Saturday, 4 October 2014

WSW launch, lectures, trips, ISS, Elements, Newgrange, Eclipse, & more!

Hi all,
1. WORLD SPACE WEEK LAUNCH TOMORROW: The UK launch of this event will be in N. Ireland this year, thanks to the indefatigable Robert Hill of NI Space Office.
To register your event, please follow this link: 
   The IAA is running two events for WSW. First is the lecture on Wed 8 October - see below.
Second: we will be running a major public astronomy & space outreach event in conjunction with the Ulster Museum on Saturday 11 October. This will be at the Museum on Stranmillis Road, from 11.00 to 17.00. This will comprise:
A. starshows with a space theme in the ever-popular Stardome (loaned courtesy of Armagh Planetarium) at 45 minute intervals starting at 11.00.
B. Solar observing from the Museum forecourt, weather permitting. We will have various special safe solar telescopes to show incredible views of our nearest star, which still poses many puzzles for astronomers.
C. If it's cloudy, we'll have the telescopes indoors as part of our major exhibition.
D: Exhibition: all things astronomical and space will be on display, including meteorites which are actual rocks from space, and various items of space memorabilia
E. Meet our own 'Ulsternaut', Derek Heatly from Groomsport, who will be the first person from N. Ireland, if not all Ireland, to fly into space with Virgin Galactic.
F: Ask a question about astronomy or space - our 'Experts' will be there to try to answer them.
2. IAA WORLD SPACE WEEK LECTURE, 8 October: Prof Don Kurtz, UCLAN: Title: "The Kepler Mission: Exoplanets and Asteroseismology". Prof Kurtz is a very highly regarded speaker on a wide variety of topics, and this one for WSW will focus on one of the most successful space mission ever: the Kepler Spacecraft. This has now detected well over 1,000 planets going round other stars, some of which are like planets in our own solar system, including a few which are fairly like Earth, and some which are amazingly different from our own familiar ones.
   And the spacecraft's detectors are so sensitive that they can even detect 'starquakes' on distant stars. Come along and be amazed at the fantastic findings from this space mission.
3. ISS Soon visible in Evening Sky. The ISS will commence a series of evening passes over Ireland on 8 October (during WSW!), visible in the evening sky from about the time of early twilight. Full details of passes for your location, and lots of other information, are available on the excellent free site:

4. The Elements in the Universe:  Ulster Museum, 11 October, 12.00 - 4.30). this event will be looking at the Universe from an elemental point of view. Dr Mike Simms will be there with his meteorites. He has also invited IAA members to participate, particularly those with telescopes, especially if linked to spectroscopy of the Sun and stars. If anyone is interested in being involved, please contact Mike so that he can plan the event. 

5. Astronomical Orientation of Lough Gur Stone Circle. This is the largest stone circle in Ireland, and well-known archaeoastronomer Dr Frank Prendergast will be one of the speakers at the following event: The inaugural Lough Gur Spirit of Place Celebration, featuring a series of public lectures, talks, contemplative tours and music in the heart of one of Ireland's most important archaeological sites, will take place on the 10th and 11th of October next.
   The event is on the home page of the website with a drop down menu appearing on the top left. This section includes programme and speaker information, and press releases.

6. Irish Archaeoastronomy online:  Dr Frank Prendergast of DIT, an Irish expert on archaeoastronomy (see above), has written a number of papers on the subject, including one on Knowth, not to mention being a contributor to the massive and very expensive Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy just published by Springer Reference in 3 volumes He has made a number of these papers available online.
Visit and under 'authors' you will find some of these, including the Knowth paper. Use the link 
rather than the pdf, if possible.
7. Giant impacts in the early solar system: evidence from meteorites
Edward Scott, University of Hawai'i Thursday 16 October, 17.00, in TCD
   This is the John Joly lecture organised by Trinity College in Dublin. : for details see Trinity's website:
8. Special Lawrence Krauss lecture at QUB, 22 October: "Cosmic Connection: from the Big Bang to life on Earth and Beyond."
BOOKING NOW OPEN! Registration is now open for the lecture. Go to, and the top news link, beside the book snapshot
   Taking advantage of the visit to Belfast by world famous cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (see earlier bulletin), the IAA is teaming up with the Astrophysics Research Centre at QUB (to which sincere thanks are due) to present a public lecture by him on 22 October.  
   Time 7.30 p.m., in Larmor Lecture Theatre, QUB. Free admission but by email ticket application only. 
    Lawrence Krauss is a renowned cosmologist, and author of many best-selling books such as "The Fifth Essence" (Dark Matter); "The Physics of Star Trek"; "A Universe From Nothing"; "Quintessence, The Search For Missing Mass In The Universe", "Beyond Star Trek"; "Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth...and Beyond"; and many articles in various science journals. He is also the ONLY physicist to have received awards from all three of the major American Physics Societies. See:
   By coincidence, this story on dark matter has recently broken: Intuitively, I like it, although the science is of course totally beyond me!
9. IAA Observing Nights at Delamont Country Park
These very popular weekend observing sessions have started again with some very successful viewing last weekend. Delamont is well signposted off the A22 just South of Killyleagh, (North of Downpatrick) Co Down. They are suitable for anyone, but are aimed especially at beginners.
We bring our own large telescopes; bring your own if you have a portable one.
  The events work like this: If it's clear on the Friday night, the event goes ahead. If not, we try again on the Saturday night. If both are cloudy, we try again on the following weekend, same procedure. To check if it's going ahead, check the IAA website: up to 6.0 p.m. on each day. Dates for next session: If cloudy, we'll try again on the next date on the list.…
10. ARCHAEOASTRONOMY TRIP TO NEWGRANGE and KNOWTH, 11 October: Following the success of last years' trip, Stranmillis University College Institute of LifeLong Learning have asked me 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.
   This trip is booking quickly, so reserve your places now if you want to go!

