Robot explorers and alien life among the topics at Galway Astronomy Festival this weekend

Alien life, astrophotography, space law, rockets and robots are among the subjects being discussed at this weekend’s Galway Astrofest, the largest annual astronomy festival in the country.

Organised by the Galway Astronomy Club, this year’s festival is based on the theme ‘Understanding our place in the Cosmos’ and features a wide range of talks and exhibits on the universe we call home. This year’s festival promises something for everyone, from complete beginners to experienced astronomers, and for children and adults of all ages.

The festival takes place on Saturday January 28 in the Westwood House Hotel, with registration from 9.15am on the day.

Tomorrow evening, Friday, a free observing session is due to take place at Galway Astronomy Club’s dark sky observing site at Barna Wind Farm. All are welcome. If you have a telescope bring it along, and club members will also have telescopes available for people who want to have a look at the stars. Assemble at The Twelve Hotel, Barna, and depart at 6.45pm. As this event is weather-dependent a final decision will be made this evening (Thursday ) and posted on the club’s Facebook page.

Saturday’s festival will include an impressive line-up of experts speaking on a range of subjects. Dr Deirdre Coffey, assistant professor at the UCD School of Physics, will give a lecture entitled ‘Exploring the Cosmos – The View from Hubble and Beyond’. Dr Coffey’s talk will explore the enormous impact the Hubble Space Telescope has had on observational astrophysics over the last 25 years, and will look to the future with the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch next year.

‘A Mayan Adventure in Historical Astronomy’ is the title for a lecture to be delivered by Dr David Asher of the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, while Dr Zeldine O’Brien will discuss ‘Space Law and the Challenges It Faces’. A lecture by Dr Wesley Fraser of Queen’s University Belfast, ‘Robotic Exploration of the Solar System: Satellites to the Small Guys’, will focus on the many robotic missions that have opened up our view and understanding of the solar system in recent years, from the Rosetta probe’s journey to Comet 67P to the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond.

The Annual Patrick Moore Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘ET- Where are you?’ will be delivered by Terry Moseley of the Irish Astronomical Association. This lecture will discuss how the discovery of exoplanets, as well as the possible existence of water on several moons in our own solar system, means that life on other planets is now the subject of serious scientific research.

For those interested in the more hands-on aspects of astronomy, the club will run two workshops during the lunch break, including a workshop on setting up a new telescope.

Children will be well catered for at the festival, with special events including a space art workshop led by astronomer, artist, and educator Deirdre Kelleghan, who will show participants how to draw astronomical images. There will also be an introduction to space art.

The Big Bear mobile planetarium will be a special treat for people of all ages. Carl O’Beirne, astronomer and astrophotographer, will hold exciting hourly shows exploring the universe inside the planetarium.

Running alongside the day’s other events, some of Ireland’s largest sellers of astronomical equipment will have their wares on display. The hall will also host stands providing information on Dark Sky festivals, displays of astrophotography, and other information on astronomy in Ireland. The Irish Rocketry Association will also be at the festival, with an exhibition of rockets and information on the group and upcoming launches.

The day will finish with a guided tour of the NUI Galway Astrophysics Department Observatory at 5.30pm, followed by the Astrofest evening meal. A table quiz will take place later in the evening.

Tickets for the festival cost €25, or €15 for Galway Astronomy Club members €15, Students/OAPs €15. Children under 16 are free. The evening dinner costs €30.

For more information, and a full festival programme, visit www.galwayastronomyclub.ie, contact Galway Astronomy Club on Facebook @galwayastronomyclub, or phone Brian on 085 7298831.

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