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Friends Events in 2015

These are the events which were organised in 2015 for Friends of the RAS.

 

Tuesday, 15 December, 6 pm

FRIENDS: Christmas Drinks Reception in the Council Room of the Royal Astronomical Society

The reception will be hosted by our President Elect, John Zarnecki, Emeritus Professor of Space Science at The Open University. His research interests are in the field of planetary science, particularly in-situ measurements by space probes and landers. He has previously served as an RAS Councillor (1995-98) and Vice-President (2009-11), and was awarded the Gold Medal of the RAS for Geophysics in 2014. He is serving for one year as President Elect before succeeding the current President, Prof. Martin Barstow, in May 2016.

As well as chatting to you about his coming Presidency of the RAS, he will be bringing along 2 Flight Spare instruments from the Huygens Probe (small hand-held bits of kit) which landed on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in January 2005. These are the penetrometer, to measure the hardness of the surface where they landed, and the sonar which would have measured the depth of the lake or sea if they had landed in one - they actually landed on a dried up river or lake bed! These are identical to the instruments which have been sitting on the surface of Titan for 10 years, some 1.5 billion km from us.

 

Tuesday, 17 November

Getting light from the darkness - the story of the biggest telescopes

Dr Peter Grimley

When it comes to telescopes, bigger has (almost) always been better. All through history, astronomers have realized that gathering more light meant seeing more and more interesting things. That is as true for today's astronomers as it was for Galileo. In this talk I will look at some of the world's biggest telescopes - from the early attempts to make accurate lenses, to the technological marvels that now inhabit some of the most outlandish places on Earth.

 

Peter's career began in professional astronomy. He has a PhD in extragalactic astronomy from the University of Wales, and held research positions in academic institutions in Ireland. His main research interests were around star formation in nearby galaxies, and the evolution of active galaxies and quasars. He then changed direction and spent a number of years in the UK civil service developing UK and EU agriculture policy. In time he began to miss the feelings of awe and wonder that contemplating the Universe brings, and he left the civil service to become a freelance astronomy writer and presenter. Peter gives talks and presentations to a variety of audiences and contributes to the European Southern Observatory's public outreach programme. He has a deep interest in music, playing several instruments quite badly, and also enjoys photography, modern dance, horse-riding and chocolate.

 

Friday, 23 October

FRIENDS VISIT: Mill Hill Observatory

Mill Hill is a working Observatory used by students at UCL and others. We have booked a Private Visit for 24 places. We shall be shown around by the Director, Dr Mike Dworetsky, aided by student guides.
Start time: 7pm. Duration: approximately 1 hr 15 minutes.
Cost: £7:50 per head (pay to Marcus Hope in cash on arrival).

The Observatory is not that close to public transport or car parking, so will need to allow plenty of time to get there! The Observatory is located off the northbound carriageway of the A1 in Mill Hill, North London. (There is no vehicular access from the southbound carriageway; pedestrians on the southbound side of the road must use the under-road subway just north of the Observatory.)

 

Wednesday, 30 September

Arrows of Time, Causation, and Entropy
Dr Luke Fenton-Glynn (UCL)

Temporal and causal relations appear to be asymmetric. 'Event e occurred earlier than event f' is normally taken to imply that 'f did not occur earlier than e' and 'event e was a cause of event f' is normally taken to imply that 'f was not a cause of e'. These two asymmetries seem to coincide: causes always or almost always occur earlier than their effects. This has led many to believe that the two asymmetries are related.

 

Can one explain the direction of causation in terms of the direction of time? Or is it the other way round? Does either explanation tie in with some physical asymmetry of the universe? But Newtonian mechanics, for example, is clearly time-reversible. Does the solution therefore lie in the macrophysical theory of thermodynamics, which does entail important asymmetries? Dr Fenton-Glynn will explore some of the latest work in the philosophy of science that attempts to connect up the causal and temporal arrows to the thermodynamic arrow of entropy increase. In particular, he will explore the idea that these asymmetries are grounded – not in any fundamental physical laws – but rather in a special low-entropy state that our universe happened to initially be in.

 

Luke Fenton-Glynn is a lecturer in philosophy at University College London. Before joining UCL, he held positions at Caltech, Munich, and Konstanz. His main research interests lie in the metaphysics of science. Most of his work to date has been on causation, laws of nature, and probability, and on the relationship between these three things.

 

Thursday, 3 September

Building Fake Universes: testing cosmic physics with computers
Professor Carlton Baugh (Durham University)

Computer simulations have a central role to play in the race to uncover the ingredients of the Universe and to understand how galaxies are made. The computer is the cosmologist's equivalent of the chemist's laboratory bench -- new ideas about the composition of the dark matter, the nature of dark energy, and the impact of supernovae on the gas inside galaxies can be tested out by trying to build replicas of the real Universe. Success is judged by how close the computer generated forgeries are to the observed Universe. I will review the current state-of-the-art in simulations of structure formation.

