1. IAA LECTURE, 8 February: The Astronomical Association's next public lecture will be given by Dr Mike Simms, of the Ulster Museum: Title: "Giant Impacts, Evidence from Britain". Mike is well known to IAA members, having given us several excellent lectures in the past. Although primarily a palaeontologist he has a wide range of interests in the broad geological sphere, including meteorites, of which he has an enviable collection. He also specialises in the geological evidence for past major impacts, and this talk will reveal new evidence that such sites are to be found as nearby as Britain.
The lecture is on WEDNESDAY 8 February, 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. IAA 2-hour Live Radio Broadcast a HUGE success! The Irish Astronomical Association presented a 2-hour live astronomy programme on Radio Ulster on the evening of Friday 27 January from Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh. And guess what? We had an almost totally clear sky all night! We had a large selection of powerful telescopes and binoculars for viewing the sky, plus the Stardome mobile planetarium which was very popular (with many thanks to Armagh Planetarium once again), meteorites on display with local expert Dr Mike Simms, our local 'Ulsternaut' Derek Heatly, IAA members Colin Johnstone with a piece of Moon Rock from Armagh Planetarium and staff from Queen's University and Armagh Observatory. There were also some pre-recorded interviews, done mainly at Beaghmore the previous week, and some local musicians playing and singing astronomy themed music and songs.
There was even a nice intro news item interview with me on Evening Extra at 5.50 about a small asteroid 2012 BX34 which had whizzed by Earth that afternoon at a mere 5 Earth diameters away!
As twilight fell, a beautiful crescent moon was soon joined by brilliant Venus, then Jupiter, and soon a black sky peppered with twinkling stars. IAA members really rose to the occasion, and soon we had about 15 telescopes trained on all the usual celestial highlights. And the public were arriving in droves!
Meanwhile the full BBC crew had arrived: including the two presenters Anne-Marie McAleese and Darryl Grimason, and even the head of BBC radio in NI.
Anne-Marie and Darryl circulated doing exploratory interviews and soon the deadline for the live broadcast at 8p.m. approached. They started off with interviews with Philip and myself, and after that everything is a bit of a blur! I originally wondered how we would fill 2 hours of live broadcast on radio, but the time literally flew! They interviewed all the 'visiting experts', plus some of our members, plus ordinary members of the public, interspersed with the musical interludes. I have lost count of the number of times I was on air - and it was so dark that they gave me a high-vis yellow jacket so they could find me among the crowds. You could hardly move for the number of people thronging round the telescopes! The estimate was that we had about 500 people there!
And the response from the public was great - texts started pouring in, some of which were questions about the sky which I tried to answer on-air. The producer was sitting in the O/B van with a huge smile on her face during the whole programme - she couldn't believe how successful it was turning out to be!
Everyone was delighted with the views of the sky, both through the huge selection of telescopes, and with the naked eye: sometimes it looked like a battle scene from Star Wars with the laser beams criss-crossing the sky like light sabres! Highlights were of course Venus, the lovely Moon with Earthshine, Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, the Pleiades, Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula and the Trapezium, other galaxies, nebulae, star clusters and double stars, and dear knows what else. It was a Cosmic Feast for everyone!
Particular thanks are due to Simon and Shane at DCP who did everything we asked in clearing the rooms and the site in advance, adjusting the lighting to a minimum, and generally being willingly helpful in every way, and of course to the producer, Louisa McCartney, and Anne-Marie and Darryl, the two presenters, for their faith in us, and their supreme professionalism!
All told it was a HUGE success, thanks to everyone in the IAA: ordinary members as well as council members. Adding those numbers to the 500 or so we had at QUB, plus the 1200 at DCP, gives a total of about 2,200 members of the public actually attending at the three events in which we were the major players in Stargazing Live.
3. IAA Event at Marble Arch, 25 February: Barely taking time to recover, we are also hoping to run a stargazing event at Marble Arch Caves, one of the darkest sites in Ulster, on Saturday 25 February. Final details to be confirmed: more information as soon as available.
4. And again, at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, on 30 March: This event had already been booked well before the BBC Stargazing Live: it too will have our usual format (but without the broadcast this time). More details on that next time too.
5. COSMOS 2012: The Midlands Astronomy Club are finalising the programme for their very popular annual star party, at Annaharvey Farm, just outside Tullamore, on the W/E of 13-15 April. More details when available, but note all these dates in your diaries.
6. ISS: the International Space Station will commence a new series of evening passes on Feb 14/15. See www.heavens-above.com for details of this, and other bright satellites, Iridium Flares etc, for your own location.
7. Venus, the Evening Star: Is now prominent in the evening twilight as the brilliant 'evening star'. It will continue to brighten and move higher up into a darker sky throughout the next two months and will be very well placed in late March as it approaches the Pleiades. It's visible in the SW after sunset, at magnitude -4.3, and apparent diameter 15" (arcsecs).
8. 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!
11. 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.