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RAS PN06/40: Space & Astronomy Digest December 2006

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Wednesday, 29 November 2006 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during December. It includes Europe's Corot mission to detect earthlike planets, a visit to the UK by a Shuttle crew, an exhibition of space-related photographs and details of the next RAS meetings.
An exhibition of Dan Holdsworth’s large-scale photographs continues at the National Maritime Museum until 7 January 2007. The photographs explore the limits of perception and the possibilities of photography. Entitles ‘At the Edge of Space, Parts 1–3’, the exhibition focuses on the artist’s interest in communicating the invisible realms of time and space, featuring work from the series ‘At the Edge of Space’ (1999) and ‘The Gregorian’ (2005), alongside the new commission ‘Hyperborea’ (2006).
At the Edge of Space is a series of photographs was taken at the European Space Agency’s spaceport at Kourou in Guiana, South America. The Gregorian was developed at the Arecibo Space Telescope at the American National Astronomy and Ionosphere Centre, Puerto Rico. Hyperborea is a series of landscapes, commissioned by the Museum, showing the Aurora (the Northern Lights) from the city limits of Reykjavik in Iceland and from the Andoya Rocket Range above the Arctic Circle in Norway.
This exhibition is a part of New Visions, the Museum's ongoing series of contemporary art displays and commissions exploring the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars, and their relationship with people.
National Maritime Museum:
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National Maritime Museum web site:

Upon return from their recent trip to the International Space Station, the crew of STS-121, including UK-born astronaut Piers Sellers, will be visiting the National Space Centre in Leicester on 1 December. This is a chance to meet all NASA members of the crew and NASA Lead Officer Tomas Gonzalez Torres. The crew will be participating in an “Ask the Astronaut” Q&A session for visitors to the National Space Centre at 3 pm.
NASA Administrator Dr Mike Griffin will be giving a public lecture entitled “Continuing The Voyages Of The Endeavour” on 1 December. The lecture will take place at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1, starting at 6.30 pm.
Captain James Cook’s first expedition to the South Pacific in 1768 was funded jointly by the Royal Society and the British Admiralty. The primary purpose of this voyage was to obtain astronomical observations of the planet Venus transiting across the disk of the Sun on Saturday, June 3rd, 1769, in order to calculate the "astronomical unit" or distance between the Sun and the Earth. In many ways, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is carrying on the tradition of exploration and scientific discovery that the Royal Society initiated with this expedition. Mike Griffin’s address will apply certain lessons learned from one of the Royal Society's greatest explorers to the endeavours that NASA is carrying out today in exploring the planets, moons, asteroids and comets of our solar system and our own Sun.
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Dr. David Williams, the Director General of the British National Space Centre (BNSC), will be conducting the opening address at the 2nd Appleton Space Conference, to be held at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Oxon, on 6 December. The programme also includes talks on UK plans for ESA’s Aurora programme, updates on the recently-launched Solar-B mission and a speech by MP Ian Taylor on space investment.  Alex James, formerly of indie band Blur, will also be speaking on space outreach and how to communicate effectively with the public.
Linda Roberts
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot
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Dr. Richard Holdaway
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0)1235 445527
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Beginning on December 7 and lasting through December 15, the Geminids produce the most consistently prolific annual meteor shower. The Geminid meteors are fairly slow (entry velocity 35 km/s) but fairly bright. The radiant, or point from which the meteors appear to emanate, is located just north of the bright star Castor, within the north eastern section of the constellation of Gemini.
Up to 80 meteors per hour may be expected around the time of maximum activity on the night of 13-14 December, when the sky will be dark until the broad crescent Moon rises after 1 am. The Geminid radiant is above the horizon throughout the hours of darkness in the British Isles in mid-December, reaching its highest elevation around 01h local time, so sightings are possible from mid-evening onwards.
The most unique aspect of the Geminid meteor shower is its origin. While most meteor showers are the result of Earth sailing through a stream of debris left in the wake of comets passing through the inner solar system, the Geminids are fragments from an asteroid - 3200 Phaethon.
British Astronomical Society:  
Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on flight STS-116 is scheduled for 8 December at 01:38 GMT. STS-116 will deliver a third truss segment, a SPACEHAB module and other key components during the Shuttle's 20th mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
STS–116 is the next in a series of very demanding and complex missions to complete the construction of the Space Station. Two days after launch, Discovery will dock with the ISS and the seven Shuttle crew members will enter the Station. They will be welcomed by the three resident astronauts from the Expedition 14 crew, which includes ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, who has been on board since July.

The mission’s main objectives are to attach the P5 connector element of the integrated truss structure to the Station and to connect the power from two large electricity-generating solar array panels delivered and installed in September. The solar arrays will provide a permanent supply of electricity for the ISS, which has been running on a temporary electrical power system since it went into orbit in 1998.

