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PUBLIC LECTURES

The RAS hosts popular 45-minute lunchtime lectures for non-specialists, at which members of the public can listen to leading scientists talk about their work. Please note that attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no charge, and doors open 30 minutes before the start of each lecture.

Venue: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BQ, UK

London Underground: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus

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The Liverpool Telescope: A Giant Robotic Eye on the Universe
Date: 11 Nov 2014
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: The Liverpool Telescope: A Giant Robotic Eye on the Universe

Professor Mike Bode (Liverpool John Moores University)

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

'Time Domain Astrophysics' is a rapidly developing and increasingly important branch of science. It encompasses everything from the observation of titanic stellar explosions to the discovery of new worlds around distant stars. It was to explore this new domain that the Liverpool Telescope (LT) was born as one of a new generation of large robots. In this lecture, we will discover why a robotic telescope such as the LT has many advantages over conventional instruments for exploring the time domain. We will then go on to describe the trials and tribulations experienced in bringing this dream to reality. Above all however, we will encounter the frontier science that the LT has been successfully delivering for the last decade, look forward to ambitious projects for the next, and in addition reveal how the LT has enabled thousands of school students across the UK to become directly involved in the excitement of scientific discovery.

 

Mike Bode is Professor of Astrophysics and Director of the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University. His research concentrates on understanding the explosions of novae and he has held both Advanced and Senior Fellowships of the UK Research Councils. Over the years, he has served on many Research Council committees and he led the development of Europe's first long-term plan for the development of astronomy, published in 2008. A former Vice President and Secretary of the RAS, Mike is also very active in public engagement. He was a founder of the National Schools' Observatory (as well as the Liverpool Telescope project as a whole) and has appeared many times on BBC's 'The Sky at Night' and other TV and radio programmes.




The Liverpool Telescope: A Giant Robotic Eye on the Universe
Date: 11 Nov 2014
Time: 18:00

An RAS Public Evening Lecture: The Liverpool Telescope: A Giant Robotic Eye on the Universe 

Professor Mike Bode (Liverpool John Moores University)

(RAS Lecture Theatre)

(This lecture is a repeat of the day time lecture at the Geological Society)

 

'Time Domain Astrophysics' is a rapidly developing and increasingly important branch of science. It encompasses everything from the observation of titanic stellar explosions to the discovery of new worlds around distant stars. It was to explore this new domain that the Liverpool Telescope (LT) was born as one of a new generation of large robots. In this lecture, we will discover why a robotic telescope such as the LT has many advantages over conventional instruments for exploring the time domain. We will then go on to describe the trials and tribulations experienced in bringing this dream to reality. Above all however, we will encounter the frontier science that the LT has been successfully delivering for the last decade, look forward to ambitious projects for the next, and in addition reveal how the LT has enabled thousands of school students across the UK to become directly involved in the excitement of scientific discovery.

 

Mike Bode is Professor of Astrophysics and Director of the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University. His research concentrates on understanding the explosions of novae and he has held both Advanced and Senior Fellowships of the UK Research Councils. Over the years, he has served on many Research Council committees and he led the development of Europe's first long-term plan for the development of astronomy, published in 2008. A former Vice President and Secretary of the RAS, Mike is also very active in public engagement. He was a founder of the National Schools' Observatory (as well as the Liverpool Telescope project as a whole) and has appeared many times on BBC's 'The Sky at Night' and other TV and radio programmes.




Exploring the Universe Using Exploding Stars
Date: 9 Dec 2014
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: Exploring the Universe Using Exploding Stars

Dr Stacey Habergham (Liverpool John Moores University)

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

Massive stars, at least eight times the mass of the Sun, lead very short lives which come to a dramatic end in a huge explosion, a supernova. Supernovae are amongst the most violent, energetic, and beautiful events in the Universe, and themselves represent physics at the extremes, the like of which could never be recreated here on Earth. Although these events are rare, they have shaped the Universe we live in – creating most of the elements of which we, the planets, and all current stars are made of. They can, however, also help us to probe star formation in the Universe by utilising there short, rock and roll, lifetimes, and the immense brightness of each explosion, leading us back in time to galaxies more and more distant. I will specifically look at the role of supernovae in helping to probe the differences in star formation within normal spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, and colliding galaxy systems, like the Antennae galaxy, by analysing over 400 galaxies in the local Universe containing these explosions. Can this tell us anything about the way galaxies form and evolve and can the galaxy help us to understand the stars' prior to explosion?

