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Space and astronomy digest: February 2016

Last Updated on Monday, 22 February 2016 15:32
Published on Monday, 01 February 2016 16:09

The February digest of upcoming space, astronomy and geophysics events, from the Royal Astronomical Society. This month sees launches of an X-ray telescope and an Earth Observation satellite, and conferences on imaging the interior of the Earth and mapping the wider Universe.


9 February: RAS public lecture: Weighing Black Holes, Geological Society and Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


Professor Martin Bureau of the University of Oxford will give the next RAS public lecture on Tuesday 9 February, at 1 p.m. at the Geological Society, and 6 p.m. at the Royal Astronomical Society.

In his talk, Professor Bureau will describe how black holes are now known to lurk at the centre of every galaxy, and play a major role in the evolution of our universe. He will begin by taking a brief look into the properties of light and the high-tech gadgetry that astronomers use to study the cosmos, explain how astronomers 'weigh' black holes, and present spectacular observations of the black hole at the centre of our Galaxy, the Milky Way.

Prof Bureau will then present a new and powerful method (developed in Oxford) for measuring black holes, which will use the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the largest ground-based telescope project in existence.


11-12 February: Joint inversion of geophysical datasets for enhanced imaging of the Earth (New Advances in Geophysics 2-day meeting), Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


One of the main issues in Solid Earth Geophysics is to obtain reliable high-resolution images of the subsurface from relatively sparse observations at the surface of the Earth. Despite tremendous advances in for example seismic and electromagnetic imaging, these methods have inherent limitations determined by the physics they rely on. Using different geophysical methods, and their respective strengths, is one way of overcoming these constraints.

This meeting, held at the Royal Astronomical Society from 11-12 February, will bring together geophysicists with an interest in analysing their results in an integrated way. Delegates will present both theoretical ideas and practical applications in an effort to make progress in this area.

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


12 February: Cosmology with Maps, Geological Society, Burlington House, London


Maps of large-scale structure are a good way of understanding the shape, composition and evolution of the Universe. Ongoing and future surveys, such as the Dark Energy Survey (DES), and those carried out by Euclid, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will provide data to construct resolved maps of large volumes of the cosmos.

12 February will see scientists gather at the Geological Society, for a specialist meeting where they will discuss map-making techniques for cosmology and how they can help us interpret scientific results.

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


12 February: Launch of Astro-H X-ray observatory, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan


Astro-H smallArtist's concept of the Astro-H / NEXT X-ray satellite after deployment in Earth orbit. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA. Click for a full size imageThe Astro-H / New X-ray Telescope (NEXT) X-ray observatory is set to launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on 12 February. Led by the Japanese space agency JAXA, Astro-H has been developed in collaboration with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and European countries. It will study the universe in soft (less energetic) X-rays, hard X-rays and soft gamma rays and should operate for at least 3 years.

Astro-H will take off atop an H-IIA rocket, and should be deployed into an orbit about 575 km above the surface of the Earth.


16 February: Launch of Sentinel-3A satellite, Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia


Sentinel 3 is a constellation of satellites for Earth Observation, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will measure and monitor changes in the oceans, land, ice and atmosphere, a provide near-real time information for weather forecasting.

At 1757 GMT on 16 February, Sentinel-3A is expected to be placed into orbit using a Rockot launcher (a converted intercontinental ballistic missile), which will blast off from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia. The satellite will be followed by Sentinel-3B in 2017.


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Night sky in February


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 3900 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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The RAS accepts papers for its journals based on the principle of peer review, in which fellow experts on the editorial boards accept the paper as worth considering. The Society issues press releases based on a similar principle, but the organisations and scientists concerned have overall responsibility for their content.