Archive for the ‘Astronomy News’ Category

Astronomy meeting tomorrow and the 2012 night sky

Hi everyone,

Hope you have all been well and enjoying the mild weather.

Before highlighting some events over the next week or so, I just want to let you know that due to some other commitments I have to take a step back from the SDAS for a few months. It means little or no newsletters/e-mails from me for a while but the Irish Astronomical Society has kindly agreed to keep everyone up-to-date about meetings or observing sessions. We hold joint meetings at the moment with the IAS and combining with their mailing list is a natural development of the current collaboration. Do drop me an occasional line though and I will endeavour answer it. Hope to be back doing astronomy again at some stage early in the New Year!

Details of tomorrow night’s meeting are below while the latter part of this mail has a round-up of sky guides for 2012 along with the best web sites to look for information about astronomical phenomena during 2012. I use many of these sites in preparing monthly sky notes as well as previous editions of various astronomy almanacs. 

Talk to you all soon,


November IAS/SDAS meeting

We are delighted to welcome Carl O’Beirnes of Balbriggan Observatory to give our talk on November 24th at 8pm in Gonzaga College, Ranelagh. Carl takes superb photographs of the night sky from his home observatory and has produced very detailed images of Jupiter in recent months. Hope to see you along on the night! Check out  and Carl’s gallery at

Boyle medallist to speak in the RDS

Margaret Murnane, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, United States, has been awarded the prestigious RDS Irish Times Boyle Medal for Scientific Excellence for her pioneering work which has transformed the field of ultrafast laser and x-ray science.

Professor Murnane will give a public lecture on her groundbreaking discoveries and her passion for science on Tuesday, November 29th at 7pm in the RDS Concert Hall. Admission is free and more details of how to book can be found at

Mars missions

Contact has been made with the ill-fated Fobos-Grunt mission currently stuck in Earth orbit. A tracking station in Australia managed to receive signals from the probe and engineers are now trying to establish why the spacecraft’s main rocket failed to fire to set it on course for Mars. More details at

Meanwhile, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) mission is now scheduled to lift-off this Saturday. See the above web site or or for more details.

Looking up

With just over a month to go before January 1st, 2012, it is worth looking at the various guides available that highlight what’s happening in the sky for the year ahead.

Sky-High 2012 is produced by the Irish Astronomical Society and describes celestial phenomena visible from Ireland for the year ahead. Priced €5, Easons will have it in their O’Connell Street Dublin branch when published next month or you will be able to order it direct from

Paul Money produces an A5-sized annual called Nightscenes 2012 which is specifically geared towards observers in the UK and Ireland. The publication has a set of monthly notes and a star chart for that month along with more detailed information on other pages. At a bargain £5 it’s a valuable guide sprinkled with lovely photos taken by Paul. Order from

Philips publishes the colourful Stargazing 2012 written by well known astronomy popularisers Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest. The guide retails for £6.99 (about €8.50) and is pitched at observers in the UK and Ireland. You will find it available in many bookstores or through online sellers.

The Astronomical Calendar produced by Guy Ottewell since 1974 is a large format soft-cover publication that is packed with an incredible amount of detail. The size also allows for each page to contain Ottewell’s unique and informative diagrams. The 2012 edition of the calendar can be ordered through Universal Workshops web site or (not Amazon UK). It’s priced at €26 including shipping from Amazon — see  

Many, many other sky guides appear annually including calendars and books such as Sir Patrick Moore’s venerable Yearbook of Astronomy. This year’s is the 50th anniversary edition and contains a lot of information about celestial events over the next year along with articles by professional and amateur astronomers.

The two magazines Astronomy (US) and The Sky at Night (UK) usually have their yearly almanacs as inserts towards the end of the preceding year (or the January editions) while Sky and Telescope (US) and Astronomy Now (UK) produce separate publications in the late-Autumn. Check your local newsagents for details or the respective web sites for each magazine.

Organisations such as the British Astronomical Association (BAA) and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) publish handbooks for members annually but these can be purchased by non-members too. See  or

I haven’t even touched on the non-English publications, some examples of which I’ve accumulated over the years.

Finally, the Astronomical Almanac is the doyen of professional and amateur astronomers worldwide. Co-produced by H.M.’s Nautical Almanac Office and the US Naval Observatory, the detailed tables in the Almanac cover a whole range of astronomical phenomena. The accurate ephemerides are calculated with the latest adopted numerical theories. Amazon will stock the Almanac but you can generate many of the tables of data for your location with the MICA software published by Willmann-Bell — see

All in all this is just a quick flavour of the extensive selection of sky guides available for the amateur astronomer or casual sky-watcher curious about what’s up for the year ahead.

Nevember 2011 Astronomy News

hi everyone,

hope all is well.

There has been some terrific views of the day- and nighttime sky recently. Jupiter is a magnificent object high in the southeast early evening while the Sun is perking up with a large spot group visible to the unaided eye using a suitable solar filter (see for pictures of the sunspot.) Carl O’Beirnes took some magnificent images of Jupiter recently and you can see the results at

Joe O’Dwyer and I were recently talking about the proper names for the seven bright stars in the Plough. We were at Dunsink Observatory and the Plough carved it’s way across the north Dublin skyline over the course of our two hour visit. Yet I most associate the group with a particularly beautiful Native North American Indian myth rather than seeing it as an agricultural implement.

The stars of the “Bowl” are a bear being chased by three hunters (the stars of the “Tail”) over the course of the year. By autumn, the hunters manage to mortally wound the bear and its blood flows profusely over the earth to dye the leaves of trees the lovely reds we see this time of year. A similar legend tells of the bear being chased by seven birds. A robin manages to strike the fatal blow and the bear’s blood runs over the robin’s breast. The bird then rests amongst the trees and shakes himself, covering the leaves with the bears blood.

