From: TerryMoselat

Subject: 2nd Earth, Solstice, Meteors, IAA Party, 2 Lectures, Venus, S/gazing Live, More 

Date: 20 December 2011 23:08:04 GMT

Hi all,


(Xmas Bonus Issue - the biggest yet!)


1. A 'Second Earth' is found: NASA's Kepler space telescope has found the first confirmed Earth-size planets orbiting another star, astronomers announced today, a major milestone in an ongoing project aimed at finding out how commonplace -- or rare -- Earth-like worlds may be across the cosmos.

   In a solar system 1,000 light years away with at least five planets, the newly confirmed Earth-size worlds orbit too close to their star to support life. But proving the Kepler observatory can, in fact, spot worlds as small as Earth across the vast reaches of interstellar space gives astronomers confidence that many more such planets are awaiting discovery in the 2,326 planet candidates found by the telescope to date.

   "The first of these two planets has a diameter just 3 per cent larger than the Earth, which makes it the closest object to the Earth in terms of size in the known universe," Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told reporters in a teleconference. "The second planet is 13 per cent smaller than the Earth, with a diameter of around 7,000 miles. It is also smaller than Venus, and this is, in fact, the smallest planetary body ever discovered in orbit around an Earth-like star. 

   "Most importantly, it is the first time we've crossed the Earth-size threshold. In other words, December 2011 could be remembered as the first time humanity has been able to detect a planet of Earth-size or smaller around another star."

    On Dec. 5, the Kepler team announced the discovery of a world twice the size of Earth orbiting in its star's habitable zone, where liquid water can exist, the first time a relatively Earth-size world had been found at the right distance to possibly support life.



2. Winter Solstice: The solstice will be at 05.30 on Dec 22, when the Sun reaches its most southerly point on the ecliptic, and hence its half-yearly southerly journey through the sky comes to an end, and it thus appears to 'stand still' (the literal meaning of solstice). Of course, it's only the Southward motion that ends - its daily circuit around our sky continues as normal!

  It then starts to move North again, giving longer days and shorter nights.


3.  METEORS. The Geminid meteors were somewhat spoiled by a nearly full moon, but in spite of that our webmaster Paul Evans managed to get some reasonable photos: see

   The Ursid meteors peak on December 22, with no moonlight, so if you have all your presents already wrapped, it’s your chance for some good observing of a rather under-observed shower. The ZHR might be 10 – 20; on some occasions it has been much higher. The radiant is close to Kocab, or Beta Ursa Minoris, the second brightest star in the Little Bear.

   The Quadrantids  One of the best annual showers peaks on January 3-4, but the waxing gibbous moon won't set until about 03.40, and so will somewhat spoil the display. However, if you are REALLY keen, observe from then until dawn on the 4th, and you should get a really good show, as the ZHR can reach about 100, and the radiant is then at its highest, reaching an altitude of over 50 degrees just before dawn.

   Alternatively, observe from Moonset (about 02.40) on the morning of the 3rd until dawn to catch the rise towards maximum.

     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. The radiant is about halfway between the end star in the tail of the Great Bear (or the end of the handle of The Plough) and the head of Draco.


4. Earth at Perihelion: The Earth will be closest to the Sun on Jan 05 at 00h 31m. It will then lie 0.9832841 AU, or 147m km, away. The apparent diameter will be 32’ 31.89” (arcsecs), and its light will take 8m 10.7s to reach us.


5. IAA NEW YEAR PARTY, 7 January: The annual social event of the year will be on Saturday 7 January. The format is the same as before: meet first for buffet eats at 5.30 for 6.0 at McBrides in The Square, Comber, then on to the Tudor Cinema for some hot punch or soft drinks and the film "Cowboys and Aliens", followed by George's renowned quiz, with lots of prizes. We have ordered more food per person this year, so even the late arrivals should get enough!

   And of course there will also be my seasonal hot punch on arrival at the Cinema: this will be available in two varieties of alcoholic strength to suit all tastes, and driving options.

   We have also arranged for the car park to be treated with salt/grit if necessary, after the very slippy conditions there last year.

