This blog was originaly posted shortly after Easter 2019 - This year sadly my Easter Space Camp for children can not take place due to COVID 19. Ironicly the children are not in school for the same reason and Space Camp would have been a very useful event for both kids and parents struggling in this crisis. Stay safe, hope you enjoy this rerun.
Children spinning their little handmade Saturn models with joy !!
At Easter I ran a small space camp for children. It was over three mornings in Louisburgh Co Mayo.The venue was Books at One, the local community bookshop. We packed a lot of things into the three mornings, in fact, I had too much planned. Better too much than too little in my experience. Space Camp joy abounded !
Day 1 Space Camp
We built paper rockets that we blew into space (in the room). I have a box of interesting forever goodies. These are intended to be made into something at some time. In the box, I found some triangular stickers. These had rocket holograms on them !! Perfect for rocket fins, the kids agreed and they loved them. The stickers came from Recreate Ireland which encourages creativity through reuse.
We checked out the news on The Planetary Society's Light Sail 2 project. New information for the children so lots of ooohhs and aahhs of joy and interest filled the room. We learned about SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket and its amazing landings OOOH Yeah !! We also learnt about NASA and SpaceX plans to launch DART Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart). This test will check how a particular asteroid moves when hit by an impactor. It should pave the way for the development of Earth defence systems.
Asteroid close to home
Our news session took on a personal aspect when I told the children that Deirdre had just had an asteroid named after her in space. (More on that soon, still getting my head around it). The children all hoped that Deirdre's asteroid would not crash into the Earth 🙂
Day 2 Space Camp
We made Moon Infographics to help the children understand the phases of the moon. We cut out all the moon shapes and wrote down all the phase names as neatly as we could. The children stuck down the phases in the correct order. Then when the moon is in the sky they have their own chart to check which phase it is exactly.
It was a difficult task for some children because of age and skill differences. It was a much longer effort than expected, however, all the children did well. The proof of learning came in the moon quiz at the end when the right answers were offered enthusiastically. The children got their answers right because they had been engaged with learning by paying attention to detail.
Day 3 Space Camp
Because we had a packed schedule I had to paint all the Saturn rings the evening before so that they would be dry The idea was to make little Saturn models using some old CDs and small polystyrene balls. As soon as the halved balls been stuck to the white CD's the children, collectively started to spin their planets. A spontaneous fun-filled moment that actually summed up the joy of learning. Little Saturns spinning off the table, crashing into each other, being fixed on the go 🙂
We drew Mimas, one of Saturns smaller moons. The children listened to the story of the Cassini mission to Saturn. Our space camp finished with a video about the end of the Cassini Mission . I was delighted to have some Cassini educational material left to give away. Am lucky to have some great Cassini cards from my time as a member of The Saturn Observation Campaign. More space camp joy for the children.
On Solar Spectrum and Humans
I've always been fascinated by the links between the solar spectrum and humans. It is a visual thing coupled with some interesting interactions. The elements found in our sun are also found in us and all living things, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulfur and Phosphorus. We eat the food produced by the sun and the Earth working together. Phototropism pulls plants up towards the sunlight, likewise, geotropism pulls the roots into the ground via gravity.
We, humans, are ultimately bound by the suns energy. Therefore we are wrapped up in it for all our lives in many ways. This idea has informed several paintings of which the above is one.
Human Spectrum Painting
I wanted to do a painting that expressed that interaction in some way. The spectra of our sun and other stars tells us what those stars are made from. The ingredients being different for each star, as are fingerprints and DNA in human beings. Sometimes my interest in astronomy influences my paintings and sometimes it is the other way around.
Our star is the mother of our solar system. Its birth begat, (to use an ancient word) all the planets, moons and other objects in our solar system. The sun is the origin of everything on Earth, it is even the origin of us. This painting came from that desire to explore both spectra and genetic images and pair them up. Read more on the subject here Humans and Stardust
The canvas is 24inches X 12 inches. On it, I applied very thick acrylic paint with a pallet knife. I wanted the paint to be in bumpy ridges to receive the next elements in the work. Pastels are easily grated into powder. I used a fine cheese grater to render each stick of colour into thousands of dots. While the paint was still wet the particles were blown onto the canvas to mimic the solar spectrum.
