Our planet being hit by an asteroid is a worrying thought and not much fun. However, this week I was reminded of the night I brought about 30 asteroids to Dunsink Observatory in Dublin. A family audience packed the meridian room for my workshop Balloon Planets. Which partly involved learning about the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
On June 30th this week we had Asteroid day. This is an annual reminder of the threat that asteroids hold for our home in space. We know that organisations are working on methods to deflect asteroids heading in our direction. We know that there are organisations on constant watch for these objects. The treat is real, the possibilities of a hit are real. Hopefully, more resources will be put into research and defence activities to avert the nightmare scenario of a direct hit.
I've spent almost 14 years or so doing talks and workshops for various groups at the observatory. Dunsink is close to the city of Dublin. However, this beautiful building rests on a hight above suburbia in a semi-rural setting. It is a peaceful place where time seems to stand still, yet great movement happens in terms of public engagement. The observatory has always been supportive of my work and has at times allowed for some of my wilder ideas to actually happen. Here is the link to Dunsink
Sometimes new concepts tend to arrive late at night or just before waking in the early hours. One such idea is Balloon Planets. Basically, helium-filled balloons in an appropriate colour would represent each of the eight planets. Pluto could not be left out so a white balloon would stand in. I made a huge polystyrene ball into the sun and acquired a tripod to stand it on.
Each balloon had a string attached, the farthest planet Neptune had the longest string. Uranus, a lesser string and so on till Mercury closest to the sun. Each balloon planet was attached to the solar orb. The lesson being that the sun holds up all the planets, moons and asteroids that travel around it. It holds on to its family.
As you can see in the picture above the observatory meridian room has an unusually high ceiling. Plenty of room for orbiting planets. I called for eight volunteers to be in charge of the balloons. Eight young enthused children took the strings of each planet in hand.
My presentation started with the sun and then I spoke about each planet in turn. When Mercury was done that child let the string go so the planet floated free but still attached to the sun. Venus next, then Earth, Mars and so on. The planets further out had their strings held by children spaced further down in the meridian room. When Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune were released they settled high up in the roof. It was visually cool as well as been good fun for the audience.
The asteroids were made by hacking away at a large polystyrene block. I created thirty or so and gave each an ice pop stick as a holder. A few rows of families toward the back of the room held the asteroids. They swayed back and forth to show them off when I was speaking about them.
Everyone learnt something about the asteroid belt and its place in relation to the planets and the sun. The workshop was interactive, entertaining and educational at the same time. I held Balloon Planets at Dunsink a few times and also in big halls for girl guides. It was always well received.
The planet holders went home with their balloons plus some educational material about Saturn. In fact, I had enough to give everyone attending some of those wonderful resources. At the time my work was well supported with such material by the education outreach section for the Cassini Mission to Saturn.
That evening I tied lonely Planet Pluto to the gate post at the observatory. It announced the workshop on the way in and it went home with some small child later. The asteroids were, for the most part, returned to the bucket they arrived in. However, some had shed themselves all over the seats and the floor. Nobody minded the mess because everyone went home that night with a smile on their faces.
It gave me great pleasure to be part of Cruinniu na nOg for the third time. The unique circumstances of 2020 allowed me to produce a piece of work that exists online for all to use. My Rainbow Challenge video was intended to build on the abundance of rainbows drawn by children during the pandemic. The intention was to hopefully be sent rainbow challenge drawings that reflected learning.
Making the video was a challenge in itself because I wanted it to engage people and be useful. Creating the content was not as easy as I thought it would be, However, I slowly got a little more familiar with the software and the problems it threw at me. It is taking time to get used to what the various tools do and even how to access them. It will take a good while yet for all of it to become easy. Issues like, do I record voice and draw at the same time or do I draw and do a voice-over later. One is more authentic in real-time but the other allows for finer edits. The experience is a learning curve.
I wanted to offer a little knowledge about how rainbows form to inspire children to learn through visual creativity. The video had over 300 views on YouTube in a short time. It resulted in drawings sent in from children in Mayo, Dublin, Carlow, and Waterford. It also had many positive reactions on social media.
