Thursday, 4 October 2012

Lecture, Pallas, Fireballs, Mars river, Bright Comet coming, Sea2Sky + MUCH MORE

Hi all,
(Biggest Issue Ever: 20 items!)
1. IAA LECTURE: "Tuning in the Radio Sun, & the LOFAR Observatory At Birr", Wed 3 October.
The next lecture of the IAA's new season will be given by Dr Peter Gallagher of Trinity College. Peter is currently Chairman of the Astronomical Science Group of Ireland, and runs the Rosse Solar Observatory at Birr Castle. He also leads the Irish LOFAR project: LOFAR is one of the post important and powerful projects in radio astronomy which is providing new insights in almost every area of astronomy. He is also a proud graduate of QUB.
   As we head towards the next solar maximum, expected next spring, there is renewed interest in our nearest star, whose vagaries are not only fascinating, but of vital interest to life on Earth.
   VENUE: Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Main campus, Queens' University, Malone Road, Belfast. Time: 7.30 p.m., Wednesday 3 October. Doors open from about 7.10. Admission Free, including light refreshments. All welcome.
2.  PALLAS PASSES: Asteroid 2 Pallas, the second one discovered, and the second biggest, will make a very close pass to the 3.5 mag star Iota Ceti (also sometimes known as Deneb Kaitos Shemali, or Deneb Kaitos Al Shamaliyy) on 29 September. Pallas will be magnitude 8.3, so almost 5 magnitudes fainter than the star, but it will be readily visible in a small telescope. Closest approach will be at about 09.00 BST, when the separation will be only about 2 arcminutes, or about 1/15 the diameter of the moon, but by then it will be daylight, and they will have set as seen from Ireland. The latest that they can be seen from here reasonably well would be at about 05.00, when they will be only 3'.0 minutes apart - about 1/10 moon diameter.
   If you don't fancy staying up that late, they will be reasonably close together even at local midnight: about 7' apart, or just under 1/4 moon diameter.
  Iota Ceti is a K type giant star, so it should appear slightly orange in colour. There is also a very faint companion star, about 1' away, but it's mag 12.8, so will only be visible in fairly powerful telescopes.
   So if you've never seen this asteroid, or indeed any asteroid, here's a good opportunity.

3. Amazing Fireballs: Reports are still coming in from all over Ireland about the amazing multiple fireball which travelled over the UK & Ireland on 21 September. The object first became visible over Holland, travelled across the North Sea, across England, across the Irish Sea, and then right across Ireland! It broke up into multiple fragments somewhere along the way, - there were 20 to 30 individual fragments observed by the IAA group (see below).  The path was almost exactly East to West (perhaps slightly S of East to slightly N of West.) The IAA was running an observing evening at Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh in Co Down, that evening, and those present had a perfect view as the spectacular fireballs travelled 'slowly' from just above the E horizon, almost directly overhead, and on towards the W horizon.

   To give an idea of how spectacular this event was, I have had reports from as far apart as Coleraine well to the North of the track, to Mitchelstown in Cork, well to the S of the track. And from Holland to the East, to the Cliffs of Moher on the West coast of Co. Clare.

   Some reports initially suspected space debris, but the latest thinking is that it was a small asteroidal body, travelling in an earth-like orbit, which got caught up by the Earth overtaking it. Analysis of reports and photos is ongoing, and I'll let you know the final verdict when a consensus is reached.

   Thanks to the many who have sent in reports.

For a preliminary track & analysis see:


4. Riverbed found on Mars: The amazing Curiosity Rover has discovered the remains of a riverbed on Mars, indicating that substantial amounts of water once flowed there, fairly rapidly, in the past. At the IAA's fantastic opening lecture by Leo Enright on 19 September, Leo was presenting the very latest images from Curiosity, just downloaded minutes before his lecture, and predicted exactly that, from the very same picture that NASA has just released! A scoop, or what? Well done, Leo!

   There might not be any canals, but a river is a pretty good substitute! See:, and,, and


5. VERY BRIGHT COMET IN 2013? SUNDIVING COMET: Astronomers are paying close attention to a newly-discovered comet, C/2012 S1 (ISON), which is heading for a remarkably close encounter with the sun.  Fierce solar heat could turn Comet ISON into a bright naked-eye object in Nov. 2013. It could exceed Venus in brightness, and should be well placed for observing from UK/Ireland late in 2013.

