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The only piece of the Moon in
Cosmos 2006 reviewed
Where the computer came
Planets in strange places
TAS and Irish Astronomers view
eclipse from Turkey
Plus your bi-monthly guide to what’s
on in the sky!
Reviews, Events And Lectures –
Tullamore Astronomy
Publication of the Tullamore
Astronomical Society
The Midlands only Astronomical
Volume 8: Issue 2 – May/June 2006
Price: €5.25
It is time for change
– for the better!
E d i t o r i a l
Summer is now here, and unfortunately, so
does the opportunity of astronomical
observing. Sounds funny, you might say, as
it means the nights are not so cold and you
don’t have to consider that itchy lambs wool
sweater to keep you warm outdoors. But, we
loose some dark sky opportunities. Also, you
have to wait much longer to take the telescope outside. There seems to be
more negatives than positives, I thought, regarding summertime observing.
But then I also thought, there are some things that make up for it. Only
during the summer can we see noctilucent clouds (see the June/July 2005
issue of Réalta), a chance for the zodiacal light, and the Perseids meteor
showers. Kids don’t have to worry about homework on weeknights either.
So, maybe it balances out – TAS can have more comfortable observing
nights. Well, wait and see.
Cosmos, Irelands second longest running star party took place
without glitches for the most part. Numbers were down slightly due to the
timing of the eclipse trip, Easter, and bank holiday weekends. The speakers,
and their topics, were of an exceptional standard this year, and very varied.
Our two overseas speakers, Neill Bone and Massimo Teodorani have
expressed thanks to the hospitality extended to them from their new Irish
friends! Some pictures from the weekend are in this issue.
Fundraising – a word that sometimes make people cringe. To raise
money, voluntarily, for an organisation that still charges you an admission
fee. Any club or society needs funding, and sometimes membership fees are
not enough. To me, it is amazing just how popular astronomy, as a science
subject, has become. Yet, everywhere any astronomy club turns towards to
find out about funding, be it from a science group, educational body, or even
local councils, there is nothing. The National Lottery is another option, but
the body seeking funds still needs to come up with money themselves.
This is why TAS is brainstorming ideas to come up with easy ways
to raise funds. When they happen, it will need volunteers. Think you can
help? Either with a suggestion, or joining to help out in person, why not get
in touch? TAS, like many other astronomy clubs in Ireland, are completely
voluntary, and are not like the commercially minded Astronomy Ireland and
so on.
To that end I also draw your attention t IFAS, the only official
home on the web of where like-minded astronomers, either in clubs or not,
come together to share information. Its home can be found at Recently, a new initiative was introduced – the
monthly IFAS Astrophotography Competition. Each month, a different
theme is set, and submissions are welcome from browsers. As yet, there is
no prize, but if you log on, you can see some fantastic images taken by
astronomers in Ireland.
At this point, as editor, I also have to apologise for this issue. You
see, we get busy now and again, and that means the late arrival of some
things! On top of that, holding off till the last minute, I could not get a
Skynotes section included. Our provider, John Flannery was just swamped
with work commitments, so it had to be scrubbed! I also did not have time,
for various reasons.
Still, I hope the lack of these do not take away from the rest of
what is included. There are, again, some fine articles in this issue, and all the
latest news too.
Magazine of Tullamore Astronomical
Volume 8, Issue 2 – May/June 2006
This magazine is owned by Tullamore Astronomical
Society, and maintained as a hobby by its members.
Any opinions expressed by the editor and/or
contributing editors through submissions and
articles, are not those of the Society. Where possible,
all sound confirmed sources of information
contained in this magazine is stated.
Seanie Morris
Patrick L. Barry, Trudy E. Bell, John Flannery,
Deirdre Kelleghan, Girvan McKay, Michael
O’Connell, Tony Phillips, Ciaran O’Reilly.
Printed by:
Aungier Print Ltd, Sackville Place, Sackvile
Street, Dublin 1. Tel: 01 8788406/7
These are always being sought from anyone, as
variety is good. If you think you would like to
submit anything for readers of Réalta, simply e-mail
it to the Society at the above e-mail address, or send
it on disc. Hand written articles are, of course,
accepted, but cannot be guaranteed inclusion in the
issue following submission due to time constraints.
Réalta is available at a discount price to subscribed
members of the Society. It is also available at full
cover price to non-members, either at meetings or on
sale in nominated local shops.
Back Issues:
Certain numbers of back issues are available at €2
each, subject to availability. To find out, get in touch
via [email protected] They will
be sent out upon receipt of a stamped addressed
envelope (.96 cents) for each copy requested).
All submitted articles are copyrighted to the author
and/or its source. Copying of any content is Réalta is
allowed, as long as this source is acknowledged.
Réalta is Copyright © 1997 to 2006
Tullamore Astronomical Society
So, without further ado, I’ll let you engross yourself!
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
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S o c i e t y
Astronomy Club, we have a car park!
t last, after years of trying but coming up against time constraints, budget constraints, and
volunteer constraints, TAS has now finished its car park to accompany the Observatory at the Site. Now,
cars can park in comfort without bouncing all over the knobbly grass and get stuck in soft patches. Over 60
tonnes of pit face gravel was purchased and delivered, and on Saturday March 11th, the work commenced.
During a rainy day, all manners of tasks were done to improve both the look and safety of the Site. Many
thanks to volunteers on the day: Frank Concannon, Darren Dempsey, Denise Matthews, Roger Matthews,
Seanie Morris, Denise Murphy, and Michael O’Connell.
Seanie, and
Denise take a
small break. Its
tough work
moving rocks you
Getting stuck
in. Frank
the digger for the
morning – I think
he really enjoyed
The finishing touches – at least it is
safe to drive over. The finished product is
seen in the top-left thumbnail with Denise
& Denise keeping eye over it!
Roger taking care of some site
maintenance. The hedges were trimmed
back, and drainage cuts were put in
place along the lane behind him.
Darren Dempsey
manages the filling
around the Observatory
exterior. This was to
help curb the growth of
weeds and moss up the
Watch Out!
Michael gets used to
driving a 3 tonne
digger! I wonder where
he bought his licence
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
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S o c i e t y
Looking back on Cosmos 2006
By Seanie Morris, Tullamore A.S.
This year was probably going to be one
of the toughest years of hosting Cosmos.
Caught between the IFAS Turkey Eclipse
Trip, Easter, and a string of Bank Holiday
weekends, there was bound to be a
shortfall. Still, even if numbers were down
a little, it did not take away from the
atmosphere of the weekend for Ireland’s
only Spring Star Party!
Cosmos 2006 opened up luckily
enough with clear skies for visitors from
far and wide, on Friday night enabling
them to observe the wonders of the
Before that however, exhibits
and displays were opened up, including
one photo montage of the recent IFAS
Turkish Solar Eclipse trip. Michael
O'Connell, from TAS, gave the opening
talk on how he was able to build his own
backyard observatory. With only a handful
in private or public ownership in Ireland,
he made it look easy how to convert a
garden shed.
Later that night, around 20
people stayed out until the small hours of
the morning with telescopes and binoculars
of varying degrees of power. Fragments of
Comet Wachmann-Schwassman 3 were
easily seen. This comet will reach naked
eye visibility in less than 2 weeks time.
Saturday morning had the
'official' welcoming address by TAS
Chairperson, Frank Concannon. Speakers
on the day included Catherine Ansbro,
questioning our apparent inability to break
from the norm when it comes to
questioning our mainstream thought on
science and how we perceive the Universe
around us.
Massimo Teodorani enlightened
the crowd with his recent SETI
observations, including evidence he
captured in Norway purporting to be of an
extraterrestrial nature.
Neil Bone from Astronomy Now
magazine explored one of his favourite
topics, The Northern Lights, or aurora, and
how, when, and why they form. He
included some stunning photography of
recent aurorae from around Britain and
Ireland captured in recent years.
To round up Saturday's activities
before the Cosmic Dinner that night was a
fun and free-for-all Table Quiz.
Quizmaster Seanie Morris had something
for everybody, and not just the astronerds!
