Thursday, 21 June 2012

Solstice @ Beaghmore, Dublin lectures, Solarfest full, NLCs, weblinks

Hi all,
1. 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, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG.  T. 028-3751-2967; 028-3752-2928;; Website:


2. "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.

3. Dunsink Solarfest, 23 June. This is now fully booked.
4. 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.


7. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
8. 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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