On the evening pre-launch NASA tour I was privileged to stand within 150 yards of the Atlas V. The Mars Science Laboratory aka Curiosity perched on top ready to go. Silhouetted against the sun, this 191-foot assembly of scientific ambition stood tall. It was a little less than half the height of the Apollo Saturn V. At 363 feet the Saturn V rocket is the largest ever built and is more comparable height-wise to the familiar stainless street sculpture the Spire of Dublin which is 398 feet.
I was with 149 other people who were attending a Tweetup and various NASA people who were so kind and generous with their time. Our job was to tweet every nuance of the launch to the public. It was a truly enjoyable role.
After our unlimited photographic bonanza, we left the launch pad to head back toward the Vehicle Assembly Building. On our journey groups of red-haired hogs appeared nearby, munching in the evening grass as the sunset on an unforgettable day.
Ahead, an invite to a Marstini aka a Martini party and a visit to an Observatory. The Gale House (named in honour of the landing place for Curiosity Gale Crater ) was occupied by a large group of people who had somehow managed to put a very cool party together. Later that evening I went to the BCC Planetarium and Observatory with my friend Jane H Jones. The indoor Moon set up impressed me, in fact I wanted to bring it home to Ireland.
In the observatory, we looked at Jupiter through a 24-inch scope, meanwhile soft-spoken astronomers called out the positions of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. On the roof, I looked at Orion rising on its side, hence Robert Frost's poem never rang so clear and true. The constellation looked like it had fallen down the sky, or perhaps it was me who had tumbled down the planet. The sideways view of constellation caused by the clockwork artistry of the workings of the night sky.
Next morning I was picked up at 6am on the dot by Stephane L. Smith and was twittering away by 06:25.
Bill Nye the Science Guy looking very dapper spoke about everything. The chief administrator of NASA (at that time) Charles Bolden gave an impassioned talk about MSL being the precursor of future human Mars missions. Lori Garver, the deputy administrator of NASA (at the time) spoke with great excitement. Astronauts Leyland Melvin and Doug Wheelock delivered talks with a bit of fun included. In addition William James Adams aka will.i.am joined in to speak about education. The Black Eyed Pea star invested millions of dollars in educational programs for young people.
At T minus 30 I hugged the blow-up Curiosity beside the countdown clock. It was surreal to be beside this iconic clock. I had watched it for years on TV following various launches from Apollo to that pending moment. Shortly after that, I was invited to give my thoughts to the camera by Lou Braga so I did.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the moment was real, the Atlas V with Curiosity onboard ascended in silence. I looked at it rise and in that muted moment my past present and future merged. The sound followed and engulfed me totally. I watched till the smoke trail dissipated into imperceptible particles before returning to continue tweeting. After spacecraft separation and a huge cheer in the tent. I sat down at my table, 54 years of tears decided to pick that moment to flow. Consequently I knew then that I was in the right place in my life.
On the plane home as I eased back time to my reality the winder came off in my hand, a timeless moment but for me. Time had truly stood still when the silent rocket left this planet for Mars.
Here is Lou Braga's excellent launch video
This week was Science Week 2020 here in Ireland. My workshops have been a feature of the event for many years. Driving all over the country, presenting drawing workshops would be the usual format for me. However, this year the new normal was remote drawing workshops. |My Science Week remote workshops were born.
A lot of hours goes into creating videos with drawing involved. Getting myself organised with a desk that had an overhead camera. Sorting out the filming, editing and sound by myself was a bit of a task. A learning curve for me that was well worth the journey and the effort.
My videos were in use for Science Foundation Ireland's Science Week in various schools around Ireland. They were also in use for Mayo Science Festival. I have to say that I missed the interaction with the children. However, I was very impressed with the drawings produced and was delighted that some teachers sent a selection to me. The fact that my science week remote workshops actually work was a great delight to me.
The main thing that impressed me was each drawing had its main parts notated by the children. Noting helps cement the learning along with drawing the subject. This year my presentation via drawing was all about Saturn and its rings. The children all pointed out Saturn Gas Giant, The Cassini Division, and Rings of Ice. That is a lot of learning for kids.
