#7 January Stargazing Guide in the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve Monthly Series
[sound of Manx shearwater birds calling] Alrighty it seems like most people are in so welcome again thank you so much for joining us on the first one of these talks for the year. They are run by the LIVE project which I am part of, in collaboration with the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve and we're delighted to be continuing them this year. And someone has their hand up there, Hannah do you do you mean to have your hand up, would you like to put something in the chat or is that an accident? So what I was going to say and Hanna you're welcome to talk, first of all it's Nollaig na mBán shona daoibh, and if there are ladies joining us in the audience tonight which it looks like there are quite a few I hope you have your feet up and you're drinking tea that someone else made you for the evening that's in it. And just a little reminder that we can't see or hear you so you can shout at us or tell us we're wrong or anything you want and we won't know but if you would like to join the conversation please do, please use the chat or Q&A functions. Make sure if you're in the
chat that you're writing to all participants and please also do feel free to raise your hand if you have a question and we can allow you to speak as well afterwards in the Q&A. Orla's just putting some comments into the chat there and she might do that throughout if there's anything that needs to be, that we need to be reminded of little links or anything like that As always the session is being recorded and it will be available on our YouTube channel and website afterwards. And we have a really nice pair of speakers this evening so I will hand you over to Steve Lynott of Kerry Dark Sky Tourism who will introduce our speakers and kick things off.
Thank you very much Lucy and again to our own two ladies, Lucy and Orla, Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas a big tradition in Kerry. In days past no man would have suggested watching a computer screen tonight he'd be too busy either cooking for his lady or taking her out somewhere. So happy Nollaig na mBán, Women's Christmas and thank you as ever to Orla and Lucy for their help and support. We have a very interesting session for you today and a bit of an international flair John has flown in from America for tonight and our other speaker Ben Porter who I might introduce later is joining us from Wales. So we have people from Dublin via new York and San Francisco, Wales, Dingle, south Kerry, so wherever you're joining us from I do hope you enjoy the session tonight.
Without further ado I’m going to introduce John Flannery and I asked John to give us his thoughts on the the night sky for the month of January and again to echo Lucy's thanks to you all for joining us and your participation, your involvement makes it all worthwhile for the people who are actually putting these things together so thank you very much. John. Thanks Steve happy new year everyone, Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. [Happy New Year in Irish]. I’m just going to share a screen here. Should be able to kick off the notes for the year ahead in fact it's going to be quite an exciting year of stargazing over the next 12 months, a couple of eclipses to look out for the usual meteor showers and on December 8th, Mars places peekaboo with the moon where the planet is hidden by the moon or occulted and that's an event that astronomers are going to eagerly look out for but tonight we'll focus on the wanderings of the planets during January and talk a little about the stars. I know I’m just back from the States but it's not the Hollywood kind of star I’m going to talk about, it will be the life of the stars we see in the night sky. Ben mentioned seeing Mercury earlier this evening and it's on view in the southwestern sky at the moment, after, as this twilight begins to fade from the sky.
You should spot it it's quite a bright spark and in a few days’ time it will be reasonably close to the planet Saturn which is also low in the southwest so the pair of planets together one will be a guide to the other. Mercury should be on view up to around the 19th of January but your best opportunity to catch it is over the next maybe week to eight or nine days. Jupiter remains on view for a couple of hours after sunset. If you have a clear sky and there's a window near you and you're looking towards the southwest have a peak out tonight and we'll see bright Jupiter to the right of the crescent moon that's it's a really beautiful sight and the moon will of course move on tomorrow night and get further away from Jupiter but Jupiter is the brightest object towards that direction at the moment so it's unmistakable. And any instrument will reveal either the moons of Jupiter or with a telescope you can see the banded nature of its atmosphere.
