Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lecture, Orionids, ROSAT, Spacelab, Galileo, M31's asteroid, Mars talks

Hi all,
1. IAA LECTURE, 2 November:  The Astronomical Association's next public lecture will be given by Dr Phil Marshall of the Department of Astrophysics, Oxford University.  He is a Royal Society Research Fellow, specialising in public outreach, especially on gravitational lensing and observational cosmology.
   His talk is entitled "Cosmic Telescopes: Focussing and observing with gravitational lenses"
   Gravitational Lenses are a very powerful tool for studying the most distant objects in the universe, and best of all, they are provided by Mother Nature, free of charge! But first you have to find them, and know how to interpret the images. This promises to be a fascinating lecture, revealing the latest findings on the early and most distant parts of our universe.
  (This lecture is being arranged with assistance from the Astrophysics Department at QUB, for which we are very grateful.)
   The lecture is on WEDNESDAY 02 November, 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:  
2. ORIONID METEOR SHOWER: Today Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley's comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Saturday morning, Oct. 22nd, with more than 15 meteors per hour. Some Orionids will still be visible until the 23rd. The radiant is in N E Orion, not far from the 'feet' of Gemini. Check for links to a live meteor radar, sky maps and observing tips.

3. ROSAT TO CRASH BACK TO EARTH: UPDATE: The massive ROSAT X-ray space telescope is nearing a fiery burn-up in Earth's atmosphere. Most experts agree that re-entry will occur during the early hours of Oct. 23rd, but cannot predict the likely re-entry point yet. Observers report that the satellite, which of course is getting ever lower and closer, can be as bright as a first magnitude star and it occasionally "flares" to even greater brightness.  For last-chance sightings of ROSAT in your area, check, or SpaceWeather's online satellite tracker ( or turn your smartphone into a ROSAT tracker: .
   In case you missed the last alert, here are the relevant points from that one:
Readers in the S half of Ireland have another (VERY slight!) chance to see a satellite crashing back to Earth later this month. Since it never passes further North than 53 degrees, only those living South of the latitude of Birr (approximately) could be in the fall zone.

    The ROSAT X-ray astronomy observatory is smaller and less massive than NASA's Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, which fell back to Earth on Sept. 24. But officials predict it will spread three times more debris and pose a greater threat to people than UARS. That's because ROSAT is made of heat-resistant components, especially its primary mirror, which officials say will probably be the largest single fragment that will reach Earth. The satellite will streak into the atmosphere at 17,000 mph, and temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit will burn up much of the spacecraft.

    All these forces exerted on the satellite cause it to disintegrate, which in turn means that it eventually lands in the form of a long debris trail. The really heavy objects land later, because they ultimately have to drill their way through the atmosphere."

   The bulk of ROSAT is expected to survive re-entry, littering its impact point with up to 30 pieces of debris. There is a 1-in-2,000 chance someone will be struck by fragments of ROSAT on its way down, according to German scientists. That's odds of about 1-in-14 trillion that any individual person will be hit. However, ROSAT will likely end up in the sea, like UARS last month.

   Even one day before re-entry, the time of ROSAT's demise will only be known with a precision of plus-or-minus five hours, putting entire oceans and continents in the satellite's flight path. It will not be possible to make any kind of reliable forecast about where the satellite will actually come down until about one or two hours before the fact. It will, however, be possible to predict, about one day in advance, which geographical regions will definitely not be affected.

   The slow descent is due to the friction encountered by the satellite as it enters the outer fringes of Earth atmosphere, which increases the more ROSAT penetrates into our atmosphere. Fluctuations in solar activity affect the upper atmosphere and thus can quicken or slow a satellite's re-entry. 


