1. Solstice: The Winter Solstice, marking the Sun's most southerly
point in its annual journey along the ecliptic (apparently!) will be
on Dec 21, at 17.11. That's the shortest day / longest night, and
marks the beginning of astronomical winter, as temperatures usually
lag somewhat behind the Sun's altitude in the sky. But even though
January, February, and even sometimes March, temperatures may be the
lowest of the year, at least the days are getting longer.
2. NIEA SOLSTICE EVENT: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency will
hold this year's traditional Winter Solstice Event on Fri 20 December,
from 1.00 - 2.00 p.m., at Waterman house, 5b - 33 Hill St, Belfast,
A talk entitled "Marking Time Through The Millennia" will be given by
Lynne Williams and Boyd Rankin of Irish Arms. This illustrated talk
will look at how astronomical events such as solstices and equinoxes
were a vital part of the agricultural year. Were stone circles and
alignments built as calendars as well as ritual places?
Admission Free, including Seasonal refreshments.
3. Solstice Lecture, Slane, Co Meath, 20 December. The 2013 Solstice
at Slane Lecture will take place on Friday 20th December at 8pm in the
Conyngham Arms Hotel to celebrate the close links between Slane and
the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. This is the night before the
morning of the Winter Solstice sunrise alignment at Newgrange.
The lecture will be given by Prof. Tom Ray, professor of astronomy
and astrophysics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and is
entitled 'From the Solstice to Pulsars: Using the Sky to Measure
There will be a €5 charge to cover costs. Registration in advance
by replying to this email would help us to organise the numbers. The
Solstice at Slane Lecture is one of a series of events in Slane over
the Solstice weekend celebrating the Winter Solstice. For further
information please visit Solstice at Slane Festival on Facebook.
4. Ursid Meteors: This shower is usually poorly observed as it occurs
on 22/23 December, at the height of the shopping Mammon-fest which is
also known as Christmas. But rates of 20-30 per hour are sometimes
seen, although there is some interference from moonlight this year.
But as an antidote to all the usual excesses, why not pop out for a
look, if the sky is clear? The radiant is near Kocab, or Beta UMi, the
second brightest star in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. A line from Eta
UMa (the last star in the handle of the Plough), to Polaris, will take
you fairly close to it.
5. IAA's New Year Party 4 January; Yes, the astro-social event of the
year is almost upon us again. It's the usual popular and successful
format: We meet at 5.30 for 6.00 for a meal at McBride's restaurant,
The Square, Comber, Co Down for a buffet meal, then we go to the
nearby Tudor Private Cinema for a private showing of one of the latest
SF films, along with seasonal refreshments. The choice of film is
still a matter of hot debate (we rejected 'Gravity', as it's best in
3-D which we couldn't manage, and also lots of people have already
seen it, not to mention the fact that most of the science in it is
crap! Apart from that, it's very enjoyable!). As soon as we decide,
I'll let you know, and it will be on the IAA website
Cost: £15 for adults, £7.00 for children. For those who can't go to
the meal, the cost for the film and the refreshments at the Tudor
cinema is £7 for adults and £3.50 for children; that kicks off at 7.30
6. PERIHELION: 4 January is also the day when the Earth will be
closest to the Sun for the year. It occurs at 11h 58m, when the
distance will be 0.9833347 AU. At that distance, its light takes only
8m 10.7s to reach us. (It takes almost 17 seconds longer at aphelion,
7. IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION: Public Lecture: "How to Blow Up A
Star - Understanding Supernovae", by Dr Stuart Sim, of the
Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB.
Supernovae are just about the biggest explosions in the universe,
and certainly the biggest that we are ever likely to see. Not only
that, but they create all the elements above iron in the periodic
table, many of which, such as nickel, zinc, selenium, and iodine, are
essential for human life. They are also the key element in the
'distance ladder' used in large scale astrophysics and cosmology, as
they are used to measure the distance to distant galaxies and galaxy
And it's from studying distant supernovae that scientists now
believe that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, leading to
the theory of 'dark energy'. In other words, it's hard to think of any
other single phenomena that's more important in modern astrophysics
So this lecture will be a fascinating account of one of the cutting
edge areas of modern astronomy.
The lecture is free and open to all, including free refreshments.
Venue: the Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University,
Belfast, at 7.30 p.m.
Thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for help in
hosting these lectures.
8. VENUS: Visible in Evening Sky: Venus is now at about its easiest
to see from Ireland for this elongation. It's slowly getting higher
in the evening twilight sky, but is gradually getting closer to the
Sun. So it's a trade-off between altitude and its decreasing solar
elongation. Look low down in the bright SW evening twilight for a
bright twinkling 'star'.
9. ISS Evening Passes. The International Space Station is continuing
its series of evening passes over Ireland: Details on
10. MYSTERY OF THE CHRISTMAS STAR, Armagh Planetarium: Monday –
Friday at 2pm, Saturday at 12 noon, 2 pm and 4 pm
Evening shows every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3-19 December
at 7:30pm. For more information on show times please visit the website
at www.armaghplanet.com. Tel - 028 3752 3689
11. STARGAZING LIVE returns on 7 - 9 January 2014, at Cultra. The IAA
has once again been asked to be principal partner with the BBC for
this prestigious event. The main local event will be at the Ulster
Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra. Mark your diaries now. The IAA
has now formally presented its programme for the events to the BBC,
and we are finalising arrangements with them.
