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

Should you (or someone you love) go to MIT?
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Today is “PI” day (written in American style, 3/14…) and MIT is holding a one day fundraiser… In honor of this day, this provides me with an excuse to post something I wrote for my Live Journal account a few years ago and which I get asked about from parents (and grandparents) of prospective students all the time. Of course the MIT I attended was nearly half a century back, but things haven’t changed all that much… Do I recommend MIT? Only if you are a very particular type of student. There is a reason why schools like MIT are so rare: because for most people, it is the wrong school to go to. MIT is not a place to find yourself. Because it is such an intense environment, it can be devastating to anyone who doesn’t already have a strong sense of who they are, and where they want to go. (Mind you, after MIT is finished with you, the person … 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

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

Get off the Sofa – Stellarium a beginners guide to the software with videos and instruction
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Virginia creepers are turning red, evening light drops noticeably, a chilled breeze tosses  leafs around the garden . Thoughts of winter constellations and log fires warm my heart as we lean towards autumn.  Magnificent Orion is slowly making a return  with its extremely detailed nebula, a sketching target of mine.  Once several years ago I saw it in a very dark sky , the detail was outstanding even in my 8 inch dob. I observed what looked like cracks  in the molecular cloud, it was so totally mesmerizing  however my view was  soon eliminated by fog creeping up and over me .  A drawing  to look forward to attempting  as M42 is truly special. We look from our gardens at a place where stars are born . Observing M42 we also look back in time about 1,500 light years.  The future and the past combined , a wonderful sight, a complex drawing. My hopes are for a comet in outburst … Continue reading

Reiner, R Gamma, Lohrmann, Hevelius,Cavalerius – A lunar sketch
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Reiner , Reiner Gamma March 31st 2007 21:30UT – 22:54UT 200mm/8mmTVP eyepiece / 2 X Barlow / Mag 300X Focal Length 1,200mm 300gsm Daler Rowney paper, Soft Pastels, Conte Crayons, Scraper tool. Seeing 2 Lunation 12.84 days/ Illumination 97.2% Image Rotated 180 degrees Every time I seek to do a sketch of the lunar surface, there has to be a visual trigger to set me off. On this particular night I was offered one of the clearest steadiest views I have had for a long time. Reiner Gamma, that little bright kite shape on the lunar surface  inspired me to draw. For my sketches I use pastel thickly, sometimes several applications one on top of the other. This is deliberate as I can then use certain instruments to almost carve out shapes and liner features. The seeing was good so I was able to use a 2 X Barlow to increase the magnification and my chances for observing detail. Using … Continue reading

Apply Now for the January 2017 Faith & Astronomy Workshop!
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The annual Faith and Astronomy Workshop will be held next January 16 – 20, 2017, and applications are now open. What’s the FAW? Well… read on… What can modern astronomy tell us about creation – and its Creator? This four-day workshop, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, is designed to bring those working in Catholic parishes an up-to-date overview of the universe: from the Big Bang, to the search for life in the universe, to our exploration of the planets… as seen through the eyes of the Jesuit priests and brothers who work at the Vatican’s own astronomical observatory. Our next workshop will be held the week of January 16-20, 2017, at the Redemptorist Renewal Center outside of Tucson, Arizona. Participants should plan to arrive on the afternoon of Monday, January 11; the work of the workshop begins that evening. Days and evenings are scheduled through Thursday. The workshop will end with Mass and breakfast on Friday morning, January 15. The workshop is designed for … Continue reading

Across the Universe: The Year (2011) in Astronomy
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This column first ran in The Tablet in August 2011 Vacation season is also meeting season, and August 2011 found me at two very different kinds of conferences: the annual Meteoritical Society Meeting, in Greenwich, and the World Science Fiction Convention, in Reno, Nevada. The order of these meetings was particularly useful this year: I had been invited on a panel in Reno to tell science fiction fans about “the year in physics and astronomy” and so I could pass on the hottest news from Greenwich while it was still fresh in mind. The latest results from the Dawn spacecraft orbiting Vesta showed a surface completely covered with craters. So far, that’s consistent with our idea of a small planetoid that melted once soon after it was formed, and then has done nothing more than suffer continuous collisions with space debris for the past four and a half billion years. [But in the years since 2011 our understanding of Vesta changed … Continue reading

Stars Wonderful Stars at Wexford Town Library Ireland
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On a dull and drizzle splashed day in Wexford, children came to the local library to learn about our magnificent star. They were taking part in a new initiative run by Libraries Ireland , a national reading plan for children in the Summer months. The idea is that the children read at least six books and collect small encouraging rewards along the way culminating with an awards event at the end. ‘Summer Stars’ is the name of this year’s programme and of course my workshop, ‘Stars Wonderful Stars’ was a perfect fit. My workshops always begin with an explanation of what we will try to do and how we will go about our efforts . Stressing the importance of our star in everyday life is paramount in my initial presentation. Making sure the children understand the very special existence of our Earth in relation to the Sun is central. Pointing out the fact that we do not have to wear … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Science for the Masses
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This column first ran in The Tablet in July 2008 [In July 2008], the members of the Vatican Observatory spent a week contemplating our hopes and plans for the future while enjoying the views from an Italian retreat house in the Abruzzi. The highlight of the week was a visit from the then newly-elected Jesuit Father General,  Fr. Adolfo Nicholás. In preparation for the General Congregation that elected him, we had prepared a number of documents suggesting that the Jesuit order take more notice of science and technology, both to answer the kinds of science and religion questions we get asked all the time, and to better minister to the growing number of people (in places like India, never mind the industrialized West) who make their living with computers and other high-tech equipment. It turns out, Fr. Nicholás had read those documents. When he spoke to us, he suggested that a new Jesuit order of studies should be developed that incorporates … Continue reading

Astronomical Sketching – Education in action
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“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.”  – William S Burroughs I like this quote from Burroughs, it is a fit in many ways for the not widely practiced activity of astronomical sketching. Not that the objects concerned do not exist, but rather they are perhaps unknown to or go unnoticed by many people . Lots  of people in the world go about their lives without noticing detail. Only by being still and observing do we gather appreciation for the planet that surrounds us and our place in the universe. Drawing something like the moon is a progressive journey of learning by observing and recording features as best one can. Creativity may play a part in the choice of materials used to produce a drawing or … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clerical Work
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2011 The typical scientist spends more time in front of a keyboard, writing, than in a lab or a telescope dome. That’s certainly true in my case. This past month has seen me busy with many different sorts of paperwork. One task this month was serving as a referee for one of the journals in my field. When scientists want to publish a new idea or set of data, they write up an article in a quite rigid format, designed not to let the greatest number of people understand it, but rather such that the fewest possible might misunderstand it. They send it to the journal where they think it should be published; its editor then chooses other scientists in the field to referee the article, grading it with lots of red ink. This is all done anonymously, though the referees’ identities can often be deduced from their comments (“You neglected … Continue reading