Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Celestial Pawnee

Celestial Pawnee by Deirdre Kelleghan

The Pawnee were a North American Plains Indian tribe. They lived along the Platte, Loup and Republican rivers in Nebraska from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

The name Pawnee comes from the native word Pariki meaning “Horn” which referred to their typical hairstyle. The Pawnee were a proud people with a strong sense of identity. Their description of themselves is Chatick - si - Chaticks, which means “Men of Men”. Indeed this title is very apt as the Pawnee were very often the scouts leading the Calvary across lands to which they had key knowledge. The Pawnee familiarity with the night sky gave them a unique edge when travelling by night. They were also known as the “Wolf People” cloaking themselves in the mantel of a wolfs cunning and courage.

The Pawnee had several distinct groups and of these the Skidi Pawnee or the Wolf Pawnee were considered some of the best astronomers of the Native American tribes. Centuries ago the Pawnee observed the stars passing over the smoke holes of their lodges and tee pees. In the autumn when they noticed the Pleiades shining through the smoke holes at midnight, they knew the winter solstice was only one month away. Six months later they observed the Circle of Chiefs or Corona Borealis above the smoke holes at midnight; it was one month from the longest day or summer solstice.

Corona Borealis is an important constellation in the mythical past of nearly all the tribes of the plains. The Pawnee believed the Circle of Chiefs were the guardians of the Tirawaatius.

Tirawa Atius (atius = "lord") was the great god, he created everything and catered to the needs of every living thing. Known to us as the Milky Way, Tirawa Atius created the Path of the Departing Spirits.
The Pawnee chiefs painted their faces with blue lines representing the arc of heaven and the path of decent. They wore feather-down on their heads, a symbol of celestial life. The members of this group of chiefs did not dance or sing; they talk quietly and tried to be like the stars.

The Pawnee made sky charts from elk skin. These sky charts were kept in sacred bundles. Every household had a sacred bundle, which they believed were gifts from the stars. These powerful bundles are referenced as sometimes containing meteorites wrapped in animal skin star charts. The sacred bundles were only brought out to great ceremony when the Swimming Duck Cluster was rising in the morning sky.

Sacred bundles were a powerful part of Pawnee ceremonies linked to planting and harvesting. They contained tools necessary to those ceremonies, and the rituals and ceremonies associated with them were passed from generation to generation along with the bundles. Bundles were owned by women and inherited through the female line, but could be used by men only. To open or use a bundle without the proper ritual and ceremony invited disaster.

The Pawnee did not have a solar calendar of a lunar calendar; they marked their year purely with the observance of the stars. They had more star ceremonies and rituals than any other tribe. Their lodges were laid out in patterns, which mimicked the patterns of the constellations.

Their observations of the stars helped them to know when to plant and harvest crops and to know when to hunt bison.

These interesting people had a deep association with the cosmos.

The Pawnee were a matrilineal people, ancestral descent was through the mother and a young couple would traditionally move into the bride's parents' lodge.

Women and men were politically active with both sharing decision making responsibilities.

They viewed themselves as descendants of the stars. The believed Mars – The Red Morning Star Warrior and Venus – The White Star Woman mated and had a daughter from which the human race descended. So according to the Pawnee the first human was a woman. Furthermore they believed that the sun and the moon mated to create the first male child. The image created by the whole of the star patterns in the night sky was they believed the image of a wild bobcat. The wild bobcat with its spotted skin and its nocturnal habits represents the night sky and all the stars therein.

Newborn Pawnee children were wrapped in bobcat skin thereby they were considered to be wrapped in and protected by the heavens.

The Pleiades star cluster was worshiped by these earthbound tribal peoples.

Look as they rise, up rise

Over the line where sky meets earth

Seven Stars!

Lo! They are ascending, come to guide us.

Leading us safely, keeping us one.

Oh, Seven Stars,

Teach us to be, like you, united

The Pawnee people saw the United States as allies against their traditional enemies the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Comanche’s. The Pawnee gained fame as scouts for the United States Army, and a battalion of them served from 1865 to 1885 within the army on the Plains. Working for the US Cavalry as scouts was better than facing the ignominy of reservation life and the inevitable loss of their freedom and culture.

In the late 18th century the Pawnee Nation numbered some 10,000 individuals but in the 19th century
epidemics of both smallpox and cholera were responsible for wiping out most of these earthy people.

By the end of 1900 only 600 were left alive. Today records indicate that they are building up their numbers and up to 5,500 twenty first century Pawnees carry on their nation’s spirit. Today's Pawnees meet biannually and celebrate their rich culture.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Talks 2004 -2008

January 16th 2008 - St Peters School Walkinstown 11:00am
Solar System and Robot Explorer talk for 28 children and their teacher

January 15th 2008 - Griffith Barracks Educate Together School 11:30am
Solar System and Robot Explorer Talk for 56 children and their teachers

December 4th Tullamore Presbyterian Hall for Tullamore AS Galileo, Galileo? Who on Earth was Galileo?

