Is there life on Mars?

Monday 1 July 2013

David BowieFor nearly a whole Earth year (half a Mars year) the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale crater on the surface of Mars. What has it seen? Now you can find out.

This week ( 1-5 July 2013) around five hundred astronomers and space scientists will gather at the University of St Andrews for the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting 2013 (NAM 2013), one of Europe’s largest professional astronomy conferences.

The conference will bring with it two public lectures exploring Mars, meteors and fireballs.

  • Adventures of Curiosity on Mars – Wednesday 3 July 2013, 6.30pm, Younger Hall

    Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London will report on the explorations, adventures and findings of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which touched down on the surface of Mars in August 2012 in one of the most audacious planetary landings ever.

    Professor Gupta is a geologist and participating Scientist on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory – where his role is to analyse ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and determine if the Red Planet could ever have been habitable for life.

  • Meteors and Fireballs – Thursday 4 July 2013, 6.00pm, Younger Hall

    Fireballs as bright as the full moon can be seen somewhere on earth every few months and smaller meteoroids, the size of a grain of sand, burn up in the atmosphere and can be seen as shooting stars every clear night. Professor Iwan Williams of the University of London will reveal what these phenomena can tell us about the structure of the comets and asteroids from which they arose.

The lectures form part of the University’s 600th Anniversary celebrations, celebrating the University’s long history of questioning humanity’s place in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

St Andrews was the workplace of James Gregory (1638-1675), where, after having been appointed as the first Regius Chair of Mathematics at age 29, he established the UK’s first meridian line and first astronomical university observatory. The largest optical telescope in the UK was built in 1962 at the University’s current observatory, is named after him. Most recently the University has discovered new planets, spotted the first star other than the Sun seen to flip its north and south magnetic poles, and found clues to climate change in the constellation of Pegasus.

As part of its 600th Anniversary Campaign, the University is working to raise £4 million to fund the creation of an ‘Other Worlds’ Think Tank and Observatory. The new think tank and Observatory project will extend the University of St Andrews’ flagship work on extra-solar planets, and provide a creative environment for problem-focused research, education and continuing public engagement.

NAM 2013 will be held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial physics (MIST) meetings.

The conference will see presentations on cutting-edge research in astronomy and space science, covering topics including the rise in solar activity and its effect on space weather; planets around other stars, dark matter, cosmology, proposed space missions, results from the ALMA and LOFAR radio observatories, astronomical heritage and education and public outreach.


Notes to News Editors

Media representatives are invited to attend NAM 2013. Meeting arrangements and a full and up to date schedule of the scientific programme can be found on the official website at

The conference is sponsored by the RAS, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of St Andrews.

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 organises 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.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC: is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise and enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities for example in the area of astronomy, the European Southern Observatory.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Press Office
Contact: Emma Shea, Communications Manager, on 01334 462530 or email [email protected]
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