RAS PN06/33: Space & Astronomy Digest July 2006
1 JULY: LAUNCH OF STS-121 SHUTTLE TO INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
The launch window for STS-121, NASA's second space shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster, opens at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 15:48 p.m. EDT (19:48 GMT) on 1 July and closes on 19 July. The launch window for the Discovery orbiter lasts for about five minutes on 1 July.
This mission is the 115th shuttle flight and the 18th U.S. flight to the International Space Station. Discovery's mission, designated STS-121, is scheduled to last about 12 days with a planned landing at Kennedy at about 10:45 a.m. EDT (14:45 GMT) on 13 July.
The STS-121 crew includes Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Mark Kelly and mission specialists Michael Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson, UK-born astronaut Piers Sellers and Thomas Reiter, a German astronaut with the European Space Agency. Reiter will join the current ISS Expedition 13 crew as flight engineer 2 and will become the first long-duration crew member who is not American or Russian.
The STS-121 mission is the second mission in the shuttle Return to Flight sequence. Payloads aboard Discovery include a new control and life-support system that uses water to generate enough oxygen for up to six people. Science experiments include studies of space motion sickness, latent virus reactivation and shedding, renal stone formation and insomnia. In the payload bay, the multi-purpose logistics module, Leonardo, will carry more than two tons of hardware, equipment and supplies up to the station and return unwanted items back to Earth.
During two planned spacewalks on the fifth and seventh days of the mission, Sellers and Fossum will test the 50-foot (15 m) robotic arm boom extension as a work platform and also test techniques for inspecting and repairing the reinforced carbon-carbon segments that protect the shuttle's nose cone and wing leading edges. The spacewalkers will install spare parts for future use and replace the trailing umbilical system reel assembly for the station's mobile transporter, a rail car that travels along the station's truss.
NASA web site:
3 JULY: CLOSE ASTEROID FLYBY
At 04:44 UT/GMT on 3 July, asteroid 2004 XP14 will fly past Earth at a distance of 268,873 miles (432,700 km) – only a little further than the Moon. Around the time of close approach, 2004 XP14 races across the sky at 8.323 degrees per hour, or one lunar diameter every four minutes! It has been classified as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” by the Minor Planet Centre, but there is no danger of a collision - just a great photo-op for experienced amateur astronomers. The space rock is big enough (600 yards/metres wide) and bright enough (11th magnitude) to see and photograph through backyard telescopes of 6 inch (15 cm) aperture or larger. Peak visual magnitude is expected four hours after closest approach.
As 2004 XP14 makes its closest approach to Earth above the west coast of North America, astronomers will attempt to gauge its size and shape by analysis of very high frequency radio waves reflected from its surface. Such radar measurements of the exact distance and velocity of the asteroid will allow for precise information on its orbit. From this scientists can also discern details of the asteroid's mass, as well as a measurement of its density, which is a very important indicator of its overall composition and internal structure.
Observing tips, a sky map and ephemerides are available at:
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Arizona:
3 JULY: EARTH AT APHELION
Earth will be at aphelion, its furthest orbital distance from the Sun, around midnight on 3 July. It will then be 152,095,745 km from the Sun, compared with its minimum distance from the Sun (perihelion) of 147,103, 622 km in January.
Since the eccentricity of our planet’s orbit is very small and the orbit is nearly circular, aphelion and perihelion differ from the mean Sun-Earth distance by less than 2%. If you drew Earth’s orbit on a sheet of paper it would be difficult to distinguish from a perfect circle.
Since Earth is at its furthest from the Sun, average global sunlight arriving in July is about 7% less intense than it is in January. However, the average temperature of Earth at aphelion is about 2.3C higher than it is at perihelion - Earth is actually warmer when it is further from the Sun.
This is because our planet has more land in the northern hemisphere and more water in the south. During July – in the northern summer - the mainly continental northern half of our planet is tilted toward the Sun, and the land masses heat up more easily than the oceans.
3-6 JULY: ROYAL SOCIETY SUMMER EXHIBITION
The Royal Society’s Summer Exhibition will be held at the premises of the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1, from 3 - 6 July. This year’s exhibition includes a number of exhibits related to astronomy and space science:
* Heavens’ Kitchen: From Primordial Soup to Cosmic Pancakes. Searches for dark matter and dark energy, along with studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, explained by scientists from the University of Oxford.
* Astronomy at the End of the Rainbow – the Extreme Universe. A team from Durham University are using the world's most powerful gamma ray telescopes to detect black holes, the remains of dead stars and mysterious dark objects in our galaxy.
* Stardust: a Comet’s Tale. An exhibit describing UK involvement in NASA’s mission to collect samples of comet dust and interstellar particles.
* Rough Guide to Mars. UK scientists studying images from ESA’s Mars Express orbiter have found what may a frozen sea, evidence that life could have developed and may even still exist on Mars.
There are also various exhibits related to the Earth and the environment, which include studies of future earthquakes and tsunamis in the Sumatra region and an interactive talk about the future of our planet.
