Saturday, 27 December 2014

NY Party, Booking open, New Comet, Lecture, Meteors, IFAS, Rosetta, Xmas star?

Hi all,
1: The Irish Astronomical Association's New Year Party will be held as usual in the Tudor Cinema, Drumhirk Rd, Comber, on Saturday 3rd January 2015. A buffet meal will be available in McBride's, The Square, Comber. Food will be served at 6.00pm, but it is advisable to be there at 5.30pm. After the meal, members and guests will then make their way to the nearby Tudor Cinema for the feature film "Europa report" starting at 7.30pm and followed by a prize quiz. Free refreshments will be available at the cinema, including Terry Moseley's hot punch. N.B. Due to seating capacity restrictions at the Tudor Cinema,  numbers will be limited to 60, so early booking is advisable. Booking via the website  
2. Major Science Event, 23 February (+ 24th or 26th in Dublin): Booking Open  Another major science event as part of the 'Origins Project" will be taking place on the 23rd of February at UU Jordanstown (and one planned for Dublin on the 24th or 26th.) See
 Booking for the Belfast event at: and
Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins are confirmed as attending. Tickets are £35 each. Details of Belfast event are on Belfast event page
3. IAA LECTURE: Next IAA public lecture: Wednesday 7 January, QUB, at 7.30 p.m. It will be given by well-known Irish amateur astronomer, John Flannery. Title: The Sky by Eye – How to Rediscover the Soul of Astronomy
   Arthur C. Clarke once described the Universe as a device contrived for the perpetual astonishment of astronomers. Anyone can discover that sense of wonder. You just have to look up. It's a common belief you need some form of optical equipment to witness those astonishing sights but that is not the case. The Sky by Eye is a list that encourages people to observe the Universe with the unaided eye. It comprises 110 sky objects and phenomena ranging from the whimsical to challenging. Examples include studying the colours of the Moon, tracking a planet through its opposition loop, using a UHC filter to observe deep-sky objects with the unaided eye, observing the broad spectrum of atmospheric optics, and even building medieval astronomical instruments.
   The beauty of the Sky by Eye list is that you can delve deeper into areas such as meteor observing or revisit some aspects as your awareness grows. You may take a lifetime to tick off all the sights but the goal is to open your eyes to understanding and appreciating the rhythms of the sky, as well as build a foundation to enhance your enjoyment of astronomy. The list draws on the work of others including Joe Orman, Fred Schaaf, and Chet Raymo who all touch the soul of why we are naturalists of the night.
   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.
NB: Glasses found after last lecture: a small pair of reddish glasses was found in the toilet outside the Bell lecture theatre after the last lecture. We gave them to Ernst de Mooij (the speaker, from QUB) for safe keeping. He said he would hold on to them and give them to reception for collection.
4. New Comet Lovejoy: A new comet discovered by Tom Lovejoy (his 5th!), official name C/2014 Q2, is heading North and has gradually brightened. Currently it shines at +5th magnitude, barely seen by unaided eyes in a very dark sky, but relatively easy in binoculars. See
   The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on January 7, at a distance of 45 million miles.
 Positions and finder charts for the comet on a daily basis are on the excellent free site e.g. see
5. Perihelion
The Earth will reach Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun in its annual orbit, on 4 January at 06.36, distance 147,096,204 km.

6. Quadrantid Meteors  The Quadrantids are expected to peak sharply at about 01h on 4 January, but the almost full Moon will spoil the view. Maximum rates only occur for a few hours.   You could also try just before dawn on the morning of the 3rd, again avoiding the Moon which will be slightly less of a problem that morning, as it sets around 06.40

The radiant lies about halfway between the end of the handle of the Plough (or Eta UMa) and the head of Draco. It is circumpolar from Ireland, so you can observe as soon as the sky gets dark on the evening of the 3-4th, but the radiant will then be low in the North, dipping slightly below the Pole at lower culmination, before starting to rise again in the NNE and then NE, and the Moon will be a major hindrance.  The ZHR in a dark sky would be expected to be about 80, but you'll be lucky to see even half that in the Moonlight. The best time will be just before dawn, when the Moon is low and not so bright. Find a spot where you are in the shadow of the Moon, and look away from that part of the sky.

