Saturday, 16 October 2010

Lectures, Comet Hartley, Successful WSP, Irish asteroid award & Observatory code

Hi all,
1. The next IAA Lecture  will be on Wed 20 October, in the Bell Lecture Theatre, QUB, It will be given by Prof Don Pollacco of the Astrophysics Department at QUB. TITLE: "The Next Generation Exoplanet Surveys: Super-Earths in the habitable zones of late type stars"
A very topical talk, with the recent announcement of the discovery of a 'Super-Earth' in the so-called Goldilocks zone (neither too hot nor too cold) of a star in Libra. This is arguably the hottest topic in astronomy today, and Don is involved in some of the leading research programmes in the field, so it's bound to be a fascinating lecture, with the very latest news.
Time: 7.30 p.m. Venue: Bell Lecture Theatre, main Physics Building, Queen's University, Belfast. Free parking is available on the main campus, right beside the lecture theatre, from 5.30 pm onwards. Admission free, including light refreshments: All are welcome. See for full details of the programme.
2. Comet Hartley will be closest to Earth on 20 October, although unfortunately the view will be spoiled by bright moonlight. Estimates of its magnitude vary widely, but it should be visible to the unaided eye from a dark site when the Moon is out of the way.

It is in Auriga around the 20th and passes to the NE of the open clusters M36, M37 and M38 around the 22nd/23rd. By the end of October it is Gemini, visible from about 22:00. For more details and finder charts see:,, and  


3. A Great Whirlpool Star Party -
The resurrected WSP was held as before in Dooley's Hotel, Birr, Co. Offaly, with a great series of lectures, and a tour of the new solar radio telescope in Birr Castle demesne.
Congratulations to Tony O'Hanlon and Mike Murphy for arranging this event almost entirely on their own, and let's hope for an even bigger and better event next year.
   It was great to see many old, as well as some new, faces there.
   We also managed to squeeze in the autumn IFAS meeting into the tight schedule.  Hopefully they will have a bit more help in arranging the next one: I'll volunteer for a start.
NB: Note change of date and venue for the lecture below:
4.  Free Public Lecture in TCD, 19 October: "Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe: Einstein's Blunder undone!"  by Prof Bob Kirschner of Harvard University.
   Ten years ago, astronomers found astonishing evidence that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. We did this by observing exploding stars half way across the observable universe.  We attribute cosmic acceleration to a mysterious "dark energy" that speeds up cosmic expansion, but whose nature we do not fully understand.  Curiously, in 1917, Einstein invented the "cosmological constant" as a kind of cosmic repulsion, to balance out gravity to produce a static universe.  He abandoned it in the 1930s when the universe was found to be expanding. These new results show we need a form of "dark energy" that is very much like Einstein's cosmological constant to explain the universe we live in.  In this strange new picture of the universe, dark energy makes up about 70% of the universe, dark matter about 25%, and only 5% is composed of the ordinary matter that makes up galaxies, stars, planets, and people.
Venue: in the Paccar Lecture Theatre, Science Gallery, TCD, at 7:30pm TCD. All welcome. Reception afterwards. Entry via Pearse St/Science Gallery entrance
See:,, For directions, see:
. Admission free.


