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IAA Lecture, Wed 16 November, 7.30 p.m, LARMOR LECTURE THEATRE, Physics Building, QUB. This will be a double-header meeting, with the following talks –

Sean O’Brien – ‘Hunting for Exoplanets using Citizen Science’

SYNOPSIS: The field of exoplanet science is booming with new surveys being built and huge amounts of data being generated at a rapid pace, but all of this data needs to be searched systematically and, ideally, quickly. Traditionally, astronomers have relied on a combination of computer algorithms and human “eyeballing” to identify the most promising exoplanet candidates that should be put forward for additional observations. The eyeballing process, where professional astronomers will view large lists of potential candidates, is time-consuming and open to error for any small team of astronomers. However, by harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of public volunteers through citizen science projects such as Planet Hunters and Exoplanet Explorers, we have been able to find exoplanets that would have likely remained undetected by professional astronomers. In this talk I will guide you through a brief history of exoplanets and how we find them, and give an overview of the process of citizen science searches and the interesting discoveries they have made.


Sean is a 2nd-year PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast where he works with Dr Meg Schwamb as part of the Exoplanet Group. His PhD project is focused on using the help of public volunteers through the Planet Hunters NGTS project to find exoplanets that may have been missed in the initial searches of datasets from the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). Prior to starting his PhD at Queen’s, Sean completed a Masters degree at the University of Warwick where he tested the precision of the NGTS telescopes by measuring the amount of scintillation, or “how much stars twinkle,” in the NGTS data.


Thomas  Moore  – Discovery and Characterisation of Supernovae in the Local Universe’.


With the advent of large-scale robotic sky surveys, the number of supernovae has grown exponentially. In this talk I will discuss what supernovae are,  the history of supernova discovery and the processes we use to of find, characterise, and study supernovae. 


Thomas is a second-year astrophysics PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast where he graduated with and MSc in Physics with Astrophysics in 2021. His research currently focuses on observation and theoretical modelling of supernovae discovered by the ATLAS sky survey. 

   NB: The lectures are now held in the LARMOR Lecture Theatre, also in the Physics Building, which is much bigger, and will allow greater distancing between attendees. Directions. The Larmor is at the other end of the Physics building to the entrance to the Bell LT, which we used previously. It’s on the side of the Physics building which is closest to, and parallel to, University Road. There is a ramp to allow wheelchair axis. Please try to be there early, to facilitate a prompt start – access should be available from shortly after 7 p.m.

   ADMISSION FREE – All welcome!

IAA Lecture, Wed 2 November, 7.30 p.m, LARMOR LECTURE THEATRE, Physics Building, QUB

Brian MacGabhann.  “A History of Astronomy Part 2 – From Newton to Now”


This talk takes up the story of our understanding of the universe from where Newton left it off, by looking at what we still did not know; what are the stars? How do they shine?  How big is the Universe? Where did it all come from? The talk will look at how we slowly learned the answers to each of these questions, and thereby arrived at our present day understanding of the universe we live in. 


Brian MacGabhann began amateur astronomy 45 years ago at the age of 14. He is the former education and outreach officer with Galway Astronomy Club, and later club chair. Founder and resident lecturer with the Renmore History Society in Galway. Has lectured extensively to clubs and groups throughout Ireland, including giving lectures at Dunsink Observatory, and the Kerry and Mayo Dark Sky festivals. 

Partial Solar Eclipse Tues 25th October


This eclipse starts at about 10.05, reaches its maximum of about 25% at 10.50, and ends at about 11.40. It will be noticeable from about 10.15 to about 11.30.

Firstly, you should NEVER look directly at the Sun with the naked eye (or specs!), and ESPECIALLY NOT with any sort of optical equipment such as telescopes or binoculars – to do so risks serious permanent eye damage.

But there are several ways to observe this event safely.

1. Pinhole projection. Make a pinhole or needle-hole in a piece of card, such as a piece of a cereal packet. Hold that up at right angles to the Sun and let it shine through the hole onto another piece of white card held a few inches behind it. You’ll see a round image of the Sun with a small ‘bite’ out of it, caused by the Moon passing in front of the Sun. Do NOT look at the Sun through the pinhole! The larger the hole, the brighter the image, but the fuzzier it will be. About 1mm diameter is probably best.

2. If you have a small refractor type telescope mounted on a tripod, keep the cap on the lens at the front, and on any finder telescope attached to it. Insert the lowest power / widest angle eyepiece you have (usually the one with the largest number in mm marked on it, e.g 25mm), remove any cap from the eyepiece, and position a piece of white card behind the eyepiece. Adjust the angle of the telescope so that its shadow on the card is smallest, which means it’s pointed roughly at the Sun. 

