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RAS PN06/34: Space & Astronomy Digest August 2006

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Friday, 28 July 2006 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during August. It includes international conferences about white dwarfs and stellar seismology, as well as launches of the Stereo mission, which will study the Sun in 3D, and the Space Shuttle.

7-11 AUGUST: 15th European White Dwarf Workshop

The University of Leicester, is to host the 15th European White Dwarf Workshop - EUROWD06 - from 7-11 August. The workshop is one of a series, acknowledged as the premier forum for astronomers from around the world with an interest in white dwarfs.

White dwarfs are the dying remnant cores of stars similar to the Sun. In fact, the formation of a white dwarf is the ultimate fate of most stars up to about 8 times the mass of the Sun. Many white dwarfs are among the oldest objects in the galaxy and can be used to map out its history. The process of producing white dwarfs in recycled carbon, nitrogen and oxygen into interstellar space, which are important elements for the existence of life in the Universe.

List of Topics:
White Dwarf structure and evolution;
Progenitors and planetary nebulae;
White Dwarfs in binaries: CV, double degenerates, brown dwarfs etc;
White dwarfs, dust disks and planetary systems;
Variable White Dwarfs;
Atmospheres, chemical composition, magnetic fields;
White Dwarfs in stellar clusters and the halo;
White Dwarfs as Type Ia supernova progenitors.

The 15th European White Dwarf Workshop is supported by the Royal Astronomical Society and the National Space Centre, Leicester.


Prof. Martin Barstow
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Leicester
Tel +44 (0)116-252-3574/3492
E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Matthew Burleigh
Chair of the Local Organising Committee
Tel +44 (0)116-252-2077
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


11 - 12 AUGUST: Perseid Meteor Shower

The best-known annual meteor shower should reach its peak this year on the nights of 12 - 13 August. Unfortunately, viewing prospects will be adversely affected by strong moonlight. Since Full Moon falls on 9 August, the shower’s peak will be swamped by glare, and only the brightest meteors will be seen.

The Perseids are produced by dust particles shed by comet Swift-Tuttle. They get their name from the constellation Perseus, from which the meteors seem to originate and radiate outwards. The shower, which is rich in fast, bright meteors, begins in late July and lasts for most of August. In ideal conditions up to 80 meteors (or shooting stars) per hour may be seen. A number of less prominent meteor showers are also visible during August.


7 - 11 AUGUST: Beyond The Spherical Sun - A New Era of Helio- and Asteroseismology

The SOHO 18 / GONG 2006 / HELAS 1 Conference, “Beyond The Spherical Sun - A New Era of Helio- and Asteroseismology”, will be held at the University of Sheffield from 7 - 11 August.

The conference aims to bring together researchers in helioseismology and asteroseismology from across the world for the sharing of the latest research results and expertise. Many new opportunities in the fields of helio- and aster seismology will become operational in the next few years, with the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory, the CNES COROT and Picard missions, the fast pace of development and data acquisition of ground-based asteroseismology investigations, as well as the continuing success stories of ground- and space-based helioseismology.

The title of the conference reflects two particularly important themes. “Beyond the Spherical Sun” refers to the exciting developments in local helioseismology in particular which have enabled us to image the full three-dimensional nature of the solar interior and to begin to understand its workings beyond the traditional spherically symmetric picture of the inside of a star. The title also brings out the theme “beyond the Sun”, as new developments of asteroseismology take us beyond our nearest star to probe the interiors of other stars with seismic techniques in order to test and improve our understanding of the physics of stars of different masses, ages and chemical composition across the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

The conference is dedicated to the memory of Professor George Isaak, one of the pioneers of helioseismology.


Michael Thompson
Department of Applied Mathematics
University of Sheffield
Sheffield, S3 7RH
Tel: +44 (0)114-222-3880
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Conference web site:

16 AUGUST: Voyager 1 Reaches 100 AU From The Sun

On 16 August, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the most remote artificial object ever launched into space, will reach a distance of 100 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. (One AU is 149,957,870 km or 92,955,730 miles - the average distance of the Earth from the Sun.) This means that on 16 August, Voyager 1 will be almost 15 billion km from the Sun.

