RAS PN05/50: Space & Astronomy Digest January 2006
3 JANUARY: QUADRANTID METEOR SHOWER
The Quadrantid meteor shower will occur in early January, probably peaking on the evening of the third, although the shower lasts from 28 December to 7 January. The hourly rate can range from 45 to 200.
The Quadrantids emanate from the constellation of Boötes, but they get their name from a now defunct constellation called Quadrans Muralis. They are rich in faint meteors and are of moderate speed.
In the British Isles, the number of meteors should reach its maximum at 17.00 GMT on 3 January. At this time, the shower radiant (down and to the left from the Plough’s ‘handle’) is sinking towards the north west. The slim crescent Moon should not interfere too much, setting around 20.30.
The Quadrantid radiant is circumpolar from the latitudes of the British Isles, meaning that activity can be seen throughout the night. However, the radiant never reaches a high altitude for most northern hemisphere observers.
British Astronomical Association:
Gary Kronk’s Meteor web site:
4 JANUARY: EARTH AT PERIHELION
On 4 January, Earth will be at perihelion, the closest point in its orbit to the Sun. It will then be approximately 147 million km from the Sun – about 5 million km closer than it will be at aphelion (its furthest point) on 4 July.
Science @ NASA:
The Seasons and the Earth’s Orbit:
5-6 JANUARY: MINERALOGICAL SOCIETY WINTER MEETING
A meeting entitled “Micro- to Nano-geosciences: Developments and Applications” will take place at Bath Spa University, Bath, on 5-6 January.
This meeting will focus on recent developments in techniques for imaging, chemical, isotopic and microstructural analysis at micrometer to nanometer scales which have opened up many new avenues for research on Earth and planetary materials.
Meeting themes include:
· Organic-mineral interfaces, biomineralization and mineral surfaces
· High spatial resolution isotope techniques
· Mineralogy, microstructure and chemistry of finely crystalline materials
· Extraterrestrial mineralogy and astrobiology
Hallimond Lecture - Conel Alexander (Carnegie Institution Washington): Probing the origins of the solar system
George Brown Lecture - Alain Manceau (Grenoble): The use of EXAFS spectroscopy in fine-particle analyses
Martin Lee (Glasgow)
Convenor for 'Extraterrestrial mineralogy and astrobiology' session:
Dr. Caroline Smith
The Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD
Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5709
5-6 JANUARY: THE CHEMISTRY OF PLANETS AND WHERE THEY COME FROM
This meeting at the Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, is organised by the RAS/RSC Astrophysical Chemistry Group.
Invited talks include:
* Laboratory Studies of Titan's Atmosphere - Prof. Odile Dutuit (Université de Paris Sud)
* The Role of H3+ in Planetary Atmospheres - Prof. Steve Miller (UCL)
* Planets, Exoplanets and their Chemistry - Prof. Peter Hauschildt (Hamburg)
* Exoplanet Detection & Probing Earth-Like Planets - Prof. Keith Horne (St. Andrews)
Dr. Helen Fraser
University of Strathclyde
12-13 JANUARY: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING “LISA – GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ASTRONOMY IN SPACE”
A two-day LISA meeting will be held in the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1. The meetings will take place 10.30 – 17.30 on 12 January and 10.30 – 15.30 on 13 January.
LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) is a NASA-ESA mission to search for gravitational waves generated by galactic binaries (within the Milky Way) and extra-galactic massive black holes. Three spacecraft will fly in formation to make up the first dedicated, space-based gravitational wave observatory. The mission is currently scheduled for launch in 2015.
LISA Pathfinder will pave the way for the LISA mission by testing in flight the very concept of the gravitational wave detection. This spacecraft is scheduled for launch in 2008. The LISA Test Package involves scientists and industry from Italy, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain. UK companies involved in LISA Pathfinder include EADS Astrium Ltd and SciSys Ltd.
Dr. Sheila Rowan
University of Glasgow
Tel: +44 (0)141-330-4701
Dr. Diana Shaul
Dept. of Physics
Imperial College London
NASA LISA web site:
ESA LISA web site:
ESA LISA PATHFINDER web site:
13 JANUARY: RAS SPECIALIST DISCUSSION MEETING “LIFE AND DEATH OF STAR CLUSTERS.”
(10.30 – 15.30, Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1)
Young, massive star clusters are the hallmarks of star formation in the most intense "starburst" environments in the Universe. Large-scale starbursts are very common features of early galaxy evolution. However, nearby large-scale starbursts are rare, and only with the spatial resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope has it become possible to study the detailed properties of the nearest examples, which are often considered to be the nearest analogues to the actively star-forming galaxies seen in abundance at high redshifts.
Starbursts in dwarf galaxies, on the other hand, occur very frequently, both in the local Universe and beyond. It is now becoming increasingly clear that a large fraction of the star formation in the nearby starbursts takes place in compact, high luminosity star clusters ("super star clusters" containing millions to hundreds of millions of stars). However, the evolutionary fate of young compact star clusters and their possible relationship to old globular clusters is one of the main unsolved problems in contemporary astrophysics.