November 19th Dunsink Observatory talk on Galileo, Galileo? Who on Earth was Galileo

Thursday November 15th 11:30 am Rathfarnham Educate Together School

Solar System Presentation for 120 children

Wednesday November 14th Charleville Mall Library North Strand 12pm 40 Children

Wednesday November 14th Pembroke Library Ballsbridge 10am 40 Children
Talk - Our Solar System and some Robot Explorers

Tuesday November 13th Ballymun Library 3pm
Talk - A 2007 Journey Through Our Solar System 45 People

Monday November 12th Raheny Library 7pm 50 People
Talk - A 2007 Journey Through Our Solar System
Talk - Our Solar System and some Robot Explorers

Tuesday November 4th Drop In Astronomy 17/Holmes for 30 Brownies and 20 Scouts in Delgany

October 19th 2007 Public Star Party for Boy Scouts, Venture Scouts and the Public Bray Co Wicklow 8pm – 10pm

October 18th 2007 Dunsink Observatory Public Observing Night

October 15th 2007 Dunsink Observatory Hosting talk on Our Sun, Showing Cassini Essay’s I,2, and 3 for the 10th Anniversary of the Cassini Launch

Plus a Members and Public Observing Session.

October 5th - 7th 2007 Whirlpool Star Party Birr Co Offaly Space in Art Exhibition

October 4th 2007 Space in Art Exhibition of Children’s Art Celebrating 50 years of Space Exploration. Hosting talk for Dr John Mason on the Future of Space Exploration Gonzaga College Dublin

October 4th Space in Art Exhibition celebrating 50 years of Space Exploration

Gonzaga College Dublin 4pm – 10pm including TV interview RTE News

October 3rd – Solar System Robot Explorer talk for AGM of Second Level Teachers

Dublin City Centre 12pm

October 3rd 8pm – Solar System Robot Explorer talk for the public Dunsink Observatory

2007 Cassini in Wicklow National Park September 9th Public talk 30 people.

August 10th – Dean Swift Summer Project Coolock, 11am
August 9th Cassini Solar System Talk in the Adult Education Centre

A PowerPoint Solar System Presentation, followed by a showing of Cosmic Collisions DVD, plus showing the children a 3D Image of the Sun from STEREO

60 - 70 children in each group age 6 - 14
July 3rd - Kimmage Manor Development Education Centre Dublin 12- 10:00am
July 4th - De La Salle School, Ballyfermot Dublin 10, 10:00 am
July 6th - ARC Offices, Crumlin, Dublin 12, 2:00pm
July 10th- Blessed Charles Centre, Harolds Cross, Dublin 6, 11:00am & 2:30pm
July 11th - Mendicity Institution, Dublin 8, 2:00pm
July 12th - Kimmage Manor Development Education Centre Dublin 12, 10:00am
July 16th - Ballyfermot Community Civic Centre, Dublin 10, 2:00pm

June 20th UCD

Speech on our Special Address in the Universe 30 fellow class mates.

Look Up For UNICEF Ireland
April 20th 2007
Very successful Public Star Party in Sandymount in aid of UNICEF Ireland

and part of Worldwide astronomy day Patricia Carroll, Val Dunne, John Murphy,Sarah Murphy and myself 70 attended

April 21st 2007 Clouded out in Sandymount but Patricia Carroll, John Murphy, Ben Murphy, Conor Murphy, Robin Moore, Elizabeth Caird, and myself talked astronomy for the evening in aid of UNICEF Ireland 35 attended

March 26th 2007 Solar System talk Robot Explorer film in Luisne Spirituality Centre in Kilcoole Co Wicklow followed by great Star Party supported by Michael Murphy SDAS 40 attended

March 14th 2007 Solar System talk plus Sun/Moon formation film for 51st Wicklow Cub Scouts 54 attended

February 28th 2007 I did a Cassini/Solar System talk for 28 Transition year students

in the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation run by Wicklow Uplands Council

February 8th 2007 I gave a talk on Astronomical sketching in Gonzaga College

February 9th 2007 I gave a Solar System/ Robot Explorer talk to 200 children in Castleknock Educate Together School

November 27th 2006 Solar System and Cassini talk for St Andrews in Blackrock

25 attended

November 15th 2006 In Belfast I gave a Cassini/Robot Explorer talk to the IAA

60 attended Stranmillis College

November 8th 2006 Solar System/ Cassini talk for St Peters School Walkinstown

50 attended

October 16th 2006 University College Dublin arranging ,facilitating, and introducing Cassini talk by Dr Caitriona Jackman from the Magnetometer Team Imperial College London.