12. TYRONE ASTRONOMY EVENT, Stewartstown, 10 January. "Journey through
Space" will be held in St Patrick's Church, Ballyclog, 125 Coagh Road,
Stewartstown, Co Tyrone. Dr Patrick Harkness is an IAA member who
lecturers in Space Systems at the Univ. of Glasgow. The central theme
of his talk is "Gravity" and it will be accessible rocket science. We
are trying to stimulate interest in science and technology in the
local community. Details and booking at: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
13. GALWAY ASTROFEST: Full details of our Astronomy Festival is now
available at http://www.galwayastronomyclub.ie/index.php/31-general/general/110-astronomy-festival-2014
There will also be a special stand, Apogee Imaging Instruments
coming over from California who will be represented by Tim Puckett, an
amateur astronomer and astrophotographer with over 30 years
experience. Experienced in the field of amateur CCD (digital)
astro-imaging, Puckett has operated numerous CCD cameras since 1989.
He has built several robotic telescopes and is currently operating an
automated supernova search patrol and comet astrometry program which
uses 60-cm and 35-cm telescopes.
Puckett's photos of comets and deep-sky objects have been published
in books and magazines in several countries, including Great Britain,
Japan, Italy, Germany, Australia and South Africa. His work has also
been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, BBC, The Discovery and
Learning Channels and Good Morning America. Puckett has been the
Astronomy Sales Engineer for Apogee Instruments since May 2006.
We hope to change things around and maybe line him up for either a
talk or workshop
14. Advance Notice: Trip to Newgrange: Mar 29, 2014: 09.30 – 17.00: I
will be leading an astronomy /archaeoastronomy trip to Newgrange, as
part of the Stranmillis Adult Learning programme. A day long coach
trip, with full commentary. Demand for this is already high, so book
now if you are interested. There is a maximum number allowed on the
trip, due to space restrictions within the Newgrange Mound. Booking is
through Stranmillis College.
15. INTERESTING WEBLINKS:
IAA members got a preview of this at Leo's excellent lecture last
Oops! Sack the PR agency!
Well, Stone the.... OK, maybe not.
(not 'anti-gravity' - it's 'zero gravity')
(I hope the science is better than that in 'Gravity'!)
(Image of Toutatis)
Or maybe it will turn into a gigantic banana....
(NASA has now approved a long spacewalk to try to fix the problem)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22163745 (Is NASA
looking in the wrong place for life?)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25201572 (Did asteroid
impact send life from Earth to Mars?)
(Launch is due today)
Modern theories of the cosmos seem to be edging ever closer to a
modern version of the Ptolemaic System - adding more and more
deferents and epicycles - with a touch of alchemy thrown into the mix.
Quote "Northumberland, which has just been declared the darkest place
in Europe". No it hasn't! But it's welcome news. Time for a similar
Quote: Mr Willetts said that any British-led effort could be based in
Stevenage: "In the old days it was Cape Canaveral, in the future it
will be Stevenage at the heart of the global space effort." Well, you
may as well set your sights high! But I somehow think that the Chinese
in particular are going to do their own thing, without consulting
16. Advance Notice: STFC Roadshow at QUB, 19 - 25 May. The roadshow,
entitled "Seeing the Universe in all its light" features stunning
science images and interactive exhibits, including:
A replica model of English astronomer Thomas Harriot's first telescope
A 1:4 scale model of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT)
A 1:12 scale model of an Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) antenna
A 1:20 scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
A 1:10 scale model of Herschel Space Observatory
'Hands-on' exhibits including 'seeing the invisible', 'adaptive
optics' and 'micro autonomous robots'
An interactive control desk, providing details on the full spectra of
wavelengths used by astronomers
Historical science papers from the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) &
the Thomas Harriot trust
An 8 metre interactive wall featuring an 'astronomical wow facts'
screen, interactive touchscreen and a large 3D screen.
Interactive apps, websites and resources
Non-slip floormats of telescopes from around the world
The Science & Technology Facilities Council's latest touring
exhibition is encouraging everyone to see the Universe in all its
light – showcasing the Big Telescopes family in all their glory and
focusing on both the UK's scientific expertise and the economic
benefits that astronomy can deliver.
The roadshow features stunning science images alongside a range of
interactive exhibits. Visitors will be able to experience a replica of
English astronomer Thomas Harriot's first telescope, as well as a
range of historical scientific papers from the Royal Astronomy Society
and the Thomas Harriot Trust.
There will be young scientists on hand from UK university astronomy
departments to enthuse about the work they do and answer questions on
any aspect of astronomy. They'll be able to guide visitors around
scale models of the Big Telescopes – ESO's Very Large Telescope, the
Atacama Large Millimetre Array, the Herschel Space Observatory and the
forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
Hands-on exhibits aim to explain the importance of building
telescopes across the whole range of wavelengths, so that we really
can see the Universe in all its light. An interactive control desk
provides details on the full spectra of wavelengths used by
astronomers, and visitors will be able to learn more about seeing the
invisible, micro autonomous robots and the adaptive optics that are
essential for telescopes but are also proving invaluable in more
down-to-earth applications such as cancer screening.
Check the `Seeing the Universe in All its Light' webpage
17. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro
18. 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 you. You can also make a donation via Paypal if you
wish: just click on the 'Donate' button. See also www.irishastro.org.