Eratosthenes Drawing Drama plus an Experiment opportunity for schools all over the planet
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On that cold evening back in 2007 Eratosthenes looked powerful in its position emerging into the suns warm rays. Rupes Recta was also inviting and Plato almost called me again. Even drenched in sunlight Plato’s steel grey floor carried those unmistakable flame shaped shadows. Eratosthenes is a truly dramatic crater, a sweeping mountain chain whips away from it in a visual series, of broken, deep shadows. Montes Appeninus is cut and chopped first by Mons Wolf, and then by Mons Ampere. Next in line, Christian Huygens name is lent to Mons Huygens named in honour of the discoverer of Saturn’s largest moon Titan . This high mountain (164,000ft) is a billion miles away from those primal methane or ethane seas discovered by the Cassini Huygens mission on one of its routine flybys. Mons Bradley and Mons Hadley cradle the Apollo 15 lunar landing area from 1971. A mission that put wheels on the moon for the first time. This wonderfully … Continue reading

Grand Finale – Painting inspired by the Cassini Mission to Saturn
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Also in Exploring the Solar System Exploring the Solar System: The Mass of the Sun Marvellous Mars Drawing Workshop at Dunsink Observatory Dublin Astronomical Sketching – Education in action Stars Wonderful Stars at Wexford Town Library Ireland Get ready the Perseids are coming Space the final Frontier – World Space Week 2016 On the richness of the lunar surface Dark Sky Magic at Ballycroy National Park Mayo Ireland Grand Finale – Painting inspired by the Cassini Mission to Saturn View the entire series … Continue reading

On Operas and Stars, Aliens and Refugees
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I was recently in correspondence with Carl Pennypacker at Berkeley. To quote Wikipedia: “Dr. Pennypacker has spent much of his career as a research astrophysicist, receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1978. His principal research was the studying of supernovae and the building of techniques for their automated discovery. With Rich Muller, he co-founded the Berkeley Supernova Search, which later became the Supernova Cosmology Project. He shared the 2007 Gruber Prize in Cosmology and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the Supernova Cosmology Project’s discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.” All true. But in addition to that, he has a deep interest in science outreach… and music. When he shared with me a video he’d been involved with (see below) I asked if I could post it here, and if he would give me a few words of introduction. He graciously agreed to both. He writes (edited from a couple of emails): I was part of “The Global Skylight” opera, as part of the IAU’s … Continue reading

Bringing Mars to Earth – Educational Outreach
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  Mars is an extraordinary planet , its textures and exquisite beauty have been brought to Earth by the images of HiRise on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter . Curiosity gives us a ground eye view as it drove through Gale crater and on to Mount Sharp. From Earth by eye Mars is but a tiny pink dot , in small telescopes it becomes a slightly larger pink dot . It is not easy to see detail on Mars for most people. My best views were in the South refractor at Dunsink Observatory and through a friend’s 16 inch Schmidt Cassegrain.The polar caps stood out in the 16 inch while the 11.75 inch objective at Dunsink showed a hint of dark areas on the predominantly rusty pink planet body. Of course Martian dust storms and the quality of our sky has a lot to do with seeing any detail at all. Pointing out Mars in the sky for public groups and children’s … Continue reading

Endeavour Space Academy
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I cannot remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with astronomy, the space program, and science fiction. I was a child during the Apollo era, and a young man when the original COSMOS first aired. I cut my teeth on Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Larry Niven; Carl Sagan was, and remains to this day, my personal hero. Now that I think about it, I started doing astronomy outreach the moment I got my first cheap telescope in 1968; I showed the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn to the neighbors, and took it with me to summer camp. I had one of those really scary green glass eyepiece solar filters – that got used a lot more than I like to think about! My wife gave me an 8″ Dobsonian telescope for my 40th birthday, that came with a not-scary-at-all solar filter; that telescope has seen a LOT of use in 16 years – so much so, it’s … Continue reading

Dark Sky Magic at Ballycroy National Park Mayo Ireland
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“The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” – Carl Sagan There is something deeply magical about a truly dark night sky. Objects that you would strain to see or not see at all in suburbia populate every eye movement. Peripheral vision fine tunes to a state of high alert with ease. Observing rewards even before dark adaption. My visit to Ballycroy National Park in Co Mayo reminded me of so many holidays in the west of Ireland long ago when our children were young. After a day of extreme foggy conditions across the whole country I was not expecting to see any stars at all. Shortly after my talk we went outside to check up on things. Even with some small lights on in the visitors centre the sky was mind-blowing. Ballycroy National Park I had been introduced to Georgia MacMillan from the Mayo Dark Skies team by … Continue reading