11. FAEROES ECLIPSE TRIP: The next Total Solar Eclipse visible on Earth will be on 20 March, 2015.

This total eclipse track will only cross land on Earth in two places: the Faeroes, and Svalbard in the far North Atlantic. IAA member and eclipse author Dr Kate Russo will be leading a tour to observe this eclipse in the Faeroes. I have the honour to be the 'eclipse/astronomy/aurora expert'  on the trip, on which we hope to be able to get good views of the aurora as well as the eclipse itself. See You can also find out more details on the eclipse blog site:


12. COMET NEAR-MISS WITH MARS, Oct 19: 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.


13. TAMING THE ELEMENTS LECTURE SERIES, Ulster Museum, 21 October     The lectures will take place on consecutive Tuesday evenings, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Lecture Theatre on the ground floor. Some of these talks will be of interest to astronomers.  This is a free event – but to secure your place please use the Buy Tickets button on the web page. For further information please ring 028 9044 0000. Opening hours are Tue-Sun 10am-5pm.

 There are seven lectures; the second one in particular will be of interest to astronomers:
" 2. The origin of the elements 7:00 - 9:00pm Tuesday 28th October
     Discover how common elements formed in stars, supernova and the Big Bang help to answer some of the big questions in modern astronomy. See e.g.
14. ROSETTA's probe to land on Comet on 12 November. The Rosetta spacecraft continues to 'orbit' round Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, sending back more jawdropping photos. After studying the 'binary' surface in great detail, the site to land a probe on the surface has now been chosen. (the dimension quoted for the 'landing site' is actually the diameter of the whole 'head' section of the comet), and
Watch out for more amazing photos.  See:
And: I suppose it had to happen. And we are supposed to be an intelligent civilisation? Actually, this sort of thing may be the very reason why we have not yet been visited by aliens - they would realise that anyone stupid enough to believe such nonsense is definitely not intelligent enough to be worth visiting!
   May The Farce Be With You!
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.



A planet once again,
A planet once again,
Shall Pluto, long demoted, be
A planet once again?
(To a well-known tune....)  The following questions occur to me:
Are the constraints too tight for any significant number to occur? -
1. The mass constraint of between 55,000 and 56,000 solar masses is very tight to start with.
2. The stars have to be 'non-rotating'. However almost every star that we have been able to study is rotating, and indeed we would expect that all stars formed from collapse of a nebula would be rotating. They don't define 'non-rotating' in the abstract, and maybe their actual definition is 'a period greater than xx days' where xx could be in the hundreds, in which case there could be a very small number of them. But -
3. It is difficult to see how such a massive star could form in the first place: once a mass of 1,000, or even 500 or less, solar masses had been reached, the star would be emitting so much radiation that it would blast away any further infalling gas. And there would hardly be time for say ~55 stars of ~100 solar masses to come together to form one huge one. And remember that at this early stage after the Big Bang everything would be expanding away from other matter at an incredible rate.
4. If half the mass of the star is ejected into the cosmos as heavy elements, what happens to the other 22,500 solar masses? - they say there is 'no compact remnant'. Two comments:
1. The information that goes into a BH does not permanently disappear from the Universe, as Hawking has shown that Black Holes will VERY slowly evaporate.
2. There IS something very very like a BH at the centre of our own galaxy. We can't see it directly, but we see its gravitational effects. Something so small and yet so massive, and so unluminous, is best explained by it being a BH. If it quacks, walks, swims, sounds and looks like a duck, then it VERY probably IS a duck.  Once again the illustration shows an asteroid 'burning up' while it's still well out in space. That doesn't happen. 
That's being unduly pessimistic and unrealistically optimistic at the same time! Remember, it's over 45 years since we first put a man on the Moon, and 42 years since the last manned Moon landing, and what have we done since in terms of human space exploration? - we still haven't managed to get out of Low Earth Orbit! And yet he hopes to get 1MILLION people to Mars in the remaining 86 years of this century! What is the huge black void that suddenly appears above centre in the larger galaxy (M31, just before impact? Going by the scale, it would seem to be about 10,000 LY across!  If it had been moving faster than sound there would have been a sonic boom. Also, it would have been picked up by the radar at Southampton airport. Also: and - Even this won't convince the Conspiracy Theorists.
Earth's water older than Sun There may be plenty of hydrogen in interstellar space, left over from the BB, but where did the oxygen come from?
17. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter: The account is now operational again as before: @IaaAstro.

18. 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

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