One person (a teacher) even shared the video via Zoom with her class and got 16 drawings in return. This was something I overlooked as all the children in the country are still in lockdown and at home. Had I been more in tune with this I could have cast my net wider to engage similar proactive teachers. A lesson learnt for future efforts.
Many children placed their homes under the rainbow as the "something" they cared about most. Children's families were included in many drawings. A very young child ( age 6) included herself washing her hands as a way of caring for others.
Another poignant drawing came from a young child. It had her rainbow over a heart-shaped Earth surrounded by children of all colours holding hands. The background being clouds, the source of raindrops that produce rainbows with our sun. Several drawings included raindrops, clouds and the sun.
So lots of children created drawings that they had thought about and they produced evidence of learning via drawing. Am very pleased with the results so far and in the whole adventure, I learnt a lot myself.
Here is a small selection of drawings submitted for the Rainbow Challenge
Active Region 2765
In very difficult windy conditions I finally managed to do a drawing of Active Region 2765. It was the first decent sunspot region on the sun for a long time. Drawing active regions is a challenging activity and a rewarding one in equal measures. Challenging because they are complex visually. Rewarding because every time you try you have to invent new ways of using materials to gain traction on accuracy.
The previous day I had looked at AR 2765 and started a complex drawing using pastel particles. However, the wind made the telescope shake and the drawing became impossible. The shape of the active region was dramatic that day, with wonderful swirling shapes in the mottling around the penumbra. A long filament with clearly defined anchors added to the view. The drawing was abandoned in frustration over the wind and occasional showers of rain.
Next day I tried again, this time there was less wind to bother me. To maximise my chance of capturing AR 2765 I positioned myself behind the netting that surrounds our vegetable patch. This reduced the wind somewhat for the effort.
My Solar Telescope
For these kinds of drawings, I use a Personal Solar Telescope. It's a basic model which is 400 mm long. My preferred eyepiece is an 8mm Tele Vue Plossl which gives me a magnification of 50X. If you are not familiar with this kind of telescope, it is only for looking at the sun. Nothing else is viewable in it because it has a special filter to only allow one wavelength of light from the sun to pass through. It allows only a minuscule fraction of light in a narrow waveband to come in. Therefore it makes it possible to look at the sun directly and safely.
With the small 40 mm objective and an 8 mm eyepiece, the solar disc occupies just about 20 mm in the view. Even though the active region maybe the size of the USA it is a fraction of the overall view. Depending on the stability of the atmosphere your view may be crystal clear or not.
One of the most difficult things to get right in a solar drawing is the mottling. To the eye, it is like a matrix of dots assembled in various shapes all over the solar disc. The dots display dramatic shapes close to active regions as they arrange themselves according to the influence of the moving active region. Each dot is a spicule which is bright when it is viewed on the solar limb. However, they are dark against the disc. Bundles of fibrils also make up the mottling. Tubes of hot plasma rising up offering us the tops of their columns. The areas of plage also tend to have dramatic moments of brightening from time to time. They often look like fat rivers of lava in the h-alpha view. They are associated with concentrations of magnetic activity.
I was interested in this AR because it had the potential to produce flares and it was Earth-facing. However, I only got one opportunity to observe and attempt a drawing. Because of the uncertain weather, I decided not to go for a lengthy drawing in pastel but to go for a pencil drawing instead.
However to enhance the drawing I used a luminous paper , as an experiment. The colour was as close to the h-alpha view as I have seen so far. I tried my best to capture the shapely mottling around the active region. Leaving the area where the plage was visible empty. This allowed it to exist by creating graphite marks around it.
Every shapely graphite mark in the drawing should be millions of dots. For the moment I am just able to capture the shapes. One day I will get it right until then the journey of solar sketching continues.
Just a few weeks ago I was lamenting ( in this blog) the fact that I had nothing to offer an annual Irish creative festival. Cruinniu na nOg (The meeting of the Young). This is a free festival for children and young people all over Ireland. Last year I was in libraries in Castlebar Co Mayo with my workshops Lets Go to the Moon. The previous year I was in Birr Library Co Offaly with Stars Wonderful Stars. They were actual workshops with lots of children, pre COVID 19 when face to face was normal.
