Thursday, 20 August 2009

Dark Skies Conference, New IAA website, Lectures, Newgrange, Burren Star Party‏

Hi all,


As previously notified, Ireland is honoured to be hosting the next European Dark Skies Conference, on the theme "Light Pollution And Its Impact". The formal title is "THE NINTH EUROPEAN SYMPOSIUM FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE NIGHT SKY"

The Armagh Conference will be preceded by a public launch event in Dublin on Wednesday 16 September, with a public lecture by broadcaster Leo Enright who literally needs no introduction! Entitled "What is Light?", it will take place in the Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin, at 18.30 for 19.00. Admission is free, but will be by ticket only, available from the RIA,

Leo will give this public lecture again in Armagh on the next evening, at 19.00 for 19.30, at the Market Place Theatre, Market Place, Armagh.

CONFERENCE, FRIDAY 18 & SATURDAY 19 SEPTEMBER, MARKET PLACE THEATRE, ARMAGH. The main part of the conference will be held in the same venue on the Friday and Saturday. See

VISIT TO DARK SKY OBSERVING & ARCHAEOASTRONOMY SITE: BEAGHMORE STONE CIRCLES AND ALIGNMENTS. Included in the programme is a free trip by coach to one of the darkest observing sites in N. Ireland on the evening of FRIDAY 18th, which also happens to be one of the most interesting sites from an archaeoastronomy aspect - the Beaghmore Stone Circles and Alignments in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains in Co Tyrone. We will see the site just before sunset when it is at its best. This trip will also include a FREE buffet meal at the nearby An Creagan Visitors Centre, followed by observing in a very dark sky at Beaghmore if clear.

There is a full and varied programme, covering other aspects such as the waste of energy, environmental and health effects, so it's not just for astronomers! We have lots of top speakers, on various topics, from all over Europe, and from America and beyond; one who is well known to all astronomers in these islands is Dr John Mason.

This is a major honour for Ireland, and Armagh in particular, and sponsorship from (principally) DSE and Armagh Observatory is gratefully acknowledged. It is also a major IYA2009 event for Ireland.

All amateur astronomers should be concerned about increasing light pollution, and this is your opportunity to learn more about it, and what you can do to try to stop it and even reverse it. Please attend if you can: thanks to sponsorship the cost has been kept incredibly low, and it includes morning and afternoon refreshments.

Full details of the latest draft programme, and the subsequent updates, are on the website,

PLEASE REGISTER NOW, if you can attend, so that we know how many to cater for. You will also find details of accommodation in Armagh (assuming you are staying for the whole
conference) and indicating whether you will expect to attend the Beaghmore trip and/or the conference dinner.
I hope to see lots of you there.

2. The IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION HAS LAUNCHED ITS NEW WEBSITE, which is already receiving lots of compliments: See This gives details of all the IAA meetings & activities and lots of other up to date information, observations etc. But it's still a work in progress, so all comments and suggestions will be welcome.

3. OPENING LECTURE OF THE NEW IAA SEASON: 23 SEP. We are delighted to announce that the opening lecture of the Irish Astronomical Association's new season will be given by Prof Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and the Royal Irish Academy. It is entitled "Planning Hubble's Successor, the James Webb Space Telescope". Prof Ray is eminently qualified to talk on this topic, as he is involved in the design of some of the instrumentation which will be going on the telescope! We have had several excellent lectures from Tom before, and we are delighted to welcome him back again.
It's on WEDNESDAY 23 SEPTEMBER, at 7.30 p.m., in the Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University, Belfast. ADMISSION IS FREE, as always, and includes light refreshments. Everyone is welcome.
Full details of the rest of the programme are on the website:

4. ASTRONOMY FOR HERITAGE WEEK AT NEWGRANGE. The Irish Astronomical Association, in conjunction with Armagh Observatory, is delighted to be presenting at the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre, Newgrange, Co Meath, some of the amazing FETTU (From Earth To The Universe) exhibition photographs which have been produced for IYA 2009. This exhibition will run from 22 Aug. to at least 6 Sep.

