21 Precious Perseids viewing pleasure
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My observing location for the 2017 Perseids was flanked toward the east by a large stony hill. Towards the west  the Atlantic Ocean and to both the south and north by fields of sheep. All week the forecast was less than favourable. It was a treat to have a relatively clear sky. Between local time 22:40 ( 21:40UT) and 23:35 ( 22:35UT) I observed 19 beautiful Perseids. Two white ones to start then a stunning blue mag 3 which spanned the width of Ursa Major. The vast majority were white with the occasional dim red Perseid zipping in from the direction of Perseus. Several of the white variety matched magnitudes of 2 + similar in brightness to many ISS passes. Some of them entered directly overhead, they spurted and spluttered their smoky trails just in case they were not noticed. On this occasion, I did not create a drawing, but simply enjoyed watching the show. The Milky way became increasingly … Continue reading

Get the Moon in your head – Learn from Galileo and Apollo 11
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          Learn from  Galileo – 1610 ‘At conjunction the moon occupies a position between the sun and the earth; it is then illuminated by the sun’s rays on the side which is turned away from the earth. The other hemisphere, which faces the earth, is covered with darkness; hence the moon does not illuminate the surface of the earth at all. Next departing gradually from the sun, the moon comes to be lighted partly upon the side it turns toward us, and its whitish horns, still very thin, illuminate the earth with a faint light. The sun’s illumination of the moon increasing now as the moon approaches first quarter, a reflection of that light to the earth also increases. Soon the splendour on the moon extends to a semicircle, and our nights grow brighter; at length the entire visible face of the moon is irradiated by the suns resplendent rays, and at full moon the whole … Continue reading

Kicking up some more dust – Apollo 11 Memories part 2
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The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 had a profound effect on my life. It gave me an interest in astronomy and space that has stayed with me ever since. It has inspired my paintings and my outreach education efforts later in life. In September 1969 I went back to school full of anticipation that my teacher would talk about the biggest global event of the summer. For some reason I truly thought, she would tell us more about it and make a big deal of it in class. No, not a word, not a mention, nothing at all. I was beyond disappointed at the time, that has stuck in my craw ever since. Back in 1969, you did not really engage with your teacher, ask questions or bring up issues. You sat at your desk (wooden with an ink well) with 54 other children and absorbed whatever they dished out. My last year in primary school was in … Continue reading

Kicking up some dust – Apollo 11 Memories Part 1
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July 20 1969, I was  12 years old living in a regular suburban house with regular suburban parents. In my family I the eldest of five at the time. As with most families then we had to be in bed at 8 pm on weeknights, maybe 9.30pm at weekend’s school holidays or not that was the way it was. The Moon landing held a big interest for me, I really wanted to see it. Irish TV (Telefis Eireann) were going to cover the story with a special programme. Much to my surprise, the pestering of my parents in just the right way and at just the right time produced a yes. Deirdre was allowed to stay up and see how the story unfolded. Telefis Eireann didn’t start broadcasting until 6 pm in those days, the Moon landing programme started at 9 pm and was presented by Kevin O’Kelly. We had a small black and white TV with a rabbit-ear aerial. … Continue reading

Nibiru, Kepler, and some basics on orbits
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Let’s take another look at Johannes Kepler and at Nibiru, the supposed planet that supposedly will wreak havoc on Earth in October.  This is my second Nibiru post on this blog, the first being a couple of months ago.  As I mentioned then, some people find this Nibiru business to be a lark, or just an example of the worst sort of internet misinformation.  Others take it seriously—or don’t know how they are supposed to be able to know what to believe.  But here at The Catholic Astronomer, Nibiru is a great opportunity to talk about how the solar system works, and about Johannes Kepler, the first astronomer to really figure out how the solar system works. The Washington Post asked “Will the mysterious shadow planet Nibiru obliterate Earth in October?”  They answered “No”, but no one need take their word for it, or anyone else’s.  A person can reason this out for himself or herself, with a little help … Continue reading

The Bay of Rainbows and a bag of carrots
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The Bay of Rainbows in the Ocean of Storms ( Sinus Iridum in Oceanus Procellarum). What an atmospheric description of a dry colourless area on our moon. Sometimes when I am speaking about the moon to children I often say that the Bay of Rainbows is one of my favourite observing areas . The title of the feature brings up visions of a safe and happy place in a vast ocean of grey rock . The Bay of Rainbows is on the edge of The Ocean of Storms, a safe heaven is conjured up despite the fact that the moon has no seas or storms. The Sinus or Bay is the remains of a large impact crater which was subsequently flooded by basaltic lava, far from a safe place during its formation. The general surface of the bay is relatively flat but has a number of Dorsa aka wrinkle ridges. The ridges form when cooling magma shrinks and following magma … Continue reading