September 18th 2006 Robot Explorer talk/ Young Speaker Ely House 25 + attended

Sun Moon and Stars for Chernobyl Children’s Project International
May 5th and 6th 2006
For this event I received an Honorable Mention Award from The Astronomical League in the United States in conjunction with Sky & Telescope Magazine. My concept, my arrangements.

I went to Texas to receive the award in September 2006.

This was a public outreach star party in Sandymount We showed Saturn, the Moon and Jupiter to 120 people.To raise money for Chernobyl Children’s Project
See Saturn in Your School Yard Event March 5th and March 6th 2006

St Bridget’s National School Greystones Co Wicklow 120 children and parents

came to see and learn about Saturn and other celestial delights.

November 11th 2005 Mars Moon Event St Bridget’s National School Greystones 330 people viewed Mars, the Earths moon and many other delights. I got Masterfoods to sponsor the event with Mars Bars and M&M’s

Limerick University 2006 May 3rd , a little support with Cassini media for Dr Caitriona Jackman of Imperial College London Dr Jackman is on the Magnetometer team for the Cassini mission based in London.
September 18th 2006 Robot Explorers
Talk / Presentation in Ely Place Dublin for the The Irish Astronomical Society and the public.

Whirlpool Star Party Birr Co Offaly 2006 – Cassini Huygens stand Sept 29th 30th and Oct 1st 2006 talking Cassini and giving away outreach educational material from JLP/NASA to astronomers and the public.

2006 July 3rd Introducing Our Solar System a presentation for senior citizens in the TLC Northwood Clinic in Santry Dublin. Q&A

St Andrews National School, Blackrock, Dublin 2006 May 30th

Ring World talk, screening, plus Power Point of the latest Saturn images with Q & A. 23 kids (private school)

2006 Dunsink Observatory March 15th I gave a presentation to 55 members of the public plus Dunsink staff,about JPL’s Spirit of Exploration Robotic missions plus showing of Cassini Essay # 3. Talk plus Q&A

Gonzaga College Dublin. January 19th 2006 Ring World, Power Point, Talk, Q&A to teenagers and astronomers.

Dunsink Observatory January 18th 2006 Ring World talk, screening and Q&A for 40 members of the public on an Open night

March 15th 2006 Dunsink Observatory 55 members of the public for my presentation on Robot Explorers Q&A

March 23 2006 Ring World / Apollo 17 Screening Griffith Barracks Educate Together School

90 Children and their teachers at my presentation on Saturn and Apollo

Ring World Monday 19th December 2005 for The IAS Dublin

29 members of the public came to this Cassini/Saturn presentation.

July 20th 2006 TLC Centre Santry Dublin

I did a Solar System presentation for 20 elderly people this afternoon. It was in the TLC Center Northwood, Santry in Dublin.

2006 Monday April 3rd, Johnstown Girls National School, Cabinteely Dublin 18.

PowerPoint presentation to 200 girls and their teachers on Cassini and Saturn

Donore Avenue Youth Center, Dublin 8. September 5 2006.

Cassini PowerPoint presentation: Cassini Spacecraft, and a selection of Saturn's moons shown to 18 children on a Summer Project activity week. Space Shuttle interactive DVD activates for this mixed age group.

June 13th 2006 Cassini Essay and Space Shuttle in St Bridget’s National School Greystones

Saturn images and Space Shuttle presentation to 200 children 6-13yrs

Friday February 24th 2006 St Bridget’s National School Greystones

Apollo and Spirit of Exploration presentation to 90 children age 8- 13 yrs

Galway Star Party January 28th 2006 Ireland

Cassini Huygens stand at this public event for a day, talking Cassini to astronomers and the public.

December 2nd 2005 Gonzaga College Enceladus presentation for South Dublin Astronomical Society and teenagers from the college.

Cassini Radio June 10th 2005

Rhyme and Reason radio show for Dublin South FM –

reading two of my articles.

IAS May 27th 2005 Cassini Talk plus images Ely Place Dublin for astronomers and the public.

2005 Whirlpool Star Party Birr Co Offaly October

PowerPoint presentation and talk on Enceladus to 160 people attending this convention, the biggest of its kind in Ireland.

2004 December 11th - Screening of Ring World to 230 children in three different groups in 2004 November 29th St Brigid’s National School Greystones. Cassini talk with models of Saturn Titan and Cassini to 5 and 6 years old’s two classes.

2004 November 29th Talk to 10 year olds about Cassini and Saturn

St Brigid’s National School, Greystones

2004 November 26th Talk to 4 classes about Cassini Saturn and Titan

St Brigid’s National School, Greystones with models of Saturn Titan and Cassini.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Irelands Twenty First Whirlpool Star Party 2006 by Deirdre Kelleghan

Published in Reflector

On September 29th,30,th and October 1st this year the provincial town of Birr will buzz with people whose common interest is the wonder of the night sky and a collective deep appreciation of the historic setting of Birr castle and Irish astronomy.