   Also expect the lunatic fringe of doom-mongers and conspiracy theorists to latch onto it, predicting another 'cosmic catastrophe' to make up for the fact that the world won't (didn't) end on 21 December 2012!

First images and speculation about Comet ISON are highlighted on

An example of the hype already: "A new comet has been discovered that is predicted to blaze incredibly brilliantly in the skies during late 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun in November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude -16. That's far brighter than the full Moon. See: "

 BUT - comets are notoriously unpredictable, and it's very early days yet. I still remember all the excitement & speculation about Comet Kohoutek, 'the 'Comet of the Century', which wasn't spectacular at all. 


   2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). In the meantime, we could have another reasonably bright comet in March/April: Comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)

See: and for orbit & visibility of Comet ISON


6. Sea2Sky, Friday Sep 28, Cork & Galway: Showcasing science on a grand scale, European Researchers Night will take place in 800 venues across 320 cities on Friday, 28th September. After a very successful event in 2011, NUI Galway will once again be participating under the theme Sea2Sky along with partners the Marine Institute and Galway Atlantaquaria and their new partner, CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork to bring an even bigger event this year.  The free, fun, family event will see hundreds of scientists presenting their research from the fields of Marine, Atmospherics and Astronomy. Check out for more details. 


7. Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2012:  The winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012 competition have been announced. See the stunning images at


8. The International Space Station (ISS) is doing another series of 'Morning Passes' over Ireland. See for details for your own location.


9. Hubble gives the 'DEEPEST YET' view into the universe. and


10. "Meteorites Tamed" Lecture Series, Ulster Museum, by Dr Mike Simms
Mondays at 7.30pm, 22nd October – 26th November 2012
Free. Booking for each lecture essential: Go to, Telephone 028 9044 0000
(Lines open Tue – Sun 10am – 6pm), Email:
SYNOPSIS: Every year visitors from Outer Space arrive on Earth. These are meteorites, messengers from beyond our planet. This series of six lectures from Dr Mike Simms will explain what meteorites are, where they come from, how they get here, and what they can tell us about the far reaches and earliest history of our Solar System.

11. QUB/IAA PUBLIC LECTURE: The next in the QUB Michael West Public Astronomy Lecture Series is entitled "The Sun", and will be on October 17. It will be given by well known astronomer Dr Lucie Green (you probably saw her on Stargazing Live on BBC, and she has previously given a lecture to the IAA in Belfast). She is a recognised expert on the Sun, and her talk is sure to be fascinating. These lectures are held in conjunction with the IAA, and form part of our regular fortnightly programme. However, due to the larger than usual numbers expected, it will be held in the Larmor Lecture Theatre, also in the Physics building, instead. Admission is free, but places must be pre-booked. see:


12. ODYSSEUS SPACE CONTEST FOR EU SCHOOLS: (From Robert Hill): This is a nice challenge for schools in Ireland, North and south. See


13. DARK MATTER ACCOUNTED FOR? One of cosmology's greatest mysteries is 'dark matter'. This finding may go some way to explaining it - or dismissing it.

14. SDAS MEETING, October 1st at 8pm in Gonzaga College, Ranelagh. Once again we are delighted to co-host these with the Irish Astronomical Society and we would like to thank Gonzaga College for providing us with the facilities. All are welcome and admission is free.

   The speaker next week will be Dr Masha Chernyakova of Dublin City University. Masha is a former Schrödinger Fellow at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and has worked with ESA's XMM-Newton spacecraft.
16. School of Theoretical Physics Statutory Public Lecture 2012 in association with the School of Cosmic Physics


"Cosmic perspectives: from planets to the multiverse" by Professor Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, O.M., F.R.S.

Mon 19 Nov 6:30pm, Theatre L, Newman Building, Arts Block, UCD. Admission free.

17. TELESCOPE FOR SALE (via John Flannery)
Tele Vue NP101 4 Element Apo Refractor: Including ...
Gibraltar Mount, Sky Tour Computer, Encoder Kit, Eyepiece Caddy Set, Sky Tour Caddy Plate, Starbeam Finder, 2" Star Diagonal, Custom Fitted Case. All in perfect condition. Price €4,000 or nearest offer. Contact Brian Noonan: 00 353 (0) 86 197 6673.
18. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account:  @IaaAstro

19. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
20. 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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