Inserted in the painting I included a representation of human genetic material, its the vertical section there. A line of human genes in colour to enhance their presence. It is also a line of human material linking us back to our origin within the magnificence of our sun.
That same year, I visited an exhibition called Light and Shade at the O'Brian Science Building at University College Dublin. Someone there gave me a diffraction grating so I made an effort to make my own spectroscope. I used a black tube and old binocular lens caps. The 70 mm lens caps just happened to fit the tube perfectly. For the life of me, I cannot remember where I found the instructions to make this instrument.
Then I lashed it to my solar scope on a tripod to give it some stability. I was keen to see what would happen. Inside the tube, sunlight split into its spectrum. With my camera up against the slit, I took photographs. They were very colourful and vibrant. I was not sure if I had done any of this correctly but I like the images.
Maybe Fraunhofer Lines
As you can see there are some dark lines in curves within the colours in my image. However I would not know enough about the subject to identify them as absorption lines. These lines are known as Fraunhofer (absorption) lines. By examining these lines scientists can tell what chemicals substances are present in the sun. Other stars have their own distinct spectra. The light from stars can be observed and imaged to study their individual ingredients. Our DNA can be looked at to show our individual ingredients. We are each more connected with the universe than we realise. Moreover as species we have so much to learn about ourselves, our interaction with the planet we live on and the space we travel through. Read more on the subject here - Reading the Rainbow
Recently I came across this beautiful poem by Wendell Berry. Mr Berry is an award-winning American writer and poet. I found his poem inspiring and uplifting in these dark days. One line, in particular, stood out to me hence this blog on peace, stars and rainbows.
"And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light"
In the daytime, the sun-facing side of our planet is saturated in light from our nearest star. Meanwhile, the night facing side is subject to the distant light of billions of stars. These stars of the night are invisible to us when the sun dominates our daytime lives. They become day-blind to us while they wait for the planet to rotate and bring their light in waiting to our eyes. Our day eliminates them from our vision and our minds. ( unless one of them goes supernova or there is a total solar eclipse available to us )
Our sun shines its light of many colours down on us. However, most of the time we are only aware of light facilitating us to see each other and everything around us. Occasionally the interaction of sunlight and our planet's weather reveals the spectrum of the suns light hidden to us. Where I live rainbows are a frequent occurrence. Rainbows are beautiful confirmations of Newton's discovery that sunlight is made up of many colours. Raindrops magicly behave like prisms dispersing rays of sunlight into an array of colours. It is like nature painting the sky, rainbows make everyone look up and smile. Read more about rainbows here on Atmospheric Optics - click the images to read
Sometimes rainbows make short appearances in the sea. Salty prism droplets painting the ocean for our pleasure. Even the moon gets in on the rainbow act. Moonbows can happen, but so far I have not seen one myself. Their origins are similar to daytime rainbows except the light source is the moon reflecting the suns light.
However, a range of components needs to be present for one to form. The moon must be full or close to full, the moon must also be low in the sky. It needs to be showery with clear spells and you need to have the moon behind you, while looking in the opposite direction. If you get all of these elements happening together you might be lucky. The ingredients of seeing a moonbow are many. Moonbows are rare, some are weak in colour and some are vivid. The brightness of the moon and the size of the raindrops influence the quality of the phenomenon. Read more about Moonbows here on Atmospheric Optics
This poem teaches us that in times of difficulty it is important to " come into the peace of wild things" Walk in nature or if that is not possible, step outside and look up at distant stars. Try to imagine if they support rainbows on exoplanets? Perhaps they enable other extraordinary things that we have yet to discover. Rest yourself in the grace of the world and find peace in stars and rainbows. In this video, below I have an image of a seawater bow which I took on a stroll with friends in 2015. The video was made as part of the eLearning masters I engaged with for a while at Dublin City University.