Tel: +44 (0)207-451-2500
Royal Society Summer Exhibition web site:
4 – 14 JULY: LAUNCH OF GENESIS PATHFINDER 1 INFLATABLE SPACECRAFT
The first Genesis Pathfinder satellite is now scheduled for launch from Yasny cosmodrome, Russia, between 4 and 14 July. The spacecraft will be on board a silo-launched Dnepr-1 rocket.
Genesis Pathfinder is a technology demonstration for the inflatable Nautilus space station structure being developed by Bigelow Aerospace. Once in Earth orbit, the one-third scale hardware will produce important test data related to many of the features of a full-scale spacecraft. However, the first Genesis will be pressurised with nitrogen, whereas later units will use an oxygen/nitrogen mixture. Genesis will also include windows and an airlock simulator with key seal interfaces. It will measure 10 ft x 8 ft (3 m x 2.4 m) when inflated.
Bigelow Aerospace is an advocate of private ownership and use of space stations by making habitable space modules affordable for corporate communities. It is drawing upon NASA’s former TransHab inflatable structures programme, although the company is pioneering its own design. Two Genesis Pathfinder spacecraft are expected to be orbited by Russian Dnepr-1 launchers.
Following two Genesis spacecraft will be two Guardian spacecraft, which are almost half the size of the full Nautilus and will be used to test life support systems. The Genesis and Guardian spacecraft are designed to last for several years in orbit. Bigelow is offering free rides in them to any corporate or government research payload that would like to take advantage of flying in such a pressurised vehicle.
15-20 JULY: GREAT RED SPOT MEETS RED JUNIOR
Two of the biggest storms in the solar system are converging. Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS), a hurricane-like storm that has blown non-stop for at least 400 years, and its younger cousin, nicknamed ‘Red Junior’, are expected to slide past each other on 15 – 20 July. No one knows exactly what will happen: there is a possibility that the GRS might distort its smaller neighbour as it did 2 years ago, but a merger of the two is thought to be unlikely.
The predecessors of Red Junior were three white oval storms that formed in the late 1930's. These were designated as FA, BC and DE. Two of these, BC and DE, merged in 1998 formed the spot BE. In March 2000, BE and FA merged, to form the oval BA. For the last 5 years, this spot has remained white, like the three spots that produced it. However, during December 2005 it started to change to a brown colour. During early February 2006, the spot acquired the same colour as the Great Red Spot. The chemical compounds that cause this reddish colouration remain unknown.
SpaceWeather.com web site:
RedSpotJr web site:
Science@NASA web site:
17 JULY: LAUNCH OF METOP, EUROPE’S FIRST POLAR ORBITING WEATHER SATELLITE
MetOp-A, Europe’s first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology, is scheduled for launch by a Soyuz 2-1a rocket from the Baïkonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on 17 July. Lift-off time is scheduled for 22.28 Baikonur time (16.28 GMT). Designed and developed by ESA in partnership with EUMETSAT (European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites), MetOp will be used to improve weather forecasts and climate monitoring.
The first in a series of three satellites, MetOp represents Europe’s contribution to a new cooperative venture with the United States. The satellite carries 12 different instruments designed for meteorological observation and climate monitoring, whilst also supporting search and rescue and the monitoring of charged particles in the low Earth orbit environment.
EADS Astrium is the satellite prime contractor and responsible for three of the twelve instruments on board the spacecraft. These include ASCAT, an active radar instrument which measures wind speed and direction over the open sea. It also provides data for ice and snow coverage as well as surface moisture.
The Microwave Humidity Sounder was designed and built by EADS Astrium
in Portsmouth. MHS scans the Earth’s atmosphere to measure emitted radiation at various wavelengths in order to determine the water vapour content (clouds, precipitation, humidity) at various altitudes.
ESA web site:
BNSC web site:
17 – 21 JULY: IOA CONFERENCE 2006: THE PLANET-DISC CONNECTION
The Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, will be hosting a conference entitled "The Planet-Disc Connection" from 17-21 July. The meeting will review what can be inferred from the recent data and theorists to report on advances in modelling disc clearing around stars by planet formation and other mechanisms. Speakers will also look forward to future facilities (such as ALMA and planned interferometric arrays in the optical) in order to assess the prospects for detecting unambiguous signatures of ongoing planet formation during the next decade.
Sessions will be held on the following themes:
* Disc lifetime as function of stellar mass and environment
* Clues to disc clearing from Spectral Energy Distributions
* Disc dispersal mechanisms
* Planet formation in evolving discs
* Planet-disc interaction and migration
* Disc mineralogy as diagnostic of grain growth
* Prospects for detection of protoplanets
* Debris discs (observations and theory)
Please address enquiries to:
Conference web site:
17 – 23 JULY: FARNBOROUGH AIR SHOW
UK space science and industry will feature prominently at the world’s largest and most famous international aerospace show. Farnborough 2006 is being held from 17 to 23 July, with public days on 22 and 23 July. The event includes a large International Space Pavilion with displays and exhibits themed around space technology and science. Each day the show will highlight particular topics.