With the Saturn / Jupiter conjunction coming up on December 21st it was timely to have at least one of these giants involved. I included a short extra video about this unique event. The closest visual appearance of Saturn and Jupiter since 1623 !! That is very special indeed and let us hope lots of people get to see it. From Ireland, it will be a potentially awkward observation because the planets will be low in the South West.
You can find out more about the December Great Conjunction 2020 here
Or check my video which is an tiny extract from my Science Week videos with the view from Ireland of the conjunction.
More on all this soon
Drawing Active Region 2781
Well, finally I got to see Active Region 2781 !! This active region is an enormous sunspot island of activity. AR 2718 is making its way across the Earth-facing surface of the sun. The last few years have given us crumbs in sunspot regions. However, the suns new eleven-year solar cycle has begun. We can look forward to more action in the future.
This active region is over 100,000 km long. I was pleased to be lucky enough to have the time and a sunshine morning to capture it. These are somewhat complex drawings to do. Sometimes my pastel blows off the page before I get to fix it. I also have to try to balance the focus and the bandwidth every few minutes to enable clarity. Or at least the best achievable clarity. That morning the seeing wasn't the best. The edge of the solar disc was wobbling like the heat haze you sometimes see on the road on a hot day. So now and then the sharpness of the AR was acceptable however more often it was not clear.
November 9th gifted me another sunny morning. This time I decided to do a white light drawing of the same area. Again the seeing was not so good. I tried various eyepieces to see which one would help me capture the best detail. The 14mm offered the best view, I made an effort to use a 2 x Barlow but that only increased the seeing issues. So I persevered and produced this pencil sketch. It would have been nice to do a h-alpha sketch as well but the clouds rolled in and closed me down.
Much to my surprise the white light pencil sketch turned up as Solar Activity Picture of the Day ! This is a Facebook group of 23,000 solar folks. The group is mainly populated by astrophotographers so therefore 99.99% of the pictures of the day are outstanding images of the sun in real time. The group is called SOLARACTIVITY if you are interested in this aspect of astronomy. I was very pleased that a mear pencil sketch was given this honour.
Recently I was lamenting the fact that I had no actual workshops for Space Week 2020 because of Covid 19. However, just a few days ago I was asked what would I have to offer for Space Week 2021. The theme is Women in Space, so I had no problem coming up with several online scenarios. Here below is a revisit to a series of workshops on Apollo 11. Next year will, of course, be populated with information about NASA's ARTEMIS mission plans.
Space Week 2018
During Space Week 2018 Let's Go To The Moon offered children the chance to draw some aspect of Apollo 11's iconic mission. Almost 400 took part in various venues across the country. This, therefore, offered me an ideal opportunity to vary the subjects of the drawing challenges. During all workshops, I offer a demonstration drawing. This is done in seconds to help the children focus on the important aspects of drawing.
Each child has about 20 minutes to draw therefore focus is vital. Teaching them to observe the subject before starting is key. Asking the kids if they agree with me about recognisable shapes within for example Buzz Aldrin's helmet. Specifically inviting them to look closely at where the shadows fall and the light lands. Requesting the children to be mindful of curves, rectangles, cylinders, cones and other shapes is very important.
Equally important is encouragment, so the children not to box themselves in with outlines. Better to try make light ghost images first, work on detail later. Subsequently it really does not matter if you are drawing an apple or a spacecraft the same observation actions apply. Many children listened and produced better work because of small suggestions. It is often the small things in a drawing that makes it stand out.
At Axis Theatre Ballymun Dublin 120 children took part in two Space Week sessions. Buzz Aldrin's helmet and the Saturn V rocket were the targets. It's fantastic to have an enormous screen and big sound for the workshops. Interesting to see how a 20-foot high space helmet or rocket can transfer to 16X12 inch pieces of paper. Afterward all of these drawings were exhibited at school to spread the story and the pride.
One small step
Overall the workshops it was interesting to see how kids took on such complex challenges. One group was charged with drawing all three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. It was doubtful that they had ever drawn a person before yet alone three people. Again using the actions of observing shapes, light and shadow some terrific efforts ensued.
