Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Free sky show, IAA NY Party, Quadrantids, IYA 2009


Hi all,

Hope you all had a good holiday season. The sky gave us brilliant Venus as a 'semi-Christmas Star' (though not nearly as prominent as it can be at Xmas in some years), but the best is yet to come....

1. NEW YEAR'S EVE FREE SKY SHOW: Brilliant Venus will be joined by a beautiful crescent moon, with Earthshine (commonly known as 'the old moon in the new moon's arms), and if you look carefully lower down and to the right you'll see a nice pairing of the smallest and the largest planets in our Solar System: Mercury and Jupiter. And if you have a telescope or really big binoculars you can look for the most distant planet, Neptune, though it will be very faint, at magnitude 8. (Yes, I'm reluctantly conceding Pluto's demotion from planetary status for the purpose of this comparison!).

   Firstly, the Moon & Venus: they will be unmistakable, visible in the SW twilight as soon as the sky starts to darken: say about 4.30 p.m. Venus will be 2.7 degrees below & left of the Moon. Venus will be fairly nearly as bright as it can get, at magnitude -4.3, and in a telescope you should be able to spot the phase, which will be 57.9, or just more than 'half'. The Moon will be 15.1% illuminated, and as the sky darkens, look for the lovely 'Earthshine', which is sunlight reflected from the Earth onto the Moon (if you were standing on the Moon at that time you would see an almost 'full' Earth), and then back again to our eyes.

   Next, look for Jupiter and Mercury: Jupiter will be 27 degrees to the lower right of the Moon - that's a bit more than the length of the 'Plough' or the 'Big Dipper'. If you don't know the sky well enough to use that as a scale, just follow a line from the Moon down towards the horizon at an angle equivalent to about 4.00 to 4.30 on a clock face: you should spot Jupiter as a brightish 'star' about 10 degrees above the horizon. However it won't be all that easy to see, as the sky will still be quite bright, and you'll need a clear Western horizon. Jupiter will be magnitude -1.9, but it won't look that bright against the bright sky background. Use wide-field binoculars if you have them, but only after the Sun has set!

   Once you've found Jupiter, look 1.25 degrees below & to its left & you should spot Mercury, noticeably fainter than Jupiter at magnitude -0.7. You should be able to see it without optical aid if the sky is clear & haze-free, but once again binoculars will help. If you have a telescope you might just be able to see the phase, which will be about 72%, i.e. noticeably gibbous.

   Finally, for your last target, you'll have to pick the best time between the sky getting dark enough to see it, and Neptune's decreasing altitude into the thickening low altitude atmosphere and haze, to spot that planet. Neptune will be 4 degrees 38' West of Venus, and 25' further South than Venus, if you have equatorial co-ordinates on your mount. If not, just look 3 degrees 22' below right of the centre of the Moon: that's about 20% more than the distance from the centre of the Moon to Venus. About three quarters of the way along that direction you'll pass the top right member of a line of 3 stars which are a good bit brighter than Neptune, at between magnitude 5 and 6. Neptune will lie just more than a lunar diameter beyond that star. All you'll see will be a faint 8th magnitude 'star', unless you have a fairly powerful telescope which might just show the tiny disc of the planet. I would start looking from about 5 p.m., or a bit later if you are in the far South or West of the Island.

   If you succeed, you'll have seen in one evening the nearest and furthest planets from the Sun, and the largest and smallest planets in our Solar System, plus our own Moon.  And if you are really keen, look for Uranus about 2 degrees above left of 4th magnitude Phi Aquarii, and if you wait until about midnight you'll see bright Saturn rising below the hind quarters of Leo the lion. That's all the planets in our SS, apart from Mars, which is too close to the Sun to be visible from Ireland.  Good Luck!

   (Venus will also be close to the crescent Moon in our evening skies at the end of January and February, but not quite as close as this time, and without Mercury & Jupiter in the vicinity.)