 

Dr Stacey Habergham is a post-doctoral researcher at the Astrophysics Research
Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, where she studies the host galaxies of local core-collapse supernovae explosions to try and investigate the conditions which lead to the variety of different explosions we observe. Her work so far has concentrated on the distribution of supernovae in interacting galaxies, and looking at a mysterious class of supernova explosions, known as type IIn. As an observational astronomer she uses the telescopes on La Palma extensively for her work, including the Liverpool Telescope, Isaac Newton Telescope and William Herschel Telescope. She is also the Ogden Science Officer for the department spending half of her time doing outreach with local schools and groups. She previously completed her PhD at Liverpool John Moores University, a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education in Secondary Science at Liverpool Hope University and her undergraduate Masters degree at the University of Liverpool. Stacey originates from Bradford in West Yorkshire where she attended Queensbury School.

 




LIGHT INTO DARK: Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
Date: 13 Jan 2015
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: LIGHT INTO DARK: Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
Ian Ridpath

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

Eclipses of the Sun and Moon are among the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena. Most spectacular of all are total solar eclipses, when the Sun’s brilliant disk is completely obscured for a few minutes, turning daytime into darkness and bringing into view its faint outer halo of gas, the corona. At lunar eclipses, the Moon turns blood red at night for an hour or more as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. In 2015, the biggest solar eclipse since 1999 will be visible from the UK on March 20, followed by a total lunar eclipse on September 28. Find out what causes these rare events, and what you can expect to see.

 

Ian Ridpath is an award-winning author, broadcaster and lecturer on astronomy and space with over 40 book titles to his name. He is editor of the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy and of the world-famous Norton’s Star Atlas. In 2012 Ian received the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy, the most prestigious award of its kind. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society’s team of speakers on the Cunard liner Queen Mary 2 and is a former Council member of the RAS.




LIGHT INTO DARK: Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
Date: 13 Jan 2015
Time: 18:00

An RAS Public Lecture: LIGHT INTO DARK: Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
Ian Ridpath

(RAS Lecture Theatre)

(This is a repeat of the day time lecture held in the Geological Society)

 

Eclipses of the Sun and Moon are among the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena. Most spectacular of all are total solar eclipses, when the Sun's brilliant disk is completely obscured for a few minutes, turning daytime into darkness and bringing into view its faint outer halo of gas, the corona. At lunar eclipses, the Moon turns blood red at night for an hour or more as it passes through the Earth's shadow. In 2015, the biggest solar eclipse since 1999 will be visible from the UK on March 20, followed by a total lunar eclipse on September 28. Find out what causes these rare events, and what you can expect to see.

 

Ian Ridpath is an award-winning author, broadcaster and lecturer on astronomy and space with over 40 book titles to his name. He is editor of the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy and of the world-famous Norton's Star Atlas. In 2012 Ian received the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy, the most prestigious award of its kind. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society's team of speakers on the Cunard liner Queen Mary 2 and is a former Council member of the RAS.




'Incoming! - learning to love the dreaded thunderstone'
Date: 10 Feb 2015
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: Incoming! - learning to love the dreaded thunderstone

Dr Ted Nield (Geoscientist Magazine)

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

Thousands of tonnes of meteoritic material lands on Earth every day, mostly unnoticed. Occasionally in Earth history, very large impacts occur and can have a dramatic effect on the history of life. However, despite what most people think they know about the end-Cretaceous extinction, dinosaurs were not destroyed by a single cause, and large meteorites may not always be harmful to life. Ted Nield surveys the ways impacts have influenced life on Earth, and suggests that, as with ideas, meteorites have 'timeliness', because the effect of any single cause, in human as in Earth history, is controlled largely by the context in which it occurs.

 

Ted Nield, began his career in the oil industry but in 1985 became a science journalist, writing (mainly about Earth sciences) for most UK broadsheet newspapers and popular science magazines and many US news outlets including the New York Academy of Sciences. He published two textbooks of palaeontology in the 1980s, and Dead Clever (1997) a comedy-detective-campus-romance, serialised in the Times Higher Education Supplement, and (loosely) based on his experiences as the media manager and spokesman for the UK university system (1988-1997).

Ted now edits the monthly news magazine Geoscientist for The Geological Society of London. His book, Supercontinent – 10 billion years in the life of our planet, was published to critical acclaim in October 2007. Incoming! – or why we should stop worrying and learn to love the meteorite was published in 2011 and in 2012 as The Falling Sky in the USA. His latest book is Underlands – a journey through the lost landscapes of Britain, also published by Granta, 2014.

Ted was Chair of the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth Outreach Programme (2001-2008) and Chair of the Association of British Science Writers (2006-2009).




