“Observing and photographing the Moon” – Mon 14 Sep 2020

Opening our new season of public online lectures, Frances McCarthy and Danielle Wilcox of Blackrock Castle Observatory’s outreach team talked about observing and photographing the night sky’s largest and most changeable object, the Moon.

Frances McCarthy (left) and Danielle Wilcox (right) of Blackrock Castle Observatory’s outreach team

We learnt that the word “moon” is connected with words for to measure, reflecting the fact that from earliest times the Moon’s phases have been used as a calendar.  The moon illusion when the moon is near the horizon is well known, and it seems that it’s perceived especially by children.  We heard about the startling difference between the near and far sides of the Moon and possible reasons for this, as well as a hypothesis that the Moon’s tidal lock, which dictates that we always see the same side, may have occurred not over millions of years, but in the course of a single year.

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New members morning – Sat 19 Oct, 11 – 1

Our annual new members morning is at Blackrock Castle from 11 am – 1 pm on Saturday 19th October.  This is a members only event (but you can join at the door). “New member” can be interpreted flexibly. If you would like to know more about how the Club works and chat informally to committee members, then this event is for you.

Drop in, meet the committee and fellow new members.  Find out about the Club’s activities & getting the most from your membership.      Tea & scones from Blackrock Castle’s excellent café.      

Here you can find out about the monthly observers group meetings, how to get on the alert list for weather-dependent observing sessions, and how to get advice on buying a telescope. Find out about the workshop programme and make your own suggestions for topics you would like included. Discover our field trips, the annual outing, and social events, and let us know what you hope to get from your Club membership. We are always open to consider new activities.

Blackrock Castle
Blackrock Castle Observatory. The New members morning is held in the classroom on the left.

“The mysteries of Black Holes, large and small” – Mon 10 Feb 2020, 8pm

For our February lecture, UCC Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dr Paul Callanan talked about those mysterious and exotic objects so fundamental to astronomy, black holes.    The date was 10th Feb 2020.

Understanding the nature of black holes remains one of the great challenges of modern astronomy.

More than 100 years ago, Einstein produced a remarkable theory which could be used predict the basic properties of black holes, but it was only last year, in 2019,  when we finally got a glimpse of what a black hole really looks like. Paul explored what we know about black holes, and what the most recent observations tell us about them.

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Prof Paul Callanan, UCC
Prof Paul Callanan, UCC

“Back to the Future: Celestial Navigation for Ocean Positioning” – Mon 13 Jan 2020

At our January lecture, Master Mariner and nautical science lecturer Bill Kavanagh demonstrated his sextant. We learnt how traditional methods were used to obtain a ship’s position by observing astronomical objects, and how such methods are being used again today in an era of global navigation satellite systems.  GPS and other satellite navigation systems (including the not yet operational European Galileo system) are accurate, but subject to human error and malfunction. For 20 years the US navy and coastguard abandoned celestial navigation training for officers, but have now reinstated it – recognizing that the Sun and stars will never be disabled by solar flares, and can’t be shot down.

Bill is a committee member of Cork Astronomy Club and also lectures in the National Maritime College of Ireland at Ringaskiddy. After a 20-year career at sea including 8 years in command, he moved ashore to start a new career in education and training. He currently lectures and co-ordinates the award year of the BSc honours degree in nautical science, and is an adjunct lecturer in research methods with Jade University of Applied Sciences, Oldenberg, Germany. While at sea, he navigated the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans using celestial navigation techniques. 

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Bill Kavanagh
Bill Kavanagh

“Space Law: Weapons, Property Rights and Mining in Space” – 14 Oct 2019

Barrister Laura Keogh, a specialist in space law, gave an overview of space law and then focused on weaponisation and the legality of owning asteroids.    

LauraShe began by outlining the framework of international space law, starting with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basic framework, and then identified three challenges for space law – militarisation, space mining, and colonising Mars.   Space has been militarised since the very start of the space age, but what weapons are allowed? Nukes are definitely banned and so are weapons of mass destruction – but what are those?  A US act of 2015 says citizens can own asteroid resources, but is this legal in international law? 

If Mars is colonised, will it be a state and what are the implications of that?  The meeting broke into groups to discuss how a Mars state would cope with a refugee problem from Earth, giving rise to some daunting proposals.

