Saturday, 24 December 2016

Meteors, Lecture, Perihelion, NY Party, Photo winner, Exhibition, Venus, GAF

Hi all,


1. QUADRANTID METEORS, 2-3 Jan: The Earth will pass through a stream of debris from the unusual object 2003 EH, which is more like an asteroid than a comet. Conditions are very good this year, with only a crescent moon which sets fairly early. Maximum is predicted for 14h on the 3rd, so we should observe on the nights of 2-3, and 3-4 Jan. The radiant is in N. Bootes, not far from the end of the 'Plough' handle. ZHR rates could peak at 120 per hour, but unfortunately the Quadrantids peak is fairly sharp, and those rates will only obtain for a few hours on either side of the time of maximum. The sky gets dark quite early on Jan 3, but unfortunately the radiant, although circumpolar, will be quite low as the sky darkens, dipping below the pole a few hours later, before starting to rise again in the NE.

   For us, best rates will be available just before dawn on the 3rd, and again that evening as the radiant rises. For once, observers in the far N of the island will get the best view.


2. IAA Public Lecture Meeting, Wed 4 January:  'Explorers of the Galaxy' , by Professor Mike Burton, director of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

We are delighted to have Prof Mike Burton, the new Director at Armagh, to give the opening lecture of our 2017 Season.

FREE REFRESHMENTS in the form of the usual biccies, tea and coffee.

 TIME: 7.30 p.m., Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, QUB.

 Free admission, including light refreshments. Free parking on QUB campus after 5.30 p.m.


3. Earth at Perihelion, Jan 4: The Earth will be at perihelion, or closest to the Sun, at 14.17.


4 IAA NEW YEAR PARTY - 7 January.This ever-popular social event will again be based in Comber Co Down. We start off with eats and drinks at McBride's on The Square, Comber, at 5.15 for 5.30 p.m.; then make our way to the Tudor Private Cinema about a mile away, for more seasonal hot drinks, a special showing of "The Martian" (highly recommended), and the usual quiz for all. Details are on the IAA website, and a booking form has been issued with the latest Stardust to IAA members. All are welcome, including guests and non-members.


5. Photo competition winner: Professor Stephen Smartt, head of the Astrophysics Research Centre at QUB, was so impressed with our astrophoto exhibition that he has offered to permanently display the best picture, as judged by an independent panel, in the ARC in the newly refurbished Physics building, when that work is completed.  

   The winner was "Bright Fireball" by Brendan Alexander. The others shortlisted were "River of Light" by Martin Campbell, and "The Orion Constellation" by Tom O'Donoghue. Stephen commented that all of the photos were of an exceptionally high standard.

   Congratulations to Brendan Alexander!


6. Heavens Above: AstroPhoto Exhibition, Antrim - EXTENDED.

The superb exhibition of locally taken astro-photographs continues at Clotworthy Arts Centre in Antrim will now continue until 27 December. Free admission. A MUST SEE!

You can get directions here 

It will then be moving to the Arts Centre in Lisburn on 5th January - more details later.


7. Venus, aka 'The Evening Star' is now very prominent in the SW in early evening twilight as it moves out from the Sun, and the angle of the ecliptic gradually improves for us in these latitudes.


8. Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has announced the 2016–17 staging of its Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest. Since the Cassini mission to Saturn will be ending on 15 September 2017, this will most likely be the last essay contest for the Cassini mission, for which students are asked to write an essay of up to 500 words about one of three possible imaging targets that the Cassini spacecraft has observed during the past few years. Winners and their classes are invited to participate in a teleconference with Cassini scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The deadline for entries is 24 February 2017.
For contest rules, a flyer, frequently asked questions, and more information, please visit:

9. Train like an astronaut in 2017. Mission X is an international challenge for pupils aged 8 to 12 years old and is an initiative of NASA, ESA, and other space agencies around the world. It focuses on fitness and healthy eating — two very important topics for astronauts.  During the challenge, the students take part in six weeks of training to get fit like astronauts. Don't miss the chance to register your class onto the Mission X challenge 2017 and train with ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his crew members! You have until 31 December 2016!
Read ESA's press release here:
You can also visit the official website here: 

