Wednesday, 21 September 2011

4 Lectures, Cork trip, UARS crash, Draconid outburst, Comets, ISS, Mars events

Hi all,
1. OPENING IAA LECTURE, 21 September:  The first public lecture in the new season by the Irish Astronomical Association will be given by Professor Mark Bailey, MBE, Director of Armagh Observatory. 
   His talk is entitled "The Origin of Comets". Prof Bailey is a renowned expert on comets, particularly their orbits and evolution, with many papers published in the world's leading astronomy and astrophysics journals.
   Comets may well hold the clues to conditions in the very early Solar System, and may even have been responsible for bringing life to planet Earth! This is sure to be a fascinating talk.
  It's on WEDNESDAY 21 September, at 7.30 p.m., in the Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University, Belfast. ADMISSION IS FREE, as always, and includes light refreshments. Everyone is welcome! Full details of the rest of the programme are on the website:  
Due to a cancellation, there are still a few places left. Reply by email asap if you are interested.
UPDATES: New visit; On the Saturday morning we now intend to visit the new 32 meter radio telescope facility at Elfordstown, near Midleton, Co Cork. This is a former communications dish, now being converted for radio astronomy under the guidance and initiative of Dr Niall Smith of CIT. this will be by far the largest radio telescope in Ireland. See:
Accommodation update: We may also now all stay together in one hotel, if we can negotiate a good group discount.
Booking Update: Because STARDUST with the hard copy booking form did not issue as early as we had hoped, the booking deadline has been extended to 18 September. But you can also return the booking to me by email, as the quickest and easiest way.
   The original notice, updated, follows below.
We have arranged a visit to see some of the very interesting astronomical places of interest in Cork. These include the new state of the art Blackrock Castle Observatory and Science Centre, the historic and now beautifully restored Crawford Observatory in UCC, and the 32 meter radio telescope just outside Midleton. We will also meet up with our friends in the Cork Astronomy Club (CAC).
Access there is now quite easy, with Motorway or M-standard dual carriageway the whole way from Belfast. Plans are that we will car-share, with ideally no more than 4 per car (unless someone can offer a people carrier or similar), sharing travel costs. Accommodation will be in a good but reasonably priced hotel, or several B&Bs / Guest Houses all in the same vicinity, in Cork.
We aim to depart about lunchtime on Friday 30 Sep, returning on the Sunday evening.
The provisional programme is as follows:
Friday lunchtime: depart Belfast.
Friday evening: Arrive, check in to accommodation. Dark sky observing with CAC, if clear. If not, socialising in local hostelry (optional).
Saturday morning. Visit Radio Telescope
Sat Afternoon: visit Crawford Observatory in UCC.
Sat evening: dinner with CAC, and, if they wish, the Directors of the observatories & Science Centre
Sat night: dark sky observing with CAC, if clear. If not, stay on after meal or move to pub/hotel etc. (optional)
Sunday morning: Visit CAC Observatory near airport just south of the city.
Sun afternoon: tour of Blackrock Castle Observatory
Sun evening: return journey.
COSTS: The basic costs are estimated at about £150, including dinner (excluding your other meals) as follows:
2 nights B&8, singles, about £80 (maybe less if sharing)
Petrol, tolls, etc, @ 4 to a car, sharing: £25 each
Dinner on Sat night about £30 (optional)
Incidentals: £5 per head
Total about £140. Say £150 to be safe
Other meals to be paid for as taken.
For details on -
The trip is conditional on sufficient numbers booking. A deposit will be requested once we know how many will be going. This will only be refunded in the event of the trip being cancelled.
   See the IAA website for a downloadable booking form.
   Members should also have got a hard copy of this notice, with the booking form, with the latest edition of STARDUST.

. Galway astro event, 23 September. Dr Andy Shearer is organising an event as part of the EU Researchers Night Programme - see This event has a strong astronomy element, and the Galway Astronomy Club are taking a key role in this. Dr Andy Shearer, Director, Centre for Astronomy, School of Physics, NUI Galway. Phone +353 91 493114,


4. LECTURE IN WEXFORD:  The public library in Wexford Town is hosting a particle physics lecture and discussion on THE GOD PARTICLE AND THE PARTICLE ZOO with Brendan Wallace, consultant engineer, on Wed 28 September 2011; 7 - 8.30pm. It also covers the LHC at CERN. Booking essential.  


