Friday, 11 March 2011

IAA Astro events, Lecture, GAN, Armagh, COSMOS, Nanosail, U/M, Supermoon

Hi all,
 
1.  IAA ASTRONOMY EVENING AT WWT, CASTLE ESPIE. The Irish Astronomical Association will be holding another of their very popular astronomy evenings at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Castle Espie, near Comber, Co Down, this evening, 11 March. Once again we'll have a selection of powerful telescopes and binoculars for viewing the night sky, an exhibition, and of course the mobile planetarium just in case of bad weather. 
    The highlight will be a spectacular waxing crescent Moon high in the sky, providing jaw-dropping views in the telescopes. If you are there early, it might be your last chance for a look at Jupiter before it disappears into the evening twilight. And for anyone staying on late, we should get a view of Saturn when it comes above the trees.
 
2. ASTRONOMY WEEKEND AT MARBLE ARCH GEOPARK - "COSMIC CUILCAGH" :
There will be a special astronomy event this weekend, 12 & 13 March, at the famous International Geopark at the amazing Marble Arch Caves in Co. Fermanagh. This will be a joint event with Armagh Planetarium, in conjunction with the Geopark. This area has possibly the darkest skies anywhere in Northern Ireland, and if we get a clear night on the Saturday evening the view should be amazing, although there will be a first quarter moon. But for anyone keen enough to stay up until moonset in the wee small hours, the sky should be amazingly dark - a good opportunity to measure star visibility, even if it does fall outside the times for Globe At Night. 
      There will be a mobile planetarium for star shows, solar observing during the day, and night-sky observing after dark, if clear. Activities will start at 11.00 each day.
   MORE DETAILS on this event on the IAA website: see www.irishastro.org  
 
3. IAA LECTURE MEETING: "Widefield Astro-imaging: the French Connection".  23 March, 7.30 p.m., Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Department, QUB. The next lecture in the Irish Astronomical Association Lecture Programme, will be by IAA member Martin Campbell: Martin is a renowned astronomical photographer, and not only won the IAA's IYA 2009 astrophotography competition, but was also the overall winner of the grand prize for best entry in any category. Martin regularly travels to exceptionally dark high altitude sites in France to obtain really spectacular images, which he will be showing at this lecture. But the stunning images he submitted for the IYA 2009 competition were all taken in Ireland, showing just what can be achieved from here.
    Even if you have no interest in astrophotography, this is sure to be a fascinating lecture.  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  

4. Globe At Night (G.A.N.): Less of Our Light for More Star Light: Join the second part of the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign: March 22 - April 4. With half of the world's population now living in cities, many urban dwellers have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies and maybe never will. This loss, caused by light pollution, is a concern on many fronts: safety, energy conservation, cost, health and effects on wildlife, as well as our ability to view the stars. Even though light pollution is a serious and growing global concern, it is one of the easiest environmental problems you can address on local levels.

Participation in the international star-hunting campaign, GLOBE at Night, helps to address the light pollution issue locally as well as globally. This year, 2 sets of campaigns are being offered. The first campaign ran from February 21 through March 6, 2011. The second campaign runs from March 22 through April 4 in the Northern Hemisphere and March 24 through April 6 in the Southern Hemisphere, and everyone all over the world is invited to record the brightness of the night sky. The campaign is easy and fun to do. First, you match the appearance of the constellation Orion in the first campaign (and Leo or Crux in the second campaign) with simple star maps of progressively fainter stars found. Then you submit your measurements, including the date, time, and location of your comparison. After all the campaign's observations are submitted, the project's organizers release a map of light-pollution levels worldwide. Over the last five annual 2-week campaigns, volunteers from more than 100 nations contributed 52,000 measurements, one third of which came from last year's campaign.

To learn the five easy steps to participate in the GLOBE at Night program, see the GLOBE at Night website. You can listen to last year's 10-minute audio podcast on light pollution and GLOBE at Night. Or download a 45-minute powerpoint and accompanying audio. GLOBE at Night is also on Facebook and Twitter.

The big news is that children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find latitude and longitude.

For activities that have children explore what light pollution is, what its effects are on wildlife and how to prepare for participating in the GLOBE at Night campaign, see the Dark Skies Rangers activities. Monitoring our environment will allow us as citizen-scientists to identify and preserve the dark sky oases in cities and locate areas where light pollution is increasing. All it takes is a few minutes during the 2011 campaign to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations on-line. Help us exceed the 17,800 observations contributed last year. Your measurements will make a world of difference.