Astronomical Irish Women
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‘Astronomy is essentially a popular science. The general public has an indefeasible right of access to its lofty halls, which it is all the more important to keep cleared of unnecessary technical impediments’           Agnes Mary Clerke When I was president of the Irish Astronomical Society one of the most interesting guest speakers we had was Dr. Marie Bruck. She was noted for her interest in an Irish astronomer called Agnes Mary Clerke.  Back in 2007 our meeting room in Ely Place Dublin was full to  bursting point.  She delivered an eloquent talk on the centenary of the death of  this unusual lady astronomer. Her erudite presentation finished up to warm applause from all attending. Marie did her doctorate at Edinburgh University and then went on to live and work at  Dunsink Observatory in Dublin in 1950. She met and later married the director of Dunsink, Dr. Hermann Bruck.  After Dublin Marie and her husband moved to … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2015 ‘Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify.’ — Pope Benedict XVI At Notre Dame University [in June 2015], Katharine Mahon, a doctoral student in theology, reminded me of this passage from Pope Benedict’s Easter 2012 homily. One of the striking hallmarks of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, was how it was rooted in the theology and writings of his predecessors, like the passage above. Just as our badly-overlit cities blind us to the stars, our desire to wrap ourselves in the soft wool of technology insulates us from the reality of … Continue reading

What time is it? – Musings on time from zero to Webb
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The concept of time on this Earth is a fictitious delusional notion to facilitate human beings to operate collectively and individually. We humans live on this Earth as it is moving through space and time at 18.5 miles per second. The imaginary line through Greenwich in London gives us a vertical starting point for longitude at zero. East away from zero adds positives in time and west away from zero produces negatives from time zero. A straight line south of Ireland reveals that vast areas of Africa and Antarctica share the same time zone as we do. The ancient Egyptians were the first to understand and put to use the concept of a year. The Egyptians kept accurate astronomical records on papyrus scrolls circa 4,500 BC. Through careful astronomical observations they realised that Sirius one of the brightest stars in the sky was visible rising next to the sun every 365 days. Exactly the days the earth takes to orbit … Continue reading

Hymns of Faith and Science
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A few years ago, I gave an astronomy-themed retreat in the UK and among those attending was Trevor Thorn, who among other things writes hymns. He shared a few of his astronomy-themed hymns with me. Now, I’ll be honest, I find most such mash-ups tend to be pretty cringe-worthy. So I was all the more surprised to read his; they were very good… as you can see, on his blog site, The Cross and the Cosmos. (Which also includes a lot of other faith/astronomy themed art.) One particular bunch were written with kids in mind, and they’re quite fun. He’s “test-run” some of his songs with local church schools in Cambridge. Here’s a short video about that effort: … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Shapes of Things
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This column first ran in The Tablet in May 2015 In May of 2015, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona honored the retirement of Dr. Randy Jokipii, Regent’s Professor of Planetary Sciences… and the man who directed my doctoral dissertation. It’s customary at such events to downplay the scientific work of the honoree, and praise instead the “life lessons” taught. But Randy was not my father, my pastor, or my guru; he taught me physics. I chose to work for him for the simple reason that I thought he was the smartest guy in the department. (I still think so.) His field, cosmic ray physics, was far from what I had done before… or since. That was another attraction: I wanted to be challenged to learn new stuff. I got what I wanted. Under his direction I spent two years applying techniques that he’d invented for tracing cosmic rays in solar system magnetic fields, to the … Continue reading

A Slice of Solar Drawing in h-alpha
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On my 50th birthday my better half gave me a present of a PST 40 (Personal Solar Telescope) with a 40 mm objective. This gift was literally a piece of visual heaven. Since I acquired this fabulous instrument my work with it has always been drawing. Drawing the sun or even drawing features on the sun is without a doubt the biggest challenge in astronomical drawing. Here is the thing, the telescope objective is just 40 mm, the sun as I see it is only about 30 mm of that 40mm to the eye. Using an 8 mm eyepiece gives about a 50X magnification and therefore the best view of the features and action on the disc and on the limb. There is no point whatsoever in drawing something at a diameter of 30 mm unless you provide your viewers with magnifying glasses or the object is a daisy. Therefore I work mostly at dinner plate size, sometimes at side … Continue reading