But in the morning sky Venus has departed our evening sky, well it's kind of hanging around another day or two, observers and more southerly latitudes can spot it for a little bit longer but it will soon pass between us and the sun, an event that's called 'inferior conjunction'. But after it passes between those and the sun it reappears in the morning sky and it will soon get rise to prominence. Again it's the brightest planet and it's unmistakable. The screenshot here shows the view at the end of the month at 6 am, when the crescent moon will be near Mars, Venus to the left of Mars. And then very low down, rising just shortly before the sun, is the planet Mercury, so it's a nice opportunity to catch Mercury maybe in the evening sky now and then at the end of the month catch it in the morning sky. But it will be very low and possibly you might need to use binoculars to spot it just before the sky gets too bright with the oncoming sunrise. In fact if you are looking with binoculars be very
careful not to look close to the time of sunrise because you might accidentally sweep up the sun in your field of view. But Mars is still somewhat dim because it's quite distant from earth, in the telescope it looks quite small but as I mentioned the end of the year, December 8th, a date to circle in the diary because it's when Mars is at opposition or at its brightest for 2022 but also it's a date that the full moon that day passes in front of Mars or hides it, and it'll be an absolutely spectacular sight. And fingers crossed we don't have the dreaded clouds at night because, so, start offering up the novenas now for good weather. But I mentioned the life of a star and in fact if you look towards the eastern sky about half six these evenings you'll see the constellation of Orion rising and the whole area of this part of the sky, the stars look like dunes scattered on the velvet backdrop of night. In fact, I was I was reading a book that Steve gave me a local man from Ballinskelligs, Michael Kirby, his book, 'Skellig’s Call', there's a poem in it called 'Who Scattered the Stars?', and I just think these lines are very apt. ".. It is time to scatter the stars, time to light a thousand billion lamps
to pebble dash a beach, wood a forest floor river time to wonder, time to ponder, time to stand in awe, trying to understand who scattered the stars?...". And the stars do appear to be strewn across the sky randomly although we've categorized them into constellations when you look at the winter sky around the Orion we're actually looking in the direction of what's called the Orion Arm, one of the spiral alarms of our galaxy and the sun resides on the inside edge of the Orion Arms, so these stars of Orion and the other groups like Taurus and Gemini are not actually very far away in terms of stellar distances. And they're also quite bright because this whole region of sky is a hotbed of star formation. In fact this whole region of sky is where you could you can trace the stellar revolution from the birth of the star in the in the nebula but can be seen just below the sword of, or the Belt of Orion. Betelgeuse, the orange star that is in the upper left shoulder of Orion and it's a star near the end of its life. The Orion Nebula is where new stars are forming and this stellar nursery you can even see in binoculars. In fact you can see it with the unaided eye as a hazy patch of light
just a very faint hazy patch of light or what looks like a nebulous star below the three stars that mark Orion’s Belt. And this is the nebula when you take a photograph, the pinkish colours is due to hydrogen gas and then when you look at Betelgeuse, you're looking towards a star that's 1600 times wider than our sun. If you replaced it our sun with Betelgeuse it would extend out past the orbit of Jupiter, it's truly a ginormous star. It's a star that's racing through its supply of nuclear fuel at a prestigious rate and will eventually end its life as a supernova. And essentially what will happen is when that star explodes, it scatters material back into interstellar space to make the next generation of stars.
So the universe in a sense is very good at recycling and that's what we're seeing here, dead stars being recycled into new ones and when they die the cycle starts all over again. In fact our own sun is possibly a fifth generation star that the material in our solar system came from previous generations of stars. This diagram shows that idea of recycling, stars are forming in a cloud of gas and dust that has begun to collapse, possibly prompted by a nearby supernova explosion, the shock wave compressing the gas and triggering a burst of star formation. The protostars eventually emerge from that cloud of gas and dust and either settle down into rather long life, like a sun-like star which lives for about 10 billion years, or if they've grown quite big they go a different direction. A massive star burns fiercely, burns its fuel at a very quick rate and soon evolves into a red giant. Our sun for example, a life cycle of 10 billion
years, a star like Betelgeuse 10 million years, so just a blink of an eye in the cosmic time scale. Those super giants will either, well ultimately we'll go supernova and eventually evolve either into a black hole or a neutron star. Our own sun will evolve into a Red Giant, puff off its outer layers and form what's called a Planetary Nebula, and that at it's core is, at the centre of the planetary nebula is the core of the dead, of the dying star. Essentially it's the part that will become quite dwarf and eventually wink out of existence.
But all this takes over, takes place over a long period and how we came to understand all this is basically through observation, by looking at lots of stars at different stages of their life, you can piece together the life cycle of the star What is a star? Well, if you strip away the layers of our sun and could look inside you'd see that it's got the core, where there's huge pressures and extremely high temperatures that leach a fusion of atoms to take place, and energy is released in the process. The star is a big ball of plasma essentially, where atoms have been stripped of their electrons and this creates an electromagnetic field, so the whole system is quite dynamic and the energy released in the core keeps the outer layers of the star inflated. Essentially a star is almost like a struggle between gravity trying to cause it to collapse under its tremendous weight but then the radiated pressure coming out from the core keeping it inflated. Eventually, as the core begins to dim and eventually grow cold, about cold in the relative term, there isn't that radiated pressure to keep the layers supported and in the case of a massive star, gravity wins out, the star begins to implode, rebounds off the core and the shockwave tears apart the outer layers and gives you a supernova explosion. It's not as dramatic an effect in the star like the sun, it'll just puff off its outer layers and contract to the white dwarf stage.
