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Space and astronomy digest: April 2016

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 March 2016 09:39
Published on Thursday, 31 March 2016 09:35

The April digest of upcoming space, astronomy and geophysics events. Highlights this month include a conference on making use of extraterrestrial resources, and the launches of an ESA Earth Observation mission and a Russian gamma ray, cosmic ray and transient observatory.


8 April: RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting: The use of extraterrestrial resources to help facilitate space science and exploration, Geological Society, Burlington House, London


Space science, space exploration, and society in general could benefit from the exploitation of resources elsewhere in the Solar system. To date though, all of this has depended on materials and energy here on Earth.

Entering a Lunar Outpost smallAstronauts entering a lunar outpost. Credit: NASA. Click for a full size imageOn 8 April space scientists and industrialists will come together for a RAS meeting to discuss how to make use of the resources found in settings from near-Earth asteroids to the surface of the Moon and Mars. The conference will hear from specialists in private companies, space agencies and universities, who will set out their ideas for accessing these assets, and how they could benefit science. Presentations will cover topics like asteroid mining, using the Moon as a stop off for a more distant journey, and using ice to make fuel for planetary propulsion.

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


8 April: RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting: High-redshift galaxies and their low-redshift analogues, Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


With modern observatories, astronomers can for the first time see and study galaxies as they were within the first billion years of the history of the universe.

In the next decade, radio observatories like LOFAR, the Square Kilometre Array, the James Webb Space Telescope, and ground based telescopes with mirrors between 30-40m across will all allow scientists to look at this epoch in great detail. These facilities will for example let astronomers observe the formation of the first stars, and see how these early galaxies evolved into those we find in the present day cosmos.


12 April: RAS Public Lecture: The Future Exploration of the Moon, Geological Society and Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London


Prof Ian Crawford, a planetary scientist at Birkbeck College and RAS Senior Secretary, will give the RAS public lecture at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 12 April.

It is now over 40 years since the last Apollo astronauts left the surface of the Moon. Continued analysis of the Apollo samples, and more recent measurements made by lunar orbiting spacecraft, confirm that the lunar geological record gives us an insight into the earliest history of the Solar System, the origin of the Earth and Moon, and the geological evolution of rocky planets.

There is broad agreement that further advances in these areas will require an end to the 40-year hiatus of lunar surface exploration, and the placing of new scientific instruments on, and the return of additional samples from, the surface of the Moon. Several space agencies around the world are actively planning a return to the lunar surface. In addition to these government-led activities, there is also increasing interest in non-governmental projects to land spacecraft on the Moon, such as the crowd-funded Lunar Mission One and the various proposals entered into the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

In his talk, Prof Crawford will give a brief summary of the history of lunar exploration to date, and outline the scientific objectives of lunar missions planned for the future. He will argue that while some of these scientific objectives can be achieved robotically, in the longer term most would benefit significantly from renewed human operations on the lunar surface.


22 April: Launch of Sentinel 1B, Kourou spaceport, French Guiana


Sentinel 1B, the second of a pair of European Space Agency (ESA) satellites in the Copernicus Earth Observation programme, is scheduled to launch from French Guiana on 22 April atop a Soyuz rocket. Joining the already operating Sentinel 1A, the spacecraft will use radar to carry out environmental monitoring. Together the pair of satellites will image the whole Earth every six days.


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25 April: Launch of Mikhailo Lomonosov, Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia


The Mikhailo Lomonosov observatory, designed to study gamma-ray bursts, cosmic rays and transient events in the Earth’s atmosphere, is expected to launch into orbit on 25 April. The satellite, named to honour the polymath and scientist who discovered the atmosphere of Venus, will be carried aloft by a Soyuz rocket. This will be the first launch from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome, located in the far east of Russia. Once deployed, the observatory is expected to operate for three years.


Night sky in April


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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