   The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the rate which would be seen by an experienced observer, in a VERY dark sky, and with the radiant in the zenith: actual observed rates very rarely reach the nominal ZHR for various reasons.

7. IFAS Calendar 2015 is now available. The Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies calendar is a monthly guide to all the key astronomical events visible from Ireland during 2015. It also lists astronomy and space anniversaries, space missions during 2015, star party dates, and much more. All money raised from the sale of the calendar will go to funding astronomy and outreach in Ireland being run under the auspices of the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies. You can see a preview at
   The price is €7.65 including postage to anywhere in Ireland/Northern Ireland. Get one for yourself and another for a family member or friend. One of the photos was taken by past IAA president Paul Evans.
   You can order the calendar via  ... 
8. New OU Future Learn Courses

10. Congrats to Martin McKenna, well known night-sky-hunter/photographer from Maghera, who proposed to his girlfriend Roisin Laverty in front of a beautiful aurora display at the Giant's Causeway on Tuesday night.

11. The 'Star of Bethlehem'   As it's the Pantomime Season: All together now - "Oh No It Can't"....
There are some very dubious assertions in this article:
1. Heliacal rising is not just one specific event - it is a gradual process, spread over several days, as the planet gradually moves further out from the Sun, becoming ever more easily visible in less bright dawn twilight.
   Thus, at Baghdad, where the Magi probably came from, taking a constant solar altitude below the horizon of 5.0 degrees, which gives moderately bright twilight, but when one might JUST be able to see Jupiter in a very clear sky if you knew where to look -
on April 16, at 05h 13m 00s, Jupiter's altitude was 0 deg 52' 59" - very low, but just possibly visible.
on April 17, at 05h 11m 40s, Jupiter's altitude was 1 deg 14' 49" - marginally better, and maybe visible.
on April 18, at 05h 10m 20s, Jupiter's altitude was 1 deg 37' 17" - slightly better still, and probably visible, but not necessarily so - and so on. So you can't tie it down to one specific date retrospectively.
2. It would not have been possible to see the occultation of Jupiter by the Moon at about local noon on April 17 - Jupiter would have been invisible so close to the Sun, in the bright noon-time sky. The occultation would have taken place with Jupiter only 12.5 degrees from the noonday Sun!
3. Further, his theory completely disregards the first standstill of Jupiter after its Heliacal Rising, which occurred about 21 August. Why did they ignore that event, and concentrate on the second one?
4. The standstills of Jupiter are also very gradual events, and could not possibly be determined to within an accuracy of less than a day by naked eye observation alone. So there's no way that a standstill of Jupiter could be said to have occurred when Jupiter was in one part of the sky, i.e. 'standing over where the young child lay'. Its position in the sky would have varied by 15 degrees every hour, just because of the Earth's rotation!
5. Where it 'stands over' at any particular time also depends entirely on where you are looking from! I can see Jupiter 'standing over' the top of Cave Hill at a certain time at night, but if I were looking from a mile to the East, for example, I would see it standing over Belfast instead!
6. Also, Jupiter could not have been in the Zenith from either Jerusalem or Bethlehem, so that possible interpretation of 'standing over' does not apply either.
7. Heliacal risings of Jupiter occur every 13 months or so and would have been well known, and predictable in advance, to any Magi, who were primarily astrologers. There would have been no reason to attach any significance to the one in April 6 BC, rather than say the one which occurred about 10 March 7BC, or indeed the one on about 20 May, 5BC.
    I therefore still think that the explanation in David Collins' book "The Star of Bethlehem" is the best available. It would take too long to explain here, so you'll just have to get a copy!
12. IAA Telescopes for loan: The IAA has telescopes available to borrow, for any paid up member  Enquiries to David Stewart or Andy Mcrea

