David Beesley FRAS

I joined the Irish Astronomical Society when I was roughly nine or ten years old (c 1963-64) and one of my earliest recollections was of meeting David Beesley, who at the time was IAS Belfast Centre Honorary Secretary, and I remember well how keen he was to help and give advice to a budding young astronomer. 

David lived all his life in East Belfast and through the early sixties, seventies and eighties and even into the 1990s David was a leading light in IAS/IAA activity – organising, lecturing and observing. He was a principal driving force in the IAA after its formation in 1974 acting as Honorary Secretary and President for many years. His forte was double stars and he enjoyed nothing better than to explain the intricate details of how to use an eyepiece micrometer to measure the position angle and separation of these stars. He was a regular contributor to the prestigious Irish Astronomical Journal (IAJ), edited by Ernst Öpik from Armagh Observatory, and he submitted accurate double star observations to the BAA for many years. David was also Editor of Stardust for several decades and it was through his hand-delivery of the magazine that I grew to know him well. I lived close to David in East Belfast and he would frequently pick me up and take me with him to various observing events and trips – such as the visit to Patrick Moore’s house in the Mall in Armagh, or the observing sessions at the Giant’s ring etc. We travelled together to Birr on many occasions to attend the Star Parties there.  David also worked for a spell at the Planetarium as a lecturer although eventually he found the travelling too much and joined heating and plumbing suppliers, Beggs and Partners in Belfast where he worked until retirement. In 1989 David was the first person to be awarded the IAA’s Fitzgerald Medal for ‘outstanding service to the Association’, and in 2000 David was the first person to be awarded the IAA’s most prestigious award for ‘exceptional service to astronomy’ – the Öpik medal. 

David suffered from Parkinson’s disease for the last few years and it eventually forced him to drop out of Association life, but he passed away on 18th April 2020 as a result of contracting Covid-19. Although he spent his last year or so in a nursing home in Belfast, David did not lose his interest in things astronomical nor his sharpness of mind. We spoke just a few weeks before his death when he discussed measuring sunspot diameters using his trusty micometer and telescope from his nursing home room. 

David was a quiet and respectful person, a true gentleman who commanded significant respect through his knowledge, unassuming manner and dedication to his lifelong hobby. David is survived by his wife Hazel, who was also a member of the Association and they were both deeply committed Christians. David has a son Mark and daughter Fiona. He was a ‘giant’ of the Irish amateur astronomy community and will be sadly missed by all.

Andy McCrea, 19th April 2020.

The Sky in April

Following the cancellation of the remaining meetings due to Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, one thing we can still do is observe from our homes. So here, in the format of the “Warmup” talks, is a guide to observing in April!

Covid-19 Virus

The IAA Council has met to consider the situation regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic and has reluctantly come to the conclusion that we must cancel the events planned for the remainder of the season. Therefore, the lectures on 18th March and 1st April are CANCELLED and the Annual General Meeting planned for 15th April is postponed until September.

There will be no Observing sessions organised for the remainder of the season (20th/21st, 27th/28th March, 17th/18th and 24th/25th April)

Further information will appear here as this situation develops

Lecture Weds 4th March – Dr John Quinn (UCD) – “Gamma-ray and Optical Astronomy with VERITAS”

Gamma-rays are the most energetic form of electro-magnetic radiation, produced by some of the most violent events in the universe, such as supernovas remnants and relativistic jets from supermassive Black Holes.

It’s only recently that we’ve developed instruments capable of studying them. The very highest energy rays (in the Tera electron Volt (TeV) range) produce showers of secondary emissions on our site, called Cherenkov radiation, when they stroke our atmosphere.  

VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) in Arizona is one of only 3 state of the art TeV observatories which can study this phenomenon, and this talk will describe how it works and the science it produces.   Visit sexsub xxxbeeg.

The Veritas Collaboration is now also using the telescope for optical astronomy, such as fast transients and interferometry, and the talk will also cover this new work.

John Quinn is an Associate Professor in the School of Physics at University College Dublin (UCD) and has been involved in the field of ground-based gamma-ray astronomy for 25 years. His PhD was conducted at UCD, under the supervision of Prof. David Fegan. and as a predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, under the supervision of Prof. Trevor Weekes, where the atmospheric Cherenkov technique was pioneered and the first detections of astronomical sources of VHE gamma rays were achieved.

Doors open about 7.15pm. There is free parking available on the campus in the evenings. Admission Free, including light refreshments. We are located in the Bell Theatre, Department of Mathematics and Physics, QUB – Details here….. With thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for assistance with this event. 

Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building , QUB, 7.30pm

All welcome. Free admission, including light refreshments.

Astronomy Question Time & Star Watch

Saturday 22nd February, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Suitability: 10 Yrs +

Free.



Do you have a burning question about black holes? Do you want to know more about exoplanets? A panel of world-leading astronomers from Queen’s University Belfast will explore these colossal questions of the universe and so much more! This event will be followed by Astronomers from Queen’s and the Irish Astronomical Association setting up telescopes to give everyone the opportunity to look at stars and nebulae. Please dress warmly!