I called it The Light in My Week
Nicolaus Copernicus was born in the city Torun, Poland in 1473. After many decades of observation and study he came to write a book called " On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres ". It was published in 1543 shortly after his death. This book was pivotal in the acceptance that the sun is in the centre of our solar system orbited by the planets. Copernicus made many contributions to astronomy, therefore a crater of massive proportions was named for him on the moons surface.
Copernicus Crater June 2nd 2009
From memory I was tired when I started this drawing, it has been a busy day. Because I ended the session early I therefore considered the drawing unfinished. However, looking back on it some details are worth noting. From my point of view, if I do not finish the sketch at the eyepiece it never gets finished at all. Someone suggested to me that I could finish it using photographic images.
Learning by doing
In my opinion, astronomical sketching is about learning. Finishing an astronomical sketch later, inside would mean nothing to me. I feel it is important to take in what you can at the eyepiece. If a sketch does not get finished for whatever reason, you have at least learned something to bring to the next effort. I had used a 15 mm eyepiece, which gave me a wide view. I had attempted to draw a lot of features in the area as well as the highly complex Copernicus.
With this sketch I had managed to capture craters that arc towards the terminator Fauth, Reinhold b, Reinhold
and Lansberg. In addition some effort was made at the rugged terrain of Montes Carpatus chain with its deep valleys. The object you observe be it the moon or some other wonder forges a connection with your eye to the page. Likewise different lighting, seeing conditions etc, bring changing challenges
My sketch of Copernicus is unfinished as I did not get to grips with the crater walls in a way that I would have liked.
I began to get a handle on doing the mare floor so what I learned about doing that did follow through to the next sketch.
Copernicus Crater January 24th 2010
Let us skip forward a year. I am using the same telescope but with a smaller eyepiece. My eye is totally taken up by Copernicus and its rays. The craters terracing, central mountains, ejecta blanket, rays, and rugged ramparts play with light in sensational ways. My focus was absorbed in its detail and how sunlight danced with its structures. Its deep black shadowed floor was pierced by light as the sun scattered its photons on its internal high points and ridges.
Best time to view Copernicus is coming up on March 4th 2020, if you have binoculars or a telescope check it out. Or perhaps you could take that extra step and try to draw it for yourself. In addition I find Virtual Moon Atlas invaluable for identifing features on the moon and learning more about them.
The Copernicus sketch from 2010 was part of a book project I did with others. I would recomend the ebook version as the drawings are reproduced exactly as the originals. Now I also see that the ebook can be rented for a reduced cost. The book is called Sketching the Moon an Astronomical Artists Guide
Betelgeuse has always been eye-catching in the winter night sky. This star has for decades appeared to my eye to be on the red side of orange. A warm colour in the darkness, very distinct. I am aware that is a variable star but observing variables, in general, has never been my thing. However, I am sure you know this red supergiant has had a dramatic change in its normal manifestation. There is a Betelgeuse drama ongoing, it is very interesting at the moment.
When I observed the change for myself on January 11th the first thing that came to my mind was that there must be something between us on Earth and the star. After all the star is 650 light-years away, that is a lot of space. It is also a lot of time because we are looking at Betelgeuse as it was multiple millions of years ago. The luminosity of the red super giant has altered significantly as viewed by observers on Earth.
To my eye, its colour has also dimmed considerably. A friend likened its colour in recent observations to that of pale whiskey. In my drawing of January 11th, I was hard-pressed to include colour as it was so non-descript. This might have been because I was observing Betelgeuse as the constellation was rising. Later on, that same evening when Orion was upright in the SW the star had a tiny tint of yellow visible to my eye. However, this is a dramatic alteration to its usual vibrant orange/ red. Since January 11th I have not seen a clear sky, so as yet no further observations.
In March 2017 I was looking at Orion heading down over the Atlantic Ocean. Betelgeuse was that familiar orange/red and the clarity of the night enticed me to draw the constellation. Here is what I wrote about it in a previous blog.