I decided almost as I was writing that blog to try to make a video which might be relevant. My idea was based on the fact that children have been drawing and painting rainbows as a response to the COVID 19 crisis. A lot of rainbow hugs for healthcare workers. So I figured maybe a little knowledge about how rainbows come about might build some education into the rainbow phenomenon. Something simple, not mentioning wavelengths or spectrums that could be off-putting for kids.
To my delight, the idea was accepted and I went ahead and made this video. All Cruinniu na nOg content is online this year. It gives me great pleasure to be part of it. Dealing with the software is a journey for me but I am enjoying the experiments. Hopefully, people will like it and children will draw rainbows with a small bit of new knowledge. At the moment I have several ideas stacking up like paintings in my head. Not all paintings get done, most do eventually.
I've even figured out subtitles which expand the function of a video to cater for the hard of hearing . Getting familiar with all the tools I can - Here is the link to the Rainbow Challenge
Rainbow Challenge Video
Last week I got my annual reminder about International Observe the Moon Night 2020. This year sharing the moon with the public may be problematic because of COVID 19 and its regulations. Therefore many of us will have to make an effort to do something online.
I have been busy thinking about online content for various events coming up during the months ahead. Doing my best to get my head around video making and editing. Also am trying to be creative in that activity.
This week I am revisiting an article I wrote back in 2017. If you have not shared the moon with others perhaps this is your year to start. This write up may give you reasons to take part in International Observe The Moon Night. The link to the 2020 event is updated below.
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 surface of the earth shines in a flood of moon light. Now the moon, waning, sends us her beams more weakly, and the earth is less strongly lighted; at length the moon returns to conjunction with the sun, and black night covers the earth."
The above paragraph is an extract from Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Messenger) 1610 by Galileo Galilei . The translation is by Stillman Drake from the book Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. Now there ye have it, direct and clear from the master. Read it slowly, imagine it, animate it in your mind. Observe the moon for yourself, spend time with its wonderful phases,then soon you will understand its movements.
Galileo was a great man for sharing the moon through his telescope. He shared the lunar surface with scientists, princes, students, the pope, and artists. Galileo was compelled to share the moon because it is such a magnificent sight even in his small telescope.
Starry Messenger was written to share his drawings and observations of our satellite, far and wide.
Galileo's writing pulls you in to be part of his exploration. He thereby transports his readers to share his thoughts as he figures out the lunar surface, phases and features observed over 400 years ago. Today you can still find freshness pouring from his enquiring mind in his descriptive writing.
During 2009 I decided to paint Galileo's phase drawings from Sidereus Nuncius. Bringing his small sketches to a 3X3 foot canvas was a bit of a task. However, the exercise gave me an insight into his view in a tiny telescope and his observational skill transcribing those views into drawings. On my canvas, the moon phases are each 13 inches in diameter whereas Galileo's sketches were about 2 inches.
Sharing- International Observe the Moon Night
Sharing the moon with the public is an affliction borne with large smiles by many astronomers all over this planet. Amazingly, there are many people today that have never had an up-close, view of lunar features in a telescope. International Observe the Moon Night is an invitation to astronomers to share lunar detail with passers by on September 26th, 2020.
This is a global event, with an increasing bubble of participants. I have taken part several times, it is tremendous fun to share the topography with people passing by. Back in 2012, the children in my astronomy club took part, they were proud to share their knowledge of the subject on the seafront in Bray Co Wicklow.
Learn from Apollo 11
The moon is a constant in our existence. Our eyes are drawn by its beauty to look at it from all over the planet. Galileo made sense of it for us, at great risk to his freedom. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lifted the entire planet by landing on it for the first time back in 1969.
On September 26th try to pick out the Sea of Tranquillity with your eyes. But why wait till September check out Tranquillity before that. Even with your eyeballs, it's an easy observation to make. Better again in binoculars and still better in a telescope. A 200 mm reflector minimum size telescope should show you at least crater Armstrong about 5 km in diameter, crater Aldrin (3km) and crater Collins (3km). You should have no problem finding the area where the Apollo 11 LEM landed close to crater Sabine. Use the free software Virtual Moon Atlas to help you ID the features in this area and other fine features on the moon.
