuss the latest research in this field, combining observations from ground and space to better understand this fundamental part of the terrestrial environment.

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

Meeting description


Robert Massey
(details above)


14 January: RAS lunchtime lecture: How geometry has guided cosmology: from the Babylonians to Einstein and beyond: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

For more than three millennia watchers of the skies have used geometry as a means of understanding the mechanism of the heavens, from the earliest surveying techniques of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, through the Almagest of Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy to thirteenth century philosopher Robert Grossteste and early modern physicist Isaac Newton. In the twentieth century Albert Einstein underpinned his general theory of relativity with four dimensional geometry and contemporary astronomers still use it today to model the universe.

At 1300 GMT on 14 January, Dr Simon Mitton of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, will give the RAS lunchtime lecture, open to the general public, where he will discuss the work of these remarkable astronomers who used geometry to advance our understanding of the universe.

RAS Public Lectures


Robert Massey
(details above)


Night sky in January

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