The cosmic wonder that is the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venactici was observed in the 1840’s under the dark skies of Birr Castle in the midlands of Ireland. The instrument used was known as the Great Leviathan of Parsonstown. This 72-inch reflector was at that time, the largest telescope of its kind in the world. The light gathering abilities of its giant mirror enabled the 3rd Earl of Rosse, William Parsons to view and draw the spiral nature of M51 in the spring of 1845.

First discovered in October 1773 by Charles Messier, it took the Great Leviathan to bring to the worlds notice its spiral structure. The Earl captured this through an accurate rendition of its nebulous nature, in a painting of the Whirlpool which is much admired today. The Galaxy is also known as Rosse’s Nebula or Lord Rosse’s Question Mark. William Parsons is credited with assigning the name Whirlpool to this spiral Galaxy.

William Parsons, drawings of M51 in 1845 closely resemble some modern photographs. I like to think of the light from M51, thirty seven million light years away and sixty five thousand light years across, traveling down the wooden telescope tube in April 1845 to the eye of the beholder William Parsons and onto his page, a frozen moment in time. One has to ponder what William would say if he could view the Hubble images of this beautiful structure today.

William’s earlier drawings in 1844 using his 36 inch reflector of M1 did look a bit crab like and the name is now synonymous with this Messier object.

Birr Castle has been a home and a working place to many distinguished astronomers over the years. Some of the most interesting work I think was done by Otto Boeddicker who spent a lot of time observing and drawing the Milky Way from the grounds of the castle. His drawings are outstanding and if you take the time to really look at them and indeed to invert them in Photoshop you will be in awe of the detail and the quality of the skies Heir Boeddicker recorded with the assiduity of his eyes and his dexterity of his hand, a testament to the light pollution free and dark skies of nineteenth century Ireland.

The quality of the telescope and the appetite of for discovery and science placed Birr and Ireland at the center of the astronomical world. Every year for the past twenty years the world is reminded of Ireland's past and present involvement in the pursuit of celestial delights. Shannonside Astronomy Club has hosted the now world famous Whirlpool Star Party for the last two decades and in 2006 the twenty first occasion of this prestigious event is well on in the planning stages.

Over the years the Whirlpool has been a magnet for such luminaries as the John Dobson, David Levy, and Kelly Beatty to name but a few.

The twenty first Whirlpool Star Party, has its share of illustrious speakers lining up to make it one of the most interesting gathering of astronomers ever to grace its platform.

Special guests this year include the eminent American astronomer Jane Houston Jones, Senior Outreach Specialist for the Cassini Program at JPL. Morris Jones one of California’s most respected astronomers will also intrigue the attendees with his considerable knowledge and experience.

The Cassini mission to Saturn and the Saturnian system is one of the most visually breathtaking and scientifically rich space exploration missions of our time. The Saturn Observation Campaign is unique as it splices interest in robotic space exploration with amateur astronomy. This Cassini outreach program endeavors to educate at many levels in an eclectic manner to a global audience.

Jane and Morris have many awards for their astronomical achievements, including having a minor planet named in their honor (22338) Janemojo 1992 LE. This was for their work in bringing the wonder of the night sky to the public with their prolific outreach sidewalk astronomy sessions.

NASA research pilot Triple Nickel will tell Whirlpool attendees about his work training astronauts for weightlessness through stomach churning parabolic flight. Triple also helps shuttle pilots to feel like they have landed the Space Shuttle hundreds of times without even blasting off. He uses the Johnson Space Center Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) to accomplish this simulated experience which prepares the pilots for the real life achievement on their return from space.

The Great Leviathan is under repair and maintenance and it is hoped that it will rise to the occasion and thrill astronomers from around the world who will attend the twenty first Whirlpool Star party and who will enjoy the experience of observing in Birr Castle.

Just a little view of the presentations to come at Whirlpool 2006 in Ireland, more speaker confirmations and details will be available shortly

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Memories

July 20 1969, I was just 12 years old. I lived in a regular suburban house with regular suburban parents, I was the eldest of five at the time, and as with most families then we had to be in bed at 8pm on weeknights, maybe 9.30pm at weekend’s school holidays or not that was the way it was. I was really interested in the Moon landing and really wanted to see it Telefis Eireann were going to cover the story with a special programme. I must have pestered them just the right way and at just the right time, and I was allowed much to my surprise to stay up and see how the story unfolded. Pic - My airfix model of The Eagle Lander.

