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Mercury - Best Apparition of the Year

Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, has been putting  on an excellent show throughout the month of April. It is estimated that although Mercury is a naked eye object, and can rival the brightest stars in brightness, it has only been seen by about 1% of people in the world!

This is because it is only ever visible just before dawn or just after sunset when the sky is still bright. In addition, it is always seen through a lot of atmosphere.

On this occasion Venus was very close by and acted as a signpost marking the way.

Venus and Mercury are visible in this shot taken by Andy McCrea at Ballycopeland Windmill in County Down.

Mercury has now set for a while, but Venus is rising higher and will continue to shine brightly in the west after sunset for several months.

Image: John C McConnell FRAS

Image: Pat O'Neill

IAA Webmaster awarded Aidan P Fitzgerald Medal.

"The Aidan P. Fitzgerald Memorial Medal is the prestigious award of the Irish Astronomical Association, and is named in memory of one of its leading members back in the 40's and 50's. It is presented not more than once per year for "Outstanding Service to the Association" to someone usually, but not necessarily in a Council post.

Aidan Fitzgerald was born in Limerick, Ireland and had a keen interest in astronomy since childhood. Later he bought telescopes and other equipment and set them up in an observatory in his back garden. He became a leading light in the Belfast Centre of the old Irish Astronomical Society, and later became Chairman. He was also on the editorial board of the Irish Astronomical Journal. By profession, he was a principal officer in the Northern Ireland Ministry of Health and Local Government, and had been awarded the O.B.E. He never married, and died suddenly in the summer of 1964 from a heart attack, just short of his retirement.

In June 1954, the planet Mars was closer to earth than it had been for several years, but the most ideal conditions for observation were from the southern hemisphere. Astronomers from all over the world co-operated to make observations of the planet and a committee was set up under the chairmanship of Professor Earl C. Slipher from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Slipher was probably the greatest authority on Mars and was to observe and photograph the red planet from the Lamont-Hussey Observatory at Bloemfontein, South Africa  using the great 27-inch refractor, (now dismantled)  Fitzgerald was invited to join him at the invitation of the National Geographic Society who sponsored the studies, which were to last some four months.

As to the medal itself, it is tastefully minted in bronze gilt, and on the obverse shows the profile of the famous "South Refractor" at Dunsink Observatory outside Dublin, while the reverse has the recipients name and date engraved inside a laurel wreath." (Many thanks to John C McConnell for the above words)

This year the Medal was awarded to IAA Webmaster Paul Evans for his work for the IAA including this website, the "10 minute" talks as well as talks at IAA events across Northern Ireland. Paul is pictured here with IAA President Philip Baxter - the medal itself was still being engraved at the time of the AGM!


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