1. FIRST IAA LECTURE MEETING of 2011. 12 January, 7.30 p.m., Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Department, QUB. The first lecture of the second half of the Irish Astronomical Association Lecture Programme, and the first in 'The Tweenies', will be by Dr Kate Russo: Title "Chasing the Shadow of the Moon". Kate is a seasoned total solar eclipse chaser (nine so far!), with many successes under her belt, in some of the most interesting and exotic locations on Earth.
She will be concentrating more on the human effects of observing eclipses rather than the astronomical details, with interesting stories of people and places. She also happens to be from North Queensland, Australia, which is the only land area where it will be possible to see the next Total Solar Eclipse, in November 2012. She has already been out scouting suitable observing locations for a probable eclipse expedition to the Cairns area, which is almost on the central line of the eclipse. The benefit of her local knowledge and contacts will be invaluable for anyone considering going to this eclipse.
Admission is free, including light refreshments, and all are welcome. There is free parking on the QUB site after 5.30 p.m.
For details of all forthcoming IAA lectures and other events, see www.irishastro.org
2. ISS: The International Space Station continues a series of evening passes until January 14. Check www.heavens-above.com for accurate pass times according to your location.
3. Mercury: You can still see the elusive planet Mercury as a 'morning star', appearing shortly before dawn in the sountheastern sky. It is just past Greatest Western Elongation, but remains at about magnitude -0.2 for another week or so, although it is gradually sinking lower in the morning twilight. It lies about 24 degrees below and left of the much brighter Venus
4. Galway Astronomy Festival / Star Party: 4-6 March. Advance Notice: The theme this year is 'Life and Death in the Universe. Venue: Westwood House Hotel, Galway. See www.galwayastronomyclub.ie for full details of what looks like an excellent programme.
5. Cosmos 2010: Advance Notice. The MAC Committee are working on the speaker list for this year's Cosmos Star Party. Cosmos is Ireland's second-longest running star party, since 1992 in fact, when it was first called the Irish Astrofest. This year it takes place on the weekend of April 1st to 3rd at Annaharvey, Tullamore. See the club website at www.midlandsastronomy.com for more details.
6. PSE Dogged by clouds: Congratulations to Dr Andy McCrea who managed to get two excellent photos (given the weather!) of the Partial Solar Eclipse on the morning of 4 January. They were featured on BBC Newsline that evening. He & George Brannan went to Scrabo Hill near Newtownards & got reasonable but brief views through gaps in the cloud layer. Pat O'Neill & I went to Knockagh Hill near Carrick, but while we could see the brightness of clear sky on the SE Horizon, the Sun never appeared through it. Then as I was driving in to work along the M2 foreshore, I saw it briefly through a gap in the clouds - it was down to about 15% magnitude by then.
(The next Solar Eclipse visible from Ireland will be on 20 March, 2015. That will be a big one, with a magnitude of over 90% throughout Ireland, and reaching 95% in NW Donegal and Mayo. It will be Total in the North Atlantic, but the only land the track of totality touches are the Faeroe Islands, and Svalbard up in the Arctic Circle. In both cases the weather prospects are not good, and the Sun will be quite low, so the best option for totality will probably be a cruise ship, somewhere about 500 - 1,000 miles Northwest of Ireland, depending on weather.
In the meantime, all hopes rest on the one near Cairns in Nov 2012!)