In Newport National School 40 drawings of the iconic helmet were produced, some with great attention to detail. Some days later the workshop visited Killeen National School in Louisburgh Mayo. There another 40 space week children became very familiar with the reflections and shadows within the visor of the second man to walk on the moon.
About 100 children attended the workshop in Dunboyne Library. Here at the top of the slide show are a few of the many drawings produced by three local 6th classes. Group 1 were challenged to draw Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin. The second group were challenged to draw Buzz Aldrin's helmet with reflections. The final group of the day were challenged to draw the Command Module, Service Module and Eagle lander. In particular, I loved the drawings of the three men, some animated, some hilarious all wonderful.
Below also are a selection of drawings and images created during Space Week 2018
To sum up, all of the teachers were proud and frequently surprised by the quality of the drawings produced. Each child was given one of my A4 information sheets about the mission.
Christophorus Clavius lived between the years 1537 and 1612. He would never have imagined that a crater named for him on the moon would be global news in October 2020. When I drew this very large walled plain back in 2008 all I knew about it was that it was named after a man who was a mathematician/astronomer. This week however with Clavius being in the news I had to have a closer look out of curiosity. It was time to revisit my drawing and pay attention to this area on the moon and plan to go observe Clavius once again.
A flying discovery
NASA's Sofia telescope has discovered the signature of water H2O on the moon in the area of Clavius. Of course, this news supports the ARTEMIS mission planned for more exploration of our moon in the future. It also supports the SOFIA flying observatory and its multifaceted set of tasks. ESA also have future plans for a moon village. Something that will need lots of available water if it is achieved. Water is a heavy cargo and therefore very expensive to lift off the planet. That is one of the reasons Mars and now the moon are possible places for future abodes.
I remember doing the above drawing, it was very cold that night but the view was outstanding. Clavius can present looking oblique. Or sometimes it is totally sunlit and not as interesting. However, when it presents itself with large craters like Porter and Rutherfurd in deepest shadows it wins. Someone once told me that |Clavius was like a big sink in which the crater towards the middle was like a plug and the other craterlets were the chain. That evening I seemed to have the plug and some of the small craters in the chain captured. I absolutely adore drawing the startling bright edges of sunlit craters. The deep dark shadows cast by the sun are equally hugged. It is a crater filled cauldron well worth your time to go observe.
A pencil sketch on Halloween 2006
If I can do a pencil sketch of this fantastic crater so can you! Clavius is best seen one day after first quarter moon and also one day after last quarter moon. It is in the southern lunar highlands. I just realised that this drawing was sketched on Halloween 2006. A sketch of a cauldron of craters where now some water exists. This week I also found out that Clavius the man was a Jesuit priest. His name before being Clavius was Christoph Klau. Klau in German means Key so his name was changed to Clavius which also means Key (in Latin). How appropriate therefore is the finding of the signature for water in that area. Clavius now holds the key to life and the future exploration of our moon.
“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 practised 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 how those materials are used. For me observing and the drawing that results has to strive to be accurate and totally honest.
Sometimes I see things while observing that my head thinks are really odd or out-of-place. Drawing these noticeable features exactly as I see them is important. Therefore the more odd or surreal the view the more I am keen to capture it on paper. Any change in a comets coma or a crater shadow interests me. A twisting filament or leaping prominence brings full attention. Being observant in this way has many benefits when drawing objects such as comets over time. Comets can be very challenging but they are always great teachers if you find one and follow its path across the night sky.
When you make an effort to be accurate in drawing your chances of learning something increases greatly. However, if you say to yourself "I am no good at drawing " that is an excuse not to try. Whatever drawing you produce is your effort, for your learning journey. It matters not if your drawing is good or bad, the learning occurs in the action of trying. It occurs in the action of pulling your telescope view through the tube onto the page in your hand.
Imagine going through life without ever noticing the features on the moon, or even being aware of the fact that our sun is a star. Space is always "out there" for most people, when in fact we live in space every day of our lives. During public outreach moon viewings, I have often noticed that most people cannot point to the moon and name even one feature.
