RAS PN06/07: Space & Astronomy Digest March 2006
10 MARCH: ARRIVAL OF MARS RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is scheduled to arrive at Mars on 10 March. It will provide more information about the planet than all previous NASA Mars missions combined.
As it nears Mars on March 10, the spacecraft designed will point its main thrusters forward, then fire them for about 25 minutes to slow itself enough for capture by Mars' gravity.
Ground controllers expect a signal shortly after 21:24 GMT indicating that this mission-critical engine burn has begun. The burn will end during a period when the spacecraft is behind Mars and out of radio contact.
The orbiter carries six instruments for studying every level of Mars from underground layers to the top of the atmosphere. Among them, the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet will reveal rocks the size of a small desk. An advanced mineral-mapper will be able to identify small areas of water-related deposits. Radar will probe for buried ice and water. A weather camera will monitor the entire planet daily. An infrared sounder will monitor atmospheric temperatures and the movement of water vapour.
The orbiter can return data to Earth about 10 times faster than any previous Mars mission and will return more data than all previous Mars missions combined.
One of its main objectives will be to improve understanding of Mars' atmosphere and the processes that have formed and modified the planet's surface, particularly the role of water.
A second major task will be to relay information from surface landers. During its planned five-year prime mission, it will support the Phoenix Mars Scout, which is being built to land on icy soils near the northern polar ice cap in 2008, and the Mars Science Laboratory, an advanced rover under development for launch in 2009.
Before Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can begin its main mission, it will spend half a year adjusting its orbit by aerobraking. The initial capture by Mars' gravity on 10 March will put the spacecraft into a very elongated, 35-hour orbit. Using hundreds of carefully calculated dips into the upper atmosphere the orbit will be altered to a low-altitude, nearly circular, two-hour loop.
UK scientists from Oxford, Cardiff and Reading Universities are involved in the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) instrument that will profile the atmosphere of Mars, detecting vertical variation in temperature, dust and water vapour concentration.
UK MCS Co-investigators:
Professor Fred Taylor
Tel: +44 (0)1855-272933
Dr. Gary Hawkins
University of Reading
Tel: +44 (0)118-378-8224
Professor Peter Ade
Tel: +44 (0)29 20-874643
NASA MRO web site:
PPARC press release:
9-10 MARCH: TWO-DAY BGA MEETING “SCALE INVARIANCE AND SCALE DEPENDENCE IN EARTH STRUCTURE AND DYNAMICS”
Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W.1.
Day 1: 10:00-16:30, followed by the Bullerwell Lecture 17:00-18:00.
Day 2: 9:00-15:40
The Annual British Discussion Meeting of the British Geophysical Association, incorporating the BGA Bullerwell lecture, will be held at the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House on 9 and 10 March.
The aim of this conference is to take a fresh look at the scaling of Earth structure and dynamics and its implications for practical problems such as natural hazard prediction and subsurface engineering. Presentations are intended to give broad overview perspectives, without getting into the many fine ‘details’ of each specific subject area. The idea is (i) to examine new (and old) data critically for evidence of scale-free or scale dependent behaviour; (ii) to suggest physical or numerical models that can explain the emergence of characteristic or scale-free geometries or periodicities; (iii) to address the issues raised in scaling up observations for applications such as subsurface fluid flow or seismic wave propagation, and (iv) to discuss the implications for the predictability of Earth dynamics.
The 2006 Bullerwell lecture by Dr. Andy Jackson (University of Leeds) is entitled “Understanding the Earth’s Magnetic Field Through Observations and Theory.” There is now a fairly reliable record of the evolution of the Earth’s magnetic field for the last 400 years. This has been derived from the rich record of observations of the magnetic field taken by mariners, explorers and scientists, observatories, and surveys over the centuries. These, together with theory and numerical simulations, have led to our present understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field. The lecture will discuss the three different domains in the core: the cylinders above and below the inner core, the region immediately outside this zone, and the equatorial belt. It will indicate how the fields of geomagnetism and Earth rotation are linked through fluid velocities in the core.
Dr. Ian Main
10 MARCH: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING “SPECTROPOLARIMETRY FROM STARS TO GALAXIES: PROBING THE THIRD DIMENSION”
Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, London W1, 10:30-15:30
The meeting will focus on recent progress that has been made in the field of
spectropolarimetry. This technique is extremely powerful in that it can probe structures at
much smaller scales than accessible with even the best imaging techniques; it can
determine the presence and magnitude of faint magnetic fields; and allows us to peer into
regions that are otherwise invisible to the observer, but can be seen through their
In the meeting both linear and circular spectropolarimetry will discussed and applied to a variety of objects, ranging from pre-main-sequence stars through evolved stars to AGN and quasars. The instrumentation has evolved from being specialist equipment to ever more easy to use common-user tools, and this meeting provides an exciting outlook for the 8-metre telescope era.
