1. IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION/QUB ARC: Michael West Public
Lecture, February 5, 7.00pm: "The Gaia space mission and the origins
of the Milky Way".
NB: Note START TIME IS 7 p.m., and it will be in the LARMOR Lecture
Theatre (not our usual Bell lecture theatre). The Larmor is at the
other end (SW end) of the Physics Building, with a separate entrance.
NB: Unless you are a member of the IAA, you must pre-register for this
talk - see below.
The Gaia mission aims to create a precise 3D map of the Milky Way.
The billion stars that Gaia will map is still only one per cent of the
Milky Way's total number of stars. It is Europe's successor to the
Hipparcos satellite which mapped around 100,000 stars. Hipparcos was
the very first mission for measuring astrometry - the positions,
distances, motions, brightness and colours of stars. It is hoped Gaia
will find also reveal new asteroids, dead stars, and test current
theories about our cosmos. Its map will also become a reference frame
to guide the investigations of future telescopes. See
Prof Gerry Gilmore FRS is Professor of Experimental Philosophy at
the Institute of Astronomy in the University of Cambridge. He leads
the effort to understand the structure and origin of our Galaxy and
his team has provided us our current understanding of how the masses
of stars are distributed at birth. Professor Gilmore is lead
investigator on the Gaia-ESO Project.
Thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for help in
hosting these lectures in the Michael West series.
The lecture is free and open to all (but register first). Venue:
the Larmor Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University,
Belfast, at 7.00 p.m. GPS co-ordinates for the entrance to the Larmor
Lecture Theatre: N 54deg 35' 0.6"; W 5deg 56' 7.7"
See: http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/, and links to
These news items may also be of interest:
2. SW KERRY GETS INTERNATIONAL GOLD TIER RESERVE AWARD!
Many congratulations to Julie Ormonde and the SW Kerry Astronomy club
in achieving the International Darksky Association's (www.darksky.org)
"Gold Tier Reserve" Award, for their new Dark Sky reserve in the
Iveragh Peninsula. Kerry. This is only the third such award in the
whole world, and the first one in the N. Hemisphere! (The only two
others are in Namibia and New Zealand). See: www.kerrydarksky.org.
I was delighted to get an invitation to the official award ceremony
and launch of the site on Monday, and together with Albert White of
the ILPAC, I made the long drive through wind & rain to Cahirciveen -
but it was very much worth it! There was an excellent launch ceremony,
with talks from Julie, the local Council officials, the Mayor of
Kerry, Bord Failte, Prof Brian Espey of TCD, and Dr Chris Kyba of the
IDA who did the official presentation. Julie deservedly got a standing
ovation for all her efforts over a period oh 18 months to achieve this
very prestigious accolade. Excellent, and seemingly endless,
refreshments were provided, and a good time was had by all!
And Albert and I (and a few other visitors who had travelled far)
got free overnight accommodation & breakfast in two of the houses at
On the way there from Cahirciveen, there were some good clear
spells, so of course we stopped to admire the pitch black sky, but it
was so cold & windy that we didn't stay out long enough to let our
eyes totally dark-adapt. Even so, the sky was just glorious.
The Dark Sky Reserve covers an area of 700 sq km (not 700km-square,
as quoted by one source which should know better - that would be
bigger than the whole of Ireland!)
There's already talk of a possible IFAS 'very dark sky observing
weekend there'. There will probably be further chat about that at the
Galway Star Party this W/E, and of course if it goes ahead I'll let
you know. NB, this would be for serious darksky observing - even the
light from your mobile phone screen would be frowned upon!
for a timely article.
3. See Mercury: The elusive innermost planet is now well-placed for
observation in the evening twilight. Look low in the SSW to SW about
30 mts after local sunset. It can be surprisingly bright, but of
course it doesn't look so prominent against the twilight background.
On Feb 1, it will lie just below and right of a lovely thin crescent
moon. You can use binoculars to find it, but it should then be fairly
easy to see without optical aid when the sky darkens a bit. It will be
visible for about the next week.
4. STARDUSTS: If any IAA members have not yet received their January
copy of STARDUST, please let me know by return.