Last night I joined a zoom lecture hosted by the Science and Entertainment Exchange. The speaker was Kevin Peter Hand who is an astrobiologist. His talk was about Alien Oceans of Earth and Beyond. I have enjoyed several educational online presentations in recent weeks, some on the subjet of astrobiology. It can be very stimulating to have something to lift one's spirits during this difficult time.
I have had a thing about Enceladus for years now. I once made a model of this icy moon out of a football, paint and some clay. So kids could hold it when you could not go to a shop and buy such a thing. A few years later I painted Enceladus inspired by Cassini's images. It is a very textured painting as was the model made from a football. Several of my workshops include Enceladus and it has been drawn many times by children attending over the past years. So I just had to pay attention to what he had to say.
He reminded the audience that Enceladus has organics in its exploding plumes. As well as salt and hydrogen emanating from its deep interior ocean.Last night I was particularly intrigued by Kevin Hands experience in the field of exploring Earths poles for life under the ice. He spoke about the use of the latest technology in Earth science.
This research will directly feed its developments into future space robots. One of these is called BRUIE, a two-wheeled robot explorer. This actually moves around directly under the ice checking for life as it goes along.
Some sort of buoyancy system keeps it attached to the ice as it moves under it. This JPL robot or something similar is targeted to explore icy moons in our solar system in the future. Here is an article about this fascinating technology.
Free Online Astrobiology Course
The entire talk brought me back a few years to when I did an online course in Astrobiology. It was with the University of Edinburgh with Coursera. Professor Charles Cockell gave that course and I looked forward to it every week. It was an interesting mix of science, biology and solar system exploration with the story of life blended in so neatly. Astrobiology and the search for Extraterrestrial Life
A Pandemic Series
Recently I have rediscovered Professor Cockell online. He is producing a talk a week on YouTube. All astrobiology related all obviously recorded in his home. They are short, all with interesting titles and thought-provoking. The style is a fireside chat, just him talking and you listening.
Here is the link to all of them all, he calls it a pandemic series. The first one is called Are Viruses Alive and it is at the end of the page. It looks like he is up to video 42 this week but within this page listing, you will see all the video titles so one might take your interest.
As far as I know, the Science Entertainment and Exchange people put their videos up later for all to see them. So I hope some of this is of interest to you. We all need some stimulation and enjoyment during this pandemic.
A nice find
While searching an old hard drive for some family images, I came across this photograph. Its some of the parents and children from my previous astronomy club in Bray Co Wicklow. The Action Sun workshop involved bringing the sun to Earth using simple materials. The children and parents were carrying the newly built sun into the school hall, all very proud of their work.
On May 4th 2012 children from St Cronans Stargazers Astronomy Club in Bray took the sun from the sky and brought it down to Earth. We used a 10ft X 8ft plastic sheet, crepe paper, acrylic paint washable glue and plenty of energy.
It was a very cloudy day. Earlier a brief look at the sun in the gave me a good view of a sunspot in Active Region 147. The rest of the data from the space telescope Nasa Solar Dynamics Observatory. ‘The sun now’ . This website shows the status of the sun in many light waves in real-time.
By building the sun the children were literally exploring the physical features of the sun with their hands in mini scale.
Astronomy and Art for Everyone
Exploring astronomy via art is varied learning for all participants. Even finding out a little about what we see in the sky during our entire lifetimes is enhancing for life. Understanding where we are helps us understand who we are. Art expressing awe and wonder at the magnificence of our stars role, in every second of every day of our lives is unavoidably beautiful.
Astronomy and Art are for everyone, each person has something to express, each has their own life journey to make, to live, to experience. The action of bringing the Sun to the ground, bringing it down to Earth is a deep experience that can only have a positive effect. Action Sun invites children to be creative, expressive, and informed.
During the activity, I emphasised to the children the dangers of looking at the sun. Action Sun is a very safe way of exploring our star in a way that enhances a child’s knowledge and encourages curiosity and further learning.
