“Satellites over-crowding the night sky?  Be a satellite detective” – Frances McCarthy, 14 Nov 2022, 8 pm

A new development in recent years is the launch of thousands of low earth orbit satellites,  with Elon Musk’s company Space X being the leader in the field.  Frances McCarthy, Education officer at Blackrock Castle Observatory (part of Munster Technical University) will describe how this cascade of satellites has become increasingly unwelcome to astronomers both amateur and professional as they attempt to make observations of the night sky.

Frances, photo above next to a wide field image of the night sky showing satellite tracks, is a favourite speaker with Cork Astronomy Club members. She will introduce Satellite Detectives, a scheme developed by Blackrock Castle Observatory,  and will encourage anyone interested in the night sky to help to catalogue and quantify the appearance of the satellite constellations.

Is this a legitimate concern? Are satellites more important than astronomy? What can be done to mitigate the effect on the night sky? Frances will address these questions and a lively discusson is likely to ensue.

Where and when

The venue is University College Cork’s Civil Engineering building.   Directions here.

Start time is 8 pm prompt, so please arrive 10 minutes early.

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.

When we finish at 9.45, you can stay and chat for a few minutes after the end of the formal meeting, with tea and coffee served.

Lecture will be live streamed over Zoom. To get the link, email info@corkastronomyclub.com before 5pm on day of lecture.  Better still, sign up for our monthly guest bulletin .  

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“Tour of Duty in the High Desert at VERITAS”, Dr Josh Reynolds, 10 Oct 2022, 8 pm

Not all telescopes capture visible light. Dr Josh Reynolds, a lecturer in the Department of Physical Sciences in MTU, told us about VERITAS – a ground-based very high energy (VHE) gamma-ray instrument.  It operates at the basecamp of the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory 1.3 km above sea level in southern Arizona USA, and consists of four 12 m Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes (IACT) which use Cherenkov shower imaging to detect gamma-ray photons with energies above 85 GeV. 

Josh covered the history and science of VERITAS along with a personal account of tours of duty to the observatory as a VERITAS collaborator, and didn’t neglect to tell us about the poisonous toads that inhabit the site. 

Mirrors on one of the VERITAS detectors, and right, Dr. Reynolds in the VERITAS control room
in the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

The lecture wase live streamed over Zoom.

About Dr Josh Reynolds

Dr Reynolds has been a member of the VERITAS collaboration since its inception in 2003 (as well as being a member of it progenitor, the Whipple Observatory collaboration) and a co-author of the publication that announced the discovery the Atmospheric Cherenkov Imaging Technique in 1989. He also lectures in the Department of Physical Sciences in MTU.

More about VERITAS

Dr Reynolds took this picture of VERITAS on a research visit at the beginning of September 2022

VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) is an international astrophysics collaboration between the USA, Canada, Ireland and Germany, involving 9 founding institutions and 15 collaborating institutions (MTU is a collaborating institution). It operates a ground-based gamma-ray instrument at the Smithsonian Institution’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) in southern Arizona, USA.  This is an array of four 12m optical reflectors that uses the Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov technique to perform gamma-ray astronomy in the GeV-TeV energy range. Very High-Energy gamma rays are associated with exotic cosmic objects such as supernovae, pulsars, quasars and black holes. Expensive, space-based observatories are normally required to detect gamma rays as they are absorbed in the atmosphere, but VERITAS is able to use the Atmospheric Cherenkov Imaging technique to observe them from the ground.  VERITAS has a prodigious research output, with 162 publications in peer-reviewed journals (44 over the last 5 years) including publications in Science, Nature and Nature Astronomy. 

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“JWST – what’s all the fuss?”, Dr Niall Smith, 12 Sept 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is on the lips of every astronomer.  Dr Niall Smith of MTU and the brains behind Cork’s Blackrock Castle Observatory told us why.  Launched on Christmas Day 2021 JWST is sending back images of the universe in previously unimaginable detail.  Crucially this telescope observes in the infrared, which is necessary when observing the early universe. Early means far away and moving fast from us, thus extremely red-shifted, hence undetectible in the visible spectrum where the Hubble Space Telescope operates. JWST will supply new information about the early universe, indeed already has done, which will change our knowledge of how it all began and where it’s headed.  

Left, the galaxy group Stephan’s Quintet captured by Webb in never-before-seen detail.
And right, Dr Naill Smith with his brainchild, Blackrock Castle Observatory

One of our favourite speakers,  we were delighted to welcome Niall to launch our new season of monthly lectures,  which after a long Covid-induced absence, will once again be held in our old home of University College Cork’s Civil Engineering building.   

The lecture was live streamed over Zoom.

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Lecture Schedule 2022-23

Cork Astronomy Club monthly lectures are open to all, and visitors are welcome.  Most lectures will be held at UCC and live streamed.  Members will receive a Zoom link to enable them to watch remotely if desired, and visitors who want the link should sign up for our monthly guest bulletin.  In addition to the monthly lectures, Zoom-only events may also be held.

Monthly meetings include a briefing on what to look for in the sky this month, as well as club announcements, enabling visitors to get a feel for our activities.  Tea and coffee are served after the meeting providing space for informal chats.

Mon 12th Sept 2022  ─ “JWST – what’s all the fuss?”.  Dr Niall Smith, Head of Research, MTU Cork Campus

Mon 10th Oct 2022  Tour of Duty in the High Desert at VERITAS“- Dr Josh Reynolds

Mon 14th Nov 2022  ─Too many satelites in the night sky? Be a satelite detective” – Frances McCarthy, MTU Blackrock Castle Observatory

December 2022  ─ no lecture

Mon 9th Jan 2023  ─ Cian O’Regan, PhD student at MTU, will talk about human factors in space flight, problems that arise and how best to cope with them

Mon 13th Feb 2023  ─ Prof Paul Callanan of UCC will give his annual lecture on a topic to be agreed nearer the time

Mon 13th March 2023 Club member James Quain will trace the history of various types on sundials

Mon 17th April 2023 topic to be announced

Mon 8th May 2023 topic to be announced

“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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