When is a week not a week ? When its Science Week 2016 of course !
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Science Week 2016 was the 21st iteration of this infectious annual event . My involvement has been ongoing since 2007. A multitude of varied engagements are supported and promoted by Science Foundation Ireland. The aim is to stimulate interest in a broad range of sciences. Science Week makes the often complex world of science totally digestible to every person who embraces it. The programs are targeted towards school children and their teachers plus the public at large. Science Week touches almost everyone in this country via TV, Radio, Social media, publications and apps. Nationwide road shows, workshops and talks go directly to schools,libraries and other centres. The magic and wonder of many sciences shared with tremendous enthusiasm and smiles by a host of participants. This year my offerings were two drawing workshops Deadly Moons and Marvellous Mars plus a special Constellation session for local cub scouts. The workshops were attended by 800 children in 10 venues over 11 days in … Continue reading

Have You Seen a Satellite?
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Have you ever see a satellite pass overhead? Maybe the International Space Station, or the Hubble Space Telescope? I was at a friend’s home the other day, and mentioned that it was rare for me not to see a satellite during a nighttime observing session – typically within the first half hour. My friend said he’d only seen the International Space Station, once… I was floored! I mentioned this to my wife, and she pointed out to me what should have been obvious to me: that not everyone spends half hour sessions looking at the sky. (Actually, what she lovingly said was “You’re not normal.”) So, with that… there are a LOT of man-made satellites orbiting the Earth; the United States Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking more than 8,000 objects(1). Only seven percent of those objects are operational satellites, the rest is space junk: dead satellites, rocket bodies, and miscellaneous debris. If you go outside on a clear moonless night, … Continue reading

Venus and Mars in the Evening, Jupiter in the Morning
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Venus is low and bright, and Mars is high and dim in the southwestern sky after dusk. Jupiter is low in the predawn sky to the southeast. Venus orbits the Sun faster than the Earth, and as it catches up with the Earth over the next couple months, it will continue to appear higher in the evening sky. In mid-February, Venus will start to appear lower in the sky each evening, until it disappears into the glare of the Sun in early March. Venus will reappear in the predawn sky starting in early April. Mars will continue to dim as the Earth puts more distance between the two planets, until it disappears into the glare of the Sun in mid-April. Mars will reappear in the predawn skies in late September. Jupiter will be visible in the predawn skies for several months, slowly moving from east to west; it will appear high in the southern sky in January, and low in … Continue reading

Astronomy in Art & Architecture:  Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
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Do math and science (and astronomy in particular) appear often in public art and architecture?  Ever since Br. Guy invited me on board “The Catholic Astronomer” I have had my eye and camera out for such public math and science, because it seems like great subject matter for the blog.  Clear instances of public math and science (versus, say, something like generic stars on the ceiling of a building) have turned out to be rarer than I was expecting.*  However, some can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My wife and I spent a day walking around Milwaukee this summer, and during our walk we came upon an interesting sculpture located just west of the corner of W. Prospect and E. Odgen streets that featured an artistic rendition of the Earth and planets.  It was fun to come across that bit of science on display, but then a little later we found some exquisite astronomical art in the public library.  And … Continue reading

Space the final Frontier – World Space Week 2016
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“Space: the final frontier. ” The opening line of the famous quote from Star Trek, the missions aim ” to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before. ” During Spaceweek 2016 I had the opportunity to take 360 children and their teachers on an exploration of moons in our solar system and the very topical planet Mars . Through listening and drawing they experienced a small awakening to the robotic images which are unveiling the beauty of other worlds, increasing our understanding with every single pixel. My workshop Deadly Moons now includes the stunning New Horizons image of Charon Pluto’s largest moon. The children loved the Star Wars names on its craters . They enjoyed linking Charon’s features to familiar books and movies. The workshop also showcases the incredable images of Saturn’s moons taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. In order to make my workshop Marvellous Mars extra interesting for the groups I made a model of Mars … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Stellar Round Up
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This column first appeared in The Tablet in October 2008 Black Mesa, Oklahoma sounds like the setting for a Hollywood Western. It looks like one, too. Every year at the Okie-Tex Star Party, three hundred amateur astronomers camp out for a week with their telescopes there, in hopes of dark dry skies. Some of their “amateur” instruments are larger in aperture than the telescopes of the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo. The miracle of computerized fabrication and the modern Dobsonian mount (a way of holding a telescope in place that replaces complex hardware with simple Teflon pads) has brought the cost of quality optics to the point where the price of a large telescope can be less than that of a small automobile. My GPS unit directed me as far as Boise City, two hours north of Amarillo, Texas; after that, I was following roads too small for most maps. I was there to give a series of talks during … Continue reading