But by studying our sun and the processes that take place in the sun, we get an idea of what happens with other stars. And the sun is a good laboratory for testing our theories about stellar evolution and not just how our own sun will evolve but by testing the theories with our own sun, we get an idea of whether they're valid for all the other stars we see in the sky. When stars form in gas clouds they don't form by themselves, they're not solitary, previously there was, people who believed that stars which form as a single objects or maybe a binary pair but modern theories show that all stars are formed with a family of other suns. Those gas clouds contain enough material for a 1000 to 2000 stars and what's called an Open Cluster evolves out of these gas clouds when the gas is dissipated and one example is the Pleiades, the beautiful star group we see in the winter sky. You can find it just by following the three belt stars of Orion to the upper right , through Aldebaran, another orange giant star and then you come to what looks like a tiny version of the Plough and that's the Pleiades, and binoculars give a really fantastic view. The gas that surrounds
the Pleiades star is really only teased out with photography in fact this isn't the gas cloud that the Pleiades originally formed in, it's a dust cloud they happen to be passing through as they're orbiting the galaxy and they just are illuminating the neighbourhood of space as they're passing through this particular area at the moment. Their, the group is about 445 light years away so the light we see tonight is, roughly left that cluster about the same time that Galileo first turned his telescope towards the group and revealed them to be, not just the six or seven we see with the unaided eye but lots of other stars in the surrounding area as well. So it's quite a sobering thought that when we look up at the Pleiades tonight we're seeing them when Galileo was alive and making these discoveries that changed astronomy forever. They're bound together still because it is a young group about 300 million years old but over time the gravitational force of our galaxy will disrupt the gravitational bonds of the stars of the Pleiades and they'll begin to go their separate ways just like earth families do. In fact our sun was probably part of the group like the Pleiades but because the sun is around about five billion years, the cluster it formed in has scattered around the galaxy, our siblings have gone their own separate ways. And there is a branch of astronomy called stellar archaeology and using data from the Gaia satellite, they've found a few candidate stars that seem to have a similar chemical composition to our sun, so they may be siblings of our sun. We've gone around the galaxy about 20 times
since the sun formed so it should be difficult to track down any companions of the sun from when it formed, but there's looking in the Gaia data and they may have found a few candidates but the jury is still out as to whether they're genuine or not. But it would be quite exciting to find them and it's another area of astronomy that is quite interesting to follow and read up about it. And just to wrap up I came across this piece on a Twitter feed which I think nicely captures the context of stars and that we are stardust because that material, when Betelgeuse explodes and it scatters material into interstellar space and it begins like a dust cloud begins to collapse and form a new sun, it will bring together all the material to form the next generation stars, the next generation of planets and the next generation of creatures that would walk across the surface of that planet. And so another good quote comes from Lawrence Krauss, the astronomer Lawrence Kraus, he once said, "Take a look at your left hand and take a look at your right hand, the atoms in your left hand came from, probably came from one star and the atoms in your right hand came from another star".
And when you think about it like that it really puts everything in context that we are all part of the cosmos, we'll go back into the cosmos when the earth and sun fade into obscurity and I always like to think that protons have a very long half-life, in fact longer than the universe has existed and protons were formed just after the Big Bang and they are in the atoms in our bodies and these protons have essentially been around since the Big Bang. So we have material in our bodies that's 14 and a half or 14 billion years old, so I sometimes like say if someone asks me my age, I just say I’m actually a lot older than you think I am. And it's just when you put it in context the fact that as the lines there say we're all just stars that have people's names, it really puts everything in perspective. Just to wrap up, that's a few other events that are happening during the months ahead. I’ll copy that link at the top into the chat but essentially it's a calendar I do every year that's free to download online and it gives details of all the events occurring in the night sky, along with lots of other astronomical items but certainly I’ll throw the link into the chat and feel free to download it and share with anyone you know, so thank you very much everyone.
Thank you very much John, as ever, the information you've given us is just quite extraordinary and I think, I now realize why at my age I’m very stiff and old, I’m even older than I thought I was. We'll, maybe Orla, we'll deal with some questions later on John, will come back to those. Sure. Folks, one of the joys of doing this, these series, are the people we get to hear and meet and you're about to hear from a pretty extraordinary young man, Ben Porter, and check out his website benporterwildlife.co.uk.