Unfortunately weather was poor that night,
so the troupe had to settle for indoor
Sunday opened with the General
Meeting of the Irish Federation of
Astronomical Societies. Details of this can
be found on,
Irelands largest gathering of amateur
astronomers. Later, Ash McFadden from
Inishowen Planetarium demonstrated both
with, and through his presentation, how
fun science can be when presented in the
right manner to kids. This included the
annual Egg Lofting Rocket Competition
Friday nights observing session. Many people stayed for this, with an
array of telescopes and binoculars from Shane Culleton’s superb pair of
Apogee 20 X 100’s, to TAS’s new 12 inch Dobsonian ‘Revelation’ reflector.
Seanie Morris is seen here standing next to it.
held in Inishowen. TAS has been invited
as a group this summer to go up and
partake in a rocket race of its own!
After lunch, Anthony Murphy
from Drogheda, and curator of Mythical
Ireland, talked about how new levels of socalled 'passage tombs' in the Boyne Valley
were accurate in their time keeping
according to the positioning of the stars,
that even over 5,000 years ago were
exceptionally accurate in both design and
Unfortunately, like most good
things, Cosmos 2006 had to come to a
close. A raffle for some great prizes
wrapped up the events of the weekend,
which still claims its spot as Irelands most
looked forward to astronomy event of
recent times.
TAS would like to thank the
generous support of Byrnes World of
Electronics, the Order of Malta,
Century 3000, the staff at Annaharvey
Equestrian Farm, and to TAS's dedicated
team of members that made sure a glitchfree and warm-welcomed event was had
by all, especially Secretary Seanie Morris,
and Treasurers Deirdre Campbell and
Denise Matthews for their unwavering
Cosmos 2007 has been pencilled
in for the weekend of March 9th to 11th,
when once again, Tullamore will be at the
Centre of the Universe!
Visitors get a chance to talk to Ash McFadden (far right)
– probably about the best way to blow up your neighbours
100 watt security light! John O’Neill of the IAS is caught
peeking at the camera.
Photos used here are courtesy of Michael O’Connell
and Seanie Morris.
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
T h e
Winners of the Table Quiz (l-r) Leo Daly, Mark Daly, Dave
Lillis, John Flannery, and Pat O’Neill. Seanie Morris is presenting
the trophies.
S o c i e t y
Massimo Teodorani, SETI Researcher from Italy, about to
present some theories and possible proof relating to space-faring
visitations, based out of Norway.
White, IFAS
Terry Moseley
(and in absentia
David Bell) with
a crystal laserengraved token
of appreciation
for organising
the Turkey
Eclipse Trip this
Deirdre Kelleghan (IAS) and Michael
O’Connell (TAS Vice-Chairperson)
TAS Treasurer Denise
Matthews (at back) with her
predecessor Deirdre Campbell,
maintained unwavering attention
at the admissions desk.
Frank Concannon, TAS
Chairperson, acted as MC for the
Enjoying a hearty Irish breakfast! (l-r) Massimo Teodorani,
Catherine Ansbro, Eamonn Ansbro, Neil Bone, and Ash
Dave MacDonald, Eamonn Ansbro, and Catherine Ansbro,
enjoying some timeout.
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
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S o c i e t y
The day Turkey went dark
March 29
saw the Total Solar Eclipse across about 3% of the Earths surface. Totality included a path cut
through eastern Brazil (for only a couple of miles at sunrise), the mid-Atlantic, North Africa, Turkey, southern
Russia, and western Mongolia. A group of 140 astronomers and friends from around Ireland, under the banner of
IFAS, headed to Turkey for a one week stay that included 7 nights in a five star beachside hotel, and some
fantastic scenery in the surroundings of Antalya, in Turkey’s Mediterranean Riviera.
Here are some pictures by some of those that made the trip. Needless to say, the experience of 3 minutes and 41
seconds of night time at 13:55hours in the afternoon, was breathtaking! Many thanks to David Bell and Terry
Moseley for organising the trip.
some practice
before the big
day. Solar
observing with
the telescopes
on Tuesday. A
string of
sunspots had
just come into
view this day,
right on time for
display on
Deirdre Kelleghan from Bray captured maximum
partial totality from Ireland with her digital camera and
filter applied.
Dave MacDonald from
Kildare A.S. captured this image
of 3 contact, also known as the
Diamond Ring, just as the Moon
was leaving totality.
Members of Tullamore A.S
that made the trip: (l-r) Seanie
Morris, Deirdre Campbell,
Michael O’Connell, Denise
Murphy, Paul Fitzgerald, and
Catherine O’Connor.
The beautiful corona, seen from the
Greek island of Kastelorizo, by Anthony
Ayiomamitis. The magnetic field lines and
swirls are clearly visible. This is one of the
most beautiful pictures of the corona seen.
Dave Lillis from Shannonside
A.C. created this montage of a
sequence of images he captured as
the Diamond Ring came into view.
The bottom 3 are seen with the filter
Miniature crescents seen through
the holes of a colander John Flannery
brought with him. This demonstrates
the ‘pinhole effect’.
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
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S o c i e t y
Letters to the Editor
Have your comment or suggestion heard – e-mail [email protected]
Massimo Teodorani, Italy
Subject: Thank you for Cosmos 2006!
Thu, 27 April
Thanks again!
Dear Seanie,
Reply: It sounds like fun Ash! It won’t be the first time TAS was host
to a rocket launch. At Astrofest ’95, two engineers test-fired a rocket
at our Site. It was in an attempt to get the first real Irish rocket
launched, with experiments, at the time. I don’t know what became of
it unfortunately.
We are thinking of perhaps doing something in conjunctio with our
Perseids Star-B-Q in August. A lot of people look forward to that
down here, so it could be a runner. We’ll keep in touch about it.
I had a really pleasant stay with you all. A breath of fresh air,
intellectually and also from the friendly point of view. And accurate
Many Thanks to you all from me too!
Reply: Massimo, it was a pleasure. Your talk was source for some
great debates, both good and bad, sparking a lot of interest, which is
a good thing. We hope your stay with us was a memorable one.
Albert White
Sun, 23 April
Subject: Archaeoastronomy
Hi folks,
Catherine Ansbro
Wed, 26 April
Subject: Thank you for Cosmos 2006!
Dear Seanie,
Many thanks for your hospitality and for ensuring everything went
smoothly. Both Massimo and I were very pleased with the whole
event. I'm glad it got people thinking. That was our goal.
You have a great thing going out there in Tullamore. Keep up the
outstanding work.
Best wishes,
Reply: Again Catherine, it was our pleasure to have you over. Your
talk was an eye-opener.
Anthony Murphy's talk today was interesting. However as
several questions made clear, there is no evidence for many the
claims that he makes. The Cygnus enigma for example seems to
assume that the builders of Neolithic Ireland saw the constellation of
Cygnus as a swan, yet there is no evidence to support this. Even if
there was documented evidence that it was the constellation of the
swan to the Neolithic people, we still cannot go from there to
conclude that any passage grave was build based on the position of
Deneb. Just because we can find an alignment doesn't mean that the
builders built their structure based on it. This is a major challenge for
Archaeoastronomy; it is always possible to find some astronomical
event or alignment that fits the evidence!
To compliment Anthony's hard work in investigating the
folklore and local geography, perhaps Tullamore Astronomical
Society might like to invite Clive Ruggles to speak at a future
COSMOS? Clive is Professor of Archaeoastronomy University of
Leicester, and the author of 'Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and
Ireland'. This is a 'must-read' book for anyone interested in the
scientific study of ancient structures.
Clear Skies,
Ash McFadden
Wed, 26 April
Subject: Thank You!
Dear Seanie,
A big THANK YOU to yourself and all the Tullamore astronomical
people for putting on a grand Cosmos 2006! I really enjoyed being
And now some possible good news. I talked to the folks at
the Department of Justice, Explosives Division, and they'd have no
objection to folks in your locale building and flying model rockets
there, as long as you coordinated with your Fire Marshal and the
Gardaí Siochana and had me there as Range Safety Officer when you
flew. Wanna make some noise?
Reply: Thanks for the tip Albert. We are on the lookout for speakers
for next year. However, having to consecutive years where a similarthemed talk was presented? I don’t know how that would go down.
But, we have the details, and I don’t see why not in the next year or 2.
Terry Moseley
Tue, 25 April
Subject: Thanks!
Hi all,
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
T h e
I want to say a very sincere 'Thank You' to IFAS for the
lovely present and 'photo-certificate' given to me at COSMOS for
helping to organise the eclipse trip to Turkey. There was of course
one of each for David Bell too, and since David wasn't there, I have
got his to give to him.
