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Space and astronomy digest: September 2014

Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 14:42
Published on Friday, 29 August 2014 11:50

The latest digest of upcoming news and astronomy events, from the RAS. This month sees two spacecraft arrive at Mars, the launch of the latest mission to the International Space Station and the first Paul Ruffle memorial lecture.


13 September: The Paul Ruffle memorial lecture 2014: Exoplanets and how to find them: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

At 15:00 BST on 13 September, a special public lecture will take place at the Royal Astronomical Society to commemorate the life of Dr Paul Ruffle (1951-2013), a research astronomer at the University of Manchester who was passionate about public engagement in science. He popularised astronomy in public lectures and radio appearances, worked as a tutor for the Open University, organised Café Scientifique events and found the time to be an honorary auditor for the RAS.

In this inaugural lecture, Prof Andrew Norton of the Open University will describe the revolution in the discovery of planets around other stars. 20 years ago, these were the stuff of science fiction, but we now know of more than 1000 so-called exoplanets, with thousands of other candidates waiting for confirmation. Prof Norton will tell the history of this leap forward and use models and demonstrations to describe how these intriguing worlds are being discovered today. He will conclude by outlining the prospect of finding other Earth-like planets that might just harbour life.



Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society


15 September: Selection of Rosetta landing site announcement, Paris

After a successful rendezvous last month, the ESA Rosetta spacecraft is now manoeuvring to enter orbit around Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Over the next few weeks, the craft will continue to obtain study the comet at close range, lowering its typical altitude to around 30 km.

In November the Philae lander craft will detach from the main Rosetta probe and attempt to land on the surface of the comet. Using the high resolution images already obtained from the spacecraft, ESA scientists have identified five possible landing sites for Philae. The final selection will be announced at a press conference in Paris at 1100 CEST on 15 September.

The Rosetta mission has significant UK involvement, with astronomers and engineers from the Open University, Airbus and RAL Space all contributing to the project.


Further information

ESA: Rosetta home page



Markus Bauer
ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communications Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
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22 September: MAVEN arrives at Mars

maven mars orbit smallAn artist's impression of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars. Credit: NASA / GSFC. Click for a full resolution imageThe NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is set to arrive at Mars on 22 September (21 September in North America). From about five weeks after arrival, planetary scientists will start to use MAVEN to study the atmosphere of Mars, how it interacts with the solar wind and how volatile material escapes. With these data they hope to build up an understanding of how the planet lost what is thought to have once been a thick atmosphere that allowed liquid water to flow on the surface.

For the main one year mission the probe will enter a highly elliptical orbit around the red planet, with its altitude ranging from 150 to more than 6000 km. Five ‘deep dip’ manoeuvres are planned too, that will take the spacecraft down to just 125 km to examine the lower part of the atmosphere in more detail.


Further information

University of Colorado Boulder: MAVEN home page
NASA MAVEN home page



Dwayne Brown
Office of Public Affairs
NASA Headquarters
Tel: +1 202 358 1726
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24 September: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Mars Orbiter Mission arrives at Mars

The ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission, informally known as Mangalyaan, is expected to arrive at Mars on 24 September. The mission should operate for at least six months, studying the planet from an orbit that ranges from 365 to 80000 km above the surface.

As the first ISRO probe to Mars, Mangalyaan is a technology demonstrator mission and the organisation is expected to follow this with more sophisticated spacecraft. The craft will nonetheless carry out a full science programme studying the atmosphere and surface of the red planet, for example looking at methane abundance and infrared emission.


Further information

ISRO: Mars Orbiter Mission



Director, P&PR Unit
Tel: +91 (0)80 234 15275 / 221 72296
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25 September: Launch of Soyuz TMA-14M mission to International Space Station

On 25 September the latest crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is due to blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz vehicle will carry Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova and US astronaut Barry E. Wilmore. Together with three other inhabitants already on board the Space Station, the crew will make up Expedition 41 and are expected to remain there until March 2015.


Further information

NASA: ISS Expeditions
Russian Federal Space Agency (in Russian)

Night sky in September

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.


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 3800 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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