10. Fly A Rocket: The European Space Agency is looking for students for its new "Fly a Rocket!" programme. ESA's Education Office is looking for twenty students to participate in an online course about rocketry. Following completion of the course, the students will have the opportunity to take part in a full launch campaign at the Andoya Space Center in Northern Norway, and to launch a rocket. The course is aimed at younger university students, and it is accepting applications from education, media, and management students, showing that careers in the space sector do not necessarily require a detailed technical or mathematical background. Learn more about the program here:!_programme 

And also see the UK Youth Build a Rocket Challenge

11. Jan 11 - 14: BT Young Scientist Exhibition, RDS, Dublin. See

12. Galway Astrofest, 28 January, Westwood Hotel. Another top programme this year:

Friday evening, 27 Jan: Observing at Club's dark Sky site at Bearna, if clear.

Sat 28th Jan, Lecture Program

0900 – 1000: Registration

1000 – 1015: Opening Address and Welcome

1015 – 1115: Exploring the Cosmos – The View from Hubble and Beyond.  Dr. Deirdre Coffey, Assistant Professor, School of Physics, UCD

1115 – 1215: A Mayan Adventure in Historical Astronomy, Dr. David Asher, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium.


1230 – 1400: Lunch break and workshops


1400 – 1500: An Introduction to Space Law and the Challenges It Faces.  Dr. Zeldine O'Brien, Barrister & Lecturer.


1500 – 1600: Robotic Exploration of the Solar System. Dr. Wesley Fraser, Queens University Belfast


1600 – 1630: Tea & Coffee


1630 - 1730:  The Patrick Moore Memorial Lecture: ET- Where are you?  Terry Moseley, Irish Astronomical Association.


1730 – 1830: Guided Tour of the NUIG Astrophysics Observatory


1830 – 2000: Astrofest Evening Meal


2000 -      Fiendishly Difficult (only kidding) Table Quiz.



Guests: €25. Club Members: €15.  Students/OAP: €15 Children (U16): Free

Evening Dinner: €30

13. Major Lecture on the Geology of Mars, Wed 22 February, 6.30 p.m.: Lecture jointly hosted by the IAA, Belfast Geologists Society, and Geological Society of N.I. as part of N.I. Science Festival  by Prof. Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial College London). Professor Gupta is an expert on the geology of Mars and a long term science planner on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover mission. His lecture is entitled: 'Exploring the red planet – adventures of the Curiosity Rover'. More details on booking and venue TBA, but keep the date free.

14. FUTURE EVENTS ALERT: Note the dates:

* N.I. Science Festival: 16 - 26 February. The NISF is coming back for a third year! And it's set to be the biggest one yet. Mark it in your diaries and join us. Programme announcement updates coming soon. See You can now book for some of these events.

* Messier Marathon Fri Mar 24, 2017 at 2 PM to Sat Mar 25, 2017 at 11 PM, at Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry. See 

* COSMOS 2017: 31 March to 02 April. Athlone.

* ISSP: Major Event: The International Space Studies Programme (SSP) will be coming to Ireland next year. It will be based at Cork Institute of Technology, running from 26 June to 25 August.

* International Symposium on Astronomy and Astrobiology Education: 3–8 July 2017; Utrecht, Netherlands. More Information: 

15. IAA Telescopes for loan: The IAA has telescopes available to borrow, for any paid up member Enquiries to Andy McCrea:

16: Interesting Weblinks: (Disclaimer - Use of material herein from various sources does not imply approval or otherwise of the opinions, political or otherwise, of those sources)

Whatever about the roofbox (and I'm not an archaeologist), the passage is still aligned with the solstice sunrise, and that wasn't altered! Also, when the reconstruction was being done, Prof O'Kelly was not in a position, as far as I know, to position the roofbox exactly so that the sunrise would illuminate the inner chamber - that was only confirmed after the reconstruction was done. The story also ignores the facts of the other solar alignments in the area, particularly the equinoxes at Knowth.


HST images nearby galaxy: Somebody doesn't know their Latin! "Canes" is plural, so it's "Hunting Dogs". The singular is "Canis" as in Canis Major. - Go to the back of the class!

