PN04/37: NOVEMBER SPACE DIGEST
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during November. 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.
2 NOVEMBER: CAN WE WAIT A DECADE TO EXPLORE MARS?
A meeting to present "Beagle 2 evolution - The New Beagle 2 Programme" will take place at the Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, on Tuesday, 2 November, starting at 2 pm.
Over the last few months, as part of a study of ESA's ExoMars rover mission, the original Beagle 2 team has evaluated "Beagle 2 Evolution", a mission scenario that shows the UK can be ready to fly a science package on a lander demonstrator on a shorter timescale than currently envisaged by the agency's Aurora programme.
"The alternative is to fly a stand alone lander demonstrator sooner so that the outcome can feed into ExoMars, extend our knowledge of various regions of the red planet and lead to a sample return mission in a timely fashion. Such a demonstrator can, and must, carry a science package which addresses key questions about life on Mars and achieves the original goals of Beagle 2." (Prof. Colin Pillinger, Open University)
14.00 Introduction14.10 A dedicated small landing mission14.30 The science case for landing and a straw man payload15.00 An evolved Beagle 2 class lander15.30 Entry descent and landing considerations16.00 Mission scenarios, 2009 onwards
8 NOVEMBER: LAUNCH OF SWIFT
NASA's Swift mission to study the explosive phenomena known as gamma ray bursts is currently scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 8 November.
Swift will pinpoint the location of distant, short-lived explosions that appear to signal the births of black holes. These gamma ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the Universe, emitting more than one hundred billion times the energy that the Sun emits in an entire year. Yet they last only a few milliseconds to a few minutes. Fortunately, in most bursts, an afterglow of X-rays, optical light and radio waves frequently follows the initial gamma ray flash, sometimes lasting for hours to weeks after the initial burst has subsided. This afterglow gives scientists the opportunity to learn more about these enigmatic events.
UK scientists, from the University of Leicester and University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, have designed and built core elements of two of the three Swift telescopes - the X-ray Telescope and the Ultraviolet/Optical telescope. In addition UK astronomers will be involved in follow-up observations using ground-based telescopes across the world.
The Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) is expected to detect and locate about two gamma ray bursts per week, relaying their positions to the ground within about 20 seconds. This information will then be used to "swiftly" steer the satellite so that its X-ray Telescope points directly at the burst position.
Meanwhile, Swift will "e-mail" scientists and telescopes around the world to observe the burst in real-time through the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Coordinates Network. This includes UK astronomers using telescope facilities such as the Faulkes Telescopes in Hawaii and Australia, the William Herschel and Liverpool Telescopes in La Palma and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile.
PPARC: http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/Swift_arrival.aspNASA Goddard Space Flight Centre: http://swift.gsfc.nasa.govNASA's Swift website: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/main/index.htmlUniversity of Leicester: http://www.src.le.ac.uk/projects/swift/Mullard Space Science Laboratory: http://www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk/pages/general/projects/swift/SWIFT6.html
12 NOVEMBER: ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY DISCUSSION MEETINGS
The Society's monthly parallel discussion meetings will be held on Friday 12 November at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, 10:30-15:30. If members of the media wish to attend, it would be helpful if they would inform Peter Bond, RAS Communications Officer (see above).
(Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House)
More than 100 planets have been detected in orbit around distant stars. This meeting will include papers detailing recent progress and future expectations for the detection and understanding of extrasolar planets.
Full programme at: http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~acc4/RAS_SDM_2004_Nov_12.html
(Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House)
This meeting will focus on developments in Astroparticle Physics that are related to unravelling the nature of the mysterious Dark Matter that makes up the Universe. It will also review the current limits set by both direct and indirect experiments.
The parallel meetings will be followed at 16:00 by the Monthly A&G (Ordinary) Meeting, held in the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House. Talks will include:
13 NOVEMBER: LUNAR CAPTURE OF SMART-1
Since its launch on 27 September 2003, ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft has been using a revolutionary ion engine to spiral away from Earth. Following progressively larger orbits, the spacecraft is now approaching the final leg of its prolonged journey to the Moon.
On 13 November, when it reaches a distance of 60,000 km from the lunar surface, SMART-1 will be captured by the Moon�s gravity and enter orbit around our cosmic neighbour.
The spacecraft will reach its first perilune (closest distance from the lunar surface) on 15 November, while the ion engine is performing its first and major thrust in orbit around the Moon. After that it will continue circling the Moon in smaller loops until it reaches its final operational orbit (between 3,000 and 300 km over the Moon's poles) in mid-January 2005.
During a six month period of scientific observations, SMART-1 will conduct the first comprehensive survey of key chemical elements on the lunar surface and investigate how the Moon was formed.
The UK has provided one of the instruments on SMART-1. The tiny Compact Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (D-CIXS), built at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, will study the composition of the Moon's surface by making the first global X-ray survey.
ESA Web site: http://sci.esa.int/smart1PPARC press release: http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/Press/SMART_1.asp
15 - 20 NOVEMBER: LEONID METEORS
Between 1999 and 2002, the Leonids produced some spectacular meteor storms. Last year, the number of Leonid meteors dropped considerably, and further storms must be considered unlikely in the next few years. Nevertheless, the Leonids are well worth looking out for this year, especially since the sky should be dark in the absence of the Moon.
The meteors are associated with dust ejected by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which last passed close to the Sun in 1998. The particles enter the upper atmosphere at very high speed and burn up, often leaving behind lingering ionisation trails. They appear to emanate from the "Sickle" of Leo, which rises above the eastern horizon after 23:00.
British Astronomical Society: http://www.britastro.com/meteor/
23-25 NOVEMBER 2004: 4TH EUROPEAN WORKSHOP ON EXO/ASTROBIOLOGY
The Open University in Milton Keynes will be hosting the 4th European workshop on Exo/Astrobiology, with speakers from the United States, Russia and many European countries. The theme of this workshop is "Life in Extreme Environments", but there will also be sessions on exoplanets, the search for life (past and present) on other planets, extreme adaptations of life on Earth, and prebiotic chemistry.
Further information: http://physics.open.ac.uk/eana/intro.htm
Date: 30th October 2004
Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Communications Officer.