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Star Gazing with Michael Gannon

Monday, 22 March 2010

The planet Mars is dominating Irish skies at present and will be high in the sky late in the evening for at least the next couple of months. February is a great month to look out for the planet as it will be high in the sky, at a perfect viewing height around 8 - 9pm. Astronomy Ireland are running with the help of Volunteers free telescope watches around the country so people can witness this for themselves.

Michael's Review:

Myself and my brother Eoin went to Phoenix Park in Dublin and were we met David Moore who founded astronomy Ireland in 1990 and Paul Smith who won the young astronomer photographer of the year award.

I got my chance to interview them both.

I also met Eamon who works for astronomy Ireland as a volunteer and he was explaining to me what was happening and he told me he used the telescope to watch mars the planet. He could put a small camera on the telescope and project the image of Mars onto a large screen. He was using power point on his computer which had lots of slides and information on he red planet

Interviewing Paul Smith and I was asking him how he won the award he told me that he could not believe he won the award. He showed me his camera and he took some photos on the night.

Talking to David Moore he showed me all the telescopes that he used and then I got to use the glare torch to point to the planet mars in the dark sky. This was very interesting and very different I have never seen astronomy Ireland and this was my first time to see all of them in action before I would like this as my hobby.


Next Free Event 25th March

Astronomy Ireland's regular Telescope Watches are held in numerous locations around the country. The main Watch is held in Phoenix Park in Dublin, along with this Astronomy Ireland has individual Branch Coordinator's in various counties who regularly run Watches using their own equipment. These people are usually long standing Members of the society but we are always looking for enthusiasts to run the local Astronomy Branches and membership of the society is not absolutely essential.

Regular location Watches include:

Cavan, Carlow, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Louth, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford

Each Telescope Watch is a gathering of Astronomy Ireland staff, volunteers, and the general public. At each Watch there are a number of extremely powerful telescopes set up which everyone will get a chance to look through. Astronomy Ireland set the date of Watches based on the map of the night sky, for example the planet Mars will be high in the sky at peak viewing time (7 - 9pm) on March 25th and therefore this is a perfect date to host the next big Watch.

As well as being guaranteed the chance to look through at least one of the telescopes which are set up, the volunteers and staff on hand will also teach guests how to find their way around the sky with Ireland's most powerful hand held laser, show you double stars, point out the International Space Station (ISS) if it is currently in Irish skies, point out star clusters, and more. The event is ideal for everyone who has even a passing interest in the night sky including beginners but of course experts are welcome too!

Astronomy Ireland would advise everyone to wrap up warm when coming along to the event as the evenings can get very cool especially under clear skies which is what we always hope for.

If you are interested in coming along to a Telescope Watch you can simply log on to Astronomy Ireland's website or call (01) 847 0777 to find out where your local Watch is being held.

The Telescope events are completely FREE and are a great way to get people more interested in the night sky and astronomy in general.

Not since August 2003 has the red planet been this close to the Earth, TAS reporter Michael Gannon goes up close and personal.

Additional / Misc' Info:

About the planet Mars:

During its presence in our skies this time around, Mars will be bigger, brighter and better than it has been in Irish skies for years, it will be a mesmerising spectacle to the naked eye and even more breath taking to those who come along to any of Astronomy Ireland's Telescope Watches. The planets presence at the moment is by far the closest it has been to planet Earth in over 2 years and will not be this close again for at least another 4 years offering astronomers their best views of the red planet until 2014.

To the naked eye Mars looks like any other bright star in the sky but it emits a reddish orangey hue, which explains where it got its well known 'red planet' name from. For the past few months Mars has appeared at night as a ruddy, star like beacon rising in the east. Although it has been in our skies for a while it has only recently been visible during evening and early night hours.

Over the next few weeks Mars will pass within 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) of Earth-close enough for well-equipped sky-watchers to make out details on the Martian surface. With a small telescope of about 6 inches (15.2 centimeters), the polar ice caps and other surface features are visible.

The exact distance between Mars and Earth changes over time, because the orbits of the planets are not perfect circles, but elongated ellipses. This orbital set-up means Mars makes a close pass by Earth roughly every two years.
In August 2003 Mars made its closest pass by Earth in 60,000 years, swinging by at a mere 35 million miles (56 million kilometres) away. That event created spectacular views for astronomers.

About Astronomy Ireland:

Astronomy Ireland is the largest national astronomy club in the world relative to population and we publish a full-colour 48-page magazine that is posted directly to members every month. Founded in 1990, in 19 years Astronomy Ireland has grown to over 11,000 members in 2009. Our aim is to promote astronomy and space interest and education in Ireland. We achieve this aim by holding talks, lectures, observing sessions and other events nationwide, and through our magazine, Astronomy & Space. The magazine includes, amongst other things, news, letters, book reviews, reader's photo gallery and details on what to see in the sky during the month. Membership also entitles you to concession rate admittance to our public lectures. In addition, members can attend telescope nights on clear Friday and Saturday evenings. You do not need to own a telescope to be a member, everybody is welcome to join. We also run Astronomy Classes for Beginners twice per year in various locations throughout the country. Members are also entitled to a discount on the course fee.

About Paul Smith: Aged 15 from Cavan who is studying for his Junior cert and last year was named the Young Astronomy Photographer of the year in England. He became interested in photography and astronomy in national school, when a teacher spoke about the subjects in class. He got a telescope the following Christmas and then he got a camera and then combined the two hobbies and won the award for his photo of the Occultation of Venus. One of the judges was acclaimed astronomer Sir Patrick Moore.
In Paul's photograph, the moon has passed in front of Venus, only for the planet to reappear several hours later. Like the moon, Venus goes through a set of phases as it moves around the sun. In the picture Venus is almost full, while the Moon is still in a crescent phase.

Additonal Information

The telescopes used today were from Astronomy Ireland.