This is a guy who's interested in getting people out, not just for dark sky activity as we would be but just to get in touch with nature and I’m really looking forward to his talk. Ben worked with the LIVE project as a Knowledge Gatherer and his photography skills alone will be enough to justify this talk today, I’m really looking forward to it. Ben's joining us from Wales and we wish you a very hearty welcome Ben, Thank you. Well thank you, thanks very much. Yeah thanks for that introduction no pressure well, yeah, brilliant, I’ll just share my screen with the presentation and get cracking. Thanks so much for that talk just then, John that was absolutely brilliant really really enjoyed that. Can you guys see that? Looks good Ben, yeah perfect. Brilliant. All right, I’ll dive on in. So yeah, thanks a lot for having me
on this event I’m just going to give a brief sort of like 10 or 15 minutes overview of a sort of region that's very close to my heart in many ways, both geographically and in terms of the species that I’m going to talk about here. I’m a young naturalist, ecologist and wildlife photographer from North Wales and I’m currently looking at trying to develop some research projects that are very aligned with a lot of the elements that are going to be talking about in this presentation and do link in quite closely with dark skies and so I’ll dive on in here. Hopefully if you have the volume on your laptops you'll be able to hear these intriguing sounds. [sound of distinctive Manx shearwater birds calling] Some of you may have to turn the volume up a little bit, it's a little bit of a quiet recording but this, these bizarre sounds I’m not sure if anyone, some people may well recognize them if they've been to some of the offshore islands off the west coast of Ireland or here in Wales.
But the species producing these bizarre sounds are these little fellas here. So this is a seabird called the Manx shearwater, pictured here in its preferred habitat at night, it's a nocturnal sea bird which usually visits its colonies under the cover of darkness. You have them both along the western coast of Ireland and here in Wales where I’m based on the Llŷn peninsula. Here's a bit of an overview of the species, so the Manx shearwater or Aderyn Drycin Manaw in Welsh, it's a what's called a Procellariiformes seabird, so it's in the same group as albatrosses and storm petrels, these seabirds which have tube noses basically that sort of links them all together in this order or family and these tube noses on their bills are used for excreting salt, so they can essentially get their sort of water content from their prey and from the sea water they're able to excrete salt through their beaks. They are an absolutely incredible group of seabirds, one of the my most favourite sort of birds in the world and I’m sure a lot of people have always looked at pictures of albatrosses and seen them on all the different documentaries and just being gobsmacked by them. Unless you've actually seen them yourself in which case I’m sure that will be incredible.
But this species the Manx Shearwater breeds across all the north Atlantic and spends its winters off South America and islands in the UK particularly are actually really important in a global context for this population. Here in Wales alone we have about 40 percent of the global population which return to a scattering of islands in the Irish sea to breed every year and one of those is somewhere where I spent half my life growing up on a small island here in north Wales. So these species are highly nocturnal as I mentioned before and they breed in burrows underground, a bit like puffins do where they raise their single little chick through the spring and summer period which fledges in the autumn. And they're an incredibly long-lived species so that the oldest bird, wild bird in the world previously was a 54 year old Manx shearwater which was caught on the island that I lived on and was monitored through its life using a little metal ring. The sort of rings that we put on birds to look at where they go and how old they live. And you can also see in this image here that they own, they sort of like, live up to their name in terms of shearing the water you can see it delicately dipping one wing into the water, they're absolutely spectacular birds.