During the making of our sun, we had just finished the photosphere when spontaneously some of the children bowed down to the paper sun. This was a funny happy moment, so totally unexpected, it came out of nowhere. When we were carrying the finished sun into the school, the smallest child began singing ‘here comes the sun’
I was amazed that a 2012 child would know that song and even more surprised that he sang away. The singing soon became a group effort as we struggled through the double doors into the hall.
Action Sun supports Art in the curriculum as it uses mixed media to create the sun. We used paint and paper to convey action, and explosive movement on the solar disc. Action Sun enables children to use the characteristics of the materials to make the structures and features on the solar disc. Making the sun in this way is both creative and explorative.
Making is the technological component of the Science Curriculum. Action Sun provides the child with an opportunity to make the sun, and thereby investigate its properties in the schoolyard.
Action Sun is a cooperative activity encouraging social skills and group learning. The goal is to bring the sun to Earth to examine it and observe it safely. We were not just aiming for an understanding of the subject matter but were making connections between head, hand and heart while cultivating the capacity to discover systems. Observation and wonder equal sustained learning in my book.
Action Sun supports Geography in primary education as the Solar System is part of the lesson plans. The Sun is the central hub of our solar system and is, therefore, one of the most important objects in our daily lives.
When the Action Sun piece was hung in the hall, the children said ' the suns up, the suns up' with smiling faces, what a happy moment. A fun afternoon, in which out of the corner of my eye the action was observed by several teachers out of the school windows.
Action Sun was created by Deirdre Kelleghan slide show below
On this occasion Action Sun was funded by Dublin City of Science 2012 . Action Sun was included in the book Solar Sketching - A comprehensive guide to Drawing the Sun ( pages 369,370,371,372) This was also a NASA Sun-Earth Day Venus Transit registered event.
The children's work also had the honour of being Astronomy Sketch of the Day on May 5th 2012
I really enjoyed taking part in Cruinniu na nOg last year. The preparation, the fun, the smiles,and the work produced. This year because of COVID 19 the events that can be held online are online. I have found myself unprepared for it and will miss out this time. However, I am working on some online ideas and hope that these efforts will be useful in the future. Here is what happened in two of the venues during that festival in 2019.
Cruinniu na nOg means the meeting of the young in the Irish language. Creative activities are funded on that special day by the local authorities all over the country.
The overarching body is called Creative Ireland. Ireland as a country therefore backs creativity nationwide for all her children.
My drawing workshop Let's Go To The Moon - Apollo 11 became part of this government initiative to stimulate creativity. Cruinniu na nOg is aimed to encourage children to get involved in new experiences while creating and also having fun.
Castlebar Library - Cruinniu na nOg
The first venue on June 15th, was Castlebar library Co Mayo. A really good presentation space with enthusiastic staff to help set up. An audience of young children along with a few parents showed total interested in the Apollo 11 mission. Some of the children were very well versed in Apollo mission details. It is so refreshing to listen to children talking about the first landing on the moon 50 years later. After my presentation, which is the basic story of Apollo 11, we got down to the drawing.
" Through the Creative Ireland Programme, Ireland is now among the first countries in the world to prioritise creativity as vital to our personal and collective wellbeing and success. The Programme promotes understanding and appreciation of the value of creativity in all of its forms; it engages and influences decision-makers to embed creativity across public policy, and it supports and enables participation in creative activities." from the 2018 report of Creative Ireland
On this occasion the challenge was to draw Buzz Adrian's helmet with Neil Armstrong reflected in the visor. One of the few images with both astronauts in the shot because Neil Armstrong was the cameraman. Their little faces told the story of the challenge. I could see the look of " she can't be serious" and " this is too hard for me" in their eyes.
In order to bring out their creativity and tutor them a little, I did a demonstration drawing. This lesson in observation helped the children break down the complex image into shapes they could recognise. Curves, rectangles, human stick figures, dark shapes, and light shapes. Using this method, encouraged the children to draw in an informed way at their own level. Therefore creating an easier pathway to their drawing than their earlier facial expressions exclaimed.