For those of you not 'in the know' it consisted of a clear
crystal cube inside which was 'engraved' by laser an exact miniature
reproduction of the Milky Way Galaxy, complete with its encircling
retinue of globular clusters. So I can study the galaxy even on cloudy
nights, albeit with a magnifying glass rather than a telescope! David,
with his interest in Cosmology, got a similar one, but showing the "2Degree Field" distant galaxy redshift survey.
The 'certificate' is a beautiful A4 colour 'poster' with a
sequence of three magnificent eclipse photos; one showing the
Second Contact Diamond Ring, one of totality, and one of the
prominences and the very start of the Diamond Ring at Third
Contact. They are set over a beautiful shot of the ancient Roman site
at Perge, which we visited. Photos were by Dave Lillis and Al White
- thanks guys, they are excellent! The captions read "Thank you Terry
S o c i e t y
(David). From everyone on the IFAS trip to the March 29th 2006
Total Solar Eclipse Trip in Turkey".
This was of course a complete surprise, and congratulations
to everyone for keeping it secret so well. I therefore had no speech
ready, so I hope I expressed my thanks adequately at the time.
But I probably didn't, so I'll try to do here. I know that
David and I both put a lot of work into making that event the success
it was, but it was worth it! And all of you that went on the trip
deserved nothing less than our best efforts, so of course we were
going to do our best for you. And, critically, it was clear on the day!
So all the work that went into selecting the
site(s) etc was worthwhile! Anyway, someone else can have a go at
my role for the next trip! You'll be glad to know that at the IFAS
meeting at COSMOS, it was agreed that a small 'working party'
would look at the options for the eclipse in Russia on 1/8/2008 (and
maybe, as an alternative, the one on 22 July 2009 in China)
Thanks again - I'm sure I can say that's from both of us.
Society News
Admission is now €2 per person. Refreshments will also be available
each night.
Next TAS Meetings
TAS will be keeping up a summer programme of lectures over the
summer months, albeit the first Tuesday. The following dates are
pencilled in:
New members are always welcome. If you are a late-comer to the
club, outstanding memberships are:
May 2
May 16
String Theory
Astronomy For Dummies,
the 2
May 30
Telescope Night
June 6
Our Sun and Stars
July 4
August 8
August 12
Máire McKay, TAS
TAS Members
Michael O’Connell,
Speaker TBC
Comets and Meteors – Are
they related?
Seanie Morris, TAS
Soon, the library cabinet will be in safe storage in the Presbyterian
Hall, and book will be made freely available to members. Frank
Concannon is the man to talk to.
Seanie Morris, TAS
Official Committee Positions
Perseids Star-B-Q
If you think you would like to give a talk, on any kind of
astronomical interest you like, then please get in touch! Some
new faces have given a talk in the past year, and it is always
nice to see more. Get in touch with any committee member
(see the website, or talk to them at meetings) if you need a
little help!
Change of Meetings Venue
Recently, TAS had to vacate the Order of Malta Training Room for
its meetings, due to their own change in venue! TAS now holds it
public meetings in the Presbyterian Hall, to the rear of the
Presbyterian Church, at the top of High Street, in Tullamore.
Single: €15 (€25 with Réalta Subscription)
Family: €25 (€35 with Réalta Subscription)
As was reported in the last issue, the AGM was held on January 24th,
with the election of committee executives, but not the actual filling of
places. At a recent committee meeting, the following was organised:
IFAS Reps:
Réalta Editor:
Frank Concannon
Michael O’Connell
Seanie Morris
Denise Matthews
Denise Murphy, Darren Dempsey, Deirdre
Seanie Morris & Michael O’Connell
Frank Concannon
Seanie Morris
Seanie Morris
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
T h e
N e w s
NEWS UPDATEFrom Around The Universe
Jupiter’s new Red Sot Junior z Impactor to search for lunar water z Venus
Express at, well, Venus z Green black holes? z Hubble sizes up 10th planet
z Shuttle tank mated with boosters, closer to launch z Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter starts work z Poetic snap of Titan with rings z
Hubble Zooms In on Jupiter's New Red Spot
April, two teams of astronomers
using the Hubble Space Telescope
obtained our sharpest views of Jupiter's
long-lasting, Earth-size storm: "Red
Spot Junior” (RSJ). Also known as Oval
BA, in February the storm stunned
observers by suddenly and mysteriously
changing colour from white to orange-red.
The oval is now nearly identical in hue to
the planet's famous Great Red Spot (GRS).
The first team used the highresolution channel of Hubble's Advanced
Camera for Surveys (ACS) to capture RSJ
in near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light on
April 8th. The second group observed with
the ACS's high-resolution and wide-field
channels at visible and near-infrared
wavelengths on April 16th, 24th, and 25th.
The Hubble images, nearly as
detailed as those obtained during the
Voyager flybys in 1979, show swirling
cloud formations within and around the
new spot, including the storm's light
"collar," which is currently quite
prominent in RSJ but darker around the
Many compounds of sulphur,
phosphorus, hydrogen, and carbon have
been postulated over the years that would
account for the Great Red Spot's
coloration, but these are usually ruled out
based on spectral observations - they are
either the wrong colour or are produced
under the wrong conditions.
One of the most popular theories
is that phosphine, PH3, a colourless,
flammable, poisonous gas, is being
dredged up by the storms from deep in the
Jovian atmosphere to high altitudes where
it is broken down by ultraviolet photons
from the Sun. Subsequent chemical
reactions eventually lead to the formation
of red phosphorus, P4. "Unfortunately, P4
generally seems to be the wrong shade of
red!" says Simon-Miller.
RSJ. lies in the South Temperate
Belt, following behind the GRS by
approximately an hour of Jupiter's rotation.
They should pass each other sometime this
July. The upstart spot formed in 1998–
2000, when three smaller white ovals known as BC, DE, and FA - collided and
merged to form Oval BA. A similar
merger centuries ago may have given birth
to the Great Red Spot, which is roughly
twice as large as RSJ.
The reddening of RSJ could
indicate that the storm is intensifying,
though its diameter has so far remained
largely unchanged. Measurements by
Simon-Miller of her team's HST image
give a long-axis dimension of 13,480 km
for Oval BA and 20,740 km for the Great
Red Spot. It's anyone's guess how long
RSJ will remain red and whether it will
grow or shrink in the coming months.
As Red Spot Junior drifts slowly
eastward and the Great Red Spot
westward, the two are expected to pass
each other in longitude in early July.
According to amateur astronomers, July
10th may be the best date right now.
However, since the spots do not move in a
completely linear fashion, this date may be
off by several days.
Crescent Titan with rings
This poetic scene shows the giant, smog-enshrouded moon Titan behind Saturn's nearly
edge-on rings. Much smaller Epimetheus (116 kilometres, or 72 miles across) is just visible
to the left of Titan (5,150 kilometres, or 3,200 miles across).
The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle
camera at a distance of approximately 4.1 million kilometres (2.5 million miles) from Titan.
The image scale is 25 kilometres (16 miles) per pixel on Titan. The brightness of Epimetheus
was enhanced for visibility.
I n
T h e
N e w s
Black Holes - are actually green?
A new study finds that the supermassive
black holes at the hearts of some
galaxies are the most fuel-efficient
engines in the universe. The finding,
made using NASA’s Chandra X-ray
Observatory and announced in a media
teleconference today, is giving scientists
insights into how supermassive black holes
generate energy and how they affect the
galaxies where they make their homes.
Black holes are regions of space where
gravity is so strong that matter and light
can't escape once they pass the event
horizon, a spherical boundary surrounding
the black hole.
However, inflowing matter that
hasn't yet passed this point of no return
can—through friction and interaction with
the black hole's strong magnetic field—
release energy in the form of either diffuse
light or focused jets of energy. Once gas
comes within a distance about a million
times larger than the event horizon of the
black hole, it becomes gravitationally
captured. At this point the gas becomes
fuel for the black hole engine.
The new study looked at nine
supermassive black holes at the centres of
elliptical galaxies; each one was about a
billion times more massive than our Sun.
The black holes were relatively old and
generated much less energy than the
fiercely luminous and rapidly growing
supermassive black holes known as
“quasars." The researchers found that these
"quiet" black holes released about 1,000
times more energy as jets than as light. The
reasons for this are still unclear. How these
black holes selectively put that much
energy into the jets without producing
much light.