So briefly before I go on to the sort of dark sky element in this, the Manx shearwater plays a very close role in my life after living on this island here and Ynys Eniil, Bardsey Island, off the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales. And this island is home to at least 25,000 pairs of these birds, so you can just imagine the sound that they produce in the full breeding season in springtime. It's an absolute incredible cacophony to hear and this island where I used to live holds the fourth, so it's the fourth largest colony in the world and it's where I really grew very passionate about the natural world, became very engaged in wildlife and conservation studying nature. And it's also where my sort of research and fascination in seabirds began. So during university, when I was studying at the university of Exeter
I actually did my undergraduate dissertation project focused on these amazing seabirds. Initially focusing on finding out where they go during their foraging trips so putting GPS tracking devices on their, mounting them on the feathers on their back and then letting them go and this is all done under license, letting them go, they go on a foraging trip, come back to their burrows, and then you delicately get the device off and find out where they've been finding food, where they've been going out at sea. And you can look at then, at where the important foraging sites are and where they're overlapping with potential developments or threats out in the oceanic environment. It was absolutely fascinating project to do but was incredibly hard work as well because you basically have to be out in the colony all night long waiting for these birds to come back with the tags before you can get the data. And this plot of a map of the UK on the right here, you can see all these squiggly lines are basically the tracks of about 20 to 25 Manx shearwater through the breeding season where they've gone and been foraging and you can see some of them going all the way up the west coast of Scotland to Rum, where the largest colony in the world of these species exists. So yeah, absolutely incredible birds. And one of the
things that fascinates me most about these species is the sort of navigation and the sort of the way that they travel through the oceanic environment. And the way that they do this, studies have more recently shown that they able to use celestial and sun compasses essentially knowing the locations during different time periods of features like the sun and stars in the sky and being able to use them to navigate, just as one of many different techniques that they can use. Obviously it's not always clear so they have other means as well but it has recently been shown that they do actually draw on celestial features to navigate through these often featureless oceanic environments.
But the thing that I’m mainly going to focus on in this talk is their relation to the sort of dark night skies and the effects of artificial light because this is an increasingly sort of growing area of research and it's something that is very pressing and very important to find out more. So artificial light at night otherwise abbreviated to ALAN which is quite a funny abbreviation but yeah, artificial light at night is as I’m sure most people are aware quite a big issue for a variety of different wildlife species that depend on, you know, really dark night skies for their breeding biology, for their behaviours in all other manner of things. And seabirds being, well these particular seabirds, being nocturnal seabirds are quite sensitive to artificial light at night In particular one of the biggest effects that artificial light has is during the fledgling period often in Autumn time. So, they're taking the Manx shearwater for example, it's been shown that whilst adult Manx shearwater aren't too prone to being attracted or disoriented by artificial light, the key thing is that fledglings don't fully develop their eyesight and navigation abilities until many weeks after fledging the nests. And so in the first few weeks after coming out of their burrow underground, their eyes take a bit of time to fully develop because they've been underground in a burrow for most of their life. And so in this period after fledging they're really prone to being disorientated by artificial light sources, usually these burrow nesting sea birds will come out of the burrow and they'll seek maybe slightly brighter areas of the landscape or seascape essentially because they'll follow the sort of generally reflective colour of the sea to go out to sea to safety but obviously with human developments and all things along the coast, you often get quite big sources of artificial light which can disorientate these fledgling seabirds which then head to coastal towns or cities and bright lights things like lighthouses as well, they can end up specifically under different weather conditions attracted to these lights. Just on Bardsey Island itself where I used to live,
on particular nights in September when these sheer waters were fledging, if you had really foggy conditions which sort of like amplified the effect of light and the inability of them to navigate, you could get thousands or maybe hundreds at least of these young shearwaters flying to the light, to the lighthouse, sometimes hitting the tower itself but a lot of the time because we were on hand to draw them back down to the ground and we were able to save quite a lot of them. Here's a very fluffy late stage Manx shearwater chick on the right here which we gently got out of its burrow for the purposes of some study work and you can see that they do get very very fluffy and very fat, some of them have to slim down quite a long time after their parents have left them, before they can actually leave. So in terms of the effects that artificial light can have on these nocturnal seabirds, these fallout events in Autumn are particularly of concern and recorded all across the world as I’ll mention in a sec. And in addition to that not just the fledglings are affected you know artificial light around colonies can really disrupt the adult behaviours as well when they're coming in and out to the nest, it can cause them to, sort of, not visit the colony quite as much because of fear of light, in that sort of context can be a much more disadvantage for getting predated so a lot of shearwaters that are really sensitive to artificial light and just light in general. They won't actually visit the colony during moonlit periods because they're more likely to be predated. These seabirds are really clumsy on the ground and so they're really vulnerable to land-based predators and so they don't generally visit the colony when the moon is really bright and so that sort of effect is confounded when you have like big artificial lights around these areas and so it's something that really has to be looked at and sort of worked out to sort of mitigate the effects of this. But it's worth mentioning that sort of, the specifics of the sort of wavelength
intensity of light have a big effect and so, really bright white and yellow lights have the biggest effect of attracting these seabirds because things like red and blue and green light aren't as attracting to these species and it's still being researched, the elements of this so that we can best adapt lighting setups in different areas to sort of mitigate these effects and it's a very, it's still a growing and very under-researched area. And it’s not just restricted to these regions that I’ve been talking about in Wales, where things like the Manx shearwater is. ALAN - artificial light at night - is very much a global issue for seabirds which are actually one of the most threatened groups of birds worldwide, seabirds, and these nocturnal seabirds, the Procellariiformes, are particularly vulnerable. This image in the middle
was taken when I was doing some sea bird research work in the Azores and you can see that, you know, the sky glow effect of the developments and the sort of coastal town on that island opposite are massively illuminating the clouds from below and just offshore we're living on a small island here where you have Corrie shearwaters, the species on the left, and many other really important storm petrel and shearwater species and again you know in the autumn periods when the fledglings leaves the nest you often get big numbers of these shearwaters turning up in the towns attracted to these really bright lights. Because often they nest in coastal areas and you often have, particularly in places like Canaries, the Azores and places in the Mediterranean, you often have this crossover with really big coastal developments for tourism and people living there and really bright lights and so that sort of combination could be really damaging to these species. But the good news is that there is actually quite a lot that can be done about it.