13.  IAA Observing Nights at Delamont Country Park

  These very popular weekend observing sessions will recommence in January with the night of 16-17 as first option. 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, and for dates for next session: If cloudy, we'll try again on the next date on the list.…


14. 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:

15.  Baader Astro-Solar safe visual viewing material available: Baader safe viewing foil now in stock ... just in time for the big eclipse! £19 for an A4 sheet delivered. Contact Dr Andy McCrea at


16. The "Moon in 2015" is a complete annual guide to our natural satellite. A table gives you the dates for each of the Moon's phases: New, First Quarter, Full and Last Quarter. The Moon swings through these phases every 29 and 1/2 days, but did you realise the exact length of this period changes from month to month? On what dates are the "Super Moon's" for 2015? And what about the dates of Perigee and Apogee, Ascending/Descending Nodes, and Lunar Standstills? You'll find all of this as well as a recap of solar and lunar eclipse for 2015 in Jay's blog.


17. ARCHAEOASTRONOMY TRIP TO NEWGRANGE and KNOWTH, 2015, These trips have proved so popular that as soon as I got back from the last one, Stranmillis University College Institute of LifeLong Learning asked me to lead another one next spring!  Like the last one, the next trip will include 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 will open later, but if you want to go, note the date in your diary: Sat 9 May. More details when the new brochure comes out.

NI Science Festival: 19 Feb - 1 March. More details soon, including an IAA event on 28 Feb.
Galway Astrofest: Feb 21, 2015, NEWSFLASH: Cdr Chris Hadfield will launch this event! Theme: "New Worlds - New Horizons" Excellent speaker line-up already!  Latest news on speakers: To provide detailed insight into space missions one of the agency's senior scientific advisors; Professor Michael Perryman will talk about the GAIA mission, while Professor Susan McKenna Lawlor will look at the Rosetta Comet mission for which her team built an instrument for the Philae lander. See Check for latest updates. 
COSMOS: April 17th to 19th 2015, Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone.
SKELLIGS Star Party: 14-16 August, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry.  This is a Gold Medal winning Dark Sky site.  see
AI 'Star-B-Q': 15 August, An Tochar GAA Grounds, Roundwood, Co.Wicklow.

19: Interesting Weblinks: This would be very useful for unmanned supply missions, but it would be too long a journey for manned missions, which would expose the astronauts to much more radiation. It doesn't actually say here, but it looks as if you won't be able to float around weightless, as you'll be able to do in Virgin Galactic. That might be too risky if you are in the actual cockpit: you could bump into things and hit switches or levers that shouldn't be touched! Or if you had space sickness, you could vomit over some sensitive electronics or instruments! Indeed that might even happen if you were strapped in your seat! (They don't call the weightless training aircraft the 'Vomit Comet' for nothing....) Another misleading illustration - asteroids are not 'trailing fire' BEFORE they hit the Earth's atmosphere! This is very imprecise, as there is no relation between the time of a New Moon or Full Moon and the seasons. The nearest New Moon to the Pleiades in Spring could vary by two weeks either way. For example, just picking the next 5 years as a random sample, the New (i.e. Crescent) Moon is nearest the Pleiades on 3 Apr, 24 Mar, 13 Mar, 10 Apr, 31 Mar and 21 Mar.
    The Sun's rising and/or setting azimuth would give a more accurate guide.
 Tales from a Mars rock I was lucky enough to be able to hold that meteorite in my own hands, courtesy of Prof Monica Grady, when it was in her care in the meteorite section of the Science Museum in London.
20. TWITTER: Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro.
21. 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: A Very Happy New Year to everyone, and good viewing.
Clear skies,
Terry Moseley


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