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
Detecting the light of the Big Bang: ESA's cosmic microwave background satellite Planck and Jodrell Bank's contribution to its detectorsDate: 10 Dec 2013
A Public Lecture by Professor Richard Davis (Jodrell Bank).
The lecture starts with explaining what ESA’s Planck is designed for and its main aims. It is compared to the other missions and its international nature is explained. We then move on to the specific involvement of Jodrell Bank in part of its construction and what is required to go into space and be space qualified.
This is then integrated onto the satellite and launched. Some of the results from the Planck mission are then shown and discussed.
Professor Richard Davis was the UK PI for the Low Frequency Instrument of the Planck Surveyor Space mission launched on Ariane 5 in 2009, a telescope designed to see the variations in the Cosmic Microwave Background, the remnant of the Big Bang, to the most detailed level yet. From Jodrell Bank, he led the design of the receivers for this space observatory, which were the most sensitive receivers ever constructed at these frequencies.
Professor Davis has also been Project Scientist for the MERLIN array of radio telescopes and Principal Investigator for the Very Small Array. He is a Fellow of the RAS and has been awarded an OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for services to science.
A Public Lecture by Dr Simon Mitton (University of Cambridge).
For more than three millennia watchers of the skies have used geometry as a means of understanding the mechanism of the heavens. In Egypt and Mesopotamia classical surveying techniques were essential for the stellar alignments of the largest structures in the ancient world. Geometry allowed the ancients to measure the size of the Earth, and to attempt to measure the relative distances of the Sun and Moon. In his great book the Almagest, Claudius Ptolemy (second century AD) describes a geometrical model of the solar system that served as the standard work for 1300 years. In the thirteenth century Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln wrote De Luce, the first attempt at describing the origin of the universe in geometrical language. Copernicus, Galileo and Newton all employed geometry as the essential tool for doing cosmology. In 1915 Einstein published the general theory of relativity, a classical theory of gravity using four dimensional geometry, and this continues to be the preferred mathematical tool for modelling the universe. This is a non-technical lecture with an emphasis on the remarkable astronomers who used geometry to advance our understanding of the universe
After the lecture Simon Mitton will be signing copies of his popular book on the origin of structure in the universe: Heart of Darkness, unravelling the mysteries of the invisible universe, co-authored with Jeremiah P. Ostriker (Princeton University), published by Princeton University Press, 2013.
Dr Simon Mitton trained as a radio astronomer at Cambridge. After his PhD was awarded he spent five years at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, after which he had a long career as a science publishing director at Cambridge University Press. Following his retirement from the Press he started a new career as a historian of science. His research speciality is the history of astronomy and cosmology in the twentieth century, on which he has published a number of academic and popular books. He is a Vice President (2012 - 2014) of the RAS, and is a RAS Guest Lecturer for Cunard on RMS Queen Mary 2.
A Public Lecture by Professor Gillian Foulger (University of Durham).
Two radically different views exist of the origin of large-volume magmatism (as exemplified by flood basalts), and persistent, low-volume magmatism (as exemplified by volcano chains). These are the Plate-, and the Plume hypotheses. The Plume hypothesis envisages a large, thermal diapir that rises from the core-mantle boundary, actively penetrates the lithosphere, and causes surface volcanism. It is envisaged to be independent of shallow structures and processes, and to be driven by thermal energy from Earth’s core.
Professor Gillian Foulger is primarily an earthquake seismologist with a strong interdisciplinary ethos. She studied geothermal earthquakes in Iceland, the USA and Indonesia, discovering that they may be caused by cracks opening. She pioneered the use of GPS to study plate kinematics, conducting continental-scale surveys in Iceland, the USA and Turkey, discovering the best example of post-tectonic visco-elastic relaxation ever documented. She applied teleseismic tomography to study the mantle beneath Iceland, discovering that the observations did not support the mantle plume model, which led to her current leadership of the global debate over whether mantle plumes exist or not (www.mantleplumes.org). She is currently transferring her microearthquake expertise to seismicity induced by hydrofracturing. She has published three books and over 100 peer-reviewed papers. In 2005 she was made a Fellow of the Icelandic National Academy of Sciences and awarded the Price Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
A Public Lecture by Professor Donald Kurtz (University of Central Lancashire).
Days, Weeks, Months, Years and more: Hear about Roman Emperors, Zulu Wars, Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, the English time riots, and how the days of the week got their names in this amusing and informative tour of the calendar.
A Public Lecture by Professor Yvonne Elsworth (University of Birmingham)
Our knowledge of how stars change and evolve underpins our understanding of both the far reaches of the Universe and nearby stars including our Sun. In recent years these studies have all been revolutionised by observations of the interiors of stars. The methods are inherently simple even if they require precise techniques to make them effective. The physics that underpins the method is purely classical. It has been discovered that, for certain kinds of stars, the turbulent conditions that prevail in their outer convective regions cause sound waves to propagate and resonate within their interiors. This leads to small, periodic changes in the surface properties that can be observed. This field is known as asteroseismology. For the Sun, we are able to build seismic maps of the interior and hence make visible the conditions in different regions including the energy-generating core. Several major deductions which had far-reaching implications will be discussed in the lecture.
For stars more distant than the Sun, the information obtained is more limited. However, the recent data from the Kepler satellite has enormously broadened the field because we are no longer restricted to one sample (the Sun at its current age) from the wide range of states that the Sun and stars of roughly similar mass will experience in their lives. The lecture will give examples of how asteroseismology has impacted the study of planets in the habitable zones of their stars and also how we are able to probe conditions in the centres of evolved stars.
Professor Yvonne Elsworth is the Poynting Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham and a member of the RAS Council. She graduated with a PhD from the University of Manchester on the design of instrumentation to study conditions in the upper atmosphere of the Earth.
Professor Elsworth was appointed to an academic post at the University Birmingham when the field of helioseismology (aka the seismic study of the interior of the Sun) was in its infancy. From those beginnings, she has seen the world-wide development of this novel area. The current unusual state of the Sun and the beautiful dataset from the Kepler satellite make these very exciting times..
A Public Lecture by Dr Francisco Diego (University College London).
We live in a Universe that develops increasing complexity from a distant origin, from pure and simple energy. In this lecture we go back in time to explore those initial conditions, when the primordial energy was confined in a handful of fundamental particles, the building blocks of the Universe to be brought together at different stages by the four known basic forces.
We will travel deep inside stars to witness some of those forces at work, assembling together the nuclei of light atoms along millions of years; a process highly intensified during the brief and cataclysmic death of massive stars. At that point, the nuclei of the heaviest atoms are put together, atoms that are essential in our modern society. Their ticking energy telling us the age of our planet. Their burning energy destroying malignant tissues in our bodies, powering our civilisation and sadly, achieving the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We have in our hands the enormous power of stars that lived and died billions of years ago. As we enter our second century of atomic radioactivity we must find wise ways of using that cosmic power to ensure our survival and expansion.
Dr Diego is a veteran of 20 solar eclipse expeditions, and the founder and director of Your Universe, the UCL festival of Astronomy. He has also produced and delivered The Mind of the Universe, a collection of public and school lectures and teacher workshops on astrophysics, cosmology and life in the Universe.