Astronomy is rich with this seam of lore and as we move into the longer evenings then do look skyward to imagine those tales that married Earth and Sky. A good jumping off point for Western constellation lore is while the Google search will bring you to more general sky lore links.

clear skies!


P.S. many thanks to everyone who responded to my appeal for help ferrying people to Dunsink Observatory recently. The members of Rathgar Active Aged asked me pass on their appreciation and thanks to all who helped.

Arcturus magazine


The November issue of the club newsletter is now available for download. Click on the link here to view the 8-page issue online or right-click and select “Save As” to download it to your PC/Mac. See

The magazine has details of what’s on view in November’s sky, the latest news notes, articles, and much more. It also highlights talks and events happening countrywide.

Next meeting


The next IAS/SDAS meeting will be on Thursday, November 17th at 8pm in Gonzaga College, Ranelagh. Our speaker will be well-known astrophotographer Carl O’Beirnes, who will talk about his robotic observatory and imaging the sky. All are welcome and admission is free.

Astronaut visits


NASA astronaut Greg Johnson and ESA astronaut Dr Christer Fuglesang are giving talks during Science Week Ireland (running from November 13th to 20th). See the Arcturus newsletter for more details of where the talks are and how to book.

Spacebrains iPhone app


Congratulations to everyone involved in developing Spacebrains, an iPhone quiz launched for Science Week 2010, which won Best Gaming App 2011 at “The Appys”. More details about the award are at — I was delighted to be part of the group which included astronomers at Armagh Observatory and Blackrock Castle Observatory (Cork), Discover Science and Engineering, and Redwind Software, who created the actual app. You can read about Spacebrains at where there is a link to download it free from the iTunes store.

75th anniversary of Met Éireann


To mark the 75th anniversary of Met Éireann the Irish Met Society has created an exhibition which will run from Nov 10th to 18th in the National Botanic Gardens’ gallery. Admittance is free. The exhibition will contain a series of posters on Met Éireann’s history, including an historical timeline a poster on Met Éireann trivia and old instruments. The IMS are dedicating their upcoming lecture evening and weather exhibition to Dr Aodhagán Roddy who sadly passed away recently. More details at

Science Week Ireland 2011


A brilliant programme is lined up for Science Week Ireland which runs from November 13th to 20th. Almost 500 events are taking place countrywide so check out to see what’s on near you.

The theme for Science Week this year is “The Chemistry of Life”. I mentioned to some people recently that there is a neat mnemonic to remember the main elements making up the human body (many thanks to Michael Grehan for telling me the mnemonic originally.)

“See Hopkin’s Cafe, its mighty good, but take it with a grain of salt”. You write it this way: C HOPKINS CaFe Mg NaCl — granted, you have to remember the Mg (mighty good) and that NaCl is the grain of salt!

C = carbon

H = hydrogen

O = oxygen

P = phosphorus

K = potassium

I = iodine

N = nitrogen

S = sulphur

Ca = calcium

Fe = iron

Mg = magnesium

Na = sodium

Cl = chlorine

Most of the human body is made up of water, H2O, with cells consisting of 65-90% water by weight. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that most of a human body’s mass is oxygen. Carbon, the basic unit for organic molecules, comes in second. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.

1. Oxygen (65%)

2. Carbon (18%)

3. Hydrogen (10%)

4. Nitrogen (3%)

5. Calcium (1.5%)

6. Phosphorus (1.0%)

7. Potassium (0.35%)

8. Sulfur (0.25%)

9. Sodium (0.15%)

10. Magnesium (0.05%)

11. Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt, Iron (0.70%)

12. Lithium, Strontium, Aluminum, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine (trace amounts)

So, C (18%), H (10%), O (65%), P (1%), K (0.35%), I (trace), N (3%), S (0.25%), Ca (1.5%), Fe (trace), Mg (0.05%), Na (0.15%), Cl (trace)

See also, and

Images at … (a little bit down the page there’s a nice pie chart showing the elemental composition of the Earth’s crust and the human body) (table of the elements in the human body)

Starts with a Bang is just one of the great pages on and the article has another neat graphic showing the chemical make-up of the human body

The Robert Boyle Festival of Science
Lismore, Co. Waterford, is birthplace of Robert Boyle, who went on to become known as the “Father of Chemistry”. The weekend of November 18th to 20th features a packed programme of events to celebrate one of Ireland’s most famous scientists. Speakers include Dr. Allan Chapman and Prof. Bob Watson, as well as a mobile planetarium and many other activities. More details about the weekend can be found at
Astro-Expo 2011
Astronomy Ireland’s annual Astro-Expo will take place this year on Saturday, November 19th. Headline speaker is Dr. Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, Waterford Institute of Technology, who will give a talk entitled ‘Faster Than Light – Was Einstein Wrong? More details at
Dee’s blog
Deirdre Kelleghan has a terrific blog about the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory launch. Even better, Dee will be at the launch later this month! MSL is the most sophisticated spacecraft to be sent to Mars and the Curiosity rover will look for life’s signature in Gale Crater on the Martian surface. Check out Deirdre’s blog at
Space-themes for Science Week Ireland 2011
See for more details about the astronaut visits for Science Week 2011 as well as classroom activities developed by ESERO Ireland ( )
See also and for lots more science stuff that’s happening …

SDAS newsletter August 2010

Coincidence, serendipity, happenstance – call it what you will. The Universe and life sometimes seem to be ruled by these.

