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RAS PN05/46 November Space & Astronomy Digest

Last Updated on Monday, 30 January 2006 10:58
Published on Friday, 28 October 2005 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during November, including the opposition of  Mars, the launch of Venus Express, and a RAS meeting on the future exploration of the Moon.

The Science Museum’s adult annex, the Dana Centre, is hosting a series of events around the theme of aliens to coincide with the opening of the museum’s “Science of Aliens” exhibition. This includes a discussion entitled “Alien Contact”, which will take place on Tuesday 1 November, 19.00-20.30.

Does intelligent alien life exist beyond our planet or are we alone in the universe? Will we ever make contact with alien life and what would happen if we did? Discuss your views with a panel of sceptics, searchers and believers.

Mark Brake, University of Glamorgan
John Gribbin, University of Sussex
Doug Vakoch, SETI
Timandra Harkness, freelance science writer and comedian
Jennie Pollard
Dana Centre Programmes Developer
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen's Gate
London SW7 5HE
Tel: +44 (0)207-942-4831
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dana Centre web site:
Venus Express, the European Space Agency’s first mission to the second planet from the Sun, is scheduled for launch by a Russian Soyuz-Fregat launcher from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, in early November.

After a journey of about five months, Venus Express will be inserted into a polar, elliptical orbit around the cloud-shrouded planet in April 2006. Over a period of around 1,000 days (more than 4 Venus years), its seven instruments will study the planet’s surface, atmosphere and near-space environment. Particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the dense, pressure-cooker-like atmosphere, the volcano-driven cloud chemistry and complex meteorological behaviour (including high-level winds that sweep around the planet in only 4 days).

The spacecraft has been developed in a very short time and at a low cost for such a complex mission. This ‘Express’ achievement was made possible by reusing the design of the Mars Express spacecraft and basing many of its instruments on spares that were previously developed for Mars Express and the Rosetta comet mission.

Venus is the Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour. In terms of size and mass, Venus is Earth’s twin and yet it has evolved in a radically different manner, with clouds of sulphur and sulphuric acid, a surface temperature hotter than a kitchen oven and a dense, choking carbon dioxide atmosphere. 

UK scientists were involved in planning the mission and there is British involvement in five of the instruments. 
Professor Fred W. Taylor
Halley Professor of Physics
Dept. of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics
Oxford University
Oxford OX1 3PU
Tel.: +44 (0)1865-272903
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dr. Andrew Coates,
Co-investigator in the Aspera team
Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking
Surrey RH5 6NT
Tel: +44 (0)1483-204145
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Prof. Manuel Grande
Co-investigator in the Aspera team
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot
Oxon OX11 0QX
Tel.: +44 (0)1235-446501
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
ESA Venus Express web sites:   and
Bill Arnett’s Nine Planets web site:

The Mars Society UK is holding the 5th European Mars Conference from November 4-6 at the Alexandra House Conference Centre, Wroughton, near Swindon. Entitled ‘From Earth to Mars’, it opens with a reception and panel discussion on Friday evening, followed by two days of presentations by some of the leading experts in planetary research. Speakers will include the International President of the Mars Society, Dr. Robert Zubrin; Professor Colin Pillinger; Pierro Messina of ESA, and many others from the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA.

The conference takes place near the Science Museum’s site at Wroughton, which will be displaying Euro-MARS, the latest Mars Analogue Research Station, prior to its deployment in Iceland next year. The event also includes a space-themed Question Time and a version of University Challenge. The timing coincides with this year’s close approach of Mars, and there will be an opportunity to observe Mars through a telescope - weather permitting. The main sponsors are the Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and EADS, the UK’s foremost satellite construction company.
Jerry Stone
Resource Director / Conference Organiser
The Mars Society UK
Mobile: +44 (0)7939-204457
E-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The planet Mars reaches opposition – when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky - at 8:20 GMT on 7 November. Mars will then rise in the east at sunset, reaching its highest position in the sky an hour after midnight.

While the orbit of Earth around the Sun is very nearly circular, the orbit of Mars is markedly elliptical. During opposition, when the Earth and Mars lie in line with the Sun, the distance between the two planets may vary considerably from year to year depending on Mars' position in its orbit. If Mars comes to opposition when it is farthest from the Sun (at aphelion), then it will lie 98 million km (61 million miles) from Earth. But if Mars reaches opposition when it is closest to the Sun (at perihelion), the planet will be only 55.7 million km (34.6 million miles) from Earth.

