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Royal Astronomical Society Space and Astronomy Digest December 2005


This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during December. It 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.

To celebrate Einstein Year (World Year of Physics), some of the world’s leading physics laboratories are taking part in a 12 hour webcast (from 11:00 to 23:00 GMT) on 1 December to show public audiences the excitement of Einstein’s life, science and legacy.

In addition to CERN, participating institutions include: Imperial College London, the Telecom Future Lab (Venice), the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Chicago), the Exploratorium (San Francisco), the Bloomfield Science Museum (Jerusalem) and the National Science Education Centre (Taipei).

The programme includes subjects such as relativity, gravitational waves, mass and gravity, antimatter, and neutrinos, along with the mysteries left open by Einstein’s physics and the technologies derived from it. A global audience will discuss the impact of Einstein’ s discoveries and look beyond them with physicists such as Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies, and physics Nobel laureates David Gross, Murray Gell-Mann and Gerard ’t Hooft.

From Imperial College London, Peter Kirstein will be joined by fellow Internet pioneer Bob Kahn, and Robert Cailliau, who played a key role at the birth of the Web, to explore the role that science plays in the evolution of information technology.

As well as looking at the birth of the Internet and the web, the UK section of the webcast will bring together scientists working on the Grid, the next generation of the Internet.


Beyond Einstein web site:

The full programme can be viewed at:


General information: Tel: +41 76 487 36 17
Technical information: Tel: +41 76 487 4138

Journalists wishing to join the event in the CERN Globe of Science and Innovation in Geneva on December 1 should contact:

Media contact at Imperial College London:
David Colling,, +44 (0)777619 63 61

PPARC Press Office
Julia Maddock, +44 (0)1793 442094

An event to celebrate 10 years of operation of the Solar and Heliospheric (SOHO) spacecraft will take place at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), Oxfordshire, on 2 December, starting at 10:30.

The celebration will consist of a set of short talks describing the history and results from SOHO, the world’s flagship solar observatory. SOHO is a European Space Agency mission with NASA involvement, in which the UK has a major investment in terms of hardware and scientific research. One of the instruments was built by a consortium led by RAL and it has been operated from the mini mission control facility at RAL for 10 years. Stationed 1.5 million km away, between the Sun and Earth, SOHO is able to observe our nearest star continuously, leading to a revolution in our understanding of the Sun.

Professor Alan Gabriel: The birth of SOHO – the World’s Flagship Solar Observatory.
Professor Richard Harrison: Revolutionising Our View of the Sun – Summary of Results from SOHO.
Dr Andrzej Fludra: CDS – The UK’s Solar Toolbox.
Professor Len Culhane: Exploring the Sun - The UK’s Heritage.

Professor Richard A. Harrison
Head of Space Physics Division
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot
Oxfordshire OX11 0QX
Tel: +44 (0)1235-44-6884

For security purposes, bona fide members of the media wishing to attend should contact Jenny Dallimore in advance – Tel: +44 (0)1235 445618, e-mail:


Main SOHO Web pages:

UK instrument Web pages: and

On Thursday, 8 December 2005, Prof. David Southwood, Director of Science at the European Space Agency, will be giving the Wilbur and Orville Wright Lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ on the subject of "Mars, Titan and Beyond", starting at 18:00.

The last few years have brought back to public attention the fact that Europeans are involved in space exploration. The results returned from Mars Express and the successful landing of the Huygens probe on Titan are only part of the story and much is still to come. The universe beyond our planet is slowly being unveiled and space science has played, and will continue to play, a primary part in this. Why should Europe (and Britain) be involved? One motive is basic, namely, to understand our Earth’s part in the grand scheme of things and how life (as represented by ourselves) came to evolve. Is such inspiration the end of it or are there also more down-to-Earth reasons for going into space?

Conference & Events Department
Royal Aeronautical Society
4 Hamilton Place
London W1.
Tel: +44 (0)207-670-4345

RAeS web site:

A one-day specialist discussion meeting to commemorate the tercentenary year of the publication of Halley’s Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets will be held at the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 10:40-15:30.

The science programme includes various aspects of cometary science including their history, links with other Solar System minor body populations such as Kuiper Belt Objects and near-Earth asteroids, and some recent developments from spacecraft missions.

10.40: Introduction - Iwan Williams (Queen Mary University of London)
10.50: The Views on Comets Before Newton and Halley - Don Yeomans (NASA/JPL, USA)
11.20: Edmond Halley: Why He Became Interested In Comets - David Hughes (University of Sheffield)
11.40: Lessons from the Dynamical Evolution of Halley’s Comet - Mark Bailey (Armagh Observatory)
12.00: Probing the Properties of Cometary Nuclei - Stephen Lowry (Queen’s University Belfast)
12.20: Comet Candidates Amongst the NEO population - Alan Fitzsimmons (Queen’s University Belfast)
12.40: Comets in the Kuiper Belt - Neil McBride (Open University)
13.50: Deep Impact: The Experiment - Mike A’Hearn (University of Maryland, USA)
14:20: Deep Impact on Maui: Scientific and Educational Collaboration with the Faulkes Telescope - David Bowdley or Paul Roche (Cardiff University)
14:40: Cometary Plasma Tails - Andrew Coates (MSSL/UCL)
15:00: ESA’s Rosetta Mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko - Gerhard Schwehm (ESA)

Dr. Stephen Lowry
Astrophysics and Planetary Science Division
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Queen’s University Belfast
Belfast, BT7 1NN

Prof. Iwan Williams
Astronomy Unit
Dept. of Mathematical Sciences
Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Road
London, E1 4N
Tel: +44 (0)207-882-5452


A one-day specialist discussion meeting on the subject of star-forming galaxies in the local universe will be held at the Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 10:30 – 15:30.

