Saturday, 22 December 2007

Solstice, Ursid Meteor Outburst, New Solar Cycle, LP Survey, IAA NY Party


Hi all,

1. Happy Solstice to everyone! The Sun reached its most southerly point on the ecliptic at 06h 08m this morning (22nd), and is now slowly & gradually moving North again. Days will now lengthen until the Summer Solstice on June 20d 23h 59m (next year is a Leap Year).

2. Outburst of Ursid Meteors.  The Ursid Meteors are a moderately active stream which peak each year around December 21-22, with zenithal hourly rates of between 10 and 15. But there have been some stronger displays in the past, e.g. in 1945, 1982, and 1986. P Jenniskens has forecast another outburst this year, with ZHR's of around 40 - not really spectacular, but worth looking out for. The peak will probably occur between 2100 and 2200 UT with enhanced activity visible for up to 4 hours before and after that time.

   The radiant lies at R.A. 14h 28m, Dec +78 deg., about 5 degrees North of Kocab, or Beta Ursa Minoris.
   The source of the meteors is Comet 8P/Tuttle, which can be seen through binoculars not far from the radiant, giving a rare opportunity to see a comet and its meteors at the same time.
   Ursid meteors are usually faint, and dark skies are usually required to see them. However bright moonlight on Dec. 22nd will hinder visibility. But during this outburst there may be a fair number of bright meteors.  No one knows what will happen, so all the more reason to look! 
   Visit for sky maps and more information.

3. New Solar Cycle starts? Sun watchers will have noticed that there has been a real dearth of sunspots for the last 6 months or so! Hardly surprising, as the Sun is currently at the minimum of its 11 year cycle of activity.  But a little knot of magnetic activity on the Sun last week has raised speculation that the new Solar Cycle is about to begin. Although no spot was visible initially, the magnetic polarity of the feature was reversed, usually indicating that a new 11-year cycle is about to begin.

4. Light Pollution Survey. Albert White, Chair if ILPAC, the Irish Light Pollution Awareness Campaign, has asked me to pass this on. Please fill in and return, and circulate the attached survey further to anyone who might be interested. Martin will be feeding back the results to DEFRA in the UK; hopefully to get the exceptions to the law there changed.
5. IAA New Year Party: I'm delighted to announce that through the good efforts of Robert Hill of NISO, we have indeed been able to secure the first private viewing in Europe of the superb film "Shadow of the Moon" for our New Year Party on Saturday 5 January, at the Tudor Cinema, Drumhirk Road, Comber,  Co Down! The film will not be officially released on DVD here until February, but Robert has special contacts..... Admission details as before: £10 per person, including excellent food & liquid refreshments, both alcoholic and otherwise. Also a great fun quiz with lots of prizes, and great craic for all. Be there 7.30 for 8.0 for this special preview, and a great evening.

N.B. I have now switched to a new PC, and had to transfer my address lists in a very awkward manner, so there may be some duplication of addresses. Hope to get that sorted soon, so if you get two copies of this, my apologies.

Finally, the Very Best of Season's Greetings to all, and a very Happy New Year, with lots of clear dark skies for us all.

Best wishes,

Terry Moseley

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Comet Holmes, Lecture


Hi all,

1. COMET HOLMES: On the way back from the IYA meeting (more on this later), and the AI lecture, in Dublin, Miruna Popescu & I stopped at a dark site North of Newry in a lovely clear transparent sky, for a look at P/Holmes. Amazing! It was easily visible to the unaided eye, a huge elongated misty patch - almost like the Small Magellanic Cloud, but not so big or bright. But it was both brighter & bigger that the Double Cluster in Perseus - about a magnitude brighter, I would say, and much bigger than the Moon. In my 10x50 binocs (£11.99 from Lidl, and very good images!) it was an amazing, almost surreal, sight! We also saw a nice early Geminid, magnitude -1, low down in the North below UMa, though the car windscreen.

2.  IAA LECTURE: The next public lecture hosted by the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION will be on Wed 12 December, at 7.30 p.m., by Dr Lorraine Hanlon of UCD. The title is "Observing Gamma-Ray Bursts and their Afterglows", and promises to be yet another fascinating talk by one of the leading researchers in this field. VENUE: The Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, main campus, Queen's University, Belfast. Admission free, and all are welcome.   