Most of the energy in the jets is
being emitted as radio waves, but in at
least one of the black holes studied, the
energy was in the form of more energetic
X-rays. As they race outwards from their
parent black holes at nearly light speed, the
jets carve out enormous cavities, or
"bubbles," in the surrounding gas
environment; some of these bubbles can be
tens of thousands of light years across.
Bubbles can also form in the aftermath of
stellar explosions called supernovas; our
own solar system is enveloped by such a
structure, called the "Local Bubble," which
was formed during an explosion long ago.
The researchers used these
bubbles to figure out the fuel efficiency of
the black holes. Using Chandra images,
they first calculated how much fuel in the
form of gas was available to each black
hole. They then estimated the power
required to produce the bubbles that were
implications for other types of black holes
as well, including much smaller, stellarmass black holes, the researchers say. We
already knew that powerful quasars are
very efficient at making light. Now we
know that black holes in elliptical galaxies
are efficient as well. This suggests that
being green is a trait that all black holes
may have in common.
supermassive black holes are green in
another way, too. The energy that each
black hole emits as jets warms the
surrounding environment. This prevents
gas from cooling and coalescing into
billons of new stars and places an upper
limit on how large a galaxy can grow. In
an environmental sense, the black holes are
actually preventing galactic sprawl from
taking over the neighbourhood.
Mars cameras debut as MRO
adjusts orbit
The Mars Colour Imager test view looks northward and includes the large Argyre Basin in Mars' southern
hemisphere. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL/MSSS
today released the first
Mars images from two of the three
science cameras on NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter. Images taken by
the orbiter's Context Camera and Mars
Colour Imager during the first tests of
those instruments at Mars confirm the
performance capability of the cameras.
The test images were taken from nearly 10
times as far from the planet as the
spacecraft will be once it finishes
reshaping its orbit. Test images from the
third camera of the science payload were
released previously.
The cameras took the test images
two weeks after the orbiter's March 10th
arrival at Mars, and before the start of
"aerobraking," a process of reshaping the
orbit by using controlled contact with
spacecraft is dipping into Mars' upper
atmosphere as it approaches the altitude
range that it will use for shrinking its orbit
gradually over the next six months. The
orbiter is currently flying in very elongated
loops around Mars. Each circuit lasts about
35 hours and takes the spacecraft about
27,000 miles (43,000 km) away from the
planet before swinging back in close.
After hundreds of passes through
the upper atmosphere, the drag will
gradually reduce the far point of the orbit
until the spacecraft is in a nearly circular
orbit every two hours. After the spacecraft
gets into the proper orbit for its primary
science phase, the six science instruments
on board will begin their systematic
examination of Mars. The Mars Colour
Imager will view the planet's entire
atmosphere and surface every day to
monitor changes in clouds, wind-blown
dust, polar caps and other variable
Images from the Context Camera will have
a resolution of 20 feet (6 meters) per pixel,
allowing surface features as small as a
basketball court to be discerned. The
images will cover swaths 18.6 miles (30
km) wide. The Context Camera will show
how smaller areas examined by the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment
Camera - which will have the best
resolution ever achieved from Mars orbit and by the mineral-identifying Compact
Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer fit
into the broader landscape. It will also
allow scientists to watch for small-scale
changes, such as newly cut gullies, in the
broader coverage area.
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
I n
T h e
Shuttle Fuel Tank to
Meet Boosters for
NASA's STS-121 Flight
NASA aims to start connecting a redesigned external tank and
two rocket boosters while managers consider data that shows
extra safety modifications might be needed before the agency's
next shuttle flight. But any additional work on the tank, if required,
can be completed in time to launch Discovery on NASA's second
post-Columbia test flight in early July, agency officials say.
NASA took a big step toward launch on April 24th as crane
operators hoisted the 154-foot-long tank off a transporter in the
Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. After carefully
lifting the tank into a vertical position, the technicians were ready to
ease it between two 149-foot solid rocket boosters already stacked on
a mobile launcher platform. Mechanical connections were scheduled
shortly after, and electrical connections to follow over the next 17
days. The mating operation is a critical milestone to launch in early
July. The orbiter Discovery remains scheduled to move May 12 from
its hangar to the assembly building, where it will be connected to the
tank and its attached boosters.
But first, NASA managers must decide whether to modify
foot-long segments of foam insulation designed to prevent ice from
building on metal brackets that hold fuel pressurization lines on the
outside of the tank. Some managers propose to reshape the "ice-frost
ramps" to reduce the amount of foam that could be shed from them
during flight. Wind tunnel test results have been mixed.
In one series of tests, foam broke free from a reshaped icefrost ramp on a mock-up at the Air Force's Arnold Engineering
Development Center near Tullahoma, Tennessee. Insulation also was
lost during separate tests of ice-frost ramps identical in design to
those on the tank being readied for Discovery's flight. But the
amounts were considered within allowable limits - that is, not large
enough to cause catastrophic damage. Slight modifications
subsequently were made to the reshaped ice-frost ramps, and more
tests were run. The results in those cases were encouraging.
The tests are part of an effort to eliminate sources of foam
debris large enough to down an orbiter. The 2003 Columbia accident
was blamed on foam debris, and a large piece of insulation nearly
struck Discovery after launch in July. The Discovery debris came
from a 38-foot foam ramp (11-meter) that served as a windshield for
fuel pressurization lines and electrical cabling on the outside of the
tank. Wind tunnel tests are being conducted to make sure the shuttle
can be flown safely without it.
Engineers remain concerned that ice-frost ramps such as
those on Discovery's tank might be susceptible to internal cracking
when supercold propellants are loaded into it. Such defects could
weaken the ramps and make it more likely they could pop off in
flight. Any extra work on Discovery's tank likely would be done in
the assembly building between May 2 and May 9.
Discovery still is scheduled to move out to its launch pad
May 19th. A fuel-loading test is tentatively scheduled for June 1st, but
managers still haven't decided whether to conduct it. The test would
enable engineers to see whether replacements for suspect fueldepletion sensors in the tank work properly. It also would subject the
tank's foam insulation to super-cold temperatures that could cause
internal cracks.
N e w s
A decision on whether to proceed with the test is expected
in early May. Discovery remains scheduled for launch during a
window that will extend from July 1st through July 19th.
Unexpected detail in
first Venus south pole
he European Space Agency's Venus Express has returned the
first-ever images of the hothouse planet's south pole from a
distance of 206,452 kilometres, showing surprisingly clear structures
and unexpected detail. The images were taken 12th of April during the
spacecraft's initial capture orbit after successful arrival on 11th of
April 2006.
The false-colour VIRTIS composite image shows Venus's day side at
left and night side at right, and corresponds to a scale of 50 kms per
Engineers have lost no time in switching on several of the
instruments and including the VMC (Venus Monitoring Camera) and
VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) which
imaged, for the first time in space history, the southern hemisphere of
Venus as the spacecraft passed below the planet in an elliptical arc.
Scientists are especially intrigued by the dark vortex shown almost
directly over the south pole, a previously suspected but until now
unconfirmed structure that corresponds to a similar cloud structure
over the north pole.
"Just one day after arrival, we are already experiencing the
hot, dynamic environment of Venus," said Dr Hakan Svedhem,
Venus Express project scientist. "We will see much more detail at an
unprecedented level as we get over 100 times better resolution as we
get closer to Venus, and we expect to see these spiral structures
evolve very quickly."
The initial, low-quality images were taken from an extreme
distance of 206,452 kms from the planet, yet caught scientists'
attention, particularly with the surprisingly clear structures and
unexpected details shown in the VIRTIS spectrometer images. The
day half is itself a composite of images taken via wavelength filters
and chiefly shows sunlight reflected from the tops of clouds, down to
a height of about 65 km above the planet's surface.
The more spectacular night half, shown in reddish false
colour, was taken via an IR filter at a wavelength of 1.7 microns, and
I n
T h e
chiefly shows dynamic spiral cloud structures in the lower
atmosphere, around 55 km altitude. The darker regions correspond to
thicker cloud cover, while the brighter regions correspond to thinner
cloud cover, allowing hot thermal radiation from lower down to be
In the first capture orbit, Venus Express will have 5
additional opportunities for gathering data until reaching pericentre.
