Friday, 9 August 2013

Fwd: Perseids, 3 IAA events, Sprite, Kate Russo, Heavy Metal, Guides, ISON, EPSC etc

1. PERSEIDS TO LIGHT UP THE SKY:  12-13 August: Maximum of Perseid meteor shower. The evening of 12-13 August sees the annual maximum of the Perseids meteor shower. Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the bright streaks produced by small particles entering the atmosphere at high speed. The Perseids are associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992. These meteors appears to originate from a 'radiant' in Perseus, not far from the famous 'Double Cluster'. The shower is active from late July to about 20 August, but activity is low except from about 4 - 16 August, and its quite high from 10th to the 14th. The best time will be on the evening of 12 - 13 August when up to 60 meteors per hour might be seen in a dark sky site. Moonlight will not interfere this year.
    New research by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office shows that one annual meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other: the Perseids. See:
See: International Meteor Organisation: 2013 calendar, 
2. IAA at the 'RSPB BWSO', 10 August.  The IAA has been asked to participate in an event organised by the RSPB at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, near Holywood, Co Down. Entitled the 'Big Wild Sleep Out', it will feature overnight camping, with all sorts of night-time activities, including skywatching (if clear), and starshows with the mobile planetarium. It will be just coming up to the maximum of the Perseids meteor shower, so we should see some good activity from a fairly dark site, if it's clear.
  The event is now on the RSPB, NMNI, Cotswold Outdoor and IAA websites. Cotswold Outdoor will be offering prizes of a tent worth £250, 5 family spots and we also have 5 RSPB goody bags with mugs, biscuits, chocolate and RSPB wildlife books all to be won! See

3. IAA at WWT, 11 August. We return to one of our most popular venues, the WWT at Castle Espie, near Comber, Co Down, for another 'Solar Day', from 2 - 5 p.m. We will have a wide variety of telescopes, using special filters and other methods for safely viewing the Sun. Is it now at 'Solar Maximum'? How many sunspots and prominences will be visible? Come along and see for yourself. And if it's cloudy, we will of course have the usual starshows in the Stardome, exhibition of telescopes, binoculars and meteorites, and lots of other attractions. IAA members bringing telescopes get in free; otherwise normal WWT admission charges apply. See

4. IAA PERSEID PARTY at DELAMONT, 12 August. The IAA 'Triple Whammy' climaxes with a free BBQ and observing event for the maximum of the Perseid Meteors (see Item 1 above) on the evening of 12 August, at Delamont Country Park, between Killyleagh and Downpatrick, Co Down. This is obviously weather dependent, so check the IAA website for an update if the forecast is not too good. Bring your own food, drink, plates, eating implements etc, and your own BBQ if you have one: if not, you can probably use some spare space on someone else's. Bring a folding chair, or a waterproof rug, or best of all, a recliner, for comfortable viewing. There will be a waxing crescent Moon very low in the SW, with Saturn just above it, so we may glimpse these with a few portable telescopes, but it will be mainly a night for naked-eye viewing. DCP is well signposted just a few miles S of Killyleagh.

5. SPRITE CAPTURED BY ARMAGH OBSERVATORY! Not a type of fairy, nor a wayward soft drink bottle, but a very rare type of lightning in the mesosphere of the Earth, i.e. the very high upper atmosphere, about 50km up. This is the first time one has been imaged from Ireland. They are 'bolts' of plasma, very brief but not as quick as a lightning flash, and they seem to be sometimes triggered by thunderstorm activity far below them. This one was of the type known as a 'carrot', because of the shape and orange colour. It seems to have occurred over a thunderstorm in the Dublin area. See for more details. The BBC rang me at 07.20 the next morning to do an interview about it - that's a story in itself, which I won't detail here! (Radio Ulster, at about 07.27, on 1 August)