Launched by NASA in 1977, the two Voyager spacecraft were designed to make the first n-depth exploration of the outer Solar System. Voyager 1 flew past Jupiter in March 1979 and Saturn in November 1980. In order to explore Saturn’s smog-shrouded satellite, Titan, Voyager 1 was diverted northward and did not encounter any more planets. The success of its predecessor meant that Voyager 2 was able to make the first flybys of Uranus and Neptune after visiting Jupiter and Saturn.

Voyager 1, became the first spacecraft to cross the termination shock at the edge of the heliosphere - the bubble in space created by the solar wind - and entered the outermost layer of the heliosphere about 14.4 billion km from the Sun.

Voyager 1 is currently heading away from the Sun at a speed of about 17 km/s (38,250 mph). It is expected to pass beyond the heliopause into interstellar space within 10 years, with Voyager 2 expected to follow about five years later. Flight controllers believe both spacecraft will continue to operate and send back valuable data until at least the year 2020.


NASA web site:

27 AUGUST: Launch of Shuttle to ISS

The 116th Shuttle flight is scheduled for lift-off from Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, on 27 August. The launch window for Shuttle Atlantis opens at 4:30 p.m. EDT (21:30 BST) on 27 August and ends on 7 September. A liftoff after that will be result in a scheduling conflict with a Russian Soyuz mission to ferry the next Expedition resident crew to the space station.

If Atlantis launches by 3 September, the Soyuz with Expedition 14 commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese space tourist Daisuke Enomoto would blast off at 1:44 a. m. EDT September 14 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. However, if Atlantis' launch is delayed beyond 3 September, the Soyuz would probably be rescheduled to 18 September.

During the 11-day STS-115 mission to the International Space Station, the crew of six astronauts will resume construction of the station by installing the integrated P3/P4 truss segment with its two large solar arrays. Four spacewalks are planned during the complex operation to install and deploy the solar arrays.

The STS-115 crew consists of Commander Brent W. Jett, Jr., Pilot Christopher J. Ferguson, Mission Specialists Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joseph R. Tanner, Daniel C. Burbank, and Steven G. MacLean, who represents the Canadian Space Agency.


31 AUGUST: Launch of Twin STEREO Spacecraft to Study the Sun

NASA’s STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) mission is currently scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, no earlier than 31 August. The spacecraft were previously scheduled for launch in mid-July.

During their two-year mission, the STEREO spacecraft will explore the origin, evolution and interplanetary consequences of huge eruptions of solar material, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These events are a major source of the magnetic disruptions on Earth and a key component of space weather, which can greatly affect satellite operations, communications, power systems and the lives of astronauts in space.
For the first three months after launch, the two observatories will fly in highly elliptical orbits that extend from very close to Earth to just beyond the Moon’s orbit. Then one of the spacecraft will swing close enough to the Moon to be redirected to a position “behind” the Earth. Approximately one month later, the second observatory will follow the same procedure in order to move “ahead” of Earth.
Each will drift away from the Earth at a rate of 22 degrees per year. This positioning will enable their onboard instruments to study the Sun from two widely separated vantage points, allowing the first 3-D “stereo” studies of the Sun and mass ejection events, as well as a clear view of the space between the Sun and Earth and any Earth-directed CMEs.
STEREO’s instruments were built by numerous organisations worldwide. They include the Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) instrument, which has substantial UK involvement.
SECCHI comprises four remote sensing instruments - two white-light coronagraphs (COR1 and COR2), an Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI) and a wide angle imaging system for viewing the inner heliosphere (HI1 and HI2).
The Heliospheric Imager (HI1 and HI2) has been developed by a UK-led team, which involves the University of Birmingham and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in collaboration with Centre Spatial de Liege, Belgium, and the Naval Research Laboratory, USA. The Principal Investigator is Professor Richard Harrison.
RAL STEREO web site:

NASA web site:
Johns Hopkins University web site:

STEREO Science writer's guide (very helpful for definitions)

Professor Richard Harrison
Principal Investigator for Heliospheric Imager
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0)1235-446884
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
Dr. Chris Eyles
Project Manager for Heliospheric Imager
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT
Tel: +44 (0)121-414-6461
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
Dr. Chris Davis
Project Scientist for Heliospheric Imager
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (see above)
Tel: +44 (0)1235-446710
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


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.

The Royal Astronomical Society is the UK's leading professional body for Astronomy, Solar System Science, Geophysics and closely related branches of science.