I didn't mention that but actually like, in west and southwest Ireland you have Manx shearwaters nesting out the Skellig Michael and the rocks up there and the islands out there and there are actually campaigns underway across Ireland and other areas of the UK where these fledgling birds that turn up in towns and villages sometimes in the Autumn, these disorientated little things, they're often picked up and people phone in a sort of hotline of like then getting the rescue campaign and sending these birds back out to sea. But in terms of mitigating these effects of artificial light for these really important seabirds and there are a few things that can be done. So this image here, this panoramic, was taken where I used to live on Bardsey island off north Wales and actually it's interesting in itself, just to look across the horizon there where you can see all these sources of light pollution from urban areas down Cardigan Bay and even on the right there I’m silhouetted, I kid you not, against the lights from Dublin which just shows 45 miles away you know, it still has quite a dramatic effect on the horizon there. But you can see down below me the red light coming off from the island there, that's actually the lighthouse which in 2014 was changed from this really intense, really bright sort of yellow white light that was rotating on a massive lantern in this sort of lighthouse, it was changed to a red LED in 2014 and it's still visible from a really great distance, still really bright but we no longer have things like shearwaters attracted to the lighthouse in the autumn or during any other time of year.
So this change of wavelength and has had a really massive effect that means we no longer get any birds flying into the tower, no more mortalities or anything, which is absolutely fantastic and I think it'd be really great to roll this example out to other areas and I know other places have also changed to red LEDs. But things, thinking about offshore for instance wind farms and other developments that take place actually in the marine environment trying to adapt lighting setups that use things like red LEDs to minimize attraction of sea birds is something that really needs to be considered and is being looked at in terms of policy level as well. Dark Skies Reserves obviously is a very topical point that has a big effect so obviously in some really sensitive areas well, we should have dark skies reserves in many areas, but in sensitive areas where seabirds such as this exist it makes even more sense to try and protect those dark sky areas so that you have few impacts of bright lights attracting seabirds in. And Bardsey Island itself is now in the process of being designated as a dark skies reserve which is really exciting. And opposite here on the mainland and not far from Aberaeron, a small village on the tip of the peninsula, we're trying to get dark sky status and for this area here as well which would mean that we'll have greater ability to talk to you know, groups or individuals or companies that have really bright lights on their buildings and everything to look at other ways shielding them, having different wavelengths and that sort of thing and this all has a really good effect for preserving our dark night skies and obviously then having better effects on behaviours of these really important species.