Dr. Rene Oudmaijer
Dr. Tim Harries
10 MARCH: RAS MONTHLY A & G (ORDINARY) MEETING
Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, London W1, 16:00-18:00.
Talks will include presentations by five of the 2005 Philip Leverhulme Prize winners:
Katherine Blundell (Oxford) - Astrophysical Jets
Andrew Bunker (Exeter) - High-redshift galaxies
Rob Fender (Southampton) - The balance of power: how black holes accrete
Steve Smartt (Belfast) - The masses of core-collapse supernova progenitors
Steve Tobias (Leeds) - The solar dynamo: turbulence, rotation and magnetic fields
11 MARCH: LAUNCH OF SPACE TECHNOLOGY 5 (ST5)
On the afternoon of 11 March, three small experimental satellites will be placed into orbit by a Pegasus XL rocket launched from beneath from an aircraft that takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Known as Space Technology 5, the mission is intended to push the limits of miniaturisation by building and testing three microsats. Each microsat weighs approximately 25 kilograms (55 pounds) when fully fuelled and resembles a very large birthday cake at 53 cm (20.7 inches) across and 48 cm (18.7 inches) high.
The satellites will be placed in an elliptical, Sun synchronous, orbit around the Earth that ranges between 300 km (186 miles) and 4,500 km (2,796 miles). Orbital inclination will be 105.6 degrees with an orbital period of 136 minutes. The mission will last for 90 days.
Development of these satellites will test and validate new technologies and aid scientists in understanding the harsh environment of the Earth's magnetosphere. After deployment, the microsats will be positioned in a "string of pearls" constellation that demonstrates the ability to position the microsats to perform simultaneous multi-point measurements of the magnetic field using highly sensitive magnetometers. Using data collected from the ST5 constellation, scientists can begin to understand and map the intensity and direction of the magnetic field, its relation to space weather events, and the affects on our planet.
The ST5 Project is an instrumental part of the New Millennium Programme, which was created to identify, develop, build, and test innovative technologies and concepts that may contribute to future missions.
ST5 web site:
14-15 MARCH: PENUMBRAL ECLIPSE OF THE MOON
A penumbral eclipse of the Moon will take place on the night of 14-15 March. The eclipse will begin at 21:22 UT (GMT) on 14 March and end at 02:14 UT (GMT) on 15 March. The entire eclipse will be visible from the UK and Europe. Observers throughout most of North America will find the eclipse already in progress as the Moon rises on the evening of 14 March.
This particular event is unusual since it is a total penumbral eclipse - one of only five such events during the 21st century. The whole Moon will lie completely within the penumbral shadow from 23:18 UT (GMT) on 14 March to 00:18 UT (GMT) on 15 March.
Any dimming of the Moon will be difficult to observe, especially during the early and late stages. Nevertheless, a distinct darkening should be visible across the southern half of the Moon, especially during the two hour period centered on greatest eclipse at 23:48 UT (GMT).
Fred Espenak’s eclipse web site:
20 MARCH (?): MAIDEN LAUNCH OF FALCON 1 ROCKET AND FALCONSAT-2
The maiden launch of Space X's Falcon 1 rocket is currently scheduled for 20 March. Falcon 1 will make history because:
• It will be the first privately developed, liquid fuelled rocket to reach orbit; • It will be the world's first all-new orbital rocket in over a decade;
• The main engine of Falcon 1 (Merlin) will be the first all-new American hydrocarbon engine for an orbital rocket to fly in 40 years and only the second new American booster engine of any kind in 25 years;
• The Falcon 1 is the only rocket flying 21st century avionics, which require a small fraction of the power and mass of other systems;
• It will be the world's only semi-reusable orbital rocket apart from the Shuttle;
• With a launch price of $6.7 million, Falcon 1 will provide the lowest cost per flight to orbit of any launch vehicle in the world.
The maiden flight will take place from the U. S. military’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site on Omelek Island near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands. Future launches will also be staged from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
On board the Falcon 1 rocket will be FalconSat-2, a student-built satellite to measure the effect of space plasma on global positioning system (GPS) satellites and other space-based communications systems. The satellite is part of a programme run by the U. S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA). The target orbit is 400 km x 500 km (just above the International Space Station) at an inclination of 39 degrees.
