Thursday, 14 June 2012

NEO tonite, Solar day at CFP, Solstice at Beaghmore, Dublin Lectures, CurioCity

Hi all,
The following is edited from a BAA e-Circular by Richard Miles, with additional comments from me.
   An unusually large Near-Earth Object, 2012 LZ1 has just been discovered by Rob McNaught and colleagues on 2012 June 10/11 using the 0.5-m Uppsala Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring, Australia. It will be bright enough to be imaged by many amateur telescopes in Ireland and UK. Quite apart from that, it shows that there are still quite sizeable objects out there that come close enough to be scary - although this one will be a definite miss.
   Currently, closest approach of 0.03636 AU is predicted to occur at June 14 23h UT whilst exhibiting a phase angle of 30.3 deg.  This PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroid) remains within a geocentric distance of 0.037 AU between June 14 06h and June 15 16h UT: a relatively long time interval, although given the orbit inclination, the relative velocity is quite high at 17.0 km/s.
Reported in MPEC 2012-L30, June 12 09:30 UT.
    2012 LZ1 is approximately 300-700 metres in size (H=19.7) and makes its closest approach of 0.036 AU (about 14 lunar-distances) on June 15.0 UT.  The object will be visible from the UK/Ireland near closest approach rather low down in a south-easterly direction and may be best seen before dawn (around 01:00-02:00 UT) on Friday, Jun 15 as an asteroidal object, magnitude 13.9 or so, moving at an apparent speed of about 38 "/min at an altitude of roughly 25 degrees above the horizon.
   Unusually too, although the orbital inclination is 26 degrees, it will remain visible from the UK/Ireland on many successive nights as it moves further northwards. During the next ten days, the declination, brightness and apparent speed will be as follows:

June 14/15  Decl. -15  V=13.9  38"/min
June 15/16  Decl. +01  V=14.2  36 "/min
June 16/17  Decl. +13  V=14.6  30 "/min
June 17/18  Decl. +23  V=15.1  23 "/min
June 18/19  Decl. +31  V=15.6  18 "/min
June 19/20  Decl. +37  V=16.0  13 "/min
June 20/21  Decl. +42  V=16.4  10 "/min
June 21/22  Decl. +46  V=16.7  8 "/min
June 22/23  Decl. +49  V=17.0  7 "/min
   This object will be visible in a westerly direction at an altitude of some 54 degrees.
   Given its size and proximity to the Earth, 2012 LZ1 is the latest PHA discovered.  Congratulations to Rob McNaught on this particular find which was conducted as part of the Siding Spring Survey; an NEO search program, the southern hemisphere counterpart of the Catalina Sky survey.
    Sky co-ordinates for finding this object can be obtained from the Minor Planet Center's ephemeris service at: Remember to enter a suitable Observatory Code in the online form to achieve a satisfactory topocentric prediction. For Ireland, you could use 981 for Armagh or 982 for Dunsink Observatory Dublin, whichever is closer (thanks to Prof Alan Fitzsimmons). For the UK, you could use Greenwich namely '000'.
   Observers are encouraged to report astrometry to the Minor Planet Center. Please report photometry to the nearest 0.01 mag to myself at the address below.  Thank you.
   Richard Miles, Director, Asteroids and Remote Planets Section, British Astronomical Association
Email: arps [at]
The Irish Astronomical Association will be running another of its ever-popular 'Solar Days' at Carnfunnock Country Park, Drains Bay, near Larne, Co Antrim. It's on the main A2 Coast Road, going North from Larne, and is signposted once you are through Drains Bay.
    Now that Solar activity is steadily increasing (there were two big spots today), we can expect to see lots of detail on the Sun's disk if there's any clear sky. We will have a selection of solar telescopes, each fitted with specialised safe astronomical filters, to see it in visible light, and in the wavelengths of Calcium and H-Alpha. There should be sunspots and huge prominences, each many times bigger than planet Earth. We will also have the usual display of astronomical and space items, posters, etc, starshows in the mobile planetarium, and our local 'Ulsternaut' Derek Heatly, so come along even if it's cloudy. I will also lead a tour of the excellent collection of Sundials in the park. 
  We will finish the afternoon with our midsummer BBQ, using the on-site picnic tables at the car park. The usual rules apply - bring along your own food, drinks, eating utensils, plates etc. And ALSO, bring along your own portable BBQ if you have one, although we should be able to provide cooking facilities for those who don't have one. More details on 
  There will be a feature on the event on Daybreak (ITV local early morning news broadcasts) on Friday morning: they were there filming some of us this morning - and we got sunny spells enough to see some beautiful complex spot groups and a few prominences.

