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RAS PN06/35: Space & Astronomy Digest Sept. 2006

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Wednesday, 30 August 2006 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during September. It includes the launches of three solar observatories, two eclipses, the crash landing of Smart-1 on the Moon, and two crewed launches to the International Space Station.

The 116th Shuttle flight has been delayed by a lightning strike and the impending arrival of hurricane Ernesto. The flight was scheduled for lift-off on 27 August. The launch window for STS-115 mission to the International Space Station extends to 7 September. If NASA managers give up the requirement for a daylight launch, the Shuttle could take off as late as 13 September. However, the situation is complicated by the need to avoid an operations conflict with a Russian Soyuz mission that is scheduled to ferry the next Expedition resident crew to the space station on 14 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.


ESA’s SMART-1 spacecraft is currently expected to impact the Moon's surface on 3 September at 05:41 UT (GMT). During SMART-1's final hours, the perilune (lowest) altitude naturally decreases by about one kilometre per orbit. Due to uncertainties about the lunar topography, it is possible that SMART-1 will impact on the previous orbit at around 00:36 UT (GMT).

If the impact occurs nominally at 05:41 UT, observers from North and South America and the East Pacific will be able to see the impact or listen to its radio signal during night time, with best views from America's East coasts as well as from Hawaii and the East Pacific.

If the probe impacts one orbit earlier, at 00:36 UT, the impact will be easily visible from South America, Canary Islands (Spain) and the US East coast, and from radio observatories from the US in daylight.

Should the impact occur on 2 September 2006 at 19:33 UT, two orbits earlier than expected, Africa and Southern Europe will have a clear view just after sunset. Radio observatories from South America can listen to SMART-1's final signal in daylight.

The SMART-1 point of impact is expected to be on the lunar area called ‘Lake of Excellence’, located at mid-southern latitudes. This is a volcanic plain area surrounded by highlands, but also characterised by variations in mineral composition.

At the time of impact, this area will be in the night-time hemisphere on the near-side of the Moon. The region will be lit faintly by earthshine - reflected light from the Earth. From Earth, a gibbous Moon will be visible at that time. This geometry is ideal to allow ground observations since an impact in the dark will favour the detection of the impact flash.

Ground telescopes will also try to observe the dust ejected by the impact, hoping to obtain physical and mineralogical data on the surface excavated by the spacecraft.


Professor Manuel Grande
(Principal Investigator for D-CIXS instrument on Smart-1)
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Tel: +44 01970-622624
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PPARC press release:

An open meeting to discuss the Cross-Scale mission concept for ESA’s future Cosmic Vision programme will be held at University College London on 4-5 September.

Cross-Scale is a mission concept to study the nonlinear coupling of electron, ion and fluid scale processes which control the key plasma phenomena of shocks, reconnection and turbulence. The mission would comprise up to 12 spacecraft flying in formation in Earth orbit, with separations from tens of km to more than an Earth radius.

In anticipation of an announcement of opportunity from ESA this autumn, the Cross-Scale community will conduct this open meeting to:
* Inform the space plasma and solar-terrestrial community about Cross-Scale
* Present the current status of the Cross-Scale concept
* Discuss how the mission could be changed or improved
* Plan the preparation of a response to ESA's expected Cosmic Vision Announcement of Opportunity


Professor Steven J Schwartz
Space and Atmospheric Physics
The Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London
London SW7 2BW
Tel: +44 (0)207-594-7660
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The second lunar eclipse of the year is a rather small partial eclipse. (At maximum, 19% of the Moon’s disk is obscured.) The penumbral phase begins at 16:42 UT (GMT), but most observers will not be able to visually detect the faint penumbral shadow of the Earth on the Moon until about 17:30 UT (GMT). A timetable for the major phases of the eclipse is as follows:
Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 16:42:23 UT
Partial Eclipse Begins: 18:05:03 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 18:51:21 UT
Partial Eclipse Ends: 19:37:41 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 21:00:20 UT

In spite of the fact that the eclipse is shallow (the Moon's northern limb dips just 6.3 arc-minutes into Earth's dark umbral shadow), the partial phase lasts over 1 1/2 hours. This is due to the grazing geometry of the Moon and umbra (main shadow).

The event is best seen from Africa, Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe. In the UK the eclipse will already be well under way when the Moon rises above the eastern horizon at about 18:45 UT. None of the eclipse is visible from North America. At the time of greatest eclipse (18:51 UT), the Moon will stand near the zenith for observers in the central Indian Ocean.


