Gathering plan truly out of this world

An Irish observatory is set to beam samples of the nation’s Gathering celebrations to a planet beyond our solar system.

The ambitious hi-tech cosmic postcard initiative was announced by the CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork yesterday as it celebrated its fifth birthday.

Founding director Niall Smith said the observatory’s Gathering the Gathering (GtG) project is designed to “record the pulse of Ireland and its people, at home or abroad”.

Using a free and easy- to-use web-based tool that will go live at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the nation will be invited to record and upload Gathering photos, audio files, or video messages to the site.

Then at the end of 2013, all the messages will be beamed in radio-wave form by the observatory’s powerful radio telescope to a planet orbiting the star, Epsilon Eridani, just over 10 light years away — about 95tn km from Earth.

“As these cosmic postcards travel through the empty depths of space, we will store a copy of them in a digital time capsule of social history which will not be opened until 2023, around the same time the messages are due to arrive at Epsilon Eridani b — the star’s extrasolar planet,” said Mr Smith.

Anyone who recorded a message will be invited to the observatory for the unveiling.

However, snippets of the cosmic postcards will be revealed throughout next year, acting as a call to come to Ireland, said Mr Smith.

CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory opened five years ago and is now one of the city’s most visited attractions, recording about 250,000 visitors and hosting almost 4,000 school visits.

It has hosted live interviews with Nasa astronauts on the International Space Station, screened shuttle landings, and secured a slot on the Cork version of Monopoly.

Its multimedia-driven exhibition Cosmos at the Castle, has picked up eight national awards and is the only Irish-designed and run visitor attraction to receive a THEA Award for outstanding achievement from the world association for themed attractions, which it won in 2008.

Meanwhile, space journalist Leo Enright will use the latest gaming technology and 3D pictures from the Curiosity Rover to take people on a virtual tour of Mars’ towering mountains at the observatory at 11am and 1pm tomorrow.

There are just 50 places at each presentation and tickets are on a first come, first served basis.

Beaming to Eridani b

Boldly going where no Gathering has gone before:

Epsilon Eridani is a star in the constellation Eridanus — a southern constellation but visible to both northern and southern hemispheres due to its large size.

The star is about 10.5 light years away and is about 80% the mass of our Sun.

It has a magnitude of 3.7, so it is clearly visible in the night sky, especially bright through binoculars or a telescope.

It is located not too far from Orion as you look at the sky in a southerly direction, sitting low in the sky, peaking at about 30 degrees above the horizon at about 11pm.

The star has one confirmed planet, Epsilon Eridani b, and one suspected but unconfirmed planet, Epsilon Eridani c.

Epsilon Eridani b is a large planet at about 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits about three times further out than Earth. It orbits its sun once every seven years or so.

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