It was by good fortune that the eclipse chasers from Ireland successfully observed the total solar eclipse of last July 11th from French Polynesia. Some have been in touch and report a superb trip to the Pacific. There were some tense moments when cloud threatened to dampen spirits but the skies cleared in time to witness the splendour of totality. We hope to hear more from the intrepid umbraphiles when our club meetings resume in September. Have a look at the solar eclipse gallery for a flavour of what people saw as the Moon’s shadow swept across the southern Pacific Ocean (John O’Neill and Sara Beck can be seen in the photo by Dennis Mammana on page 4 of the gallery!)

We are lucky to live at a time when total solar eclipses are possible. The Sun’s diameter is 400 times that of our Moon but it also lies about 400 times more distant. This remarkable coincidence means that both objects have the same apparent size in the sky. If New Moon falls when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction then a solar eclipse occurs. However, the Moon’s distance from Earth increases a little over 3cm per year due to tidal acceleration. The result is that approximately 600 million years hence solar eclipses will no longer be possible because the Moon’s apparent diameter will then be too small to cover the Sun’s disk.

Is it chance that so many other circumstances are universally favourable? The delicate balance can be summed up by the Anthropic Principle which is at times a controversial view of the laws of the Universe whenever some supporters invoke the idea of Intelligent Design. As astronomers our minds are open to not just the marvels around us but also ideas, specifically ones we can test.

Consider these;

To support life, elements must bond together to form molecules. Two factors are required to allow molecular bonding. They are:

* Strength of the force of electromagnetism
– If the force of electromagnetism was greater, atoms would not share electrons with other atoms
– If the force of electromagnetism was weaker, atoms could not hold on to electrons at all

* Ratio of the mass of the electron to the mass of the proton
– If the ratio isn’t delicately balanced, chemical bonding could not take place

Atoms must be able to form to provide the elements required for life molecules. To support formation of atoms, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and gravity must each be delicately balanced.

* The strong nuclear force determines the degree to which protons and neutrons (some components of atoms) stick together.
– If the strong nuclear force was slightly greater (0.3% stronger) life would be impossible because all protons and neutrons would bind together. There would be only heavy elements in the universe.
– If the strong nuclear force was slightly weaker (2%) life would be impossible because protons and neutrons would not stick together. Only one element, hydrogen would exist in the universe.

* The weak nuclear force governs the rates of radioactive decay
– If the weak nuclear force was much stronger, matter would be converted into heavy elements
– If the weak nuclear force was much weaker, matter would remain in the form of the lightest elements

* The strength of the force of gravity is one of the determinants of how hot the stars burn
– If the force of gravity was stronger, stars would burn up too quickly and erratically for life to exist
– If the force of gravity was weaker, stars wouldn’t be hot enough for nuclear fusion; no heavy elements would be produced.

There must be the right number and mass of protons, neutrons and electrons in the universe in order to have life.

* Neutrons are and must be 0.138% more massive than protons
– If neutrons were an additional 0.1% more massive, there wouldn’t be enough of them to make heavy elements necessary for life.
– If neutrons were 0.1% less massive, protons would more rapidly decay into neutrons and all the stars in the universe would have collapsed.

* The number of electrons must be equal to the number of protons
– If the numbers of protons and electrons aren’t balanced, galaxies, stars and planets would have never formed because electromagnetic forces would have overcome gravitational forces.

The rate of expansion of the universe is how it must be to support life.

* If the universe expanded more quickly, matter would disperse and not form into galaxies, stars or planets.
* If the universe expanded too slowly, matter would clump too much and the universe would collapse in a super-dense lump.

Doesn’t it make you wonder?

I did too after briefly discussing the idea of writing with someone last Monday evening. The Brazilian author Paolo Coelho came up in conversation and I mentioned whenever he finds a white feather he takes it as a sign to write a new novel. Later that night I was coming out my front door and looked down. There, on the ground, was a white feather.

The Universe really does amaze.

For further reading “The Goldilocks Enigma” by Paul Davies explores the fine tuning debate while “Just Six Numbers” by Sir Martin Rees is also an elegant overview of the subject.

Sara and John
The wedding of Sara Beck and John O’Neill is tomorrow in Topsfield, Massachusetts and I’m sure you will join me once again in sending every best wish on their special day.

Sara works with the American Association of Variable Star Observers. A number of us have met Sara at some of the star parties in Ireland the last couple of years.

John needs no introduction to the Irish astronomy community and has been a leading light in the hobby for many years. John’s new web site at has many examples of the celestial wonders he has witnessed over the years, including NINE total solar eclipses.

Solar cycle on the up
Aurora activity picked up the last couple of days when high-latitude sky-watchers saw wonderful displays of the northern lights after violent solar storms. Skies were cloudy over Ireland but elsewhere observers were treated to a late-Summer sky-show. Read more about the events at where you’ll also find links to videos of the recent aurora displays.

Sparks in the dark
The dependable Perseids are predicted to peak at 23h (midnight Summertime) on August 12th and conditions are ideal with the 2 day old Moon setting just before 20h 30m. The double peak noted a few years ago now seems to have merged into the traditional maximum but the International Meteor Organisation ( ) suggest the complexity of the Perseids means high rates may persist over a period of almost a full day.

Deirdre Kelleghan has sent mention of a new initiative called Meteorwatch ( ) which is prompting interest in the Perseids. Everyone is encouraged to get outside and look up if the skies are clear.

Midlands Astronomy Club is hosting their annual Perseid watch this weekend. People can join them at their Observing Site in Clonminch just outside Tullamore this Saturday August 7th. MAC will supply the barbecue and camp-fire. All you need to bring is food, implements and a tent and whatever else you think you need. They plan to meet from around 8:30/9:00pm and you can stay as late as you want.

If the weather is unfavourable then Saturday, August 14th is the fall-back. Even if it iss cloudy this Saturday they will still go ahead, because it is fun to get out and about as a group of friends. The Moon will be absent which will make viewing excellent. Seanie Morris has the directions to the site and if you need any further help you can ring him on (087) 6825910. Seanie has also produced a useful guide to meteor observing which can be downloaded from

The Irish Astronomical Association will be holding a ‘Perseid Party’ at Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh, Co Down, just off the A22 between Killyleagh and Downpatrick, on the evening of Thursday 12th, or if the weather is bad that evening, on the following night, Friday 13th, assuming it’s not a washout too! This will be a ‘Fry-up’, rather than a BBQ, so bring any sort of a gas or spirit cooker you may have, plus frying pan, and whatever grub & drinks you want. For more details and updates re the weather decision for Thursday or Friday night, see

Celestial ballet
A fascinating celestial waltz takes place above the western skyline this month as Venus (magnitude –4.3), Saturn (1.1), and Mars (1.5) trade places on the evening sky stage. The trio form a sharp isosceles triangle on the 1st but the symmetry is ruined by the end of the first week as Venus passes Saturn and closes on Mars.

As the month progresses the grouping is getting lower and lower in the evening twilight so an unobstructed horizon will be a prerequisite to spotting them.

A small telescope will show Venus at half-phase in mid-August while the rings of Saturn will be seen to have opened up just a fraction more.

The slender lunar crescent joins the scene on August 13th. As the curtain falls on the western sky drama you’ll find Jupiter appearing above the eastern skyline. At magnitude –2.8, the planet dominates the constellation of Pisces, one of the watery groups in an area of sky known as the Celestial Sea. Jupiter rises at 22:00UT at the beginning of August and by 20:00UT at the end of the month. Bottle-green Uranus is in the area too — the magnitude 5.8 planet lies in the same low-power binocular field as Jupiter all month (Uranus is a naked eye object from a dark site.)

Mercury is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

There was drama on the International Space Station this week when one of the cooling pumps broke down and prompted Nasa to schedule emergency spacewalks. A full rehearsal of the repairs has been carried out at Nasa’s training facility and reviewed by the mission managers. The procedures will be transmitted to the ISS crew who will then evaluate them in conjunction with ground controllers. The actual spacewalks are scheduled for this Saturday and next Wednesday but check for any updates. The current ISS crew are Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker, Doug Wheelock, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Mikhail Kornienko and Alexander Skvortsov.

The ISS is currently making a series of morning passes over Ireland and you can find predictions for Terenure, Dublin at – change to your own locality via the “select your location from our database” feature of the site.

Out and about
Astronomy Ireland lecture on August 9th
Dr John Quinn will give the next Astronomy Ireland lecture in Trinity College Dublin on Monday, August 9th at 8pm. The lecture is titled “The Extreme Universe” and Dr Quinn will talk about his work in using special telescopes to investigate gamma-ray sources in our Universe.

The Universe looks very different when viewed using gamma-rays, as opposed to visible light: some sources of gamma-rays are thought to be massive exploding stars, known as supernovae, collapsing neutron stars, and black holes. These objects are some of the most fascinating and extreme objects in the Universe.

Dr Quinn is one of the Irish scientists who is a member of the VERITAS collaboration, and his work involves studying active galaxies (galaxies that emit very strong radio waves from their cores), and super-massive black holes which lurk deep inside these galaxies.

More details from

The IAA will be holding another one of their popular ‘Solar Days’, at 2 p.m. on Sunday 15 August, at the WWT, near Comber, Co Down. We’ll have the usual selection of solar telescopes, binoculars etc, to view the Sun in visible light, H-Alpha, etc. And we’ll have the portable planetarium too for star shows, so even if it’s cloudy, come along. Bring any solar observing equipment you may have. It’s free admission if you bring a telescope or filtered binocs, otherwise normal admission charges apply. More details on

The Astrophysics and Planetary Science Department at QUB and the Irish Astronomical Association are jointly hosting a free double public lecture in the Larmor Lecture Theatre, Physics Building, QUB, Belfast. This event, arranged by Professor Stephen Smartt, has been planned to coincide with a major professional conference on Pan-STARRS, but that is open only to registered professional participants.

The double public lecture is free, but admission is by ticket only! These may be obtained from the IAA by emailing [email protected] or [email protected], or alternately if you at Queen’s they can be got from the Astrophysics and Planetary Science Department.

The two speakers are each world-renowned experts in their fields, and very good speakers, so this is a treat not to be missed!

Prof Carlos Frenk, FRS, Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, University of Durham, will give a lecture entitled “From the Big Bang to the Universe of Galaxies”, and Prof Chris Stubbs, Chair of the Department of Physics at Harvard University, will speak on “The Accelerating Universe: A Crisis for Fundamental Physics”. Don’t be intimidated by the titles – these lectures will be aimed at a non-specialist public audience.

The event will be from 7.15 to 9.00 p.m. Remember, it’s free, but admission by ticket only, so apply right now!

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 and there are links to sites broadcasting the eclipse live in the news item at

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.


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 ) while you will also find other events at and Mary Mulvill’s list of science web links at

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

Check out regularly too for details of Noctilucent Cloud sightings or other transient events. 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 and — 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,




It’s a week for volcanoes!

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington State in the US. Fifty seven lives were lost when the huge pressure that had been building on the north flank of the mountain was released explosively on May 18th, 1980. Read more at

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft made a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus yesterday and is currently sending images back to mission control. Back in 2005, Cassini found cryo-volcanoes, or geysers, of water ice erupting from fractures in the crust of Enceladus and has even flown through one of the plumes to analyse the chemistry.

And so on to our our next meeting on Thursday, May 20th when the topic will be volcanoes in the Solar System. It’s our last talk before the summer break and you are all welcome to come along to Gonzaga College in Ranelagh on the night (8pm start.) We will also show a documentary about volcanoes on Earth.

Talk to you soon,



The moment of New

Here’s a pretty amazing photograph taken by ace French astrophotographer Thierry Legault. He managed to image the Moon on April 14th this year at the exact moment it was New! Read more and see the image at

Solarfest 2010

Michael O’Connell has sent details of Solarfest 2010, a one day event in Dunsink Observatory on Saturday, June 12th where amateur and professional astronomers from Ireland will speak about the Sun and observing our nearest star. Spaces are limited to 60 people so if you are interested in attending then please mail Michael directly at [email protected]

You might also like to check out a free magazine on solar astronomy that you can download at

Skysketcher blog

Deirdre Kelleghan continues to put huge energy into astronomy outreach and Dee also writes a regular blog about what’s happening in astronomy and space at Do drop by and read the latest about events that may be happening countrywide or in the world of astronomy and space exploration.

Deirdre also sent details of a lunar observing project which might interest educators and amateur astronomers. Read more at

Observing this Saturday

Aubrey has the following post on – please reply to the post there if you are interested in going along on Saturday evening.

“Good evening, amateur astronomers. Is there anyone interested in having an observing session this coming Friday night 21st May at the Martello Tower in Sandymount? At the moment the weather forecast is promising clear skies on Friday night after a warm sunny afternoon. I should be there at 9pm complete with 6.2″ refractor to observe half Moon, Venus and Saturn. Aubrey.”

iPhone software

A few people were in touch about astronomy software for the iPhone. The notes here are really based on the apps Michael O’Connell previously showed me but if you have downloaded any useful iPhone software then let me know and we’ll mail the members with details.

I heard quite a lot of good reports about Starmap and although it is around $20 or so it is very feature rich. Moon Map Pro is an excellent chart of the Moon and Star Walk is also well worth trying. An Irish developer has written an app called Pocket Universe – it has been so successful that he was saying he quit his day job in Microsoft to concentrate on writing software for the iPhone and iPad!!!
Stunning astroimages
Carl O’Beirnes and other Irish amateur astronomers continue to take stunning images of the night sky. Carl recently photographed the galaxy NGC 3628 in the constellation of Leo and the wealth of detail is incredible. Details of the photo are at and the astroimagers web site is


Observing this FridayMichael Murphy sends the follow note about IAS/SDAS observing this Friday;

“The weather looks good so the plan is to meet up at the Sugarloaf car park at 9:30pm. After that we can either stay in the car park or travel to our new site in Trooperstown for more observing.

If you are interested can you either reply to the thread on or ring 087-6398143 before 8pm on Friday to make sure the observing is going ahead.“

It won’t get very dark but Saturn will be well placed for viewing. The summer constellation Scorpius will be high enough just before midnight to spot the nice globular cluster M4 which lies near Antares, the red giant beating at the celestial scorpion’s heart. In fact, quite a few globular clusters can be swept up in even just binoculars at this time of year.

Globular clusters are giant conglomerations of up to half a million suns and are scattered in a halo about our Milky Way. Their stars are ancient and globulars themselves may be the remnants of satellite galaxies torn apart by tidal interaction with our own galaxy. Long-exposure photographs show them to be densely packed but collisions between stars in a globular are extremely rare. Still, for a planet orbiting a star in a globular cluster the night sky would never get truly dark.

Jupiter’s SEB fades

Aubrey phoned me a short while ago to say that the internet is abuzz with news that Jupiter’s South Equatorial Belt (SEB) has faded. Such an event occurs about every 3 or 15 years. Some planetary scientists believe it is due to higher altitude white clouds forming in the gas giant’s atmosphere and obscuring the lower SEB which is a darker hue. You can read more about the discovery at and

Jupiter rises around 2:30am these mornings so an early start to the day is required to catch a glimpse of the planet.

Young Moon and Venus

Saturday’s slender crescent Moon will only be 20¼ hours old – a breathtaking sight – when you spot it above the WSW skyline after sunset. The golden curl will be 5-degrees up at 9:30pm (summertime) and Venus lies to its upper left.  Mars and Saturn are also on view in the evening sky.


Japan’s Akatsuki (Planet-C) space probe is due to lift off on May 17th and will reach the planet Venus in December 2010. The mission objectives are to study the thick Venusian atmosphere from orbit and determine if there is ongoing volcanic activity on surface of which there have only been tantalising hints to date. Read more about the mission at … though the external links will probably have a lot more information.

The final mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis is pencilled in for May 14th. The crew will bring additional components to the International Space Station and install them during a number of spacewalks. Making his second spaceflight is Garrett Reisman who visited Ireland about a decade ago when still a trainee astronaut. If anyone is following the current plans for the US space programme then you may have just this week seen a number of the Apollo veterans criticise future NASA plans for space exploration. The current push is for NASA to embrace more private space ventures such as commercial vehicles to resupply the ISS, extending the life-time of the ISS to 2010 and to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid before committing to a manned mission to Mars. I believe this phased approach makes far more sense than hugely expensive task of establishing a permanent base on the Moon. Let the debate begin!

Sad news

I heard some sad news yesterday that Chris MacLochlainn, one of our members, died tragically during the week. Chris was one of the gentlest people you could meet and had a wide circle of friends. Our last conversation was some time back when Chris and I chatted about all aspects of the night sky. His many friends offer our deepest sympathy to his family at this time.



Hi all,

Hope everyone has been well and enjoying the continuing good weather.

I was over at classes last night and noticed during break that some of the kids that go to the School during the day had done a project to observe the lunar phases during the month of April. Cloudy evenings were sketched in too but there hadn’t been too many of those.

