Friday, 7 December 2012

Lectures, Book launch, Geminids, Ceres, BBC's S-L, BCO, GSP & MORE

Hi all,
(NB: there are many new items in this bulletin)
1. IAA PUBLIC LECTURE:  The next IAA Public Lecture is a double bill. Andy McCrea and Terry Moseley will report on their successful trip to Australia to observe the Total Solar Eclipse, and David Collins will give a preview talk, based on his new book, entitled "The Star of Bethlehem". It will be on December 12, at 7.30 p.m. 
  Admission is free, including light refreshments
This lecture will as usual be in the Bell Lecture theatre, Physics building, main QUB Campus.

2. Public Lecture:  "From here to Infinity: Gravity and the Cosmos" by Professor (Lord) Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, O.M., F.R.S. Friday 7 December, MacNeill Lecture Theatre 3, Hamilton Building, TCD. This is the Synge Public Lecture for 2012. Admission free


3.  Venus, Mercury and Moon: conjunction. On Dec 11, Venus and Mercury will be joined by a thin waning crescent moon, lying just to the right of Venus. You also get an excellent chance on the morning of Dec 12 to see a rare phenomenon: Mercury appearing further from the Sun than the Moon. On that morning the 1.7% illuminated Moon will lie as much as 5˚ below and left of the innermost planet.  Look from about 07.40, low in the SE: find Venus first, then scan with binoculars to the lower left to find Mercury, and beyond it, the very thin crescent of the Moon. A lovely photo opportunity: Saturn, Venus, Mercury & an almost impossibly thin crescent moon.


4. Star of Bethlehem: Book Launch. IAA member David Collins will be giving a lecture on the Star of Bethlehem to launch his recently published book of that title. It will be on Friday 14 December, at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, at 7.30 p.m. The Maynard Sinclair Pavilion is the home of the NICS Sports Clubs, and is on the LHS of the road as you go out from Belfast, a few hundred yards past the main entrance to Stormont - it's the first exit off that main road on the left after the Stormont main entrance. Admission is free, and all are welcome.

   I read the book from cover to cover on my recent flight to Australia, and I was very impressed. I've read many other books on this subject, and in my opinion this is the most comprehensive, analytical, unbiased and best presented of the lot! He looks at everything from all the original source material, including other ancient non-biblical texts, the mythology, the social background, the theology, to the astronomy. I happen to agree with his conclusions, but even if you take a different view, you will find herein the most complete set of background information on the puzzle, and the best analysis of all the different theories which have been put forward over the years.

    It should be read by anyone with an interest in the astronomical angle, and by anyone with an interest in biblical scholarship and interpretation.


5. ISS: The International Space Station will commence another series of evening passes over Ireland on December 13. Full details for your own location, along with lots of other information, on the free site

6. Good Prospects for Geminid Meteors: The Geminids will peak at about 19h on 13 December, so the night of 13/14 should give some very good activity if the sky is clear. It is now the best shower of the year, with rates of 100 or so per hour visible to an experienced observer under ideal observing conditions at maximum. There will be very little interference from moonlight this year, so have a look as soon as the sky gets dark: the radiant, near Castor, will be rising in the East. It gets higher as the night progresses and very good rates should be observed from about 11pm to about 04.00. 
7. Blackrock Castle Observatory Events Details of the next 'First Fridays' event are at . Their post on 'Awesome Universe' is at More information about the rest of the events is at .
8. NIEA's SOLSTICE EVENT: The Monuments and Buildings Record (MBR) of the NIEA, which is based at Waterman House, 5-33, Hill Street, Belfast is marking the Midwinter Solstice on Wednesday, 19th December 2012 by hosting two topical public talks.
The first will be at 13.00, by Prof Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory, entitled "Comets and Cometary Concepts in History: Identifying the Celestial connection." It will be followed by light seasonal refreshments, and then a talk on the myths and traditions of Xmas by Roddy Hegarty.
. All are welcome to attend these lectures and admission is free. As space is limited, you are advised to come early to secure a seat.  For further information please call 028 9054 3159 or email

9. IAA New Year Party. This will be held on Saturday 5 January. We start with a buffet meal at McBrides restaurant in The Square, Comber, followed by a special private screening of a film in the local Tudor private cinema. Meet at McBrides at about 5.30 p.m. for 6.0. p.m. The film will be "Men in Black 3". This film is supposed to be funny, but has some S/F violence, and has a rating of PG-13, so parental discretion is advised regarding any children. 