5. BURREN STAR PARTY, 26 SEPTEMBER. The Shannonside Astronomy Club are running their annual star party this year at Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, on Saturday 26 September. This is 'instead of' the Whirlpool Star Party in Birr, which will not take place, at least not this year (it's a long story, which I'm not going to go in to!). While the programme is confined to the Saturday, most people will arrive there on the Friday evening, and hope for some clear skies in this dark location on the North coast of Co Clare. Details are on:

Clear skies,

Terry Moseley

Friday, 7 August 2009

Perseid BBQ, IYA2009 events, Lectures, Competitions, and MUCH more‏

Hi all,

1. IAA PERSEID BBQ: Delamont Country Park.
The Irish Astronomical Association will hold a Perseid Observing Night + BBQ, at Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh, Co Down, on the evening of Wed 12 August, from 7.30 p.m till late. It's actually going to be more of a 'Fry-up' than BBQ, to save on the clearing up later! The usual rules apply - bring your own food, drink, plates, cutlery, glasses, mugs etc, and if you have a small portable cooker (gas or liquid fuel), bring it too. There are picnic tables to cook and sit and eat at, but you should bring a lounger (or groundsheet + rug & sleeping bag), and warm clothes etc for Perseid observing (See last email, and below for an update on the Perseids)
COMPETITION just for fun - there is a challenge to see who captures the first Perseid of the night on camera. On film or digital. President's decision is final in case of any disputes! Prize still to be decided.
WEATHER: If the weather is dubious, please check the IAA website ( at 18.00h on the 12th to make sure it's going ahead.
ADMITTANCE: It's free admission, but the barrier will not open to admit you after 9 p.m. so BE SURE TO BE THERE BEFORE 9.p.m. You can exit anytime.
DIRECTIONS: Delamont CP is clearly signposted, on the A22 between Killyleagh and Downpatrick.

2. IYA 2009 at CARNFUNNOCK COUNTRY PARK, SATURDAY 15 AUGUST. The next Irish Astronomical Association event for IYA 2009 will be a 'Solar Day' at Carnfunnock Country Park, Drains Bay, North of Larne in Co Antrim (Well signposted on the A2). It will run from 2 p.m. to about 5 p.m. We will have special solar telescopes showing the Sun safely in various wavelengths (if the sky is clear), plus shows in a mobile planetarium, plus a talk by Derek Heatly, now counting down the months and days for his first flight into space, plus an exhibition, telescopes & binoculars etc. Normal admission rates apply, with no extra charge for the planetarium shows. IAA Members bringing telescopes for the event get in free.

3. IYA 2009 at MOUNT STEWART NT, SUNDAY 16 AUGUST. The next day, the Irish Astronomical Association will run another event for IYA 2009. Another 'Solar Day', combined with a Rocket Launching Competition run by Armagh Planetarium, at Mount Stewart NT House & Gardens, which is well signposted on the A20, just South of Greyabbey. It will run from 2 p.m. to about 5 p.m. We will have special solar telescopes showing the Sun safely in various wavelengths (if the sky is clear), plus shows in a mobile planetarium, plus a talk by Derek Heatly, now counting down the months and days for his first flight into space, plus an exhibition, telescopes & binoculars etc. Normal admission rates apply, with no extra charge for the planetarium shows. IAA Members bringing telescopes for the event get in free.

4. August 7 - Cosmos vs Canvas: Tensions Between Art and Science in Astronomy Images - by Jayanne English. Taking place in the Science Gallery, TCD.

Dr Jayanne English will present a talk in the Science Gallery, TCD, on August 7th. The talk is called Cosmos versus Canvas: Tensions between Art and Science in Astronomy Images, and explores how we perceive astronomical images as science or art – especially when they have been highly processed. More details on the talk can be found at

5. 10 August, Public Lecture "Mad About Meteorites"
A Mars rock, the rarest type of rock in the world, will make a star appearance at AI's August Public Lecture, as will a piece of the Moon brought back by the Apollo astronauts.
Both objects will be under tight security as they are extremely valuable. The Mars meteorite alone is estimated to be worth over €25,000 - that's MORE than its weight in gold!
Dr Matthew Parkes will talk about how meteorites can give us the opportunity to investigate the origins of the Solar System and how it was formed. He will explain how particularly unusual meteorites arrive on Earth, and will show guests one such meteorite - a Mars meteorite! Finally, Dr Parkes will describe the consequences to Earth and humanity should a very large object strike our home planet.
The lecture will take place in Trinity College Dublin (Fitzgerald Building) at 8pm.

6. TELESCOPE FREE OR FOR NOMINAL PRICE: Brian Noonan of the Irish Astronomical Society wants to dispose of an 8.5-inch f/6 telescope he co-built in 1970, which is available FREE or for a nominal cost to anyone interested.