These observations represent a great opportunity because, at
apocentre, the full disc of Venus is fully visible for the spacecraft's
imagers. Such opportunities will not occur again during the nominal
mission, starting on 4 June 2006, when the range of distances from
the planet will be much smaller.
N e w s
In addition to VMC and VIRTIS, the spacecraft's MAG
(Venus Express Magnetometer) has been switched on for initial
verification and is operating nominally. Together with the ASPERA
(Analyser of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms), the two
instruments are expected to gather information about the unperturbed
solar wind and the atmospheric escape processes on Venus, a planet
with no magnetic protection.
A series of further engine and thruster burns are planned to
gradually reduce the apocentre during the following 16 orbital loops
around the planet and the spacecraft is due to attain its final 24-hour
polar orbit on 7 May, ranging from 66 000 to 250 kilometres above
NASA to send impactor into moon in search of
has announced that a small, 'secondary payload'
spacecraft, to be developed by a team at NASA Ames Research
Centre has been selected to travel to the moon to look for precious
water ice at the lunar south pole in October 2008.
The smaller secondary payload spacecraft will travel with
the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite to the moon on the
same rocket, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), to be
launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The NASA Ames
team proposed the secondary payload mission, which will be carried
out by the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite
Hubble corrects size of the tenth planet
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has resolved the "tenth planet,"
nicknamed "Xena" for the first time, and has found that it is only
just a little larger than Pluto.
Though previous ground-based observations suggested that
Xena was about 30 percent greater in diameter than Pluto, Hubble
observations taken on December 9th and 10th 2005, yield a diameter
of 1,490 miles (with an uncertainty of 60 miles) for Xena. Pluto's
diameter, as measured by Hubble, is 1,422 miles. Hubble is the only
telescope capable of getting a clean visible-light measurement of the
actual diameter of Xena.
It only required a couple of Hubble images to nail Xena's
diameter. Located 10 billion miles away, but with a diameter that is a
little more than half the width of the United States, the object is 1.5
pixels across in Hubble's view. That's enough to precisely make a size
Because Xena is smaller than earlier thought, but
comparatively bright, it must be one of the most reflective objects in
the solar system. The only object more reflective is Enceladus, a
geologically active moon of Saturn whose surface is continuously
recoated with highly reflective ice by active geysers. Xena's bright
reflectivity is possibly due to fresh methane frost overlying the
surface. It is possible that Xena had an atmosphere when it was closer
to the Sun, but "froze out" at its current large distance, and material
settled on its surface as frost.
Another possibility is that Xena is also continuously
leaking methane gas from its warmer interior. When this methane
makes it to the cold surface it immediately freezes solid, covering
craters and other features to make this Kuiper Belt object (KBO)
uniformly bright to Hubble's telescopic eye. Xena is officially
catalogued as 2003 UB313. Its orbital period is about 560 years, and
the KBO is now very close to aphelion (the point on its orbit that is
farthest from the Sun).
Finding that the largest known KBO is a virtual twin to
Pluto may only further complicate the debate about whether to
categorize the large icy worlds that dwell in the Kuiper Belt as
planets. If Pluto were considered to be the minimum size for a planet,
then Xena would fulfil this criterion, too.
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
L o o k i n g
U p
Sky Notes
For This Period
Sorry folks, due to genuinely being very busy in
the day job I have been unable to put together
Skynotes for May and June. I am also out of the
country during May and the beginning of June
and the preparatory work for this has cut into
the time I usually have to write up the celestial
happenings column. Normal service will resume
for the next issue, I hope!
Many thanks!
John Flannery.
Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One
says, "I've lost my electron."
The other says, "Are you sure?"
The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive..."
L o o k i n g
U p
The May Day Sun
This image of the Sun was taken on
May 1st 2006 by Michael O’Connell,
with his Coronado PST H-Alpha
Telescope, and Canon 300d camera.
He used a 2x Barlow, 20mm
eyepiece, taking a 1/13th of a second
exposure at ISO 400. Minimal
processing in Photoshop.
Have you got an astrophoto you
would like to share with readers? Email it (with all its details) to
[email protected]
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
Irish Moon Rock
By Deirdre Kelleghan, Irish
Dublin city centre in the Natural
History Museum lies a very special if
somewhat small and unique treasure. In
a glass case on the ground floor among 18
meteorites rests a piece of lunar basalt
returned from the moon in 1972. This
piece of moon rock is contained within a
lucite orb and comprises of a 1cm piece of
lunar mare basalt. It is from the Taurus
Littrow valley and was collected by the
Apollo 17 mission of the seventh to the
nineteenth of December 1972.
This particular piece of lunar
material was presented to the People of
Ireland in 1973 by President Nixon’s
administration. As it was a gift to the Irish
Nation, it was accepted by the then
president of Ireland Erskine Childers.
President Childers had the shortest ever
reign as the head of the country as his life
came to an untimely end after only one
year in office. President Childers was the
4th president of Ireland and the only Irish
President to die in office. Erskine
Hamilton Childers was in office from 25
June 1973 - 17 November 1974 when he
died of a heart attack.
Eugene A Cernan Mission
Commander, Ronald E Evens
Commander module pilot, and
Harrison H Schmitt Lunar module pilot
The American President Richard
Nixon had presented the moon rock as a
goodwill gift to Ireland and to 134 other
friendly nations in the world at the time.
After the death of President Childers, the
moon jewel our gift from the efforts of the
Apollo17 crew was put on display in the
Natural History Museum in Merrion
Square. The Apollo 17 landing site is in a
spectacular valley called Taurus-Littrow
on the south-eastern edge of the Sea of
Serenity (Mare Serenitatis). Sometime
about 3.8 to 3.9 billion years ago, a
mountain-sized asteroid or comet hit the
Moon and blasted out a basin nearly seven
hundred kilometres in diameter. Around
the rim of Serenitatis,
great blocks of rock
were pushed out and
up, forming a ring of
mountains. In places,
the blocks quickly fell
again, and left radial
valleys among the
TaurusLittrow is one such valley.
In December 1972 Eugene A
Cernan Mission Commander, Ronald E
Evens Commander module pilot, and
Harrison H Schmitt Lunar module pilot
went to the moon and Cernan and Schmitt
spent 75 hours on the lunar surface, in this
spectacular valley.
Archives Letter from President
Richard Nixon to foreign heads of state,
dated March 21, 1973, reproduced from
The Apollo lunar landing
program conducted by the United States
has been brought to a successful
conclusion. Men from the planet Earth
have reached the first milestone in space.
But as we stretch for the stars, we know
that we stand also upon the shoulders of
many men of many nations here on our
own planet. In the deepest sense our
exploration of the moon was truly an
international effort.
It is for this reason that, on
behalf of the people of the United States I
present this flag, which was carried to the
moon, to the State, and its fragment of the
moon obtained during the final lunar
mission of the Apollo program. If people
of many nations can act together to achieve
the dreams of humanity in space, then
surely we can act together to accomplish
humanity's dream of peace here on earth. It
was in this spirit that the Untied States of
America went to the moon, and it is in this
spirit that we look forward to sharing what
we have done and what we have learned
with all mankind.
Eugene A. Cernan, commander
Extract from the Apollo 17 surface journal
“Houston, before we close out our EVA,
we understand that there are young people
in Houston today who have been
effectively touring our country, young
people from countries all over the world,
respectively, touring our country. They had
the opportunity to watch the launch of
Apollo 17; (and) hopefully had an
opportunity to meet some of our young
people in our country. And we'd like to say
first of all, welcome, and we hope you
enjoyed your stay. Second of all, I think
probably one of the most significant things
we can think about when we think about
Apollo is that it has opened for us - "for
us" being the world - a challenge of the
future. The door is now cracked, but the
promise of the future lies in the young
people, not just in America, but the young
people all over the world learning to live
and learning to work together. In order to
remind all the people of the world in so
many countries throughout the world that
this is what we all are striving for in the
future, Jack has picked up a very
significant rock, typical of what we have
here in the valley of Taurus-Littrow
It's a rock composed of many
fragments, of many sizes, and many
shapes, probably from all parts of the
Moon, perhaps billions of years old. But
fragments of all sizes and shapes - and
even colours - that have grown together to
become a cohesive rock, outlasting the
nature of space, sort of living together in a
very coherent, very peaceful manner.
