Monday, 16 January 2012

S/gazing Update, Lecture, Galway SP, Spacecraft crash, Space/Astro News, Aurorae

Hi all,
1.  BBC's STARGAZING LIVE  is on 16-18 January, featuring the Irish Astronomical Association with a 2-hour broadcast extravaganza from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre (LNDC) near Lurgan, Co Armagh, on the evening of Tuesday 17th, and other activities on the Monday and Wednesday.
   The IAA has been recognised by the BBC as an official 'Partner' in delivering this part of the programme. More on the IAA website:
 Look out for the following highlights:
   Monday 16th: A public "Jupiter Watch" will be held by members of the IAA in association with the School of Mathematics and Physics in front of the main building at Queen's University, from 6 pm to 9pm. If it's cloudy, Dr Chris Watson will give a public lecture in the Larmor Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, entitled "Jupiters around other stars". See: 
   Tuesday 17th: IAA Events at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre: 
*Public Observing if clear: Venus, Jupiter, + all the usual Deep Sky wonders with a selection of powerful telescopes and binoculars.
*Stardome presentations: due to the expected demand, these will be ticket only, issued on a first come - first served basis.
*Amazing Photo Exhibition: The fantastic A0 size photos produced for IYA 2009 will again be on show, plus some of the best from other sources.
*Telescope and binocular exhibition: see all the varieties available, the pros and cons of each, and learn how to use them to their best capacity.
*Meteorites: an exhibition of many different sorts of meteorites - hold in your hand a piece of outer space (if you can hold it!), with experts there to talk about them.
*Our first "Ulsternaut" - Derek Heatly from Co Down, who has booked to go into space with Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two will be there to talk about his training experiences and forthcoming flight, with videos.
*Astrophotography for beginners" - A 'taster session' by our own expert, Paul Evans.
*Q&A session: 'Everything you always wanted to know about astronomy' - a panel of experts will be there to answer questions from the public on everything from the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zeeman Effect.
*Hands-on demos: How to make a comet, etc.
*3-D Modern Astronomy show, presented by Robert Hill from N.I. Space Office.
*Children's activities, such as making willow stars.
In other words, something for everyone.
See also: - put "Belfast" in the search box and see all our next events!
  Wednesday 18th: Armagh Observatory and NIEA: Stargazing LIVE at An Creagan and Beaghmore: Where the Heavens Meet the Earth
Armagh Observatory and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) together with An Creagan and the Omagh and Cookstown District Councils are hosting a day of FREE Stargazing LIVE activities at An Creagan and the nearby Beaghmore Stone Circles.  This is a unique megalithic site and the best Darksky site in Northern Ireland.
    Following a series of Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE) astronomy and science-based activities for local KS2 school children at An Creagan, in the afternoon there will be an opportunity, weather permitting, to visit the Beaghmore Stone Circles and learn more about the stones from Living History players and a professional archaeologist. This element of the FREE Stargazing LIVE event will take place from approximately 3.30pm to 5.00pm. Participants will watch the Sun going down and observe the bright planets Venus and Jupiter, both visible in the southern sky, as well as the first stars to appear after sunset. See
Further information about this Stargazing LIVE event will be available from the Observatory website.  Meanwhile, anyone wishing to participate in either the afternoon or evening events is requested to obtain their FREE ticket(s) by telephoning or sending an e-mail to: Mrs Aileen McKee at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel: 028-3752-2928; e-mail:
 Armagh Planetarium will also be presenting a Stargazing Live event on Wednesday 18th January. They will be screening special FREE presentations of their brand new digital theatre show 'Experience the Aurora' at 7pm and 7.45pm.  All seats for these shows must be pre-booked in advance.  Places are limited so you are advised to book early to avoid disappointment (Tel: 02837 523689). They will also be joined by experts from the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomical Society who will be bringing along a range of telescopes for public night sky viewing.  They will also be on hand to help with any telescope queries you may have.  So if you have a telescope and are not sure how to use it, this is your chance to get some expert advice from the NIAAS members.
   Planetarium Director Dr Tom Mason has over 40 years experience working with meteorites. He will show you how to identify meteorites and also provide examples of the most commonly misidentified objects which are not meteorites.  On display for the first time will be the Planetarium's latest lunar meteorite acquisition, as well as a fragment of Mars and various other specimens.  Feel free to bring along any rock samples that you would like Dr Mason to identify.
   For younger visitors there will be a special Stargazing arts and crafts room where they can have fun making space objects.
6:30pm Doors open; Public telescope viewing commences; Stargazing arts and crafts commences
7:00pm Experiencing the Aurora show *Remember to pre-book your seats!
7:30pm Meteorite Workshop
7:45pm Experiencing the Aurora show *Remember to pre-book your seats!
8:30pm Meteorite Workshop
9:30 Doors close
2. IAA LECTURE, 25 January:  The Astronomical Association's next public lecture will be given by Paul Evans, IAA: Title: "Manned pace Exploration, the First 50 Years". Paul, the IAA's webmaster, is a life long spaceflight enthusiast, and regularly visits The Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to see launches. Paul is also an expert photographer, so I'm sure we will be treated to some amazing images.
    The lecture is on WEDNESDAY 25 January, 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:  
3. IAA 2-hour Live Radio Broadcast!  The Irish Astronomical Association has also been invited by the BBC to present a 2-hour live astronomy programme on Radio Ulster on the evening of Friday 27 January from Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh! We will have a large selection of powerful telescopes and binoculars for viewing the sky, plus the Stardome mobile planetarium. This will broadcast from 8 to 10 p.m., and lots of interesting items will be included, to cope with either clear or cloudy skies. The presenters are the well-known Anne-Marie McAleese and Darryl Grimason. More details on this later.
4. Galway Astronomy Festival - January 21st 2012 is on "New Frontiers of the Universe". It will be held as usual in the Westwood Hotel, Newcastle, Galway (just on the outskirts of the city, on the N59 road to Clifden).
9am-10.00 Registration
10.00-10.15 Official Opening
10.15-11.15 Carl O' Beirnes: Irish Astrophotography
11.15-12.15 Brian Harvey M.A.: Future Missions to the Moon and Mars
12.30-14.00 Midday break and Workshop by Jan Kotek on celestial maps
14.00-15.00 Dr. Niall Smith: Refurbishing derelict castles and defunct dishes – frugal innovation with real scientific impact
15.00-15.30 Tea/Coffee
15.30-16.30 Dr. Ronan Mc Nulty: Faster than light Particles and the latest results from CERN
16.30-17.00 Raffle and closing session
19.00 Dinner
21.00 Observing in Brigit's Garden
We look forward to seeing you, hopefully under clear skies. For more details see:
5. PHOBOS GRUNT probe crashes back into Pacific: Russia's Defence Ministry says a failed probe designed to travel to a moon of Mars has crashed, showering debris over the southern Pacific, according to news reports. The ministry said the fragments fell on Sunday 775 miles west of Wellington Island. The Phobos Grunt was one of the heaviest and most toxic space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal as the probe's toxic rocket fuel and most of the craft's structure were to burn up in the atmosphere anyway.