Actively star-forming galaxies are an important component of the local universe. They provide a unique opportunity to study the violent star formation events that were much more prevalent at higher redshifts, probably triggered by the merging of galaxies. Significant advances in our understanding of local star-forming galaxies have been made through new satellite and ground-based observations, as well as through sophisticated modelling techniques. This meeting is aimed at discussing these new breakthroughs, and will provide an overview of both our current understanding and of the outstanding unresolved issues.

10.30: Rob Kennicutt (IoA, Cambridge) - Early Results from Spitzer and the SINGS Legacy Project.
11.00: Almudena Alonso-Herrero (IEM/CSIC, Madrid, Spain) - Luminous Infrared Galaxies in the Local Universe: the HST/NICMOS view.
11.20: Susanne Aalto (Onsala, Sweden) - Chemistry in the Molecular ISM of Active and Starburst Galaxies.
11.40: Nate Bastian (University College London) - Star/Cluster Complexes in the Hierarchy of Star Formation in Galaxies.
12.00: Jay Gallagher (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA) - Feedback from Starburst Clumps (Review).
12.30: Ian Bonnell (University of St. Andrews) - Spiral Shock Triggering of Star Formation
14.00: Denis Burgarella (LAM, Marseille, France) - Ultraviolet Properties of Star-forming Galaxies in the Local Universe as seen from GALEX.
14.20: Marc Sarzi (University of Hertfordshire) Ionised Gas in Nearby Early-type Galaxies: the SAURON Perspective.
14.40: John Beckman (IAC, Tenerife, Spain) - Comparison of different SFR indices in galaxies.
15.00: Joe Silk (University of Oxford) - Summary and Perspectives.

Dr. Linda Smith
Dept. of Physics & Astronomy
University College London
Gower St.
London WC1E 6BT
Tel: +44 (0)207-679-7760

Prof. Johan Knapen
University of Hertfordshire


Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 16:00 – 18:00.
Talks will include:
Prof. Joe Silk (Oxford) - The 2005 George Darwin Lecture: The Dark Side of the Universe.
The old Big Bang cosmology from the Einstein/Friedmann/Lemaitre era has been transformed by the concept of inflation. The ensuing emergence of cosmic structure is an outcome that has been studied by peering back through the mists of time to decipher the fossil signatures in the cosmic microwave background, by observing the large-scale structure of the universe, and by modelling the formation of the galaxies. One of the greatest mysteries in the cosmos is that it is mostly dark. What is the nature of the dark matter? Can we ever hope to detect it?
Prof. Michael Rowan-Robinson (Imperial College London) - Understanding infrared galaxy populations: new results from the SWIRE SPITZER Legacy Survey.
Prof. Jay Gallagher (Wisconsin) - HST/ACS Observations of NGC 346:
Spectacular Star Formation in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The second Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-2) satellite is scheduled for launch on board an Ariane 5 rocket on 21 December. The spacecraft will be placed in a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 35,600 km above the equator. From this orbit, the cylinder-shaped MSG-2 will be able to observe the changing weather over one third of the Earth’s surface, including Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Over an operational lifetime of seven years, the satellite’s advanced imaging system will send back detailed images of weather patterns – one every 15 minutes. Many of these will be infrared (heat) images that tell forecasters about the temperatures of clouds, land and sea surfaces. Using channels that absorb ozone, water vapour and carbon dioxide, the imager will also allow meteorologists to analyse the characteristics of air masses, making it possible to reconstruct a three-dimensional view of the atmosphere.

The 2-tonne MSG-2 also carries a Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) instrument that is able to measure with high accuracy the total solar energy absorbed by the Earth and the total energy emitted by the Earth. It has two channels - one sensitive to outgoing long wave radiation from the surface, the clouds and gases in the atmosphere, and one that measures short wave radiation reflected from clouds, snow and the surface in general, as well as radiation scattered by gases in the atmosphere.

The GERB instrument was originally developed for MSG-1 by a European consortium led by the UK. GERB-1 was mainly funded by the UK, Italy and Belgium. GERB-2 and -3 are funded by EUMETSAT.

Imperial College London is responsible for the flight operations and on-ground calibration prior to launch. The scientific lead for the GERB instrument is Prof. John Harries from Imperial College. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) was responsible for the overall project management, assembly, integration and test of the GERB instrument. AEA Technology at Culham built the onboard black body (a calibration target). Leicester University supplied the focal plane assembly (which includes the detectors) and the front end electronics.

A third payload helps search and rescue services by relaying signals from aircraft and ships in distress.

Once in orbit, MSG-2 will be renamed Meteosat-9, and it will be operated by EUMETSAT - the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. It will join MSG-1 (now known as Meteosat-8), which was launched in August 2002 and declared operational in January 2004. One of these satellites will be used as Europe’s main weather eye at 0 degrees longitude - above equatorial West Africa. The other will remain on stand-by in case a problem occurs with its twin.

UK companies, including LogicaCMG, SciSys and Vega, provided much of the MSG ground infrastructure at EUMETSAT in Darmstadt, Germany.

Professor John Harries
Professor of Earth Observation
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)207-594-7670

Nigel Morris
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot
Tel: +44 (0)1235-445470


Imperial College London GERB web site:,1714957&_dad=portallive&_schema=PORTALLIVE

RAL GERB web site:

ESA web site:

Eumetsat web site:

Arianespace web site:

Peter Bond | alfa
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