1. Shuttle and ISS. The space shuttle Atlantis is now docked with the ISS on its 10-day mission, delivering the Columbus laboratory to the ISS. The Columbus laboratory is a European Space Agency module, and will be used by astronauts to carry out experiments in a weightless environment.
The combined spacecraft (i.e. they appear just as one bright starlike object) are currently easily visible to the unaided eye as they make a series of evening passes over Ireland. At their best, they are comparable to Jupiter in brightness, and are often the brightest objects in the night sky, apart from the Moon. You'll need a good telescope, with accurate and rapid computerised tracking, to see the detail of the ISS and attached Shuttle, but it's an amazing sight if you can manage it! See www.heavens-above.com for details of passes for your own location. Also Iridium Flares, and lots more besides.
ESA astronauts Leopold Eyharts from France and Hans Schlegel from Germany are aboard Atlantis and will help commission the laboratory. Former fighter pilot Eyharts will then live on the ISS for the next three months. See: http://sci.esa.int, http://www.nasa.gov
2. EVENTS AT ARMAGH: Director of Armagh Observatory, Professor Mark Bailey, has asked me to publicise two astronomy events in February:
A. 19 February. Armagh Observatory Public Lecture "The Life Story of a Star: from Birth to Death", 8.00pm, by Professor John Landstreet, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. Rotunda Lecture Theatre, St. Patrick's Trian, Armagh, followed by tea and coffee.
This public lecture is being given as part of the Observatory's Science in the Community programme, and is associated with an International Workshop on the Spectroscopy and Spectropolarimetry of A and B-type Stars being held at Armagh Observatory from 18-22 February 2008.
Synopsis: Most people who look up at the stars know that these are bodies much like our own Sun. But how are stars produced? Do they live forever? If not, what happens to them? This illustrated talk will answer some of these questions by describing how astronomers have come to understand the life stories of single stars, from the time they are born out of giant gas clouds somewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, through mature middle age, until finally they collapse to become tiny remnants of their former selves, possibly even a black hole.
The lecture is free of charge, but owing to limitations of space, numbers may be limited. To obtain tickets, please write, telephone or e-mail to: Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG; Tel: 028-3752-2928; Fax: 028-3752-7174; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
B. A special "Meet the Astronomers at Armagh" event during the day on Wednesday 20th February (see http://star.arm.ac.uk/publicevents/2008/meetastronomers.html).
These events are free and open to all. For tickets please contact Mrs Aileen McKee by e-mail at email@example.com or telephone the Observatory: 028-3752-2928. For general information see the website: http://star.arm.ac.uk/ .
3. 20 February: IAA PUBLIC LECTURE: Wednesday 20 February, 7.30 p.m. Prof Chris Dainty, NUIG: "The prospect of Adaptive Optics for Small Telescopes". The Bell lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University, Belfast. Prof Dainty is one of the world's leading experts on adaptive optics, and we are delighted and honoured to have him lecture to us. Adaptive optics enable photos exceeding the quality of those of the Hubble Space Telescope to be taken by certain telescopes on Earth. Prof Dainty will describe how it will soon be possible to use this technique on the larger size of amateur telescopes - an amazing prospect. Don't miss this! Admission free, including light refreshments. All welcome.
The IAA lecture programme is held in association with the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University Belfast. See: www.irishastro.org
4. TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, 21 February, 03.26. This eclipse will be visible throughout Ireland, weather permitting.
In a Total Lunar Eclipse (TLE) the Full Moon passes into the shadow of the Earth and dims very considerably and changes colour, but usually remains faintly visible, lit by sunlight refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere scatters blue light more than red, so that most of the light that reaches the lunar surface is red in colour. Observers will therefore see a Moon that may be anything from brick-coloured, through orange, rust-coloured, or even blood red. Sometimes it has a dark greyish hue, depending on atmospheric conditions.
In these islands the eclipse is visible at a rather unsociable hour! It begins at 00.35 when the Moon enters the penumbra, the lightest, outer part of the Earth’s shadow, and after 15 minutes or so you may notice the Moon start to take on a slight yellowish hue. At 01.42 the Moon starts to enter the dark core of the Earth’s shadow, the umbra. At 03.01 the Moon will be completely within the umbra – which marks the start of the ‘total’ phase of the eclipse, when any colour starts to become most noticeable. Mid-eclipse is at 03.26 and the total phase ends at 03.52. The Moon leaves the umbra at 05.09 and the eclipse ends when the Moon leaves the penumbra at 06.17.
The Moon will pass well to the South of the centre of the Earth's shadow, so the S edge (actually the SSW edge) of the Moon will not appear so dark, as it will be closer to the edge of the shadow. Conversely, the NNE edge of the Moon will appear darkest.
During the eclipse the Moon lies in the constellation of Leo. During mid-eclipse Regulus will lie to the upper right of the Moon and Saturn will lie to the left.
This eclipse should be a spectacular sight and the whole event can be observed without optical aid, although binoculars or a wide-field telescope will also give interesting views.
N.B. But contrary to information being promulgated by a well-known astronomical organisation based in Dublin, this is NOT "the last Total Eclipse of the Moon we will see from Ireland for 8 years." The maximum phase of the TLE of 21 December, 2010, will be visible throughout Ireland. The following table gives the altitude of the Moon in degrees for major cities across Ireland for the start of the total phase, and for mid-totality, i.e. maximum eclipse:
TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, 21/12/2010
CITY START TOT. MID TOT.
Belfast 7.8 3.6
Derry/L'derry 8.6 4.4
Dublin 7.3 3.0
Cork 7.8 3.2
Galway 8.7 4.2
Limerick 8.2 3.7
Waterford 7.2 2.8
Thus even for Waterford, the least favoured of those locations, the Moon will be more than 5 lunar diameters above the horizon at maximum eclipse. And in Derry/Londonderry, ALL of the total phase is visible. It may not be ideal, but at least it IS visible throughout Ireland! Just to get the facts right.....
5. IYPE LECTURE, 21 February: As part of 'International Year of Planet Earth', Prof. Richard Forte is giving a lecture at W5 on Thursday 21 Feb at 7 PM. The title is: “A history of life on Earth”. Free tickets can be obtained by telephoning the Ordnance Survey (90388462). They can e-mail (or post) the tickets. It should be a fascinating talk.
6. NASA WANTS A NAME: Would you like to name the next great space telescope? Here's your chance: NASA is inviting members of the general public to suggest a new name for 'GLAST' the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope before it launches in mid-2008. See: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/08feb_namethattelescope.htm?list724598