“Birr Castle in the 19th Century – Mary Field & William Parsons and an Astronomical Leviathan”, John Burgess and Dr Bettie Higgs, 9 May 2022, 8 pm

After a two year absence, Cork Astronomy Club is back at University College Cork, and on 9th May we heard from two Club members about Birr Castle in the 19th Century and the Leviathan telescope. Built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845, this was for over 70 years the largest telescope in the world. 

This lecture was in preparation for a Club members outing to Birr in June. 

We used lecture theatre 1 in the Boole basement.  We chose this mindful that our old room in the Civil Engineering building was sometimes full to its capacity of 100, and that some of our members and guests will be cautious about attending a crowded meeting. Boole 1 has more than twice the capacity of our old room.  The Boole basement entrance is about 70 m north of the Civil Engineering building, see directions.

Lecture theatre 1 in Boole basement, UCC

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Sunspot outreach event, Sat 9th April 2022. Tramore Valley Park, 11 a.m.

About 20 visitors gathered with Club members on Saturday 9th April for a demonstration of how to view sunspots.  The Sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year cycle – although sadly today sunpsots were scarce … but that’s astronomy!

We brought specialist equipment, and showed how we observe and image solar spots and other features, and explained how they take 14 days to move across the face of the Sun.  Visitors saw how the Sun looks different in optical wavelengths or hydrogen-alpha.   The image above was taken by Club member Jan on 3rd April. 

NEVER VIEW THE SUN (EVEN THROUGH CLOUDS) WITHOUT SPECIALIST EQUIPMENT UNDER GUIDANCE OF AN EXPERT 

The event lasted two hours, was was part of Cork’s Lifelong Learning Festival. 

Club members setting up solar observing equipment while visitors wait their turn to view sunspots. The event was blessed with fine sunshine. 

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“Gravitational Waves and the hunt for the missing Black Holes”, Prof Paul Callanan, 11 April 2022, 8 pm

Cork Astronomy Club is back at University College Cork!   On 11th April, after a two year absence, we are delighted we can restore our monthly lectures to UCC.   And our first in-person lecture will be from Paul Callanan, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UCC and honorary member of Cork Astronomy Club.

Left, Prof Callanan at UCC’s Crawford Observatiory. Right, the black hole image from the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915.  Perhaps you can’t really visualise what “ripples in the fabric of space-time” even means?  If so you’re not alone!  Let Prof Callanan try to help you.  He will describe how gravitational waves assist in the search for black holes, and what these mysterious objects are.  And if you’re wondering how was it possible to capture that famous image of a black hole (above, right) where the pull of gravity is such that not even light can escape, he’ll explain that too.

We shall be using lecture theatre 1 in the Boole basement.  We chose this mindful that our old room in the Civil Engineering building was sometimes full to its capacity of 100, and that some of our members and guests will be cautious about attending a crowded meeting. Boole 1 has more than twice the capacity of our old room.  The Boole basement entrance is about 70 m north of the Civil Engineering building, see directions.

Lecture theatre 1 in Boole basement, UCC

 This lecture is open to all. There will also be club announcements and a sky this month presentation, and if you are new to our Club you will get a feel for our activities.

Start time 8 pm, and we aim to finish at 9.45. There will be an opportunity to stay and chat for a few minutes after the end of the formal meeting if you want to.

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“What makes a comet Great”, Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, public Zoom lecture, 14 March 2022

Cork Astronomy Club looks forward to welcoming Prof Alan Fitzsimmons of      Queen’s University Belfast. Some comets are predicted years or even centuries in advance, whilst others appear at only a few months notice.  But in every case they are eagerly anticipated by amateur astronomers, and if taken up in the mass media, by the public at large.  This anticipation is sometimes rewarded with an impressive show, yet often, in the event, a comet will disappoint.  From his study of comets Prof Fitzsimmons will suggest what makes a comet great.  His title is topical, as comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, even now travelling toward the interior of the solar system,  has been described as the largest ever observed..        

Prof Alan Fitzsimmons

This lecture will be held via Zoom, and is open to all. There will also be club announcements and sky this month presentation, and if you are new to our Club you will get a feel for our activities.