SPACEX web site:
Falcon1 / Falconsat-2 press kit:
US Air Force press release:
22 March 2006: UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE HORIZON SEMINAR “BEYOND EINSTEIN”
On 22 March, the University of Cambridge will be presenting a seminar entitled “Beyond Einstein”. The event will present some of the groundbreaking research conducted in physics at the Cavendish Laboratory. The objective is to show how ‘far-out’ research in areas such as quantum science and astronomy drives breakthrough technologies and applications of the future.
Experts from optoelectronics, quantum science, astronomy, biological physics and life science engineering will demonstrate how their research and methodologies have shaped many of today’s applications across all industry sectors and they will discuss technology ‘disruptions’ and the consequences for both industry and society.
The day will be chaired by Professor Peter Littlewood, Head of Department, Cavendish Laboratory. Speakers will include: Professor Andy Fabian, Institute of Astronomy; Professor Peter Saraga, Institute of Physics; Professor Henning Sirringhaus, Cavendish Laboratory; Dr. Tom Duke, Cavendish Laboratory, and Professor Artur Ekert, Centre for Quantum Computing, DAMTP.
27-28 MARCH: WORKSHOP “HIGH RESOLUTION X-RAY SPECTROSCOPY: TOWARDS XEUS AND CON-X”
Since the launch of the Chandra and the XMM-Newton observatories six years ago, astronomers have become familiar with high resolution X-ray spectra provided by dispersive spectrometers. A whole new source parameter space has been opened up to investigation and exciting new insights have been revealed into the physics and energetics of X-ray emitters and absorbers. Soon further advances in this field will be provided by non-dispersive spectrometers, with similar high resolution to current instrumentation and with enhanced sensitivity. This workshop will take stock of what has been achieved, review our current understanding and consider how to build on it, by taking advantage of future opportunities such as XEUS and Con-X. The workshop will be held on Monday and Tuesday 27 and 28 March, at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), located in Holmbury St Mary, near Dorking, Surrey.
29 MARCH: ECLIPSE OF THE SUN
A total eclipse of the Sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor which extends from eastern Brazil, across the Atlantic, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey and central Asia, ending at sunset in western Mongolia. A partial eclipse will be seen within the much broader path of the Moon's penumbral shadow, which includes the northern two thirds of Africa, all of Europe, and central Asia.
The total eclipse begins at 08:36 UT (GMT), when the Moon's umbral shadow first touches down on Earth. Totality reaches its maximum duration of 4 minutes 7 seconds over the Sahara Desert. The umbra crosses the Mediterranean coast at 10:40 UT (GMT) and reaches the southern coast of Turkey at 10:54 UT (GMT). The total eclipse ends at sunset, 11:48 UT (GMT) along Mongolia's northern border when the umbral shadow lifts off Earth's surface. Over the course of 3 hours and 12 minutes, the umbra travels along a path approximately 14,500 km long and covers 0.41% of Earth's surface area.
In the UK, the shadow will not cover a great deal of the Sun and no obvious dimming or lighting effects will be apparent. The greatest coverage of the solar disk will occur in SE England (over 17%) with the least coverage in Ireland and Scotland (10% or less).
In London, the first contact of the umbra occurs at 9.45 UT (10:45 BST) and the partial eclipse ends at 11:22 UT (12:22 BST). In Edinburgh, the eclipse takes place between 9:55 UT (10:55BST) and 11:16 UT (12:16 BST). There will not be another partial eclipse of the Sun over the UK until 1 August 2008.
NOTE THAT IT IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TO ATTEMPT TO OBSERVE AN ECLIPSE OF THE SUN WITH THE NAKED EYE (EVEN WEARING SUNGLASSES) OR USING ANY AID, SUCH AS A CAMERA, BINOCULARS OR TELESCOPE.
The safest and most inexpensive way to observe a partial solar eclipse is by projection, when a pinhole or small opening is used to cast an image of the Sun on a white card placed a half-metre or so beyond the opening. Binoculars can also be used to PROJECT a magnified image of the Sun on a white card, but they must NOT be used for direct viewing.
Fred Espenak’s eclipse web site:
Sheridan Williams web site:
30 MARCH: LAUNCH OF ISS EXPEDITION 13
The 13th long-term crew for the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 02:29 GMT (03:29 BST) on March 30. A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the manned Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft with a crew of three. On board the Soyuz will be Expedition 13 Commander, Pavel Vinogradov, 52, Flight Engineer and NASA Science Officer, Jeff Williams, 47, and the first Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Pontes, 42.
The Soyuz TMA-8 will remain at the station for about six months, providing an escape craft for the crew. The six-month stay of Expedition 13 will focus on station assembly preparations, maintenance and science in microgravity. Pontes will spend eight days on the station under a contract with Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, then return to Kazakhstan with the Expedition 12 crew in Soyuz TMA-7.
NASA ISS web site:
Space.com web site:
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
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.