More recently on January 11th 2020, I had the opportunity to observe and draw Orion again. The constellation was rising over a nearby mountain. It was on its side when I noticed it. One of Robert Frost poems came to mind, the first few from a poem entitled The Star Splitter.
"You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me "
So all the fuss about Betelgeuse prompted me to introduce the subject to my astronomy club kids and parents. To engage them they drew Orion from Stellarium and notated some of the stars. I drew a little colour block on the page so they knew roughly what colour it was before the dimming. They were all challenged to observe Orion and draw it again from the night sky and add whatever colour they perceived the star to be. They could use a pencil or crayon or whatever was available. Hopefully, they will observe Betelgeues and form an opinion. If nothing else they will know where Orion is in the sky for themselves and that will be a forever piece of knowledge.
Supernova or Nonova that is the question
Betelgeuse is a red super giant star with most of its life behind it. At at some point in the future its life will end in a dramatic supernova explosion. Bye bye Betelgeuse will be very exciting indeed, visible in daylight according to many articles. Back in 1054 the Chinese observed and depicted a supernova in Taurus. Its remnent, the Crab Nebula is still visible in telescopes today. Back then in the eleventh century there were no telescopes. Today however we have many ways of observing Betelgeuse if it goes supernova or nonova. Most experts say it has enough fuel to keep going for a long time to come. Studying stars is evolving continuously and rapidly as a science. The best minds on the planet are on the job. Not everything is known therefore it is a mega exciting opportunity to watch and learn from the unfolding story of Betelgeuse.
I am enjoying learning from Betelgeuse and the many expert articles about it. Last night February 6th I had a brief glimps as the clouds parted and still to my eye the familiar colour and brighteness of Betelgeuse was missing. Will it return ? lets wait watch and see.
This week Buzz Aldrin turned 90 years old !! The second man to walk on the moon on July 20th 1969. What a legacy, and an adventurous spirit he has. I was reminded of going to see him speak back in 2014 when he visited Ireland. The venue was The National Concert in Dublin, it was on November 18th. A very memorable occasion.
The concert hall was packed to the rafters, the atmosphere was tangible. One of Irelands most loved broadcasters was going to interview Buzz. The interview, one of a series called Face to Face with Gay Byrne. The two men sat in comfortable armchairs close to each other. The chairs were angled towards the audience. As far as I know, the interview was not filmed but it may have been recorded. However, as yet I have not found any radio clips online.
Colonel Aldrin is an extremely interesting man and he held the packed hall for over an hour with his recollections of his life and his historic visit to the moon. At the end of the interview, Gay Byrne handed Buzz a floor microphone so he could answer questions from the public. For the next hour, the entire audience was treated by Buzz to a most riveting and open conversation about his life.
He spoke freely about his problems with alcohol and how that affected his family life. He spoke about how he felt when he returned from the moon and how that reality affected his life from thereon. Guys were hanging out of the convex balconies in the upper floor of the venue shouting out their questions. Everyone was collectively laughing and almost crying as his story unfolded raw and honest.
Years later a parent in my previous astronomy club was flying to London to buy Buzz Aldrin's book. He was also hoping to get it signed by the author. As he was telling me about it I interjected to ask if he could buy me one? Weeks later he sent me a message to let me know that only one was allowed per customer. However, when we met for our next club meeting he surprised me with a copy of the book OMG that was such a buzz (forgive the pun)
The book is called No Dream is Too High - Life Lessons From a Man Who Walked on the Moon. It is a very positive and inspiring book. I have often recommended it because it is so positive. Anyone of any age would be galvanised in life by reading even some of the chapters.
Landing on the moon with Buzz
In November 2019 a visitor to our house brought with him, PlayStation 4, and a Virtual Reality helmet. I had a go at some games and an underwater experience. It was all very realistic but was however slightly unnerving at times. One of the experiences I had that day was to land on the moon with Buzz Aldrin. The simulation was incredible. There I was inside the Saturn V rocket blasting off from the Earth. I was even able to look out the window and see the planet below me.
