Two deaths: I'm very sorry to have to tell you of the deaths of two notable Irish astronomers: Dr Maire Bruck, and Rev Grattan Bannister.
Dr Maire T Bruck, nee Conway, a native of Co Meath, died last week, but having been away from my PC a lot since then, I have not been able to pass on the news until now. She did her Doctorate at Edinburgh University, and then went to Dunsink in May 1950. The director then was Dr Hermann A Bruck, and there was an instant attraction and they married within two years. After a long career there, the Brucks moved to Scotland, and Maire continued her work there after her husband retired and later died. She has written widely, with a particular interest in British & Irish women in astronomy. One of her best known books is on the well-known astronomer from Skibbereen, Co Cork: "Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics", published by Cambridge University Press in 2002.
She retained an interest in astronomy right up to her recent illness, and has given several lectures at various venues in Ireland since the turn of the decade. She was emailing me not long ago about some matter regarding astronomy at Newgrange that she wanted some information about.
She was a charming, intelligent and entertaining lady, and it was always a pleasure to meet her. She is a great loss to Irish astronomy.
It's also with great regret that I have to pass on the news of the death on Monday 15 December of the Rev Grattan Bannister, of Ballydehob, Co Cork, after a short illness. Grattan was one of those unique people whom it's almost impossible to describe. A true gentleman of the old school, a refined, polite and kindly man, and a real character. I don't know his age, but he would have been around 80 as far as I know, and had been actively observing until his recent illness. His particular interest was variable stars, especially eruptive variables such as SS Cygni.
At my original suggestion, he hosted 'Pluto Parties' every summer in West Cork, where on suitable weekends some of his friends, particularly from the Cork Astronomy Club, would gather in either Ballydehob where he lived, or at the house of two close friends, Bill & Jane Otway in Schull, and we would attempt to see Pluto visually through a selection of telescopes. I attended on every year except one, attracted as much by the craic and the company as by the chance to see Pluto again. We were often beaten by last-minute changes in the weather, but on at least one occasion we did see it in the good old-fashioned way: photons from Pluto directly into your eyes! That was when it was still a planet, BTW, so there are a few of us who have seen all NINE planets in the Solar System with our own eyes!
Grattan was a great correspondent, and the arrival of a letter from him, in perfect 'copperplate' handwriting, was always a welcome treat. He was a great linguist, and would often quote something from Greek or Hebrew at you, just to make a particular point. And all the meals at the West Cork astronomy events were preceded by Grattan's 'Grace' in Irish. He was not widely known outside the Cork & West Cork circle simply because he lived so far away, and as he did not drive but travelled locally on a tiny motorcycle he was not able to journey very far himself. He always dressed totally in black, and with his tiny, thin and fragile frame, it was amazing how he would go out in the small hours of a winter night just to get some particular observation.
Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting him will know what I mean when I say that we have lost a true gentleman, and a fine amateur astronomer. I will miss him greatly.
METEORS: Although the Geminids were largely spoiled by cloud on the night of maximum, and a Full Moon in the sky anyway, I did see a few on Sunday evening before the Moon got too high.
The next shower is the Ursids, with a radiant not far from Kocab, or Beta Ursa Minoris. It's not one of the major showers, with a usual ZHR of about 10, but there have been significant outbursts, in 1945, 1982, and 1986, so it's always worth watching. The maximum is predicted for Dec 22, and you can see some minor activity from about Dec 18 to 24.
WINTER SOLSTICE. The Sun reaches its maximum Southerly declination on Dec 21d 12h 04m, so if you see it transit at local noon that day it will be just about as far South in the sky as it crosses the meridian as it can ever be. After that the days start getting longer again (in the N Hemisphere). (BTW, I haven't forgotten the 'Equinox Question' I posed back in September, and I WILL get round to publishing the answer one of these days!)
IAA NEW YEAR PARTY: Advance note of the astro-social event of the year: the Irish Astronomical Association's annual New Year Party, which usually coincides fairly closely with Perihelion, rather than some non-astronomical event such as Christmas! The format will be slightly different this year: the main venue will still be the Tudor Private Cinema in Comber Co Down, where we'll have a private screening of a film with an astronomical or space theme (final decision on the choice to be taken at a Council meeting tonight!), but this time we will meet first for a buffet meal in Comber before going to the cinema where we'll provide our own liquid refreshments as before: wine, mulled wine, hot punch, tea, coffee and soft drinks. More details very soon, but note your diaries now: Saturday 3 January, at about 7.30 p.m.