2. IAA NEW YEAR PARTY & FILM - Northern Ireland Premiere: I'm glad to be able to confirm that through the hard work and good offices of IAA Council Member Robert Hill we have been able to obtain the new film 'BLAST!' for its first ever showing in N.I., and only the second screening in Ireland (the first was in a film festival!). We are very grateful to Armagh Observatory and the Northern Ireland Space Office (a.k.a Robert Hill!) for sponsoring this special preview showing! It will get IYA 2009 off to a flying start for the IAA! See details below:

   As already noted, the event will be on Saturday 3 January: The format will be slightly different this year: the main venue will still be the Tudor Private Cinema, Drumhirk Road (off the A22 Comber to Killyleagh Road) in Comber Co Down, where we'll have the private screening of BLAST!

  BUT NOTE: This year we will meet first for a buffet meal in 'McBrides in the Square', Comber before going on to the cinema where we'll provide our own liquid refreshments as before: wine, mulled wine, hot punch, tea, coffee and soft drinks.  Total cost, including the buffet, plus our own refreshments at the cinema, plus the film, is an amazing £10 for adults and £5 for children. Beat that for value! Payment in advance, by cheque payable to the Irish Astronomical Association, to Mr John Hall, 3 Vaddegan Avenue, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, BT36 7SX, NO LATER THAN Wednesday 31 December. If you want to attend the film only, it will cost £5 per person, but places MUST be booked & paid for in advance!

  Remember: Saturday 3 January, at 6.00 p.m., Mc Brides, The Square, Comber, Co Down, and 7.30 at the Tudor Cinema, Drumhirk Road, Comber.

(Press Release) ..........

BLAST!Controversial Adventure Story

to Screen at the Irish Astronomical Association New Year Party

Welcome to Astrophysics, Indiana Jones style! Five-time Emmy winner Paul Devlin brings his newest film BLAST! to the Irish Astronomical Association New Year Party at the Tudor Private Cinema, Comber, Co Down – offering an exciting, enlightening ride around the world and across the Universe.

BLAST! follows the filmmaker’s brother, Mark Devlin, PhD, as he leads a tenacious team of astrophysicists hoping to figure out how all the galaxies formed by launching a revolutionary telescope on a NASA high-altitude balloon. Their adventure takes them from Arctic Sweden to Inuit polar bear country in Canada, where catastrophic failure forces them to try all over again on the desolate ice in Antarctica. No less than the understanding of the evolution and origins of our Universe is at stake on this exciting escapade that seeks to answer humankind's most basic question, How did we get here?

As in director Paul Devlin’s award winning film Power Trip, BLAST! de-emphasizes talking head interviews and dispenses with anonymous narration in favour of capturing the action as it happens. Dynamic storytelling and unique access provide the rare opportunity to reveal the personal and family sacrifices, the obsessions, and even the philosophical questioning of scientists.


BLAST! boldly threads through its narrative a dialogue on science and faith between two lead scientists – one an agnostic and the other a Christian. “The film allows its characters to discuss science and religious belief in a most natural way, and with a bit of humour” states Larry Witham, author of By Design: Science and the Search for God. “The typical science documentary omits the topic entirely.”

“My intention is to expose a much larger audience to the fascinating lives of scientists by breaking with some of the conventional approaches to science material,” comments Director Paul Devlin. “This story had all the elements I needed. The extreme events provide the structure for a classically suspenseful narrative, with a built-in twist at the end. The access to my brother’s private life builds emotional resonance, and when I found out that one of the lead scientists was also a devout Christian, I thought, Perfect!

The frank look at these issues, especially the religious discussion, has caused controversy among some scientists, many of whom may feel embattled by religious fundamentalism in the United States. However, it has also allowed BLAST! to ignite debate and to inspire general audiences to reconsider the relationship between science and faith.

Filmed on location in 7 countries on 5 continents, BLAST! will screen nationally and internationally in film festivals and in conjunction with the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. Upcoming broadcasts of BLAST! so far include, BBC, Discovery Canada, SVT-Sweden, VPRO-Netherlands, YLE-Finland, and Al-Jazeera. Paul Devlin was awarded the 2007 New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA) Individual Artist Award for BLAST! A trailer, photos, press package, list of upcoming screenings and additional information is available at

BLAST! will screen at the Irish Astronomical Association New Year Party, 3rd January at the Tudor Private Cinema, Drumhirk Road, Comber, Co Down, BT 23 5LY, at 7.30 p.m. This special screening is open to IAA members and friends, but places are


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