Later in this world of virtual reality, I was in the LEM on the way to landing on the surface of the moon. It was so real that I put my hand out several times to touch the instruments that were directly in front of me. The astronaut beside me did not look like Buzz Aldrin, he had a once size fits all face. However, as the action included the exact words said by both Armstrong and Aldrin on the descent it was impressive. Closest I will ever come to landing on the moon.:-)
You can read about it here VR Immersive Education
In February 2020 an Irish company will showcase to the world its innovative use of burnt bone charcoal. ENBIO has developed a use for charred bone with its unique product Solarblack. This product will bring heatshields for spacecraft to another level. ESA's Solar Orbiter is due to launch on February 5th. Bones in space - Solarblack high technology for the next decade.
The application of Solarblack to heatshields is for the thermal protection of spacecraft working in the harsh environs of space. Yes, the Solar Orbiter space probe will soon be on its way to study the sun. Its duty is to inform us more fully about the origins of spaceweather. The mission will to being a manmade probe closer to our star than ever before.
The word Solarblack suggest bright and dark. The brightest thing you can think of i.e. the Sun and the darkest colour of all, pure black. This product is a Thermo optical coating, next-generation protection for spacecraft heat shields.The technology developed by ENBIO is called CoBlast. This is a method in which the thermal layer is bonded to the metal of the heat shield. The Solarblack layer has been extensivly tested and refined. The process used by ENBIO enables the heat shield layer to become one with the titanium metal used. Treated in this way the shield can withstand temperatures of up to 520 degrees Celsius. It can both absorb this heat and then radiate it back into space. You can read more about CoBlast here
Solarblack is, therefore, a kind of heat neutraliser, protecting Solar Obiter and its instruments as it observes by the sun at a distance of 42 million kilometres (26 Million miles) It is incredible that bone can be repurposed, to help us understand the star that gave birth to our solar system long before cows and people existed.
In my drawings, there cannot be a black pastel that is black enough for me to accept. There must be a bit of a cavewoman in me because I am so particular about the depth of the black. Way back in prehistoric times cavemen or women used charred animal bones to make their drawings on the stone walls around them. Many stone age cave drawings still exist today a testament to the quality of the pigment used and the intent of the artists. Bone black is a pigment created from the charring of animal bones. Rembrandt and other masters used bone black pigment in their work. Intense black such as this gives teriffic depth to a painting. ENBIO and its Solarblack thermal skin will help give solar knowledge a new deph of understanding and make its own very different mark in the near future.
During my 2019 Science Week drawing workshops, I occasionally mentioned Solar Orbiter. I told the kids about the ingredients in the product. They loved the idea of bones helping a space mission. Kids love anything even slightly macabre, odd or out of the ordinary. Interest was probed, so a drawing workshop around the mission will develop during 2020.
An Asteroid with my name on it becoming real
Look at the screensave above, see that set of red lines? they are pointing to a main belt asteroid which happens to have my name on it. Its pathway in space sets it between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This chunk of rock is moving along in space, while also rotating once every 6 hours.
This body is just being itself among the circa 1.9 million other asteroids of similar and larger size. Up there in the main asteroid belt, it is joined by millions of other smaller asteroids. Just as well that the distance between asteroids is circa 600,000 miles. Therefore spacecraft travelling in the area have plenty of wriggle room.
The asteroid with my name appended is 7 km in diameter !! Imagine that !! it is really mindboggling.
The Story so far
The story began back in March 2019. I got a phone call from John McConnell, an astronomer up in Northern Ireland. He asked me if I was sitting down, 'yes I said'. John proceeded to tell me that an asteroid in space now had my name on it. He was ringing to congratulate me and to assure me that he would do his best to find out more about it on my behalf. I was absolutely flabbergasted and also truly overwhelmed by the honour.
JPL Small Body Page
Soon after that, he sent me the link to the JPL NASA page with its ID number and some technical details. Its title is 52681 Kelleghan (1998 DK 34) The link to its page is HERE
Occasionally during the year, I have mentioned the asteroid with my name on it to children at my workshops. They want to know, what colour is it,? what is it made of? and will I ever go there:-)? Slowly the reality of this asteroid in space with my name on it began to become believable.
