Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Lecture, ISS, NearMiss, IAA @ Bangor, Astrocourse, Mags in Space? Galileo, Cosmo

Hi all,
1.  IAA LECTURE: The next IAA public lecture will be on Wednesday 20 February, at 7.30 p. m. It will be given by Dr Chris Watson, of QUB. Title "Mapping the Surfaces of Stars - Giant Spots and Shadows". Not so long ago the idea of being able to map the surfaces of other stars was the stuff of science fiction. It's still not easy, but in certain circumstances it can be done. And what we are learning from this technique is both valuable and fascinating.
  Chris Watson is a leading researcher in this field in the Astrophysics Department at QUB, and is well known to most of us from his previous lectures and his appearances at the recent BBC Stargazing Live Events. He is an excellent communicator, so this should be a fascinating lecture. Admission is free, including light refreshments, and all are welcome.
This lecture will as usual be in the Bell Lecture theatre, Physics building, main QUB Campus.
2. ISS. The International Space Station continues its series of evening passes over Ireland. Details as usual on the excellent and free site: www.heavens-above.com
Also check: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/.  If you enter your location & email address at this NASA website you will always receive an email a day before the ISS passes with the following info. Time and date: (e.g. 20 February 7.40 p.m, Visible: 4 min, Max Height: 33 degrees, Appears: SW, Disappears: SE.
   However, if you want even more detail, use the Heavens-above site, click on the date/time of a particular pass, and it will show you an actual skymap showing the ISS's path across the sky relative to the stars and planets, and the moon if present.
3. Asteroid Very Near Miss: IMPORTANT UPDATE: Note: Heavens-Above.com now provides details for the pass of this object, including a sky map, for your own location. And see at the end of this item. 
  On Feb 15 we will have a very near miss from a 'Near Earth Asteroid', which will come so close to Earth that it will pass inside the orbits of the geostationary satellites! Asteroid 2012 DA14, which is about 50m (165 feet) in diameter will pass about 21,000 miles from the centre of the Earth, or about 17,000 miles above the surface. There is no risk of a collision, but if an object of this size did hit the Earth, the damage would be very significant. 17,000 miles seems like a significant distance, but think of it this way: It's just over twice the diameter of the Earth. If a bullet was to miss your head by just twice your head's diameter, you would think that you had been very very lucky! It will be travelling at 7.8km/sec.
   NASA estimates that an object of this size only passes this close to Earth about every 40 years on average. And one of this size will hit us about every 1200 years, on average.
   Closest approach will be at about 18.00, and the object should be visible in binoculars as it speeds past the Earth, with a maximum magnitude of between 7 and 7.5. Since it will be so close, and moving so fast, predictions need to be based on your own location, not geocentric. I'm very grateful to Dr Tolis Christou of Armagh Observatory who has generated an ephemeris for Belfast, giving the RA, Dec, Azimuth, Elevation and magnitude of 2012 DA14 from Belfast ( 54.6000° N, 5.9167° W) for the night of the 15th to the 16th of February 2013 every 5 min. The asteroid rises at 20:00 UT in Virgo, and will move rapidly Northwards through Coma, Canes Venatici, Ursa Major and Draco during its period of best visibility from here. It will remain brighter than mag 10 until 22:20 UT. At that time its altitude is 53 deg.

   This ephemeris is too long and detailed to include here, but I will forward the details to anyone on request. It should be possible to record its motion with a time exposure on a digital camera with a reasonable zoom lens, and set to a high ISO setting.

   This will be the brightest-ever NEO to be observed approaching the vicinity of our planet (<0.1 AU). It is predicted to be 30 times brighter and more than 150 times more massive than the next largest known object to approach as close or closer to our planet in recent years: that one was 2012 MD. 

  (Newly added info regarding using Heavens-above.) Since the asteroid is moving so fast, the H-A site only gives details of the position every half-hour on Feb 15. But you can easily interpolate from those positions. The easiest way to find it will be to pick an easily identifiable spot in the sky, using a good star chart, through which the asteroid will pass when it is still fairly bright. Note when it will pass through that region of the sky. Train your binoculars or wide-field telescope on that area a few minutes before it is due, preferably while you are in a comfortable position to avoid strain, and then wait for the asteroid to appear as a moving point of light. It will be moving almost straight upwards when it first appears above our Eastern horizon, so you are unlikely to confuse it with anything else. If you can mount your binoculars on a tripod which allows you to pan smoothly upwards, that would be handy. But remember if you 'lose' the object for more than a minute in your field of view, you will find it hard to pick it up again!