6. CHINA AND INDIA TO BUILD WORLD's LARGEST TELESCOPE: Hot on the heels of the announcement of the next step towards the building of the 40-meter E-ELT (see previous bulletin), China and India are catapulting to the forefront of astronomy research with their decision to join as partners in a Hawaii telescope that will be the world's largest when it's built later this decade. China and India will pay a share of the construction cost - expected to top $1 billion - for the Thirty Meter Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano. They will also have a share of the observation time. It's the first advanced telescope in which either nation has been a partner. The Thirty Meter Telescope's segmented primary mirror, which will be nearly 100 feet across, will give it nine times the light-collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today. Its images will also be three times sharper.
   The telescope, known as TMT, will be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should also help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe. If completed on time, it will be by far the world's largest until the E-ELT is completed, planned for a few years later.

7. SCIENTISTS CREATE THE SURFACE OF A STAR ON EARTH: The 'Z Machine' at the University of Texas, Austin, was built to simulate nuclear weapon detonations, but now devotes around 15 per cent of its time to experiments such as the star simulation, reports Inside Science. The machine produces huge amounts of energy - enough to melt diamonds. The machine can output power equivalent to 80 times Earth's total consumption. It has generated temperatures of 3.7 billion Kelvins, the highest ever created by humankind, including the centre of hydrogen bomb explosions. It also routinely generates electrical power equivalent to 80 times Earth's total power output. In the 'white dwarf' experiment, researchers simulated the 'spectrum' of a white dwarf's surface by firing 26 million amps of electricity through tungsten wires, which vaporises them, releasing X-rays. When the X-rays hit a container of hydrogen gas, it ionises and reaches a temperature of around 10,000 degrees centigrade, to recreate the conditions on the surface of a star.

8. DARK MATTER IN UNIVERSE MAPPED: 'Dark matter' is a theoretical - and controversial - substance which is undetectable by telescopes on earth, but thought by some scientists to account for up to three quarters of the mass of the whole universe. But scientists have mapped it for the first time, detecting dark matter by the 'ripples' it causes in space and time. Scientists studied 10 million galaxies in four regions of the sky using a 340 megapixel camera in Hawaii, looking for dark matter by the distortion of light from galaxies behind it - the gravity from dark matter 'bends' the light on its journey to us.The result is a map of dark matter on a huge scale - a tract of space measuring a billion light years. The international project involved studying images collected over a period of five years by the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea mountain in Hawaii.Galaxies included in the survey were typically six billion light years away. They emitted their light when the universe was six billion years old, roughly half the age it is today.

9. ISS: the International Space Station  is now in a series of morning passes. See for details of this, and other bright satellites, Iridium Flares etc, for your own location.

10. Venus, the Evening Star: Is now readily visible in the evening twilight, and will be a brilliant 'evening star' as seen from Ireland through the Spring, and will be very well placed in late March as it approaches the Pleiades. It's visible lowish in the SW after sunset, at magnitude -4.1, and apparent diameter 13" (arcsecs). It is gradually moving out from the Sun, and will become a brilliant and unmistakable object through February and March.
11. Billions of Planets in the Milky Way? More than 100 billion planets could populate the Milky Way galaxy, and many of the undiscovered worlds could be the size of Earth, according to a study released last week. Using a statistical analysis of data collected by a world-wide team of astronomers, the study shows smaller planets are more common than massive Jupiter-sized gas giants.
   The results, which are published in the journal Nature, were released by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. "This means, statistically, every star in the galaxy should have at least one planet, and probably more," said Kailash Sahu, a member of the international team reporting on the study.
12. Aurora alerts. A lot of people who are not particularly interested in astronomy have asked me about seeing an aurora from Ireland/UK. I'm therefore going to set up a separate alert bulletin for possible aurora events only. If you know anyone who would like to get alerts of chances when aurorae might be visible from here (but not these more comprehensive bulletins), send me their email address, or ask them to email me directly.
   I will of course include such information in these general astronomy bulletins too!
13. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account. twitter@IaaAstro
14. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
15. 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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