Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute Seth Shostak joined us by Zoom from California to discuss the failure so far to detect extra-terrestrial intelligence by searching the sky for artificial radio signals, and new initiatives being developed or under consideration. We are likely to encounter alien robots before alien biology, he thinks. Seth spends much energy on outreach activities, publishing numerous popular articles on science, giving talks to lay audiences, and hosting the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.”
Cork Astronomy Club was honoured to welcome Jocelyn Bell Burnell who gave a talk by Zoom on “Pulsars, magnetars and fast radio bursts”.
An inspiring speaker, it’s a topic she is uniquely qualified to address, since in 1967 as a postgraduate student Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first radio pulsars, amongst the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century. She is visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, and past president of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Numerous plaudits, a typical one reads “I know little myself and she was able to, explain everything to someone at my level despite the information being so complicated, and yet also engaging those with more knowledge. She’s brilliant! ” Cork Astronomy Club is grateful that amongst all the more pressing calls upon her, Jocelyn took the trouble and made the time to give this talk to our club, a day that we shall long remember.
Vatican astronomer Bro Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory – Specola Vaticana, joined us by Zoom from Tucson, Arizona to talk on the harmonious relationship between science and religion.
Bro Guy argued that logic and reason must always start with assumptions, and the assumptions behind science are, at their root, religious assumptions. Our core beliefs not only determine how we expect the universe to work; they supply the motivation for the science we do, and determine why we choose to look at the stars. How we understand this relationship has changed radically from the time of Galileo, when science was still being invented; and that change continues to this day, as can be seen in the way Pope Francis has blended science and faith in his recent encyclical Laudato Si‘
Modern science required three fundamental shifts which were just beginning in Galileo’s day:
> discard the Golden age mentality (the ancients knew more than us, knowledge has faded)
> use of instruments in discovery
> abandon attempt to seek deductive proof of scientific facts, instead accept probable cause, to be improved on by scientists of the future .
Bro Guy was a most attentive host when Cork Astronomy Club members visited the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo in 2019. He has family connections in Cork and we look forward to welcoming him back here in what we hope will be the not too distant future.
To coincide with the Mars opposition Kevin Nolan gave a talk on past, present and near-term future Mars exploration. What have we learnt, what can we hope to learn? Looked at the present and continuing unmanned program for Mars which commenced in 1996 with Pathfinder and will continue into the future at least until a sample return mission in 2031 – and surely beyond. Kevin’s passion for the subject and the ease with which he presented so much technical information drew widespread praise from the 90 people in this Zoom call.
Kevin is the author of Mars, A Cosmic Stepping Stone: Uncovering Humanity’s Cosmic Context (2009), a volunteer for The Planetary Society in Ireland, and lectures in Physics at the Technical University Dublin.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.