What if moon knowledge was part of the school curriculum? Just the basics, like the names of the near side maria and the recognition of lunar phases. Most seven-year-olds I meet can name at least six species of dinosaur in Latin ergo they should have no problem remembering Mare Tranquillitatis (Latin for the Sea of Tranquillity) or Mare Crisium (The Sea of Crisis) Considering that the Moon is with us for all of our lives, it is so integrated into our planet and therefore our existence. It should follow therefore that lunar education is built into the primary school curriculum globally.
Drawing in School
When I was in primary school not a day went by without drawing time. We had little black paper copies with tissue in-between the pages to protect our chalk drawings. When I was in the second level almost every subject involved drawing. In biology class, we drew the heart, the lungs, amoeba, meristematic regions et cetera.
During geography, we drew the meandering life of rivers, learnt about glaciers, corrie lakes and volcanoes through drawing. In Physics and Chemistry, we drew our experiments. We notated every drawing, it was visual learning in action and I remember every nuance many decades later. In today's school classroom drawing is not as important, it is however a very useful tool for education and lifelong learning.
My very first telescope was given to me at Christmas 1969 just months after the very influential moon landing. It was a small 50mm scope on a plastic tripod. I observed the moon, Jupiter and M42 with it but never drew anything. Many years later came another 50mm on a wooden tripod, it had a longer focal length and more eyepieces. Still not drawing but enjoyed comets and the increased detail it afforded me.
The first drawings I ever did of the moon were through a small EXT 70 mm telescope. It had the advantage of lunar tracking which kept the target in the objective for the duration of the sketch. First I would sketch the moon then later I notated it to learn details new to me and important for future drawings. I used the free software Virtual Moon Atlas which is really comprehensive and extremely versatile to identify features. The drawings above are 95 mm in diameter sketched like all my work through the lens at the time.
Thinking about M42 again
I was out looking at the sky on October 15th, the Milky Way was magnificent. However I was very tired so I did not get into drawing but I begin to plan for some in the coming weeks. During the night I looked out the window at Orion rising over the mountain. M42 is always a wonder to behold by eye or in a telescope. Here is a previous blog on this stunning Messier Object in the sword of the hunter.
Drawing M42 with an 8 inch telescope
Back in December 2007 after a day of stormy winds and rain the atmosphere seemed cleaner. I had sketched comet 17/P Holmes for the last time. I turned my scope to M42 in the magnificent sword of Orion. Every time I look at M42,my appreciation grows. Just to think that from my garden I can look and observe an object that is 1,500 light years away from my eye. If you are not familiar with this Messier object or Orion, you can read more about it here in my blog about drawing the entire constellation.
Describing M42 as an object really does not do it justice . Its nebulosity has height, breath and dept that is so monumental,so magnificent that it makes it difficult to imagine.
A view through a lens
As we stand on our Earth ball rolling along in space, we can look through the theatrical lens of our atmosphere at our galaxy and its many stars. On a clear night after the sun sets we can look at M42 with nothing only a few miles of Earth gas between our eye and space. During my observing sessions I am always very aware that in truth we live in space onboard our beautiful planet . Observing M42 is just one of the many gifts given to us by the Earth.
The nebulous star forming clouds seemed to be very linear that evening. From my suburban garden it was one of the best views of it. It was very cold just around 2 degrees, a chilling wind flapped my sketch pad and froze my fingers. This drawing above was done using an 8 inch dob. The nebula looks many times more complex in a telescope twice the diameter.
If you have a small telescope, you will see some good detail in the nebula. Introducing M42 to your eyeball would be best served if you are in a dark place. Consider hooking up with your local astronomy club for a viewing if you have never seen it. Maybe you are getting a telescope for Christmas ? Then make the effort to find M42 and sink your gaze into its wondrous star making clouds.
Stellarium will help you find M42 - remember it is defaulted to Paris so you must choose your Country and City in the locations setting so it will then give you the sky you see above your head.
Drawing M42 with a 16 inch telescope
A long-standing invitation to observe and sketch at a friends observatory finally happened on Thursday November 27th 2008. I had done several sketches of M42 over the years but I never saw anything like the detail made available to me in Michael's 16 scope. It looked a bit like dendrites in the brain connecting to each other. It also looked like it was exploding toward me.
