On Monday 9th May the planet Mercury moved across the face of the Sun, its best transit of the 21st century as viewed from Ireland. Some 500+ people saw the event through our filtered telescopes at an event run jointly with the Astrophysics ReserchCentre at Queens' University, Belfast. The weather co-operated apart from some patches of thin cloud during the course of the afternoon - nothing show-stopping! As the Transit ended at 19:43 we adjourned to the Larmor Theatre for an excellent talk - Professor Patrick Brady gave the Michael West Lecture entitled Einstein's Gravity: from the transit of Mercury to the detection of gravitational waves. More than 110 people attended this captivating lecture on probably the hottest topic in astronomy at the moment. Al in all, an excellent day!
20th March saw the deepest Partial Solar Eclipse in Ireland since August 1999. Our initial worries that the weather would let us down turned out not to be the case - we chose four locations to maximise our public contact and increase the chances of someone seeing something, so with a main base at QUB where over 1000 people observed the eclipse with us and the astronomers from QUB, then over 200 more at the outlying locations at Scrabo, Larne and Portballintrae, we all had an excellent morning, with some cloud and rain just preventing us seeing fourth contact. And of course Andy McCrea took to the skies over the North Atlantic and saw 4 mins of totality from a Falcon aircraft travelling at Mach 0.9 to follow the shadow as far as possible!
Following hits from multiple CMEs in succession, it was looking like the perfect storm was coming together. On 17th march, St Patrick's Night, the sky over Northern Ireland turned green. And red.
The IAA came into being in 1974 with the separation of the Belfast and Dublin centres of the IAS. We held a dinner attended by nearly 60 members to commemorate the occasion on 28th November 2014 in the Stormont Pavilion
The Summer Barbeque visit to Armagh Planetarium and Observatory, the Solar Day at Castle Espie and the Big Wild Camp Out at the American Folk Park near Omagh gave us three good Summer events!
2014 delivered an excellent Noctilucent Cloud Season, though the variable weather conditions meant we missed many fine displays due to much lower cloud obscuring the view. However, the nights of 6th, 17th and 20th June, and 22nd July produced magnificent displays and IAA astrophotographers Dr Andy McCrea and Paul Evans were on the case!
Solarfest was held again this year at the magnificent venue of Dunsink Observatory. Once again a first class programme was provided with four speakers on solar matters as well a short talk by organiser Michael O'Connell on the 2015 Eclipse, Total across some of the Atlantic but also very seriously Partial in Ireland. There were enough gaps in the clouds to enable some Solar Observing as well as excellent craic all round.
This is Midland Astronomy Club's (MAC) star party, this year moving location from Tullamore to the Shamrock Lodge Hotel in Athlone. This was a packed programme lasting the whole weekend - many very good talks, thoroughly enjoyable!
Sunspot AR1944 caused something of a stir in early January as it unleashed the most promising Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of the current season toward Earth just in time for our Stargazing Live evening! Sadly, it missed and we didn't get the Northern lights that evening. The sunspot lived on however and reappeared as AR1967 and incredibly returned again as AR1990. Just as it appeared around the limb it let go with an X4.2 flare - huge but not Earth directed, we were only expecting a glancing blow. But the Earth's magnetic field was very favourable, and we got a good display - even the weather was good!
The supernova which recently exploded in the nearby Cigar Galaxy (M82) in Ursa Major is still brightening; some reports put it as bright as mag 10.5, though not all agree. That puts it within range of a small telescope, or good high power binoculars. IAA Council member and Editor of STARDUST Dr Andy McCrea got these nice images on 23rd January while the comparison shot was taken by Ron and Linda Patterson.
The biggest Stargazing Live yet, with 600+ observers outside QUB looking at the Moon, and later on, Jupiter, followed the extravaganza at The Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra under a fabulous sky with over 4000 people in attendance! Probably in fact the biggest and best astronomical event ever in Northern Ireland
Here's an incomplete set of the IAA's Programme Cards running from 1989 onwards. Theses are issued to members at the start of the season as an indication of the lectures for the coming year. Note that sometimes things change as the year progresses so some of these lectures may not have actually happened, but of course the vast majority did!
A hugely busy Autumn for the IAA with a visit from Society for Popular Astronomy on their 60th birthday, Stardome days at Carrickfergus and Belfast City Library and "Supper with the Stars" at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, all memorable occasions!
