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Space and astronomy digest: November 2011

Last Updated on Friday, 18 November 2011 15:09
Published on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 14:07
The November digest of forthcoming space and astronomy news events, from the RAS. This month sees the launch of a joint Russian-Chinese mission to Mars and a specialist conference on ultra-high resolution astronomy.


8 November: Scheduled launch of Fobos-Grunt and Yinghuo 1 missions to Mars



The Fobos-Grunt lander. Credit: NPO Lavochkin
On 8 November the Russian Fobos-Grunt and Chinese Yinghuo 1 spacecraft are set to embark on their joint mission to Mars and its moon Phobos. The two probes will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Zenit2-Fregat launch vehicle.


The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in the autumn of 2012. Fobos-Grunt will enter Martian orbit, studying the planet for some months then landing on Phobos in the spring of 2013. A sub-probe will collect samples from Phobos over a few days, before departing to return them to Earth with a planned arrival in August 2014.

Yinghuo 1 is the first Chinese mission to Mars. It will operate in Martian orbit for one year, studying the planet and its external environment, including the interaction of its magnetic field with the solar wind.

The Fobos-Grunt sample return capsule includes the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) developed by the Planetary Society. LIFE carries 10 types of organisms selected for their ability to withstand harsh conditions. The organisms will travel from Earth to Phobos and back with a similar exposure to the space environment that they would have inside a rock. The experiment aims to test the premise that simple life could survive the journey from one planet to another, if that rock was thrown into space through a meteorite impact.

Fobos-Grunt mission home page

Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency)

The Planetary Society: LIFE experiment



8 November: Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) public lecture: Seeing the invisible


Dr Helen Walker, space scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) and Test Team Leader for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will give the latest RAS public lecture on 8 November.

Infrared radiation has a longer wavelength than so is 'redder' than visible light and invisible to human eyes. Strong sources of infrared include the plethora of different astronomical objects shrouded in dust and gas, from newly forming stars to galaxies in the early universe. Most infrared radiation does not penetrate the Earth's atmosphere so is detected instead by space-based observatories like the Herschel telescope.

In her talk Dr Walker will describe the discoveries made by orbiting infrared observatories over the last three decades and look forward to those set to come from JWST.

RAS: Public Lectures



11 November: RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting: Astrophysics at Extremely High Resolution: Optical and Infrared Interferometry


Interferometers use a number of separated telescopes to simulate the resolving power of a single much larger instrument, making it possible to see astronomical objects in exquisite detail. On 11 November, scientists will gather at the Geological Society to discuss the major developments in this field since the beginning of the century.

Delegates will present the latest scientific results from observatories that use this technique and the upcoming possibilities on offer from arrays like the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI).

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


Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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11 November: RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting: Study of the Earth's Deep Interior


On 11 November at the Royal Astronomical Society, geophysicists will gather for a specialist discussion meeting on the Study of the Earth's Deep Interior (SEDI), the mantle and core. The scientists will present the latest research on this region of our world, from imaging flows in the core to the plumes that rise from the core-mantle boundary to the crust.

Meeting home page

Robert Massey (details above)

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




14 November: Launch of Soyuz TMA22 mission to the International Space Station (ISS)

The next Soyuz mission to the ISS (designated TMA22) is expected to begin on 14 November, when the spacecraft is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Soyuz TMA22 will carry three members of Expedition 29 to the ISS. This mission is the first human spaceflight since the failure of the Progress M-12M cargo ship in August and the final flight of the Soyuz TMA type spacecraft.

Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency)


Night sky in November


Information on stars, planets, comets, meteor showers and other celestial phenomena is available from the British Astronomical Association (BAA), the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) and the Jodrell Bank night sky guide.



The Night Sky: Jodrell Bank





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.

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