The results are excellent attempts using pastel on black paper. Their pride in themselves duly served they brought their work home. Every child left the library with NASA moon cards, ESO ( European Southern Observatory) stickers and an Apollo 11 information sheet designed by me. Here it is if you want to use it yourself. Moon Workshop Sheet A4
Ballinrobe Library - Cruinniu na nOg
After that, I drove on to Ballinrobe Library to repeat the workshop. What a total surprise, Ballinrobe Library is in an old church. The building has excellent acoustics, which I toughly enjoyed. My cardboard Buzz Aldrin figure cut a real presence in the church. No doubt the real Buzz would have been impressed by his figure being present at this unique location. As in Castlebar, the cardboard Buzz helped me explain the astronaut's A7L suit and how it helped the men survive on the moon in 1969.
For this workshop the drawing challenge was the Saturn V rocket. Another demonstration drawing helped break down the rocket into a simpler way to look at it. Basic shapes, cones, cylinders, and rectangles. We also added energy. The children were encouraged to express the power needed to launch the Saturn V from the Earth to the moon. In the room was enough energy to launch a small rocket from Mayo. As the presentation went on I could see some adults in the library soaking it in and coming toward the drawing area. As with Castlebar the children attending were very proud of their drawings. Also, every child went home with NASA moon cards, ESO stickers and an Apollo 11 information sheet.
Big thanks to Mayo County Council, Castlebar Library, Ballinrobe Library and Creative Ireland.
Updated Marvellous Mars memories
For several years now I have been visiting Castletown House doing workshops for families. Mams, dads, granny's, grandad's and kids all working together. Everyone learning together about planets and space missions. This year however COVID 19 has prevented that happening so far. So here is one from May 2018, my Marvellous Mars drawing workshop.
Castletown House is a Georgian palace set in a magnificent landscape in Co Kildare. The building is full of grace and elegance of times long past. That splendour coupled with all that is required of a building for public events makes Castletown House a special place. It was a pleasure to be invited to do a workshop in this excellent venue. Particularly timely as it was on the eve of the launch of NASA's InSight mission. The evening was set up for my Marvellous Mars drawing workshop. The audience were families, mams, dads and children, a perfect combination.
It was beautiful, with late warm sunshine, a powder blue sky over the greenest of green trees. Flowers, shrubs and land stretching out over 120 acres that seemed to go on forever It occurred to me that perhaps my audience might be small due to the pleasant weather and bank holiday. However, 42 people arrived, sat down and participated with lots of energy.
This activity was born out of my enthusiasm for the images sent back to Earth from various missions. Amongst them all, my favourite camera in space is the HiRise on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The images are available in The Beautiful Mars Project. Also included are mini-stories about Curiosity, InSight, ExoMars and Mars 2020. It was opportune that NASA's latest Mars mission InSight was launching the next day. The audience loved the fact that the CubeSats accompanying InSight were called WALL - E and EVE after characters in a Disney/ Pixar animated movie.
During my presentation, I try to provide a balance between ESA and NASA missions. It is always important for me to emphasise the collaborations between space agencies and scientists. Being in the now by speaking about current, and proposed space missions adds to the excitement. It would have been brilliant to know at the time, about the latest news regarding a drone helicopter due to cruise the surface of the planet on the Mars2020 mission. Bob Trembley wrote about that here recently if you missed it.
In order to engage my audience further, I brought along a model of Mars which I made some years ago. Having Mars in the room helps when talking about the planets unique features. My model used to be a football in a men's fashion shop window. A little persuasion helped me acquire it after the sale ended.
It took a lot of work to make it into Mars. Polystyrene is easy to carve but getting all the features in the right place on a sphere is not easy. At first, I was using a large format book by Giles Sparrow ( Mars at New View of the Red Planet). Wonderful images of the planet, but difficult to transfer flat maps to a 3-dimensional object. So then I discovered Mars Globe for iPhone and viola the aspects of the planets could be viewed in my hand from all angles. Roll it around, view it from the poles to see their shapes. I used it look at a feature, make the feature, move along the curve of the sphere, make it and so on.
This app was very useful in pinpointing the landing areas of previous missions and where features were to each other. Having Mars in my hand was just wonderful.InSight is now added to the model, ExoMars and Mars2020 will follow.
Some of the drawings produced that evening were most impressive. Impact craters were very popular as usual. Several children drew ESA's Trace Gas Obiter. The latest image of Korolev Crater was avoided by everyone due to its complexity. Martian Dust Devils were attempted by children, mams and dads.