    Since it's the last meeting before Xmas, seasonal refreshments will be provided free, as usual by the one & only Derwen. Don't miss.....

Clear skies,

Terry Moseley

Monday, 10 December 2007

Big Sunspot, Lidl Scopes & binos, IYA 2009 meeting, Lectures, Geminids, ISS


Hi all,

1. SUNSPOT ALERT: The Sun is near minimum of its 11-year solar cycle and there have been very few sunspots recently, and any seen have been small. But sunspot 978 popped over the Sun's eastern limb on Friday and is quickly becoming quite large. This rapidly growing sunspot group is more than five times wider than Earth, making it an easy target for properly-filtered amateur telescopes. So far it poses little threat for strong solar flares, but this could change if the active region's development continues.

2. LIDL TELESCOPE & BINOCULAR OFFERS: There are a number of great offers starting on Monday 10 December, including -

(1) Meade ETX-70AT. This is a 70mm refractor with computerised GoTo and tracking, on a tripod, with 3 eyepieces and a Barlow lens. The price in N. Ireland is £109.99. An excellent starter package, but note that it is only 70mm aperture, so it won't be much good for faint Deep Sky Objects. It will be excellent for the Moon, & will give reasonable views of Jupiter & Saturn & bright double stars & star clusters.

(2) Bresser 70mm Skylux refractor, on equatorial mount & tripod, with 3 eyepieces, barlow lens, and 6x30 finder. The website and the brochure both state that it has "dual-axis motor drive system": this is misleading, as there are only manual drives, i.e. you turn knobs on the end of flexible handles. But it's only £49.99 in N.I. so it's excellent value, if you don't mind a bit more work in setting up & using it.

(3) Bresser 10x50 classic binoculars, with high quality BAK4 prisms, and fully coated lenses. Price - £11.99! Truly amazing value - you can hardly buy a single 6x30 finder for that amount, let alone 10x50 binos! The quality is 'good' to 'very good', but not quite 'excellent', but at that price, you can't argue! Of course, if you do get a defective pair, simply bring them back & get them changed.

(4) Bresser "Messier R-102" Refractor. This is a 102mm (4") achromatic refractor on equatorial mount, with polar alignment finder, 3 eyepieces, Barlow, 8x50 finder, and manual slow motions. The price is £219.99 in N.I., so in my opinion it's not so much a bargain as the other offers. But if you are looking for a bigger more powerful 'starter' telescope than either of the 70mm ones, this would do well. But it's a bit bigger, heavier & requires a certain amount of dedication or enthusiasm to use it regularly! The weight is 19kg, so don't drop it!

(5) Bresser 90mm Spotting Scope. This is an erect-image telescope, mainly for birdwatching, but you could do some astronomy with it too - a 90mm lens is quite reasonable for a starter astro telescope. It has an extending tripod, and zoom magnification from x25 to x75, and high quality BAK4 prisms. The tube is nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging. I have no experience of this one, so don't know what the quality is like. But Bresser is usually quite good for quality, so for only £99.99 including the tripod it might be worth considering.

See and click on N.I. or ROI for appropriate prices.

3. A final reminder about -

MEETING ABOUT IYA 2009, at the RIA, DUBLIN, Monday 10 December.

Prof Mike Redfern has asked me to circulate this:

"The calendar year 2009 will be designated by the UN GA as "International Year of Astronomy" - this is partly to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first telescopic observations. It is actually a great achievement to get UN approval - most "Years" have UNESCO approval, because the UN GA is loathe to do so, normally. The motion was proposed by Italy, and co-sponsored by Ireland, amongst others. There will be huge activity Worldwide, and this is a great opportunity to publicise and promote science in general and astronomy in particular..
The major goals of IYA 2009 are to:

  1. Increase scientific awareness.
  2. Promote widespread access to new knowledge and observing experiences.
  3. Empower astronomical communities in developing countries.
  4. Support and improve formal and informal science education.
  5. Provide a modern image of science and scientists.
  6. Facilitate new networks and strengthen existing ones.
  7. Improve the gender-balanced representation of scientists at all levels and promote greater involvement by underrepresented minorities in scientific and engineering careers.
  8. Facilitate the preservation and protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage of dark skies in places such as urban oases, national parks and astronomical sites.