'Incoming! - learning to love the dreaded thunderstone'
Date: 10 Feb 2015
Time: 18:00

An RAS Public Lecture: Incoming! - learning to love the dreaded thunderstone

Dr Ted Nield (Geoscientist Magazine)

(RAS Lecture Theatre)

(A repeat of the earlier lecture held at the Geological Society)

 

Thousands of tonnes of meteoritic material lands on Earth every day, mostly unnoticed. Occasionally in Earth history, very large impacts occur and can have a dramatic effect on the history of life. However, despite what most people think they know about the end-Cretaceous extinction, dinosaurs were not destroyed by a single cause, and large meteorites may not always be harmful to life. Ted Nield surveys the ways impacts have influenced life on Earth, and suggests that, as with ideas, meteorites have 'timeliness', because the effect of any single cause, in human as in Earth history, is controlled largely by the context in which it occurs.

 

Ted Nield, began his career in the oil industry but in 1985 became a science journalist, writing (mainly about Earth sciences) for most UK broadsheet newspapers and popular science magazines and many US news outlets including the New York Academy of Sciences. He published two textbooks of palaeontology in the 1980s, and Dead Clever (1997) a comedy-detective-campus-romance, serialised in the Times Higher Education Supplement, and (loosely) based on his experiences as the media manager and spokesman for the UK university system (1988-1997).

Ted now edits the monthly news magazine Geoscientist for The Geological Society of London. His book, Supercontinent – 10 billion years in the life of our planet, was published to critical acclaim in October 2007. Incoming! – or why we should stop worrying and learn to love the meteorite was published in 2011 and in 2012 as The Falling Sky in the USA. His latest book is Underlands – a journey through the lost landscapes of Britain, also published by Granta, 2014.

Ted was Chair of the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth Outreach Programme (2001-2008) and Chair of the Association of British Science Writers (2006-2009).




The Cosmic Chemical Cauldron
Date: 10 Mar 2015
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: The Cosmic Chemical Cauldron

Dr Helen Jane Fraser (OU)

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

The Universe is full of chemicals - over 200 have been discovered, most in the vast empty space between the stars - known as the interstellar medium. These molecules are found to pervade local and distant galaxies. In fact, the formation of molecules in space is intrinsically linked with the star-formation process, affects processes of planet formation, and potentially provides the ingredients for the origins of life itself. I want to take you on a journey, from the cold, dark, diffuse regions of pre-stellar cores, right through to a newly formed exoplanet, explaining along the way what chemistry is happening, and how it contributes to what we see when we observe these regions, and what information we extract from these molecular probes and tracers of astronomical regions.

 

Dr Helen Jane Fraser currently heads the Astrochemistry Group at the Open University. She completed her PhD at Cambridge (Jesus College) then built her career in Nottingham, Berkeley, Leiden and Strathclyde. Her current research interests focus on the role of ices, or condensed molecular material in the star- and planet- forming process. She leads research covering astronomical observations (ice-mapping), laboratory studies of ice chemistry and physics under pseudo-interstellar conditions, parabolic flights to study ice aggregation, ISIS neutron studies of ice fundamental structure and molecular dynamics simulations of water ice. She is a member of the IoP, RSC and RAS, where she also serves as a member of council, being centrally involved in the Bi-centennial outreach project Astounding Astronomy and Glorious Geophysics. She acts in an advisory capacity to UKSA on the Space Environments Working Group and Space Environments Advisory Committee. In 2014 she was was one of 50 people who appeared on the WIRED SMART list - highlighting the movers and shakers of the next 10 years in their respective fields.




The Unknown Universe
Date: 14 Apr 2015
Time: 13:00

An RAS Public Lecture: The Unknown Universe

Dr Stuart Clark

(Geological Society Lecture Theatre)

 

It is less than a century since Albert Einstein gave the world the mathematical tools to understand the Universe. In that time, astronomers have developed the theory that our cosmos was born in a titanic release of energy about 14 billion years ago. But why can't they fully prove this Big Bang theory? What pieces are missing from this puzzle and when might we uncover them? This talk will explain the great discoveries we have made, the mysteries still to solve and the questions that we may never be able to answer about the birth of our Universe.

 

Dr Stuart Clark is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a visiting fellow of the University of Hertfordshire and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a consultant for New Scientist and writes The Guardian's astronomy blog, Across the Universe. His book The Sun Kings was short-listed for the The Royal Society's popular science book prize in 2008. In 2013, he was named European astronomy journalist of the year. Copies of his latest book, The Unknown Universe will be available at the lecture.




