“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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“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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“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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“Galaxies – One Gigayear at a time”, Dr Julian Onions, public Zoom lecture, 6 Dec 2021

Cork Astronomy Club welcomed Dr Julian Onions of Nottingham University’s outreach team.   He desribed his talk thus: “What are galaxies, how are they classified, how are they formed, what do we understand about their lives, and how many pretty pictures can I fit in one talk?”         

Dr Julian Onions

If a marble at Nottingham in central England represented the Sun, he told us, the next Galaxy would be as far away as in the Irish Sea or English Channel.  Julian traced the formation of galaxies, their morphology (shapes), their pasts and their futures.  He specialises in simulations of the universe to test our theories of how it works. Thanks Julian for a great night!

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