IYA2009 will be evaluated by a qualitative and quantitative analysis of how well each objective, as implemented in hundreds of national, regional and global activities, has been reached. Data will be collected by online questionnaires after the completion of each activity. The IYA2009 Secretariat will co-ordinate the evaluation. A rigorous evaluation procedure will follow each of the four phases of the project:
This is from the IYA2009 website.
I have been designated by the IAU/IYA2009 organisation as the single point of contact (SPOC) for Ireland, to include the whole of the island of Ireland.
There has been little more than preliminary discussions so far, but now is the time to become very active.
Actually, there are advantages to waiting until now - the international programme is now firmly set up, and we can learn from the experience and gain ideas from many other national organisations.
I would like to invite anyone who wishes to become involved in IYA2009-Ireland to an open meeting to be held in Academy House, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2 at 11.15-~4.00 on Monday 10th December 2007. A (light) lunch will be provided courtesy of the Discover Science & Engineering Programme.
The purpose of the meeting will be to exchange information and ideas and to set up a steering group to drive IYA2009-Ireland forward.
An important first step will be to identify a major corporate sponsor. In my opinion we are talking of employing at least 2 people for ~2 years.
It would be very welcome if you were able to attend, and I would appreciate your suggestions for who else I might invite - I want to make this as inclusive as possible.
Draft Agenda:
What is IYA2009 Mike Redfern
IYA2009 Cornerstone Activities Robert Hill, NI Space Office
IYA2009 - Plans from other National Nodes Mike Redfern
Formation of Steering Group
Work Plan for Steering Group
Date & Place of Next Meeting
Everyone is welcome, but I would like to have some idea of numbers for lunch, please.
Confirm your intention to come to me, please.
Mike Redfern

Professor Michael Redfern
Physics Department,
National University of Ireland, Galway
+353 (0)91492717 or (0)91494529   (office)
    (0)91494584                           (fax)
    (0)878071426                         (mobile)
Secretary,                           Royal Irish Academy Committee for Astronomy & Space Research
Director,                              Centre for Astronomy, NUI Galway
Single Point of Contact,        Irish Organisation for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009-Ireland)

4.  IAA LECTURE: The next public lecture hosted by the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION will be on Wed 12 December, at 7.30 p.m., by Dr Lorraine Hanlon of UCD. The title is "Observing Gamma-Ray Bursts and their Afterglows", and promises to be yet another fascinating talk by one of the leading researchers in this field. VENUE: The Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, main campus, Queen's University, Belfast. Admission free, and all are welcome.   

    Since it's the last meeting before Xmas, seasonal refreshments will be provided free, as usual by the one & only Derwen. Don't miss.....

5.  GEMINID METEORS: The main meteor shower of the year, the Geminids peak on December 14th, with a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of about 100. Since the radiant, near Castor, gets quite high up later in the night, this is one shower where actual observed rates can get very close to the theoretical ZHR rate. Moonlight conditions are excellent, with the 4d old Moon setting early in the evening, before shower activity reaches its peak.

The maximum is forecast for 11.00 on the 14th, so the best night will be December 13-14, with highest rates just before dawn on the 14th. If you are really committed, stay up late, or get up early, and for the hours from about 03.00 until twilight starts to interfere, you should see about 80-90 Geminids per hour from a really dark site! Add in the usual occasional sporadics, and actual observed meteor rates could touch 100 per hour!

Geminids can be seen from December 7/8 to 15/16, but the peak is fairly sharp, and high rates are only seen for a day or so on either side of maximum. They tend to be slow, with a fair number of bright meteors, making them an excellent photo target.

6. ISS Passes: The ISS is currently making a series of evening passes over Ireland.  The launch of the Space Shuttle has been postponed because of faulty fuel sensors, but another attempt may be made soon. If it goes ahead, depending on time, we might see both the very bright ISS and the rather fainter Shuttle tracking each other across the sky simultaneously. As always, see the excellent and free for latest details.

Clear skies,

Terry Moseley