The Universe is my Playground stickers (from ESO) were given to everyone. I was pleased to be able to give ESA / ROSCOSMOS Trace Gas Orbiter (Part of ExoMars) posters to the participants who made an effort to draw this relatively recent arrival at the red planet.
I really love drawing comets, it is sometimes challenging to find them but always a thrill when you do. So, in essence, I occasionally spend time trying to find chunks of ice, dust and gas travelling through space. Some might consider that a bit mad, however, it can be very satisfying.
Back in October 2007, I started to observe Comet C17 P/ Holmes. My drawings of that comet go from when it was a very small dot until it became the largest object in the solar system. Here is a previous article about that comet.
It is the changes these objects go through that really absorbs my interest. Their shape changes as they outgas, develop tails or their comas become thin enough to allow stars behind them to shine through. Enjoyment also comes from following their journeys across the night sky. Sometimes another object in the viewing vicinity becomes a target for sketching. Like a beautiful overlooked jewel. Recently three comets were in good locations for me to view. So far I have only managed to capture two of them. The third comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) has broken up and is difficult to catch.
C/2017 T2 ( PANSTARRS)
This comet was a mere faint blob in my field of view. I had tried to see it several times but conditions did not favour my efforts at the time. It is in the constellation Camelopardalis at the moment. Heavens-Above will give you its general location but if you can put it into your Stellarium for a more precise hunt. The Sky Live is a great one for detail.
C/2019 Y1 (ATLAS)
This was a more satisfying comet to draw because it had a brighter central condensation than Panstarrs and a more defined shape. This comet is still available to view, it is not far from C/2019 T2 ( Panstarrs) at the moment but is in the constellation Cepheus. Again refer to Heavens-Above for the general area, or introduce it into your Stellarium.
A little Jewel - The Jolly Roger Cluster
Fog, mist and cloud thwarted my sketch on April 14th so I finished in on April 15th. Love the Jolly Roger name, had to sketch it. That sketch was a bit awkward for me as I was standing on a small ladder, balancing my clipboard and sketching items. I was delighted to see it when I was looking for C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS). A windy night in which my sketching pastels and gel pens got blown all over the deck. Shiver me timbers, I was lucky that they didn't fall between the boards.
New kid on the block C/2020 F8 (SWAN)
Just very recently this comet has been introduced into Stellarium. At the moment it is a non-viewing object for northern hemisphere astronomers. This comet is bright at the moment, mag. 5.5 ! So hope reigns eternal once again for it to become visible with the naked eye in the evening sky, but I think it will be low in the sky during May. Comets can surprise and disappoint in equal measures; let's wait and see.
20th Anniversary 2010
Ten years ago this week was the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Carina Nebula was the image of choice by both The European Space Agency and NASA to mark the 20th Anniversary of Hubble. ESA offered a large print for outreach education at the time, I applied to get one. This is an enormous high-resolution photograph on excellent quality paper. I know the print is strong because I have been using it in my workshops since 2010. The print it is still as good as the day I received it. It is 8 foot X 5 foot, truly huge and very impressive.
April 23rd 2010 was the first time I used it in a workshop. I took it along to St Peters National School in Dublin. My presentation used the image to tell the story of the birth life and death of stars. The image shows a section of a powerful and beautiful star-forming region in the constellation Carina. This constellation is only visible from the southern hemisphere. It was therefore doubly engaging that this extraordinary image was also playing a part in informing young pupils about the view of the sky from a different location on the planet.
Nature created this awesome visually rich stellar nursery. Hubble became the servant who has worked so long to bring the wonders of our surrounding universe down to Earth.
In May of that year, one of my workshops was for St Bridgit's NS in Greystones Co Wicklow. As the classroom was too small to do a drawing workshop I challenged the children to write short poems instead. They were to be based on the presentation and their new knowledge about stars. Another workshop around the same time was for Delgany Brownie Troop.
So I merged the poems from Greystones and the drawings from Delgany in an exhibition for the public in the library in Greystones . It was a way of assisting the families and the general community to engage with the children's achievements. Simultaneously it applauded the very positive efforts of young children from local educational organisations.