5. Cassini Scientist for a Day competition.
This is open to pupils aged 11-18 yrs old in all schools in Ireland. 
Glenlola Collegiate in Bangor won one of the first prizes a couple of years ago so it would be good to get another great response.
 The Cassini Mission to Saturn is one of the greatest robotic space exploration missions of our time. Now you have an opportunity to become involved and maybe put your school's name on the map internationally.
How:  By taking part in The Cassini Scientist for a day Contest 2010
Why: This contest increases awareness of space exploration, technology, engineering and science.
   The Task: Write a 500 word essay on why the Cassini Spacecraft should target certain objects for imaging and investigation.
   How do I do that?
Watch  three short  videos, decide which is the most interesting for you, write your essay based on that.
  The Cassini website would be your main source of reference for information. Watch this video for an introduction:
   Watch these videos to choose your essay subject Rhea, Titan or Saturn itself? You decide, its your adventure.
There are three age groups: 11-13 years old, 14-16 years old, 17-18 years old
The Prizes: All winners will be given a copy of their chosen target image which will be taken by the Cassini spacecraft in October 2010. The youngest category winner will also get an iPod shuffle and books by Lucy Hawking. The middle category will win a Nintendo DS and books by Lucy Hawking. The oldest age category winner will be offered a one week research placement with Professor Carl Murray from Queen Mary University London.
Deadline 5 p.m. on November 5th Include your name, age, postal address, name of your school, name of teacher, teacher's email address.
6. Public Lecture by Dame Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell "Will the world end in 2012? - The astronomical evidence."
 12 Nov, 7.30 p.m. RIA Dublin. Admission free, but by ticket only. Book via
7. PUBLIC LECTURE, ARMAGH, 18 November: The Biennial "Robinson Lecture" will be given by Prof Chris Impey of the University of Arizona, in the City Hotel, at 8 p.m. "Astrobiology: Implications of Life Beyond Earth"
    Either we are alone in the universe or not; either way, the implications are staggering. This talk considers the prospects for and implications of life beyond Earth. Biological adaptation to extreme conditions makes it very likely that variations on biology will be present on moons and planets around many of the billions of Sun-like stars in the Milky Way. The nearly 500 planets already found around other stars are forerunners of Earth-like planets that astronomers expect to be finding in the next few years. With exobiology still a blank slate, consideration will be given to potentially unusual forms of life.
     Attendance at the Robinson Lecture is free, but if you would like to attend the Robinson Lecture, please contact the Armagh Observatory in order to obtain tickets. Please write, telephone or send an e-mail to: Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG; Tel: 028-3752-2928; Fax: 028-3752-7174; e-mail: ambnat
8. Michael O'Connell honoured with Official Observatory Code. Michael O'Connell has been awarded the status of an Observatory Code from the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center. Astroshot Observatory ( is now officially I87. Well done to Michael, who has established himself a serious observer with not only good equipment, but knowing all the proper procedures for valuable observations.
    And congratulations also to Dr Niall Smith of Blackrock Castle Observatory ( in Cork which was awarded their code earlier in October. 


9. Another Irish Amateur Astronomer gets Asteroid Honour. Last, but certainly not least, I'm delighted that my old friend and colleague, Jimmy O'Connor from the IAS in Dublin, has been honoured by the IAU by having an asteroid named after him: 30558 Jamesoconnor

   James, for 61 years a member of the Irish Astronomical Society, was presented with the award at a meeting of the IAS and SDAS in Gonzaga College on Thursday, October 14th.

   The citation from the International Astronomical Union reads: "Irish amateur astronomer James O'Connor (b. 1931) has been a stalwart of the Irish Astronomical Society for sixty years, serving as president, secretary and council member. He has also written a history of the Society covering the years 1937--2006. The name was suggested by J. McConnell."

   The asteroid was discovered on 2001 July 16 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) at the Anderson Mesa Station. The asteroid is a Main Belt object orbiting the Sun with a period of 3.31 years.

   I'm sure you will all join me in congratulating Jimmy on the award. I have known Jimmy since the late Sixties when we had joint meetings of the IAS Dublin & Belfast Centres in Dundalk. 

   The presentation was made by John McConnell. John has worked closely over the past two years with Dr Brian Marsden, Director Emeritus of the Minor Planet Center and Dr Ted Bowell, Principal Investigator of LONEOS, to help bring about this recognition of Jimmy's contributions to Irish astronomy.

   More details about Jimmy's asteroid can be found at – N.B: some system firewalls may flag the site as containing malicious code. However, this is generally due to firewall rules that are preventing Java from running (to generate an orbit diagram of the asteroid) so it should not be an issue.

 (Adapted from an announcement by John Flannery)
 The list of asteroids officially named after Irish amateur astronomers now reads (in numerical, not date, order):
(6860) Sims -- in memory of Alan Sims, former IAS Chairman

(8515) Corvan -- after Armagh amateur astronomer Pat Corvan

(9929) McConnell -- after Northern Ireland amateur astronomer John McConnell

(16693) Moseley -- after Northern Ireland amateur astronomer Terry Moseley

(21782) Davemcdonald -- after Irish amateur astronomer Dave McDonald

(30558) Jamesoconnor -- after Irish amateur astronomer James O'Connor

(42531) McKenna -- after Northern Ireland amateur astronomer Martin McKenna.

The Magnificent Seven!
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley


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