Telefis Eireann didn’t start broadcasting until 6pm in those days and the Moon coverage programme started at 9pm and was presented by Kevin O’Kelly. We had a small black and white TV with a rabbit ear aerial, it had lots of dots on the screen and problems with the vertical and horizontal hold, as TV’s of that era often suffered with this affliction, unpredictably and always inappropriately. Televisions from 1969 had the original rolling news way before Sky! ‘Hitting the box’ as it was referred to, was the required cure when twiddling the dials at the back did not fix the problem. Late into the night only my Dad and I were still watching fine-tuning and adjusting the TV to get the best picture. There were lots of previews and progress reports, and chat about what was going to happen. I had never been up so late in my life, but this was the biggest moment in the history of space exploration up to then and I was going to see it live from the surface of the Moon. I remember a lot of beeps and tech talk from Houston (Houston Texas was the mission control center for the Apollo mission) to the Command Module and from Houston to the Lunar Lander, and the tiny triangular window which was the view from the Eagle as it came in to land on the surface of the Moon.

Apollo 11Transcript

EAGLE: 540 Feet, down at 30 feet per second …down at 15 … 400 feet down a 9…forward…350 feet down a 4… 300 feet, down 3½ … 47 forward… 1½ down…13 foreword…11 forward coming down nicely…200 feet, 4½ down…5½ down…5 percent…75feet …6 forward …lights on…down 2½…kicking some dust… 30 feet, 2½ faint shadow…4 forward… 4 forward… drifting to right a little …OK…

HOUSTON: 30 Seconds fuel remaining

EAGLE: Contact light! OK, engine stop…descent engine command override off…

HOUSTON: We copy you down, Eagle

EAGLE: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!

Touchdown 9 18 pm A Caption on the TV screen saying “man on the Moon”, overlaid onto live shots of Houston control room.

There was continuous coverage in preparation for the Moonwalk, which was originally scheduled for 2.00am but delayed. Pictures of mission control, the sound of Houston - Apollo conversations and then the first TV pictures from the lunar surface just few minutes before the Moonwalk. I remember the endless hours waiting for the hatch to open, Kevin O’Kelly had to do a lot of talking, and a lot of speculation about what was going on and just what the two astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were doing inside the lunar landing module.

Many people all over Ireland waited and waited to see this monumental moment and at last at 3.56am Neil Armstrong came down the ladder and said those words “One small step for man one giant leap for mankind” it was a chokingly emotional thing to see live on TV a man standing on the surface of the Moon 250,000 miles from Earth the first man ever to be on another world. At 4.16 am Armstrong was joined on the lunar surface by Buzz Aldrin. I remember how they bounced around in the Moons weaker gravity and I remember the American flag being placed on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the Moon in the Command Module waiting for Armstrong and Aldrin to blast off when their incredible visit was over and re -dock for the journey home. I had to get some sleep and my dad had to go to work the next day, as it was Monday so we went to bed even though it was amazing television. Next morning Telefis Eireann had a special broadcast at 6.26am to cover the lift off from the Moon, I don’t remember seeing that live, I think I saw it on the news later in the evening.

For many days after the Moonwalk was repeated on TV. It really was an incredible achievement and the astronauts were so courageous because if something went wrong with the Lunar Module there was no way back to Earth for them and Michael Collins would have had a crushingly lonely trip home if he could have done it by himself.

The Apollo 11 crew left among other things a 9 by 7 inch stainless steel plaque on the Moon, to commemorate the landing and provide basic information of the visit to any other beings that may eventually see it. The plaque reads:

Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D.

We came in peace for all mankind.

The plaque depicts the two sides of planet Earth, and is signed by the three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins as well as US President Richard Nixon.

On the return journey to earth I recall the splash down and recovery. A large aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, a partly clouded sky and the world’s press, everyone waiting for to see the parachute bringing the Apollo crew back to Earth. I recall the crew displayed in an oblong chamber with big windows and people looking in at them. The reason for the chamber was the paranoia about Moon bugs or Moon viruses that might have contaminated the astronauts, all of them even though Collins did not set foot on the surface. So they endured this quarantine and later on August 13 they had a ticker tape parade in New York, which I saw, on the news. This was to honor these brave men who had been on an extraordinary journey and had survived.

Back in February 1969 when I was 11years old, I had bought National Geographic Magazine it came with supplement map of the Moon showing the proposed landing sites for the Apollo missions. It says in the bottom left hand corner of the map about the proposed Apollo 11 mission for July 1969


Interestingly enough, while the Moon has not as yet become a launch pad to the universe, July 20 1969 is linked directly to my life today. My interest in space exploration has led me to write several articles on the subject and these have been published in amateur astronomy magazines.

In November 2004 I had the pleasure of attending the National Concert Hall to see Buzz Aldrin Face to Face with Gay Byrne an amazing interview with the second man on the moon. Colonel Aldrin is an extremely interesting man and he held the packed hall for over two hours with his recollections of his life and his historic visit to the moon. I was proud to join in the standing ovation at the end of this prestigious event.

I am also a member of the Saturn Observation Campaign the purpose of which is to bring awareness of Saturn and of the Cassini Huygens to people in general and I have had some success with this also. Image below , showing Ring World in Greystones .

The senior outreach specialist for the Cassini Huygens mission Jane H Jones has provided me with posters, collector cards, tattoos, bookmarks etc to give away to school children and in December 2004, I screened the wonderful DVD Ring World for 340 pupils and teachers over two days in a national school in Greystones. This was a big success and I provided as many classes as possible with promotional material. I also made my own models of Saturn and Titan and gave some classes a talk on the mission. Since then I have been back in this school showing some pupils the sites and sounds of Titan as provided by Cassini, the sounds really interested them and I had to play them more than once. These national school children have a real interest in space but have little or no knowledge of what is going on in the world of space exploration so its very rewarding to bring this information to their attention.


The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 had a profound effect on my life. It gave me an interest in astronomy and space that has stayed with me ever since.

Ring World in Greystones Dec 2004

I got a Tasco telescope for Christmas that year and in the spring I bought an Airfix Apollo 11 Eagle Lunar Lander Model, which I still have today. The National Geographic Map is in my study and is packed with Moon information, and is along with the Lunar Module some of my favorite things. I remember also queuing up with hundreds of people at the American Embassy in Ballsbridge to see the Moon rock when it came to Dublin. It was displayed in a large perspex or glass bubble held in a giant claw mounted like a precious diamond! I filed past the Moon rock in awe of this alien vision. I will never forget the Apollo 11 Moon landing as long as I live and I would hope to see people landing on Mars or on another world sometime in the future of my life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Deirdre Kelleghan September / October 2004 Arcturus

“ Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives”

Socrates, 469 – 399 BC

NASA has a series of ‘Discovery’ probes, they are unmanned and designed to explore our solar system. Genesis, built at a cost of 200 million dollars, is one of these probes.

Inexpensive by NASA standards, the mission of Genesis is to capture retrieve and bring back particles of the solar wind to help explain the origins of our solar system. The solar wind is made up of parts of the solar corona rushing into interplanetary space at supersonic speed.

The Genesis Space Probe

Images Courtesy NASA/JPL- Caltech

The solar wind, blown continuously by the sun passes the Earth at an average speed of 400 kilometers per second and eventually blends with the interstellar medium

beyond the edge of the Solar System.

During its passage it sweeps up evaporated gases from Planets and Comets along with fine particles of meteoritic dust and even cosmic rays of galactic origin. The influence of the solar wind is felt throughout interplanetary space and it provokes in the Earths atmosphere

Polar Aurora and magnetic storms.

In November 2003, when I visited Iceland I witnessed this wonderful phenomenon. The experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis certainly brought home to me the magical movement of colors and the twisting display produced by the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s amazing to think that the Genesis Mission will capture pure untainted particles of the solar wind.

The space probe Genesis was launched on August 8 2001 from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida on a Delta 7341 rocket. It left Earth’s atmosphere and traveled out to a point

where gravity from the Earth and Sun are precisely balanced. This point is called the ‘L1 Lagrange Point’ and is clear of the Earth’s magnetosphere. In November 2001 Genesis went into orbit around the L1 point, and not around any object.

The solar wind streams off the Sun in all directions at speeds of 400 km/s (almost 1 million miles per hour). The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot Corona. The Corona’s temperature

being so high that the

Sun's gravity cannot hold on to it.

The solar wind generated by our nearest star is quite different from the Earth’s surface.

Wind on Earth is created by differences in atmospheric pressures. This ‘wind’ carries about one million tons of hot

Plasma away from the Sun every second – this plasma consists of electrically charged particles with temperatures reaching 100,000 Kelvin’s

While in orbit, the Genesis space probe was bathed by the solar wind that is hurled out from the Sun. These solar wind particles are similar to material from which the planets are formed and include atoms, ions, and high-energy particles.

Once it was in position, the Genesis space probe uncovered its collectors. Particles of solar wind were embedded in the collector arrays, wafer’s made of ultra-pure silicon gold, sapphire and diamond in purest form. The samples of solar wind will be inside a capsule designed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere safely. After 884 days collecting solar samples the Sample Return Capsule is re-stowed. The space probe then sets out to return to Earth, just a few hours before re-entry the Sample Return Capsule will be separated from the space probe. This is where the mission takes on a Hollywood movie scenario.

On September 8th 2004, an exciting mid-air recovery of the Sample Return Capsule will take place over the Utah desert. It has a specially designed heat shield to protect it from the 2000oC heat generated during re-entry. Once it has done this, a special parachute will open to slow down the capsule and allow it to slowly glide towards the surface of the Earth. To protect this extra special cargo of sun particles a specially trained crew of military pilots assisted by Hollywood stunt aviators (from the movie industry) will catch the capsule with a specially designed hook. Mission designers do not want the samples to be damaged by a landing on hard ground. This will be achieved when the capsule reaches a sufficiently low altitude - a helicopter will snag the parachute lines before it reaches the ground. The solar wind samples will be stored and cataloged under ultra-pure cleanroom conditions and made available to the world’s scientific community for study. They will be the first samples from space since the Apollo 17 mission when it returned with moon rock in December 1972.

The Genesis space probe itself will head into orbit around the Sun to further investigate this phenomenal star.

The sample particles of the solar wind that Genesis brings back will help scientists to understand the composition of the Sun and the origins of our Solar system.

Cosmic Lobster Pot

By Deirdre Kelleghan Published Realta March/April 2006

“There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours.

For the atoms being infinite in number, as was already proved, are borne on, far out into space. For those atoms which are of such nature that a world could be created by them, or made by them, have not been used up either on one world, or a limited number of worlds… So that there nowhere exists, an obstacle to the infinite number of worlds”

Epicurus 4 Century BC

I always visualise Cassini’s journey through the Saturnian system as a kind of orchestrated cosmic dance.Cassini moves silently at great speed in its petal shaped overlapping orbit. This precisely executed dance brings Cassini frequently through the icy ring plane north to south and then back again on the opposite side of the planet, south to north. This robot ship continues on its unparalleled odyssey of exploration. Onboard, Cassini is the custodian of twelve science instruments all primed to seek, gather, and process the offerings of this unique planetary system. Collectively they are performing one of the most important scientific probing’s of Saturn and its many moons in the history of space exploration.

One of these science instruments is the Cosmic Dust Analyser. The CDA looks a bit like a golden lobster pot, and that is not such a bad analogy. This apparatus is trawling the interplanetary ocean for particles of cosmic dust, micro particles that are the messengers of the origins of life.

Cosmic dust what is it; Cosmic dust are clouds or particles of dust and gases occurring throughout interplanetary ,and interstellar space this is a physical material that occurs in our solar system and in our universe. Interplanetary cosmic dust is only temporarily about as it is dissipated from its sources and swept out of the interplanetary sea, to interstellar space. Interstellar cosmic dust particles, the ejecta of dying stars, thrown out and mixed with interstellar gases and other gathered elements in space, recycle and create new stars and new beginnings of possible life. Interstellar dust and gas the building blocks of stars, planets and all life forms. This is I think a kind of the circular system that demonstrates one of the basic laws of the conservation of matter “In any physical or chemical change, matter is neither created nor destroyed but merely changed from one form to another”

The Cosmic Dust Analyser is a passive instrument, it does not send out anything to detect what it is designed for. It simply waits at its station onboard Cassini and its quarry comes to it.

The CDA instrument when it is struck by one or some of these cosmic particles, not only analyses its composition but amazingly enough it has to ability to determine its orbit, its trajectory i.e. where it has originated from, and therefore its source i.e. the particle or particles may be from a place outside the Saturnian system. Particles possibly from the Jovian system of from comets or meteoroids may stray into the trawling instrument. The CDA may at first seem to be a very straight forward instrument but it has a dizzying array of electronic and chemical sensors.

The Cassini orbiter has been cruising in the Saturnian environment for over one year now and has travelled billions of miles since it left Earth in October 1997. Cassini glides through space at an average speed of 12,000 miles per hour According to the Cassini website Giovanni Cassini (the gentleman that the Cassini spacecraft is named after) in the 17th century would have gazed at cosmic dust in his telescope, probably looking at the wonderful Sagittarius or some of the larger nebulous objects like M42 or even Andromeda M31. Giovanni Cassini was also the first person to explain the zodiacal light phenomenon, demonstrating that it is of cosmic origin.

Giovanni - Dominique Cassini was born in Perinaldo Italy, on June 8, 1625. He became the head of the Observatoire de Paris in 1671; it was in this wonderful city he is credited with the discovery of the Saturnian moons Iapetus in 1671, Rhea in 1672, and Tethys and Dione in 1684. Imagine being able to do such observing with what would have been a comparatively small telescope. Imagine four hundred years later a space craft is in orbit in the Saturnian system sending back some of the greatest photographic images of all time. Cassini the ingenious robot bringing us the discoveries of Cassini the genius man.

Giovanni Cassini’s greatest gift to science was probably the discovery of the gap in Saturn’s rings, which now carries his name,’ The Cassini Division’. So the Cosmic Dust Analyser onboard the Cassini orbiter, is carrying on a science investigation that has its origins through his eyes, in the 17th century, and now in the 21st century through Cassini’s science packages.

The CDA is a cylindrical golden vessel, within the chamber lie two separate impact analyzers, a large one the High Rate Detector Target (HRD) and a smaller one the Chemical Analyser Target (CAT). Particles of matter traveling through space enter the Cosmic Dust Analyzer at random. The detection of particle impacts is achieved in two ways; one is through a High Rate Detection system, used for the high impact rates hitting the CDA during the ring plane crossings. This is for cosmic dust particles with a known speed. The High Rate Detector is primarily for carrying out measurements of particles in Saturn’s ring system.

The CAT system is for measuring the electrically charged dust particles, their speed, mass, chemical composition and even impact direction. A particle may impact on the big gold target (HRD) or the smaller (CAT) plate. These impacts cause the particles to vaporise and send there ions and atoms upward to be amplified by a multiplier device and analyzed and processed into data that tells the story of the particles in detail for Cassini’s scientists here on Earth. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer is reliably designed to measure impacts from a frequency as low as 1 impact per month to up to 10 4 impacts per second.

The CDA also has an articulation mechanism that enables it to move in accordance with the space crafts direction. It is an essential function, and has been shown to be most effective when Cassini swooped within one hundred and nine miles of the icy moon Enceladus in July 2005; CDA is profiled as “think, touch or taste” as it is a direct sensing instrument. The articulation mechanism at the base of the CDA enables it to achieve a 0 –270-degree sweep of its environment; it is attached to the obiter just below the High Gain Antenna.

The CDA needs very little power that in itself is a great quality for a science instrument operating in space. The CDA is producing output information that is invaluable to the understanding of the Saturnian system and that information combined with the other instruments is vital to the purpose of the mission. The CDA was a main player in the evidence for the venting of water ice vapour and particles discovered emanating from the south pole of Enceladus, in that close fly by of July 2005.

One of the objectives of the CDA instrument is to map the size and distribution of Saturnian ring material and to search for particles outside the extensive E ring. The quest is to analyze the chemical composition of ring particles and to determine dust and meteoroid particle distribution in the rings and in interplanetary space. These tasks are just a sample of the work set for the CDA. Because it has the ability to workout the direction a particle may have arrived from, it can therefore tell whether a particle is cometary or astroidial in origin.

The smaller inner chemical analyzer target plate is made of Rhodium; this element is the rarest of all non- radioactive metals on Earth. Rhodium is a rare lustrous silvery hard metal, a member of the platinum group and its properties include a low electrical resistance and a high resistance to corrosion.

The larger HRD is plated in Gold a soft metal which is chemically unreactive. Gold is one of the few elements to occur in a natural state. Gold is unaffected by air, water, all acids and alkalis. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity. Gold is a good reflector of infra red radiation and as it’s inert it makes an excellent coating for space satellites and instruments.

An electrically charged particle flying through the entrance grids at the front of the Dust Analyzer will induce a charged signal on the grids. The charge induced is directly proportional to the charge of the particle. This allows direct determination of its electric profile .The design of the plates leaves the signal shape created by the particle to be symmetrical allowing ease of measurement of the particle direction.

The CAT measures the electric charge carried by the dust particles, and also the impact direction, impact speed, mass and chemical composition.

In the case of the CAT plate, the dust particles’ hitting it generates ejecta made up of atoms and ions. The curved shape of the target plate at the bottom of the CAT focuses the ejecta toward the multiplier which amplifies the signal and it is within this action the information about the elemental components of the micrometeoroids is extracted and stored. The chemical analyzer has a special instrument controlled heater to decontaminate the analyzer target by heating it to 90 degrees. Thereby purifying it for its next tiny subject.

The sensor plate for the HRD is different from the CAT. It deals with High Velocity dust particles which create a large fast pulse, which is in turn also proportional to the impact particles mass and speed. The HRD is an independent instrument with its own memory and processor. Data from both detector plates is sent to Earth through the Deep Space Network and is gladly received and analyzed by awaiting scientists. It should be interesting to compare the cosmic dust analysis from the Saturnian system with those samples returned by Stardust from Comet Wild 2, which consists of cometary and interstellar dust particles. A fantastic task achieved recently bringing us closer to an understanding of our solar system and the cosmos, and the correlation of cometary dust, its origins and the solar bodies that we know.

The Chemical Analyzer Target is a development of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. The High Rate Detector is a development of the University of Chicago. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer is cruising through space over one billion miles from planet Earth.

Just like the pixels in a photograph the tiny micro particles of cosmic dust will come together and play a part in revealing an image of the soup, the mix,the ingredients of the Universe. The Cosmic Dust Analyser continues to gather vital data on the rich tapestry of interplanetary space. It will weave a fine, complex but fascinating image of the Saturnian system at micro almost nano level.