This meeting on the evolution of star clusters takes place at a time when major advances in fields related to star cluster formation and starbursts are expected to come to light, from observational efforts such as the GOODS survey, the GALEX explorer, from Legacy programmes of the recently-launched Spitzer Space Telescope, and from significant progress in the field of numerical simulations, facilitated by the development of faster and more powerful parallel and dedicated supercomputers
Dr. Richard de Grijs
University of Sheffield
Tel: +44 (0)114–222-4524
13 JANUARY: RAS MONTHLY A&G (ORDINARY) MEETING
(16.00 – 18.00, Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House)
Talks will include:
* Dr. Sheila Rowan (Glasgow) - Current and future status of gravitational wave
* Prof. Mark Bailey (Armagh) - The Armagh Observatory Human Orrery;
* Prof. Henny Lamers (Utrecht) - The most metal poor stars in the universe,
the halo of our Galaxy, binary evolution, interstellar depletion, mass loss from
Sirius, comets around Beta Pictoris and everything in between - in twenty
* Prof. Gordon Bromage (UCLan) - SALT: the South African Large Telescope.
15 JANUARY: LANDING OF STARDUST COMET SAMPLE RETURN MISSION
On the morning of 15 January, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft will release a capsule containing the first samples of extraterrestrial material to be brought back from outside the orbit of the Moon. The capsule is expected to parachute to the ground at the U.S. Air Force's Test and Training Range in Utah.
Launched on 7 February 1999, Stardust collected particles from interstellar space - samples of distant stars and supernovae en route to comet Wild-2. On 2 January 2004, Stardust flew past the comet and collected particles from its coma.
After a journey of almost 3 billion miles, Stardust will release its sample return capsule at 5:57 GMT on 15 January. Four hours later, the capsule will enter Earth's atmosphere 125 km (410,000 ft) over the Pacific Ocean. The velocity of the sample return capsule, as it enters Earth's atmosphere at 46,440 km per hour (28,860 mph), will be the fastest of any human-made object on record.
The capsule will release a drogue parachute at approximately 32 km (105,000 ft). Once it has descended to about 3 km (10,000 ft), the main parachute will deploy. The landing on the Utah range is scheduled for 10:12 GMT.
The capsule containing the particles will be transported to JSC and opened in the Stardust curatorial facility. The samples will be examined in the Stardust Laboratory and distributed to 180 scientists worldwide.
Scientists from the Open University have been involved in Stardust's Dust Flux Monitor, which has measured the size, distribution and movement of dust particles close to the comet. They hope to be able to analyse some of the particles brought back by Stardust.
Dr. Simon Green
Tel: +44 (0)1908-65960.
Dr. Neil McBride
Tel: +44 (0)1908-659600
Professor Tony McDonnell
Tel: +44 (0)1908-659602
Professor John Zarnecki
Tel: +44 (0)1227-831067
Mobile: +44 (0)7789-900099
NASA Stardust web site:
Planetary & Space Sciences Research Institute, Open University:
17 JANUARY: LAUNCH OF NEW HORIZONS MISSION TO PLUTO AND KUIPER BELT
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled for launch on board an Atlas V – Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on or after 17 January. New Horizons is the first mission to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The date of arrival at Pluto depends on the actual launch date.
The primary launch window lasts from 17 January – 2 February. A launch during this period will enable the spacecraft to take advantage of a gravity assist from Jupiter in February-March 2007, resulting in a Pluto flyby in July 2015. Such a boost in velocity will not be available if the launch takes place between 3 and 14 February 2006. The spacecraft will then have to fly directly to Pluto, resulting in a three- to five-year delay in arrival.
The New Horizons science payload includes an imaging spectrometer to probe atmospheric composition and planet structure; a visible and infrared camera to obtain high-resolution colour maps and surface composition maps; a long-range telescopic camera for high-resolution surface images; particle spectrometers to measure charged particles in and around Pluto’s atmosphere; a detector to measure masses of space-dust particles; and two copies of a radio science experiment to examine atmospheric structure, surface thermal properties and planet mass.
Pluto is the last of the traditionally recognised nine planets to be explored at close range by spacecraft. New Horizons will make the first detailed observations of Pluto and its three known moons. Scientists hope that it will arrive before Pluto’s thin atmosphere freezes out onto the surface.
Plans for an extended mission include the first encounters with one or two Kuiper Belt Objects. These are icy left-overs from the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago.
New Horizons web site:
16-17 JANUARY: PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY AND ASTRONOMY OF H3+
A discussion meeting about H3+, the simplest polyatomic molecule, will take place at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1 on 16-17 January. The meeting is organised by Drs Thomas Geballe, Dieter Gerlich, Jonathan Tennyson and Professor Takeshi Oka.
H3+ is widely observed in planetary atmospheres, and in a variety of interstellar clouds, most prominently near the Galactic centre. It is the most abundant molecular ion in the Universe and plays a pivotal role in interstellar chemistry.
Laboratory experimentalists, theoreticians and astronomers will meet to discuss scientific advances and problems involving this most interesting and important molecular ion.
This release 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.