On Thursday 15th December, Dr John Butler gave a tremendous lecture on "The Transit of Venus in 1769, Charles Mason in Donegal & the Development of Astronomy in Ireland in the 18th Century". The meeting began with a short introduction by chairperson, Mark Stronge who gave us a brief insight into the current highlights of the night sky.
Dr. John Butler began his fascinating talk on the transit of Venus of 1639 and how Johannes Kepler was able to predict this events. He gave us an insight into the beginnings of astronomy in Ireland and in the experiences of Charles Mason in sighting and setting up his observatory, the longitude of which remained elusive for many months. The Venus transit of 1769 was particularly important to astronomy as the distance to the Sun was not known. Using triangulation and timing the transit, the distance could then be calculated. It was particularly surprising to find out of Mason's plight in trying to cross from Donaghadee to Portpatrick in an open boat with his horse!
After a lengthy and detailed question and answer session the evening concluded with tea and mince pies.
Dr. John Butler comes originally from Cambridgeshire. He obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Edinburgh and graduated with a PhD from the University of Dublin in 1971 with a thesis on, "Cepheid Variables in the Magellanic clouds.".
John worked for a number of years at Dunsink Observatory before joining the staff at the Armagh Observatory in 1973. His research at Armagh over the last few years has been mainly on solar-terrestrial relationships, especially on how the Sun influences the Earth's climate. He has been utilizing the 215 year old meteorological records maintained by Armagh Observatory. He has investigated the influence of solar activity and cosmic rays on terrestrial clouds and global warming. He has also studied the effect of historical solar acitivity and weather patterns on tree rings.
Another main area of John's research has been on observing and modelling optical stellar flares, and on observing RS Canum Venticorum and BY Draconis - spotted stars.
John has recently retired from Armagh Observatory but still spends much of his time there on further research.
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