The Red Planet was actually at its closest to Earth during this apparition at 3:24 GMT on 30 October, when it was 69.42 million km (43.14 million ml) away. The distance between Earth and Mars is now increasing and will continue to do so over the coming months.

Although Mars will not appear as large in a telescope as it did in August 2003, it will still have a diameter of 20 arc seconds – the largest it will appear from Earth until the summer of 2018. This is equivalent to the angular diameter of a volleyball one mile away. When viewed with a telescope at 80x magnification, Mars will appear as large as the Full Moon seen with the naked eye.

This is quite a favourable opposition, since the planet will be high in the sky for northern observers, in the constellation of Aries. Shining at magnitude -2.3, it will be brighter than everything in the night sky apart from the Moon and Venus. The planet will appear as a brilliant orange star that gradually changes position each night against the background stars. It will remain bright for the remainder of the year.    

The 2005-2006 Apparition of Mars (Jeffrey Beish):
British Astronomical Association:
Bill Arnett’s Nine Planets web site:

7 NOVEMBER: Launch of CALIPSO and CloudSat
On 7 November, a Delta 2 rocket is scheduled to blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, carrying two innovative Earth observation spacecraft - the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) and CloudSat.

CALIPSO and CloudSat are highly complementary and together will provide never-before-seen, 3-D perspectives of how clouds and aerosols form, evolve, and affect weather and climate. CALIPSO and CloudSat will fly in formation with three other satellites in the A-train constellation to enhance understanding of our climate system.

As a part of the NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder programme, CALIPSO is a collaborative effort with the French space agency (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales), Ball Aerospace, Hampton University, Va. and France’s Institut Pierre Simon Laplace. Ball Aerospace is responsible for CALIPSO’s scientific instrument and communications suite, including the lidar and wide field camera.

CloudSat is an experimental satellite that will use an advanced radar instrument to measure the vertical structure of clouds and properties of clouds, providing the first global measurements of cloud thickness, height, water and ice content, and a wide range of precipitation data linked to cloud development.  Many organisations are involved in this Earth System Science Pathfinder Mission, including NASA, the University of Colorado, the US Air Force and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, UK. CloudSat is expected to improve weather forecasting and advance our understanding of key climate processes during its two-year design lifetime. It will fly in orbital formation as part of the A-train constellation of NASA remote sensing satellites including Aqua, CALIPSO, PARASOL and Aura.
CALIPSO web site:
CloudSat web site:
A workshop on ‘Panoramic near-Infrared Astronomy’ will be held at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh on the 9-10 November. The workshop forms part of an annual series jointly organised by the University of Edinburgh Institute for Astronomy and UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

With the installation of the widefield camera, WFCAM, on the UK Infrared Telescope, and the imminent commissioning of the VISTA telescope and WIRCAM on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, it is timely to bring together experts in the technology of and science from infrared sky surveys to discuss projects and scientific results already delivered and those shortly anticipated.

In addition to the scientific programme, there will be a public lecture on 9 November by Professor Andrew Lawrence, entitled ‘Cosmic Explorer: Mapping the Universe’.
Royal Observatory Edinburgh web site:
A meeting to discuss space tourism will be held at the British Interplanetary Society,

27/29 South Lambeth Road, London, SW8 1SZ, on Thursday 10 November, 10.00 am to 4.30 pm.

Space tourism is the emerging space and travel industry. The first privately funded spaceplane has flown to space, and the first space operating company for passengers is planning to operate a fleet. The symposium will consist of presentations by some of the pioneers of space tourism and a discussion about how this exciting field is likely to develop. Speakers include Alex Tai, Vice President of Virgin Galactic, the company that intends to send fee-paying tourists into space in the next few years, and Chris Faranetta of Space Adventures Ltd, the company which has arranged three tourist visits to the International Space Station.
Suszann Parry
Executive Secretary
The British Interplanetary Society
27/29 South Lambeth Road
London SW8 1SZ
Tel: +44 (0)207-735-3160
Fax: +44 (0)207-820-1504
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
BIS web site:
A one-day specialist discussion meeting about the exploration of the Moon in the 21st century will take place at the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 10:00-15:30.

The recent success of ESA’s SMART-1 mission, a renewed interest from NASA in returning to the Moon, and the emergence of new space-faring nations such as China, India, and Japan has put lunar science into the limelight once again. This meeting is aimed at bringing experts from various fields of lunar research to provide an overview of our current understanding, present recent results, and discuss outstanding issues that remain to be addressed by future lunar missions.