6. IAA member Dr Kate Russo honoured by her University. Eclipse-chaser Kate, who has written a book and given a talk to the IAA on the subject, has posted as follows "I'm absolutely delighted to share my fabulous news - I have been awarded a James Cook University Outstanding Alumni Award. (insert much fanfare and clapping here). It is such an honour to receive this award, and it was so great to be able to return back to North Queensland to attend the award ceremony. I really like that you can just do what you love to do, and every once in a while you get a little pat on the back for your efforts. It was a great morning - photos to come." Congratulations from us all to Kate!
7. Heavy Metal In Space!  Where Heavy Metal Clouds the Skies: A team of astronomers from Armagh Observatory has discovered two unusual stars with extremely high concentrations of lead in their atmospheres. Naslim Neelamkodan, Simon Jeffery, Natalie Behara and Alan Hibbert are studying the surfaces of helium-rich subdwarfs, which are small hot stars containing much less hydrogen and much more helium than normal. Three years ago they discovered one with a very high surface concentration of zirconium - better known for making false diamonds. Now studying a group of similar stars, they have discovered two which have surfaces containing ten thousand (10,000) times more lead than is present on the surface of the Sun. 
    The two stars are HE 2359-2844, 800 light years away in Sculptor, and HE 1256-2738, 1000 light years away in Hydra. Using observations from the archives of the ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, they found that the spectra of both stars showed odd features which they eventually realised were due to lead.
   Lead is one of the heaviest elements (atomic number 82). In the Sun the ratio is one lead atom for every ten billion hydrogen atoms. At around 38,000 degrees Celsius, the surfaces of these stars are so hot that three electrons are removed from every lead atom, giving ions with distinctive lines in the star's spectrum, indicating the concentration of lead in the star's atmosphere.
    Using the same technique, HE 2359-2844 was also found to show ten thousand times more yttrium and zirconium than on the Sun. Along with the zirconium star, LS IV-14 116, these stars now form a new group of 'heavy metal subdwarfs'.
    The team believes that these heavy-metal stars are a crucial link between bright red giants (30 or 40 times the size of the Sun), and faint blue subdwarfs (stars one fifth the size, but seven times hotter and 70 times brighter than the Sun). A few red giants lose their thick hydrogen skin and shrink to become hot subdwarfs, or nearly-naked helium stars. As they shrink the pressure of light from the helium stars acts on individual atoms to sort the elements into layers, where they are concentrated by a factor of ten thousand or more.
  Like water vapour in the Earth's atmosphere, a layer of heavy metal at just the right height and concentration can form clouds that become detectable from Earth. The team suggests that the new discoveries are rare examples of these layers coming into view and estimates that the lead layer could be about 100 km thick and weigh some 100 billion tonnes. (edited from an RAS Press Release: TM)

8. Guide to Resources for Teaching about Exoplanets. A new annotated guide to written, web, and audio-visual resources for teaching about planets orbiting other stars is now available for high-school and college instructors, their students, informal educators, and astronomy enthusiasts. Materials in the guide to this rapidly-changing branch of astronomy include video and audio files of lectures and interviews with leading scientists in the field, phone and tablet apps, a citizen-science website, popular-level books and articles, and much more. Published by the NASA Astrophysics Education and Outreach Forum and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the guide can be found as a PDF file at:

9. UNAWE Universe in a Box DIY Guide. Do it Yourself Universe in a Box: For personal, non-commercial use, UNAWE also offers the possibility to build your own Universe in a Box. Please download the DIY guide and source files from

10. COMET ISON - LATEST: This much-anticipated comet is currently unobservable, being too close to the Sun. But it should become visible by month's end, giving us a much better idea of how it is developing. It will be best seen from Ireland in late November, and in early December if it survives its extremely close passage round the Sun. Meanwhile, the debate and speculation continues:
11. The European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 will take place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013.
   EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science and is expected to attract more than 800 scientists from Europe and around the World. The 2013 programme will include around 75 sessions and workshops. More than 1100 abstracts for oral presentations and posters have been submitted. Topics to be discussed will cover the range of planetary science, including comets on the eve of the Rosetta mission, the exceptional fireball over Chelyabinsk, direct imaging of exoplanets, and how planetary science will be affected by the NewSpace entrepreneurs. For the first time, EPSC will include an industry-themed day on Wednesday 11 September; speakers will include Alvaro Giménez, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency.
    Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: An overview of the sessions can be found at:
    To complement the scientific programme, there will be a festival of planetary-related public events held across London, organised by partner institutions including UCL, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Interplanetary Society, the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the Natural History Museum and Royal Astronomical Society.  Events will include a special film showing of 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire', an exhibition and art installations at UCL, an observing night in Regent's Park and a 'Science Show-off' variety event at the Bloomsbury Theatre.  Details can be found at: Further information will be circulated a few weeks before the meeting.  
   EPSC has a distinctively interactive style, with a mix of talks, workshops and posters, intended to provide a stimulating environment for discussion.  EPSC 2013 is organised by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings.  The event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
12: SUMMER SCOPES SALE, from North Down Telescopes:
I have a couple of second hand scopes which might be of interest to members - they are excellent bargains
* Skywatcher 10" 250px Flextube dobsonian Telescope - second hand, all as new, boxed - Excellent value - £480. See;
* Celestron CPC 800 - rare opportunity to own this magnificent second-hand instrument - £1,350 - just a few months old - massive savings on new instrument with full Celestron Warranty, boxed etc. See:
Both scopes, although second hand are boxed and come as new with one year warranty.
 13. PICS FOR NEW IAA WEBSITE PHOTO GALLERY. President and webmaster Paul Evans has produced an excellent new photo gallery on the updated IAA website. See  We would love to have any photos from members showing past IAA events and activities for a "Pics from the Archive" section. Credits will be given to respective owners of course. 

INTERESTING WEBLINKS: (Prof Gerry Doyle and Dr Maria Madjarska at Armagh Observatory are investigators on this mission)
Can anyone identify the starfields? That looks very like the S Cross on the left, but it's not visible from New Hampshire. And anyway the rest of the starfield doesn't relate to the S Cross area. But there's no stargroup like that visible from NH that I know of! Help, please!
15. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter:  @IaaAstro

16. BBC THINGS TO DO WEBSITE: See the forthcoming IAA events on Look under 'Countryfile'.
17. NEW LINK! 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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