The telescope is on a fork-mount with a worm gear drive (not motorised) and the mirror has been recently re-aluminised. The telescope is currently in County Cavan with the mirror removed and in alternate temporary storage there.

If you are interested then the telescope MUST be collected by this weekend (August 8/9) or the school where it currently is will dispose of it (their ultimatum!) The mirror is in safekeeping with a former teacher so that will survive (the mirror would not be available this weekend, but in about a fortnight's time.)

Anyone seriously interested in acquiring this historic instrument (octagonal wooden tube styled along the lines of Herschel's telescopes) should contact Brian Noonan on 086-1976673 in the next day or two for more detailed information.

Brian's teacher friend also has a 4-inch Vixen achromat refractor on a Polaris mount with a Sky Sensor drive for sale (price €500 to €600 for this newer instrument).

7. PERSEIDS UPDATE: POSSIBLE PERSEID METEOR OUTBURST: There is a possibility we may pass through a ribbon of meteoric material on the morning of August 12th, leading to higher numbers of fainter meteors. According to NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, a filament of comet dust has drifted across Earth's path and when Earth passes through it, sometime between 0800 and 0900 UT (09.00 to 10.00 BST) on August 12th, the Perseid meteor rate could surge to twice its normal value. This is after daylight in Ireland, but it would still be worth checking just before dawn on the 12th in case the timing is wrong, or the activity has a wider spread than predicted. Check for details and observing tips.

8. JOCELYN BELL BURNELL COMPETITION: The University of Ulster and Armagh Planetarium are running a competition to celebrate the achievements of Jocelyn Bell Burnell from Co Armagh. The competition is open to all people aged 14 - 19 in the island of Ireland. For more details see the poster at:

9. PUBLIC LECTURES BY LEO ENRIGHT ON LIGHT POLLUTION: As part of the 9th European Symposium for the Protection of the Night Sky to be held in Armagh in September there will be a free public lecture held in Dublin on Wednesday 16th September at 7pm.

PUBLIC LECTURE BY LEO ENRIGHT, Wednesday 16th September 2009, 7pm
Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

Leo Enright, a broadcaster on Space Exploration and Science, explores the history of Ireland’s sometimes tenuous connection with luminosity – while naming and shaming some modern big wicks. He will focus on the importance of continuing public access to dark skies, especially during the present ‘Golden Age’ of astronomy, whilst noting that historically Ireland has sometimes been defined by the absence of light – as why else would the Romans have called it Hibernia?
The public lecture is being given as part of the 9th European Symposium for the Protection of the Night Sky that takes place from 17 – 19 September 2009 in the Market Place Theatre, Armagh. More info:
The lecture is hosted by the Royal Irish Academy and while admission is free places are limited so if you plan on attending please book your tickets through the RIA shop . A poster for this event is available to download from

This amazing star, which has the longest known period of any eclipsing variable (9892 days, or over 27 years), will start its next eclipse on 11 August. It is also one of the brightest stars known, with a luminosity about 200,000 times that of the Sun! But the whole event takes place over such a long timescale that the eclipse won't be complete until Dec 19, i.e. that's when the total phase starts. The eclipse will last until 13 May 2011!
Epsilon, which is the most Northerly of the triangle of stars making up 'The Kids' beside Capella, and the closest to Capella, is normally magnitude 2.9 or 3.0, but fades to 3.8 during the eclipse. The eclipse is thought to be caused, not by another star as in the case of Algol (Beta Persei), but by a huge opaque disc of dust and gas orbiting the companion star. Even more interesting is that there is a short period of brightening during the middle of the eclipse! This is thought to be due to a hole in the centre of the occulting disc.
The eclipse can be monitored visually just by comparing the brightness of Epsilon with other nearby stars such as Eta, the second star in the triangle, i.e. second closest to Capella (magnitude 3.2).
Other nearby comparison stars are Iota Aurigae, (2.7), Theta Aurigae (magnitude 2.62 - 2.70), Delta Aurigae (3.73), Nu Persei (3.77), Nu Aurigae (3.97), Xi Persei (4.00-4.06) and 58 Persei (magnitude 4.25)
Do not use Zeta, the triangle star furthest from Capella, for magnitude comparison as it is also an eclipsing binary, although a more normal one, with a period of 972 days and a variation range of 3.6 to 4.0. However, since there are not many comparison stars of suitable magnitude nearby, you could use Zeta for visual comparison (NOT CCD), provided that you only do so when it is at normal brightness (3.6), which will apply EXCEPT during the period from about 1 to 20 Dec 2009.
Epsilon's fading from 2.9 to 3.8 will take place over the period from 11 August to 19 December (approximately: it is difficult to be precise with an event which takes place over such a long period), so you won't notice any variation visually from night to night, and brightness estimates on a weekly basis will suffice.
Accurate photoelectric or CCD measurements of the light variation will be scientifically valuable, and careful and accurate visual estimates will be useful too. Send them to the Variable Star Section of the BAA, or the AAVSO.

