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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
The weather on Friday 21st December looked unpromising for a visit to Drombeg stone circle–but perseverance was rewarded when about 25 members and their friends briefly witnessed–or almost witnessed–the solstice sunset there. Just about 4 in the afternoon, twenty minutes or so before official sunset, the sun briefly broke through the clouds fractionally to the left of a notch in the hills which really made the day. Club member Michael O’Keeffe gave a tour of the site, telling its history, the excavation of the site which took place in the 1950’s, and the relevance of the winter and summer solstice.
The open night will be hosting workshops, a Gravity Well to show how space is warped by large objects, demonstrations on Stellarium (a free software that helps you to explore the night sky) and observing in the courtyard with telescopes brought by Club members. (weather dependent!)
Schedule of events:
19:00 – 20:00 – Prof Robert Walsh: A talk in the area of solar science and our relationship with the Sun
20:15 – 22:00 – Cork Skeptics host Kevin Mitchell: Destiny and Chance – How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are
19:00 – 22:00 – Stargazing with Cork Astronomy Club*
Workshops and other activities will run throughout the night from 19:00
Club Members Attended a Seminar at University College Cork
Joint Congress of University Astronomy Societies 2018 was held in February at UCC by astronomy societies of UCC, NUIG and UL. The conference offered an all-day schedule of lectures spanning many different areas of Astrophysics. Chris Lintott, Oxford professor and Sky at night presenter gave an interesting talk about the successes of the project Galaxy Zoo emphasizing the importance of citizens involvement in science projects. Paul Callanan gave a talk on European Southern Observatory which Ireland will soon become a member of.
Other topics were: jet outflows of active galaxies, ejection of matter from black holes, and star formation and destruction.
Photo: Astronomy Club members photographed with Prof. Chris Lintott