 Major Supercluster of galaxies found near Milky Way! It's good to see the venerable (1974!) AAT still doing such pioneering work. The mirror for that telescope was made by the firm of Sir Howard Grubb Parsons, the successors to the famous Grubb telescope making firm in Dublin, and the Parsons name showing the continuing link to the Rosse family in Birr. And Grubb Parsons also made the equally impressive UK Schmidt Telescope, also still functioning on the same site as the AAT. Soon, I hope! And preferably before the end of March, when it ceases to be easily visible from here! (Yes, I know that 'ready to explode' in this context could mean tens of thousands of years, or more.)
"Tabby's Star" - new theory Interesting theory, but why should this star, alone among the hundreds of thousands for which a light curve is available, be the only one undergoing such a phase transition? And a transition from what to what? More questions than answers!
Outlier galaxies are young, thin and hyperactive 
No trace of Dark Matter in gamma-ray background

Antimatter spectrum imaged  Is that an 'antispectrum'?

First test of new theory of gravity:


EARTH & MOON  It is EXTREMELY unlikely that ANY scenario will wipe out humanity in the next 1000 years, or even 100,000 years.

Quote "Super volcanoes, an asteroid, or solar flares could wipe out humanity in an instant." That's simply not true.
1. Supervolcanoes would take centuries to wipe out even a large fraction of humanity - they don't all suddenly erupt in full fury at once. Even then, a substantial number of humans would probably survive.
2. It would take a VERY large asteroid impact to wipe out all of humanity - of the order of 15km diameter, to kill every human being. We are 99.999% certain that no object of that size will hit Earth within 1,000 years, and it's very unlikely even in 100,000 years. There is a remote chance of a VERY large comet hitting us in that time frame, but again it's very unlikely.
3. A major solar flare, such as the Carrington Event, could cause huge disruption to modern society, and indirectly cause hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of deaths, but would not wipe out even a few percent of humanity. After all, we did have such an event about 150 years ago, and as far as we know there were NO deaths.
  Other risks such as nuclear war or an incurable virus or bacterium, could wipe out many millions, but again they are extremely unlikely to kill every human being. A nearby GRB could kill a substantial fraction of the population, but as far as we can tell, there are no likely sources within danger range. Even then, a GRB will only affect one side of planet Earth, since it is a short-lived event. A very close Supernova explosion would be more dangerous, as the effects would last for more than one rotation of the Earth, but once again, there are no likely candidates within the danger zone. A wandering mini Black Hole might do the trick, but the chances are extremely remote, if such objects exist at all.
Asteroid Day Update: hosted by Scott Manley, ex-Armagh Observatory: 
REMINDER. There will be a leap second at the end of this year. That is, the last UT minute of 2016 will have 61 seconds. The simulations and assumptions are based on a maximum asteroid size of 250 metres, but the covering illustration shows an asteroid more than 2,500,000 metres in diameter! That's 100 times bigger than the 'dinosaur killer', and would eradicate ALL life on Earth. But that's not going to happen.
Prof Stephen Smart Interview on NVTV (Freeview ch 7). Behind the Science. Geoff McGimpsey talks to scientist Stephen Smartt whose work involves superluminous supernovas and the stars that produce them.
Fri 23 Dec, 18:15 (may still be available on 'watch again' etc)


SETI If 'they' are sending a signal from 3 billion LY away, it's -

1. Very unlikely that they are specifically trying to contact us!
2. And if they are so far away, we are in no danger from them, unless they have mastered FTL travel.
   It is of course much more likely to be a natural phenomenon.



Ignore the DM's politics and celebrity gossip coverage and enjoy these amazing pics! 

Spiders on Mars!

Lunar Sonic booms: 

More evidence for Martian habitability (It's a wonder the Ufologists didn't take that as a 'Bazaar landscape' on Mars!



Nanosatellites to open Space research to all universities 
Astronauts to get help from 'snake robots' 
Astrophotography brings science to all. 
The World's largest telescope completed in China - fascinating video. 
UFO's Aliens, Conspiracy Theories, etc:
17. TWITTER Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro.


18. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION: 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


19. Finally: Season's greetings: Wishing all of you a very merry festive season, and a happy and healthy 2017, with clear skies when you need them most!


Clear skies,

Terry Moseley

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