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Space and astronomy (and geophysics) digest: February 2013

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2013 19:27
Published on Monday, 04 February 2013 19:01

The latest digest of upcoming space, astronomy and geophysics news events. This month sees an asteroid make a close flyby of the Earth, a major conference on future energy resources and the launch of a Canadian space telescope to search for planets around other stars.


8 February: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Dust, haze and clouds in exoplanet atmospheres: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

On Friday 8 February scientists will gather for a special conference at the Royal Astronomical Society where they will discuss the role clouds, haze and dust play in the atmospheres of hot planets (those with temperatures of between 400 and 2100 degrees Celsius) in orbit around other stars.

Although a small minority of these so-called exoplanets can be seen directly, astronomers mostly study them through transits whereby they move in front of the star they orbit and cause a temporary dip in its brightness. Delegates at the RAS meeting will focus on ways to address the effect of clouds on models of hot gas giant planet atmospheres. They will also consider how to develop methods and that will be applicable to cooler planets and ultimately allow habitable worlds to be characterised.

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

RAS Specialist Discussion Meetings

Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


8 February: RAS specialist discussion meeting: Mars Science Laboratory: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

In the last decade images and other data from landers, orbiting spacecraft and meteorites have greatly improved our understanding of Mars. On 8 February planetary scientists will gather at the Geological Society to discuss the latest results from these missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory (named 'Curiosity') that has been exploring the surface of the red planet since August last year.

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

RAS Specialist Discussion Meetings

Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


8-9 February: European Astrofest 2013: Kensington Conference and Events Centre, London

The 20th European Astrofest, from 8-9 February, will bring several thousand amateur astronomers and members of the public to Kensington for a major conference and trade exhibition. Astrofest is one of the largest events of its type in Europe and has a programme of lectures on the latest research in astronomy and space science. Topics this year range from the development of the Skylon spaceplane to the Moon and the physics of the largest stars in the universe.

European Astrofest 2013


12 February: RAS lunchtime lecture: Exoplanets and how to find them: Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, London

At 1 p.m. on Tuesday 12 January, Dr Andrew Norton, Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics at the Open University will give the latest RAS public lecture on finding and studying exoplanets. Nearly 900 of these have now been confirmed and thousands more are likely to be discovered in the next few years.

Dr Norton will explain how as recently as twenty years ago, planets around other stars were the stuff of science fiction; yet today that fiction is a reality. In his talk he will explain the history of this remarkable advance and use a range of models and demonstrations to show how exoplanets are discovered. Dr Norton will discuss some highlights from recent discoveries, including those from the SuperWASP project which staff at the Open University are involved with and will end by outlining the intriguing prospects for future discoveries of habitable Earth-like planets.

RAS public lectures

Media contact

Robert Massey
(details above)


14-15 February: New Advances in Geophysics: Future Energy Challenges: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

The British Geophysical Association (BGA) will hold their annual conference at the Geological Society on 14 and 15 February. The BGA is jointly sponsored by the RAS and the Geological Society. This year their meeting will focus on the future challenges of ensuring a reliable energy supply and the role that geophysics has to play in shaping decisions on this fundamental necessity for civilisation.

Delegates will discuss topics including the extraction of oil and gas through fracking, the difficulties securely capturing and storing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power planets and the consequences of the Tohuku earthquake for nuclear power.

New Advances in Geophysics: meeting home page


15 February: Close flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14

On 15 February the 45 m wide near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will make a close approach to the Earth, passing about 27700 km above the ground. This is the closest encounter so far discovered for an object of this size. There is absolutely no risk that it will collide with our planet during this flyby, but it will give amateur astronomers the rare opportunity to see an asteroid of this type.

2012 DA14 will not be visible to the unaided eye, so observers with a good pair of binoculars and / or a small telescope and some experience of finding objects in the sky are most likely to be able to see it. The asteroid will move fairly quickly across the sky. In the UK it will appear to travel up from the eastern horizon towards the north pole of the sky (roughly marked by the star Polaris) over a period of about four hours. After closest approach 2012 DA14 will fade rapidly and by the following day will only be visible through medium-sized telescopes.

The website Heavens Above has a section on 2012 DA14 that includes finder charts for the asteroid as seen from a large number of different locations around the world.


18 February: Launch of Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), India 

neossat-engArtist's impression of NEOSSat in orbit. (Modified from a Canadian Space Agency image)The Canadian space telescope NEOSSat is scheduled for launch on 18 February, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, India. Built by the Canadian Space Agency, NEOSSat will be one of several payloads launched atop a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, whose main cargo will be the Franco-Indian SARAL ocean altimetry satellite.

NEOSSat is designed to search for Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), in this case asteroids that travel around the Sun inside the orbit of the Earth. Alongside this it will look for space debris in orbit around the Earth, the fragments of junk that are a hazard for artificial satellites.

NEOSSat home page

Media contact

Media relations office
Canadian Space Agency
Tel: +1 450 926 4370
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Night sky in February

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


Notes for editors

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.

Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc