Monday, January 31, 2011

Wide Awake in Texas by Deirdre Kelleghan

As I flew over Pennsylvania the pathways among the green hills and valleys looked like someone had sprayed them on with silly string, such was their random pattern, from my birds eye view.

The green fields soon gave way to the scorched dry plains of Texas, the ground below reminded me of those little watercolour blocks from my painting sets as a child. The colour and even the smell of Burnt Sienna came back to me. Texas is in a drought situation, there has been no rain for months, the cotton was scorched by the sun, in the barren Raw Umber fields of earth.

The water table had dropped, wells ran dry, and farmers were resorting to selling off cattle as they have little water for them. Cotton farmers have insurance on their crops but that would hardly make up for the loss.

The standard temperature for where I was staying had been consistent at 100 – 105 F for months, buildings were according to many Texans, overcooled. Air-conditioning was a very necessary and welcome tool in the effort to keep the population chilled.

The Astronomical League Convention was held at The University of Texas at Arlington.

The campus was huge and seemed very new. The many trees planted around the grounds were home to a population of grey squirrels that seem to be charging about everywhere I looked.

The welcome I received from the members of the Astronomical League was as great as the legendary Irish welcome. I was greeted with hand shakes, smiles, hugs and photographic moments. I felt very much at home right away, in this extension of the global astronomical family.

I was enjoying Kelly Beatty’s talk on the future of astronomy when half way through I was invited to go on a trip into Dallas. Mr Ed Flaspoehler from the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas kindly drove Joanne Hailey secretary of the Astronomical League and I to an unforgettable tour of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dealy Plaza. This is a permanent exhibition about the life and untimely death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Downtown Dallas in the museum I stood reading the graphic hand written medical notes about JFK’s physical state when he came into the care of Parkland Memorial Hospital on November 22nd 1963. In the next section of the exhibit the Kennedy moon speech “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” was running on a screen. I did not expect to get emotional about it but I did. I had one of those full circle moments that keep happening with increasing frequency these days.

The Kennedy moon speeches are worth reading, for the spirit of exploration that they inevitably sowed in the minds of many people who were witness, like my self to the Apollo lunar program.

The brand new planetarium in Arlington University in Texas brought back memories of La Géode IMAX Cinema in the City of Science in Paris. In 1989 seated in the Parisian Géode I sailed the high seas on a virtual journey with Christopher Columbus to the Americas.

In America in 2006 in the UTA planetarium I was blasted from my seat to view our planet from space and travel to the edge of our solar system and beyond on a virtual tour that would probably be the closest that I will ever be to the real thing. At one point I was flying under Saturn’s rings just like Cassini, looking up through the rings at this magnificent ball of butterscotch gas.

After a brief sojourn to where stars are born the seated participants went into reverse warp drive, past the gas giants and Mars back to the Arlington campus dome, which was graphically reproducing exactly what was outside the building.

When we recovered from our awesome solar system tour, we were invited by Bob Bonadurer to have a closer look at anything in the virtual night sky. Terry Mann the new President of The Astronomical League requested a trip to Ireland for my benefit. The digital display projected the sky at 53.2000ºN,- 6.1000º W which was of course daytime in Ireland, so the programme showed the sun up but the sky as if it were night, a bit like an eclipse but for longer. Our next treat was the Southern skies from down under a very unique view that I had only previously seen in books.

That evening according to the many seasoned astronomers in attendance, the UTA planetarium show “The Stars at Night are Big and Bright “was the best show of its kind they had ever seen.

A public star party followed and Ed from TAS kindly let me use his Meade LX 90 to do a sketch from the University campus for my collection. I chose to do a quick sketch of Copernicus as it grabbed my attention in the hot Texan evening. Earlier I had picked up some great sketching paper called Rite in the Rain, it has lovely properties and takes pencil very well, and it is resistant to damp. I look forward to using it in the Irish winter where ordinary sketching paper buckles and messes up the work. So yes I bought paper that resists wet in a hot dry climate for a cold damp wet Irish winter.

I did not get to attend every talk over the two days, but the presentations I did attend were very interesting and informative. I found Dr Mike Reynolds presentation on Meteoritics particularly enlightening and humorous. On screen he showed many types of these space travelling rocks from his collection, some of which displayed extraordinary jewel like, but certainly extraterrestrial properties.

After the excellent Star Bar B Que, I was completely wrapped up in Marni Berendsen's very interactive and entertaining talk about the Night Sky Network. She demonstrated the tool kits which very simply explain the answers to very common questions in astronomy. She used a spoon, foam and some sticks to explain why objects are seen upside down in a telescope. An explanation I will forever remember and repeat many times.

She turned many astronomers there into hot Blue Stars, Planets, Extra Solar Planets and Sun’s, in her story of where habitable earth like planets might be, and why they would be in a certain position in relation to earth like suns. Yellow and blue cellophane, small white spheres on sticks and volunteers from the audience provided the visual explanation for this lesson.

These simple methods to explain astronomical ideas to the public are part of The Night Sky Network TookKits. Not available outside of the United States but a pdf download is here on gives full instructions on telescope questions only and the bits and pieces are easily sourced. A keen amateur astronomer provided the link it is a large file (13MB) but it is very useful.

The Awards Banquet in UTA produced one of the best meals I have ever had at one of these events, and the whole convention was well run and well presented. The winners of the Astronomy Day award could not attend, but Kelly Beatty made a point of reading out many of the events carried out by The Iranian Astronomical Society. This included the lights of a large town being turned out for one hour to enable the population to see the night sky free of light pollution a great idea, one to emulate and a high bar set by the Persian astronomers for 2007.

Among many awards given that night I was delighted to receive on behalf of the Irish Astronomical Society an Honourable Mention Award for our Sun Moon and Stars for Chernobyl Astronomy Day Event in Dublin. I would like to see other Irish clubs joining in this global outreach event next year details on

The Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas were the warm hosts of ALCON 2006 I look forward to meeting them all again at some future get together of sky watchers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Deadly Moons and Spacemen at Draiocht Arts Centre and Send a Message to Venus

Messages From Earth

Send your Message to Venus on Akatsuki

ARTstronomy at Draiocht
If you are out Christmas shopping in Blanchardstown
drop into Draiocht Arts Centre to see Deadly Moons and Spacemen
This beautiful expression of work by local school children will really impress. Draiocht is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6pm admission is free
A video about this community art project is here below.

"I learned that Science and Art can mix"

A sentence written by one of the young
children taking part. Many thanks to Sarah Beirne
and staff at Draiocht for the very professional manor in which the work is displayed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Deadly Moons Art Astronomy workshop
at Draiocht Arts Centre

One of the many beautiful images created in Draiocht Arts Centre just prior to Science Week . Scoil Oilibheir , St Frances Xivier NS , Scoil Bhirde Cailini in Blanchardstown took part .

This drawing of Atlas with its mother planet Saturn as a backdrop was drawn by a young child who attended my Deadly Moon workshop.

Using soft pastels this child reproduced with great visual intuitiveness one of Cassini's many images. Over 80 individual drawings were produced during the workshops. The same children had an opportunity to visit Dunsink Observatory during Science Week. Then they had a follow up series of arts visits by Anne Kelly who helped them produce 3D works based on the whole experience.

Feel free to visit this unique exhibition at Draiocht between Dec 14th and Jan 14th.
The launch is at 7:30 pm on Monday Dec 14th all welcome . 01 8852622

What's Up for December 2009
Many thanks to Jane Houston Jones
for these little gems throughout the year.
The beautiful Orion Nebula features .

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A peep into my Science Week

Our Moon in False color by a four year old
from Rathfarnham Educate Together Junior School.
A lot of color and energy in small children's work, they get on with the drawings and are delighted to produce something. Most children taking part in my workshops were between 8 and 12 years old.

November 9th to November 15th was Science Week 2009.
I offered my drawing workshops and talks. Hundreds of children
took part in my drawing events in various venues
mostly libraries, in Dublin City ,Dunsink Observatory, Monaghan , Drogheda ,Bunclody, New Ross,Malahide, Ballyfermot, Rathfarnham ,Blanchardstown,Oldcastle and Navan.

Here are just a few exceptional drawings that I would like
to share with you. They are wonderful for several reasons
either the child was very young or was particularly interested
and produced a great piece on the day.
In both workshops Deadly Moons or Rapid Rockets & Wicked Robots
the children only have half an hour for the drawing section.

Apollo 11 Splashdown
by an 8 yr old
in Malahide Library
during Science Week

All drawings in pastel
on black paper.
We share drawing methods
fun and learning together.

We shared our colors
We share our ideas
We share paper
We share our knowledge

A lot of children under 12
knew Neil Armstrong was
the first man on the moon.

A few knew Buzz Aldrin
and two children named
Michael Collins , amazing !!!

We talk about Apollo
We talk about LCROSS
We talk about ice on the moon.
We talk about future moon bases and vehicles.
We talk about viewing Jupiter
We talk about The European Space Agency
We talk about Our Sun , Our Moon , Our Solar System
We talk about Our beautiful Earth

A young child draws the Huygens Probe landing on Saturn's moon Titan at a session in Drogheda Library.I was really impressed by the attention to detail some children gave in the short time frame available.

Most children had never heard
of Cassini or Huygens.

Most children were not aware
that there are robots on Mars.

It is important to share space exploration
as it is happening .

One or two children knew about LCROSS
Most children knew about Galileo
but most had never heard of International Year of Astronomy 2009 . They have now.

Mars Science Laboratory
Curiosity by an 8 year old in Malahide Library You can join these little Irish space artists and send your name to Mars on Curiosity here

Everyone who attended my talks or workshops were invited to send their names to Mars.

The New Lunar Exploration Rover
by a child in Navan Library
Here is the link to the Constellation Program back to the Moon

NASA has developed a rover to explore the Moon and Mars eventually.
Watch and be in TOTAL AWE

You can catch up on all
Science Week events here

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Interview with Dr Brian O'Halloran an Irish Scientist working on the Herschel Space Telescope

Dr Brian O'Halloran was interviewed by Deirdre Kelleghan
at Dunsink Observatory.Dr O'Halloran was the IAS guest
speaker on October 19th 2009, he kindly agreed to this
interview a few minutes before he delivered his presentation.

The interview was recorded with a mobile phone so
turn up the sound for best hearing.

The talk on the Herschel Space Telescope was excellent
and it was great to hear about Brian's work on SPIRE

You can follow Herschel at The European Space Agency here

You can follow Herschel on Twitter here

The interview will be broadcast on Phoenix 92.5FM
October 31st Saturday at 3:15 pm.
The station broadcasts to Dublin 15.

Irish Astronomical Society Events coming up

October 30th Free Public Observing at the Martello Tower Car
Park Sandymount 8pm - 10pm. Someone will be there to talk
to you no matter what the weather is like.
Telephone 0876398143

November 16th Telescope workshop
in Dunsink Observatory 8pm. If you want to get the best out
of your scope or have a new scope and
would like to get to know how to use it , come along and we will help you out.

The ESO education
and Public Outreach Department

The Jewel Box Star Cluster.

The combination of images taken by three exceptional telescopes,
the ESO Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal , the MPG/ESO
2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla observatory and the
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, has allowed the
stunning Jewel Box star cluster to be seen in a whole new light.

The release, images and video are available on

Whats Up for October 2009
The Andromeda Galaxy

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stunning Mars Image for you - Herschel Exclusive at Dunsink

A wonderful explanation of this stunning image from the surface of Mars by Phil Platt
can be found here click the link and read it.
Much more on the HiRSE website here

The incredible Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera took the image

What can I say about this image ? it shouts out a story, it seeks and deserves our
attention , it brings focus to our spirit , and helps us wrap ourselves in the fabric
and the beauty of the surface of this awesome planet.

If you are up early in the morning ( Oct 16th) Venus , Saturn and Mercury will join
a lovely crescent moon on the eastern horizon 07:00 enjoy

Don't forget Monday October 19th in Dunsink, e mail John Murphy
to reserve a seat .

See you there