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Space and astronomy digest: November and December 2015

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 November 2015 16:04
Published on Tuesday, 03 November 2015 16:03

The RAS digest of upcoming space and astronomy news events, particularly those with UK involvement. The next two months see the launch of Tim Peake, the first official UK ESA astronaut, and the LISA Pathfinder mission.

 


10 November: RAS Public Lecture: Colliding Galaxies, Geological Society and Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

 

Dr Megan Argo, an astrophysicist at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, will give the RAS public lecture at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 10 November.

She will describe galaxies and their composition, and look at what happens when they collide. Dr Argo will end with a look at our own (very!) distant future and the fate of the Milky Way, the galaxy we live in.

 


13 November: Current and future research with the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

 

The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is a network of radars in the northern and southern hemispheres, used by solar-terrestrial physicists to map plasma (gas-like matter broken into electrically charged particles) in the upper atmosphere.

On 13 November scientists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society for a specialist discussion meeting covering the science goals of SuperDARN and its use in understanding space weather and general atmospheric processes.

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

 


13 November: Magnetic Fields on Galactic and Extra-Galactic Scales, Geological Society, Burlington House, London

 

Magnetic fields are ubiquitous in astrophysics; but on the largest scales constraints on their shape, strength and even existence have been hampered by the limitations of available instrumentation. On 13 November a specialist discussion meeting will bring together scientists who will summarise and discuss the state-of-the-art cases for the next generation of radio telescopes, instruments expected to address many of the open questions surrounding the evolution and origin of large-scale magnetic fields.

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

 


2 December: Launch of LISA Pathfinder

 

Gravitational waves, one of the key predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity published in 1915, are ripples in spacetime that are thought to permeate the universe. A century after their prediction, they have yet to be detected directly, but could be observed by measuring the tiny change in the distance between two points as a wave makes it grow and shrink.

A European Space Agency (ESA) mission with Airbus Defence and Space as the prime contractor, LISA Pathfinder is a proof of concept mission that will put two gold-platinum cubes – so-called test masses – into free fall inside a spacecraft. By controlling them and measuring their positions with unprecedented accuracy, scientists hope to be able to take critical steps forward in the development of a fully operational gravitational wave detector.

LISA Pathfinder is set to blast off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, atop a Vega launch vehicle, at 0415 GMT on Wednesday 2 December. It will travel to the Lagrange point L1, a stable location 1.5 million km from the Earth in the direction of the Sun, where it should operate for the next year.

 

Contact

ESA HQ
France
Tel: +33 1 53 69 76 54
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

8 December: RAS Public Lecture: The Search for Life in the Universe: Geological Society and Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

 

Astrobiologist and planetary geologist Dr Louisa Preston of the Open University will give the December RAS public lectures, on the search for life elsewhere in the universe, at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 8 December.

In her talk, she will consider the chances of finding life in the Solar System, on worlds like Mars, Europa and Titan, and the search for habitable planets in orbit around other stars. Dr Preston will end by looking at the prospects not just for life, but intelligent life elsewhere, what its discovery or absence would tell us about our own development and the future of our own exploration and colonisation of the cosmos.

 


11 December: A critical assessment of cluster cosmology: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

 

Understanding clusters of galaxies is now a key part of cosmology and helps scientists to in turn understand the behaviour and evolution of the universe as a whole. Measurements of clusters to some extent contradict measurements of the cosmic microwave background, the residual heat of the Big Bang, in what they tell us about the cosmos.

On 11 December cosmologists will come to the Geological Society for a specialist discussion meeting to try to reconcile these conflicting data. New physics (like massive neutrinos, time-varying dark energy or modified gravity) may be needed, but before then scientists need to understand the errors affecting existing tests. The coming Dark Energy Survey and e-ROSITA X-ray instrument will find hundreds more galaxy clusters, challenging cosmology still further.

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

 


11 December: Cosmic dust in space and on Earth: interplanetary, interstellar and anthropogenic: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

 

Extraterrestrial dust particles preserve details of the interplanetary (asteroids, comet, planets and planetary satellites) and interstellar bodies from which they originate, and can ultimately provide insights into the origin and evolution of our Solar System.

As we continue to explore and populate our Solar System with spacecraft, this dust, as well as dust generated by human activities, is also becoming an increasing concern, prompting efforts to monitor levels and investigate and mitigate the hazards they pose.

On 11 December a specialist discussion meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society will bring together researchers involved in the study of natural and anthropogenic cosmic dust to consider the latest work in this area. Delegates will include those studying data from observatories and space missions, analysing mission returned samples and cosmic dust collected here on Earth, as well as those performing relevant modelling and experiments.

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

 


14 December: maximum of Geminids meteor shower

 

The Geminids meteor shower, regarded as one of the best, is predicted to reach its peak at 1800 GMT on 14 December. Meteors (or 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed, heating up and then disintegrating. The superheated air around them appears as a short-lived streak of light that quickly fades from view.

In this shower the meteors appear to emanate from a point in the constellation of Gemini, hence the name Geminid, and are associated with the asteroid Phaethon, which has the characteristics of a 'rock comet'. This year the peak of the shower is a few days after New Moon, meaning that its light will not interfere with the view. In clear dark skies away from towns and cities it might be possible to see as many as 100 meteors an hour, making it a potentially impressive display.

 


15 December: Tim Peake, the first official UK ESA astronaut, blasts off for the ISS

 

Timothy Peake smallTim Peake, the first official UK ESA astronaut. Credit: ESA - A. Le Floc'h, 2009. Click for a full size imageOn 15 December the Soyuz ISS 45S mission is scheduled to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying its crew to the International Space Station (ISS). On board will be Tim Peake, the first official UK European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut.

A former platoon commander with the British Army, helicopter pilot, flight instructor and test pilot, he was selected to be an ESA astronaut in 2009. Tim Peake has subsequently completed an extensive training programme, building up to his mission, Principia, where he will try out experiments and new technologies on board the ISS.

The UK Space Agency and the UK European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) are leading a programme of events celebrating Tim’s mission, involving schools, science centres and the media, with full details on their websites (links are in the text.


Contact

Julia Short, UK Space Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418 069
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Night sky in November and 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.

 


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 3900 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

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