The Cosmic Dust and Panspermia Conference at Cardiff University from 5-8 September will mark the retirement of Chandra Wickramasinghe from a Professorship he has held at the University for 33 years. The Astrobiology Research Trust, in conjunction with Cardiff University, considers it an opportune time to review progress in areas of astronomy that were pioneered by Chandra Wickramasinghe, who is continuing as Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology. From the time of his first monograph on "Interstellar Dust" in 1968 studies of cosmic dust have assumed a pivotal role throughout astronomy. The panspermia theory pioneered with the late Sir Fred Hoyle has become of great interest in the new science of astrobiology.

The meeting will comprise reviews, oral presentations and posters, and the proceedings are expected to be published. Papers are invited on any topic covered in Chandra's work.
Sessions will include invited talks and contributed papers on:
- Interstellar dust / IR astronomy
- Panspermia within the Solar System and Beyond
- Survival of microbes in extreme environments
- Comet dust and life in stratospheric samples
- NEO's, Mass Extinctions, and evidence of impacts on Earth
- Prospects for the future


Professor N.C. Wickramasinghe
Cardiff Centre of Astrobiology
Tel: +44 (0)29-2087-4201
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Royal Society Glasgow Science Exhibition will be held at the Glasgow Science Centre, 50 Pacific Quay, Glasgow, from Tuesday 12 September to Thursday 14 September. This exhibition, sponsored by Scottish Power, offers a fantastic opportunity to discover the best of the UK’s science and technology research and meet and talk to the researchers behind the fascinating exhibits on show. Many of the exhibits will travel from the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition held in London in July but others will be viewed for the first time. The exhibition is free to attend and open to all.

Exhibits include:
Stars 'r' us; the cosmic chemical connection;
Heavens kitchen: from primordial soup to cosmic pancakes;
Stardust: a comet's tale;
Astronomy at the end of the rainbow - the extreme universe.


Glasgow Science Exhibition web site:

A meeting to discuss UK involvement in the Cornell-Caltech Atacama Telescope (CCAT) will be held at the Department of Physics & Astronomy, Cardiff University, on 13 September.

CCAT is a project to build a 25-m single aperture telescope above 5000 m in the Atacama region of Chile. The remarkably low water vapour in the atmosphere will allow extended operation in the far infrared windows of the spectrum (200 and 350 microns) accessible from the ground. Such observations will probe the peak emission from the cosmic far-IR/submm background and proto-stellar cores allowing the investigation of the earliest stages of the formation of galaxies and stars. With its wide field-of-view, the telescope will study the many phenomena visible in the submm that extend over several degrees but also contain significant sub-structure on arc second scales. Hence CCAT is seen as the perfect wide-field complement that is essential to fully exploit the capabilities of interferometers, such as ALMA. There exists the opportunity for the UK to become a major partner in the CCAT project, capitalising on our success in submillimetre astronomy via facilities like JCMT/SCUBA in recent years and looking ahead to the potential of SCUBA-2, Herschel and ALMA. The discussion meeting will be a forum for UK astronomers to express an interest in the project and help to outline a detailed science case. One of the key areas will be to examine the niche science that such a facility will have in 2013, the estimated date when the telescope would come on-line. A possible outcome of the meeting is a Statement of Interest to PPARC to join the CCAT consortium.


Derek Ward-Thompson (E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )
David Nutter (E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )
Wayne Holland (E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )


“A large single aperture telescope for submillimeter astronomy”

Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of the Soyuz TMA-9 crew on 14 September. The sponsor of the Ansari X Prize for privately developed space transportation, Mrs Ansari will join the ISS Expedition 14 crew members: NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. She began her cosmonaut training earlier this year in preparation for a future orbital spaceflight with Space Adventures Ltd., “the world’s leading space experiences company”.

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc., a revolutionary digital home technology company that is sponsoring her efforts.

Ansari will stay on the station for eight days and return to Earth on board Soyuz TMA-8 with Expedition 13 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, who have been on the Station since 31 March. ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, who arrived at the ISS in July, will remain on board. He is expected to return to Earth with the STS-116 Shuttle flight, currently scheduled for December.

