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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cork Astronomy Club welcomed Cork-based electronics engineer Cillian O’Driscoll who drew on his work with ESA on the Galileo project, Europe’s own global navigation satellite system, to review how satellites have changed the way we navigate the globe. The lecture was held via Zoom.
Fantastic talk from someone who clearly is a master of his subject, was the verdict of one member in the audience.
Cillian explained the mechanics of GNSS systems (that’s any satellite navigation system with global coverage) and answered many detailed questions from members. He also delved into the political ramifications. The Galileo system is a project of the Europe Commission, he explained, although the technical work is contracted to ESA. In the early 2000’s the US government was keen to discourage Galileo and to persuade the EU to be satisfied with GPS, which is under US military control, and used to have a built-in 100m error margin.
For our final lockdown lecture of the current season, Cork Astronomy Club welcomed Society for the History of Astronomy Chairman Gerard Gilligan to tell us about William Lassell, the Liverpool brewer and amateur astronomer who in 1846, using his own self built telescope, discovered Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself.
Amanda Bauer, Head of Education and Public Outreach at Vera C Rubin Observatory, joined us by Zoom from Tucson Arizona to tell us about a sizeable telescope due to commence operations in Chile at the end of 2022 which will open a bigger window on the universe and allow citizen scientists to download an app and contribute to analysing data.
The Vera C. Rubin Observatory will conduct the 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) starting in late 2023. It will survey the southern sky every 4 nights and record every change – what dims, what brightens, what moves or disappears. We’ll see the universe in action! Citizen scientists can join in. One comment was “if the rest of the team are even half as enthusiastic, it’ll be finished ahead of time!”
LSST will deliver a 500 petabyte set of images and data products that will address some of the most pressing questions about the structure and evolution of the universe and the objects in it. Rubin Observatory has an outreach team designing and building an innovative, modern, and inclusive program. Amanda demonstrated a prototype online astronomy investigation and highlighted citizen science opportunities with LSST data.
Calendars, clocks, and how the measurement of time links to the Earth and the solar system were Prof Malone’s theme when he joined us by Zoom from Maynooth University. He called his talk “How to tell the time” and time was the one thing lacking, the question session lasting 25 minutes after the meeting was meant to close. David Malone is a mathematician on the staff of Maynooth University’s Hamilton Institute
A little nugget of information was that the word “minute” comes from the Latin pars minuta prima, meaning “first small part”. This division of the hour can be further refined with a “second small part” (Latin: pars minuta secunda), and this is where the word “second” comes from.
British cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees sees space as the realm of robotic exploration, not human colonisation. A handful of privately funded thrill seeking adventurers will probably settle on Mars but the idea of mass emigration there, proposed by some as the solution to Earth’s problems, he views as a dangerous delusion.
Martin speculated the universe might be beyond the capacity of the human brain, as Euclid is beyond an ape’s.
Life might be unique to Earth or if there are other spacefarers, then as Seth Shostak suggested in his December 2020 lecture, we are more likely to encounter other civilizations’ machines than their biological forbears ─ Martin derives comfort from this as the machines, he thinks, would be more benign than biological entities. (One questioner raised the danger of robots having aggression programmed into them.)
Whilst we may be constrained by the laws of physics to remain within the galaxy, our electronic descendants could live millions of years, Martin thought.
Cork Astronomy Club was immensely honoured that Martin Rees agreed to give our January lockdown lecture. He is currently writing a book on “When we don’t need astronauts”, and looks forward to the day, perhaps 10 years from now, when the European Southern Observatory’s ELT telescope will get spectra of some exoplanets that would indicate the presence of a biosphere (chlorophyll, oxygen, etc).
Launched in 1977 the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Each is three times farther away from the Earth and Sun than Pluto is, and travelling at 10 miles a second. In 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars. Incredibly, these spacecraft are still communicating with NASA and sending usable data.
Prof Bunce is current President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and head of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, from where she joined us by Zoom to give this lockdown lecture.
It was 31 years ago, in 1989, that Voyager 2 made a close flyby of Neptune, giving humanity its first close-up of our solar system’s eighth planet. No other spacecraft has visited Neptune since. Prof Bunce hopes this will change. A teenager when Voyager’s Neptune fly-by occurred, Emma credits this event with first sparking her interest in astronomy. Today she is a leading expert on the solar system’s gas giants.