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Space and astronomy digest: December 2009 (RAS PN 09/60)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:48
Published on Monday, 22 March 2010 19:40

2004_Geminids___small

2004 Geminids - all sky image: (c) Chris L Peterson, Cloudbait Observatory

The latest digest of astronomy and space news, from the Royal Astronomical Society. This month sees the launch of a mission mapping the Universe in infrared light, the maximum of the Geminids meteor shower and a partial lunar eclipse.

SPACE AND ASTRONOMY DIGEST: DECEMBER 2009
ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS RELEASE
Ref.: RAS PN 09/60
Date: 30th November 2009
For immediate release

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

SPACE AND ASTRONOMY DIGEST: DECEMBER 2009 (RAS PN 09/60)

This release summarises some of the astronomy and space science events taking place during December, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive and dates and times may be subject to change.

8TH DECEMBER: RAS LUNCHTIME LECTURE: THE SEARCH FOR ALIEN LIFE

The next RAS public lecture will take place at 1300 GMT on Tuesday 8th December. Dr Lewis Dartnell of the Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology at University College London will discuss astrobiology, a science that encompasses the origins and limits of life on our own planet, where it might exist elsewhere and what it might look like.

FURTHER INFORMATION


CONTACT

Dr Robert Massey (details above)

9TH DECEMBER: LAUNCH OF WISE MISSION

The NASA-funded Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission is a satellite carrying an infrared telescope that will image the entire sky. WISE is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force base in California during a window opening on 9th December. The satellite will be carried aloft on a Delta II launch vehicle.

The ultrasensitive infrared detectors on WISE are cooled with solid hydrogen to a temperature of -258 degrees Celsius, or 15 degrees above absolute zero. The hydrogen will keep the detectors at their operating temperature for around seven months. During this period WISE will be used to survey objects including asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars and some of the most luminous galaxies.

FURTHER INFORMATION


10TH DECEMBER: 5TH APPLETON SPACE CONFERENCE, RAL, OXFORDSHIRE

The 5th Appleton Space Conference will take place from 0900 to 1800 at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. It will bring together professionals from across the space industry and includes presentations on the forthcoming UK ESA space centre, science from the STEREO, SWIFT, Herschel and Planck missions and the planned Virgin Galactic Spaceship-Two.

The meeting will end with keynote addresses from Lord Paul Drayson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation and Dr Chris Scolese, Associate Administrator at NASA.

FURTHER INFORMATION


MEDIA CONTACT

Sarah Smart
PR Manager, Science and Technology Facilities Council
Tel: +44 (0)1235 445742
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

11TH DECEMBER: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING: THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY 2009

On 11th December astronomers, educators, outreach experts and media specialists will gather in the Lecture Theatre of the Geological Society in Burlington House, London, to review the achievements and legacies of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) in the UK. During IYA 2009, UK amateur and professional astronomers have engaged the public with astronomy in thousands of separate events, from Twitter Meteorwatch to planetarium shows and the creation of Europe’s first ‘Dark Sky Park’.

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

FURTHER INFORMATION


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.

11TH DECEMBER: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING: SOLAR WIND-MAGNETOSPHERE-IONOSPHERE INTERACTIONS WITHIN THE SOLAR SYSTEM

On 11th December solar physicists will gather in the lecture theatre of the Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London, for a special conference on the impact of the solar wind. The scientists will present and discuss the latest research on the interaction between the material flowing from the Sun with the magnetic fields and ionospheres of the planets and moons of the Solar System.

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

FURTHER INFORMATION


CONTACT

Dr Robert Massey (details above)

14TH DECEMBER: MAXIMUM OF GEMINID METEOR SHOWER

The annual Geminid meteor shower is predicted to peak at 0510 GMT on 14th 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, suspected to be an extinct comet. This year the peak of the shower is just two days before New Moon, so moonlight will not interfere with our view of the meteors.

Under ideal conditions, with a clear sky and far away from the lights of towns and cities, it may be possible to see more than 100 meteors each hour which could make the Geminids one of the best astronomical sights of 2009.

FURTHER INFORMATION

International Meteor Organisation
http://www.imo.net/

16TH DECEMBER – 3RD JANUARY: CELEBRATING 5000 YEARS OF ASTRONOMY AT STONEHENGE

In a fitting finale for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), later this month astronomers and archaeologists will celebrate the five millennia of astronomical heritage at Stonehenge, one of the largest stone circles in Europe and amongst the continent’s most important Neolithic sites. The attractions include a free public astronomy exhibition and expert-led tours of the site and surrounding landscape.

The celebration begins with the opening of the ‘From the Earth to the Universe’ (FETTU) exhibition at the Stonehenge visitor centre. This free exhibition, running from 16th December to 3rd January 2010 (closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day), features a series of stunning images of objects across the Universe, from stars and planets to nebulae and galaxies; all made using telescopes on the ground and in space. FETTU aims to show the public how astronomy has developed in the 400 years since Galileo turned his telescope towards the night sky and the more than 5000 years since the construction of Stonehenge.

CONTACTS

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.

21ST DECEMBER: LAUNCH OF SOYUZ TMA-17 TO INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

On 21st December the window opens for the launch of Soyuz TMA-17 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia. The spacecraft will carry Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and American astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer to the International Space Station, where they will join three other residents to form Expedition 22.

FURTHER INFORMATION


Russian Federal Space Agency
http://www.roscosmos.ru/index.asp?Lang=ENG

31ST DECEMBER: PARTIAL LUNAR ECLIPSE

A partial eclipse of the Moon takes place on the evening of 31st December.

In a lunar eclipse, the Earth, Sun and Moon are almost exactly in line and the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The Moon is full but moves partly into the shadow of the Earth and dims dramatically with the shadowed portion of the lunar surface lit by sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. Stronger atmospheric scattering of blue light means that the light that reaches the lunar surface has a reddish hue, so observers on Earth will see a Moon that has a darkened southern tip, with hints of colour that depend on terrestrial conditions.

The Moon travels to a similar position every month, but the tilt of the lunar orbit means that it normally passes above or below the terrestrial shadow. A Full Moon is seen but no eclipse takes place.

Lunar eclipses are visible wherever the Moon is above the horizon and this one will be visible from virtually all of Europe and Asia, the western half of Australia and the extreme eastern part of North America.

It begins as the Moon enters the lightest part of the Earth’s shadow, the penumbra, at 1715 GMT. At 1852 GMT the southern part of the Moon will enter the darker terrestrial shadow, the umbra. Mid-eclipse is at 1923 GMT, when 2.5% of the area of the visible surface of the Moon will be within the umbral shadow of the Earth. The Moon leaves the umbra at 1954 GMT and the eclipse ends when it leaves the penumbra at 2130 GMT.

FURTHER INFORMATION


INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY 2009 (IYA 2009)

In December the final set of IYA 2009 events will take place across the UK. A comprehensive list can be found on the UK IYA 2009 home page 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.

DECEMBER’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.