The Kuiper Belt and the search for Planet "X"
The Kuiper belt is an asteroid belt extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies, or remnants from the Solar System's formation. Although some asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed "ices"), such as methane, ammonia and water. The classical belt is home to at least three dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake. It was first hypothesised by Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper in 1951 and the first Kuiper belt object was detected in 1992. Over 100,000 objects over 100 kms in diameter have been found since.
Like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuiper belt contains remnants from the Solar System's formation which were not able to form a planet. Pluto artists impression here, has a thin atmosphere comprised mainly of nitrogen, and the atmospheric pressure on the surface is only a tiny fraction of the Earth's. The surface is made of volatile ices and is a reddish colour due to the presence of methane ice. There are ice caps at the poles, and the surface is most likely cratered. The interior is estimated to be comprised of 70% rock and 30% ice. Our speaker on December 2nd is Eamonn Ansbro, astronomer and owner of the largest private observatory on Irish soil. The focus of his current research from Kingsland Observatory is Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt Objects (EKBOs). This topic meshes with another life-long interest, that of discovering a Tenth Planet in the solar system. He recently discovered that his early correspondence with Clyde Tombaugh (discoverer of Pluto) has been catalogued in Tombaugh's archives at the University of New Mexico.
Eamonn is now collaborating with some of the current experts in "Planet X" research. Eamonn has always taken a hands-on approach to his learning in astronomy, with an emphasis on practical observing skills. In addition to receiving training as a meteorologist, he received a Masters degree in Astronomy from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and is currently carrying out research for a PhD at the Planetary Space Science Research Institute (UK). He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and has written and published over 40 articles and papers about astronomy, optics and extraterrestrial intelligence and has given talks to our astronomy club on several occasions.
Public lecture on 'Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth'
As part of Science Fortnight, the NUI Galway Astronomy Society will welcome Kevin Nolan for a special public talk entitled 'Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth' on Wednesday, 20 November. Kevin Nolan is a lecturer in physics at the Institute of Technology Tallaght and Co-ordinator to Ireland for The Planetary Society. Kevin is nearing completion of a part-time PhD involving design of a software image analysis pipeline for the European Space Agency's INTEGRAL, a multi-wavelength space observatory. He is a published author of Mars, a Cosmic Stepping Stone, which looks at the effects and relevance of Mars exploration.
This talk will discuss how people have attributed naïve "Earth-like" characteristics to our sister planet for centuries. Though early space missions obliterated those early perceptions - suggesting Mars to be a dormant world - recent missions reveal a planet with characteristics and past activity suggestive of early Earth-like characteristics now regarded as relevant to the emergence of life. With a well set out strategy, the exploration of Mars has finally matured and is expected to deliver valuable scientific insights. This talk will examine some of these issues and present the latest findings from the MSL-Curiosity Rover currently exploring the surface of the Red Planet. The talk will take place at 7pm in the Colm Ó hÉocha Theatre in the Arts Millennium Building (AM250), NUI Galway. This talk is free and open to the general public. For directions see http://www.nuigalway.ie/campus-map/
Comets galore in the pre-dawn Sky
Right now, northern hemisphere observers have four (!) comets within range of binoculars in the dawn sky. Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, is, of course, expected to dazzle towards month's end. Comet 2P/Encke is an "old standby," with the shortest orbital period of any comet known at 3.3 years, and is making a favorable appearance this Fall. And comet C/2012 X1 LINEAR added to the morning display recently, reaching about +8th magnitude in an unexpected outburst...
But the brightest and best placed comet for morning viewing is currently Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy. Shining at +6th magnitude, R1 Lovejoy just passed into the constellation Leo after a photogenic pass near the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer last week. It's an easy binocular object, looking like a fuzzy unresolved globular cluster with barely the hint of a tail. To see a map of were to see it see HERE
Multiple observers are reporting that Comet ISON brightened sharply last night. It started the week as an 8th magnitude object invisible to the human eye, but now it has surged to the threshold of naked-eye visibility. Many more of these brightening events could be in the offing as intensifying solar heat erodes material from the nucleus as the comet as it plunges towards the Sun, some suggest it could break apart first. Finder charts and regular updates can be found at HERE on Martin McKenna's excellent website. Photo Credit: Damian Peach
Buying a Telescope this Christmas??
