PN04/21: JUNE-JULY SPACE DIGEST
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during June and early July. It 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.
8 JUNE: TRANSIT OF VENUS
A transit of Venus, when the planet passes across the face of the Sun, is one of the rarest astronomical events. Since the last transit took place in 1882, no one alive today has ever seen one.
The transit of 8 June will begin around 6:19 BST (5:19 GMT), when the Sun will be low above the eastern horizon. Venus will then appear as a tiny black dot moving across the southern part of the Sun. The transit will end at about 12:23 BST (11:23 GMT). The safest way to observe the event is to project the image of the Sun onto white card - direct observation without protection by special solar viewers should be avoided.
Transits of Venus were once used to calculate the Astronomical Unit - the average distance of the Earth from the Sun. Today, they have little scientific value, although transits by planets crossing the discs of distant stars are now becoming an important means of discovering new extrasolar planetary systems.
RAS press release 04/20 - Transit of Venus across the Sun.
University of Central Lancashire - http://www.transit-of-venus.org.uk/
European Southern Observatory - http://www.vt-2004.org
11 JUNE: CASSINI FLYBY OF PHOEBE
On the final leg of its seven-year journey to Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft will fly past the planet's outermost moon, Phoebe, at an altitude of 2,000 km (1,243 miles). Discovered in 1898, little is known about Phoebe. Images from the Voyage spacecraft suggest that it is spherical, about 220 km in diameter and very dark in colour. It may be a captured body from the asteroid belt or perhaps an interloper from the distant Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto.
Cassini Imaging Team - http://ciclops.org NASA website - http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov UK Goes to the Planets - http://www.uk2planets.org.uk/
19 JUNE: LAUNCH OF AURA SATELLITE
NASA's Aura spacecraft, the latest in the series of Earth Observing System satellites, is scheduled for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on 19 June. Aura's four state-of-the-art instruments will study the dynamics of chemistry occurring in the atmosphere, providing data to help scientists better understand the Earth's ozone, air quality and climate change. The Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics at the University of Oxford has a major role in the design and construction of one of these instruments, the High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS). HIRDLS is an infrared limb scanning radiometer designed to sound the upper troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere in order to measure the temperature and concentrations of ozone, water vapour, methane and other gases, aerosol amounts, locations of polar stratospheric clouds and cloud top heights. Primary funding for HIRDLS has been provided by NASA and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
University of Oxford - http://www.atm.ox.ac.uk/hirdls/home.htmNASA - http://aura.gsfc.nasa.gov/
21 JUNE - SPACESHIP ONE LAUNCH
If all goes according to plan, history should be made when SpaceShipOne, a privately-developed rocket plane, makes the first non-government-funded manned space flight. Lifted into the air by a carrier aircraft, the White Knight, SpaceShipOne will be released then fire its rocket engine to reach an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center, a commercial airport in the California desert. If successful, it will be the first privately owned manned spacecraft to leave the atmosphere and demonstrate that the space frontier is finally open to private enterprise.
Scaled Composites - http://www.scaled.com/projects/tierone/
LATE JUNE - SPACE DETECTIVES DISPLAY
A new interactive, educational display about UK involvement in space missions will be opening in the Antenna section of the Science Museum.
1 JULY: CASSINI-HUYGENS ENTERS ORBIT AROUND SATURN
On 1 July the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft will cross Saturn's ring plane and fire its main engine to reduce speed. This will allow the spacecraft to be captured by Saturn's gravity and enter orbit around the planet. The spacecraft will then begin a four-year tour of the Saturn system, including detailed studies of the planet, its 31 known moons, the stunning rings, and its complex magnetic environment.
During the Saturn Tour, Cassini will complete 74 orbits of the planet, 44 close flybys of the mysterious, smog-shrouded moon Titan, and numerous flybys of Saturn's other icy moons. On 25 December 2004, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe will separate from the Cassini orbiter. About three weeks later, on 14 January 2005, Huygens will begin its descent through Titan's cloudy atmosphere, landing on the surface (or splashing into a sea of hydrocarbons) about two and half hours later. A number of instruments flying on Cassini-Huygens have been built in the UK.
Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System. 764 Earths would fit inside Saturn, yet the planet has such low density that it would float. At present, the rings appear almost fully open to viewers on Earth. Although they are more than 100,000 km across, they are only one kilometre thick and seem to disappear when seen edge-on.
Web resources and contacts - (see above)
5 - 8 JULY: ROYAL SOCIETY SUMMER EXHIBITION
25 teams of scientists selected from around the UK will be exhibiting their outstanding work at the Royal Society in London. This will include exhibits on the Sun, UK Goes to the Planets, and hunting for extrasolar planets.
Date: 4th June 2004
Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer.