Monday, 27 March 2017

Lecture, COSMOS, RGO, Venus, Photos, ISS, Stargazing Live, LP survey, comps, TSE

Hi all,


1. IAA Public Lecture Meeting, Wed 29 March: "The Euclid Mission: finding out what Dark Matter and Dark Energy really are", by Dr Henry Joy McCracken,  

Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris 
As you would probably guess from the name, Dr McCracken is a local guy, but is working at the prestigious Institute of Astrophysics in Paris.
   This lecture follows neatly on from the fascinating one we had last Wednesday, which looked at the role of very distant supernovae in searching for dark energy. It's really amazing to think that well over 90% of the universe is composed of stuff that we can as yet neither see nor understand! It's a bit like astronomy two centuries ago, when all we knew about the universe was derived from, and the only tool we had to study it, was looking with the mark-1 eyeball, in visible light! There were hints of the infra-red, and ultra violet, but no-one even dreamed of the whole electromagnetic spectrum from extremely high energy gamma-rays, through X-rays, U-V, and on into microwaves and radio waves, themselves covering a huge range of wavelengths and energies. Studying those new wavelengths opened a whole series of windows on the universe, and no doubt when we finally get to grips with dark matter and dark energy, the effect will be the same.
"The nature of dark matter and dark energy remains one of astronomy's most profound mysteries. Scheduled for launch in 2020,  ESA's Euclid satellite will map precisely the distribution of dark matter in the Universe and provide the most accurate measurement yet of the cosmic acceleration. Taken together, these two observations will provide a stringent test of our cosmological model. In addition, Euclid will provide an unprecedented legacy of high-resolution imaging over tens of thousands of square degrees of sky. In my talk I will describe the Euclid mission and the challenges of realising such a precise experiment." 
FREE REFRESHMENTS in the form of the usual biccies, tea and coffee.  All welcome!

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

Free admission.  Free parking on QUB campus after 5.30 p.m.


2.  COSMOS 2017: 31 March to 02 April. Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone. Programme

 details are at


3. RGO Astrophotography contest. From the Jellyfish Nebula to the biggest supermoon of the century: Greenwich Royal Observatory reveals stunning entries to its 2017 astrophotography competition.

  With weeks left until submissions close for the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, the Royal Observatory Greenwich has released images of some of the entries.


4. Watching Venus pass through Inferior Conjunction (I/C) on 25 March!   Partial success! In spite of 'nominally' clear skies on both the 23rd and 24th, there were layers of thin cloud down at the W horizon. But as we were looking through those layers almost edge-on, they were thick enough to block any view of Venus from my observing location N of Belfast. However I did succeed the next morning, but only by climbing up a stepladder on my patio to see over the high back hedge and neigbouring houses to the East. I spotted it in 10x50 binocs, and could just barely see it with the unaided eye for a minute or so. But a photo was impossible - you can't balance a tripod on top of a stepladder. However, IAA President Paul Evans got quite a good shot from Larne that morning. I was hoping for another chance on the evening of the 25th, but the cloud was even thicker.

  You can still see it, with difficulty and binoculars, in the mornings before sunrise, for another week or so at least.

   From Belfast, here's the altitude of the Sun BELOW the horizon when Venus attains 3 degrees ABOVE the horizon in the mornings, on the following dates:

28 Mar = -6 deg 02'
30 Mar = -6 deg 13'
01 Apr = -6 deg 27'
03 Apr = -6 deg 42'
05 Apr = -7 deg 05'.
   So, 10 days BEFORE I/C it was still quite easy to see in the evening with the N/E, but 10 days AFTER I/C, it's almost impossible to see in the morning with the N/E.
   It's not really until we're into the first week in April that it becomes really possible to see it as a morning star with the naked eye.

5. Heavens Above: AstroPhoto Exhibition in Downpatrick.

The superb exhibition of locally taken astro-photographs, which had very successful runs in the Linenhall Library In Belfast, and Clotworthy Arts Centre in Antrim, and the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn has transferred to the St Patrick's centre, Downpatrick, and runs there until  31 March

   There are also 5 movies, covering solar eclipse, auroras and conjunctions, playing on a loop all day and now also viewing in the Centre reception.

 Thanks again to Bernie Brown for setting this up.


6. ISS. The International Space Station will  commence a series of evening passes over Ireland on 28 March, just in time for COSMOS. Details as always on the excellent free site This site also has general information on most things visible in the night sky, including comets, and now solar eclipses.

7. BBC Stargazing Live, from Australia. 8 p.m., 28 - 30 March. Presented by B COX, presumably because his name is the same upside down!

8. Light Pollution Campaign Survey:  Sinead Allen, a student in at the Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork and a member of the Cork Astronomy Club, is developing an exhibition to educate the public on the issue of light pollution as part of her college project. She is collecting relevant data, regarding historical, environmental and societal impact. The aim is to include contributions from individuals and groups with particular interest in the topic. It would be greatly appreciated if the short survey accessible at the following link could be filled out by recipients of this bulletin..   

9. AstroCamp 2017 The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Centre for Astrophysics of the University of Porto (CAUP) are collaborating to support AstroCamp 2017, an astronomy-focused summer academic programme for secondary school students. The Summer AstroCamp 2017 will be held from 6 to 20 August in northern Portugal, at the Centre for Environmental Education and Interpretation of the Corno de Bico Protected Landscape. The applicant with the best application from one of ESO's Member States who is eligible to apply will win a bursary offered by ESO that will cover the camp fee.
Read more


10. IAA AGM + Telescope Auction + Bring & Buy + Fix my 'scope! 12 April

The IAA AGM will be held in the usual venue at QUB at 7.30 p.m. Details are in an insert with the latest Stardust, which you'll get shortly. After the official business we will be having -

* An auction of surplus IAA telescopes, of all sizes up to a 200mm equatorial reflector. Also lots of ancillary equipment. No reasonable offer will be refused, so this is your chance to pick up a real bargain.

* A bring and buy sale - bring along any of your own surplus gear, DVD's, books & magazines etc, and sell at whatever price you'll accept. For buyers, there are usually some good bargains here too.

   So bring plenty of cash and change in notes, £1, £2, 50p's etc.

* If you already have a telescope, but are not sure how to use it, or you think something may be wrong with it, bring it along (if it's portable) and ask our experts for help.


11. Backyard Worlds: Planet Nine. Backyard Worlds is hoping to discover a large planet at the fringes of our solar system — a world astronomers call Planet Nine. But Backyard Worlds need your help! Finding such dim objects requires combing through images by eye, to distinguish moving celestial bodies from ghosts and other artifacts. So come and join the search — there are many images to look through. In the end you might discover a rogue world that's even nearer to the Sun than Proxima Centauri! Discover more about the project and how to contribute here:


12. Blackrock Castle Observatory Space Camps, July 10 - 21

Book your space camper in for a fun filled week of space and science activities.
Join us each day from 9:30 to 12:30.
Week 1 | July 10 - 14 | suitable for ages 7 to 9
Week 2 | July 17 - 21 | suitable for ages 10 to 12

The cost for each Space Camper is €95 per child which includes 1 week of Space Camp, Space Camp t-shirt & all activity materials.

Payment must be paid before your chosen Space Camp begins. 10% Discounts apply for members and siblings attending.

Please call us on 021 4326120 or email to book. For more information see


13. Heavens Above has new solar eclipse feature: has a new feature on solar eclipses, from 1900 to 2100. They are grouped in thumbnail maps covering 3 year periods, thus the opening page lists those from 2017 to 2020. You can select other dates from the arrows beside the year date.

   Clicking on a map brings up an enlarged map of the whole umbra and penumbra for that eclipse, with lots of data about the eclipse in two tables below that. If you want an explanation of any of the terms in those tables, just Google, or ask me.
  You also have several other menus at the top of those pages, including the circumstances of the eclipse at your location, an animation, and an interactive feature.
   If you want to see what the eclipse will be like from any other location, just enter or choose that location on the normal Heavens above home page, before you go to the eclipse page.
   Not quite as good as a full software program such as Skymap Pro, but simple and easy to access.


