Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lecture, Supermoon, G.A.N, Earth Hour, Nanosail-D, COSMOS

Hi all,
(A few of you on this mailing list were accidentally omitted from previous bulletins - apologies. T.M.)
1. 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  

2. "Supermoon".  Well, the Full Moon on and around 19 March was indeed unusually big and bright, as it coincided with a very close Perigee. but as I predicted in earlier E/Ms, there were none of the alarmist internet-predicted catastrophes of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or major weather events. Just to emphasise the point, the terrible Japanese earthquake on 11 March occurred when the Moon was still closer to apogee than perigee, i.e. it was further away from Earth than its average distance. And even the largest of the aftershocks occurred well before the FM/Perigee.

3. Earth Hour. Earth Hour takes place between 8:30pm and 9:30pm on Saturday evening, March 26 and everyone around the globe is urged to turn off their lights and to not use power for that one hour. Prime Minister David Cameron has backed this campaign, which is aimed at saving the environment, saving energy and reducing pollution, but of course it's of particular interest and benefit to astronomers to have less artificial lighting at night. More information on this global energy-awareness initiative can be found at

4. Globe At Night (G.A.N.): Less of Our Light for More Star Light: Join the second part of the 6th world-wide 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 world-wide. 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:

Submitting Measurements:

GLOBE at Night:

Audio Podcast:


Accompanying Audio:



Web App for Reporting:

Dark Skies Activities:

Constance E. Walker, Ph.D. Director, GLOBE at Night campaign, 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;

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.  A series of morning passes continues, some of which are quite favourable. Details of passes for your own location are on
NASA has formed a partnership with 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, 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.
6. 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. The programme is now complete, with some interesting new speakers: See  for more details.

7. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is now even easier: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA.  See also
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley



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