Clear Skies,

Terry Moseley

Eclipse report, Lecture, Star Wars, Jupiter Impact & Occultation, Perseids

Hi all,

1. TSE REPORT: The total solar eclipse (TSE) on 22 July was predicted to be the one which would be seen by the greatest number of people ever, because the track crossed such a highly populated area of the globe (there are 19 million people in Shanghai alone!). In fact, it was probably the TSE which was missed by the greatest number of people ever! A major weather system spoiled the view for almost everyone in Eastern China, which is where most people were hoping to see it. A few were very lucky with local holes in the lower clouds, and got views of totality through higher cloud and haze, but only those in remoter Western China got decent views. Some also saw a shorter totality from a few parts of India, but as expected the major part of that subcontinent was clouded out. And most suprisingly of all, even the cruise ships which were hoping to find the best weather along the track of totality in the Pacific had almost uniformly bad luck!
Our group travelled to Yanguan, South of Shanghai on the Qiantang River estuary, along with many thousands of others. The weather forecast that morning was appalling, but one can only hope..... It was totally cloudy, but hot & humid, when we arrived, and when the rain started it at least cooled down those of us who stayed out in it!
But after a while some brighter patches in the cloud appeared and soon we could see the opening partial phases. We never got a totally clear view, but hopes began to rise slightly that we might glimpse totality. However it was not to be: thick cloud persisted from about 10 minutes before 3rd contact to about the same time after totality ended! We did see the effect of the onrushing shadow over the clouds, and it got very dark in mid-eclipse. Even more impressive was the trailing edge of the shadow: we could see the lightening effect on the clouds to the East, and suddenly it was rushing over us & the sky was brightening again.
We stayed on to see the world-famous tidal bore on the river. It's the world's biggest, and can reach a height of 9 metres, but this time it was only about 2-3 metres: still very impressive as it extended across the full width of the river estuary - about a mile across at that point.
However, the rest of the trip made up for the disappointment of missing totality: Shanghai is an amazing city, having overtaken New York in terms of skyscrapers, and the Jade Buddha, Xi-an City Walls, Terracotta Warriors, Forbidden City, and Great Wall would have been worth the trip on their own. Some even took a ride on the 'Maglev', the world's fastest train, which runs from Shanghai to the airport, and reaches a speed of over 430 kph!
And among the 19 million people in Shanghai, we bumped into Terence Murtagh, former Director of Armagh Planetarium, and Dr Don Pollacco, Research Astronomer at QUB! Not to mention Uel and Ruth Webb from Belfast, IAA members who chose to go with a different tour :-( who were observing near the same position as us. Small world, eh?

2. IYA 2009 PUBLIC LECTURE at ARMAGH PLANETARIUM: Tuesday 4 August, 7.30pm
"Cosmos versus Canvas: Tensions between Art and Science in Astronomy
Images", by Dr Jayanne English (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Summary: Dr Jayanne English of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada will deliver a free public lecture in the Armagh Planetarium on Tuesday 4 August at 7.30 pm. The title and brief summary of the lecture are:
"Cosmos versus Canvas: Tensions between Art and Science in Astronomy Images"
Dr English is an outstanding speaker who uses bold colour images from telescopes to act as extraordinary ambassadors for astronomers because they provoke huge curiosity in people's minds. The images are especially popular during the International Year of Astronomy, but raise the question whether the snapshots are documenting physical reality or are merely artistic "space-scapes" created by digitally manipulating astronomical images.
The lecture will provide a tour of how original black and white data, for example from the Hubble Space Telescope, are converted into the familiar colour images gracing newspapers and magazines. Each image can be regarded as a battlefield where the attempt by scientists to represent their discoveries accurately all but drowns out the artistic voice of
visual literacy. Yet sometimes in this battle between cultures of science and visual art, both sides win. This struggle will be presented from the perspective of a professional astronomer who has also trained as an artist.
This public lecture is part of the Armagh Observatory's programme of events to support the United Nations International Year of Astronomy 2009.
For tickets to the public lecture, please contact Neil Cullen at the Armagh Planetarium; Tel: 028-3752-4725; Fax: 028-3752-6187; email: or Aileen McKee at the Armagh Observatory; Tel: 028-3752-2928; Fax: 028-3752-7174; e-mail:
For full details, see:

