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Space and astronomy digest: May 2009 (RAS PN 09/41)

Last Updated on Monday, 29 March 2010 14:23
Published on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 00:00
The latest digest of space and astronomy news, from the RAS. This month sees the expected joint launch of the Herschel and Planck space observatories and should also see the long-awaited Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE
SPACE AND ASTRONOMY DIGEST: MAY 2009
Date: 29th April 2009
For Immediate Release
Ref.: PN 09/41

Issued by:
Dr Robert Massey
Press and Policy Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London W1J 0BQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


RAS: SPACE AND ASTRONOMY DIGEST: MAY 2009 (PN 09/41)

This release contains a summary of some astronomical, space and geophysical events that will be taking place during May. It has been written 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.

1ST MAY: STFC PRE-LAUNCH BRIEFING ON HERSCHEL AND PLANCK MISSIONS
See the full entry for 14th May for details.

8TH MAY: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING: MARS BEFORE THE SPACE AGE

On 8th May astronomers and historians will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society to discuss our scientific understanding of Mars up to the 1960s, when the first robotic space probes began to send back pictures of the Red Planet. Those observations of Mars, made with both telescopes and spacecraft, have kept it in the public eye for more than a century and inspired science fiction writers, filmmakers and planetary scientists alike.

Delegates will also have the chance to see clips from classic science fiction films and Mars-themed space art.

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

FURTHER INFORMATION (Meeting programme) at
CONTACT
Robert Massey (details above)

11TH MAY: LAUNCH OF SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS: HUBBLE SERVICING MISSION

At 1901 BST (1401 EDT) on 11th May the launch window opens for the long-awaited launch of the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis in the fifth and final servicing mission for the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST). With a crew of seven astronauts, Atlantis will carry two new instruments to HST (a new camera and spectrograph), a replacement guidance sensor and six new gyroscopes. Following the repairs, HST should continue in service until at least 2014.

FURTHER INFORMATION
http://www.nasa.gov

CONTACT
Katherine Trinidad
NASA HQ, Washington, USA
Tel: +1 202 358 3749
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

12TH MAY: RAS LUNCHTIME LECTURE: AFAR, ETHIOPIA: A NEW OCEAN IN THE MAKING? ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY, BURLINGTON HOUSE, LONDON

In the latest public lecture at the Royal Astronomical Society, at 1 pm on 12th May, leading geophysicist and past President of the Royal Astronomical Society Professor Kathy Whaler will discuss a recent volcanic eruption and rifting episode in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia. This dramatic event provides a unique opportunity to understand plate tectonics and gives scientists a first-hand look at the transition from the break-up of a continent to the spreading of a new seafloor.

CONTACT
Robert Massey (details above)

14TH MAY: LAUNCH OF HERSCHEL AND PLANCK (PRE-LAUNCH BRIEFING ON 1ST MAY)

14th May sees the expected launch of the Herschel Space Observatory and Planck satellite. The two missions are set to be carried into space together atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) spaceport in French Guiana. UK scientists and engineers have significant involvement in both spacecraft.

PLANCK

Planck is Europe’s first mission to study the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the fossil remnant of radiation release in the Big Bang that marked the beginning of the Universe. By making the most accurate maps of the CMB yet produced, the satellite will help scientists understand key characteristics of the Universe, from the amount of and nature of the mysterious ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ that together make up 96% of the cosmos, to whether it passed through an ‘inflationary’ phase early in its life and whether ‘cosmic strings’ exist. Planck will enter an orbit around a point on the far side of the Earth from the Sun (the Lagrange point L2) and will begin scientific operations about three months after launch.

HERSCHEL

The Herschel Space Observatory is the largest space telescope ever launched, with a mirror 3.5 m across. It will operate at far-infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths and will give scientists an unprecedented view of the cold Universe. Herschel will be used to survey the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early Universe, study the gas and dust in our Galaxy, observe star formation, and study the atmospheres of the cooler worlds in the outer Solar System. Herschel will enter a larger orbit than Planck around the L2 point and begin operations two months after launch. The observatory is named after the astronomer William Herschel, who discovered infrared radiation in 1800 and went on to become the first president of the Royal Astronomical Society.

STFC PRESS BRIEFING

Organised by STFC, a pre-launch press briefing on Herschel and Planck will take place in the Library, Central Hall, Westminster Storey’s Gate, London, from 0930 to 1230 on the 1st May.

FURTHER INFORMATION





CONTACTS

Julia Short
Press Officer
STFC
Tel: +44 (0)1793 442 012
Mob: +44 (0)7770 276 721
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ESA Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 1 5369 7299
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ALL YEAR: INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY 2009 (IYA 2009)

In May another tranche of IYA2009 events will take place across the United Kingdom. A comprehensive list can be found at http://www.astronomy2009.co.uk.

IYA2009 is endorsed by UNESCO and is now supported by 135 countries under the leadership of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Throughout the year, thousands of professional and amateur astronomers will be working with the public as part of a global effort to promote astronomy and its contribution to science and culture. A series of innovative projects will encourage public engagement, from observing sessions at observatories to online blogs, photographic exhibitions and the campaign to combat light pollution.

In the UK, IYA2009 is led by volunteers in amateur astronomical societies, universities, industry, museums and science centres and supported by the Royal Astronomical Society (http://www.ras.org.uk), the Institute of Physics (http://www.iop.org) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (http://www.stfc.ac.uk).
 
UK CONTACT
Steve Owens
UK Co-ordinator, IYA2009
c/o Glasgow Science Centre
50 Pacific Quay
Glasgow G51 1EA
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)141 420 5010 x. 299
Mob: +44 (0)771 772 0479
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

MAY’S NIGHT SKY

Information on stars, planets, meteor showers and other celestial phenomena is available from the British Astronomical Association (BAA).



NOTES FOR EDITORS

THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

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 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.