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RAS PN06/28: May 2006 Space and Astronomy Digest

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Tuesday, 02 May 2006 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during May. It includes a RAS meeting to discuss the latest developments in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, presentations by the winners of the Society's gold awards, and the break-up of a comet fairly close to Earth.

Jupiter will be at opposition on 4 May. Around this time, the largest planet in the Solar System will be visible from dusk till dawn, reaching its highest point above the horizon (due south) at midnight. It will reach magnitude -2.4, making it brighter than everything in the night sky apart from the Moon and Venus.

May Night Sky (BBC):


Dr Jerry Bolter of EADS Astrium will be speaking about the Venus Express mission at the Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1 on 10 May, starting at 18:00.
In January 2003, EADS Astrium signed a contract with ESA for the design and
development of Venus Express, the first European spacecraft to visit the planet Venus. Venus Express was launched onboard a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in November 2005. After a journey of about five months, the actual mission around Venus will last nearly two Venusian years (about 500 Earth days).


David Richer
Space Group
The Royal Aeronautical Society
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


RAeS Space Group web site:

Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, 10:30-13:30

Following a brief look at the history of SETI, the meeting will consider our present thoughts on the likelihood of other intelligent civilisations existing in our galaxy and our current attempts to receive any possible signals they might be transmitting. This will include the University of California’s SETI@home project and the newly inaugurated Harvard University’s “All-Sky” Optical-SETI programme.

On a more philosophical note, the history of Extraterrestrialism will be discussed along with the prospect of finding evidence of space debris from other civilisations in the lunar regolith. Finally the meeting will look at the future of Radio-SETI, with the first phase of the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array being commissioned this summer and plans for perhaps the ultimate SETI instrument, the Square Kilometre Array, now being laid.


10:30 am. Ian Morison (Manchester): SETI - From 1959 to the present day.
A review of the key events in the history of SETI: Project Ozma, the Drake equation, the WOW signal, SETI at Harvard, SETI@home and Project Phoenix.

10:50 am. Monica Grady (OU): A Duck for Drake?
Could the number of other communicating civilisations in our galaxy really be zero?

11:20 am. Mark Brake (Glamorgan): A Brief History of Extraterrestrialism.
An evolution of the culture and science of astobiology.

11:50 pm. Ian A. Crawford (Birkbeck): The Search for Alien Artefacts on the Moon – constraining the Fermi Paradox.
Could the Lunar Regolith contain particles of space debris from other civilisations?

12:20 pm. Paul Horowitz (Harvard): Optical-SETI at Harvard.
Targeted surveys and the, newly-inaugurated, All-Sky survey searching for pulsed laser signals.

12:50 pm. Peter Backus (SETI Institute): The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array.
Phase 1, comprising 42, 6.1 meter antennas, is being commissioned this summer to complete the first dedicated Radio-SETI instrument.

13:05 pm. Ian Morison (Manchester): The Square Kilometre Array.
Design studies of an array providing 1,000,000 sq metres of collecting area are now underway – capable of detecting intelligent signals from across the galaxy.


Dr Ian Morison
Jodrell Bank Observatory
Tel: +44 (0)1477-572610
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, 16:00-18:00.

The following presentations will be made:

The 2006 'G' Gold Medal of the Society will be presented to Professor Stan Cowley (University of Leicester);

The 2006 'A' Gold Medal of the Society will be presented to Professor Simon White (Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics);

The 2006 Chapman Medal will be presented to Professor Steve Schwartz (Imperial College, London).

Talks will include:

Professor Simon White (MPA) - Simulating Cosmic Evolution in the New Millennium

Professor Stan Cowley (Leicester) - Aurorae at Earth and the Outer Planets

Professor Michael Werner (NASA-JPL) - The 2006 George Darwin Lecture: The Spitzer Space Telescope: Probing the Universe with Infrared Eyes


Astronomers will have a marvellous opportunity to observe the death throes of a comet during May, when the remains of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 have a harmless, but fascinating, close encounter with Earth. All of the observed fragments will pass relatively close to the Earth between 11 May and 28 May, though none will pass closer than 5.5 million miles (8.8 million km or 26 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon). This will be the closest that approach of a comet to Earth in more than twenty years. Several of the comet's fragments are visible through modest amateur telescopes.

Periodic comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was discovered on 2 May 1930. In 1995, it underwent a dramatic and completely unexpected, thousand-fold brightening. Subsequent observations showed that this was due to the fact that the comet had split into three distinct pieces. On its latest approach to the Sun, the comet has broken into more than 30 different pieces. Labelled alphabetically, they stretch across the sky for a distance equivalent to several times the angular diameter of the Moon.

Recent images show that the fragile comet is rapidly disintegrating as it approaches the Sun, with several dozen "mini-comets" trailing behind each main fragment. Whether any of the many fragments survive the trip around the Sun remains to be seen in the weeks ahead.


Hubble Space Telescope:

NASA Near Earth Object Program:

Space Weather web site:

Ephemeris Predictions:
Request information for comet "73P." The main comet, which is also the brightest, is fragment C.


The IoP astroparticle physics group, supported by the RAS, will hold its inaugural meeting at the University of Sheffield, on 23-24 May.

Astroparticle Physics is an exciting field that is currently enjoying a major expansion worldwide. From ACORNE to ZEPLIN, existing and planned experiments are making great strides towards revealing the sites of particle acceleration in our galaxy and beyond, the nature of dark matter, the physics of relativistic jets, and the origin of the very structure of our universe.

This expansion and excitement has led to the creation of an Institute of Physics Astroparticle Physics Group , which will also have strong links with, and formal representation from, the Royal Astronomical Society. The inaugural meeting will include review talks from experimentalists and theorists, and is intended to provide an overview of current developments and opportunities in the field. In addition, there will be opportunity for young researchers and students to present their work. The first AGM of the newly-formed Astroparticle Physics Group will also be held, and the committee elected.


Meeting web site:

This release has been written in order to assist the media in planning and researching future stories related to space science and astronomy, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Dates and times may be subject to change.