14. Total Solar Eclipse, USA, 21 August: Lots of people are asking about seeing this eclipse - the most accessible one for many years to come. See

I've just learned of this availability from a reputable eclipse travel firm based in Denver, Colorado. Denver is quite easy to get to from Ireland, (N and S) with just two flights necessary, and with new Norwegian Air offering cheap flights from Belfast to USA, that's also an option. BTW, I have NO connection with this firm whatsoever! BTW, "WY" is Wyoming, and "NE" is Nebraska.
Sirius Travel are leading several groups for this eclipse.  We are not yet sold out but it is getting close! Our availability is the following:
1.    CM Ranch near Dubois WY and the Grand Tetons (trip is 1 week at the dude ranch) - 2 bedrooms remaining in a 3 bedroom/3 bath cabin on the line of totality. Whoever signs up would need to be willing to share the cabin with a couple already signed up. 
2.    Americana Tour (9 day circuit beginning and ending in Denver and including some of the best of kooky American sights) - Our limiting factor is the number of hotel rooms we have secured in Alliance NE on August 20.  We have 4 rooms left which means we can accept 8 more passengers traveling double occupancy. We will be viewing the eclipse from Carhenge. :)
3.    Day Trip by bus from Denver and Boulder.  We planned this trip for people who do not have a week to spend on a tour or who live in the area and simply do not want to manage the particulars of the day themselves.  It has been very popular and by itself should keep 400+ cars off the road!  We will be leaving the Denver area with 17 buses by 5am and we will be observing from a private ranch on the line of totality near Douglas, WY.  At this moment we have about 25 seats left from Denver and another 10 from Boulder. Full details at Sirius Travel – Specializing in eclipse travel globally.

   For information about the eclipse see also 365 Days Of Astronomy: It's time for Totality 2017 | 365 Days of Astronomy and 

   The weather prospects are much better on the West side of the Mississippi - see:



* Global Astronomy Month:  April 2017. More information: 

* Earth Day / March for Science, April 22: In view of the latest attacks on science, this would be an opportunity to stand up and show support for science and scientists. It is hoped that something will be organised locally, in both Belfast and Dublin. More later.

* Solar Day, Dunsink Observatory: 17 June.

* Starmus Festival IV: Life And The Universe:  18–23 June 2017. Location: Trondheim, Norway. More information: 

* IAA Midsummer BBQ event. 24 June.

* European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS): 26–30 June 201,: Prague, Czech Republic. More information: 

* Asteroid Day: 30 June 2017. Location: Around the world. More Information: 
* ISSP: Major Event: The International Space Studies Programme (ISSP) will be coming to Ireland this 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: 

* IAA Solar Day, 6 August, WWT, Castle Espie, 2 - 5 p.m.

* 36th International Meteor Conference, in Petnica, Serbia, from September 21 to 24, 2017. For details contact the Local Organizing Committee at 

* International Observe the Moon Night, 28 October 2017. More Information: 


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

17: 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).  NB: If the title in the weblink does not indicate the subject matter, I give a brief simple intro before the link. I may also comment about the link afterwards.

Astrophysics: (how do you perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre on a Black Hole???) 
New telescope in Atacama to look for Big Bang 
How Supermassive Black Holes got so big so soon 
Universe's UV background explains few early small galaxies 
   From MNRAS: Purest, most massive, Brown Dwarf yet: An international team of astronomers has identified a record breaking brown dwarf (a star too small for nuclear fusion) with the 'purest' composition and the highest mass yet known. Known as SDSS J0104+1535, it is a member of the so-called halo – the outermost reaches - of our Galaxy, made up of the most ancient stars. Brown dwarfs are intermediate between planets and fully-fledged stars. Their mass is too small for full nuclear fusion of hydrogen to helium (with a consequent release of energy) to take place, but they are usually significantly more massive than planets. Located 750 light years away in Pisces, the BD is made of gas that is around 250 times purer than the Sun, so consists of more than 99.99% hydrogen and helium. Estimated to have formed about 10 billion years ago, measurements also suggest it has a mass equivalent to 90 times that of Jupiter, making it the most massive BD found to date.
Aurorae: Good display! Nice view of Southern half of Orion near the top right corner. It is of course almost 'upside down' for Northern viewers, but you can see the three belt stars, then to the upper left of them the 'sword' pointing to the upper left, then Rigel and Saiph further to the upper left again. Rigel is nearest the wingtip.
Earth & Moon  
Dramatic past of Earth's magnetic crust 
Young stars hinder neighbouring stars' planet formation 
Solar System "Dwarf star" should be "dwarf planet", and for "stellar object" read "object" - they are definitely not stellar!
Keeping Pluto (and many other objects!) a planet I have some sympathy with Pluto, but this is daft. Making Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto into 'planets' would make Jupiter a 5-planet system! Even though Jupiter is about 10,000 times more massive than ALL its satellites combined! Amateur "astrologers"???? - if the planet was there, surely they would already know about it, because of its effects on us?!? But then, of course, they didn't know in advance of the existence of Uranus, or Neptune, or Pluto, even though they now claim that they affect our lives the way the others do. Which is of course complete and utter balderdash. 
Swing a "dead cat"? - But what if it's not dead, yet?  Prof Schroedinger might question that....
Space: It was the braking system, not the breaking system, numbskulls! 
The problem with a long stay in Mars orbit is that there's no protection from solar or Cosmic radiation. Whereas on the surface of Mars you can build some sort of radiation shelter.
Detailed and sobering account, videos, and stills, of the Challenger disaster  They don't seem to realise that their second photo shows a Space Shuttle transiting in front of the Moon!  Unfortunately, none of these locations is really suitable except for restricted operation.
Only five types of launch are possible:
1. Moderate inclination orbits, for surveying most of the Earth's inhabited surface, such as the International Space Station, which has an inclination of about 51 degrees, i.e. it covers an area of the Earth up to 51 degrees N & S of the equator. Best launched from near the equator to get maximum boost from the Earth's rotation. ALWAYS launched West to East, because of the Earth's rotation.
2. Polar or High inclination orbits, usually about 85 - 90 degrees, to cover the whole Earth, such as many military, communications, meteorological and environmental survey satellites. Can be launched either to the N or to the S.
3. Space Tourism type launches, consisting of 'sub-orbital hops', usually up to just over 100km altitude, to qualify as 'space'. These can involve take-off and/or landing via a conventional runway, such as Virgin Galactic, or vertical take-off and landing as for Space-X. The runway landings are glide landings, rather than powered as for normal aircraft, so you don't get a second chance. They can be launched in any direction, as they don't actually go into orbit, but generally they require good weather as below.
4. Equatorial geostationary orbits, e.g. for TV broadcasts. These need to be launched from somewhere fairly near the equator for maximum efficiency, which rules out the UK.
5. 'Deep Space' launches, i.e. out of Earth orbit, such as to the Moon or planets. These also need a low latitude launch site for even reasonable efficiency. That's why ESA launches from Kourou, almost on the equator.
* ALL rocket launches should be over an uninhabited area in case of accidents just after launch - usually up to about 40 miles downrange: usually over the sea, but can also be over desert or semi-desert etc. Remember what happened to Challenger!
* Also, it is desirable to have generally good weather for launches and landings, i.e. low wind speeds, little amounts of low cloud or fog, or ice or snow, particularly for the glide landings of the Virgin Galactic type craft. Unfortunately, this is not a notable feature of UK weather!
* Further, most of UK airspace is very busy from the South coast up to and including the Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports areas.
* Rocket type launches would preclude normal aircraft runway activity for many hours before, and some hours after, each flight.
   1. Newquay airport, Cornwall: Could launch polar orbital satellites to the North only. Not suitable for type 1 launches. Possible for type 3, but runway launches and landing only, and runway would need to be lengthened.
   2. Llanbedr airport in Snowdonia, Not suitable for type 1, marginally OK for type 2, but there's inhabited land to the North, so the only safe direction would be to just West of South, but not ideal. Possible for runway type launches and landings, but runway would need to be extended.
   3. Prestwick airport, near Glasgow: Could launch runway take-off and landing Tourism type flights only, if runway is suitable. Not suitable for launches of type 1 or 2.
   4. RAF base at Leuchars near St Andrews, Could launch Type 1, but is very far North of the equator, and satellites would have a minimum inclination of about 60 degrees. Extra fuel required to reach orbit, because of distance from equator. OK for type 3, but runway might need to be extended.
   5. Stornoway airport on the Isle of Lewis Could launch Type 1 in theory, but really is much too far North of equator. Type 2 launches possible, but not ideal. Could launch tourism type flights, but runway would need to be lengthened, and it is very far out of the way. Also very susceptible to weather.
   6. Campbeltown airport, on Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. Could launch in polar orbit only, to the N. Runway launches and landings possible, but susceptible to weather.
   Much though I would love to see a UK spaceport, being realistic there are very many more suitable locations throughout the world for activities such as these.
UFO's, Conspiracy Theories, etc Wow, this one really ticks all the boxes - Aliens, Illuminati, NASA cover up, & Tesla (who is supposed to have discovered limitless free energy, which of course is being kept hidden from us by You Know Who!). I happen to agree with him, but with all due respect, he doesn't "know" the truth any more than I do.
18. TWITTER Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro.


19. 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


Clear skies,

Terry Moseley

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