4. Spacelab: It is with great pleasure that we invite you to participate in YouTube Space Lab. (from Robert Hill, of NISO at Armagh)
   YouTube Space Lab combines an exciting platform for informative space-related videos with a competition for 14 - 18 year olds from around the world to send a science experiment to space. The winning experiment will be carried out on the International Space Station and live streamed on YouTube. Winning teams will have the chance to win some other amazing prizes too. Through the wonder of space, and the power of YouTube, we hope to inspire and educate kids around the world about science. Globally recognised partners who share our vision, such as Lenovo and Space Adventures in cooperation with NASA, JAXA, and ESA, are helping us make YouTube Space Lab a reality.
   A global panel of distinguished experts and scientists, including Professor Stephen Hawking, will help choose the winning experiments. Find out more about the competition on the YouTube Space Lab channel.
   We want to ensure that students all over the world have the opportunity to compete in this exciting competition, and we want your help in letting them know about it. Please help us in communicating the announcement of YouTube Space Lab to your educational networks as widely as possible. There's much more information about the competition online on the channel and there is also a site especially for teachers to help on how to approach getting students involved in YouTube Space Lab. Thank you for your help in making the world's largest, most global and inclusive space competition a huge success!
The YouTube Space Lab Team
P.S. Please feel free to forward this to educators or educator networks you know!
5. GALILEO COMPETITION FOR CHILDREN: The Galileo Drawing Competition is an amazing chance to have a Galileo Programme Satellite named after you and launched into Space!
   The Galileo Project is Europe's own dedicated GPS system, and will consist of a network of satellites, each costing about a billion euro! Belgium and Bulgaria have already held their competitions, and two satellites have already been named 'Thijs' and 'Natalia', after children in those counties.
   To enter the competition you will need to create a picture that represents 'Space and Aeronautics'. This includes things like stars, rockets, planets and satellites. What else can you think of that is in Space?
   You can create your picture using any drawing, painting, or colouring technique that you like. You can use all sorts of materials like paints, felt tips, pencils, glue, glitter. The main thing is that you use a big dollop of imagination!
   You then upload your picture at the website below. You can do this by scanning your picture or by taking a digital photo. Your parents, teachers, or local library may be able to help you do this. You can only enter one picture so make sure you chose your favourite one.
  You must upload your picture before 15th November 2011. A National Jury Panel will then select a winning picture. The winner will be invited to an Award Ceremony where they will be presented with a certificate and a trophy, to keep, that represents the satellite that will be named after them.
   If you live in the United Kingdom or Ireland and were born in either 2000, 2001 or 2002, then you can enter the competition. There are separate competitions for each country, so select the appropriate one from the website, which has all the information you need: Good luck!

6. Asteroid passing 'through' M31. (This has been adapted from a BAA email. T.M.) The bright (magnitude 11) asteroid (372) Palma will pass less than 15' north of the nucleus of the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) on the evening of October 21/22.  It will take the asteroid about 5 days to cross the galaxy between roughly the dates of October 18-23. The large majority of asteroids do not stray too far from the Ecliptic and so cannot reach M31.  Although Palma occupies the asteroid Main Belt, it has an unusually high orbital inclination, and on this occasion it will be about 34 degrees north of the Ecliptic such that it crosses in front of the Andromeda Galaxy.
   The best photo opportunity will probably occur on the evening of Oct 22/23 when Palma will lie between the core of M 31 and M 110 (NGC 205). The following evening (Oct 23/24) it will pass some 13' south of Messier 110.
A finder chart (courtesy of Graham Relf of the BAA Computing Section) showing the general path of Palma is available at: N.B.  It will be necessary to take a time-series of images and stack these
to show the trail of the moving asteroid as its apparent speed is only 34" per hour.

7. MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY TALKS: Kevin Nolan, very well-known in Irish astronomy circles, will be giving a new talk titled "Mars Science Laboratory: In search of Origins" to celebrate the Science Week Theme of "The chemistry of life" and the launch of MSL-Curiosity the week after (On November 25th). Kevin is the Irish Representative of The Planetary Society, and is the author of an excellent book on Mars; "Mars, A Cosmic Stepping Stone", published by Springer. (See the great reviews at

   He will be giving the same talk three times - in Dublin (Mansion House on Monday 14th), Galway (NUI Galway on Nov 16th) and Blackrock Castle Observatory (Friday November 18th).
   Kevin adds: "On a related note, I have just launched the new Planetary Society Ireland web site at
   It's quite basic now but is being used to promote the talk at I've also created a new twitter account @planetarie and will be tweeting in selected areas of TPS News, Space News and Policy issues, Mars Exploration and Irish Astronomy matters. While I have few followers just now, Forfas-DSE, BCO and are retweeting my tweets and these, along with other mechanisms such as the talks in November and an intended blog ( for 2012) I hope to build a following. I will always be delighted to tweet any IAA news that you need further circulation on (as and when I develop a following!!)."

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

9. 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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