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Space and astronomy digest: July 2010

Last Updated on Friday, 02 July 2010 15:10
Published on Thursday, 01 July 2010 11:45

The July digest of forthcoming space and astronomy events, from the RAS. This month sees the Rosetta spacecraft fly past the asteroid Lutetia, a total solar eclipse and a planetary conjunction in the twilight sky.


10 July: Rosetta encounters asteroid Lutetia

On the evening of 10 July, the European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft Rosetta will make its closest approach to the 134-km diameter asteroid Lutetia, passing the rock at a minimum distance of less than 3200 km.

rosetta - lutetia
Artist's impression of the Rosetta
encounter with Lutetia. Credit: ESA
Over about 2 hours, the probe will make the most detailed images ever obtained of Lutetia and these will be available from ESA later that evening.

Launched in 2004, Rosetta’s ultimate destination is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it will reach in 2014. On arrival, Rosetta will deploy the Philae lander that will stick to the Comet’s nucleus and study how it changes as it travels in its orbit around the Sun.


Further information:

ESA media event

Rosetta home page


ESA media relations service
Tel: +33 1 5369 7299
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


11 July: Total solar eclipse (South Pacific)

On 11 July a total solar eclipse will take place, visible along a narrow track across the South Pacific Ocean that passes over Polynesia and then Easter Island before ending at sunset in southern Argentina.

Total eclipses happen when Sun, Moon and Earth are in a straight line and the Moon’s shadow touches the surface of the Earth. For a short time observers within the lunar shadow see a total eclipse of the Sun, where the brightest part of our nearest star (the photosphere) is covered by the Moon, leaving a clear view of the outer atmosphere or corona.

The lunar shadow is relatively small (this time it is a maximum of 259 km across) and as the Earth turns and the Moon travels in its orbit it only reaches our planet for a few hours. This time observers at greatest eclipse will see an eclipse lasting 5 minutes and 20 seconds. Most of the South Pacific and the southern half of South America lie outside the central track of the shadow, but eclipse watchers there will see some of the Sun obscured in a partial eclipse.


Further information:

HMNAO eclipse home page

NASA eclipse home page


Dr Francisco Diego (will be on Easter Island for the eclipse)
University College London
Mob: +44 (0)7974 91 78 78
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Robert Massey (in the UK)
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582 x.214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @royalastrosoc


15 July: Saturn, Mars, Moon and Venus close together in evening sky

Just after sunset on the evening of 15 July, observers should be able to see Saturn, Mars, Venus and the Moon in the western sky. After the Moon, Venus will be easiest to spot, with Mars and Saturn higher up and to the east of the other two objects. This planetary conjunction event, visible to the unaided eye, offers the opportunity for astrophotographers to obtain images of objects which although at very different distances, for a short period appear close together in the twilight sky.


Further information (including a finder chart):

Jodrell Bank guide to planets in the July night sky


July's night sky

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


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 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.