In the event of poor weather the IAA’s Stardome will be deployed

The main event is in the Larmor Theatre at QUB, observing will be on the lawn outside

Lecture Weds 19th Feb – Laura Murphy (TCD) – “The First Stars in the Universe “

Abstract

Understanding the nature of the first stars and their explosive deaths is key to understanding the early universe and the evolution of distant galaxies. With new facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope we may soon have the first observations of the earliest stars, but to understand these observations we will require detailed simulations. The first stars were very different to stars that we see today, they were more massive, much hotter and only contained elements formed during the Big Bang, meaning that they would have evolved very differently, and produced more black holes and explosive events. Using stellar evolution modelling, we investigate these first stars for a range of masses up to 120 times the mass of the sun, both rotating and non-rotating. This research sheds new light on the behaviour of the first stars and how they may have impacted their surroundings, particularly in relation to their final fates.

Bio

Laura is a PhD student in Trinity College Dublin studying the first stellar explosions and their progenitors. As an awardee of the IRC postgraduate research award she is a member of the Supernovae and Stellar Evolution research group led by Prof. Jose Groh. Her work aims to understand the nature of the first stars and their explosive deaths as supernovae, with particular emphasis on how rotation affects their evolution. She is also active in outreach and is an executive committee member of WITS (Women in Technology and Science) Ireland.

Doors open about 7.15pm. There is free parking available on the campus in the evenings. Admission Free, including light refreshments. We are located in the Bell Theatre, Department of Mathematics and Physics, QUB – Details here….. With thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for assistance with this event. 

Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building , QUB, 7.30pm

All welcome. Free admission, including light refreshments.

Lecture Weds 5th February – Dr Andreas Sander (AOP)

Dr Andreas Sander is currently a Postdoc at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP), UK

He previously did his PhD and Postdoc work at the University of Potsdam in Germany and as part of his work he has been allocated telescope time on the HST, CHANDRA, VLT, P200, KECK and JCMT telescopes!

The talk synopsis is as follows……

Rare but important: Why the Universe is shaped by massive stars

Massive stars are quite different than our own Sun. They are rare in numbers, their life is short and their death can be quite dramatic. But these stars, which are more than ten times more massive than our Sun, are driving the evolution of our Universe. Their extreme conditions allow them to breed and distribute heavier elements. Only due to previous generations of massive stars, we now have the elements here on Earth that allow our very own existence. Massive stars also shape their environment, illuminating fascinating nebulae that can become birthplaces for the next generation of stars, and provide the radiation that makes the Universe transparent. Eventually, massive stars collapse into black holes, making them the progenitors of the Gravitational Wave events we are finally able to measure.

But how do we know about the properties and the impact of massive stars? To only way to study stars that are further away than our own Sun is to analyse their light. For massive stars, this is particularly challenging. Requiring detailed computer models, we are only at the beginning of a time, where we can put many puzzling pieces of information together in order to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. My talk will give an outline of the role and the impact of massive stars and the challenge to understand their properties and evolution. I will explain the basic concepts of massive star evolution and highlight the role of the enigmatic Wolf-Rayet stars, which mark a crucial stage on the road to massive black holes.

Doors open about 7.15pm. There is free parking available on the campus in the evenings. Admission Free, including light refreshments. We are located in the Bell Theatre, Department of Mathematics and Physics, QUB – Details here….. With thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for assistance with this event. 

Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building , QUB, 7.30pm

All welcome. Free admission, including light refreshments.

Double Lecture Weds 22nd Jan – Terry Moseley and Andy McCrea

Terry Moseley is of course a legend in Irish Astronomy and needs no introduction! He will be talking to us about “The Closest Comet Approaches to Earth”

SYNOPSIS “The Closest Comet Encounters to EarthIt’s widely believed that many comets have impacted Earth during its lifetime, but just how close have comets come to us in recorded history? We’ve seen a close pass to Mars, impacts on Jupiter, and a possible impact on Earth. We’ve also seen some very spectacular and bright comets in the sky, but how close did they come? This talk will review the known atmosphere, look at the mythological and historical background, and consider the effects of a possible future really close pass.”

Dr Andy McCrea is equally well known in Astronomy circles both as a six-year Past-President of the IAA and as proprietor of North Down Telescopes. His talk is entitled “Return to the Moon”

Return to the Moon.
The Apollo 17 NASA astronauts blasted off from the Moon in December 1972, which concluded a curtailed programme of US Moon landings. Andy will review what has been going on in terms of lunar missions since then, and review the current situation, anticipating the NASA-led Artemis missions and proposed landing over the coming period.

Doors open about 7.15pm. There is free parking available on the campus in the evenings. Admission Free, including light refreshments. We are located in the Bell Theatre, Department of Mathematics and Physics, QUB – Details here….. With thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for assistance with this event. 

Bell Lecture Theatre, Physics Building , QUB, 7.30pm

All welcome. Free admission, including light refreshments.

Astronomy in Northern Ireland