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Friends Events in 2012

 These are the events which were organised in 2012 for Friends of the RAS


'Isaac Newton and The Sensorium of God' - A talk by Dr Stuart Clark
Thursday 26th January 2012 18:00-19:30

Isaac Newton: quintessential scientist – also alchemist, maverick theologian, and arch-heretic. Dr Stuart Clark explores how this complicated man's unscientific traits were essential in shaping the scientific revolution. Just what did Newton mean when he called the Universe: The Sensorium of God?

Dr Stuart Clark holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a science journalist and author who specialises in bringing the complex world of astronomy to everyone. His latest project is The Sky's Dark Labyrinth trilogy, a series of novels that dramatise the history of astronomy. The second volume, The Sensorium of God, covers the life and work of Isaac Newton. He will be signing books on the night.



'Urban Stargazing Project' - A talk by Oscar Lhermitte
Wednesday 7th March 2012 2012 13:00-14:00

This talk is about the Urban Stargazing project and why it started, including details of constellations that were made in London.

About the Project: The Urban Stargazing project has the ambition to reclaim the night stars back in the urban sky, through outdoor invisible installations. Each installation is a modern constellation that can only be observed at night. Instead of recreating existing constellations that tells stories about the Greek and Chinese mythologies, the Urban Stargazing team creates constellations that depict contemporary myths and facts of our modern society and that are directly linked to their geographical location. The installations are almost invisible during the day, and it is only at night that one can appreciate the spectacle.
Over the period of June-July 2011, twelve new constellations could have been observed across London. Like the Great Bear and Orion depicting stories from Greek mythology, these told us something about our city and culture. Some stood for historical events that happened in the city; whilst others were purely visual experiences. The public was invited to take on a stargazing walk and discover stories about our society through astronomical constellations.
The Urban Stargazing project is here to bring awareness of our vanishing nights and question the relation that nature has in an urban environment. It's objective is to invest other cities of the world and add new constellations, each relating to its cultural location.

For more information, visit



Visit to the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge
Wednesday 2nd May 2012


'Search for Extraterrestrial Unintelligence' - A talk by Professor Jonathan Tennyson (University College London)

Wednesday 18th July 2012 13:00-14:00

Since the mid 1990s over 800 extra solar planets have been detected and the likelihood is that exoplanets orbiting other stars are ubiquitous. The natural next step is to characterise these bodies and, of course, try to determine if any of them support life. This lecture will focus on current attempts to determine the composition of these bodies using the way their atmospheres interact with light from their host planet. It will discuss signatures of possible life and explain why looking for primative lifeforms is much more likely to succeed than searches for advanced life ("extraterrestrial intelligence"). Finally the prospects for future observations, and in particular dedicated space missions, will be discussed.



Guided tours of the Exhibition "The Renaissance of Astronomy" at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
Wednesday 5th September 2012

There is a choice of one (per person) of two guided tours by Professor Jim Bennett. There will be room for a maximum of 20 Friends per guided visit, for which there is no charge.

The exhibition marks the 500th Anniversary of the birth of Gerard Mercator and is a collaboration between the Museum and the RAS. (See:



'Why is the universe accelerating?' - A talk by Professor Malcolm A.H. MacCallum (University of Bristol)
Wednesday 7th November 2012 13:00-14:00

Last year's Physics Nobel prize was given to the discoverers of the universe's acceleration. Direct application of our standard cosmological models and gravity theory implies that the cause is that more than 70% of the matter in the universe is of a previously unknown type labelled "dark energy". After reviewing this chain of observation and reasoning, Professor MacCallum will discuss the alternative explanations available.

PDF of Malcolm's presentation.



'Curiosity and the Exploration of Mars' - A talk by Dr Peter Grindrod (UCL)
Wednesday 21st November 2012 13:00-14:00

One of the most fundamental questions that we can ask is whether we are alone in the universe. It is studies of the habitability of Mars that drive and constrain the search for life in the coming decade and beyond. Evidence of Mars' evolution is recorded in the rocks that we see on the surface today. This talk will unravel the history of water and habitability of Mars by discussing the Curiosity rover mission, which touched down on Mars in August 2012, and the broader exploration of the planet.

Links from this lecture:

News is here:
Press release images here:
And raw images (updated daily) here:



'The Star of Bethlehem, an astronomer's view' - A talk by Professor David W. Hughes
Wednesday 5th December 2012 13:00-14:00

Tradition has it that a bright star guided the wise men to Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem. But was it a star or some other astronomical phenomenon? In 1976 I wrote a book explaining the biblical and astronomical clues as to the physical nature of the Star of Bethlehem. My conclusion was that the wise men had predicted and seen a close approach of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. This was the sign that a new king of the Jews had been born in Israel.
Other explanations of the star concern comets, new stars, and lunar conjunctions. One tentative conclusion of the Jupiter-Saturn hypothesis is that Jesus was born on Tuesday 15th September 7 BC. Another Biblical possibility is that St Matthew made the whole thing up!



'Neutrino - the route to a new astronomy' - A Public Lecture by Professor Frank Close (Oxford)
Tuesday 18th December 2012 13:00-14:00

A condensed PowerPoint file of the Neutrino lecture is available here.