The programme includes:
The Moon: A Keystone in Understanding the Earth-like Planets - Prof. Jim Head, Brown University, Rhode Island, USA
Europe to the Moon: SMART-1 and future exploration – Dr. Bernard Foing, Chief Scientist, ESA Science Programme
The ESA Aurora Programme - Dr. Mark Sims, University of Leicester
Lunar X-ray science with D-CIXS and Chandrayaan-1 - Prof. Manuel Grande, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Near-Infrared Observations of the Moon: The Near Future - Dr. Urs Mall, Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Germany
Dr. Mahesh Anand
Department of Earth Sciences
Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
Tel: +44 (0)1908-858-551
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dr. Ian Crawford
Birkbeck College / UCL
Tel.: +44 (0)207-679-3431
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 10:30-15:30

In 1955 Eugene Parker published two important papers that have exerted a profound influence on the study of solar and stellar magnetic fields ever since.  The first paper introduced the idea of magnetic buoyancy, the process whereby strong local magnetic fields tend to float upwards through a star’s convection zone until they emerge into its atmosphere where they can be observed.  The second showed how turbulent cyclonic eddies in a rotating star could play a key role in the dynamo process that generates its magnetic field. The aim of this meeting is not just to cover progress over the last fifty years but also, and more importantly, to focus on current research. Speakers will discuss the problems and difficulties that are raised in attempts to model processes revealed by high-resolution observations and as a result of massive numerical computation. Eugene Parker (Chicago) himself will be giving a talk entitled, “What are dynamos to do without turbulent diffusion of magnetic fields?”

Prof. David Hughes
Dept. of Applied Mathematics
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
Tel: +44 (0)113-343-5105
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Prof. Nigel Weiss
Univ. of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0)1223-337910
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Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 16:00 – 18:00
Talks will include:
Prof. Paul Silver (Carnegie) - The 2005 Harold Jeffreys Lecture: Mantle Deformation, Continental Evolution and the Wilson Cycle:  Paradoxes and Proposals.
Dr. Derek McNally (Herts) - Major Lunar Standstills at Stonehenge.
The UKSEDS 2005 Annual Space Conference will take place at Kingston University, Kingston Hill campus, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT2 7LB, on 12 – 13 November. This year’s conference, entitled ‘New Horizons - A Future Of Space Exploration’, aims to explore the various aspects involved in explorative space missions of the future. Some of the planned topics are: spacecraft propulsion; space architecture; astrobiology; and issues of culturalisation for future long-term manned missions in space.
Rachel Newson
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Conference web site:
UKSEDS web site:
On Wednesday 23 November, there will be a one-day conference 2005 entitled ‘Near Earth Objects: A Natural Hazard of Global Proportions’ at the Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ, 9:30 -17:30.

This conference will consider the different types of near Earth objects (NEOs), how we identify and track them, what would be needed to deflect a near Earth object from an Earth-colliding trajectory, and how we communicate these issues at a public, scientific and political level. Presentations will be given by leading European scientists engaged in NEO research as well as the engineers and policy makers who would need to respond to any impending threat from space. The conference is organised by the RAeS Space Group.
Prof. Richard Crowther
Head, Space Engineering & Technology Division
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory - CCLRC
Chilton, Oxfordshire OX11 0QX
Tel.: +44 (0)1235-446431
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Melissa Warner
Conference & Events Department
Royal Aeronautical Society
4 Hamilton Place
London W1J 7BQ
Tel.: +44 (0)207-670-4300
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


Royal Aeronautical Society web site:

The 2005 Grubb Parsons Lecture, sponsored by Sun Microsystems, will take place at 4.30 pm on Wednesday 30th November 2005 in the Appleby Lecture Theatre (in the Geography Building) on the Science Site at Durham.  The lecture, entitled "Massive Black Holes", will be delivered by Prof. Reinhard Genzel.

Prof. Genzel is renowned for his observational studies of galaxies and black holes using a wide range of observational techniques across the whole electromagnetic spectrum.  He is also at the forefront of instrumental development for very large telescopes, constructing a series of novel and powerful instruments to support his observational studies. His talk will include a recent 'movie' he has made showing the motions of stars around the massive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy. Prof. Genzel is the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching and also a Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley.


Prof. Ian Smail
Institute for Computational Cosmology
Durham University
Durham DH1 3LE
Tel: +44-(0)191-334-3605
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

This release has been written in order to assist the media in planning and researching future stories related to space science and astronomy, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Dates and times may be subject to change.