   Directions: McBrides is in The Square, (NE corner) in Comber, at the junction of the A21 towards Ballygowan and the A22 towards Killinchy. GPS: 54 deg 33' 1" N; 5 deg 44' 44" W. You can park in the Square itself.

Directions to the Tudor Cinema from Comber: Take the A22 towards Killinchy, and about 1 mile beyond the end of the 30 mph speed limit sign, take the FIRST RIGHT into Drumhirk Road. GPS for this junction: 54 deg 31' 59.5", 5 deg 43' 54.6" W. The entrance to the Cinema is about 500 yards along Drumhirk Road, on the left - look out for signs for our event. Follow this laneway to the end, and it will bring you to the car park. GPS: 54 deg 31' 47" N, 5 deg 44' 15" W.  Advance Booking is essential: see the IAA website: if you haven't already got a booking form.


6. IAA LECTURE, 11 January:  The Astronomical Association's next public lecture will be given by Prof Stephen Smartt of QUB: Title: "Astronomy with the PanSTARRS1 Telescope"

   The PanSTARRS1 is a 1.8 meter (60-inch) diameter telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, and is designed to automatically search the skies for objects that either move or change their brightness from night to night. It contains the world's largest digital camera, with 1,400 megapixels, and can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space.

   The giant digital camera will take over 500 exposures each night and send about four terabytes of data (equivalent to what 1,000 DVDs can hold) for analysis. Computers will rapidly compare each exposure with corresponding ones taken either a few minutes or a few days earlier to find objects that have moved or whose brightness has changed.

   Primarily designed to search for 'killer asteroids', it is expected to discover about 100,000 asteroids and to determine if any of them are on a collision course with Earth. It will catalog five billion stars and 500 million galaxies. It will also be used to compile the most comprehensive digital map of the 75 per cent of the universe visible from Hawaii.

   Astronomers will also use the data to find brown dwarfs and distant quasars, to watch supernova explosions in distant galaxies and to test their latest theories concerning dark matter and dark energy. PS1 is the experimental prototype for the larger PS4 telescope, which will have four times the power of PS1 and is planned for Mauna Kea.

   Prof Smartt is actively engaged in supernova research, and is recognised as a leading authority on the subject, and leads a very progressive and well-respected team in QUB in this field. Supernovae are not just the most powerful and violent explosions in the universe (if we include the latest evidence for 'hypernovae' in the same genre), they are vital tools in establishing the distance to remote galaxies, and hence the size of the universe. And they provided the first clues that the expansion rate of the universe is speeding up, the so called 'accelerating universe'.  On top of that, the heavy elements that make life possible here on Earth are created in supernova explosions - without them, we wouldn't be here! So interest in them is at an all-time high, and the results from PanSTARRS1 will provide much invaluable data.

   The lecture is on WEDNESDAY 11 January, at 7.30 p.m., in the Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, Queen's University, Belfast. ADMISSION IS FREE, as always, and includes light refreshments. Everyone is welcome! Full details of the rest of the programme are on the website:  


7. Major Public Lecture at QUB: "Latest News From the Large Hadron Collider", by Dr. Tara Shears, Thursday 12th January, 6:30 pm

   The School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University Belfast presents a lecture on the latest news from the largest science experiment ever built. The talk will be given by Dr. Tara Shears from the University of Liverpool, a renowned expert in particle physics and accomplished public speaker.

   The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most powerful particle collider ever built. It is capable of creating (fleetingly) the fundamental particles which form everything in the universe. In particle physics we've understood much about these tiny objects, and can describe their behaviour in an incredibly successful theory. However, there are many known unknowns: where and what is the mysterious Higgs particle? Why is there so little antimatter in the universe? What is dark matter? We have built the LHC to try to find answers, and in this talk, Dr. Shears will show you the latest findings.

   The lecture will be at 6:30 pm on Thursday 12th January in the Larmor Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, QUB. Complimentary tea and coffee will be served in the Great Hall in the Lanyon Building (main entrance) from 6:00 pm - 6:20pm.

   If you wish to attend this lecture, please reserve seats by either going to the website or by calling 028 9097 3202.

    This talk has been sponsored by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University Belfast.


