Friday, 29 August 2014

Rosetta, Andor visit, IAA Lecture, WSW, Newgrange Trip, Comet@Mars, Paul's prize

Hi all,
ROSETTA now orbiting Comet. The Rosetta spacecraft is now in a sort of 'orbit' round Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, sending back some jawdropping photos. After studying the 'binary' surface in more detail, it will land a probe on the surface. Watch out for some amazing photos.  See
This will be the topic for the IAA's opening lecture of the new season, by the incomparable Leo Enright.
 See below:
2. EXCLUSIVE: Visit to Andor Technology Camera Facility, 13 September: The IAA has arranged a special visit to the Andor Technology Camera manufacturing facility in Belfast. As many of you will know, Andor make some of the best - in many cases the best - high-end digital cameras in the world. They are used in every scientific application imaginable, including of course astronomy, and they can be found in many of the world's top observatories, and in spacecraft. They are also moving into the range of amateur astronomers, having recently acquired Apogee Instruments. Thanks to Dr Andy McCrea we have arranged a free special visit for IAA members, and friends, to this facility, on Saturday 13 September.
1200 Meet in Andor Reception
Introductory welcome and short talk
Lunch (Free, provided by Andor) in their canteen
Tour of the Clean Room and factory assembly floor
Talks on the range of cameras and their applications
Talk on solar astronomy imaging using Andor cameras by Prof Mihalis Mathioudakis of the Astrophysics Research Centre in QUB (link from QUB/ Professor Smart)
Q&A Discussion
Finish - say 1530
  This is an exceptional opportunity to see and learn all about the latest developments and future plans for top class astronomical imaging equipment. Andor will also be interested in feedback from expert amateur users of digital imagers, so this is your opportunity to let them know what YOU would like to see available.
   Spaces are limited, so you must register your intention to attend. Please send your name and contact details to Dr Andy McCrea (of North Down Telescopes: email to ensure that you get a place, and mark your diaries now!
3. IAA New Season Opening Lecture 24 Sep: Latest Science Results from Rosetta, by Leo Enright
 This talk by Ireland's leading science broadcaster and journalist, will reveal the latest findings from the fantastic Rosetta spacecraft at Comet C-G. As you can see from some of the images (see item 1, above), the comet is weird - absolutely unlike anything we've seen before. And Leo usually updates his talk from the Internet just about 10 minutes before he's due to start, so it will be the VERY latest information. Not to be missed!
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.
4. World Space Week: October 4 to 11; UK Launch in N. Ireland!
 More news on this excellent coup by Robert Hill in the next bulletin.
5. ASTROARCHAEOLOGY TRIP TO NEWGRANGE and KNOWTH: Following the success of last years' trip, Stranmillis University College Institute of LifeLong Learning have asked to run another one, on 11 October, but this time including a visit to the Knowth Tomb as well. It has the largest collection of Megalithic art anywhere in Europe in one single site, some of which is reckoned to be astronomical. Booking for thus very popular, non-technical trip, is via the Stranmillis website, or go direct to,456138,en.pdf and scroll down to p. 23, or pick up a brochure from Reception.


Comet Siding Spring will pass 134,000 kilometres from Mars on October 19. The neutral-gas coma of the comet, which extends for more than 100,000 kilometres in all directions from the nucleus, may well interact with the atmosphere of the planet. Ions may extend away than that, and the tail is millions of kilometres long. As a precaution, the orbits of the Martian orbiters have been altered to place them on the safe side of the planet during the most dangerous part of the encounter, which will occur when Mars' path through the comet's tail reaches the region of highest dust density, about 100 minutes after closest approach.

 Nevertheless, every effort will be made to get good observations from the comet from all the spacecraft on or near the Red Planet. Siding Spring is a long-period comet on its first visit to the inner Solar System and spacecraft designed to study Mars up-close are not idea for good observations of the tiny comet nucleus much further away. 