In November I went to the Mayo Dark Skies Festival to catch up with friends and listen to some great speakers. After lunch, I was taken by surprise by Terry Moseley another well-known astronomer here in Ireland. Terry began to make an announcement that I soon realised was about 52681. He proceeded to present me with a certificate in honour of the asteroid naming and my outreach work via art.
There was a great reaction from people attending the event and later from friends online. Furthermore the presentation made this distant object become something tangible to me. Subsequently I look up at the area of sky and wonder how I can introduce this asteroid with my name on it into my work. Somehow use this chunk of carbon, clay and rock in space for an educational purpose.
Meanwhile I have written to Eric Elst with some questions and a heartfelt thanks for allowing his discovery to have my name attached to it. Plus in addition both John and myself have put a call out for images of the asteroid.
Am very grateful to the International Astronomical Union, John McConnell, Eric Elst (who first discovered the Asteroid in 1998) Terry Moseley, and the JPL Minor Planet Centre. My thanks to all involved.
Yes, indeed I felt lucky to see the transit of mercury on November 11th. Black clouds full of heavy rain were in constant supply all morning. My PST telescope and drawing materials were in and out in the hope of a break in the weather. It was my intention to use the drawing to help explain the transit of Mercury, CHEOPS and Exoplanets.
As you can see from the drawing above (which is not rotated) I got my first view of the tiny planet at 12:51. I sketched one black dot on top of my previously drawn solar disc. Then the rain bucketed down like rods with a big wind attached. Next chance came at 13:33 a second black dot added to the effort. Then it rained cats and dogs till 14:26 when my final opportunity gave me a third mercury dot to add to the sketch. Most Irish observers had a similar story and images of this unique event. Therefore is was obviously frustrating to know it is happening but your chances of viewing are being limited by the weather.
After the last dot had been added to my sketch I had to drive up to Sligo in advance of Science Week workshops. I had hoped to get one more observation up there however black clouds over the Atlantic dashed that idea . Nevertheless, I had a sketch that would enhance my presentations to explain the transit of Mercury, CHEOPS and Exoplanets.
Our Sun and Other Stars Workshop Snippet
My workshop title is Our Sun and Other Stars, the audience were primary school children and their teachers in several venues.One of the subjects I talk about in the presentation is a new space telescope called CHEOPS. This instrument is due to launch on December 17th. Its job is to look at other stars that are known to have planets in orbit around them. This space telescope will determine the characteristics of these planets. CHEOPS will, in fact, be looking at lots of exoplanets transiting stars. It will measure those planets, check the out for thin atmospheres and make a list of exoplanets for future study.
CHEOPS is an European Space Agency Mission with a very targeted objective. For me it was great to have my little drawing to help children get the idea of a transit of a planet. At least Mercury is somewhat familiar and aided the small step to bring children the realisation that there are other planets with no names orbiting other suns. Wonderful drawings of CHEOPS were created at the workshops, equally important some featured exoplanets.
Irish children's drawings onboard CHEOPS
Several years ago CHEOPS started a send your drawing to space campaign which I got involved in. Some children from my previous astronomy club St Cronans Stargazers drew line drawings of CHEOPS. It was a very specific kind of drawing on heavy paper, it had a lot of guidelines and rules to follow. All leading to the children's drawings being shrunk by a factor of 1000 and etched onto titanium plates. These Irish drawings together with many others are now onboard CHEOPS awaiting launch hopefully before Christmas. You can see the original drawings in the slideshow below and you can also find them on this link, there are 8 from Wicklow they are my kid's club drawings. Click here to see all the dawings onboard CHEOPS click on Ireland to see the drawings from Wicklow.
A recent Space Week workshop was attended by a class of young children. They ranged in age from 8 years down to 5-year-olds. A sun based drawing activity seemed like fun to me. I delivered a simple explanation of the power of our nearest star. How a sunny day helps us to smile, and how the sun does so many things for us every day. My presentation was very colourful showing off solar features like sunspots and prominences. Sunspots for young children needed to be exciting and full of easy words.