   If there’s a finder, remove the cap, but don’t look through it! Make fine adjustments to the pointing of the telescope until you see a small image of the Sun projected onto the card. 

  Then, or if there’s no finder telescope attached, remove the cap from the front of the telescope, and move it in fine adjustments until an image of the Sun appears projected onto the card. Put the cap back on the finder for safety. Then use the focus knob until that image is as sharp as possible.

   Remember, NEVER look through either the finder or the telescope while doing this.

   And don’t leave the telescope unattended, in case someone else tries to look through it.

3. If you have a pair of special eclipse glasses left over from previous solar events you can use them, provided there are no holes or scratches in them. To test them, look at the brightest light in your house through them – you should see absolutely nothing, except possibly the filament itself in a very bright (100W+) incandescent light bulb!

4. If you have access to the darkest grade of Welder’s glass (14), you can use that, but no other sorts of filters are safe.

Do NOT use 3D glasses, CDs, DVDs, mylar type film, e.g. from packaging or the interior of wine boxes etc. Not even multiple pairs of sunglasses are safe, as they may let through harmful UV radiation.

But if you can just barely see the Sun through thick fog or cloud, you can look at that for short periods, but if it starts to brighten so you can see it clearly, look away.

Further information and guidance can be found here 

IAA Meeting 5th October 19:30 Larmor Theatre, QUB

5th Oct: Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, QUB: “Moving an Asteroid – Did we do it?” (the results of the DART impact on Didymos)


On 27th September at 00:14 BST, the NASA DART spacecraft hit the small asteroid moon Dimorphos at 6.1 km per second. Designed to change the orbit of Dimorphos around its parent asteroid Didymos, the collision was followed by the accompanying ASI spacecraft LICIACube and a multitude of Earth-based telescopes.

Two decades in the making, this was humanity’s first test of asteroid deflection technology, designed to prevent potentially catastrophic impacts on Earth in the future.

Did it work? What happened? This talk will briefly describe the background to the problem, and the mission plan for DART. First results from the encounter will be shown, and the talk will end with an overview of what happens next.

IAA Subscriptions now due

As of 1st September membership falls due.

Membership of the IAA has been held at £20 (€25) per year for Individual Membership or £25 (€30) per year for Family Membership (all members of a family at one address) from September to August and entitles members to attend all IAA events including our regular speaker programme.

We are returning to Queen’s University, Belfast at the start of the Lecture Season on 23rd September – this will be in the larger Larmour Theatre – at least initially, to allow greater Social Distancing.

Where possible we will record these lectures and share them on our YouTube Channel for the benefit of those who may not feel comfortable venturing out just yet.

Also, there are four issues of the IAA magazine “Stardust” produced annually and these will be delivered to your home address.

The Return of Face-to-Face Lectures

Well after two and a half years of Covid and the associated lockdowns we are finally returning to in-person meetings at Queen’s University, Belfast

This time we will meet in the Larmour Theatre which is in the same building as before but accessed by turning right just after the Whitla Hall.

The Larmour is much larger than the Bell and if our previous audience levels continue then there will be much more space for Social Distancing.

For those who are not yet ready to join us in a live situation our intention is to provide a recording of the lectures within a day or two where we can. These will be on our YouTube Channel where you will find an archive of many past lectures including those we ran on Zoom during the Pandemic.

We are currently finalising the Programme but the first two lectures are as follows:_

21st Sep: Dr Steph Merritt, QUB: “Last Horizons – the Edge of the Solar System” (synopsis below)

5th Oct: Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, QUB: “Moving an Asteroid – Did we do it?” (the results of the DART impact on Didymos)

Synopsis of the first talk:

In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto seemed to mark the furthermost boundary of our solar system. Here, it was thought, was the mysterious Planet X, the ninth planet responsible for inexplicable irregularities in the orbit of Uranus.

The discovery of Pluto’s small mass briefly gave Planet X new life: but the discovery that Uranus’s orbit was not irregular after all seemed to kill it once more. There were nine planets in the solar system, with Pluto as the last: an idea that held for decades, an idea we were all taught in school.

But now, with Pluto demoted to a dwarf planet, and several other Pluto-like objects discovered in the distant frontiers of the system, the Planet X hypothesis has been unexpectedly resurrected. What lies beyond Pluto? Is there yet another planet out there in the coldest, darkest reaches of our solar system? What is the evidence for this new Planet Nine?  And if it truly exists, might the upcoming Legacy Space and Time Survey at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory discover it?