In August 2013 we had a power packed weekend of astronomy with the Big Wild Sleep Out in which over 200 people stayed over at Cultra - we got most of them through the Stardome, then the following day we had out traditional Solar Day at WWF Castle Espie - another excellent day out!
On the evening of 19th July, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft photographed Saturn and its entire ring system during a total eclipse of the Sun.To mark the event, the IAA held a special Saturn Observing Event, at Delamont Country Park. The great weather continued, blessing us with clear skies. We started with a 'Bring Your Own' BBQ followed by observing the Moon and Saturn, and then 'posing for the picture' by Cassini.
An excellent day of Solar talks by experts in the field held by IFAS at the historic Dunsink Observatory outside Dublin. Five talks, a guided tour of the Observatory and a workshop showing us how to make a magnetometer, and to top it all, at the end of the day the Sun came out for some solar observing!
The 2013 Noctilucent Cloud Season has kicked off to an electric start with a magnificently bright display starting almost immediately after sunset on 30th May. The display continued until the sky lightened after 0230 on 31st, though it was somewhat subdued by this time. Photos here from Paul Evans in Larne, Andy McCrea in Bangor and John McConnell on the shores of Lough Neagh
The IAA event at the North Down Museum Bangor took place on Saturday 16th Febuary 2013 and was a huge success with over 500 attending with mainly clear skies throughout the night. Great views of the 6 day old Moon, Jupiter with it's 4 moons and 2 passes of the International Space Station(ISS). Lots of events took place throughout the evening including the Mobile Planetarium, Exhibitions, Telescope guidance and childrens areas.
As Solar Cycle 24 nears its peak, or may be even begins to decline, it's good to keep an eye on what's happening on our nearest star! Most of the work here is by IAA member Peter Paice whose magnificent montages of solar activity have become legendary within the Association!
The BBC Stargazing Live event at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre took place on Thursday 10th January 2013 and was the most successful yet with a footfall of over 3000 across the day and evening sessions. The many attractions included the Mobile Planetarium, the technology packed BBC Bus, talks, a two hour live programme on BBC Radio Ulster and a live insert into BBC Newsline.
For the second year running, the QUB/IAA Jupiter Watch was a roaring success with clear skies bringing casual observers in their hundreds. Indeed the final reckoning was that over 800 people saw Jupiter and its moons through the 20 telescopes in use!
For 2013 the BBC Radio Ulster programme "Starry, Starry Night" was run in parallel with the Stargazing Live event. But on 31st January 2012 it had a space all of its own at Delamont Country Park. Presenters Darryl Grimason and Anne-Marie McAleese, and Producer Louisa McCartney put together a 2hr spectacular radio programme. The beautiful clear night sky helped of course!
Three outings for the price of one here:- The day at Beaghmore Stone Circles in County Tyrone with Prof Mark Bailey from Armagh Observatory explaining the possible alignments of the stones. Then the QUB Jupiter Watch - over 400 people got to see the giant planet on a clear night. And over 1000 members of the public at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre for Northern Ireland's main Stargazing Live event of 2012!
A visual cornucopia of IAA events in 2011, including a trip to Cork, a visit to St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon, and of course the first Stargazing Live event at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre!
With a day out at Castle Espie, a Fun Day at Glenavy, the annual barbeque at Armagh Observatory and an attempt to catch a Total Lunar Eclipse at Scrabo Tower foiled by the weather, 2011 was definitely a summer to remember!
Outreach visits to Dalriada College, Cosmic Cuilcagh at the Marble Arch Visitors' Centre in Fermanagh, Castle Espie and some astrophotography including an aurora visible from the Antrim coast!
A major joint IAA/QUB double lecture on Cosmology with Prof Carlos Frenk and Prof Chris Stubbs, and Solar Days at Castle Espie and Mount Stewart topped off with a day out at Ballynoe Stone Circle made the Summer of 2010 one to remember!
As part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 the IAA took part in an outreach event consisting of a week at the Newgrange Visitors' Centre in the Boyne Valley. The display featured the "From the Earth to the Universe" posters - a set of high quality posters of top quality astronomical images highlighting the work of astrophotographers. Astro-art by Dr Miruna Popescu was a popular feature too, and some daytime and nighttime observing took place, the weather being kind to us!
The traditional IAA Summer Solstice event was held this year at Beaghmore Stone Circles in County Tyrone with talks before at the An Creggan Visitors' Centre between Cookstown and Omagh