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Space and astronomy digest: January 2015

Last Updated on Monday, 05 January 2015 12:01
Published on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 16:47

The January digest of upcoming space and astronomy events. This month sees the launch of satellites to monitor soil conditions on Earth and give an early warning of space weather, and the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.


4-8 January: 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Seattle, Washington, United States

From 4-8 January, several thousand space scientists and astronomers are expected to gather in Seattle for the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

One of the largest astronomy conferences in the world, the AAS meeting has a diverse range of sessions covering science, public engagement, public policy, and formal and informal education. Scientific topics under discussion include stars, exoplanets, the evolution of galaxies, gamma ray bursts, cosmology, astrobiology, black holes, supernovae and the interstellar medium.

The AAS meeting offers full facilities for journalists, including a press office and interview rooms. Registration is free of charge for accredited members of the media.



Dr Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Office
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9 January: 'The dynamical chromosphere and its role in energy transfer through the solar atmosphere: Results from IRIS'. Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London

Immediately above the visible 'surface' of the Sun (the photosphere), is the chromosphere, the pinkish coloured region of the solar atmosphere that only becomes visible to the human eye during a total solar eclipse. There is still great uncertainty about how this complex and dynamic zone interacts with the rest of our nearest star.

In 2013 the NASA Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission was launched with the explicit goal of exploring this region. Sited in an orbit around the Earth that gives it a continuous view of the Sun, IRIS is providing data that complements other missions like Hinode and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to provide comprehensive observations of the solar atmosphere.

On 9 January solar physicists will gather at the Royal Astronomical Society for a specialist discussion meeting to consider the first results from IRIS and what they tell us about the different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere.

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


Robert Massey


9 January: 'The kinematics of star formation: Theory and observation in the Gaia era'. Geological Society, Burlington House, London

In operation since 2013, the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite is set to give astronomers a detailed 3D map of around 1 billion stars in our Galaxy. Combined with the recent major surveys of the back and forth (radial) movement of stars, scientists will be able to study the motion or kinematics of nearby stars in unprecedented detail.

On 9 January astronomers will gather at the Geological Society for a specialist discussion meeting to consider the kinematics of young stars in particular, and the way their motion gives us an insight into the star formation process and the evolution of star clusters. Delegates will look at how these data shape simulations and models of clusters, and how results from Gaia are set to transform our understanding of the early lives of stars.

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


Robert Massey

13 January: RAS public lecture: 'Light into Dark: Eclipses of the Sun'. Burlington House, London

The latest RAS public lecture will take place at 13:00 GMT  and be repeated at 18:00 GMT  on 13 January, in the lecture theatres of the Geological Society and the Royal Astronomical Society respectively. Ian Ridpath, the award-winning author, broadcaster and lecturer, will discuss eclipses of the Sun and Moon, some of the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena.

His presentation will explain how solar and lunar eclipses take place and how they appear in the sky. The most spectacular events, total solar eclipses, see the Sun’s brilliant disk completely obscured for a few minutes, turning daytime into darkness and bringing into view its faint outer halo of gas, the corona. At lunar eclipses, the Moon turns brick red at night for an hour or more as it passes through the Earth’s shadow.

On 20 March 2015, the UK will see its biggest solar eclipse since 1999, with a total lunar eclipse following on 28 September. In the lecture, Ridpath will describe what to look out for during both of these events.


Robert Massey

SMAP smallArtist's impression of the SMAP satellite in operation. Credit: Karen Yuen/David Hinkle/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Click for a full size image29 January: Launch of Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, United States

29 January should see the launch of the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. This spacecraft is an environmental research mission that will measure moisture in the soil, collecting data from most of the globe every 2 or 3 days.

The satellite will take off atop a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in the United States. It is expected to operate for 3 years in a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 685 km above the surface of the Earth. Scientists will use data from the mission to carry out a range of applications from weather forecasting and climate science to pest control and flood monitoring.


29 January: Launch of Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite is also set for launch on 29 January. It is built, launched and operated by NASA, the US Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The spacecraft will monitor the solar wind, giving early warning of bursts of charged particles from the Sun (coronal mass ejections or CMEs) that can lead to inclement 'space weather' and disrupt spacecraft, communications and terrestrial power systems. It will also continuously observe the sunlit side of the Earth, providing imagery and monitoring of cloud cover and reflected sunlight.

DSCOVR will be carried aloft by a Falcon 9 rocket supplied by the private operator SpaceX, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in the United States. After launch the observatory will travel to the Sun-Earth 'Lagrangian Point' L1, a location in space about 1.5 million km from the Earth in the direction of the Sun. CMEs reach L1 about 20 minutes before they arrive at the Earth, giving us notice of possible adverse space weather. DSCOVR is expected to replace the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite that started service in 1997.



John Leslie
NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service
United States
+1 301 713 0214
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Night sky in January

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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