3. SOLSTICE @ BEAGHMORE. The IAA will be joining with Armagh Observatory and the NIEA for another FREE solstice event at the amazing Beaghmore Stone Circles, in Co Tyrone.  
 Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory and the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA), and archaeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), are joining forces on Thursday 21st June, the summer solstice, for a day of fascinating and participative education and learning activities at Beaghmore Stone Circles, County Tyrone.  The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, and this year's event follows the highly successful series of activities provided at this important Bronze-Age site last January as part of the BBC's "Stargazing LIVE" programme.  Everyone is welcome to this event, which will showcase not just the astronomical alignments that are built into the site but also its puzzling archaeology and how these bits of the jigsaw fit into our understanding of the physical and historic landscape surrounding the site's construction more than 4,000 years ago.

  In the morning, several schools have been invited to participate in archaeological and astronomical activities between 10:30 and 14:00.  Children and their teachers will hear how the Bronze-age people who built the stone circles and rows might have lived and how they constructed the stone circles. The children will learn how to make a stone circle and have a go at making a clay pot.  They will also learn about the stars, planets and Seasons, and why the summer solstice is the longest day of the year.

  The astronomers participating in this morning session are supporting a new education and public outreach programme called European Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE).  This programme, which involves scientists in five European countries and South Africa, is funded through the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement 263325.  It is directed mainly at young and disadvantaged children with the important aim of using the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to encourage them to have an interest in science and technology and a sense of global citizenship from the earliest age. 

  In the long term, EU-UNAWE will help to produce the next generation of engineers and scientists and raise awareness that we are all part of a much larger global and space-based European community. Universe Awareness (UNAWE) was founded five years ago and is already active in more than 40 countries comprising a network of almost 500 astronomers, teachers and educators world-wide.

  Later in the day, from 16:00 to 20:00 this free event is open to adults and families.  Here, they will have the opportunity to participate in astro-archaeological tours at 17:00 and 19:00, led by NIEA archaeologist Claire Foley and astronomer Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory.   Weather permitting, visitors will also have a chance, courtesy of members of the Irish Astronomical Association, to obtain a safe view of the Sun through special astronomical telescopes and, under the supervision of NIEA archaeologists, to participate in a real research survey into the surrounding peat bog to see if further stones can be identified by "bog probing".

  The Beaghmore Stone Circle complex, County Tyrone, is located roughly halfway between Cookstown and Omagh and about an hour's drive from either Armagh or Belfast.  It is one of the most important stone-circle sites on the island of Ireland and discovered less than a hundred years ago during peat cutting in the 1940s and 1950s.  There are three pairs of open stone circles and a single in-filled one built of quite low stones, and each circle is associated with a double alignment or "stone row" pointing roughly in the direction of midsummer sunrise or midwinter sunset.  The combination of circles and alignments at Beaghmore is matched at other sites in Northern Ireland, and many, but by no means all, appear to have been designed as pointers to parts of the horizon that saw the rising or setting of the Sun or Moon.

   FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Libby McKearney at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG.  Tel. 028-3751-2967; 028-3752-2928;; Website:


4. "Searching for Earth-sized planets with NASA's Kepler space telescope "; (1) Dunsink and (2) Dublin Science Gallery
By Dr Fergal Mullally, Ames Research Centre in California.
Abstract: Finding planets like our own elsewhere in the Galaxy is the first step to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the Universe. Unfortunately, it's very hard to see planets around
other stars because the glare from the starshine overpowers the faint planets. Kepler is NASA's first mission capable of finding Earth sized planets in orbit around stars other than our own. Instead of trying to see the planets directly, it measures the change in brightness when a planet passes in front a star and blocks a tiny fraction of the starlight. It is very rare for a planet to line up just right to pass in front of the star as seen from the spacecraft, so Kepler will stare at over 150,000 stars almost continuously for 5-6 years to capture
these rare events. I will talk a little about the spacecraft, how we find planets, and present some of recent exciting planet discoveries.
 The first talk will be in Dunsink Observatory on 27th June. Free, but tickets required. Details at
  The second talk will be in the Science Gallery at TCD on July 4th at 6pm. Again it's free, but you need to book tickets.

