Friday, 16 September 2011

IAA Lecture, update re Cork, lectures, space news, circumbinary exoplanet, MAC

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:  
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.  


5. NEW GIANT ROCKET FOR NASA: Nasa has revealed plans for a new giant rocket to spearhead its space programme. It will outclass even the giant Saturn V rockets that propelled men to the moon. This time the destinations will be much farther and the rocket even more powerful.
   The 'Space Launch System' is a multibillion-dollar programme which will carry astronauts in a capsule on top and start test launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in six years. The cost of the programme is estimated at about 18 billion dollars over the next five years.
    The size, shape and heavier reliance on liquid fuel as opposed to solid rocket boosters is much closer to the moon rockets than the recently retired space shuttles, which were winged, reusable ships that sat on top of a giant liquid fuel tank, with twin solid boosters providing most of the power. It is also a shift in emphasis from the moon-based, solid-rocket-oriented plans proposed by the George Bush administration.
   The idea is to launch its first unmanned test flight in 2017 with the first crew flying in 2021 and astronauts heading to a nearby asteroid in 2025. From there, Nasa hopes to send the rocket and astronauts to Mars - at first just to circle, but then later landing on the Red Planet - in the 2030s.
     At first the rockets will be able to carry into space 77 tons to 110 tons of payload, which would include the six-person Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle capsule and more. Eventually it will be able to carry 143 tons, maybe even 165 tons. By comparison, the Apollo Saturn V booster was able to lift 130 tons.
    The plans dwarf the lift-off power of the space shuttle, which could haul just 27 tons. The biggest current unmanned rocket can carry about 25 tons.
6. Exoplanet discovered in the 'Goldilocks Zone'. Astronomers believe they have found a second planet outside our solar system that seems to be in the right zone for life - just. But it would feel like a steam bath - hot, sticky and beyond uncomfortable. European astronomers announced the discovery along with about 50 other planets outside our solar system at a US conference.
    The most exciting of those planets is the second to be confirmed as lying in what astronomers call the habitable zone, or the "Goldilocks zone". That means it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to be present. Water is the key to a planet being able to support Earth-like life, scientists say.
    Only one of the past discoveries of such Goldilocks planets has held up - found in 2007. And even this new one comes with an asterisk: the planet would need to have water and be a rocky, solid planet like Earth, not one that is primarily gas like Jupiter.
    The new planet is about 3.6 times the mass of Earth. Temperatures there may range from 30C to 50C with plenty of humidity. "It's going to be really muggy. We're not saying it's habitable for you and me."
   But other types of life - probably shorter and squatter life - could conceivably take root there. They would probably be closer to the ground than humans because gravity on this larger-than-Earth planet is about 1.4 times what we experience. A year there is only 60 days.
    For it to be considered liveable by astronomers, at least 60% of it would have to be covered in clouds. Earth has about 50% cloud cover, so 60% seems reasonable.
    The new planet, called HD85512b, closely circles a star about 35 light years from Earth in the constellation Vela.
7. "Tatooine" Planet discovered! In a scientific discovery that seems ripped from the pages of science fiction, astronomers have found a planet that orbits two suns, just like Tatooine in the movie "Star Wars." The Tatooine-like planet is called Kepler-16b and was discovered with NASA's Kepler space telescope. It is called a circumbinary planet, meaning it circles a binary star system.
   The two 'parent' stars are a K-type Dwarf with a mass of about 69% of the Sun, and a Red Dwarf with a mass of about 30% of our Sun. They orbit each other with a period of 41 days, and the planet orbits them both with a period of 229 days.
   The planet's orbit is stable, but it lies outside the habitable zone of the system.
(the following details are edited and adapted from "")
   Project leader Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, Calif., said: "It's a completely different kind of planetary system. About half the stars in our galaxy reside in double systems, and about one in 70 are eclipsing binaries. Now that we know how to find circumbinary planets, I think in the next month or so we're going to find a few more. We know what they look like and we know the tricks they play.
  Binary stars may just as easily have planets as single stars. There are disks that people think precede the formation of planets. And 'Kepler' found just as many disks around double stars as they had around singles. Some people thought that the two stars would dissipate the disk before planets could form. Others said, no, when you mix up the disk it actually starts to accrete, and you get planets forming even faster. But now we know that planets can form in such a system.
   I see no reason why you can't find a habitable system around two stars. This system is stable so I don't see why others couldn't be. But speculating on what their biological cycles would be as a consequence, that'd be a fascinating study.
   Nighttime would be odd. It would sometimes be a very short nighttime when the stars are far away from each other, then when they drew close you'd have a longer nighttime.  
See:,  and
8. Satellite debris over Ireland? The Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, is expected to crash back to Earth in late September. As the orbit has an inclination of 57 degrees, it could in theory come down in Ireland (latitude approx. 52 - 55 degrees N.). NASA and U.S. military officials said it's currently impossible to predict when or where the spacecraft will fall, but it will most likely come down over the ocean or an unpopulated land mass. There is a 1-in-3,200 chance a piece of debris could injure or kill a person, according to an assessment by NASA. (The chance of it coming down over Ireland is simply the ratio of the land area of Ireland to the total surface area of the Earth between latitudes 57 degrees N & S. - You do the maths!)
  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.
   The spacecraft, launched by the Shuttle in 1991, measured chlorine and fluorine in the stratosphere, a region between 9 miles and 30 miles above Earth's surface. The discovery confirmed chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used in manmade aerosol sprays, refrigerants and solvents caused the ozone hole over Antarctica.
    UARS is now being captured by the atmosphere as it orbits at altitudes between 152 miles and 171 miles. When NASA decommissioned the 12,500-pound satellite in 2005, they lowered its orbit from 340 miles to expedite its re-entry. See
9. Midlands Astronomy Club Outreach: The big MAC Astronomy Outreach event in Athlone is on Friday night, September 16th. MAC members will be there from 8pm in St. Kieran's Community Centre, Tormey Villas. A helpful guide with directions on Google Maps can be found here:,+Athlone&daddr=Tormey+Villas,+Athlone&hl=en&geocode=FcJVLwMdN_CG_yldlFgpDElcSDEwxEEBEIJbgg%3BFQFNLwMd7cuG_ym_pHdFqklcSDECsGJmO006Mg&sll=53.431552,-7.936034&sspn=0.015571,0.038581&vpsrc=0&mra=ls&ie=UTF8&t=m&z=16&layer=t
   It begins to get dark after 8:30pm so if it is clear then telescopes will be set up for around then. Visitors can bring their own and ask questions about how to use and maintain them and set them up for all to see. This event is aimed at all ages and all levels of interest. And best of all IT'S FREE!
Not Weather Dependant: Should the weather not play ball then the event will be moved indoors where MAC members will demonstrate how to use some of the telescopes there, present a couple of 10 minute talks and take time to answer all manner of questions.

10. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account. twitter@IaaAstro
11. 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