The project was a wonderful idea and really teaches us to observe. I don’t just mean as amateur astronomers but to really see the world around us and the subtle aspects of nature that we can often be so blind to.

One book that teaches us to do this is “How to Use Your Eyes” by James Elkins. It contains wonderful essays not just on observing things as an artist does but also reading the story behind many objects we take for granted. A piece written by the author’s sister stands out for me. We are challenged to scoop up a handful of sand next time we are on a beach and really study the grains under a loupe. Hard to believe that some of those grains may be hundreds of millions of years old and once were part of a seam in rock thrust up during a mountain building epoch before being ground down over the aeons. Some of those motes may even have gone through a sequence of such events in Earth’s history.

That history has been violent for sure when we read the geological record. It’s easy to think more of the present though as we read about the ongoing rumbles of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which have led to severe disruption for many people. Yet volcanic activity is not just confined to Earth but has and continues to shape other worlds in the Solar System.

And that’s the topic of our next talk, “Alien Volcanoes, Alien Worlds.” We have pencilled in Thursday, May 20th in Gonzaga College at 8pm for our lecture. It’s the last talk before the summer break and we would be delighted to see you along. There will also be some books people might be interested in picking up for free as the trimming of the bookshelves continues!

See you all soon,



Most of the following information was taken from Mary Mulvihill’s Science@Culture Bulleting ( ) and Terry Moseley’s regular mails about all that is happening in the Irish astronomy and space scene.

Solarfest 2010

Michael O’Connell has sent details of Solarfest 2010, a one day event in Dunsink Observatory on Saturday, June 12th where amateur and professional astronomers from Ireland will speak about the Sun and observing our nearest star. Spaces are limited to 60 people so if you are interested in attending then please mail Michael directly at [email protected]

BBC2 Tuesdays at 9pm

A great 6-part series on the story and history of science is currently running on BBC2. Catch the 3rd episode tonight and read more about the series at

Communicating Science Conference

This will be held in Armagh Planetarium on Thursday, May 13th and more details can be found at

Irish Meteorological Society photo competition

The IMS will be running a photo competition until October 2010 and images on the theme of weather are invited to be submitted. Last year’s winner went on to scoop the European prize. More details at

Some events from Terry Moseley’s mailing list …

Public Lecture, St. Patrick’s Trian, Armagh, 8.00pm Thursday 13 May.

Martin Hendry (Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow): “Did We Really Land on the Moon?”

More than 40 years after Apollo 11 there are a surprising number of theories around — in books, documentary programmes and the internet — that Neil Armstrong’s famous “One small step” was an elaborate hoax, filmed in secret here on Earth. Conspiracy theorists point to a range of “evidence” to support their claim, including waving flags, strange shadows, no stars in the sky and deadly solar radiation. In this talk, using real Apollo video footage and a series of simple demonstrations, we will take a closer look at the science behind “moon hoax” claims, and ask whether we really did land on the Moon.

The public lecture is free of charge and open to all. To obtain a ticket, please contact Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel: 028-3752-2928; E-mail: [email protected].


Organized by the Armagh Visitor Education Committee (AVEC) at the Navan Centre, Killylea Road, Armagh, from 10:00am to 4.00pm on Wednesday 19th May.

This is the fifth heritage day organized by AVEC to promote the wealth of Armagh City and District’s cultural heritage.  This year the event, which will be opened by Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, Mayor of Armagh City and District, will trace the historical development of Armagh from pre-Christian times right up to the present day.

The principal speaker is Professor Jim Mallory (Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast), who will provide an introduction to Navan – Emain Mhacha – and the Celts.  Local speakers drawn from the membership of AVEC are Dr Greer Ramsey (Armagh County Museum), who will provide a view of Armagh through time using information and artefacts contained in the Armagh County Museum, and Professor Mark Bailey (Armagh Observatory) who will highlight how the results of modern astronomical research are providing a new framework for interpreting prehistory and Earth’s place in space.  There will also be guided tours of the Navan Centre and information and displays about the work of AVEC and its more than a dozen individual members, all of whom are working together to promote better cooperation, communication and partnership amongst the visitor attractions and education and lifelong learning institutions in the City of Armagh.

Admission to the event is free of charge and open to all. To obtain a ticket, please contact Mrs Aileen McKee, Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel: 028-3752-2928; E-mail: [email protected]. The full programme as well as further information about the AVEC institutions can be accessed from the AVEC website

Blackrock Castle Observatory Events:  First Fridays at the Castle, continues with a CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory open night this Friday May 7 which includes the Cork Science Café, Hubble anniversary image unveiling, workshops, lectures and stargazing events.

Contact: Clair McSweeney, Facilities Manager, Blackrock Castle Observatory, Blackrock, Cork. Tel: +353 21 4357917, Email: [email protected],  Web:

Blackrock Castle Observatory is Ireland’s official media and outreach representative for the European Southern Observatory, ESO, the most productive ground-based observatory in the world.

Space art competition for children

The European Space Agency has launched a monthly art competition series for children aged up to 14. There is a space-related theme each month and the winning entries will be featured on the ESA Kids website. Find out more at:

SDAS observing night this weekend and the Messier Marathon

hi all,

I hope you’ve been taking advantage of the wonderful run of clear skies to even just glance up at the star-strewn heavens these evenings. Mars continues to burn brightly near the Gemini-Cancer border while Saturn is nicely placed in the eastern sky later in the evening.

Three of us were down near Ashford on Tuesday night where conditions were superb for viewing both Mars and Saturn through telescopes and almost 50 deep-sky objects that covered the spectrum of star birth to star death.