And for areas where you still get these sort of fallout events and where birds are attracted to lights and end up in really dangerous places where they can have increased mortality, there are SOS as they called, campaigns in various places around the world, ‘Save our Shearwaters’ and these campaigns basically bring together groups and concerned individuals together at specific times of year to go picking up these birds that end up in towns and villages in the middle of nowhere where they often get picked up by cats or even run over you know things like this and you basically, rescue these birds see if they're still in healthy condition, maybe give them a bit of fish and feed them up for a few days before they're ready to go back out to sea and then you carefully release them and a lot of them do survive but these awareness campaigns as well can raise awareness of the need to reduce bright lights and change lighting and everything, so it's a really great thing really powerful for bringing together communities to raise awareness of the amazing seabirds that we have along our coast as well. There's a lot more research also that is needed to look at which species are particularly vulnerable and why they are and where is particularly bad for them being affected by these things as well. So within this sort of sphere of seabirds and light pollution, I’m actually currently developing plans for a project that would be looking quite so in depth at this issue in the northeast Atlantic and so I’m hoping to get up to the Faroe Islands and begin a PhD project studying the effects of artificial light on various offshore marine developments and how it's affecting these really important species. The storm petrol is another Procellariiformes, so this little tube-nosed sea bird, you can see on its little bill there in the corner it's got that little tube nose on it, and they're remarkable birds you know they weigh as much as a house sparrow but they spend all their lives pretty much at sea and just return to colonies like this nesting in amongst the boulders and the grassy slopes here on the Faroes, and we don't know anything about how they interact with artificial light and nor even where they go when they're offshore so we're trying to reveal a little bit more about their sort of marine-at-sea lives and how they're affected by these issues really. So I’m hoping this year to get fully funded for a PhD, starting out there last year I did a bit of a pilot study in the summer which was fantastic to see these colonies at night. It really is something else, if you've never been in a seabird colony at night hearing the sounds and seeing these ghostly figures coming over, I really recommend trying to get out there it's absolutely wonderful, especially obviously if you have the dark sky and the starry night sky in the backdrop as well it's just, it's pretty breath-taking.
So that was a bit of a, the general topic of light pollution and seabirds but hope you enjoyed and yeah if you have any questions about all these things just pop me in the chat and I’m sure if we've got time hopefully be able to answer them but yeah. Thanks a million Ben, fascinating. Fascinating yeah , well done well. And it's lovely to hear about what you're doing since you stopped working with us. Excuse me I’m a little bit hoarse, so we do have some questions in the chat, and I expect people have their own questions still, so other people please do join in and lots of very nice positive comments for both of you in the chat as well. The first question that
we had a while back is a very technical one for you John, about how large the Pleiades cluster is. Yes an excellent question, in fact it had me scurrying to, I found an article about the Pleiades in the PDF copy I have of Sky and Telescope magazine from 2019. I’ll just get the exact month but it was about, it was generally about the distance to the Pleiades cluster itself because it, the previous mapping satellite, Hipparcos, that preceded Gaia, gave a distance to the Pleiades that was less than what all the observatories around the world were deriving so they thought there was something wrong with our models of stellar evolution and star distances but Gaia corrected the issue but it was March 2019 issue in Sky and Telescope magazine but the Pleiades themselves there's roughly about 1500 stars in the cluster so it's quite packed so binoculars will show several dozen stars and binoculars are really the only instrument to view them with because they're so spread out that if you look at them with a telescope you're only seeing a portion of the group but the distances between the stars that they'd be a couple of light years between each star so there's no danger of collision. Now a planet going around a star in the Pleiades would see a sky at night that was had many bright stars scattered around us, but there wouldn't be no brighter than maybe what the star Sirius appears to us. On the other hand there's another class of clusters called Globular Clusters and these are swarms of maybe half a million stars that are arrayed in the halo around the Milky Way and a star kind of going around the star at the centre of a Globular Cluster would never have a dark night sky, the sky would always be would appear twilight and you'd see several hundred stars about the brightness of Venus in the sky of a globular cluster. But from the Pleiades, yeah, they're it's a pretty dense star
group in its own right with about 1500 members but there is a reasonable distance between them. I think, certainly during all of the stargazing sessions that we do, one of the things that is quite incredible is the reaction people have when they see it play out, is in binoculars, and anybody, if you do get a clear night especially at the moment with Orion very easy to find, straight out along the line of Orion’s belt, out past the big star Aldebaran and out a little bit more and you suddenly see this cluster. On Nollaig na mBán, it's the most impressive engagement ring you're ever going to see, it's really beautiful.