I decided that drawing a sunspot would be achievable. Occasionally during workshops, I do a demonstration drawing to help kids to be more flowing in their efforts. Most kids will draw the edges of things and then try to add detail inside their shape. The shape they draw to start their effort dictates how the drawing progresses. Sometimes children get upset because their drawing has not started correctly in their heads. So a little guidence is a good thing.
In my demo tutorial, I try to get them to look at the sunspot for its shape, it's texture, colour and energy. The pages are black, the centre of the sunspot is black therefore there is no need to use black pastel to achieve a version of the umbra. Using pastels to mimic the shape of the penumbra around the umbra can be challenging for small kids. However, they do understand energy and drawing with energy. I don't use big words like umbra, penumbra at all. Just inside and outside of the sunspot plus an emphasis on the powerful energy involved. The main aim while working with this multi-age group was simply that sunspots on the sun are cool. The work produced by these young children was pretty also pretty cool.
In my experience never underestimate a five-year-old child's attention or capabilities. It is never too young to learn even a tiny bit about the sun and its features. It's never too young to learn a weeny bit about what the sun does for us all every day of our lives. If a child agrees that the sun shining makes us all feel better then that in itself is a good start. Bolting on the fact that it helps carrots and apples to grow is an easy progression towards understanding some of its function.
One 8-year-old child in this class actually knew that stars are born in a nebula. This kind of remarkable intelligence and understanding happens more often than you would expect. Young minds with special interests that delight the child and spark wonder in their peers. Perhaps I should rephrase my previous sentence to state that we should never underestimate a child's capabilities. Indeed we should seek the innate abilities in all children and support them. Each child got a ESO sticker that says " The Universe is my Playground" which is exactly right.
This is the Solar Dynamics Observatory that I showed the children at the end of the workshop. Lots of oohs and ahhs were heard during they video. They loved it, plus it shows sunspots - SDO 5 Year Video
Exhibition in Hawaii
Some time ago a painting of mine won a prize in the My Sun My Star Contest. This was a solar art competition involving photographs, drawings and paintings inspired by the sun. The contest was run by The National Solar Observatory in Boulder Colorado. One of the aspects of the prize is that my painting X-Ray Sun (above) will go on exhibition . On Friday September 20th if you are in Hawaii (how exotic) one of my paintings and in addition one of my solar drawings will be on show.
Since the prize came my way I was asked if another work of mine could be included in their exhibitions. NSO requested one of my solar drawings. That sketch it is called East Limb Proms. The venue is The University of Hawaii - Institute for Astronomy, it is on the island of Maui. The event is an open day for the IFA ( Institute for Astronomy ) in partnership with the DKIST ( The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope)
X-Ray Sun Painting
I wrote about my painting here in recent months . This is the link to my blog on X-Ray Sun
East Limb Prom Sketch
East Limb Proms is a pastel drawing it was created back in 2012 and it is dramatic even though I say so myself 🙂 I absolutely love solar drawing, it is hugely challenging but totally absorbing. One of the things I love about it is that my PST Telescope is tiny. It is only 40 mm in diameter. The image of the solar disc I see is even smaller than that, within my field of view.
The challenge is to observe prominences, filaments or active regions very closely. Let your eye settle on the target and look at the action for shapes. In this solar sketch, there was a very distinctive set of proms on the limb which appeared to be rolling. It also looked like it was twisting at the same time and looping itself into an excited state of energetic mania. This kind of prom is known as a hedgrow prom.
Lower down in the drawing (below) look at the dark filament rising up from the solar disc. It is darker than the photosphere below because it is cooler. It seems to whisk itself around the limb joining itself to another exuberant leaping prom whose anchor is just out of sight. These are known as filaproms, the kind that clearly show their anchors and the height they gain are very dramatic to the eye.