My first view of the structure close to the Trapezium was very intricate. I was overwhelmed by the detail and my sketch is focused on attempting to capture some of the structure in this magnificent stellar nursery. This sketch could have been softer. However when you see something you think you are familiar with,this level of additional detail takes time to absorb. All the way home that evening I was thinking how to do this better. Drawing always stimulates thinking, drawing brings learning and joy. Give it a try. Another interesting blog here on what Galaxies and Nebulae really look like
Sky and Telescope
The November issue of Sky and Telescope arrived in the post. Much to my delight one of my C/2020 F3 NEOWISE drawings is published on page 17. It takes up half a page, unusual coverage for a sketch. For the most part, astronomy magazines tend to use astrophotographs for their write-ups. In the weeks after that, my drawing of F3 NEOWISE when into Orbit. More on that below.
Sean Walker, associate editor of Sky and Telescope invited my drawing to be part of his article on the comet. In truth, I could not be more pleased as this publication is one of the world leaders in its field. It has a wide readership plus it comes in both printed and e-versions.
Local people here were consequently very pleased to see Clare Island featured in an International publication. That fact plus the rare visiting comet brought smiles to the faces around the village including my own.
F3 NEOWISE in Orbit
Then last week I was notified that the same drawing was going to be featured in Orbit. Well not exactly in orbit around the planet but within the magazine produced by The Irish Astronomical Society. The pdf version arrived in my inbox. A second surprise as it made the cover !! . The printed copy arrived this week. It was very special to me that this drawing was featured. My involvement with astronomy, in general, has a long history with the IAS.
Cue the violins, getting sentimental
When my children were younger I used to write the occasional article and send them into Orbit. They published all of them even though I had not met anyone from the society or had the time to go to any meetings.
On my first visit to Ely House (IAS meeting place), I introduced myself and asked if I could borrow their digital projector so I could do a presentation in a school in Greystones. Yes, they said, and I went home that evening with the IAS projector. That week I did my first talk for kids. 120 of them, a borrowed projector, a borrowed sound system and the support of a good friend. At the time I was doing Communications in UCD. It was a pivotal day.
In the two years before that week, I had taken a broad course to try to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. In that course were several modules. One was communication, this gave me the first opportunity to speak to a group for the first time. I decided to talk about something close to my heart. My colleagues were slightly astonished as I choose to do my talk about the Milky Way. Their positive reaction was very warming to me.
At the end of those two years, I decided to continue to do a Diploma in Communications at University College Dublin. It was during that time that the opportunity to give a presentation to children in a school in Greystones came about. The IAS lending me the projector made that possible. I knew that day, beyond a shadow of a doubt that educational outreach was what I wanted to do forever. That was my journey.
My drawing of F3 NEOWISE currently in both of these publications brought some happiness to me in these difficult times. Here is the link to the Irish Astronomical Societies website and here is the link to Sky and Telescope.
This article was published here in 2018. However just recently Professor Burnell gave an online talk entitled The Last and Next 100 Years of Astronomy. I thought you might like to read my article again and then listen to her talk which is embedded below. I found it very interesting.
In 2018 Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell from Northern Ireland was awarded a significant prize. The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This was for her scientific achievements and inspiring leadership. Subsequently she gave the entire £2.3 million prize away to assist female, minority and refugee students towards an education physics. Hence the announcement reminded me of her generous nature.
My article below is an account of her lecture at Trinity College in Dublin. Her lecture gave voice to Stanley Eddingtons work. Eddington's work gave voice to Albert Einsteins work. Similarly Professor Burnell's lecture gave voice to both of them. The fact that Professor Burnell gave away her award to help others is a testament to her personality and beliefs. A woman true to herself, an inspiration to us all.