The Orion Nebula is a well-known stellar nursery in the Hunter’s Sword where new suns are condensing from the gas clouds that wreath the constellation. It appears as a misty patch of light to the unaided eye while even binoculars will reveal some some of the brighter stars embedded in the nebula’s soft glow. Shift your gaze to Orion’s upper-right and you’ll see the Pleiades, a young star cluster of blue-white suns that formed in the same region of space. Over time, like any family, some will break the gravitational bonds that hold the group together and forge a different path around the Galaxy.

Pick yellowish Capella and you are seeing a middle-aged star (albeit larger than our Sun) whereas deeper-hued Betelgeuse in Orion’s left shoulder has moved into old age and become distended as it exhausts it’s nuclear fuel. Betelgeuse is huge and would extend as far as the orbit of Mars if dropped into the middle of our Solar System. A star this big will end it’s life in a cataclysmic supernova explosion; a prior example is the unique Crab Nebula (M1 in Messier’s catalog) which is the remnant of a supernova which was noted by Far Eastern observers in 1054 AD. M1 appear as a dim patch of light and easier to spot in even a small telescope. Our own Sun will not end it’s life as a supernova but will possibly form a planetary nebula, one example of which is the Eskimo Nebula in Gemini that we saw on Tuesday night.

All in all, the Winter and Spring skies offer a wonderful array of examples of all stages of stellar evolution.


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Messier Marathon

The IAS and SDAS will be holding a Messier Marathon on Friday 12th March and/or Saturday 13th.

There are two options where you can meet us.

Michael Murphy will meet people in Kilmacanoge at 8.30pm for a 9pm start. The plan is to go to the car park at the Sugarloaf but if this is not suitable we will go to our observing site in Ballyraemon. If you are interested please ring between 7pm and 8pm on the 12th to confirm the observing session is going ahead.

Ring John Flannery on if you plan to go direct to the Sugarloaf car park for 7pm to get set up by 7:30pm. Two difficult objects, M74 (in Pisces) and M77 (in Cetus) are getting quite low while there is lingering twilight — it means you only have a short window of opportunity to sweep up both galaxies.

Directions to the meeting point and Ballyraemon observing site are at

(click on SDAS meeting point and SDAS Ballyraemon)

Some “shallow sky” targets during the night include Venus, Mars and Saturn, Comet Wild 2, and the dwarf planets Ceres and Vesta.

Binoculars will let you snare many other non-Messier objects such as Cr 399 (the Coathanger), the Hyades, Cr 70 (the Belt of Orion), the Alpha Persei OB Association, Mel 111 (the Coma Berenices star cluster), NGC 6633 (a gem of a non-Messier open cluster in Ophiuchus) and the Double Cluster in Perseus and Stock 2 in the same low-power field.

The Sugarloaf car park is on the other side of the main Roundwood road.

More details on the Messier Marathon can be found at the following links …

Michael O’Connell’s Messier Observing Handbook is at (under the “Challenges” section) and (charts for 1-power
finders such as Telrads) (Jeremy Perez
observing all 110 objects in 15×70 binoculars) (software to determine the number of
M-objects visible from your location)

Toshimi Taki’s FREE magnitude 6 and magnitude 8.5 star atlases are at (listed under “Astronomy” in the left-hand side navigation pane on the page)