These hot gasses move out from the limb to reach many thousands of miles above the sun. As a result the the dark filament part thereby instantly gains the title of prominence (prom)as the structure stands out against the blackness of space. Filaments and prominences are both the same hot gas feature, it is the positions of both together that subsequently gives us the word filaprom.
Lastly if you are lucky enough to be in Maui Hawaii do go visit the exhibition. Likewise if you find my drawings interesting I have included some astronomical prints in my online shop. Lunar and Solar high-quality prints are available also some Irish animals that live in the countryside around me. Click here to see them, postage is free.
As far as I know hexagons in space are not common. The only natural hexagonal shape I know of out there is the extraordinary storm cloud on the north pole of Saturn. However here on Earth, this shape is everywhere, bees use hexagons in building their hives. Hexagons hide in plain sight within our bodies, our skin and our DNA. The humble pencil is hexagonal to maximise its packing potential and help it not roll of your desk.
The six-sided shape fits together perfectly with no gaps. Apparently, the geometry of a hexagon uses the least amount of material to hold the most weight. Hexagons can, therefore, take a lot of force even if they are made from light material. The James Webb Space Telescope mirrors are made of Beryllium alloys. This is a very lightweight metal consisting of closely packed hexagonal structures within itself. The skeleton behind each of the eighteen mirrors is also created with hexagonal shapes which makes each section lighter while also maintaining its strength.
In 2021 a new set of hexagons will launch into space onboard an Ariane 5 Rocket. Eighteen perfect hexagonal mirrors will be carefully folded and loaded inside the rocket. Yes, it is hard to imaging mirrors folding however this is superb engineering. The James Webb Space Telescope mirror is made up of 18 individual hexagons. Each mirror is 1.42 Metres ( 4.3 feet) in diameter the entire primary mirror system is 6.5 Metres (21 feet) in diameter. The 18 hexagonal shapes fit together perfectly with no gaps, thereby maximising the light- gathering power of the primary mirror.
The surface of these collective mirrors will in time be the recipient of ancient light from distant stars and galaxies. The JWST will bring us fresh new insight into the building of our universe. This magnificent telescope is coming into being by the efforts of NASA, ESA and CSA ( Canadian Space Agency) There are many other participating countries including Ireland I am proud to say. These hexagons together with the vast data potential of this space telescope consequently lends itself to STEM or STEAM activities.
The James Webb Space Telescope looks more like an interstellar spacecraft than a telescope. Its mirror system is beyond beautiful, because of its visual perfection. To me, the JWST primary mirror is a work of art. The sunshield protecting its brains ( computer, communication etc) is the size of a tennis court. Everything about the JWST is ambitious in a big way.
The telescope will end up one million four hundred kilometres from Earth. Therefore when it is deployed, it has to work first time. Because there will be no space shuttle travelling out that far to fix any anomalies. This unfolding subsequently must be perfect and will take months to carry out. The adventurous nature of this telescope, its build, launch and ambitions have inspired me to bring it to the attention of school children.
At a recent Space Camp I had a small group, therefore an opportunity to introduce it. I pre-prepared 18 gold hexagons within four-inch squares. In previous groups some children displayed difficulties in cutting straight lines and to some children concentrating is difficult. I figured it was best to keep the plan simple by good preparation. With a small group, each child had several chances to help build a replica of the JWST mirror.
In advance, I drew up 18 hexagons in white gel pen on a black mount board. Hence guidelines were in place to receive the individual mirrors. After explaining the JWST in small bite-size chunks the children were keen to start the build. It was great to have a small group as it slowed everything down and each child placed their glue and their mirrors very carefully. They were extremely careful to line up their hexagons with my lines.
They were very proud when it was finished. We watched a video of how the telescope will unfold in space. The watched the clock on the video. Some said, "OMG it takes a whole month to unfold the sunshield". Then one lad said " but sure it has taken many years to get it into space, so it's good to take it slow and be careful about it " the rest of the kids agreed with him.
The European Space Agency sent me some posters so because my group was small each child when home with one.They show ESA's fleet across the spectrum incl JWST. See that JWST video here
Slideshow with images of our JWST mirror build