#7 January Stargazing Guide in the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve Monthly Series

#7 January Stargazing Guide in the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve Monthly Series

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[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]

2022-01-21 20:19

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