We will also have free refreshments at the Tudor Cinema, including my notorious seasonal punch (notorious because no-one else can make one like it!), tea & coffee, and soft drinks. We will also have George's entertaining and challenging quiz. You MUST book in advance - see the IAA website for details.

10. CERES unusually bright: (Thanks to Richard Miles of the BAA for this item, slightly edited: TM).
Asteroid (4) Vesta reaches opposition on December 09.5 followed soon after by (1) Ceres on December 18.3 reaching a V (visual) magnitude of 6.44 and 6.73, respectively.  During this interval, the two minor planets will be about 13 degrees apart in the sky, with the Moon at 25.5 days old and 5.0 days old on these two dates. This gives the chance to see both these small solar system objects with the unaided eye in sky unpolluted by moonlight. 
   What makes this special is that Ceres will not surpass this opposition brightness for the next 46 years. On 2035 December 17.1, it will attain the same brightness; on 2058 Dec 14.4 it reaches V=6.72; and that of 2081 Dec 12.2 is V=6.69, i.e. almost as bright as it ever reaches.  These especially bright oppositions recur every 22.998 years.
   You can source their positions (both in Taurus) via the web, or I can send details of where to look on request. Vesta sometimes gets considerably brighter than this (about 5m.7 or so), and I have seen it with the unaided eye myself at that magnitude in the past, but I've never even tried to see Ceres. This is a chance for a first, since as far as I know it has never been seen without optical aid before, and certainly not from Ireland.
    You will need exceptionally clear and dark skies, particularly for Ceres, but have a go and let me know if you succeed.
11. BBC's STARGAZING LIVE: This is now confirmed for the dates 8 - 10 January, and the IAA is once again the main partner with the BBC in delivering this major public broadcast initiative. Last year was an unbelievable success, and the plans are to make the next one much bigger and even better. Final details and programme are still being worked out, but the main event will once again be at the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre (LNDC), Oxford Island, near Lurgan, Co Armagh, on 10 January.
   The other main event is a repeat of the highly successful Jupiter Watch held by the IAA and QUB, in the front of the main QUB campus. This will be on 8 January, commencing at 6 p.m.
   Full details in the next bulletin, but keep those dates free:
8 January, 18.00: Jupiter Watch at QUB main campus.
9 January: 19.30: IAA Public Lecture, Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, QUB
10 January: Main event: live radio and tv broadcasts of a wide and varied range of activities at LNDC.
12. Galway Star Party:
The 10th Galway Starparty: "Ireland, the Final Frontier" takes place on Saturday, 2nd February, 2013 at the Westwood House Hotel, Galway City.
The speakers include:
Dr. Andy Shearer (Centre for Astronomy, NUIG): "Kepler: The Search for Habitable Planets"
Dave Gradwell: "OSCAR: A unique Irish Solar Observatory"
Ronan Newman (workshop): "Celestial Light: Chasing the Elusive Irish Aurora"
John Flannery (South Dublin AS): "What makes a Great Comet?"
Prof. Tom Ray (DIAS): "Making Stars and Planets: The First Three Billion Years"
Dave Grennan: "Hunting Extra-Galactic Supernovae from Ireland"
Terry Moseley (IAA): "Untold Stories of Sir Patrick Moore, FRS" (Celebrating his 90th Birthday)
Professor Lorraine O'Hanlon (UCD) "The GLORIA project"
Details & bookings at:
13. IAA Annual Subscriptions: All IAA members are reminded that if they have not yet renewed their subscriptions for 2012 - 2013, they should do so at once, otherwise they will not receive the next issue of STARDUST. You can do this easily online:, or via, or download a form, see Item 17 below.
 15. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter:  @IaaAstro

16. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
17. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is easy: 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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