Mon 4th September 2006 Meeting Report
Mobile Planetarium, Beginners Night And Observing


First Meeting Of The New Season
Monday September 4th 2006 brought with it the first EAAS meeting of the season and a new line of special guest speakers from a wide variety of astronomical disciplines promising seasoned and new members a superb line up and exciting series of meetings over the 2006 – 2007 period. Check our programme list on the homepage for further details.

Meeting Review
Members of the society turned up in rich numbers with several telescopes including several new members who gathered in the main hall to watch the rapid assembly and inflation of the portable planetarium which Dr. Edward Barnett brought with him to compliment his talk. This sophisticated ‘star dome’ can be packed into a large sized sports bag and uses a standard 13A electrical power outlet to inflate the system in 10 minutes! The dome itself reaches 12ft in height and can accommodate up to 60 individuals making this an ideal and attractive travelling accessory to educate schools etc on space and science. After a short talk on safety and planetarium etiquette everyone gathered inside the dome, made themselves comfortable on the seats and mats provided then settled into the dark, cosy environment.


These planetariums are designed to replicate the night sky overhead as the inside roof describes a dome configuration very much like the curvature of the constellations one can see on any night. EAAS chairperson Mark Stronge introduced Ed who then began his tour of space using a projector which displayed a beautiful selection of images and animations onto the dome wall. With this visual imagery Ed took his audience on a journey through space and time beginning with a fascinating image of an ancient human cave drawing – a stone log book if you like, documenting the seven sister’ star cluster, Taurus the celestial bull and the belt of Orion the hunter. Our ancient relatives recorded these star patterns for a very good reason as they differ from the ones we see today with a brighter member star in the Pleiades and four stars in Orion’ belt (it has three today) which Ed suggested may have been a supernova!

Projecton Inside DomeGroup

Dr. Barnett’s verbal presentation launched from earth and took us on a journey through the solar system pausing briefly to accommodate the latest information on Pluto from the international astronomical union to address the removal of Pluto’s planet status to one of ‘dwarf planet’, before giving a rundown on or own milky way galaxy using a stunning image of M31 (Andromeda galaxy) to help beginners visualize what our own ‘island universe’ would look like from the outside, a view which we cannot get from living inside this star city. The existence of other planetary systems were discussed including an over view on the possibilities of other earth like planets in our galaxy, members were astonished and even shocked to learn that the milky way could contain as many as 100,000 earth like planets!

Non Visual – Visual Observing
As tonight was also a beginner’s night the society intended on holding an observing session using the telescopes and binoculars which members had brought for the occasion however overcast conditions provided everyone with a different way of observing. Ed turned off the lights inside the dome and waited for his audience’s eyes to adjust to the dark then let the planetarium do what it does best. The entire northern hemisphere constellations were projected onto the inside of the dome giving us the sensation of viewing the universe from the dome interior of some great observatory. Ed took us through the popular constellations such as Orion, Taurus and asterism’s like the summer triangle. Beginners learned about the rotation of the earth and the rising and setting of the stars, an experience which everyone enjoyed.

This type of inside stargazing was the icing on the cake after a delightful tour of the universe. Dr. Barnett covered a nice range of subjects tailored for the beginning and intermediate level astronomer, backed with his own personal experiences and filled with amusing anecdotes. We all learned something new and even the experienced observers enjoyed this refreshing and educational experience. The EAAS would like to thank Dr. Barnett for his educational and fun presentation!

Our next meeting takes place on Monday October 2nd when Mr Ryan Milligan (QUB) will give a talk on ‘Solar Flares & Space Weather’. We look forward to seeing you then!


About Dr. Ed. Barnett
Dr. Edward Barnett trained at QUB as a physicist and studied astrophysics at post grad resulting in the award of a PhD in 1989. He served for 10 yrs as a computer systems manager at QUB during which time he was actively researching the design of planetary nebulae, galactic nuclei, and spectroscopic instruments resulting in a number of published papers.

With spending so much time away from home at isolated observatories, Ed then moved in 1996 into a more interactive role as a senior lecturer at Armagh Planetarium. His time as public communicator at the planetarium opened up new possibilities and he decided to go full-time into educational teaching. Ed started up his own company, Space Encounters, which now operates mobile planetarium units and trades throughout Ireland, the UK and occasionally elsewhere. He has also spent his recent years as a planetarium lecturer in space science.

Ed has made countless contributions to the BBC, regional radio and both local and national press. He is also a member of the Institute of Physics, and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS).

Space Encounters is an independent, privately funded local firm specialising in science education through the medium of astronomy and space science. It was established in 2002 and has since attained overall audience figures of 63,000 throughout Ireland, the UK and further afield. Their services are available throughout the year and nationwide to schools, colleges, festivals and corporate event organisers.




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