Star Maps:  http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude.html

Submitting Measurements: http://www.globeatnight.org/report.html

GLOBE at Night: http://www.globeatnight.org/

Audio Podcast: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2010/02/03/february-3rd-the-globe-at-night-campaign-our-light-or-starlight/

Powerpoint: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_slides.ppt

Accompanying Audio: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_audio.mp3

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GLOBEatNight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GLOBEatNight

Web App for Reporting: http://www.globeatnight.org/webapp/

Dark Skies Activities: http://www.darkskiesawareness.org/DarkSkiesRangers/

Constance E. Walker, Ph.D. Director, GLOBE at Night campaign www.globeatnight.org), Chair International Dark-Sky Association Education Committee; chair, IYA2009 Dark Skies Awareness Cornerstone Project; member, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Board of Directors; associate scientist & senior science education specialist, NOAO. Address: National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), 950 N. Cherry Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719 USA, 520-318-8535; cwalker@noao.edu

5. NANOSAIL-D: NASA's first Earth-orbiting solar sail, NanoSail-D, is circling our planet and attracting the attention of sky watchers. Occasionally, sunlight glinting from the sail's reflective fabric produces a flash of light in the night sky. These "solar sail flares" are expected to grow brighter as NanoSail-D descends in the weeks ahead. There will be a series of morning passes starting on 12 March, some of which are quite favourable. Details of passes for your own location are on www.heavens-above.com.
   NANOSAIL-D AMATEUR ASTRONOMY IMAGE CONTEST
NASA has formed a partnership with Spaceweather.com to engage the amateur astronomy community to submit the best images of the orbiting NanoSail-D solar sail. NanoSail-D unfurled the first ever 100-square-foot solar sail in low-Earth orbit on Jan. 20.
   To encourage observations of NanoSail-D, Spaceweather.com is offering prizes for the best images of this historic, pioneering spacecraft in the amounts of $500 (grand prize), $300 (first prize) and $100 (second prize).
   The contest is open to all types of images, including, but not limited to, telescopic captures of the sail to simple widefield camera shots of solar sail flares. If NanoSail-D is in the field of view, the image is eligible for judging.
   The solar sail is about the size of a large tent. It will be observable for approximately 70 to 120 days before it enters the atmosphere and disintegrates. The contest continues until NanoSail-D re-enters Earth's atmosphere.
   NanoSail-D will be a target of interest to both novice and veteran sky watchers. Experienced astrophotographers will want to take the first-ever telescopic pictures of a solar sail unfurled in space.  Backyard stargazers, meanwhile, will marvel at the solar sail flares
-- brief but intense flashes of light caused by sunlight glinting harmlessly from the surface of the sail.
   NanoSail-D could be five to 10 times as bright as the planet Venus, especially later in the mission when the sail descends to lower orbits.
 See http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/01feb_solarsailflares/ 
 
6. DISCOVERING THE UNIVERSE, ARMAGH, 17 March.

To mark St Patrick's Day in Armagh City, Armagh Observatory is hosting "Discovering The Universe", with two lectures in St Patrick's Trian, and a tour of the Human Orrery and Astropark in the Observatory grounds. More details on www.arm.ac.uk. Admission is free, but by ticket only. Contact Aileen at ambn@arm.ac.uk

 
7. COSMOS 2010:  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 over the weekend of April 1st to 3rd at Annaharvey, Tullamore. See www.midlandsastronomy.com  for more details.
 
8. BCO EVENTS, CORK: 2011 is the 3rd year CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory (BCO) participates in a truly global event called EarthHour when over 1 billion people from over 125 countries around the globe will turn off their lights for one hour as a symbol of global sustainability. BCO hopes to make special use of these dark conditions with a guided Globe at Night stargazing event highlighting light pollution.  The popular science centre will also host double screenings of Risteard Ó Domhnaill's prize winning documentary The Pipe, pitching a local & environmental choice as their Movies by Moonlight film club screening for March.
   For more information on these and future events at Blackrock Castle Observatory
Call 021-4357917 / email info@bco.ie / visit www.bco.ie/upcomingevents
http://www.facebook.com/BlackrockCastleObservatory
http://twitter.com/blackrockcastle

9.  Robert Hill will be giving a space talk for schools, in the Ulster Museum on Friday 18th March. It will celebrate the 21st anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Titled "Cosmic Explorers", the presentation will tie in with the CCEA KS3 revised thematic unit 'Underneath the stars' and will be strongly influenced by the STEM agenda. It is free of charge, but booking is essential.
   The lecture will be given at 10.30, 12.00, and 14.00.
Contact: Rosemary Stewart, National Museums Northern Ireland, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, BT9 5AB, T - 028 9044 0100. 
 