During the twelve-day mission, ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang of Sweden and his NASA counterpart Robert Curbeam will carry out two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs or spacewalks). During the first, the new P5 truss structure will be installed at the end of the main truss. The next day, the port-side half of the original P6 solar array will be retracted, clearing the way for P4, one of the arrays delivered in September, to rotate in alignment with the Sun.
The main task during the second EVA is to rewire the power system for one half of the Station. The other half of the power system will be rewired during a third EVA, carried out by Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams. The astronauts will head outside the ISS in their EVA suits and wait for mission control to switch off the ISS power. Once permission has been granted, they will unplug existing cables and insert them into new locations on the ISS.

After completing the 12-day mission, the crew will return to Earth accompanied by Thomas Reiter, who will by then have completed his six-month Astrolab mission on the Station.  His place as flight engineer in the ISS Expedition 14 crew will be taken by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams. The Shuttle landing at the Kennedy Space Center is scheduled for no earlier than 18 December at around 22:04 GMT (23:04 CET).
NASA web site: 

The first Royal Astronomy Society Young Astronomers Meeting will be held at the Geological Society lecture theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, on 8 December, 10.30 – 15.30. The meeting will feature talks from postgraduates and early-career postdocs about their research. Topics will cover a wide range of modern astronomy and astrophysics from planetary science to cosmology, stars to galaxies, and observations to modelling. The programme also includes a wide selection of posters on an equally varied range of subjects.
Mark Westmoquette, Anais Rassat, Joe Zuntz
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A RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting on ‘Galactic Archaeology’ will be held in the Society of Antiquaries lecture theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 on 8 December, 10.30 – 15.30.
Studies of the origin, interactions and evolution of the Galaxy and its nearest neighbours have been strengthened in recent years by very large surveys conducted on medium-sized telescopes and by detailed studies of individual stars using 8 m telescopes. Substructure in galactic populations, once the preserve of theorists, is now an observational science. This meeting provides an opportunity to review the wealth of current (RAVE, AAOmega, SDSS/SEGUE) and future (VISTA, WFMOS, GAIA) studies of Galactic and Local Group science.
Sean Ryan
University of Hertfordshire
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Rachel Johnson
University of Oxford
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Annette Ferguson
Royal Observatory Edinburgh
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The monthly RAS Ordinary Meeting will be held in the Geological Society lecture theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, on 8 December, 16:00 – 18:00.
The following talks will be given:
* Prof. Carlos Frenk - “Our Implausible Universe” (The 2006 Whitrow Lecture). The standard model of cosmology seems a priori implausible. It assumes a number of bizarre components, such as dark matter and dark energy, and ascribes the origin of galaxies to quantum fluctuations generated when the universe was very young. Yet, this model accounts for an astonishing range of astronomical observations, from the microwave background to the cosmic large-scale structure. The lecture will review the standard model, its successes and problems, and highlight some fundamental questions that remain unanswered.
* Dr Kevin Fong - Human spaceflight: challenges and opportunities.
* Prof. Michael Edmunds and Dr Tony Freeth (‘Images First’) - Decoding the
Antikythera Mechanism. (This is an extraordinary mechanism that was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera. It dates from around the 1st century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world. The Antikythera Mechanism is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical "computer" which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.)

Prof. Carlos Frenk
University of Durham
Tel: +44 (0)191-374-2165
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Dr. Kevin Fong
Centre for Aviation Space and Extreme Environment Medicine
Tel: +44 (0)207-288-3890
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Prof. Michael Edmunds
University of Cardiff
Tel: +44 (0)29-2087-4785
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The Corot space telescope will be launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by a Russian Soyuz 2-1B rocket on 21 December. Corot will be the first spacecraft capable of detecting rocky planets, several times larger than Earth, around nearby stars. The Soyuz-2-1b vehicle with the new RD-0124 engine will fly its first test mission from Site 31 at Baikonur, launching the 630 kg Corot into a 850 km polar orbit. The orbit will enable Corot to focus on a fixed part of the sky for more than 150 days at a time.
Corot carries a 30 cm telescope equipped with a 4-CCD wide-field camera. It is expected to observe at least 120,000 stars during its two-and-a-half-year primary mission, detecting extremely tiny variations in brightness that provide clues about their mass, age and chemical composition.
Corot will also search for dips in starlight caused by the transits of planets – when they cross in front of a star. It should be able to detect planets in the same size and temperature range as Earth.
The Corot mission is led by the French space agency CNES, with participation by several French laboratories, ESA and the Brazilian Space Agency.
CNES web site:  
ESA science web site:  


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.