Event - BA Festival of Science Lecture Sept 8th 2005 – Trinity College Dublin Ireland
Speaker – Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell CBE - Oxford University
Professor Burnell came to Trinity College Dublin not to speak about her own work in the discovery of pulsars. She came to deliver a lecture about Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944). Eddington was an English-born astronomer who was instrumental in expounding the theories of Albert Einstein. Professor Burnell has an interest in the public understanding of science and has a penchant to present physics topics to the general public.
Arthur Stanely Eddington in brief
Stanley Eddington was born in Kendal in 1882. As a child, he had a fascination with numbers. He excelled academically achieving a maths degree in the short space of two years. After graduating he won the Smiths prize. He was appointed to the Royal Observatory Greenwich where he improved and developed practical observational techniques.
Professor Burnell relayed that Eddington was a popular member of “The Dinner Club”. Apparently he did not drink. Therefore if you sat beside him at dinner you were likely to get his share of wine. He was made secretary of The Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1912. At the age of 31 he became Plumian Professor of Cambridge. Eddington was a Quaker by faith, his primary belief that there is god and good within everybody was significant in his life.
He did not get caught up in the mass hysteria of anti-German feeling that permeated Europe before WWI. Eddington was a pacifist, he avoided the war as a conscientious objector. He did get called to account for his stance but still managed to get out of fighting by being proved far too valuable a scientist.
Eddington was one of the few people to read and understand Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. At that time German scientists were being expelled from The Royal Society. Einstein gave up his nationality in 1901, he became a Swiss citizen. However, this failed to protect him from the anti-German climate of the time. Eddington with his fundamental belief in the good in everyone set out to prove Einstein’s ideas practically.
Solar Eclipse 1919
He used the solar eclipse of May 29th 1919 to show one of the principles of relativity. A known group of stars, the Hyades star cluster is observed at night as usual. Then in the unusual circumstances of a total solar eclipse-the sun is observed against the same star cluster. Some of the stars in this cluster appeared out of position as their light had bent around the mass of the sun.
Sir Arthur Eddington stationed himself on an island off the western coast of Africa. He sent another group of British scientists to Brazil. Their measurements of several of the stars in the cluster showed that the light from these stars was indeed bent as it grazed the Sun.
Eddington's team exposed 16 photographic plates in 5 minutes. The idea was to capture the eclipse and the possible apparent shift in the position of the stars. This research eventually confirmed Albert Einstein's theory that as light passes a very massive star, its path is bent due to gravity.
Eddington exposed photographic plates to record the eclipse. This revealed that the stars of the cluster were not masked by the Sun's mass. The light from them was bent or curved by the Sun's mass, appearing on the developed plates. That fact was established by Eddington, therefore, proving the prediction of Einstein correct. The light never changes course, but merely follows the curvature of space. Astronomers now refer to this displacement of light as gravitational lensing.
A little poem
“Oh leave the Wise our measures to collate
One thing at least is certain, light has weight
One thing is certain and the rest debate
Light rays, when near the Sun, do not go straight. “ A.S.Eddington
Eddington was a wonderful communicator of science theory. He was at the forefront of popularising Einstein’s work. In brief he made Albert Einstein’s work popular. His understanding did this, and equally his desire to simplify Einstein’s theory for general consumption.
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell in her lecture on September 8th 2005 continued that achievement of clear communication for both Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington.
I would like to acknowledge Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, for her kind advice and support in the development of this article. Publish formerly in 2005 by Realta ( Tullamore Astronomical Society) and Orbit ( Irish Astronomical Society)
Here is an article about Professors Burnell's award
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell's recent lecture for The Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies
Saturday September 26th InOMN 2020
In this very difficult year, the world needs global cooperation however small to help us cope with life. Every country on the planet is affected by the pandemic and its spiralling destruction of normality. International Observe the Moon night has a part to play even if it is considered tiny.
The moon does not care about anything, it is a spherical rock in space.It is battered by impacts and scared by its journey to be our only moon. However, when most people look at the moon they are warmed by its beauty in the night sky. Its dark surface manages to reflect the light of the sun very well indeed. Our moon deals out its nearside face in increasing slivers as it waxes toward full every month of our lives.
