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Friends Events in 2014

These are the events which were organised in 2014 for Friends of the RAS.


Tuesday, 25 November 
The changing atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune
Professor Patrick Irwin

The 'Ice Giants' of our solar system, Uranus and Neptune, occupy a unique position in our solar system, lying as they do with mass and radius intermediate between Jupiter and Saturn (the 'Gas Giants') and the terrestrial rocky inner planets. However, prior to their observation by instruments on board Voyager 2 in 1986 and 1989 very little was known of the atmospheres of these distant, dark worlds. We now know that both planets have highly dynamic atmospheres with very strong east-west winds that flow with rates of several hundred metres per second and are retrograde at the equator (i.e. are blowing against the direction of planetary rotation) but strongly prograde at mid-latitudes. Although Uranus seemed almost featureless during the 1986 Voyager 2 flyby, its atmosphere has since been seen to become very much more active leading up to its northern spring equinox in 2007. We now believe that the quiescent nature of its atmosphere in 1986 was due to the flyby of Voyager 2 coinciding with Uranus' southern summer solstice, combined with its enormous obliquity of 98? and an almost complete absence of any residual heat of formation. Currently, Uranus and Neptune are observed regularly with HST and ground-based telescopes using the latest imaging and spectroscopic technologies that challenge even the Voyager observations. Both planets are seen to be highly active and dynamic worlds, with storm clouds appearing and disappearing over timescales of days.


Professor Patrick Irwin is a planetary atmospheric scientist with over 20 years' experience in remote sensing of planetary atmospheres from satellite and ground-based observations. His undergraduate and graduate degrees were at Oxford, and he was appointed as a University Lecturer in 1996. His main research interests are 1) Radiative transfer modelling of planetary atmospheres (in the Solar System and exoplanets) using thermal emission and scattering models and 2) Development and application of multivariate retrieval methods. Professor Irwin was a member of the Galileo Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) team and is a Co-Investigator of the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) and also the Visible Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on both the ROSETTA and Venus Express missions. He was also a Consultant Scientist to the Long Wave Spectrometer team of the Infrared Space Observatory. In addition to space missions, Professor Irwin has an active programme of ground-based near-infrared spectroscopic observations (and interpretation) of the Solar System Giant Planets, using UKIRT, IRTF, Gemini-N, ALMA and VLT, and also has experience of mid-IR ground-based observations. Professor Irwin is the principal author or co-author of over 100 papers published, or in press, in the open literature.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Friends of the RAS Visit to Herstmonceux Observatory Science Centre


Wednesday, 17 September

From Dust to Life
Jacqueline Mitton

Understanding the origin and evolution of our solar system may one day provide answers to the question of human origins. This talk is about how the worlds that make up the solar system arose from common beginnings billions of years ago, and what scientists and philosophers have deduced about the most likely way the solar system formed, its age, how its layout has changed over time and the consequences of those changes.


Jacqueline Mitton has been involved in bringing astronomy to the public in a variety of ways for more than 30 years. She was Press Officer of the Royal Astronomical Society for 15 years and Editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association for 7 years. She is author or co-author more than 20 astronomy books for children and the general public, including "From Dust to Life: The origin and Evolution of the Solar System" published in December 2013.


Tuesday, 15 July

The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn
Dr Chris Arridge (University College London)


The Cassini-Huygens mission was launched in 1997 and arrived in the saturnian system in 2004. In this talk we look at the Cassini orbiter, the Huygens probe which landed on Saturn's largest moon Titan, and the new discoveries that this mission has allowed us to make. We will focus on the plumes of Enceladus, Titan's surface and atmosphere, using the rings to peer inside the planet, and the riddle of how long a day is on Saturn.


Dr Chris Arridge studies the giant planets of our solar system, working particularly on Saturn using NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and Jupiter where he is involved in ESA's JUICE mission that is currently under development.
He's originally from Hull and studied Physics with Planetary and Space Physics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, and got his PhD in Space Physics from Imperial College London. He is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Lecturer at University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrisarridge.


Monday, 23 June

The Future of Space Travel
Dr David Mannion

In a period of less than 60 years, Man has explored most of our Solar System with Voyager Probes 1 and 2 travelling more than a 100 times the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun. Will we reach the stars and what are the likely developments of Space Travel by the end of the 21st Century? When will we have bases on the Moon or Mars? Will Man ever reach the stars or other galaxies?


Dr David Mannion has three degrees in Astronomy and has taught in Schools and Colleges for 26 years in the UK, Austria and Turkey. He has also been a tutor for the Open University in both Physics and Astronomy.

He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1984 and was a member of its Education Committee 2005 - 2010. He has run numerous Astronomy Clubs and was a founder member and a Vice President of the Association for Astronomy Education. He co-authored a book on Galileo called Galileo and 400 Years of telescopic Astronomy published by Springer in 2010.


Thursday, 3 April

Friends of the RAS trip to Jodrell Bank 


Tuesday, 25 March

Seeing the Solar System for the Outside
Dr Jane Greaves (University of St Andrews)

Although our first spacecraft are leaving the Solar System only now, we can investigate how we would look to an external observer by doing the reverse - looking at our neighbour star systems. Dr Greaves will discuss the surprising array of extrasolar planets we find, and also the evidence for huge belts extrasolar comets. Some of these conditions are more or less favourable for life, on the terrestrial planets we hope to uncover in the near future.


Dr Greaves is the St Andrews Fellow in Astrophysics at the University of St Andrews, and is primarily a submillimetre observational astronomer, and was previously an Instrument Scientist at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and Project Scientist at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.


Thursday, 30 January 

From Solar System to Earth System: The Symbiotic Sciences of Astronomy and Meteorology

Professor Ian Roulstone

110 years ago, weather forecasting was for the first time described as a problem in mathematics and physics. We shall show how, since that time and right up to current supercomputer simulations of the Earth System, mathematics has assisted in quantifying and enhancing our understanding of weather and climate. Crucially, many of the early advances in weather forecasting were stimulated by the success of astronomers in solving problems of celestial mechanics, and we discuss the implications of these developments in the context of modern Earth System modelling. (No specialist mathematical background will be assumed.)


Ian Roulstone is professor of mathematics at the University of Surrey.


Wednesday, 15 January 
The Gill-100 project

Paul Haley

Sir David Gill (1843-1914) was an Aberdeen clock-maker who became a global astronomer.

This talk will describe some of the research findings from the Gill-100 project (part funded by an RAS grant) including the Dun Echt Observatory and the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope which Gill led for 28 years to develop the leading observatory in the southern hemisphere.

Gill died on 24 January 1914 so this fRAS talk coincides with his 100th anniversary - his portrait faces the foot of stairs at Burlington House.


Paul Haley is a Director of Space Today UK and has 20 years secondary teaching experience. During the past 13 years Paul has led seven astronomical outreach projects - working as Director of The Share Initiative. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS) and a member of both the British Astronomical Association (BAA) and the Society for the History of Astronomy (SHA).

Paul is currently working on stained glass designs for astronomical heritage themes including a 100th anniversary celebratory panel for Sir David Gill (1843-1914) for an Aberdeen location.


Tuesday, 7 January - evening


The tour will be from 7-8.30 pm. It will comprise visits to the Meridian and Equatorial buildings and the Onion Dome, covering quadrant, transit and prime equatorial instruments and the 28" telescope. Weather permitting; Jupiter should be a fine sight that night. There will be a lot about the history of the Observatory.