The 20th Anniversary print went on to do outreach to many more groups over the years. Even though the children were young at least it gave them a start on being aware that stars are born, live their lives, mature and die. Awareness also that in some cases stars facilitated the formation of planets. A small peep into stars and our star. If life was normal I would be doing a Hubble 30th workshop but alas the new normal has no place for it.
However you can get the kids busy here with ESA's art challenge click in, just launched today April 24th
Here are a few of the poems
Cool blasts of light shoot from the cloud Nebula,
As new stars are born.
Really cool jets.
No one has even been that far,
Astronauts watch in amazement.
By Donagh Kelly Age 10
Colourful explosions burst in the air
A sight you cannot believe.
Roaring colours everywhere
Inspiring stuff way up there.
New stars are born
A hypnotising wonder which explodes into dust
By Faye Dempsey Age 10
Colourful clouds of stars
An absolute phenomenon
Red puffy clouds of sparkling gas
No boring stuff here.
By Ruairi Doyle Age 9
Cool to see
A beautiful sight
I have not seen such an amazing sight.
Not fake, it is real.
A wonderful view.
By Cian Mooney Age 10
Plus a few images
30th Anniversary April 24th 2020
Today April 24th brings us the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. ESA has a live Q&A on the subject, details below. 30 years of stunning images and knowledge gained. 30 years of bringing the wonders in space to Earth.
ESA invite to join a livestream on Friday April 24th 2020
Join us tomorrow, Friday 24 April, for a livestreamed conversation in Hubble 30th Anniversary Live with experts from around the world to mark the 30th anniversary of the iconic observatory.
On 24 April 2020, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 30 years of science discoveries that have revolutionised nearly all areas of current astronomical research, from planetary science to cosmology, and its countless pictures that are unmistakably out of this world.
You can ask your questions in the comments using #Hubble30Live.
Watch here: https://www.facebook.com/EuropeanSpaceAgency/videos/551695642151910/
On Life and Being
One day after visiting my mother at the hospice I arrived home and painted the above. It poured out of me very quickly. She is painted in that in-between place that will come to all of us. Even though mam was 84 I painted her young and, pregnant. She is at the same time shown old floating between life and no life. Her life and being vanishing in time to natures beat.
The Man Made of Rain by Brendan Kennelly
Between living and dying
is the calmest place I've ever been.
He stood opposite me and smiled.
I smiled too, I think because this was the first time
I'd seen a man made of rain
though once or twice
my heart was chilled by men of ice.
The rain poured through him,
through his eyes, face, neck, shoulders, chest, all his body
but no rain reached the ground,
it ended at his skin.
He looked at me with eyes of rain
and said, 'I'll be coming to see you
now and then from this moment on.
Today, I'm colours, all colours.
Look at me, I'll be colours again
but different next time, maybe.
See my colours today.
The opening lines of a long poem The Man Made of Rain by Brenden Kennelly. This poem is 43 pages long, it is a surreal work of art and vision . A dreamlike existence is evoked through its strong imagery coupled with powerful words. A hovering place between being alive and passing on is painted for us, no matter if we are women, men or children. A poem I have admired for many years.
From the moment we are born we hover between being and not being. Days before my mam passed away she floated between living and not living. The spectrum of her life seeped from her extremities to bring her slowly back to the larger spectrum of the universe.
When a close relative or friend passes on they remain inside you. In your being, your energy, your memories and in the essence of you.
As I write this I am sitting in the sunlight listening to the birds. Solar energy seeping into me. Someday that energy will flow out of me and rejoin the universe. The painting is influenced by my interest in the mother of our solar system. Its spectrum and the link to all living things. Another blog on the subject is here.
In the meanwhile, I like every other person on the planet am enduring the pandemic and its consequences. Every day I strive to do positive things or shake myself into the right frame of mind. When I wake up I want to be ready to dive into the day. I intend to 'see my colours today ' and every day, or at least be all I can be under the circumstances.
I painted my mam pregnant because that was me. Old because she was leaving me, melting away day by day, till everything was spent.
But not lost, never lost, like energy.