Tuesday, 19 April 2011

AGM + Astronomy Tours, ISS Evenings, Nanosail, Secret Satellites, Lyrids

Hi all,
1. IAA AGM MEETING:  20th April, 7.30 p.m., Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Department, QUB. After the business meeting (at which all are welcome to attend, but only members may vote), there will be a special presentation for IAA members by Terence Murtagh, giving the details outlined in item 3 below (but obviously without the planetarium starshow).
  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  


Following on the great success of its Solar Eclipse trip to China in 2009, Ulster Travel is planning a series of exciting astronomy themed adventures over the next few years.

The trips have been planned with the assistance of Terence Murtagh, former Director of Armagh Planetarium, former President of the International Planetarium Society and well-known director and producer of astronomy based television and giant screen programmes around the world.

On 21 April Ulster Travel will be presenting on the huge dome of the Armagh Planetarium an overview of these planned events and a special premiere of  "The Secret Lives of Stars" production.

Please register your interest for this event asap, by contacting Ann Relph at info@ulstertravel.com

Using the spectacular dome of the planetarium we will present an overview of these planned trips together with amazing images in the all dome format of what you can expect to see. Here's a short summary of some of the fascinating experiences we plan to cover.


As solar activity continues to build up so displays of the Aurora are becoming more frequent and energetic. One of the easiest to reach viewing places with a good record of Auroral sightings is the Norwegian coastal City of Tromso. Set amidst majestic mountains and the sea Tromso, is often under the Auroral oval and has already experienced so magnificent displays this year.

The Ulster Travel group will stay in a hotel away from the bright city centre with ample opportunities to move go out to darker regions. A special course in night sky photography will be given. A Canon 5D MK II camera will be available to enable everyone to have the opportunity of capturing their own image of the heavens at their most spectacular. Several trips will be offered throughout the Autumn and Spring periods starting in 2011.


We are looking at the possibility of offering special visits to Northern Chile so visitors can experience the brilliance and beauty of the southern Milky Way. The trips would be in either June or July and be timed to take advantage of the best opportunities to see the Galactic Centre at its most glorious. Famed for its magnificent viewing conditions the Atacama gives everyone the opportunity to see, explore and photograph the Milky Way Galaxy in all its splendour.


A wonderful opportunity to explore with family and friends the amazing world of the ancient Egyptians with a special emphasis on the astronomical nature of some of their greatest monuments. Not many people are aware of the beautiful astronomical alignments and decoration of many Egyptian temples and tombs.

The ancient Egyptians used their observations of the stars to regulate their calendars, establish buildings and were probably the first to measure exact duration of the year. The tour will begin with the Great Pyramids at Giza and a visit the famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo with its treasures from the Tomb of Tutankamun.

Moving on to Luxor we will use this amazing city as a base to visit some of the most spectacular temples and tombs. In the valley of the Kings we hope to visit a tomb with a most amazing astronomical ceiling, and also that of Tutankamun, which has its own special story related to the heavens.

On a different scale there is the fabulous ruined Ramasseum with fascinating inscriptions on the ceiling relating to how the lunar and sidereal calendars were synchronised. Then there are the temples of Esna and Dendarah. Both of these have fascinating ceiling panels relating to the planets, the phases of the Moon as well as beautiful freezes showing the major constellations.

Dendarah is also famed for its intriguing Star map known as the Dendarah Zodiac. An optional 4-day cruise down lake Nasser to the great Temple of Abu Symbel is also available at a special price.

Abu Symbel the most beautiful of Rameses II's temples was cut from the rock. It was reconstructed above the waters of lake Nasser but is still sited so that twice a year the rays of the rising sun illuminate the faces of the gods far inside. These dates mark the anniversaries of the birthday of Rameses II and his accession to the throne of Egypt.

A fascinating trip for astronomy and non-astronomy buffs alike. It will be conducted at a leisurely pace and use some of most highly rated hotels in Egypt.


2012 is a great year for eclipses watchers. An annual eclipse of the Sun in early summer, a rare Transit of Venus and a beautiful total eclipse of the Sun at the beginning of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

Ulster Travel is planning to run two eclipse tours that year.


May 2012 sees a beautiful annular eclipse of the Sun. It begins in the Far East , crosses the Pacific, and ends over some of the most spectacular scenery in the Western USA.

Ulster travel is planning to offer a viewing trip that would include visits to Meteor Crater in Arizona, Flagstaff Observatory and the Grand Canyon. The eclipse-viewing site would be in one of the most scenic National Parks in the USA.

Option excursions could include a visit to additional national Parks in Southern Utah and visits to the Kitt peak Observatories outside Tucson in Arizona.


On Nov 14th (local time) a total eclipse of the Sun will take place and be visible in the morning sky of North East Australia.

The area around Cairns, particularly the coastal strip looking East over the Ocean is usually blessed with clear skies at this time of the year.

It's likely that this will be an extremely popular eclipse and that accommodation will be in short supply as one of the smaller towns in the path of totality is planning an eclipse marathon with many thousands of runners planning to attend.

Ulster Travel has already had the various sites and hotels inspected and a full report on the possible viewing sites, weather conditions and all other factors will be made during the presentation in the Planetarium.

We will be offering two trips each of which could have other options added.

One trip would be a straightforward visit to Cairns, principally for the eclipse. Optional extras would include local car hire, rainforest and barrier reef adventures.

The other would be more astronomically aligned. Visits would be made to some of Australia's best-known sites of astronomical interest. These would include former Anglo-Australian telescope, the historic Parkes radio telescope, and the opportunity to use telescopes to explore the southern stars from a good dark sky site. No visit to Australia would be complete without a visit to one of the country's national parks where local wildlife, Kangaroos, Emus' ad Koalas are to be found.

Optional extras include visits to the Henbury Meteorite craters near Alice Springs and a possible flight over the vast ancient impact site known as Gosses Bluff.

More details on these planned adventures will be made available soon. You are welcome to register your interest in any of these exciting trips by contacting Ann Relph at Ulster Travel: info@ulstertravel.com.

3. The ISS has just started a series of evening passes over Ireland. If you check the details for your location on www.heavens-above.com, you may find some passes that coincide, or nearly so, with passes of Nanosail-D - see below. A nice touch for the Nanosail photo competition would be to capture both satellites in the same shot, but I think that the chances of getting both at the same time, in the same field of view, would be quite low. Still, check it out - you never know.

4. 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 www.heavens-above.com.
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/ 

5. SECRET SATELLITES: Check out the "Secret Satellites Exhibition" in Belfast, at which Professor Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, will be featuring. See details at http://www.belfastexposed.org/exhibitions/index.php

6. Lyrid Meteors: The annual Lyrids meteor shower will peak on Friday 22 April. It's not normally the year's most spectacular shower, with a ZHR of about 10, but there have been some unusually good displays, such as in 1982, so it's worth having a look anyway. The radiant is near Vega. The view will be somewhat spoiled later in the night when the waning gibbous moon rises, so watch the sky as soon as it gets totally dark; then later when the moon rises, try to hide it behind a building or similar, so it does not shine directly into your eyes.
7. 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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