Archive for July, 2010

Hi all,

Hope everyone is well and you are enjoying the pretty good summer weather so far.

I was at a talk last night about changing beliefs and was chatting with a school teacher about the subject. She remarked that on a class trip to the Botanic Gardens recently her pupils were disappointed they hadn’t been told bring their cameras like other school groups. However, those students soon realised that no camera could capture the beauty of the place and the pulse of life that permeates everything around us. We sometimes become so caught up in just capturing a snapshot or racing through life that we have shed some of the awareness of the world if we just paused a while.

Sky and weather folklore is a wonderful way to keep in touch with those early beliefs. My own interest in the subject is reflected in a chain I wear constantly that depicts a raven carrying the Sun in its beak. It’s a myth originating amongst the Alaskan Natives and to those peoples the raven was a wise bird who helped bring light to the world. One version of the story tells us that …

“A long time ago, Raven was pure white, like fresh snow in winter. This was so long ago that the only light came from campfires, because a greedy chief kept the stars, moon, and sun locked up in elaborately carved boxes. Determined to free them, the shape-shifting Raven resourcefully transformed himself into the chief’s baby grandson and cleverly tricked him into opening the boxes and releasing the starlight and moonlight.

Though tired of being stuck in human form, Raven maintained his disguise until he got the chief to open the box with the sun and flood the world with daylight, at which point he gleefully transformed himself back into a raven. When the furious chief locked him in the house, Raven was forced to escape through the small smoke-hole at the top — and that’s why ravens are now black as smoke instead of white as snow.”

A part of the world will briefly be plunged into darkness again though this Sunday, July 11th, when a total solar eclipse sweeps across the southern Pacific Ocean and people in the Moon’s shadow will stand in awe of one of nature’s great events.

More details about the eclipse are at http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/TSE2010/TSE2010.html and there are links to sites broadcasting the eclipse live in the news item at http://www.astronomy2009.org/news/updates/973/

As totality ends, light will flood back to the world as the Moon relinquishes its brief theft of the Sun. A diamond ring will sparkle and life begins anew. Some of the South Dublin members will be standing in the path of totality and we all fervently hope they will have clear skies. Amongst them will be John O’Neill and Sara and I hope you will also join me in sending every best wishes to them too as they start a new life together when they marry on August 7th in the US.

Talks

Things go kind of quiet on the lecture front during the summer months but there is still plenty to do if you are out and about. The Science Gallery on Pearse Street in Dublin hosts regular exhibitions and talks (more details at http://sciencegallery.com/ ) while you will also find other events at www.science.ie and Mary Mulvill’s list of science web links at http://scienceculturebulletin.wordpress.com/other-events/

The sky

The bright skies at this time of year might mean people are less inclined to haul out their binoculars or telescopes. However, there is still plenty happening and Neill McKeown has listed lots of astronomy events in his sky notes at http://www.irishastronomy.org/cms/forum?func=view&catid=42&id=85302

Check out www.spaceweather.com regularly too for details of Noctilucent Cloud sightings or other transient events.

www.heavens-above.com is where you can generate satellite passes for your location. On any clear night during July you will see dozens of these space-birds crawling across the sky. Some move more slowly than others depending on the height of their orbit. On occasions you might see an object varying in brightness rhythmically – possibly a spent rocket stage tumbling end-over-end as it circles the Earth. A real delight is when you follow a faint satellite and it suddenly flares significantly in brightness as all the reflective surfaces catch the sunlight.

Twice I have seen a trio of satellites flying in close formation and rapidly crossing the sky. I was intrigued as to what they were but some sleuthing on the internet turned up their true purpose. They are spy satellites and part of the US Naval Ocean Surveillance System. More details are at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Ocean_Surveillance_System and http://www.satobs.org/noss.html — drop me a line if you manage to spot them!

Club news

We are currently working on a speaker programme for the next club lecture season commencing on the second Thursday in September. I will let everyone know the details in the next e-mail once we get confirmation from some of our guest lecturers.

Sky-Guide 2011 is also in the planning stage and all the basic details of astronomical phenomena for next year has been gleaned from various computer programs and almanacs. The next steps are to write up the booklet but drop me a line if you have any thoughts on what you would like to see or expanded on in the content.

Talk to everyone soon,

 John

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