debris over Ireland? - UPDATE  The Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, is expected to crash back to Earth late on Friday 23 September. As the orbit has an inclination of 57 degrees, it could in theory come down in Ireland (latitude approx. 52 - 55 degrees N.). In fact the satellite is due to pass over the Southern half of Ireland early on Friday morning, between about 03.00 and 03.30, depending on just how quickly it is slowed down by atmospheric drag, and again on Saturday morning, unless it has come down by then. The satellite will be in the earth's shadow for both those passes, so will not be visible, unless it has actually entered the atmosphere and is burning up, like a brilliant fireball. The fireballs (there will probably be more than one piece) will be visible (if it's clear) over a radius of about 70-100 miles from the actual orbital track, so you won't have to be directly under it to see them. If you are directly under the track (very unlikely!) observe at your own risk! Remember that the pieces causing the fireballs will only be visible when they are high up and still travelling at hypersonic speed and thus 'burning up'. Once the surviving pieces are slowed down by atmospheric resistance, they will cease to glow, so they will become invisible as they fall the last 10 or 20 miles or so. So, it's at your own risk! But in practice, the chance of YOU being hit is comparable to that of you winning the lottery.
   I'll give any further updates as and when they become available, but it might be worth planning to have a late night observing session that night if it's clear!
    26 components from the satellite, with a total mass of more than 1,100 pounds, are expected to survive re-entry and reach Earth's surface. The UARS was built before NASA and international standards were employed to limit human casualty risks from re-entering spacecraft to less than 1-in-10,000. 
   For updates on times of passes over Ireland you can check: You can also turn your smartphone into a UARS tracker by downloading their Simple Flybys app:
See previous email for more details on UARS.
6. Extraterrestrials - where are they? Your humble scribe (that's me) will be giving a public lecture, hosted by the Galway Astronomy Club, at the Westwood House Hotel, Newcastle, Galway, at 7.30 p.m. on 3 October. Entitled "Is there Intelligent Life out there??" it will look at the latest findings on extrasolar planets, extraterrestrial biochemistry, and the implications for the existence of alien life. And if they are there, will we ever meet them (and if so, at 'your place or mine'?), or even be able to communicate with them?
There is a fairly reliable forecast for a significant outburst of the Draconid Meteors on the evening of 8 October, just as the sky gets dark. IAA members can find more details in the latest STARDUST, and I will be giving an update with observing hints in the next bulletin.
   In the meantime, Prof Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, has been asked to circulate information about the BAA Draconid Meteor Project. For simplicity, the documents are on his public directory:
8. COMETS: Comet Garradd is now fading gradually, but is still visible in the average amateur's telescope: it is now in SE Hercules. Comet Elenin has passed behind the Sun, and is now very low in the W sky after sunset, between Venus and Saturn. In fact it is so low, in a bright twilight sky, that in practice it is not observable from Ireland at the moment, though the aspect will slowly improve as it moves out from the Sun. But the nucleus seems to have broken up, and the comet may be too faint to be seen at all, though it may show up in CCD images. We'll just have to wait and see how it develops.
9. ISS: The ISS is just about to start another series of morning passes over Ireland, details for your location are available on
10. Mars Science Laboratory – In Search of Origins.
On November 25th, NASA will launch one of the most ambitious missions ever sent into space – the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Recent named "Curiosity", the Mars Science Laboratory rover will land on the surface of Mars in July 2012 and drive many kilometres across the surface in search of evidence of an origin to life there. Building on decades of exploration of the Red Planet, Curiosity will tell us more about the planetary context for life on Mars – and on Earth – than any other probe ever sent there. Whatever its findings, Curiosity will contribute to a deeper understanding of the chemical and planetary context for life as we know it.
   In celebration of the launch of Curiosity, and of Science Week 2011 theme "The Chemistry of Life", Kevin Nolan of The Planetary Society will present a Science Week media-rich talk titled "Mars Science Laboratory – In Search of Origins", in Dublin, Galway and Cork. The
talk, aimed at the general public, will present an engaging overview of the great questions regarding the origin of life, the groundbreaking research being carried out both on Earth and Mars in search of answers, how MSL-Curiosity will contribute, and what plans are afoot for the near and medium-term future for the exploration of Mars.
1.    The search for the origin and cosmic abundance of life
2.    What Mars will tell us about the chemical origin and cosmic abundance of life
3.    The chequered road to Mars and the recently implemented optimum 'phased' strategy for present and future exploration of Mars
4.    Results to date regarding Mars' past and the possibility of life there
5.    Mars Science Laboratory – what it is, what exploration it will carry out and the value of that exploration
6.    The near term future – the outcomes of MSL, a sample return mission, human mission
7.    The value and relevance of Mars exploration
8.    The value of Space exploration in general
9.    The value and relevance of knowing answers to the origin and cosmic abundance of life

Event Details: The talk, including the latest "of-the-press" images sent back from Mars; delivered over three nights during Science Week 2011; in Galway, Dublin and Cork. The aim is to celebrate both Science Week 2011 and the imminent launch of the Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" (among the most sophisticated and far-reaching space probes ever to be launched in the search for life elsewhere in the universe).
   Admission: Free. Reservation advised – seats allocated on a first come first served basis.
   Suitability: All ages, general public
Venue and Times:
Dublin: Mansion House, Dawson Street; 8.00pm on Monday 14th November. Reservation:
Galway: NUI-Galway (Theatre TBA), Galway, 8.00pm on Wednesday 16th November
Cork: Blackrock Castle Observatory, Blackrock, Co. Cork, 8.00pm on Friday, 18th November
   Event Website: (Launch on September 30th)
11. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account. twitter@IaaAstro
12. 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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