Start time 7.30 pm, and we aim to finish at 9.00. There will be an opportunity to stay and chat for a few minutes after the end of the formal meeting if you want to. The Zoom link will be sent to all Club members and also to recipients of our guest bulletins. If you are on neither list you can request a Zoom link by emailing us no later than 4 pm on the day of the meeting.

Not familiar with Zoom? If you contact us in good time, we may be able to help. Email us or (except on the day of the lecture) ring Peter on 089-2004553.

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“Eclipses, Transits and Occultations – Some Personal Experiences” – Paul Evans, 14 Feb 2022

Cork Astronomy Club welcomed prominent Northern Ireland amateur astronomer Paul Evans, maker of highly regarded monthly sky guide videos, and Chair of the Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies.  Paul spoke to us remotely by Zoom     

Paul Evans at Meteor Crater, Arizona

Since the Solar System is essentially flat, though crucially not quite flat, it does occasionally happen that viewed from Earth, one object will pass in front of or behind another. Some of these events are of technical interest while some are truly spectacular celestial events.

Paul described some personal experiences of past events and pinpointed some opportunities for events in the future to look forward to.

About Paul

Like many of his generation Paul was inspired by the Apollo Moon missions and it was Apollo 8 which really piqued his lifelong interest in space and astronomy.

Originally from England, though his mother is from Athlone, Paul has lived in Northern Ireland since 2003 during which time he has photographed auroras, noctilucent clouds and many sky objects. His photographs have been displayed in numerous exhibitions and publications in Britain and Ireland.

Paul is a past President of the Irish Astronomincal Association and has been Chair of the Irish Federation of Astronomy Societies (to which our Club is affiliated) since April 2019.

We recommend Paul’s monthly sky guide videos, this link is to the January 2022 edition.

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“Rethinking Planetary Protection Strategies for Robotic Mars Missions”, Dr Amanda Hendrix, public Zoom lecture, 10 Jan 2022

Our Club welcomed Dr Amanda Hendrix of the Planetary Science Institute, who spoke to us from Colorado to make the case that planetary protection rules can be relaxed.    Not all were convinced however.   

Dr Amanda Hendrix

Planetary protection deals with trying to prevent terrestrial microorganisms establishing a foothold on other worlds and vice versa. The primary goal is to protect the viability of future search-for-life experiments, so they are not confounded by potential terrestrial microbes. Since the 1970’s, spacecraft bound for places that scientists think may be hospitable to life, first and foremost Mars,  must undergo rigorous pre-launch cleaning procedures.

Amanda is joint author of an influential report commissioned by NASA.  It suggests current planetary protection rules are outdated and proposes a risk management approach.  This would make portions of Mars more accessible to both commercial and government missions,  whilst remaining careful about access to potential habitable zones.

Several participants in the Zoom meeting found the idea bothersome.  A comparison was made with the diseases that Europeans introduced to the Americas: “Have we learned anything from history?”  Amanda acknowledged the validity of the concern and offered reassurance that search-for-life experiments would not be compromised if the proposed new procedures were implemented.  She was keen to offer re-assurance that the idea of the committee and the report is to provide scientifically-based guidance to NASA with concerns of planetary protection in mind, and that she is advising NASA to take the next steps with caution.

A summary of the report, “Evaluation of Bioburden Requirements for Mars Missions”, produced by the National Academies Committee on Planetary Protection can be found here

Dr Hendrix, as the co-chair of the National Academies Committee on Planetary Protection, was charged with determining whether these rules can now be loosened.

Dr Hendrix spent many years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, including two years as the Cassini Deputy Project Scientist, and has been part of many planetary science missions, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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“Galaxies – One Gigayear at a time”, Dr Julian Onions, public Zoom lecture, 6 Dec 2021

Cork Astronomy Club welcomed Dr Julian Onions of Nottingham University’s outreach team.   He desribed his talk thus: “What are galaxies, how are they classified, how are they formed, what do we understand about their lives, and how many pretty pictures can I fit in one talk?”         

Dr Julian Onions

If a marble at Nottingham in central England represented the Sun, he told us, the next Galaxy would be as far away as in the Irish Sea or English Channel.  Julian traced the formation of galaxies, their morphology (shapes), their pasts and their futures.  He specialises in simulations of the universe to test our theories of how it works. Thanks Julian for a great night!