   The comet's coma of dust and ice particles are the main hazard for the orbiters, but will not affect the rovers on the surface which will be protected by Mars' atmosphere. Even though it's much thinner than ours, the tiny particles in the coma will burn up without reaching the ground.

Each spacecraft will observe the comet as best as possible using its respective instruments. Most attention will be on the comet's coma -- its size, composition, the size of the particles, how it varies with time, and the jets from the nucleus. They will also study the comet's effect on the Martian atmosphere. And one spacecraft may possibly be able to image the tiny nucleus of the comet, only 1-2 kilometres across, as it passes by at the challenging relative speed of 57 km/s. But most instruments will be able to see the coma or the coma's effects on the atmosphere.

The spacecraft involved are: 1. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Has 3 cameras plus an imaging spectrometer and a radar sounder. 2. Mars Express. Will use HRSC camera and ultraviolet/infrared atmospheric spectrometer. 3. Mars Odyssey. Will use THEMIS thermal emission imaging system. 4. MAVEN, arriving 2014. Has a suite of instruments devoted to Mars' upper atmosphere, but no camera. 5. Mars Orbiter Mission, arriving 2014. Has a varied instrument suite but not sure if it will be performing Siding Spring observations.

7. Feedback on IAA event at BWCO at UAFP, Omagh:
It's nice to get some positive feedback. This is an excerpt from an email from Tim McCann, event organiser at RSPB:
   It was a great event and the feedback has been amazing...The stardome and stargazing as always has proved to be the most popular.
   You guys as always were simply amazing and as you say everybody that got to gaze through the 'scopes and got into the stardome simply loved it.
   So a huge thank you from as all at RSPB for yet again making our event a huge success.
8. Paul Evans wins IFAS Astrophotography Prize:
IAA Past President Paul Evans won a pair of Celestron 15x70s in the IFAS Astrophotography Competition with his NLC photo taken on 20th June. Well done Paul, that was a superb photo.
9. INTERNATIONAL METEOR CONFERENCE, 2014  Thursday September 18 till Sunday 21 September 2014, Giron, France. Giron is a small village located in the south of the Jura Mountains close to Geneva. The region is easily reachable by air (Geneva or Lyon airport), by train (TGV high speed train from Paris and InterCity trains from Geneva railway station) and by car (highway A40 Lyon-Chamonix). Part of the attraction for this event is that a free visit to CERN is included in the price! See
 After 30 June you will not be able to book extra nights before or after the IMC via the LOC. After 30 June extra nights should be booked on your own behalf.
10. NB The Special IAA Event at Newgrange for Heritage Week, 31 August: This is now fully booked.
Galway Astrofest: Feb 21, 2015, Theme: "New Worlds - New Horizons" Excellent speaker line-up already!  See
 COSMOS: April 17th to 19th 2015, Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone.
Interesting, and it seems plausible. But yet another erroneous illustration - asteroids do not start 'burning up' UNTIL they hit the Earth's atmosphere, at a height of about 100km above the surface - not tens of thousands of km as shown here. The reference to "the Americas" is odd, as that implies both N & S America. Yet climatically, it's not so likely to have affected S America. And indeed the text seems to imply that it was mainly N. America, Europe & near Asia that were affected. Incidentally, meteorite & geology expert Dr Mike Simms is sceptical about this theory. Obviously it's not a thigh bone! - It's an upper arm bone, or humerus..... (sorry!). See also
That needs a qualification - if it travels at 3,500 mph, then it can only reach somewhere within 3,500 miles of its launch site within one hour. So to be able to reach anywhere on Earth within one hour it would need multiple launch sites, not just ones in the USA and its dependencies.
Interesting & quite feasible - the only problem will be getting them to the exoplanet in the first place! With current technology that would take about 100,000 years. But long before that we'll have much quicker ways of getting there, and much more advanced ways of surveying them.
NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015. 
13. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter: The account is now operational again as before: @IaaAstro.

14. 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
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."
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley

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