The Unknown Universe
Date: 14 Apr 2015
Time: 18:00

An RAS Evening Public Lecture: The Unknown Universe

Dr Stuart Clark

RAS Lecture Theatre

(This lecture is a repeat of the day time lecture held at the Geological Society)

 

It is less than a century since Albert Einstein gave the world the mathematical tools to understand the Universe. In that time, astronomers have developed the theory that our cosmos was born in a titanic release of energy about 14 billion years ago. But why can't they fully prove this Big Bang theory? What pieces are missing from this puzzle and when might we uncover them? This talk will explain the great discoveries we have made, the mysteries still to solve and the questions that we may never be able to answer about the birth of our Universe.

 

Dr Stuart Clark is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a visiting fellow of the University of Hertfordshire and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a consultant for New Scientist and writes The Guardian's astronomy blog, Across the Universe. His book The Sun Kings was short-listed for the The Royal Society's popular science book prize in 2008. In 2013, he was named European astronomy journalist of the year. Copies of his latest book, The Unknown Universe will be available at the lecture.




The planet Mercury, newly revealed
Date: 12 May 2015
Time: 13:00

An RAS Daytime Public Lecture: The planet Mercury, newly revealed

 

Professor David Rothery

Geological Society Lecture Theatre

 

Many questions remain for ESA's BepiColombo to answer ten years from now, but thanks to NASA's MESSENGER (orbiting Mercury March 2011-March 2015) we now know far more about the closest planet to the Sun than was possible from ground-based astronomy and the Mariner-10 flybys in the 1970s. Mercury is a rocky planet with a disproportionately large iron core. The outer core is molten, and dynamo processes there generate a magnetic field (unique among the terrestrial planets apart from Earth). It has a rich and dynamic exosphere. The surface is perplexingly rich in volatile elements such as S, K, Na and Cl, and there is widespread evidence of explosive volcanic eruptions (mostly more than 3 billion years ago, but extending into the past billion years) that must be driven by expanding volatiles. Such volatile abundance is hard to reconcile with models for Mercury's origin that call for much of its primordial rocky fraction to have been stripped away, possibly in a giant impact. Thermal contraction of the planet has led to widespread development of 'lobate scarps' at the surface that have taken up at least 7 km of radial contraction. The most recent macroscopic process to sculpt the surface (other than ongoing impact cratering) is the formation of 'hollows' – occurring as fields of steep-sided, flat-bottomed depressions tens of metres deep where a surface layer has been removed, seemingly by some sort of sublimation process. The volatile phase involved has not been identified.

 

David Rothery is Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, and currently 'Lead Scientist' for MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer), the only UK-led instrument on ESA's BepiColombo Mercury orbiter (to be launched 2016). He is also co-leader of ESA's Mercury Surface & Composition Working Group.

His research interests centre on the study of volcanic activity by means of remote sensing, and volcanology and geoscience in general on other planets.




The planet Mercury, newly revealed
Date: 12 May 2015
Time: 18:00

An RAS Public Lecture: The planet Mercury, newly revealed

Professor David Rothery

RAS Lecture Theatre

 (This lecture is a repeat of the day time lecture held at the Geological Society)

 

Many questions remain for ESA's BepiColombo to answer ten years from now, but thanks to NASA's MESSENGER (orbiting Mercury March 2011-March 2015) we now know far more about the closest planet to the Sun than was possible from ground-based astronomy and the Mariner-10 flybys in the 1970s. Mercury is a rocky planet with a disproportionately large iron core. The outer core is molten, and dynamo processes there generate a magnetic field (unique among the terrestrial planets apart from Earth). It has a rich and dynamic exosphere. The surface is perplexingly rich in volatile elements such as S, K, Na and Cl, and there is widespread evidence of explosive volcanic eruptions (mostly more than 3 billion years ago, but extending into the past billion years) that must be driven by expanding volatiles. Such volatile abundance is hard to reconcile with models for Mercury's origin that call for much of its primordial rocky fraction to have been stripped away, possibly in a giant impact. Thermal contraction of the planet has led to widespread development of 'lobate scarps' at the surface that have taken up at least 7 km of radial contraction. The most recent macroscopic process to sculpt the surface (other than ongoing impact cratering) is the formation of 'hollows' – occurring as fields of steep-sided, flat-bottomed depressions tens of metres deep where a surface layer has been removed, seemingly by some sort of sublimation process. The volatile phase involved has not been identified.

 

David Rothery is Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, and currently 'Lead Scientist' for MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer), the only UK-led instrument on ESA's BepiColombo Mercury orbiter (to be launched 2016). He is also co-leader of ESA's Mercury Surface & Composition Working Group.

His research interests centre on the study of volcanic activity by means of remote sensing, and volcanology and geoscience in general on other planets.