10. Earthquake NOT related to 'Supermoon'.
I'm sure you'll all join me in expressing our sympathy to the people of Japan after the severe earthquake and tsunami and tragic consequences.
   There has been a lot of speculation on the Internet and media about whether the very close Full Moon on 19 March (see below) would cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and major weather disturbances. This prompted me to issue a Press Release on 8 March pointing out that while the Full Moon on 19 March would indeed coincide with a very close Perigee, which some people have now labelled a 'Supermoon', there have been other even closer perigees, and there is almost zero correlation between lunar phase, perigee, and earthquakes. This press release was quoted almost verbatim and in its entirety in an almost full page feature in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, p. 14.
  Then the tragic earthquake struck Japan in the early hours of 11 March. Knowing how some internet speculation is very wide of the mark, and some were already linking the earthquake to the 'supermoon', I issued a follow-up to the Press Release. As there will undoubtedly be more speculation about a possible connection, I reproduce both the original and follow-up Press Releases below:
 
"IAA MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT. (8 March)
   The Moon on 19 March will be at its closest to Earth since 2008. And since that date coincides with Full Moon, it will appear as the biggest and brightest Full Moon for several years.
   BUT - No catastrophes are likely! There are already stories circulating on the internet that this exceptionally close moon will cause disruptions to the weather, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and maybe even tsunamis.
    At least one story claims it will be the closest the moon has come to the Earth for 19 years, since 1982. That is NOT TRUE. The moon will come within 356,575 km of Earth on 19 March at 19.08. But it came within 356,566km on 12 December, 2008. Those are indeed both exceptionally close passes, but nothing to be concerned about. If there is some natural disaster, then it's one that would have happened anyway, such as the recent volcanic eruptions and the earthquake in New Zealand.
   The Moon's orbit around the Earth is an ellipse, not a circle. It deviates from a circle by 5.5 per cent, so its distance from Earth is always varying, with a maximum and a minimum distance during each lunar month. When it is closest each month, it is called 'perigee'. 
   But sometimes other factors combine to make one perigee a bit closer than usual, and it so happens that on 19 March this year, all those factors reach a maximum almost simultaneously, so that this one will be unusually close.
   But, nothing major happened at the even closer approach on 12 December 2008, nor at the other recent close approaches on 26 October 2007, or 8 September 2010, so there's no reason to expect anything this time.
   The Moon's mean distance from Earth is about 384,400 km, so it will be only 7.2% closer than its average distance, and less than 2 per cent closer than the average perigee.
   However, what we will see if the sky is clear is an exceptionally big and bright Full Moon. And because of the famous 'Moon illusion' it will appear particularly large as it is rising. And the following high tide will be very high, and the low tide very low, but again, nothing out of the ordinary.
   There will be another close perigee on 26 October, when it will come within 357,052 km. And even next week's very close approach will be beaten by a reasonable amount on 14 November 2016, when it will come within 356,509 km. And I don't expect any catastrophes then either.
    So just enjoy looking at the brilliant big moon next week, but don't be worrying about any disasters!
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. Perigee comes from the Greek 'peri' meaning near, and 'gee' from Geos for the Earth. 
2. The Moon has a diameter of 3476 km, and weighs 1/81 times as much as the Earth.
3. The lunar month (New Moon to New Moon) averages 29.53 days.
4. The 'Moon Illusion' is a well-known psychological effect which makes the Moon appear much bigger when it is rising or setting, compared with when it is high up in the sky.
5. Light will take 1.2 seconds to travel from the Moon to the Earth.
.................................................................................
 
IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION: MEDIA RELEASE (Follow-up - 11 March)
   The major earthquake in Japan is a terrible tragedy, but from the purely scientific angle it does indicate that major earthquakes happen almost at random, and are not really connected to the distance of the Moon from the Earth, as per my Media Release on 8 March "Exceptionally Bright and Close Full Moon".
   For the record, this earthquake happened when the Moon was actually FURTHER away from Earth than average. The Moon's average distance from the Earth is 384,000 km, and when the quake happened the Moon was 396,600 km away. That's 12,000 km further away than its average distance, and a really significant over 40,000 km further away than it will be on March 19.
   And there was another significant earthquake in China a few days ago, when the Moon was even further away.
   We all extend our sympathy to the people affected in Japan, but I hope that this tragedy will not be taken as supporting the 'Close Moon = disasters' story, when in fact it indicates exactly the opposite.
   Terry Moseley
 
11. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is now even easier: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA. http://irishastro.org.uk/iaamembership.doc.  See also www.irishastro.org
 
Clear skies,
 
Terry Moseley
 

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