SDAS astronomy newsletter

Great to see so many people along to the meeting last night when Terry Moseley delivered a superb talk on pre-historic astronomy in Ireland. Terry kindly answered a number of questions on the subject afterwards and certainly bolstered the case that there is much we don’t know about how early peoples read the sky. A consequence of this is the great care necessary to avoid trying to mould theories to fit symbols and signs that adorn some megalithic monuments and stones.
Some web sites for people to explore the subject further are;
Many thanks Terry for such a wonderful lecture and taking the time to travel down from Belfast to speak to the joint Irish Astronomical Society and South Dublin Astronomical Society meeting.
More details to follow later about our next meeting in April (just have to check when Gonzaga is closed for the Easter break.)
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The skies look clear and the scopes are being polished up for the public star party tomorrow night (March 6th) in Wicklow that will be run by the IAS in conjunction with the staff at the Wicklow Mountains National Park …
Deirdre Kelleghan sends these additional details …
The Star Party will be held on Saturday, March 6th in the Wicklow Mountains National Park from 8pm – 10pm at the Upper Lake Car Park. Please ring the Park before 5pm on Saturday (0404) 45425 to check if the event is going ahead if the weather prospects don’t look too good.
Deirdre is giving a short talk at 7pm on the Cassini Mission to Saturn and Titan at the education centre which is close to the Upper Lake car park. The talk is part of the Saturn Observation Campaign with educational material provided by the award winning Cassini Outreach department at JPL/NASA.
Deirdre, an accomplished artist, recently featured on RTE’s Nationwide show talking about her paintings and sketches of the sky. You can find the piece on RTE’s website at … (click “Artist Sketches Moon” link within.)
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Thanks to Michael Grehan for details of a new 5-part BBC 2 series on the Solar System starting this weekend. “Wonders of the Solar System” will be presented by Brian Cox and the first episode is on Sunday, March 7th at 9pm. More details at
If someone could put the episode on DVD for me I’d be very grateful because our BBC 2 reception is terrible! Many thanks in advance!
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It’s Marathon time!
The Messier Marathon that is. If you have even just a passing interest in astronomy you’ve surely heard some deep-sky objects (galaxies, nebulae and clusters) referred to by their “M” number. These designations come from a catalog drawn up by French astronomer Charles Messier (1730-1817) who charted faint fuzzies so he wouldn’t confuse nebulae with the comets he was more interested in hunting. Ironically, we remember Messier more for his catalog than his comets! Without a doubt, Messier’s catalog is a list of the sky’s celestial showpieces such as the Orion nebula (M42), the Andromeda galaxy (M31) and the giant globular cluster in Hercules (M13). Because Messier was observing from Paris he couldn’t see some far-southern sky highlights such as the globular cluster omega Centauri which surely would have been an addition to his famous list too.
Back in the mid-1980s, while still a young lad, some amateur astronomers in Europe and the US independently discovered there was a window of opportunity from early-March to early-April each year when ALL the objects in Messier’s catalog could be seen in a SINGLE night. The catalog consists of 110 objects that can be seen in large binoculars or a small telescope. And so, the Messier Marathon was born.
The Marathon designation is apt because observing runs from dusk to dawn if you want to snare all the M-objects. Not all 110 are visible from Ireland at this time unfortunately because some are swamped by the brightening sky near dawn. About 106 to 107 should be possible on a Moon-less night. New Moon (not “Full Moon” as I stated last night!) is on March 15th this year and we are planning a Marathon on the weekend of March 12th or 13th, depending on the sky conditions. Michael Murphy pointed out that March 16th is another possible Marathon night because of St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th, when we can all have a lie in.
Drop me a line if you are interested in tagging along on Marathon night. A supplemental list I dub the “Springtime Sixty” is suitable for observers that may wish to take an alternative to the sprint required at different stages of Marathon night when time could be lost trying to identify the members of the Virgo galaxy cluster. A further “wall” is hit in the early hours when the numerous deep-sky objects of the Summer constellations appear.
More details on the Messier Marathon can be found at the following links … (charts for 1-power finders such as Telrads) (Jeremy Perez observing all 110 objects in 15×70 binoculars) (software to determine the number of M-objects visible from your location)
… on your marks …
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I forgot to say in the last mail what night the Dublin City FM astronomy show is on. It’s broadcast on Tuesday nights so do try and tune in to a weekly helping of local astronomy.
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Jack Horkheimer in the US produces a weekly 5-minute astronomy programme that can be viewed on YouTube or downloaded from his web site at
The show really is a slick production, is very informative and bang up to date. Jack has a friendly style and has been hosting the show since the 1970s. The downloads are about 25Mb to 30Mb in size but are well worth a look.
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RTE broadcast a series called Icons of Irish Science back in 2008. Podcasts of each episode can be downloaded from
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The RDS is running a science writing competition for students aged 12 to 19 and the closing date is Friday, April 23rd. More details at
* * * *
Friday, April 23rd is also the day Special Olympics Ireland will be running their National Collection Day and they are looking for volunteers to help shake a bucket at one of nearly 100 collection points around the Dublin and Greater Dublin area. Drop me a line or give me a call on 086-8181931 if you would like to help out or you can contact SOI directly with the details on their web site at
* * * * *
Discover Science & Engineering will be hosting the Science Zone at the St Patrick’s Festival “Big Day Out” on Sunday, 14 March in Merrion Square, Dublin. More details at
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Enjoy the weekend everyone,

Next Lecture & News

hi all,

Hope everyone is well and enjoying the nice start to the Spring.

Our next meeting is this Thursday, March 4th at 8pm in Gonzaga College, Ranelagh and is a joint lecture with the Irish Astronomical Society ( ) Terry Moseley, our featured speaker, is well known to many of us as one of the top amateur astronomers in Ireland and will travel from Belfast to talk about ancient astronomy. We hope to see you along on the evening and admission is free.

* * * * *

While browsing the notes for March in the 2003 edition of Guy Ottwell’s indispensable “Astronomical Calendar” some time ago I came across a suggestion that the saying “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb” may relate to Aries (the Ram) setting during the late evening at this time of year while Leo, the Lion, approaches the meridian.

It’s an interesting observation but the true quote, author unknown, runs;

The March wind roars
Like a lion in the sky,
And makes us shiver
As he passes by.
When winds are soft,
And the days are warm and clear,
Just like a gentle lamb,
Then spring is here.

As amateur astronomers we should be privileged to be so in tune with the world around us. Our hobby makes us wonderfully aware of not just all things astronomical but aware of nature in general. There is a wonderful and rich seam of lore about the sky that many of us should mine, if only to enhance our adventures in astronomy.

The classic book on the subject is Richard Inwards “Weather Lore”, first published in 1893, though the edition I have was reprinted in 1994 by Senate.

Another lovely little tome worth adding to your bookshelf is “Weather Wisdom” by Albert Lee and published by Congdon & Weed, Inc. while “It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes” (Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff) is a book packed with information for naturalists and sky watchers. Reader’s Digest recently published “The Essential Book of Weather Lore” by Leslie Horvitz which is another nice introduction to the subject of reading weather signs.

Finally, “Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind” by Lyall Watson and “An Ocean of Air” by Gabrielle Walker are both rewarding insights into the blanket of air that wraps our planet.

* * * * *

The International Space Station is currently making a series of evening passes and predictions can be generated for your location through the web site (the following link is set to Terenure village … )

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The Irish Astronomical Society has organised a series of public observing nights during March. The first is in the Wicklow Mountains National Park on March 6th, while the rest are at Sandymount Martello Tower on March 19th and Bray sea front on March 20th. All will be held between 8pm and 10pm. More details are at

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Tune in to Dublin City FM between 8pm and 8:30pm (on 103.2FM) when Ben Emmett, John Dickson and Christy Creely present a half-hour programme on astronomy. The show contains interviews, news and notes on what’s up in the skies. More details at

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I recently came across which is run by DIT Kevin Street lecturer Paul Doyle. The site features the latest astronomy news and lots of useful information on the hobby. Do drop by and sign up to Paul’s Facebook page for the site too.

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I’ve finally got around to organising the mailing list properly and setting up a phone group to text people about meetings, etc. If you don’t get a text from me by Thursday evening then drop me a line if you would like to be added to the phone group.

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