5. CORK CURIOCITY features at BCO:

 CuriousCity is, a series of city-wide events in Cork from June 23 – 28 created with the intention of generating interest in science and arts among our community.  Part of the nationwide Dublin City of Science 2012 Festival, CuriousCity is co-ordinated by CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Lifetime Lab and the Cork City Learning Forum and will take place in numerous venues throughout the city. Events vary from free family fun days, to quantum theatre and science raps to interactive workshops for kids exploring the world of String Theory using drawings and sculptures from the kid's imagination.

   At CIT BCO we're also running free kids workshops 'That's About The Teeny Tiny Size Of It' for 5-7 yr. olds and 'That's About The Tiny Size Of It' for 7 – 10yr olds.  Kids will look at String Theory, Dimensions and our "What It's" and will create and make their own parallel universes, other dimensions and explore the world of Quantum Physics.

6. ISS. The ISS continues its series of evening passes over Ireland. Details are on the excellent free site  

7. NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS (NLCs): We are now into the season when these beautiful high altitude 'night-shining' clouds can be seen lowish on the N horizon near local midnight. They can be seen only when the Sun is at a certain distance BELOW the horizon, when all other normal tropospheric clouds could not be illuminated. They appear a silvery blue in colour, and are thought to be due to high altitude dust from meteors. You often see them near Capella, twinkling in the summer twilight. Send any photos if you capture them.
9. Dunsink Solarfest, 23 June. Following on from the success over the last 3 years, IFAS in conjunction with Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) and Trinity College Dublin are organising a one-day event in Dublin to celebrate solar astronomy. Solarfest 2012 will take place on Saturday 23rd June at Dunsink Observatory, Castleknock, Dublin. IFAS are very grateful to DIAS and TCD for supporting the event and entry is FREE.
   The programme for the event has been finalised: see
 or the IFAS website
The event will feature a number of lectures, a workshop, solar observing (weather permitting) and more. The lunchtime break will allow an opportunity to take in a tour of the facility to see the observatory and the 12" Grubb refractor. Tea/coffee will be provided, however please bring your own lunch.
  Spaces are limited to 60 seats. If you are interested in attending, please send an e-mail to Please state in the e-mail how many seats you would like to reserve.
  Regards & Thanks, Michael O'Connell

(NB: Dunsink Observatory is on Dunsink Lane, Castleknock, Dublin. The Observatory is at 53 deg 23' 14.3" N, 6 deg 20' 19.0" W, with the entrance off Dunsink Lane at 23' 16.6 "N; 20' 14" W. But Dunsink Lane has been blocked on the city side, and the observatory is now only accessible from the New River Road end, off the Navan Road, near the junction of the N3 and the M50 - the Castleknock junction, Junction 6. Since the M50 upgrade this has become a very complex junction.

    If approaching via the M50 from the Dublin airport direction, you MUST get into the correct lane at the offslip, or you'll be way off course! So when you approach Junction 6, move onto the offslip lane (to the left, obviously), but then stay on the two right hand lanes of the offslip, signed for 'Castleknock'. Do NOT keep on going round to your left via the left hand lane on the offslip, which will take you on to the N3 and Castleknock village! (That seems wrong when you know where Dunsink is, but believe me - I learned the hard way! If your Satnav says something else, ignore it.)

    Then move into the left hand of the two 'right' offslip lanes (in other words, the middle one of the original three). This will bring you to the original big roundabout, with traffic lights, where you then keep left, and then immediately left again, signed for 'Dunsink'.

   This road leads directly on to New River Road. At the 'cul-de-sac' sign continue on straight, and it becomes Dunsink Lane. Go straight on for almost 2 km (past Elmgreen Golf Course) until you see the road blocked ahead of you: the entrance to the Observatory is on the right just before the block. 

   If you go this way, it's simple and easy, so don't be put off - just follow those directions exactly.

On the return journey you go back along Dunsink Lane, then follow signs for the M50 Northbound. (TM)


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


11. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
12. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is now even easier: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA. If you are a UK taxpayer, please tick the 'gift-aid' box, as that enables us to reclaim the standard rate of tax on your subscription, at no cost to you.  See also
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley

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