8. COMET survives a graze with the Sun! Comet Lovejoy was expected to be destroyed in a spectacular light show on Dec. 15/16 as it plunged to a very close encounter with the Sun. But to everyone's surprise, it survived the encounter, and reappeared from behind the Sun, indicating that its nucleus was either much bigger, or much more robust, than had been thought.  Check for full coverage. 

9.  ISS: the International Space Station has started a new series of evening passes over Ireland. See for details of this, and other bright satellites, Iridium Flares etc, for your own location.


10. Venus, the Evening Star: Is visible as a brilliant ‘evening star’ from Ireland from late December through the end of March, and will be very well placed in late March as it approaches the Pleiades.   It's already visible low in the SSW after sunset. On Jan 1 it will be magnitude -4.0, with a phase of 82.6%, and apparent diameter 12.9” (arcsecs). It then gradually moves out from the Sun, and will become a brilliant and unmistakable object through February and March.


11. BBC's STARGAZING LIVE returns on 16-18 January, starring the Irish Astronomical Association with a 2-hour live broadcast extravaganza from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre (LNDC) on the evening of Tuesday 17th, and other activities on the Monday and Wednesday. Final details are still being fine-tuned, but look out for the following highlights:

   Monday 16th: A public "Jupiter Watch" will be held by members of the IAA in association with the School of Mathematics and Physics in front of the main building at Queen's University, from 6 pm to 9pm. If it's cloudy, Dr Chris Watson will give a public lecture in the Larmor Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, entitled "Jupiters around other stars". See:

   Tuesday 17th: IAA Events at LNDC: 

*Public Observing if clear: Venus, Jupiter, + all the usual Deep Sky wonders with a selection of powerful telescopes and binoculars.

*Stardome presentations: due to the expected demand, these will be ticket only, issued on a first come - first served basis.

*Amazing Photo Exhibition: The fantastic A0 size photos produced for IYA 2009 will again be on show, plus some of the best from other sources.

*Telescope and binocular exhibition: see all the varieties available, the pros and cons of each, and learn how to use them to their best capacity.

*Meteorites: an exhibition of many different sorts of meteorites - hold in your hand a piece of outer space (if you can hold it!), with experts there to talk about them.

*Our first "Ulsternaut" - Derek Heatly from Co Down, who has booked to go into space with Virgin Galactic's Spaceship One will be there to talk about his training experiences and forthcoming flight, with videos.

*Astrophotography for beginners" - A 'taster session' by our own expert, Paul Evans.

*Q&A session: 'Everything you always wanted to know about astronomy' - a panel of experts will be there to answer questions from the public on everything from the Andromeda Galaxy to the Zeeman Effect.

*Hands-On demos: How to make a comet, etc.

*3-D Modern Astronomy show, presented by Robert Hill from N.I. Space Office.

*Children's activities, such as making willow stars.

In other words, something for everyone.

See: and for updates.

See also: - put "Belfast" in the search box and see all our next events!

  Wednesday 18th: Armagh Planetarium events - see their website for details.

The IAA has been recognised by the BBC as an official 'Partner' in delivering this part of the programme. Final details are still being worked out with the BBC and LNDC - more on this next time. Oh, and there's some chap called Prof Brian Cox who might be on the programme too.....


12. Galway Astronomy Festival - January 21st 2012 is on "New Frontiers of the Universe". Oscar Wilde reminds us that although we are all in the gutter, some of us are looking at the stars. This years Galway Astronomy Festival addresses the theme "New Frontiers of the Universe" from a professional as well as an amateur astronomer's perspective. The event, now in its 9th year, has become one of the most popular events in Ireland, where amateurs and professionals meet in friendship. This is essential for exchanging information, successful stargazing and mutual progress.  We look forward to seeing you, hopefully under clear skies. For more details see:


13. TWITTER: the IAA now has a twitter account. twitterat signIaaAstro

14. JOINING the IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION is now even easier: This link downloads a Word document to join the IAA.  See also


Finally, whatever your faith, or none, I hope you all have a very happy 'Festive' / 'Holiday' Season, and a healthy and happy New Year. And just for the record, it won't end on 21 December 2012!


Clear skies, 


Terry Moseley

Mob: (+44) (0) 7979300842