Anna Brennan, you have your hand up so I’m going to click the button to allow you to talk if you'd like to ask a question, you can just speak away and if, we should be able to hear you. Apologies, I think it's up in error, I enjoy the talks very much. Do you want to make any comments? Yeah no, the talks were excellent thank you, excellent series of talks, thank you. Grand no bother I wasn't sure, and I
didn't want to let it go. When you said, that's the one John, the Pleiades, that's the one that looks like the tiny Plough is that right? Yes, yeah. Okay I think I know that one, but it's kind of, it is that the stars are way closer together it's not a Father Ted thing that it's just further away? Funnily enough the Plough is a cluster as well it's the closest star cluster to the earth but because of its nearness it appears to us very spread out across the sky. Now when I say the Plough is a star cluster, five of the seven stars making up the Plough share a common motion through space and also are at similar distances from earth, the exceptions are the star at the very tip of the handle or the tip of the tail of the Bear and the one in the top right of the bowl a star called Dubhe, and both of them are going in the opposite direction to the other five so and they're twice the distance but those five are considered to be the brighter members of what's the closest star cluster to earth, maybe about 75 to 80 light years. Okay we have really technical questions this evening, Ben have you spotted the one in the Q&A for you, about so, Emily’s asking about how seabirds navigate and if there's evidence of them using quantum mechanics to use magnetic fields for navigation. I’m not even sure I understand that question so. Brilliant that's a good question I can certainly answer an element of that so, it has been
it has been discovered that some seabirds can use magnetic senses or in fact a lot of birds themselves can use magnetic sense to navigate and it's one of like a number of different elements that they'll use for navigation whether they're fully reliant on it or not is up for questions. So one experiment was done on some Corrie shearwaters in the Mediterranean and just offshore where they actually, they tried to work out where the magnetic sense might be and they actually disrupted their sense of smell and released them out at sea and saw the difference between birds that navigated back to their colony with and without the sense of smell and those that had their sense of smell sort of like disrupted and were much less good at navigating back, so there's sort of like slightly mixed results as to whether they're fully reliant on the magnetic sense or whether it's a combination of other senses but certainly even species just like the robin is able to navigate using magnetic sense and so it is definitely an element that they use but it's still very much not fully understood, how it works and everything is very much, up to question. There's another question here for you, but did you read, there was a book been out a few years ago, was it The Seabirds Cry? Yes that was a good one for anyone who's interested in this, some of the experiments were horrific but yes very interesting, and very readable for anyone who's just kind of casually interested as well.
There's another question then here from Katrina about the light from lighthouses also disrupting birds in Ireland, which yes it does do, and do you know if there's any move to change them here? I don't know about this and I don't know if any of the audience do, do you have any ideas Ben? I don't personally, no I’m not totally sure along the Irish coast. I know I’ve got a friend who's been working out on some islands, I think which ones would they be they're further north than Kerry, near the Burren. Maybe the Aran islands. Yeah something like that and they're looking at sort of like creating a bit of an awareness campaign over there but I’m not actually sure what prompted, Trinity House owned the lighthouse on Bardsey, and a lot of lighthouses around the UK and I’m not, they say that actually it was the sort of the occurrence of lighthouse attractions and things that led them to change to a red LED but there wasn't much sort of like consultation about it or anything they just sort of did it and then it was like, oh wow, this has a massive effect but it hasn't been rolled out to many other lighthouses as yet.
But it is still a functioning lighthouse like it is exactly. Yeah, yeah, no it is definitely. Yeah I don't know if anyone could comment on whether anything that, I don't know how it works with the planning permission and things along there but. They're all owned by the one group. Probably a final question then for you Ben and when do the
shearwaters migrate to Ireland and Wales and when do they leave. Yeah well that's exciting, only a couple of months to go, so they usually arrive sort of, in fact, with a new moon usually, under the cover of darkness in sort of mid to late March the first ones will start arriving, depending on when the new moon is and then they'll leave, the fledglings usually leave the nest as late as early/mid-September and then head back down to South America. So hopefully in the next, yeah mid-March, hopefully they'll start returning you'll see them out at sea and then if you're near a colony you can hear them there as they return. Lovely yeah. Fantastic I think that's us for the evening then and we do try, we'd like to try and let you all get away before nine. Steve, is there anything else before we wrap up. No, other than to maybe at some stage get Ben over here to experience again south Kerry and if we can organize something. My hope is with covid,
kind of hopefully diminishing in terms of impact, we'll actually get people together and on a beach looking at stars and hearing birds and getting input in real time, would be lovely to do. Again to thank John and Ben for the wonderful talks, as I said earlier one of the great parts of this is to just hear what people are doing and the knowledge that's out there it's stunning, just thank you. It's just as you were talking about sea birds there Ben, there's a podcast from Birdwatch Ireland called ‘In Your Nature' and they have a podcast about seabirds but they're talking to the wardens on Rockabill, off the Dublin coast and they have a piece about the storm petrel as well. Fantastic, I'll check that out, thank you that sounds great. Brilliant thank you so much everyone and as Steve has said for being so generous with your knowledge and we'll be here again next month and hopefully we'll see lots of you back here again too. Yeah thanks, thanks everyone. Thanks a lot yeah take care. As ever Orla, thank you. Cheers. Take care.
Bye everyone. Slan. [sound of Manx shearwaters seabirds calling]