When we return this rock or some of the
others like it to Houston, we'd like to share
a piece of this rock with so many of the
countries throughout the world. We hope
that this will be a symbol of what our
feelings are, what the feelings of the
Apollo Program are, and a symbol of
mankind: that we can live in peace and
harmony in the future.”
Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar
module pilot: “A portion of a roc k will be
sent to a representative agency or museum
in each of the countries represented by the
young people in Houston today, and we
hope that they - that rock and the students
themselves - will carry with them our good
wishes, not only for the new year coming
up but also for themselves, their countries,
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
and all mankind in the future. Put that in
the big bag, Geno.”
It is unfortunate that the
descriptive card that rests in front of the
moon jewel in the Natural History
Museum is in fact incorrect; the Taurus
Littrow lunar landing site is in Mare
Serenitatis (The Sea of Serenity) that is its
home not as incorrectly translated on the
museum card “The Sea of Tranquillity”.
The crew of Apollo 17 collected
741 individual rock and soil samples, total
mass 111 kilo’s. This piece of lunar basalt
is 3.7 – 3.8 billion (1000, 000,000) years
old. The mare infill in the Taurus Luttrow
valley is 1.7- 1.4 km thick.
I have referred to this tiny piece of the
Taurus Littrow site as a jewel and although
it is not a wearable bauble it is in fact very
valuable and a conservative estimate of its
worth is $ 7,000,000.
Commander Schmitt were the last people
to walk on the moon to date. Recently the
Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene
Cernan received NASA’s first Ambassador
of Exploration Award during the Naval
Aviation Symposium in the U.S. Naval Air
Station in Pensacola, Florida. The award,
which features a piece of Moon rock will
remain on display at the National Museum
of Naval Aviation. The Ambassador of
Exploration Award was announced in July
2004 during the 35th anniversary
celebration of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
It recognizes the sacrifices and dedication
of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury
Each astronaut, or their surviving family,
will be presented with a lunar sample, part
of the 842 pounds of moon rock and soil
returned during the six moon landings
from 1969 to 1972.
Harrison H Schmitt is a retired
politician these days and is a consultant in
space, geology, business and public policy.
Eugene Cernan is today involved in space
technology development and sadly Ronald
Evans passed away in 1990, after a
successful business career.
The Future of the
Tullamore Observatory
By Seanie Morris, Tullamore A.S.
I n the midst of these great articles this
issue, I thought I would just bring to
your attention a little piece about our
own club Observatory. You can see on
the front cover what it generally looks like
today, with the smaller photograph
showing the official opening in 1998. It
has remained virtually unchanged since
then. The problem is that it has the
potential to look even better. I am not
talking about giving it a coat of paint, or
cutting the grass, both of which it does
need. There is more that can be added to it.
Only recently, as you can see in
this issue, the car park was ‘overhauled’ to
allow more cars to park safely and
comfortably on the site. It was a great
achievement, even if it took a lot of time.
One of the mitigating factors is funding.
subscriptions and shrewd spending, as well
as a successful Cosmos 2005, has the club
been able to buy the gravel, hire the
machinery, and with the work of a handful
of volunteers, get the car park done. That
is not all. The club now has in its
possession a brand new 12 inch reflector.
This new ‘Revelation’ will allow
wherever, with its future home being the
And thus repeats the circle – the
Observatory. It is in need of some repair.
The dome has to be overhauled, a secure
winch system put in place, and a new
mount added for the new scope. All this
will take money.
At a recent committee meeting,
ideas were brought into discussion about
how TAS can get
funding, even on its
own. One favourable
idea is a Race Night.
members of the
involved, with the
chance of winning
cash prizes, and also
help TAS in the
process. Some members are thinking
though that it might be a hard fundraiser to
crack. After all, TAS is not as well known
as some other local organisations and
GAA clubs, and it is not really a charity.
So how does it overcome these kinds of
obstacles when looking for help?
Lets analyse that. Today, if you
want to go to an observatory, what comes
to mind? Dunsink? Schull? Armagh? Even
Galway? Did you know that Dunsink is
now closed, due to a numbers of different
reasons, but one main one being that it is
swamped by light pollution in Dublin? Did
you know that both Armagh and Schull
Observatories, at opposing ends of Ireland,
are each over 5 hours of a drive away?
And did you know that Galway
Observatory is only allowing limited
access to relevant students of the
university? That does not leave a lot of
options when it comes to astronomy, even
as a hobby.
Astronomy as a hobby – a new
option in passing the time for many people
in the last decade or two. Astronomy was
once considered to be one of the favourite
hobbies of geeks and nerds. Telescopes
were expensive, books had to be read, and
you had to teach yourself. Today, you can
get cheap telescopes that do the job
affordably, more people are interested so
all you have to do is ask (instead of
reading a book), and parts of astronomy
are taught in primary schools as a nature
subject, and in chemistry and physics in
secondary schools as part of the
curriculum. Today, it is one of the cool
Probably the icing on the cake
for the area would be that when the
Observatory is fully up and running, it will
be the only active, and at most times
publicly accessible, Observatory outside of
Dublin, and the only one on your way to
Galway. This would put Tullamore on the
map again, with another first. And with the
by-pass scheduled to pass near the
Observatory when completed, there is no
reason why it should not have direct access
I the future
So spread the word, TAS is on
the prowl, and it will need as much help as
it can get! If you have a suggestion for us,
we are all ears! Get in touch via
[email protected]
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
They’ve Stolen our Stars!?
By Girvan McKay, Tullamore A.S.
One of the most outstanding astronomers of the 18th and 19th
centuries was Sir Frederick William Herschel (1738-1822).
Originally Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, he was born in Hanover,
Germany but moved to England to escape the French occupation of
Hanover in 1757. There he became a music teacher (1766), then took
up astronomy and the construction of ever more powerful reflecting
In 1781 he discovered the planet Uranus. This made him
famous overnight and he was appointed private astronomer to King
George III. He continued his research at Slough, assisted by his sister
Caroline and his son John. He added greatly to our knowledge of the
Solar System, the Milky Way and the nebulae. He discovered two
satellites of Saturn, extensively observed double stars and produced a
remarkable star catalogue. He was knighted in 1816. His house in
Bath has been restored as a museum.
Perhaps a lesser known fact about Herschel is that he spent
some time in South Africa where he established an astronomical
observatory. Another one of his interests was education and he was
responsible for the foundation of schools in what became the Union
of South Africa. That country had been a Dutch colony but was
appropriated by the British.
At that time most of the white or mixed race inhabitants
spoke Cape Dutch (now called Afrikaans) but up to then there had
been no schools. Education after Herschel was in English until the
Afrikaners (Boers) were eventually able to educate their children in
their own language. Herschel’s activities don’t seem to have been
much appreciated by the Afrikaners. When he founded his South
African observatory they complained that the British, having taken
over their country, had now ‘stolen their stars?’
Nowadays our stars are being stolen by property
developers, road builders and successive Ministers for the
(Destruction of) the Environment. None of these seem to be doing
much to protect the sky from light pollution or the landscape from
Girvan McKay, TAS.
J65 - Celbridge Observatory
By Dave MacDonald, Kildare A.S.
I ’ve been an amateur astronomer since
I was old enough to look up to the skies.
All my years of stargazing were rewarded
recently when I received an observatory
code from the International Astronomical
Union Minor Planet Centre (IAU MPC).
Luckily enough the observatory code was
much shorter – J65.
As of spring 2006, there are just over 1200
recognised observatories worldwide. Prior
to 2006, there were two coded
observatories in Ireland – Armagh (981)
and Dunsink (982).
I’m especially
delighted as J65 is the first amateur
observatory in Ireland.
Journey’s Start
Having recently acquired the financial
ability to invest in my lifelong hobby, I
made a key decision that my primary goal
was to try and provide ‘real’ science data
that would make a difference. I set about
doing the research and quickly discovered
that astrometry was well within my reach
and was an important source of data for
Astrometry is the precise measurement of
the position and motion of astronomical
objects. Recent astrometric measurements
of the moons of Pluto have helped the New
Horizons mission plan the correct
movement of the probe. Of wider public
predicting the close approach of asteroids
with Earth. Luckily, refined data shows
the risk of known object impacts with
Earth is pretty much zero. But then there
are lots of unknown objects out there…
1200 GTO mount. It fulfilled all my
criteria and luckily there was a two-year
waiting list that gave me plenty of time to
save up.