Space Adventures has previously sent three private explorers to space: American Dennis Tito (2001), the ‘First African in Space’ Mark Shuttle worth (2002), and American Greg Olsen (2005). Each client spent eight days aboard the ISS.


Erin Lundberg
Space Adventures, Ltd.
Vienna, Virginia, USA
Tel: +1 703 524-7172 x546
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The launch of NASA’s STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) mission has been postponed to no earlier than 18 September. It was previously scheduled for lift-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 31 August. The additional time is necessary for further evaluation of the Delta II rocket’s second stage to verify that it is structurally sound for flight.

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.

A meeting to discuss recent developments in the study of gamma-ray bursts will be held at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1, from 18 to 20 September.

New results from the SWIFT mission and new theoretical studies of gamma ray burst (GRB) physics are defining the agenda for this meeting. SWIFT has detected over 140 bursts since its launch in November 2004. It has obtained the first accurate localisations and afterglow detections of short bursts, leading to the discovery that the progenitors are indeed mergers in compact binary systems. SWIFT has detected many high-redshift GRBs, including one at z=6.29. The SWIFT high redshift sample traces the star formation rate in the Universe indicating that bursts at very high red-shifts are indeed emerging as new tools for exploring the intergalactic medium, the first stars and the earliest stages of galaxy formation. GRBs in the long burst category exhibit unexpected structure and persistent flaring in the afterglow decay indicating extended activity of the central engine and throwing new light on the properties of collapsar models of GRBs. Two recent SWIFT detections of nearby bursts have stimulated new studies and theory on the GRB/SN connection.


Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The AstroSurf Network is arranging a one day meeting aimed primarily at PhD students and young/new postdocs in astrochemistry. The meeting, which will take place at University College London, on 21 September, 11 am - 5.30 pm, is sponsored by the RSC/RAS Astrophysical Chemistry Group.

The meeting will cover many different facets of Astrochemistry research, from observational work in all regions of the spectrum, through theoretical modelling, to laboratory data. Young astrochemists are invited to present their work in short 15/20 minute talks. It is envisaged that this meeting will illustrate the diversity of the field to many young researchers, and provide a wonderful introduction to the field for newer PhD/postdoctoral workers.


Dr Wendy Brown
University College London
Tel: +44 (0)207-679-4688
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Serena Viti
University College London
Tel: +44 (0)207-679-3435
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The final eclipse of 2006 is an annular eclipse of the Sun, when the Moon passes in front of the Sun but does not quite cover the entire disk, so that it appears to be surrounded by a solar ring of light.

The track of the Moon's shadow begins in northern South America and crosses the South Atlantic with no further landfall. A partial eclipse will be seen from a much larger region including South America, the eastern Caribbean, western Africa, and Antarctica. The eclipse is not visible from the UK. During its 3 hour 40 minute journey across our planet, the Moon's shadow travels about 13,800 km.


The Solar-B orbital observatory is currently scheduled for launch by an M-V rocket from Uchinoura Space Centre on the morning of 23 September JST (22 September in UK).

Solar-B will study the dynamics of the Sun’s magnetic disruptions in order to clarify the processes that trigger the huge explosions known as solar flares, with the aim of eventually enabling scientists to predict their onset. Solar flares are violent explosions on the Sun that release energy equivalent to tens of millions of hydrogen bombs. As the Sun’s magnetic fields break and reconnect, a mix of high energy radiation and particles is blasted into the solar system at huge speeds. This plasma can arrive at Earth within tens of minutes, causing major magnetic disturbances.

SOLAR-B is a joint mission involving the UK, the United States and Japan. The satellite, developed by the Japanese space agency (JAXA) and the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, will carry a 0.5 m solar optical telescope (SOT), an X-ray telescope (XRT), and an Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) imaging spectrometer. The optical and X-ray telescopes are being jointly developed by the United States and Japan. Development of the Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) Imaging Spectrometer is being led by MSSL-UCL with funding from the UK’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).

PPARC will host a press conference on UK involvement in the Solar-B mission at the BA Festival of Science, University of East Anglia, on Friday 8 September.


Professor Louise Harra
Mullard Space Science Laboratory - UCL
Tel: +44 (0)1483-204141
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The autumnal equinox will take place at 4:03 UT (GMT) on 23 September. On this day, night and day are nearly the same length and the Sun crosses the celestial equator. (The Sun is overhead at the equator at midday.) The autumnal equinox marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere.


This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during September. It 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.