Friday, 17 May 2013

Kepler, Sun Flares, Conjunction, IAA Solar day, EXPO, ASGI, Solarfest, SDAS, etc

Hi all,
1. KEPLER SPACE TELESCOPE IN TROUBLE: Bad news from space. The iconic Kepler Space Telescope has suffered a serious malfunction, with two of its four reaction wheels now u/s. These are required for the extremely accurate guidance needed for detection of exoplanet transits across distant stars. Although it has already detected many hundreds of transiting planets, with thousands more possible candidates, the mission was extended with extra funding to allow follow up of the most interesting discoveries and other possible candidates.
   The ultimate aim is to detect Earthlike planets orbiting in the 'Goldilocks zone' (where it's neither too hot nor too cold) of Sunlike stars. There are one or two in that category already, but to confirm more possibles, a longer series of observations is needed. Ideally, at least three transits are needed to properly identify a planet orbiting another star.
    And if you think about it, a planet in the 'Goldilocks zone' of a sunlike star will have an orbital period fairly similar to that of the Earth. And to detect three transits therefore requires at least three years of observation. And the longer the series, the more accurate the data which will be obtained.
2. Solar activity now high.  During a 24 hour period straddling May 13th and 14th, the sun unleashed three X-class solar flares.  These are the strongest flares of the year so far, and they signal a significant increase in solar activity.  The source of the flares, a large sunspot on the sun's eastern limb, appears poised to erupt again as it turns toward Earth.  Check for updates and more information.
3. Venus emerges to meet Jupiter and  Moon, and be joined by Mercury: Brilliant Venus is now emerging from Solar conjunction into the evening twilight. As it moves further out from the Sun, it will meet Jupiter, the second brightest planet, as it moves to pass behind the Sun. They will be joined by shy twinkling Mercury, to form one of the loveliest conjunctions for many years.
   On 20 May, Mercury will start to creep out from the Sun's glare: at 22.10 BST it will lie just over 3 deg (6 Moon diameters) above the NW horizon, with Venus and Jupiter above and left of it. Then watch over the next week as they change their relative positions, including a lovely close equilateral triangle on 26 May. More details closer to that time.
    From beginning to end, the three naked-eye planets will be close enough to fit inside the field of ordinary binoculars from May 23rd until early June. May 26th is just the best among many very good nights.
4. IAA SOLAR DAY, CARNFUNNOCK COUNTRY PARK. We'll be holding another of these very popular solar days at Carnfunnock Country Park on the A2 Antrim Coast Road just a few miles N of Larne, on Saturday 15 June, 2 - 5 p.m. Solar telescopes, the biggest collection of sundials in Ireland, an astronomy exhibition, and of course the mobile planetarium with shows for young and old. More details later.
5. IAA MIDSUMMER BBQ: This will be held at about 5.15 p.m., immediately after our Solar day at Carnfunnock CP on Saturday 15 June: see above;
6. EUROPEAN SPACE EXPO:  The European Space Expo ( will land in the Front Square of Trinity College Dublin on June 4-9. The Expo attracted over 12,000 visitors when it visited London last December so we are expecting a large number of visitors.
    Inside the dome visitors will get to experience the wonders of space through interactive exhibits and will learn how space science can benefit us all.
   Every day we will host a series of short Soapbox Talks given by talented scientists and engineers from all over Ireland.
  At lunch time every day we will host the Sun@One ­ your chance to remotely control a world-famous telescope on the Canary Islands and take pictures of the Sun.
   For those of you attending the ASGI meeting in TCD on June 7, there will be a public talk at 5:30pm by Dr. Anna Scaife, a recent ERC awardee, followed by a reception in the Space Expo at 7:00pm.
7. The ASGI Summer Meeting will be held in Trinity College, Dublin on Friday June 7th 2013. This date and venue have been chosen to coincide with the visit of the European Space Expo to TCD (see for more details). This is a professional level meeting, but members of affiliated societies, such as the IAA, are welcome to attend. But be warned: most of it is heavy stuff!
8. SOLARFEST 2013, DUNSINK: Saturday, June 29th, will feature 5 talks on our nearest star from both amateur and professional astronomers. There will also be a workshop on building a magnetometer and solar observing if the weather permits. Tours will be given of the Observatory and the South Dome. All are welcome and admission is free.
  Among the amateur astronomer speakers are John O'Neill and Terry Moseley. More details can be found at

9. SEND YOUR NAME TO AN ASTEROID: You can send your name, free on the Japanese asteroid sampler spacecraft Hayabusa-2. Go to, site of the Planetary Society; on the bottom left corner it says 'Fly to an asteroid!' and go from there. Deadline is 16 July. (Thanks to Derek Heatly for this)

UCD is now offering Ireland's first Masters specialising in Space Science & Technology.
  This one-year taught MSc programme has been developed following close consultation with academic and industry experts operating in the sector, and promises to deliver a highly relevant curriculum. Furthermore, students will be assisted in organising a summer practicum with an academic research group, or one of our space science industry placement partners, including EnBio, ESTEC, Astrium, Sensl and Tyndall.
   First entry to the course will be in September 2013. For further information please visit our website <> or contact Deirdre Coffey at UCD directly.

11. COMET Pan STARRS - Ireland to Japan! IAA member and well-known astrophotographer, Martin Campbell from Dungannon, has had one of his images of Comet Panstarrs featured on the front cover of Hoshinavi, one of Japan's leading astronomy magazines, for the month of June. Well done, Martin - excellent publicity for N. Ireland astronomy. 
12. JWST: Documentary. Daniel Ryan has produced a documentary, together with Julia Brömmel, on the James Webb Space Telescope. Daniel did this at NASA as part of his PhD in solar physics at TCD, under the supervision of Peter Gallagher. It features John Mather, Nobel Laureate in Physics, and former astronaut Piers Sellers. You can view it, titled "Let There Be Light", at   


13. Communicating Astronomy with the Public, Issue 13 is now available. It's a great journal on astronomy outreach, produced by the International Astronomical Union. You can download the CAPjournal issues free and sign-up for notifications of when they are available via (via John Flannery)


14: SDAS NEWS: John Flannery, Chairman of the South Dublin Astronomical Society, has issued the following (abbreviated slightly: TM).

  I am proposing that anyone who is currently on the SDAS mailing list and who wishes to join an astronomy club should join the Irish Astronomical Society. I spoke with their Committee a few times recently and they are delighted to welcome the SDAS into the IAS. They have offered a membership fee of 20 euro which is a reduction on their normal subscription and I am very appreciative of this gesture. The IAS web page is

    The IAS have an active membership and a committee structure that will enable much more to be accomplished. They also have a regular newsletter and will continue with the regular monthly meetings that they have shared with the SDAS the last couple of years. IAS meetings will return to their original Dublin city centre venue of Ely House in Ely Place next September.

   The SDAS will no longer officially exist as an astronomy club from June 1st but Gonzaga College will host at least two IAS meetings during the year. We also plan to continue with the Ethnea and Michael Commins memorial lecture in Gonzaga and a number of ideas for speakers are being mooted for 2014.

15. INTERESTING WEBLINKS: (but at midnight will it turn back into a carriage?) Ignore the totally erroneous last sentence in the opening para! Totality will NOT be visible in S Europe and the Americas - it will only be a partial from there.
16. BCO: For information on events at Blackrock Castle Observatory, including the summer Space Camp, see
17. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter:  @IaaAstro

18. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on Look under 'Countryfile'.
19. 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 youYou can also make a donation via Paypal if you wish: just click on the 'Donate' button.  See also
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley
I'm now back on Twitter, after some temporary hiccups: @terrymoseley2


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