See also: http://britastro.org/asteroids/ and


4. IAA Event at Bangor, 16 February - UPDATE. The IAA will be running another of its very popular astronomy evenings, this time at a new venue: the North Down Heritage Centre near Bangor Castle, Co Down. This is not a dark sky location, but we have chosen an evening when both Jupiter and a nice 6-day old Moon will be visible, so there will be spectacular sights for public viewing. There will also be a good pass of the ISS, which should please anyone who hasn't seen it before.
    We will of course have the Stardome shows, which will run whether it's cloudy or clear, and the usual exhibition of telescopes, binoculars, meteorites and other items. Our own local Ulsternaut, Derek Heatly, will be giving an update on the latest details for his flight into space with Virgin Galactic.
   NB: To guarantee a place for one of the Starshows you must book in advance with the ND Heritage Centre.
   Location: Bangor Castle, Castle Park. The Heritage Centre is just behind (South of) the Castle. Access is via Castlepark Avenue and Castlepark Road, or on foot via the Castle grounds by continuing along Castlepark Avenue. GPS: 54deg 39' 21" N; 5 deg 40' 09" W. Tel. 028 9127 1200.
   Start time is now confirmed as 6.30 p.m. 
5. ASTRONOMY COURSE at STRANMILLIS COLLEGE, BELFAST. I will be delivering a two part course, introduction to astronomy, as follows:

Astronomy:  Our place in the Universe

Looking to the sky for the first time you may feel overwhelmed and confused by the spectacle of thousands of stars above your head.  Astronomy is a great gateway science that can inspire you to do great things!  Participants will gain enjoyment from exploring the wonders of the night sky.  The topics covered include Greek mythology, Egyptian and Babylonian cosmology, Astrobiology, Quantum Physics, Terrestrial and Jovian planets and Solar System to help us understand our place in the cosmos.  This is a great way for the community to come together and take a fresh look at our night sky.....it belongs to us all.  No experience necessary and questions encouraged! 

Tutor:             Terry Moseley, Time:              7.00pm - 9.00pm

Session 1:         Tuesdays, 5 weeks; dates:      19th February 2013 – 19th March 2013 

Location:        Central Building.

Session 2:         Tuesdays, 5 weeks. Time: 7.00pm - 9.00pm. Dates:      9th April 2013 – 7th May 2013.   Location:        Central Building

There will also be a daytime visit to Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, provisionally on 17 May.

Full details and booking at:  http://www.stran.ac.uk/informationabout/courses/professionaldevelopmentlifelonglearning/

6.  MAGS HOPES TO BE FIRST IRISHWOMAN IN SPACE. Mags O'Sullivan from Kerry plans to be the first Irishwoman in space. And she needs your votes to achieve that. She is now in 51st place in a competition to qualify for the next stage at the Lynx Space Academy. The top 200 from UK and Ireland go through to the next stage, involving mental and physical fitness tests. The top four will then go to the Space Academy in Florida to begin their astronaut training.
   Mags manages the Aquadome in Tralee, Co Kerry, as well as studying for a degree at WIT. She is also a qualified pilot, and nurse. The slogan for the competition is "You go away a man and come back a hero". Mags hopes to counter that male bias, and 'go away a woman, and come back a hero'. Vote for her at www.lynxapollo.com/en_IE/26225/mags-o-sullivan. Good luck Mags.
7. GALILEO AT ARMAGH OBSERVATORY: THE LIFE OF GALILEO", by Bertolt Brecht, Performed in the Armagh Observatory.
   The Greenwood Players and the Armagh Observatory are presenting in the Armagh Observatory from 22nd to 24th February 2013 the first performance on the island of Ireland of the play "The Life of Galileo" by Bertolt Brecht in a new version by David Hare.
   The story of the Life of Galileo and its central drama of the conflict between science, religion and authority is one that resonates today. As remarked by Ian McDonald, author and Executive Producer with the Greenwood Players, "The Life of Galileo" is a story that needs retelling every generation, especially in a 21st century when we seem to be moving away from science to an authority and belief-based worldview.
   There will be five performances of the play: two matinees at 2.00pm on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th February, and three evening performances at 7.00pm on each of 22nd, 23rd and 24th February.  Tickets, which are strictly limited, cost 12 pounds and are available from 14th January 2013 at http://galileoattheobservatory.eventbrite.co.uk/.
For more information, see: http://star.arm.ac.uk/press/2013/galileo/
8. COSMOS 2013: Advance notice: The next COSMOS star party will be held at Tullamore on 12-14 April. More details later
9. INTERESTING WEBLINKS: N.B. I don't vouch for the accuracy of all of the following items! TM
10. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter:  @IaaAstro

11. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on  
http://www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo. Look under 'Countryfile'.
12. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is easy: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA. http://irishastro.org.uk/iaamembership.doc. 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 www.irishastro.org
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley


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