3. STAR WARS EXHIBITION: "GALACTIC TREASURES". his exhibition, run in conjunction with "Emerald Garrison - Knights of the Empire", runs at Armagh Planetarium from 1 to 28 August. Normal admission charges apply. See and for more details.

IMPACT: While I was away in China, Jupiter was struck by an asteroid or comet, which left a prominent dark 'scar' in the clouds in Jupiter's South Polar region, which was first spotted by Australian astronomer, Anthony Wesley. The large black spot was similar to those left when comet Shoemaker-Levy broke up and impacted the planet, and happened exactly 15 years later. The black mark is fading now, but may still be visible in good conditions.
OCCULTATION: As already notified, a rare event occurs on 3 August, when Jupiter will occult the 6th magnitude star 45 Capricornii, at about 23.50 BST (the exact time depends on your location). Jupiter will be climbing in the SE sky as the occultation starts, so anyone with a reasonably clear horizon in that area should be able to observe it.
The star is one of the brightest that Jupiter will ever occult during our lifetimes, so this will be interesting to watch, and video. The star will be a bit fainter than Callisto, the faintest of the 4 Galilean moons. It will disappear behind the Southern limb of the planet, at about the position of the SSTB (South South Temperate Belt). Jupiter will be only 11 days before opposition, so the phase effect will be negligible: in other words the star will disappear behind the illuminated edge of the disc, but of course there will be considerable limb darkening, as the Sun will be setting on Jupiter's horizon at this point.
And of course Jupiter will be retrograding as it approaches Opposition, so the star will be occulted on the planet's WEST limb, and will reappear at the EAST limb.
The 4 Galilean moons will also be visible, lying in the plane of Jupiter's equator, so there's no chance of mistaking them for the star. Closest in to the planet on the same side as the star will be Europa, which will actually go into eclipse in Jupiter's shadow at 00.47 (on the 4th), and then Io. Ganymede and Callisto will be much further out, on the opposite side of Jupiter. The event will last until about 01.50, again depending on your location.
If you can do well-timed video imaging of this event, it will be very useful for analysing the composition and density of Jupiter's atmosphere.
Although the star is a point source (unlike the Galilean moons), the occultation will not be instantaneous, as it will fade, probably over a period of several seconds at least, maybe up to 30 seconds, as its light passes through ever denser layers of the Jovian atmosphere. In fact it's possible that it may disappear and reappear again briefly due to refraction effects. Accurate timings of these events will also be useful, at both disappearance and reappearance.
The reappearance will occur with Jupiter higher in the sky, but this will be much more difficult to observe, as there will be no sign of the star until it suddenly starts to reappear. See the websites below for more information.
For visual observing, probably at least 100mm aperture will be required, with a magnification of about 150 or more - whatever the seeing will bear. Send any reports or images to the IAA website or to Andy McCrea for STARDUST: Good luck.
More details on: and

5. PERSEID METEOR SHOWER: The best known of the annual showers will reach maximum on the afternoon of August 12, but as the peak is fairly broad we should see good meteor rates on the nights of both 11/12 and 12/13 August. In fact, some early members of the shower are already appearing, and rates will gradually increase until the maximum, and then decline rather more quickly, with the last ones being see around 18 August. The radiant lies close to Alpha Persei at maximum, and any meteor appearing in the general region of the famous 'Double Cluster' in Perseus to slightly North of Alpha Persei from now until about 18 August will almost certainly be a Perseid. The meteors are fast, and often bright. However, moonlight will interfere with the early part of the shower, with Full Moon on 6 August, and the Last Quarter Moon rising at the end of twilight on the date of maximum. Towards the end of the shower there will be a short opportunity to observe between the end of twilight and moonrise.
However a Last Quarter Moon is not so bright as to prevent observation, so do have a look if skies are clear around 11-15 August. Maximum rates would be about 80 per hour under ideal conditions: This year we might see around 40-50 on the night of 12-13 August if the sky is totally clear.

Clear Skies,

Terry Moseley