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 http://spaceweather.com 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.