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Space and astronomy digest: October 2014

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 13:22
Published on Monday, 29 September 2014 14:45

The October guide to upcoming space and astronomy news events. Events this month include a total lunar eclipse visible from the Pacific, a special conference to mark 10 years of Cassini-Huygens at Saturn and a public lecture on results from the Planck observatory.



8 October: Total lunar eclipse: Western North America, Pacific Ocean, East Asia, Australasia

Sky watchers in western Canada and the United States, the Pacific Ocean, East Asia and Australasia can look forward to a total lunar eclipse on 8 October. Depending on location, the eclipse takes place after midnight (North America and the eastern Pacific) or in the evening (the western Pacific and Asia).

Eclipses of the Moon happen when the Earth, Moon and Sun are almost exactly in line, and the Moon travels into the Earth’s shadow. Rather than disappearing completely, the Moon usually takes on a reddish hue from sunlight refracted through the atmosphere of the Earth. The precise colour varies with atmospheric conditions and the position of the Moon in the shadow.

This eclipse begins at 08:14 GMT, when the Moon enters the penumbral part of the terrestrial shadow. At 09:14 GMT, the Moon starts to move into the darker umbral shadow and is completely immersed by 10:25 GMT, when totality begins. This lasts until 11:25 GMT and the Moon leaves the umbra at 12:35 GMT. The eclipse comes to an end at 13:35 GMT, when the Moon exits the penumbra.

During this eclipse, the Moon will be in front of the stars of the constellation of Pisces and not far from the apparent position of the planet Uranus.

Guide to the total lunar eclipse of 8 October 2014


10 October: Celebrating Ten Years of Cassini-Huygens in the Saturnian System, Geological Society, Burlington House, London

After a seven year mission, the ESA / NASA Cassini-Huygens mission arrived at Saturn in 2004. Highlights in the decade since then include the Huygens probe landing on Saturn’s largest moon Titan, the discovery of a liquid water ocean under the surface of the smaller moon Enceladus and a close up look at weather systems on the ringed planet itself.

Supreme Saturn smallAn image of Saturn from the Cassini probe, taken on 4 May 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Click for a full resolution imageTravelling around Saturn between the different moons, the Cassini orbiter has operated far longer than its planned lifetime, allowing scientists to make surveys of the whole planetary system. The probe is set to end operations in a deliberate crash into the atmosphere of Saturn in 2017.

On 10 October, planetary scientists will gather at the Geological Society to celebrate the scientific legacy of Cassini-Huygens in a specialist discussion meeting where they will present the latest findings from the mission.

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

Meeting details



Dr Robert Massey, Royal Astronomical Society


10 October: Understanding Galaxies from their Spectral Energy Distribution: Models to Observations, Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

The largest and most sensitive telescopes now allow astronomers to detect tiny proto-galaxies at the farthest reaches of the universe, objects that we see as they appeared early in cosmic history. One of the most important questions in astrophysics is how these objects evolved over billions of years to become the incredibly diverse population of galaxies we see around us today.

On 10 October, astronomers will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society to consider the physical processes that shape galaxies, from the formation of stars to the presence of active regions in their centres. A key tool for this is the way that their brightness varies with the wavelength of the light they emit (the so-called spectral energy distribution). Delegates at the meeting will be the scientists who observe these distributions and their peers who attempt to model them, in an effort to better understand the nature and fate of galaxies in general.

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

Meeting details



Robert Massey
(details above)


14 October: RAS lunchtime lecture: Planck's view of the origin of the universe: Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

One of the key pieces of evidence for the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe is the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the residual heat of the earliest epoch of the cosmos. The CMB gives scientists an insight into conditions in the early universe, an environment that could mostly never be replicated by experiments on Earth.

At 1300 BST on Tuesday 14 October, leading cosmologist Dr Hiranya Peiris of University College London will describe the work of the Planck observatory, which studied the CMB for four years from 2009. Results from Planck have allowed scientists to sharpen their understanding of the initial stages of the history of the universe and how the planets, stars and galaxies we see today came into being. In her talk, Dr Peiris will discuss this work and what scientists still hope to learn in the years ahead.

Meeting details



Robert Massey
(details above)


Night sky in October

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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