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“No need for Planet 9”, Ann-Marie Madigan, public Zoom lecture, 8 Nov 2021

Cork Astronomy Club was honoured to welcome Dr Ann-Marie Madigan,    Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at University of Colorado, Boulder. There’s something odd going on in our solar system, and presence of a new planet (‘planet 9′) or a black hole have been proposed to account for it, but Dr Madigan has other ideas.        

Dr Ann-Marie Madigan

Prof Madigan’s favoured explanation is a new Kuiper belt, further out than the actual Kuiper belt, and containing about 10 Earth masses of material. If found, will it be called the Madigan Belt? You heard it here first.

Dr Madigan explained: While the planets move on nearly-circular orbits in a disk, the icy bodies beyond Neptune appear to cluster together in a highly-inclined and eccentric structure. Astronomers have invoked the presence of a new planet (‘planet 9′) or even a black hole in explanation!

In her talk she showed that these theories are unnecessary. In analogy with spiral arms and bars in galaxies, the collective gravity of individually small but collectively massive bodies can create such structure in the outer solar system. This explanation predicts that there is a (highly-inclined) disk of minor planets, more massive than the Kuiper Belt, awaiting discovery at the edge of our solar system. 

This lecture was held via Zoom.

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Lecture Schedule 2021-22

Due to the Covid-19 public health emergency, all public lectures except for the last two in this schedule were by Zoom.

The centre piece of each meeting was a lecture by an invited guest. Monthly meetings also included a briefing on what to look for in the sky that month, as well as club announcements, enabling visitors to get a feel for our actrivities.

Mon 13th Sept 2021   “Taking the Measure of Our Universe” ─  Dr Robin Catchpole, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. Remote lecture

Mon 11th Oct 2021   electronics engineer Cillian O’Driscoll on “How satellites revolutionised how we navigate – and tell the time” Remote lecture

Mon 8th Nov 2021  Dr. Ann-Marie Madigan, Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at University of Colorado – “No Need for Planet 9” Remote lecture

Mon 6th Dec 2021  – Dr. Julian Onions, Nottingham University- “Galaxies – One Gigayear at a time” Remote lecture

Mon 10th Jan 2022  – Dr Amanda Hendrix, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute – “Rethinking Planetary Protection Strategies for Robotic Mars Missions” Remote lecture

Mon 14th Feb 2022  Viewing eclipses, transits and occultations – Paul Evans, prominent Irish amateur astronomer, maker of monthly sky this month videos. Remote lecture

Mon 14th March 2022“What makes a comet Great” – Prof Alan Fitzsimmons,    Queen’s University Belfast. Remote lecture

Mon 11th April 2022– UCC’s Prof Paul Callanan: “Gravitational Waves and the hunt for the missing Black Holes”. HELD IN PERSON AT UCC, and live streamed

Mon 9th May 2022 “Birr Castle in the 19th Century – Mary Field & William Parsons and an Astronomical Leviathan” – Club members John Burgess and Dr Bettie Higgs. HELD IN PERSON AT UCC, and live streamed

Robin Catchpole Zoom lecture – How big is the universe? 13 Sep 2021

How big in the universe and how do we know?

To open our 2021-22 season of public lectures, Cork Astronomy Club welcomed Dr Robin Catchpole of the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy. He talked to us via Zoom.

The title of his lecture was “Taking the Measure of Our Universe”. Two thousand years after the ancient Greeks thought of the idea, we measured the
distance to the nearest star. Less than two hundred years later we are measuring the distance to a 1000 million stars almost a million times more accurately, opening a new era of discovery in astronomy. Soon we will measure the position of 3000 million galaxies in the hope that they might reveal the nature of the mysterious dark energy. Robin explained how this is being done and what more we know about our universe.   

One member commented: “Robin was an amazing lecturer and had me spellbound.” 

Now an astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, Dr Catchpole has held posts at various observatories around the world including Senior Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

He has authored and co-authored over 120 research papers and articles and used a number of telescopes including the Hubble Space Telescope. Research interests include the composition of stars, exploding stars, the structure of our Galaxy and galaxies with black holes at their centres. His current research interest is in the structure of the Bulge of our Milky Way Galaxy.

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