I decided that if I was going to carry out
astrometric measurements, I would need a
high standard of equipment to give good
science data. It was clear that the major
initial investment was going to be the
mount. It had to be capable of carrying a
heavy payload, slew this equipment around
the sky easily and track objects accurately.
I eventually decided on the Astro-Physics
I invested in a cheap CCD camera when
the mount arrived in 2005. I started to
learn how to image celestial objects which,
like anything else in this hobby, is not as
easy as it seems. For example, my idea of
‘accurate polar alignment’ was way short
of that required for unguided imaging and I
had to learn how to drift align. That in
turn involved learning how to use a suite
F e a t u r e s
of fairly complex software programmes…
Needless to say, it took me about a year to
get my skills to a level where I could
confidently image faint stars and galaxies
such that looked like, well, faint stars and
The Minor Planet Centre
The next step was more an accident than a
goal. I had started to research asteroids
and came across the Minor Planet Centre
web site. Here I learned how to generate
ephemerides for asteroids I was interested
in. One of the fields you complete is your
location – you can type in your coordinates or simply your observatory code.
Typing in latitude and longitude values
every time I wanted to generate an
ephemeris was becoming tedious. So I had
a look around the MPC website and came
across the method for obtaining an
observatory code.
Essentially, you observe a minimum of
two (preferably three) asteroids over a
number of nights. You then analyse the
images and determine the location of your
chosen object. The data is collated into the
form required by the MPC and sent to
them by email along with the geographical
location of your set up. The MPC reviews
the observations and provided they meet
their criteria, you are issued an observatory
code for that specific location.
determining exactly where the target is
located - this is done with software.
few hours later that this was the first Irish
Amateur observatory to be recognised.
The next clear evening was some days
away but the MPC do not required your
observing nights to be consecutive – lucky
for us in Ireland.
When the skies
eventually cleared, I repeated the previous
exercise but the weather wasn’t being very
cooperative. The process took a lot longer
this time because of sporadic cloud.
Eventually, I had sufficient images of
reasonable quality.
Since receiving the observatory code, I
have continued to carry out astrometric
measurements as often as the weather
Obtaining clear images of
sufficient quality to permit accurate
astrometric data is not as easy as it might
sound. However, by choosing targets
carefully meaningful data can be obtained.
Choosing objects of sufficient brightness
and high enough in the sky are the key
Once solved, I found that only four targets
out of the six were of sufficient quality. I
set about formatting the data and checking
it against MPC ephemerides (just to make
Eventually I had the data ready to go, but
now I had to follow the MPC format. This
was trickier than I thought. I sought the
advice of the Minor Planet bulletin board
members and with a lot of help, eventually
had the data in the correct format – well,
pretty much.
Before hitting the send button though, I
checked the data one more time and then,
closing my eyes and crossing my fingers,
sent the mail to the MPC.
I would hope that 2006 will bring me
closer to my goal of photometry. As well
as purchasing the imaging and filter
equipment, I also need to choose a new
OTA. But like anything else, there will
need to be compromises since the
equipment is quite expensive. Certainly
the imager is probably the most important
item at the moment so the OTA may have
to wait until 2007. I would hope to
eventually land a 14” or 16” aperture OTA
to enable me to choose the dimmer objects
and go deeper than my current set-up
Can you do it?
The Plan
So, now I had method sorted, it was time
to get a plan in place. It wasn’t too
difficult to find six targets of varying
magnitudes within my imaging capability.
Also, they were reasonably far apart and
were sufficiently high up in the sky. I
chose six to make sure that if I had to cut
the run short because of weather, I would
hopefully still have three targets imaged.
Next Steps
One of the targets - MPL 1888
Journey’s End
The next available clear night, I put the
plan into operation. I set up the scope and
found the first target. I took a few images
that I quickly analysed to make sure the
target was present, and when satisfied, I
moved onto the next target.
I was told that I might have to wait more
than a week to hear anything back. To say
I was surprised when I got a reply an hour
later was an understatement. Even more of
a surprise was that the MPC had issued me
with an observatory code.
At the end of the evening I managed to
image all six targets. I then ‘plate solved’
the images. This is matching your image
to the known star field and then
Well, I was absolutely delighted as you
can imagine. J65 Celbridge Observatory
was now officially recognised. As an
added bonus, I was informed by the MPC a
There are many amateurs in Ireland now
who have a keen desire to image the night
sky. Some are content to produce images
they can share with the community and
their friends. There are a smaller number
of amateurs who are keen to do real
science with their equipment. In order to
take part, whilst an observatory code is not
a requisite, it is certainly a benefit in
allowing external authorities ratify the
quality of your data.
Some amateurs might feel that they cannot
achieve this objective. My advice would
be that you don’t know until you try – give
it a go.
Dave McDonald
J65 – Celbridge Observatory
[email protected]
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
Who Wants to be a
By Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips
exploring space, NASA naturally wants to use all the
newest and coolest technologies - artificial intelligence, solar sails,
onboard supercomputers, exotic materials. But “new” also means
unproven and risky, and that could be a problem. Remember HAL in
the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”? The rebellious computer
clearly needed some pre-flight testing.
and Solar Polar Imager—both of which would use solar sails to fly
spacecraft that would study the Sun.
“The technologies that we validate have future missions
that need them,” Stocky says. “We try to target [missions] that are
about 15 to 20 years out.”
A menagerie of other cool NMP technologies includes ion
thrusters, hyperspectral imagers, and miniaturized electronics for
spacecraft navigation and control. NMP focuses on technologies that
have been proven in the laboratory but must be tested in the extreme
cold, vacuum, and high radiation environment of space, which can’t
be fully recreated in the lab.
New NMP missions fly every year and one-half to two
years, taking tomorrow’s space technology for a daredevil test drive.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California
Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration
Artist’s rendering of a four-quadrant solar sail propulsion system, with
payload. NASA is designing and developing such concepts, a subscale model of which may be tested on a future NMP mission.
Testing advanced technologies in space is the mission of
the New Millennium Program (NMP), created by NASA’s Science
Mission Directorate in 1995 and run by JPL. Like the daredevil test
pilots of the 1950s who would fly the latest jet technology, NMP flies
new technologies in space to see if they're ready for prime time. That
way, future missions can use the technologies with much less risk.
Example: In 1999, the program’s Deep Space 1 probe
tested a system called “AutoNav,” short for Autonomous Navigation.
AutoNav used artificial intelligence to steer the spacecraft without
human intervention. It worked so well that elements of AutoNav
were installed on a real mission, Deep Impact, which famously
blasted a crater in Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. Without
AutoNav, the projectile would have completely missed the comet.
Some NMP technologies “allow us to do things that we
literally could not do before,” says Jack Stocky, Chief Technologist
for NMP. Dozens of innovative technologies tested by NMP will
lead to satellites and space probes that are smaller, lighter, more
capable and even cheaper than those of today.
Another example: An NMP test mission called Space
Technology 9, which is still in the planning phase, may test-fly a
solar sail. Solar sails use the slight pressure of sunlight itself, instead
of heavy fuels, to propel a spacecraft. Two proposed NASA missions
would be possible only with dependable solar sails—L1 Diamond
Home of Astronomy in the Irish Midlands!
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
Planets in strange places
By Trudy E. Bell
star, blue star, big star, small star - planets may form
around virtually any type or size of star throughout the universe,
not just around mid-sized middle-aged yellow stars like the Sun.
That’s the surprising implication of two recent discoveries from the
0.85-meter-diameter Spitzer Space Telescope, which is exploring the
universe from orbit at infrared (heat) wavelengths blocked by the
Earth’s atmosphere.
At one extreme are two blazing, blue “hypergiant” stars
180,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the
two companion galaxies to our Milky Way. The stars, called R 66
and R 126, are respectively 30 and 70 times the mass of the Sun,
“about as massive as stars can get,” said Joel Kastner, professor of
imaging science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New
York. R 126 is so luminous that if it were placed 10 parsecs (32.6
light-years) away - a distance at which the Sun would be one of the
dimmest stars visible in the sky - the hypergiant would be as bright as
the full moon, “definitely a daytime object,” Kastner remarked.
Although actual planets have not been detected (in part
because of the stars’ great distances), the spectra of the hypergiants
show that their dust is composed of forsterite, olivine, aromatic
hydrocarbons, and other geological substances found on Earth.