Our moon represents the only other body in space where humans have walked. Moments in time that have genuinely united world in awe. The moon like the rest of the night sky reminds us of our place in space. We live in space, we may have dwellings on the Earth but we travel through space on a planet that provides us with air to breath, water to drink and food to eat. The planets atmosphere protects us every second of our lives. The air, the water and the food are basics needs. However we do need to be activly aware to make sure everyone has these necessary life sustainers. We all need to be activly aware of protecting our atmosphere.
We are all in this life together, living, working and dreaming. Not everyone gets on with each other. Some people spend their time oppressing other people and making their lives a misery. Nothing that helps us exist on Earth is evenly distributed, education, food, health, housing, caring. But do not get me going on that subject, those issues have not changed in my 63 years of living.
Events like International Observe the Moon Night can not fix any of the problems of the world. What it does do is make people smile and make them feel good. That is a simple effect but an important one when it is on a global scale. Over the years, myself and various groups I am connected with have taken part in sharing the moon with the public. It is always a positive and rewarding activity.
However, this year sharing like this is difficult because of the pandemic. Sharing eyepieces and being so close to random people is risky. Therefore other ways of sharing the moon need to be utilised.
Private and Household sharing
I am sharing the International Observe the Moon page via social media. Am sharing it with my club Louisburgh Astronomy Club and The Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies Facebook pages and others. If it is a clear night I will be doing as the page suggests. I will take out my telescope and share the moon with family members who are staying with me at the moment. The InOMN page will be doing a live broadcast on September 26th , details on the page. Also, I will be putting this link on a variety of pages to show this wonderful flyover the moon by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Oribier.
A Tour of the Moon
Just this week I was sorting out some lunar drawings and this one has always stood out to me as a strong one. Therefore here is a revisited blog about this sketch.
Many astronomers are less than fond of the moon because its reflected light takes away from deep sky observations. Both the moonless and the moon full renditions of the sky are relished by me for different reasons. The deep dark sky for comets and messier objects, and specifically our moon for its outstanding contrast and detail. My attention is captured by the interaction of sunlight with the rugged landscape. Hence it is often difficult to choose what feature of the moon to draw when your field of view offers several exquisite potentials. The theatre of the moon is almost impossible to ignore.
Binoviewers Yahoo !!
Back in May 2007 I had a loan of a pair of binoviewers. This sketch was the result of trying them for the first time. I was looking at the moon from around 20:00. Oh, boy !!! what a view, really extraordinary. The seeing not as good as it could have been but then I looked at Vallis Rhetia Wow !!. Its long alleyway bent toward me offering a superb almost tangible target.
Petavius close to the limb was also tempting, its central mountain was jutting up like sticks in a fire. What can I say, the drama of the terminator called, it seemed to say to me "Fracastorius is doing a powerful light show with some of its close by craters." Fracastorius D, H and Beaumont were presenting as a series of vertebra arching into the darkness. I was both mesmerised and motivated to capture this on paper with my pastels and etching tools.
A wonderful visual effect was created by this instrument. My two eyes observing together enhanced the view in a unique way. Toward the end of my session, the seeing became steadier and the floor of Nectaris revealed some subtle variations in greys and lines. I etched away side walls of this enclosed plain to bring more depth to the drawing. I spent so much time observing and drawing the action on the terminator that I hardly gave an effort to Rosse crater. Its circular nature is barely etched into Mare Nectaris whereas its human namesake Sir William Parsons (3rd Earl of Rosse) is deeply entrenched in Irish astronomical history.
Fracastorius itself is a lava-filled horseshoe-shaped walled plain, named after an Italian doctor. Madler is named for Johann Heinrich Madler who interestingly was an author of the first map of Mars and a map of the moon. Beaumont named after a 19th-century French geologist.
At ALCON 2009 in New York (Astronomical League Convention), I bought myself a lovely set of binoviewers. They are truly outstanding for both lunar and solar drawing especially if there is a large filaprom on the limb.
You can catch Fracastorius and its surrounding spectacle five days after a new moon or four days after a full moon. A small telescope or binoculars will show it to you, as always aperture is king.
