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Space and astronomy digest: March 2016

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 March 2016 13:05
Published on Tuesday, 01 March 2016 13:05

The March digest of upcoming space and astronomy events. Events include the launch of the first of two ESA / Roscosmos missions to Mars, the flight of another crew to the International Space Station, and RAS meetings on turbulence and the legacy surveys from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope.


8 March: RAS Public Lecture: A Matter of Gravity, Geological Society and Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

Dr Roberto Trotta, a theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College London, will give the latest RAS public lecture at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 8 March.

In his talk Dr Trotta will describe how Einstein's theory of General Relativity, first presented more than a century ago, describes the universe we live in, and how his ground-breaking ideas have been verified with exquisite precision. He will also explore possible alternative explanations that do not, as is usually the case, invoke dark matter, and discuss the consequences of the recent announcement of the detection of gravitational waves.


11 March: Turbulence in solar, space and astrophysical plasmas, Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


Plasmas, the so-called fourth state of matter, along with solids, liquids and gases, are overall electrically neutral media of charged particles, that make up the majority of ordinary matter in the Universe.

On 11 March solar physicists, space scientists and astrophysicists will come together at the Royal Astronomical Society, for a conference on the problems and recent achievements in the observation and modelling of turbulent plasmas. The researchers will also look at the future contribution from missions such as Solar Orbiter and Solar Probe Plus.

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


11 March: Star formation studies with the JCMT in the new era, Geological Society, Burlington House, London


In January 2015 the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) changed ownership after almost 30 years of UK-led operations, a change that coincided with the completion of the first generation of its legacy surveys. Three of these surveys involved studies of star formation and the interstellar medium (the material between the stars).

On 11 March, astronomers will gather at the Geological Society to take stock of the science from the first surveys, and consider plans for the next phase.

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


14 March: Launch of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli EDM lander, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

ExoMars2016 TGO and EDM SideView 20150625 smallArtist's impression of the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli – the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. Credit: ESA / ATG medialab. Click for a full size image

ExoMars is a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to explore Mars and search for signs of life. The plan includes an orbiter, two landers and a rover, carried to the red planet in launches this month and in 2018.

14 March is the scheduled launch date for the first orbiter and lander, probes that will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as a single module atop a Proton rocket. After a seven month voyage, the spacecraft is expected to arrive at Mars in October. Three days before arrival, the Schiaparelli EDM lander will detach from the orbiter.

It will enter the Martian atmosphere at 21,000 km an hour, use air resistance and a parachute to brake, and land with the final assistance of thrusters. The lander will communicate with the orbiter throughout the descent and after landing.
Meanwhile the orbiter will study the Martian atmosphere for five years, searching for gases like methane that might have a biological origin.


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18 March: Launch of Soyuz TMA-20M to International Space Station, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan


On 18 March the Soyuz TMA-20M mission to the International Space Station is set for launch. The spacecraft, which will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, will be carrying Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin (the commander) and Oleg Skripochka, and US astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams. The crew will join British astronaut Tim Peake, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and US astronaut Timothy Kopra, on board the orbiting outpost.


23 March: Launch of Cygnus CRS OA-6 resupply mission to ISS, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, United States


On 23 March (UK time, 22 March in the US) the CRS OA-6 resupply mission is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral, to take supplies to the International Space Station. Through the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) programme with NASA, the Antares launcher is built by Orbital ATK, and the pressurised cargo module is constructed by Thales Alenia Space.

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31 March: Launch of Soyuz Progress 63P resupply mission to ISS, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan


The 63rd Progress spacecraft is expected to lift off from Baikonur on 31 March. The spacecraft will deliver further supplies to the crew on the International Space Station.


Night sky in March


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.

Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc