2. ISS MORNING PASSES. A series of morning passes of the ISS continues for a few more days – get detailed predictions for your location from www.heavens-above.com
3. GEMINID METEORS. The annual Geminid meteor shower, which peaks on the early morning of 14 December, is usually the best of the year, with about 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. But this year the 8 day old Moon will interfere with observing during the first part of the night of the 13th/14th, as its light will drown out the fainter meteors. It will set at about 12.30 for most observers in Ireland, before the maximum of the shower, so wrap up EXTRA well for a late session to be rewarded with a view of one of the year's best free sky shows.
The radiant lies just above Castor (Alpha Gem). Geminids are moderately slow meteors, and there's a reasonable proportion of bright meteors, making this one of the best showers for photography or video.
As for all meteor showers, you'll get best results in a really dark sky, away from all sources of light pollution. Allow about 5 minutes for your eyes to dark adapt after exposure to white light, but note that full dark adaptation takes 20 - 30 minutes! So use a red torch for setting up, checking your camera, getting a cup of coffee etc.
Aim your camera about 40 - 50 degrees from the radiant, and about 50 degrees above the horizon, to maximise your chances of recording a meteor. You'll have to experiment to see how long an exposure you can give before the image starts to 'fog' due to background sky brightness. Also beware of dew forming on the lens. And bring spare batteries - the cold temperatures will shorten the life of those in the camera; keep the spare ones warm in a pocket to get the best out of them.
(You may have seen in the news reports of a very bright fireball seen over GB from Somerset to South Scotland on Wed 11th Dec. Many astronomy commentators described it as an 'early Geminid'. Until we know the exact trajectory, that remains to be established. It's possible, although the Geminid radiant was just about on the horizon at the time of the fireball (17.38 UT). But ignore the other comments that the Geminid meteor shower will coincide with the Total Lunar Eclipse (see below), as the shower ends on Dec 16!)
5. DRAKE EQUATION TV SPECIAL, 14 December:
In a 1hr special, produced in partnership with the BBC, Bang Goes The Theory's Dallas Campbell goes on a world wide journey to discover how one of the most controversial formulae in science – the Drake Equation – is changing our view of life, the universe and our place within it.
In 1961 Frank Drake took everything he knew about star formation, planetary systems, the evolution of biology and the life cycle of civilisations; and from this jumble of science he formulated one of the most seminal equations in the history of science. It came to be known as the Drake Equation.
For many years, our place in the universe was the subject of theologians and philosophers, not scientists. But Drake's Equation gave scientific credibility to the possibility of extra terrestrial life.
At the time, Dr Frank Drake was one of the leading lights in the new science of Radio Astronomy when he did something that was not only revolutionary but could have cost him his career. Working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenback in Virginia, he pointed one of their brand new 25mtr radio telescopes at a star called Tau Ceti 12 light years from Earth. His mission, to listen for signs of extra terrestrial intelligence – quite literally to listen for ET talking.
Examining seven key elements necessary for extra terrestrial intelligence to exist; from the formation of stars to the likely length a given intelligent civilisation may survive. When Frank and his colleagues entered the figures, the equation suggested there was a staggering 50,000 civilisations capable of communicating across the galaxy at this very moment.
But in the 50 years of listening that has followed, not one single bleep has been heard from ET. So were Drake and his followers wrong? Is there no life form out there capable of communicating? No one is really sure as the search itself is so difficult. Drake's own calculations are that we'd have to scan the entire radio spectrum of 100.00000 stars to be sure of contact.
Dr Dave Rothery, Senior Lecturer at The Open University and academic consultant for this programme, says: "What the equation and the search for life has done is focus science on some of the other questions about life in the universe – specifically biogenesis, the development of multi-cellular life and the development of intelligence itself.
"The answers to those questions are increasingly suggesting that, far from being a one off, are increasingly suggesting that, far from being a one off, life may not only be common in the universe by once started will lead inevitably towards intelligent life."
The Drake Equation is a 1hr special for BBC4 to be broadcast at 8.00pm on 14 December. (Scheduling subject to change, please check TV listings.)
6. TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, 21 December. Don't forget to book an early morning wake-up call for the morning of the winter solstice, when there will be a Total Lunar Eclipse, visible from all over Ireland, just before dawn. I'll have all the details for the main locations all over Ireland in the next bulletin.
7. Evert Meurs retires: Professor Evert Meurs has retired from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies with effect from the first of this month. I am sure that we all wish him a happy and productive retirement and look forward to his continued involvement with astronomy in Ireland. The Governing Board of the School [of cosmic physics] is anxious that every effort be made to fill the resulting vacancy [Senior Professor of Astronomy] and to this end will be inviting expressions of interest from suitably qualified individuals by the end of this year with a view to forwarding a nomination to Government as soon as possible. Full details of the application process are on the DIAS web site http://www.dias.ie/lang/en/commun/vacancy_Astro.html and an advertisement will appear in Nature this week. [From Dr Neal Trappe, ASGI].
(I hope that the appointment will also fill the now vacant post of Director of Dunsink Observatory - it would be a real shame if that position were to be closed, after a period of 225 years! T.M.)
The Irish Astronomical Association's New Year Party will be held as usual in the Tudor Cinema, Drumhirk, Comber on Saturday 8th January 2011. A buffet meal will be available in McBride's, The Square, Comber. Food will be served at 6.00pm, but it is advisable to be there at 5.30pm. After the meal, members and guests will then make their way to the nearby Tudor Cinema for the feature film IRON MAN starting at 7.30pm and followed by a prize quiz. Free light refreshments will be available at the cinema, including Terry Moseley's famous hot punch.
N.B. Due to seating capacity restrictions at the Tudor Cinema, numbers will be limited to 60, so early booking is advisable.
Contact phone number …………………………………………………
Number of adults @ £12 per person …………
Number of children under 12 years @ £6 …………
Total amount submitted £……………
Payment is by sterling cheque, payable to The Irish Astronomical Association, or cash. The booking form and remittance must reach the IAA Treasurer's assistant: Mrs Josephine Magill, 5 Fairhill Road, Newtownabbey, BT36 6LY, no later than 20th December 2010.
Money will be refunded only if the event is cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control. N.B. Please note that tickets will not be issued. Admission is guaranteed on receipt of this booking form and remittance.