Laura has campaigned, thus far without success, that Ireland should be represented at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).  This will become more urgent with the launch next year of Ireland’s first satellite, Eirsat1. She works for MHL- Law dealing with space sector clients and data protection issues.  

Laura Keogh
Laura Keogh, Barrister

“The Active Sun: Solar Eruptions and their Impact on Earth” – Mon 11 Nov 2019

For our November lecture, Trinity College space weather scientist Dr Sophie Murray looked at solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and auroras. All this is called space weather, and she discussed its impact on the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and potentially on human civilisation. Dr Murray referred to the 1859 Carrington Event, which gave us the first alert that solar flares can interfere with our electronics. Since then solar flares have disrupted electricity grids, but no event of similar magnitude has yet occurred. Dr Murray and her colleagues are often called upon by industry and government to advise on how to protect today’s delicate electronics from the potentially catastrophic effects of solar flares. It is now a routine duty of Met Eireann and other meteorological services to forecast space weather.

Dr Sophie Murray

Celebrate Apollo day 20th July 2019 at Tory Top Library

We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing
On Saturday 20th July, Cork Astronomy Club celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing at Tory Top Library, Ballyphehane.  Members and the public attended, memorabilia were on display and Tony Jackson who remembered the event, gave a highly praised talk and showed a video. Authentic 1969-recorded footage of Apollo  11’s mission as well as memorabilia from the time, such as a model of the Saturn V rocket, and much more.  

The Pope’s Astronomer at Blackrock Castle on 10 Aug 2019

Club members met Papal Astronomer Bro Guy Consolmagno, author of Turn Left at Orion, at Blackrock Castle Observatory on Saturday 10 August, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.  Bro Guy will gave a talk “Discarded Worlds: Astronomical ideas that were almost correct …”. You can read his abstract below. As well as astronomers who were wrong he cited those who were right but for the wrong reasons – Galileo being a prime example.

Bro Guy (third from camera on right) at lunch with Club members at Blackrock Castle Observatory after giving his talk

The event was fully subscribed.   Bro Guy is an incisive and entertaining speaker,  and the author of numerous books on astronomy including  Turn Left at Orion – Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope – and How to Find Them

You can find more about Bro Guy at his page on the Vatican Observatory website. He provided the following abstract for his lecture:

Astronomy is more than just observing; it’s making sense of those observations. A good theorist needs to blend a knowledge of what’s been observed, with a good imagination … and no fear of being wrong. Ptolemy in ancient Rome, the medieval bishops Oresme and Cusa, the 19th century astronomers Schiaparelli and Pickering, all rose to the challenge; and they were all almost correct. Which is to say, they were wrong … sometimes hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly so. What lessons can 21st century astronomers take from these discarded images of the universe? 

“ET where are you?” – 9 Sept, 2019

Leading Irish amateur astronomer Terry Moseley opened the Club’s new season in September by asking “ET where are you?”.  The date was Mon 9th Sept 2019, and as usual the venue was UCC.   Several new members joined.

Noting that despite scientists’ best efforts no evidence of life elsewhere in the universe has so far come to light,  Terry asked what we can deduce from this. He referred to the Fermi Paradox – the apparent mismatch between the lack of evidence, in spite of extensive search, for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and various estimates suggesting it’s highly probable extra-terrestrial civilizations should exist elsewhere in our galaxy.  Have alien civilisations destroyed themselves, as some fear we might, before being able to reach out? Are they too far away? Or don’t care?

And what might the psychological effect on us be of contact with a civilisation as far ahead of us as we are to hedgehogs? Terry entertained us with these and other speculations, giving rise to a lively Q&A session.

Terry Moseley
Terry Moseley

All are welcome at Cork Astronomy Club’s lectures, free admittance and no obligation to join. We start at 8pm but we recommend arriving 10 minutes early if you can. Here’s how to get to the venue.

Evening class in astronomy started 25 September 2019

Tom Bonner is again running his popular astronomy evening class at Ballincollig Community School. Ten Wednesdays, started 25th September, cost €70. This is a course designed to give an overview of the important basics that any person who wants to pursue an interest in Astronomy will need.     Tom is a prominent member of Cork Astronomy Club, and we are happy to recommend this course. Click for enrollment details – this takes you to the school’s website, where you’ll find the astronomy course under Wednesdays.

You’ll also find a link which enables you to enroll online, and the astronomy course is W2.