The Astronomy Talks

Talks will be at Newington Green Unitarian Church on the second Wednesday of each month at 7pm. The address is 39A Newington Green, Stoke Newington, N16 9PR. To find them, click here.

Suggested entry donation is £3 plus say 50p for tea, coffee, cake etc afterwards. Proceeds will go to Orchid Project and Daughters of Eve, plus a small fee for NGUC to cover their expenses.

The lecture will start shortly after 7pm and will be followed by a question and answer session, then time for refreshments and chat!

Please don't worry if you don't know any astronomy; these talks will be aimed at beginners, though I can never resist throwing little-known or advanced snippets in.

Representatives from FGM-fighting charities are invited to join us and tell the audience about their work.

Future lectures:

Wednesday 8th May: The Cosmic Microwave Background

This one will be a bit different. We'll be hearing from Ann-Marie Wilson of the FGM charity 28 Too Many about their work tackling FGM in the African countries where it is widely practiced. All donations from this session will go to 28 Too Many.

The space talk will be from our regular attendee John Hamilton, and it will be about the furthest part of the Universe we can possibly see: a time when the Universe was small, hot and very, very dense. Its discovery was a remarkable story and includes, in John's words, "giant shiny space balls, Nobel prizes, pigeon poop and the afterglow of creation"!

June and beyond:

I'll probably take a break over the summer, for three major reasons: I need to write my dissertation; I need some time to think of some more talks; and there are no curtains so the summer evening daylight will ruin the presentations! However, I will be continuing in the autumn. I will also be searching for more venues, where I can give some past lectures - so if you know of anywhere . . .

Please let me know what sort of topics you'd like in future - I can also do such topics as space chemistry and history, and particular planets. Let me know in the comments, Facebook, or Twitter. Just don't ask me how to use a telescope.

Past lectures:

Wednesday 10th October: Galaxy Zoo
Now that robotic telescopes map the Universe, there are millions more galaxies - vast cities of stars - than professional astronomers can study by themselves. You can help! Simply by recognising shapes, anyone with an Internet connection can log on and describe what a galaxy looks like, which in turn tells us what it is happening there. We'll be hearing what Galaxy Zoo has discovered so far, and how ordinary members of the public have learned a huge amount of science and made unexpected contributions of their own.

Wednesday 14th November: Mission to Saturn
Saturn, the ringed planet, is the furthest planet that has been known since ancient times. In 1997 the orbiting craft Cassini launched, arriving in 2005 and dropping the probe Huygens onto the largest moon, Titan. We'll see the beautiful images and learn some of the astonishing facts about the gas giant Saturn and its vast array of moons, what Cassini is up to, and future plans for the mission.

Wednesday 12th December: Where Have All The Women Gone?
There has been a traditional hostility to women in science and astronomy. Girls are all too often told their brains cannot handle science or logic, and discouraged from studying these subjects. But this is untrue. History shows huge and essential contributions from women that are largely unacknowledged, or attributed to their husbands or male colleagues. Today, 25% of astronomers worldwide are women, but some countries have over 50% women and some have none working in this field. In 2010 a conference Alice helped with and spoke at, She is an Astronomer, examined the reasons for this.

Wednesday 9th January: The life of a star

When the 18th century astronomers Tycho and Kepler saw new stars in the sky, the heavens were suddenly no longer a place of perfection and eternity. Stars were thought to be forever - because their lifetimes are so many millions greater than that of humans. As we came to understand that stars shine because they turn hydrogen into helium, it became clear that they must, like us, be born, live and die. But these processes are far away and often shrouded behind gas and dust, so it's only with new technology and knowledge that we can find out what happens. We'll meet baby stars growing in dark dusty cradles, recipes for planets, and peaceful red giants and nebulae plus dangerous pulsars and black holes. If the audience likes horror films, I will show you some of the mathematics, which is much more terrifying than black holes . . .

Wednesday 13th February: The crazy Universe - relativity, bent space, and black holes

In this talk, we'll pick up where we left off from January's talk about star life, to find out what happens when a star dies to leave objects so dense and heavy that physics as we know it gets exceptionally weird. This talk will cover the weird physics of the Universe when things get very fast, very heavy, or otherwise cause things to happen that has given Einstein his fame, and many of us our wonder at the beautiful strangeness of reality. We'll learn how various people found out that space really does curve, things really do change their shape, and that time is not the same everywhere you go.

Wednesday 13th March: Many mysterious moons 

I asked people what they'd like to hear about and the top answer was moons - the Earth's Moon, and other ones. So first we'll visit our own Moon, and find out some of its many surprises. Then we'll go on a tour through the Solar System, meeting moons we've visited, moons that are weird, moons that throw water and sulphuric compounds around, moons that go in the opposite direction to their planet's rotation, moons that swap places, moons that are thought to harbour life, and moons that are due for a collision one day.

Wednesday 10th April: The search for life beyond Earth

The crowning glory of all astronomical discoveries would be to find intelligent life elsewhere. Of course, some people claim to have been abducted by aliens already - but science has never yet found us any cosmic neighbours. There have, however, been astonishing discoveries that have raised then dashed hopes, from odd-shaped parts of meteorites to disturbingly regular signals that turned out to be lighthouse-like pulsars. Even as expectations dim, clues in our own Solar System remain tantalising. We'll find out about the history of hopes and fears about life on other worlds, and what projects and missions are taking place today.

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1 comment:

  1. Two related ideas spring to mind, and then tangents from those:
    1) The Moon. Humans got there when they did because of the Cold War, but why did the project peter out so miserably? What's next for our nearest satellite - a Chinese base? (Tangent: why are the Moon landings such a target of conspiracy theories? Maybe better discussed at Skeptics in the Pub.)
    2)Mars. In the news, and yet I feel so ignorant. Did the British expedition really just land in the wrong place? What are the latest findings from the US rovers?