The 15th of September 2017 was the day a superb mission to Saturn ended in a spectacle which for the most part was for Saturn's eyes only. I wrote the following blog back on September 12th 2017,it was updated here in 2018. Its entitled The Last Splendiferous Hurrah because it is about the demise of the Cassini Mission to the gas giant. One hopes Cassini 2 is on the drawing board.
The English language is lacking in affirmations glowing enough to encompass the significance of the Cassini Mission to Saturn. Side winding its way into my mind in the effort to find the right words came a memory of an old TV variety show. In the show, the host announces the artists to perform by pronouncing very large words in rapid precision. Each word is preceded by a judgemental gavel blow. The hyperbolic introductions primed the audience to welcome the splendiferous offerings of the forthcoming show. The pulchritudinous (excellent) nature of the mission has produced an abundance of noteworthy images.
This collection can spectacularly stimulate our senses to levitate our minds and souls. Cassini therefore invites us to relish the beauty of Saturn and its many moons. NASA has magnanimously offered the images videos and gifs to all who wish to enjoy the resplendent wonder of this epic mission.
If the same host was to announce the exploits of the Cassini Mission to Saturn it might well go like this. ........ Laydeeeeez and GENTlemeeeeeen ! . I bring you at no expense spared "The Greatest Show in Space". The global audience would exclaim oooooooooh and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah collectively in an excited upwardly amplified accent.
Indeed a global audience has been touched by this mission. Many touched for the first time by the media coverage of the last hurrah . If you are behind in your knowledge you can find a humongous treasure trove of information here to update yourself.
The Grand Finale has ended, 22 gigantic orbits between the planet and it's inner ring. The final drama over now. The brave enduring spacecraft melted in the atmosphere of the planet. Cassini and Huygens have explored in ground breaking fashion. Several video clips are available online , this one tells the story in a very concise 2.31seconds. NOVA PBS Saying Goodbye to Cassini.
The Cassini Mission to Saturn is the perfect plug-in for today's curriculum. Everything about the mission bookends Science Technology Engineering Art and Maths. I was inspired by this mission from my first engagements with it in 2004 via JPL NASA's Saturn Observation Campaign.
In 2017 I spent a lot of time making models of Saturn and Cassini. The models are of course to enhance my forthcoming series of drawing workshops. On September 9th 2017 I had an opportunity to present the new workshop for the first time. It was just prior to the end of the mission , an ideal opportunity to request parting messages from my audiences via drawings.
The venue was Castletown House and Parklands. The audience were family groups numbering 40 in total. Mams , Dads, boys and girls all listening , all drawing images by Cassini. The drawing above is my favourite as this child was using her drawing to convey empathy for the spacecraft . The drawing in fact also shows she understood what was about to happen.
Why make a model of Cassini ?
In my experience having a model of a planet or spacecraft in the room brings immediate attention to the subject. Children like to touch the models , tactile learning. They also like to ask questions about how the models are made. Answering the questions allows me to add to their knowledge and make them smile. Therefore I will continue to work on my models to bring what I teach alive as much as possible.
Saturn is made from a large polystyrene ball , its painted in acrylic using the latest images from Cassini. The rings are made from corryboard. Cassini is made from a soft drinks can , heating insulation material and other bits and bobs that suit the shapes of the instruments. The title of my workshop is Spectacular Cassini at Saturn. Working with family groups is very enjoyable, learning occurs , fun is had , adults find the child within themselves.
On September 15th I was glued to the JPL NASA You Tube broadcast of the last moments of Cassin. Likewise I was also watching in the real-time virtual world of NASA Eyes . It was a cathartic, an end to a wonderful sojourn in space. A body of work by a very positive group of people who are an example to us all of how to work together to achieve something extraordinary.
The mission has ended, the spacecraft was guided into the body of the planet and is no more. However the legacy of the mission will take many decades to filter down and settle its status of The Greatest Show in space exploration history. ( so far)
The quality of the images and science returned bears witness to this robotic ship. An imamate object sending us some of the most beautiful natural art. I have therefore been enriched by being connected to this mission since 2004. Its depth and breadth have been more than I ever imagined. RIP Cassini :-(. Hugs to every single person who worked on the mission and created something very special indeed.