The British National Space Centre (BNSC) will share a stand with the European Space Agency and the United Kingdom Industrial Space Committee (UKISC) – British space industry’s trade association. A special exhibition, co-ordinated by EADS Astrium, will highlight how space impacts on our lives.
Space Day will take place on Wednesday, 19 July, with a series of activities and seminars addressing the “International Future for Space”. This high profile event will provide a forum for the leading VIPs and industry figureheads to meet, network and discuss the future of the International Space Industry. Visitors expected to attend are Lord Sainsbury, UK Minister for Science and Engineering; Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency; and Michael Griffin, Administrator of NASA.
There will also be an additional focus for young people interested in careers in space through the public days on 22 and 23 July and the introduction of International Youth Day on 21 July.
Farnborough 2006 web site:
20 JULY: GALAXY REDSHIFT SURVEYS OF THE FUTURE
The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth will host a one day workshop on 20 July entitled "Galaxy Redshift Surveys of the Future". The workshop is organised in honour of Jim Gunn, who will receive an Honorary Degree from the University of Portsmouth on 19 July 2006. The workshop also follows on from last year's workshop on "Surveys of Dark Energy".
The aim of the workshop is to discuss future redshift surveys using the next generation of spectroscopic instruments, e.g., AAOmega (AAT), WFMOS (Gemini/Subaru), KMOS (VLT) and FMOS (Subaru). It will bring together the scientists working on these instruments, astronomers designing surveys and theoreticians predicting constraints from such observations.
Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation
University of Portsmouth
Portsmouth, PO1 2EG
Tel: +44 (0)23-9284-5151
Meeting web site:
30 JULY: LAUNCH OF TWIN STEREO SPACECRAFT TO STUDY THE SUN
NASA’s STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) mission is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on the afternoon of 30 July. Launch times for the Delta 2 launcher are 14:55 - 14:57 or 16:03 - 16:18 p.m. EDT (18:55 - 18:57 and 20:03 – 20:18 GMT).
During their two-year mission, they will explore the origin, evolution and interplanetary consequences of huge eruptions of solar material, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These powerful solar events throw are a major source of the magnetic disruptions on Earth and a key component of space weather, which can greatly affect satellite operations, communications, power systems and the lives of humans in space.
For the first three months after launch, the two observatories will fly in highly elliptical orbits that extend from very close to Earth to just beyond the Moon's orbit. Then one of the spacecraft will swing close enough to the Moon to be redirected to a position “behind” the Earth. Approximately one month later, the second observatory will follow the same procedure in order to move “ahead” of Earth.
Each will drift away from the Earth at a rate of 22 degrees per year. This positioning will enable their onboard instruments to study the Sun from two widely separated vantage points, allowing the first 3-D “stereo” studies of the Sun and mass ejection events, as well as a clear view of the space between the Sun and Earth and any Earth-directed CMEs.
STEREO’s instruments were built by numerous organizations worldwide. They include the Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) instrument, which has substantial UK involvement.
SECCHI comprises four remote sensing instruments - two white-light coronagraphs (COR1 and COR2), an Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI) and a wide angle imaging system for viewing the inner heliosphere (HI1 and HI2).
The Heliospheric Imager (HI1 and HI2) has been developed by a UK-led team, which involves the University of Birmingham and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in collaboration with Centre Spatial de Liege, Belgium, and the Naval Research Laboratory, USA. The Principal Investigator is Professor Richard Harrison.
RAL STEREO web site:
NASA web site:
Johns Hopkins University web site:
Professor Richard Harrison
Principal Investigator for Heliospheric Imager
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
OXON OX11 0QX
Tel: +44 (0)1235-446884
Dr. Chris Eyles
Project Manager for Heliospheric Imager
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT
Tel: +44 (0)121-414-6461
Dr. Chris Davis
Project Scientist for Heliospheric Imager
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (see above)
Tel: +44 (0)1235-446710
31 JULY - 4 AUGUST: COSMIC FRONTIERS
The Cosmic Frontiers conference, to be held at the University of Durham from 31 July – 4 August, is motivated by the potential for forthcoming breakthroughs in galaxy formation and cosmology using the current and future astronomical survey facilities, including UKIRT WFCAM, VLT Survey Telescope, VLT VIMOS, AAT AAOmega, VISTA, JCMT SCUBA2, Spitzer, GALEX, Herschel, XMM-Newton, e-MERLIN, e-VLA, etc. In galaxy formation, these surveys will provide new and more accurate probes of the mass and SFR evolution of galaxies to challenge the present generation of theoretical models. For cosmology these surveys also offer the possibility of high precision cosmological tests to constrain the equation of state of the dark energy.
The aim of this meeting is to review progress from current surveys and to discuss the goals and designs of future surveys, all in the light of the latest results in cosmology and structure formation. The conference is sponsored by the EU Research and Training Network SISCO (Spectroscopic and Imaging Surveys for Cosmology).
Conference web site: