Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lecture, Venus special, Photos, ISS, Observing, PhD, March events, COSMOS, comps

Hi all,


(Apologies for lecture date error in last bulletin - the date should be as below, 15 March)

1. IAA Public Lecture Meeting, Wed 15 March: "Building bridges to the mysteries of our Universe with the brightest cosmic explosions ", by Dr Cosimo Inserra,  QUB 

SYNOPSIS: We know only 4 per cent of the Universe, the other 96 per cent is made of things that astronomers cannot detect or even comprehend. Supernovae are stellar explosions capable to outshine the luminosity of an entire galaxy. It means that a single star explosion can radiate more energy than 100 billion stars altogether. It is thanks to such explosions that we can have heavy elements like iron on our planet, as well as the Earth itself. Furthermore, it is exciting how Supernovae can also help us to understand the aforementioned missing and mysterious 96 per cent of our Universe, something that astronomers call dark energy and dark matter. Thanks to their luminosity they can be seen up to very far distances and since the speed of light, although incredibly fast, is limited looking at very distant Supernovae we can retrieve information about the past of our Universe. Such information can tell us more about how was our Universe and how it is going to evolve in the future. Thanks to this exceptional and unique property, Supernovae can be used as a sort of time machine for information.
   One of my most significant research to date focuses on the use of the brightest supernovae, as cosmological probes at high distances. Thanks to their intrinsic brightness, ten times more than those of the Nobel study, we have the possibility to explore our Universe ten times further in space and time. This research will allow us for the first time to observe the behaviour of the dark energy and dark matter at the beginning of the cosmos. It will also give new and unpredicted information on their nature and, hence, also more details about the future of our Universe. Such innovative departure from traditional studies is already breaching the initial skepticism and has been used by several groups to stress the importance of these Supernovae in current and future world-wide cosmological projects such as the Dark Energy Survey, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the European Space Agency (ESA) Euclid mission.

  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. http://irishastro.org.uk/lecture


2. Venus, 'The Evening Star' is now plunging into the twilight. Venus is still very  prominent  in the SW in early evening twilight but is getting much lower in the evening sky as it moves in closer to the Sun as we see it, as it heads towards inferior conjunction on 25 March. However, the angle of the ecliptic to the horizon is still increasing for us in these latitudes, and further, Venus is moving gradually further North of the ecliptic as we see it.

   It is now just past peak brightness, at mag -4.4, and completely outshines neighbouring Mars, which lies almost the length of the 'Plough', or 'Big Dipper', away to the upper left.  Venus's phase is now noticeably decreasing as it moves between Earth and Sun: it's now about 5%, similar to a 1 day old Moon.

  Here are its elongation from the Sun in degrees; phase; apparent diameter in arcsecs, and magnitude, for the following evenings in March:

15th: 17.2 deg; 4.3%; 56.8"; -4.3

17th: 14.7 deg; 3.2%; 57.8"; -4.2

19th: 12.4 deg; 2.2%; 58.5"; -4.2.


3. Watching Venus pass through Inferior Conjunction (IC) on 25 March! This is only possible from our latitudes when Venus passes near its maximum possible distance North of the Sun, and when the ecliptic's angle to the horizon is very favourable. Both those occur this March. IC occurs on the 25th at 10.17, so we try to observe it on the evenings of the 23rd or 24th and the 25th. The details below are for shortly after sunset, in bright twilight. You'll probably need binoculars or a telescope to see it, at least initially. DON'T look while the Sun is still above the horizon! Wait until it has set. But note the position on the horizon where it sets as a guide to locating Venus some 15-20 mts later. Both will be moving downwards and to the right as the minutes pass. If you have GoTo, the 'scope will find it for you, if it's aligned!

   On the 24th, Sunset at Belfast is at 18.45; Venus sets at 19.20.

Venus will appear as a VERY thin crescent, probably not visible for the full half circle. Don't confuse Venus with Mercury, which will be much fainter, and lying some 10º to the left of Venus on Mar 19 – 21.

   Note that the quoted magnitude of Venus, -4.0, is the brightness it would have if all its light were concentrated into one point. In fact, it will be spread out into that very thin crescent, so don't expect to see a starlike object of that brightness when observing with binoculars or a telescope.

   You will need a sky that is very clear and transparent right down to the horizon in the West to NW.

    If you see it, especially if you can see it with the naked eye, please let me know, and send your observation to our website. If it's cloudy just before IC, but you see it on the 25th, that still counts, as you would have been able to see it on the 23rd or 24th if it had been clear, as the 25th will be the most challenging date.

   The following details are for Belfast and for when Venus is 3º above the horizon on each date. Start observing about 5 minutes before these times, and continue trying for at least 15 - 20 minutes afterwards. If you are further West, adjust times by +4 mts for each degree of longitude. If you are further South, the azimuth figures will change too, but the relative positions will be much the same.




Relative position





Sets at



Above Sun








Above & a bit Right








Above Right








Above Right








Right & a bit above








Right & a bit above






After the 25th it will become almost impossible to see from our latitudes until late June, when it reappears as a 'Morning Star', mag -4.2 in Aries, low in the summer twilight, and it will be more readily seen in July. Try looking for it on the morning of 20 June just 10º left of the waning crescent Moon. Next morning the very thin moon will lie just below Venus.


3. Heavens Above: AstroPhoto Exhibition, now 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

   Also, there are 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.


4. ISS. The International Space Station continues its series of morning passes over Ireland until 22 March. Details as always on the excellent free site www.heavens-above.com. This site also has general information on most things visible in the night sky, including comets.


5. IAA Observing nights, Delamont Country Park, Killyleagh Co Down:

Next sessions: 17-18 March or 24/25 March. Check IAA website, www.irishastro.org for details.

6. PhD Studentship in High Energy Solar Physics

The Solar Physics Group at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded PhD studentship in the area of X-ray imaging of solar flares. The student will use images and spectra from NASA's RHESSI mission to study the evolution of solar flares and their association with coronal mass ejections. In addition, the student will be involved in the development of X-ray imaging techniques for the Spectrometer-Telescope Imaging X-rays (STIX) instrument onboard ESA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft. Solar Orbiter, which is scheduled for launch in late 2018, will fly inside the orbit of Mercury and enable us to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the Sun and solar energetic events.

This 4-year PhD studentship includes an annual stipend of EUR 16,000, payment of tuition fees of EUR 6,700, and an annual travel award of approximately EUR 2,000.

Experience with IDL and/or Python is essential.

For general inquires and details of the application process, please contact Prof. Peter T. Gallagher (peter.gallagher@tcd.ie) and Dr. Shane Maloney (shane.maloney@tcd.ie). Further details on the research carried out in the group can be found at www.physics.tcd.ie/astrophysics.

Application deadline: March 31st, 2017


7. St Patrick's Day events, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is hosting two education and public outreach events on St Patrick's Day Friday 17th March. 

A. At 11:15 there will be a free public lecture in the Studio Theatre, The Market Place, Armagh: "Discovering Stars, Our Milky Way and Our Place in Space".  The lecture, which will be given by Professor Michael G. Burton (Director, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium), is aimed at the general public and all are welcome.

B. There will be a 2-hour afternoon guided tour of Armagh Observatory and its Grounds, Astropark and Human Orrery.  An explanation of the Observatory's Sonic Art exhibit "aroundNorth" will also be provided.  The tour starts at 2.30pm and will end around 4.30pm. Visitors should note that because much of the tour will be outside, they should wear appropriate clothing in case of cold or inclement weather.
  Those who wish to attend the free public lecture in the Market Place Theatre should contact the Box Office on 028-3752-1800 or online at  http://www.armagh.co.uk/event/discovering-the-stars-free-public-talk/.

   Tickets for the afternoon tour (£7.00 per adult,  children free) are also available from the Theatre Box Office on 028-3752-1800, or online at http://www.armagh.co.uk/event/observatorytalk/.


8. 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 http://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/announcements/ann17006/?lang


9. HYPATIA DAY, 20 MARCH: For those of you unfamiliar with this 'universal genius', the world's first known female astronomer, often known as Hypatia of Alexandria,  Brittanica.com states:  "She was, in her time, the world's leading mathematician and astronomer, the only woman for whom such claim can be made. She was also a popular teacher and lecturer on philosophical topics of a less-specialist nature, attracting many loyal students and large audiences."  

   The historian Socrates of Constantinople described her in his Ecclesiastical History: "There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more." 

   Currently 20 March is being petitioned as an ideal date to commemorate the first female astronomer — Hypatia of Alexandria. As the petition gains momentum - there are 40 participating countries overall, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Chile having recently joined - the organisation is aiming to formalise a proposal to UNESCO so that on Hypatia Day we can globally celebrate Women in Science day. 

   I would like to see the UK and Ireland both supporting this. You can vote and learn more about the project here http://bit.ly/2kKt1TA 


10. Spring Equinox, 20 March: The Sun will cross the celestial equator northwards at 10.29, marking the start of Spring in the N. Hemisphere


11. Messier Marathon Fri Mar 24, 2017 at 2 PM to Sat Mar 25, 2017 at 11 PM, at Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry. See https://www.facebook.com/Kerry-Dark-Sky-Ltd-228216127519893/


12. Earth Hour, March 25 This annual campaign, to switch off all but essential lights for one hour, from 20:30 to 21:30, is now 10 years old. It has two aims : to save energy, not just for that one hour, but to show that much lighting is not really needed, and to let people see the beauty of the night sky. Turn off and look up at the stars! Make your own starter kit of ideas. Please share your plans and any photos of the night - as more and more individuals turn off for an hour, the night sky comes to life.


13. COSMOS 2017: 31 March to 02 April. Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone. Speaker details as of now:

Prof. Nigel Henbest, astronomer and freelance science writer. Science Populariser and Writer. Title TBA

Prof. Peter Gallagher, Professor in Physics & Astrophysics, and Director of the Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory at Birr Castle. "Observing the Universe from Birr - from the Leviathan to LOFAR"

Dr. Mary Bourke, Department of Geology at Trinity College Dublin and Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. "Recent Flooding On Mars"

Dr. Brian Harvey, Irish Space Writer, Author and Broadcaster. "Soviet Lunar Exploration"

Mr. Michael O'Connell, Astronomer, Astrophotographer and Observer. Title TBA

Mr. Ivan Merrick, Midlands Astronomy Club member and avid solar astronomer. Title TBA

Mr. Stephen Corcoran, K-Tec Telescopes. Title TBA, topic on Meteorites

14. 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: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/backyard-worlds-planet-9


15. 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 info@bco.ie to book. For more information see www.bco.ie


16. 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: http://www.esa.int/Education/ESA_Academy/ESA_looking_for_students_for_its_new_Fly_a_Rocket!_programme  And also see the UK Youth Build a Rocket Challenge http://www.ukayroc.org.uk/

17. Odysseus Space Science Challenge
Odysseus is a European space science contest for young people, where three age groups are eligible to participate: Skywalkers (primary school pupils), Pioneers (secondary school pupils) and Explorers (university students). The contest is organised in three rounds — National, Regional and pan-European — that will be held in Toulouse, France in July 2017.  The competition offers a unique learning experience for everyone involved, allowing students to push the boundaries of their knowledge by answering fundamental scientific questions.  Learn more about it here and explore the official website: https://www.odysseus-contest.eu/  

18. 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 http://eclipsewise.com/solar/SEnews/TSE2017/TSE2017.html. If you haven't already made your arrangements, or plans, you might be interested in the following: Ulster Travel have already booked accommodation along the track, and depending on demand they will run a trip, provisionally to be led by Terence Murtagh, former Director of Armagh Planetarium. Contact http://ulstertravel.com/ 2 Church St, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, BT71 6AB Tel: 028 87722985 (Intl +44 28 87722985), Email: info@ulstertravel.com. Contact them ASAP if you are interested. Ulster Travel did the travel arrangements for the very successful IAA eclipse trip to Bulgaria in 1999.

See also 365 Days Of Astronomy: It's time for Totality 2017 | 365 Days of Astronomy and https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170105133842.htm 

   The weather prospects are much better on the West side of the Mississippi - see: http://eclipsophile.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Cloudgraph-MODIS.jpg

Here's a new option http://wlos.com/news/local/watch-the-2017-solar-eclipse-from-clingmans-dome-tickets-on-sale-Wednesday 



* Global Astronomy Month:  April 2017. More information: http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/ 

* 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. https://www.facebook.com/marchforscience/

* Solar Day, Dunsink Observatory: 17 June.

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

* IAA Midsummer BBQ event. 24 June.

* European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS): 26–30 June 201,: Prague, Czech Republic. More information: http://eas.unige.ch/EWASS2017/about.jsp 

* Asteroid Day: 30 June 2017. Location: Around the world. More Information: http://asteroidday.org/ 
* 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: http://ise2a.uu.nl/ 

* 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 imc2017@imo.net 

* International Observe the Moon Night, 28 October 2017. More Information: http://observethemoonnight.org/ 


20. IAA Telescopes for loan: The IAA has telescopes available to borrow, for any paid up member Enquiries to Andy McCrea: s.mccrea980@btinternet.com 

21: 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.

Star orbits black hole twice per hour https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170313134932.htm - that would make your head spin!
http://newatlas.com/fast-radio-bursts-alien-technology/48368/ (I've put this under astrophysics, as I'm 99% certain that it's an astrophysical phenomenon!) 
Distant quasars help understand galaxy origins https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170310103539.htm
HST image of young supercluster reveals hypergiant star https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170310103524.htm 
The quest for Dark Matter https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170301132028.htm (BTW, folks, there's more than one "Queen's University"! These Canucks seem to think theirs is the only one!)
Earth & Moon
Kepler spacecraft provides new view of TRAPPIST 1 system https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170312104148.htm: Good to see Geert, who did his PhD at QUB, and was then at Armagh Observatory for several years, during which time we were delighted to have him give a lecture to the IAA in Belfast, 'starring' in this report. 
Solar System:

Orbiter tracks dust storms on Mars https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170312103637.htm

Micro-organisms can survive on Mars https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170302092128.htm



http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4309524/Mars-colonists-rapidly-evolve-separate-species.html ".,.. bones will thicken to cope with the reduced gravity" - Eh? Surely the opposite?
Testing parachutes for other planetary atmospheres https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170310092140.htm
22. TWITTER Follow the IAA on Twitter: @IaaAstro.


23. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA. http://documents.irishastro.org.uk/iaamembership.doc
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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