These newfound disks represent “extremes of the environments in
which planets might form,” Kastner said. “Not what you’d expect if
you think our solar system is the rule.”
Hypergiants and dwarfs? The Milky Way could be
crowded with worlds circling every kind of star imaginable—very
strange, indeed.
Keep up with the latest findings from the Spitzer at For kids, the Infrared Photo Album at The
Space Place (
introduces the electromagnetic spectrum and compares the
appearance of common scenes in visible versus infrared light.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California
Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration.
Artist’s rendering compares size of a hypothetical hypergiant star and
its surrounding dusty disk to that of our solar system.
Such hot stars have fierce solar winds, so Kastner and his
team are mystified why any dust in the neighbourhood hasn’t long
since been blown away. But there it is: an unmistakable spectral
signature that both hypergiants are surrounded by mammoth disks of
what might be planet-forming dust and even sand.
At the other extreme is a tiny brown dwarf star called Cha
110913-773444, relatively nearby (500 light-years) in the Milky
Way. One of the smallest brown dwarfs known, it has less than 1
percent the mass of the Sun. It’s not even massive enough to kindle
thermonuclear reactions for fusing hydrogen into helium. Yet this
miniature “failed star,” as brown dwarfs are often called, is also
surrounded by a flat disk of dust that may eventually clump into
planets. (Note: This brown dwarf discovery was made by a group led
by Kevin Luhman of Pennsylvania State University.)
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Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
F e a t u r e s
Where Did the Modern Computer Come
Some thoughts following Frank Concannon’s lecture of 7th March)
By Girvan McKay, Tullamore
the 7th of March 2006 Frank
Concannon gave us an interesting
and well-researched lecture on the
subject Pre-Industrial Computing.
He told us how long before the
invention of the modern electronic
computer, so essential for modern
astronomical and other scientific
studies, the computer was not a
machine but a human being who had
to do all astronomical calculations in
his (rarely her) head.
What was achieved by this
means was really admirable, as such
computing involved long painstaking
work by a succession of remarkably
patient people with nothing to help
them but ocular observation and their
own brains.
Following Frank’s talk I
found myself wondering how the
electronic computer began. Nowadays
we can hardly imagine how
astronomers could function without
electronic computers. Of course the
results obtained using a modern
computer are only as reliable as the
data fed into them by a human
operator. This was graphically
demonstrated by the fiasco of some
years ago when NASA attempted an
unmanned planetary mission but
messed it up by confusing Imperial
measurements with metric ones. This
was certainly not the fault of the
I once heard a broadcast
where a U.S. president (I can’t
remember which one) was listing the
scientific achievements of Americans,
such as the invention of the telegraph,
the telephone, the motorcar, television,
the computer, etc. – none of which
was, in fact, invented by an American.
Usually such innovations are the result
of a long process involving various
people, often in various parts of the
world. One nation cannot claim to
have discovered everything and in
many cases an invention or discovery
is not the work of one single
principle can, however, be applied to
other uses than music.
The Jacquard Loom
development of what we today call the
computer goes back an astonishingly
long way – in fact probably almost to
the beginning of civilisation.
A French silk weaver, Joseph Marie
Jacquard (1752-1834) had the brilliant
idea of inventing a loom controlled by
punched cards which made it possible
for anyone to produce beautiful
patterns with almost no skill at all.
The Abacus
Perhaps we can begin with the abacus,
a simple, yet very effective calculating
instrument when used by a skilled
operator. This consists of a frame.
With a series of rods or
grooves on which bead counters
representing numbers can be slid
backwards and forwards. It may have
originated in ancient Babylon and was
used in China, Greece and Rome. It
became widespread throughout Europe
in the Middle Ages and is still used in
Japan. It is said that experienced users
of the abacus have been able to
calculate faster than a mechanical
It seems that the abacus was
therefore the first really successful
instrument for calculation. Perhaps,
after the discovery of logarithms, it
provided part of the inspiration for the
slide rule used until fairly recently by
The Musical Box
This may seem to have nothing to do
with the electronic computer but there
may be some connection. Musical
boxes were probably intended as a toy
for children and idle ladies but their
mechanism is very ingenious. This
usually consists of a moving toothed
cylinder striking a comb-like metal
plate producing musical notes. The
Babbage’s Difference Machine &
Analytical Machine
These were referred to in Frank’s
(1791-1871) - whose assistant,
interestingly enough was Byron’s
daughter Augusta Ada, - invented a
‘difference engine’ for the calculation
of logarithms and similar functions,
and also designed an ‘analytical
engine’ which performed a number of
calculations by means of punched
cards – an alternative application of
the system invented by Jacquard.
The Player Piano (“Pianola”)
Around the 1890s something similar
to Jacquard’s punched card system
was applied to an invention called the
player piano (patented under the name
Pianola) which could be operated
without having to learn to play the
piano. This was fitted with a
mechanism in which a perforated roll
passes over a brass “tracker bar”,
causing those keys to be depressed to
which the perforations correspond.
This invention seems to owe
something both to Jacquard and to the
old-fashioned musical box.
these three devices have in common is
that they all operate on an “on-off”,
“up-down” or “in-out” principle,
which is the basis of the binary system
F e a t u r e s
(See table below*). This uses only the
two digits, 0 and 1 and was essential
in the development of the computer.
designed mechanical typewriters, the
most well known being the
Remington. Later, electric typewriters
replaced the mechanical ones.
The Typewriter
The only connection between the
electronic computer and the typewriter
is the so-called ‘qwerty’ keyboard
which is used virtually unchanged in
the former. In its absence it would be
difficult to imagine how the modern
computer could be operated. Several
The Mechanical Calculator
Like the typewriter, earlier calculator
models were mechanical, but these
have been succeeded by electronic and
Computers were so named because
they computed, like
calculators, but now
they perform many
other functions than
mere calculation.
The Turing
was a mathematician
who worked as a
cryptographer during
the 2nd World War.
He was one of the
team which managed
contributing to the
Researchers in Fairbanks Alaska announced last week that
they have discovered a superconductor which will operate at
room temperature.
The Editor’s rather lame attempt at
filling in space…
Allied victory at sea. He introduced
the theoretical notion of an idealised
computer (since called a Turing
machine), laying the foundation for
the study of artificial intelligence. This
then was the real beginning of the
electronic computer as we know it, but
as we see, it has a very long history
behind it.
An important part of that
history is the development of
mathematics which required the
replacement of the awkward Roman
numeral system (I, II, III, IV, etc.) –
useless for serious mathematics – by
the so-called Arabic (originally
Indian) numerals and the invention of
zero and the decimal point.
The digital system consists of
The binary system consists of
computer and all these developments
in the age-long history of mathematics
and computing, space exploration (the
Cassini and Huygens projects, the
Mars orbiters and landers, the Hubble
space telescope, etc.) would be
A student recognizes Einstein in a
train and asks: “Excuse me, professor,
but does New York stop by this train?”
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Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
E x t r a s
Wow! Look at
Recently, while surfing on the internet, I came
across the following computer designed
pictures of the scale of the planets. I thought it
would be pretty neat to add. When I first
showed them during my own lecture
Astronomy for Dummies on May 16th last,
people were surprised and shocked to see the
relative sizes. What got me was how surprising
Saturn is compared to Jupiter! In the model
with the Sun, you can’t even see Pluto!
(above) The
(left) The Gas
Giants in
The number
in () indicates
its position
from the Sun
(right) The
Solar System
on display. At
this resolution
on this page,
you fail to
notice Pluto!
The Sun is so
big, 107
Earths would
line up side by
side across its
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society
How To Find TAS’s Meeting Nights
Tullamore Astronomical Society holds it talks
and classes in astronomy on Tuesday nights, in
the Presbyterian Hall, to the rear of the
Presbyterian Church, on High Street.
Meetings start at 8pm, are informal, and
admission is only €2 per person, with tea and
astronomical observing with telescopes and
binoculars will take place in the garden area to
the rear of the Hall afterwards.
TAS also holds Observing Sessions out at its
Observatory and Site. Sometimes, these are inpromptu due to weather (when there is a
chance, take it!). If you want to be kept
informed when these occur, then let the
Secretary have your e-mail and/or phone
For more information, contact the club at:
[email protected]
Or see our website:
Réalta – Volume 8, Issue 1: March/April 2006 – Tullamore Astronomical Society