We get a lot of questions this time of year asking for advice on buying a telescope as a gift. "What should buy?" "How much should I spend?", things like that. A beginner looking around the online will almost certainly be swayed by glossy adverts and wonderful looking equipment often displayed in camera stores around Christmas. The temptation to buy a telescope with a promised x700 magnification can be great and when the camera store is doing a very special price its hard not to be tempted. Here's our first bit of advice - DON'T DO IT !!!
Telescopes are one of the exceptions to the rule that 'you get what you pay for'. Quite often appalling junk is sold with a rather large price tag compared to a quality instrument from a reputable dealer. What looks like a shiny bargain can very often turn out to be almost unusable, or, if it's a reputable branded item it may have been mishandled by another beginner just like you.
The fact is I have seen too many posts on astronomy bulletin boards where people have paid over the odds, sometimes even more than a new scope for a second-hand item that has problems or have been ripped off buying some no brand scope with terrible optics only to find out they could have bought a quality product from a reputable brand for half the price. So if you want to know more come along to our workshop on Telescopes on December 9th with our expert Brian McGabhann.
Galway Astronomy Festival 2014: City of Stars
The theme is of the 2014 Galway Astronomy Festival “City of Stars" and takes place on February 1st at the 4* Westwood House Hotel with an emphasis on how exploration of the Cosmos has inspired communities and cultures in our city that would not otherwise do so, to think about the Universe. From its humble beginnings in January 2004 to the present day our Astronomy Festival has become Ireland’s biggest annual gathering of amateur astronomers who come here from around the country to meet in friendship and to exchange information, successful stargazing and mutual progress. The event stays with the same format as in 2013 with talks spread over three sessions with well known Irish and thge iconic Uk amateur astronomer; Guy Hurst. Observing on Moycullen on both nights and entry to the day session on €20!
Provisional Schedule TBC
Morning Session: 1000- 1230
Guy Hurst, Editor of "The Astronomer magazine" UK: "The Glory of Globular Star Clusters"
Dr Matt Redman, Director of Centre for Astronomy, NUI Galway: "Star formation and Star Destruction"
Tom O'Donaghue: “Cosmic Vistas: The Universe in Colour” www.astrophotography.ie
Optional Lunch Break Workshops: 1310-1400
2 x 25 min workshops
Paul Byrne IFAS: “Binary Stars: Double Your Pleasure. Two's Company, Three's A Triple System”
Brian MacGabhann: "Methods Observing our Star in Safety"
Afternoon Session: 1400-1700
Paul Mohr: "The genius of the Greek naked-eye astronomers: Measuring the Cosmos with dioptra and Trigonometry"Michael O’Connell: "From the Big Dipper to the Southern Cross: Observing the southern sky Down Under"
Dr Deirdre Coffey: "Exploring the Universe: The View from Hubble and Beyond"
Evening session @ 1900
The Sir Patrick Moore Memorial Talk
Guy Hurst, Iconic UK amateur astronomer: "The Astronomer: The First 50 years"
Celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the magazine 1964-2014
A partial penumbral lunar eclipse takes place on 18/19 October, and for a change the UK is a perfect location to see the entire event with the Moon at a good altitude. Located in eastern Pisces some 42° high, the Moon begins its journey through the northern part of Earth’s faint and fuzzy-edged penumbral shadow at 22:51 (P1). Maximum immersion into the shadow is reached two
hours later, at 23:50. Almost 50° high in the south, the Moon is 75 percent covered by the penumbra at maximum. Unlike the umbral shadow, the penumbra has no distinctly visible edge to it. The northern quarter of the Moon remains in full sunlight, but the dulling effect of the penumbral shadow
ought to be discernable, especially in the southern half of the Moon. On leaving the penumbra at 01:50 (P4), the Moon is 45° high in the southwest.