Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Lecture, Gem's, Comet, Lidl 'scope, Radio, Solstice, Party, Stargazing Live, GAF

Hi all,
1. IAA LECTURE, 14 December: The Astronomical Association's next public lecture will be given by Dr Ryan Milligan of QUB: Title: "Exploring the Current Rise in Solar Activity"
Dr Milligan is actively engaged in solar research, at a very interesting time in the current solar cycle. After one of the longest and deepest solar minima on record, there was speculation that the 11-year solar cycle was about to 'switch off' or at least undergo a drastic change, leading to another 'Maunder Minimum'. And there is some evidence that the last Maunder Minimum was associated with a 'mini-ice age' in western Europe.
On the other side of the coin, there is also increasing concern that another 'Carrington Superflare' could cause widespread damage and disruption to our modern electrical and electronic life, putting out of action everything from our power supplies to computers, mobile phones, and almost all form of travel apart from the bicycle! So interest in the Sun's activity is at an all-time high.
The lecture is on WEDNESDAY 14 December, 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: www.irishastro.org
2. GEMINID and URSID METEORS. The Geminids are active from about 10 to 17 December, with maximum on the 14th at about 14h. That's obviously daylight here, so the best options for observing are the nights of 13-14, and 14-15 December.

The ZHR at maximum is about 100, but unfortunately there will be interference from moonlight! On the night of Dec 13-14 it will be just past full, and in Gemini, just about 16˚ away from the radiant! Next night it will be a bit fainter, but still only about 20˚ below the radiant, which lies just above Castor.

The best trick is to try to hide the Moon behind some object such as a building, so that it doesn't shine directly into your eyes, and then look away about 50 degrees on the other side of the radiant.

On the 15th-16th it will have moved on into Cancer, giving an hour or two's viewing before it rises, but with the radiant still quite low.

A small compensation is that the Ursid meteors peak on December 22, with no moonlight, so if you have all your prezzies already wrapped, it's your chance for some good observing of a rather under-observed shower. The ZHR might be 10 – 20; on some occasions it has been much higher. The radiant is not far from Kocab, the second brightest star in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear

The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the rate which would be seen by an experienced observer, in a VERY dark sky, and with the radiant in the zenith: actual observed rates very rarely reach the nominal ZHR for various reasons.

3. COMET to Hit Sun: A comet with a nucleus about 200 metres across is plunging toward the Sun where it will most likely be destroyed in a spectacular light show on Dec. 15/16. Solar glare will prevent any observations from Earth, but NASA and ESA spacecraft should have a grand view. Check http://spaceweather.com for full coverage.

Lidl has once again come up with a telescope offer for the Xmas market. It's back to the old favourite, the 70mm refractor on aluminium tripod and equatorial mount, for £79.99. It will be on sale from Thursday 15 Dec.
* Bresser 70mm achromatic refractor, 900mm FL, adjustable aluminium tripod, equatorial mount with slow motions on both axes.
* 3 eyepieces (standard 31.5mm diameter), 20mm, 12mm and 4mm, plus 1.5x erecting terrestrial converter (if this is the usual design, it will bring the image the right way up, and increase the power of each eyepiece you use with it by 1.5x, but with a much narrower field of view).
* Software for PC
* 6x25mm finder
* star diagonal
(My view: This is not a telescope for faint deep sky objects, nor detailed views of the planets, but is fine for a beginner on a budget, and will give good views of brighter objects like the Pleiades, M42 etc, double stars, the Moon, or the Sun by projection or using a proper 'Mylar' - type solar filter (not supplied). T.M.)
5. Interview on YPAM, Radio Ulster, Sat 17/12. Early risers on Saturday morning can hear me being interviewed on Your Place And Mine about the forthcoming Winter Solstice (it's the Saturday just before it). Weather permitting, I'll be on the roof of Broadcasting House on Belfast talking about the solstice sunrise. The Sun will rise from there at about 08.40, so the interview might start at about 08.40 or so. But I'm not asking you to set the alarm early just for me!
6. Winter Solstice: The solstice will actually be at 05.30 on Dec 22, when the Sun reaches its most southerly point on the ecliptic, and hence its half-yearly southerly journey through the sky comes to an end, and it thus appears to 'stand still' (the literal meaning of solstice). Of course, it's only the Southward motion that ends - its daily circuit around our sky continues as normal!
It then starts to move North again, giving longer days and shorter nights.
7. Astronomy at UCLAN? An IAA member has asked me - "Do you know of anyone who has tackled a part of (or all of) the BSc in Astronomy by distance learning at the University of Central Lancashire?" He is keen to start this course, and is wondering if anyone has already done it, and has any comments or advice. If you can help, let me know & I'll pass on your email to him. Thanks.
8. IAA NEW YEAR PARTY: The annual social event of the year will be on Saturday 7 January. The format is the same as before: meet first for eats at 5.30 for 6.0 at McBrides in Comber, then on to the Tudor Cinema for some hot punch or soft drinks and the film "Cowboys and Aliens", followed by George's diabolical quiz. More details next time, but mark the date in your diary now.
9. BBC's STARGAZING LIVE returns on 16-18 January, starring the Irish Astronomical Association with a 2-hour live broadcast extravaganza from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on the evening of Tuesday 17th, and other activities on the Monday and Wednesday in the Craigavon area. Final details are still being worked out with the BBC - more on this after a further planning meeting with the BBC tomorrow. Oh, and there's some chap called Prof Brian Cox who might be on the programme too.....
10. Galway Astronomy Festival - January 21st 2012 is on "New Frontiers of the Universe".
Oscar Wilde reminds us that although we are all in the gutter, some of us are looking at the stars. This years Galway Astronomy Festival addresses the theme "New Frontiers of the Universe" from a professional as well as an amateur astronomer's perspective. The event, now in its 9th year, has become one of the most popular events in Ireland, where amateurs and professionals meet in friendship. This is essential for exchanging information, successful stargazing and mutual progress. We look forward to seeing you, hopefully under clear skies. For more details see: http://galwayastronomyclub.ie/
11: ISS: the International Space Station will start a new series of evening passes over Ireland on Dec 18. See www.heavens-above.com for details of this, and other bright satellites, Iridium Flares etc, for your own location.
12. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account. twitter@IaaAstro
13. 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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