5. Possible Solar Flares / CMEs/ Aurorae: A large and moderately
active sunspot is slowly turning toward Earth, increasing the chances
of geo-effective solar activity this week. X-flare alerts are
available from http://spaceweathertext.com (text) and
6. Supernova in M82 ('Cigar Galaxy') = SN2014J - LATEST
The supernova which recently exploded in the nearby Cigar Galaxy (M82)
in Ursa Major is still brightening; Latest reliable estimates at
put it at mag 10.6 for visual observers. That puts it within range of
a small telescope, or good high power binoculars. It's much brighter
in the red end of the spectrum. It should peak about Feb 2, before
dimming over the next few months. See
M82, which is an elongated irregular galaxy, lies close to the
bigger and brighter oval-shaped M81. You can find them easily by
following the diagonal line across the 'blade' of the Plough, or the
'bowl' of the Big Dipper, i.e. from Gamma through Alpha, and extending
it for its own distance beyond Alpha. The precise co-ordinates of the
supernova are: RA: 09 55 42.14; Dec: +69 40 26.0
See how it was discovered at:
7. GALWAY ASTROFEST, 1 February: UPDATE: Special Guest speakers: Tim
Puckett, and Guy Hurst, editor of "The Astronomer"
Full updated details of our Astronomy Festival is now available at
We have almost EURO 2500 worth of equipment in our 10th anniversary raffle
this year! All details on our website at www.galwayastronomyclub.ie
8. LOFAR Colloquia at UCC and UCD:
Title: "LOFAR: overview, status, and early results"
Speaker: Prof. Ralph Wijers, University of Amsterdam
UCC: Monday, February 3rd, 4pm in room B10A in the Kane Building in UCC.
UCD: Wednesday, February 5th, 4pm in room 1.28, Science Centre North,
(Physics Building), Belfield
Abstract: The LOFAR radio telescope, now officially the ILT, was built
by The Netherlands with Germany, UK, Sweden, and France, and can still
accommodate expansion. It is a versatile interferometer operating in
the 20-80 and 110-240 MHz frequency ranges, observing the
low-frequency sky to unprecedented sensitivity and resolution.
Its scientific aims range from the epoch of Reionisation to the Sun,
from planets to black holes to cosmic rays, and to general exploration
of the unknown in the deep sky and in time domain astronomy. I will
a brief overview of the raw capabilities, the present status of ILT
and some nice science results that have already come out. I will also
discuss some of the challenges ahead and lessons learned to achieve
full exploitation ILT's capabilities.
9. METEORITE / SOLAR EVENT AT ULSTER MUSEUM: Dr Mike Simms of the
Ulster Museum, Stranmillis Road, Belfast, will present a special event
on meteorites on the afternoon of 15th February to celebrate the first
anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall. If the weather is ok,
the IAA will have some telescopes at the front of the Museum for solar
observing. We hope to have a telescope display inside instead, if the
weather is inclement.
10. NEW IRISH SCIENCE BLOG: Note this new science blog by Dr Kevin
Nolan. It's called "Planetarie" and can be found
11. ALIENS AT ARMAGH PLANETARIUM, 1 March: Planet Aliens is a free
live show that tells the story of the Planet Aliens and the wonderful
world that they come from. With a full script and unique music the
story will teach children all about the stars and the Cosmos. This is
a first of its kind, designed and developed by D-Signs and Displays
alongside the team at Armagh Planetarium. With a uniquely designed
set, along with props, puppeteers and local actors, this truly is a
heart-warming adventure into the Cosmos in search of these wonderful
This is a family show which is not to be missed! Suitable for children
up to the age of ten. Spaces will be allocated on a "first come first
served" basis. Date: Saturday 1 March 2014, Show Times: 12.15pm,
1.15pm, 2.15pm and 3.15pm. Duration: 30mins. Price: Free
12: CORK: BCO Events: February's Space Camp is Sold Out! We are now
taking bookings for March Junior Space Camp: Sunday March 2 at 12noon.
13. Advance Notice: Thursday 27 March at 7.30pm Lecture: "Blowing up a
storm! Ireland's record of great winds and the Irish characters who
showed the world how to measure them." Dr Kieran R. Hickey, Dept of
Venue: Room OG-029, School of Geography, Archaeology and
Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast,
Tickets: free, please email to indicate attendance E firstname.lastname@example.org
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. Advance Notice: COSMOS 2014. This will be held from 4-6 April,
but this year it will be in Athlone, not Annaharvey, Tullamore! So
don't be booking any accommodation in Tullamore, as I nearly did! More
details when available.
16. Advance Notice: Major Astronomy Conference in Galway; Speed and
Sensitivity, Expanding Astronomical Horizons with ELTs. NUI, Galway,
13-16 May 2014
Led by Prof Andy Shearer: this will be a fascinating look at the
future of astronomy as offered by Extremely Large Telescopes, and ever
increasingly sensitive detectors. See
17. 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, Check the `Seeing the
Universe in All its Light' webpage at:www.stfc.ac.uk/2740
18. INTERESTING WEBLINKS:
Halton 'Chip' Arp was a great astronomer, who suffered because of his
unorthodox views. But his 'Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies' is still a
standard reference book.
Who can point out the most things wrong in the second illustration by
An interesting article spoiled by the dumbed-down intro. Now New
Scientist has taken anthropomorphising to a whole new level - applying
it to a whole galaxy! Sad.
(For next Xmas: Please, Santa, I've been a VERY good boy!)
19. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro
20. 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.
Finally, in tribute to the late great John Dobson, a quote from him
which is typical of the man, and very appropriate: "If you figure
something out for yourself, it doesn't make no never-mind who figured
it out first, it's yours."