 

Carlton Baugh is a professor in the Department of Physics at Durham University, and a member of the Institute for Computational Cosmology. His research interests include modelling the physics of galaxy formation and devising new ways to measure dark energy using the large-scale structure of the Universe. He is a member of the Euclid Consortium, the European Space Agency's Dark Energy Mission, responsible for producing mock catalogues. He's the project scientist of two Framework Program 7 Marie Curie Projects, the CosmoComp Initial Training Network and the LACEGAL International Research Staff Exchange Scheme.

 

Tuesday, 30 June

Astronomy of the Pharaohs

Dr Lisette Petrie

Dynastic Ancient Egypt, ruled by the Pharaohs, lasted three millennia, from about 3000 BCE to the time of Caesar. During all this time the Sun, in various guises, was an important god for the Egyptians as we know from many written records and images. We will investigate the changing images of the Sun and the night sky, and look at evidence of the Egyptian knowledge of the workings of the sky in alignments, calendars and images of astronomical observation and timekeeping throughout this period, also considering unanswered questions of what they didn't record.

 

Lisette Petrie is the only grandchild of the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (and almost 100 years his junior!) She grew up with a 5000 year old pot on the dresser, but didn't really develop an interest in Egyptology when she was young. She took a degree in astronomy to keep her brain active when her children were small and has taught the subject for the Open University and the Sussex Institute for the last 20+ years. She has visited Egypt several times and became fascinated by the representations of the sky in temples, tombs and coffins, which led on to further study.

 

Tuesday, 8 April

The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter

Professor Katherine Freese (University of Michigan)

The talk will be followed by a wine reception in the Library.The ordinary atoms that make up the known universe, from our bodies and the air we breathe to the planets and stars, constitute only 5% of all matter and energy in the cosmos. The remaining 95% is made up of a recipe of 25% dark matter and 70% dark energy, both nonluminous components whose nature remains a mystery. Freese will recount the hunt for dark matter, from the discoveries of visionary scientists like Fritz Zwicky, the Swiss astronomer who coined the term "dark matter" in 1933, to the deluge of data today from underground laboratories, satellites in space, and the Large Hadron Collider. Theorists contend that dark matter consists of fundamental particles known as WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. Billions of them pass through our bodies every second without us even realizing it, yet their gravitational pull is capable of whirling stars and gas at breakneck speeds around the centers of galaxies, and bending light from distant bright objects. In this talk Freese will provide an overview of this cosmic cocktail, including the evidence for the existence of dark matter in galaxies. Many cosmologists believe we are on the verge of solving this mystery and this talk will provide the foundation needed to fully fathom this epochal moment in humankind's quest to understand the universe.

 

Katherine Freese, a theoretical astrophysicist, is the George Eugene Uhlenbeck Collegiate Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan. In September 2014 she assumed the position of Director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Stockholm. She is known for her work in theoretical cosmology at the interface of particle physics and astrophysics. In addition to contributions in academia and research, Dr Freese has written a comprehensive review on dark matter and energy as they relate to recent research in cosmology and particle physics, titled The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter.

 

Friday, 20 March

SOLAR ECLIPSE VIEWING EVENT Regent's Park, Chester Rd, London, NW1 4NR. Come and join the RAS and the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers (BSIA) to view the partial solar eclipse.

Arrive on the day before 1st contact (8.25am), watch the eclipse through an 85% 'totality' phase (max. at approx. 9.31am) and stay until 4th contact (10.40am). There will be a range of hydrogen alpha scopes to reveal the sun's broiling atmosphere, the filaments and solar prominences; white light filters that show the sunspots on the surface of the sun and dark solar eyeglasses for visual observing. We will have some eclipse viewers to give out as well!

Everybody is welcome to join us and the event is completely free. You are allowed to bring your own solar viewing equipment but you are more than welcome to simply use ours if you don't have any of your own.

 

Tuesday, 17 March

An absence of God or a surer path to God? The dialogue of contemporary cosmology with theology

Revd Professor David Wilkinson (Durham University)

The last three decades have shown considerable interest in scientific exploration of the initial conditions of the Big Bang and anthropic balances within the laws of the universe. While for some the science leads to an absence of a Creator, others see indications of a deeper story to the universe. In this lecture, David Wilkinson will review the development of thinking about quantum gravity and the multiverse and demonstrate how the present dialogue with theology reflects a long intellectual history and may be more complicated than is often acknowledged.

 

David Wilkinson is a Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion in Durham University. He has two PhDs, one in astrophysics where he worked with Sir Arnold Wolfendale on molecular hydrogen in galaxies and one in systematic theology where he worked on the long term future of the universe. He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4 'Thought for the Day'. His most recent book is 'Science, Religion and the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence' (OUP).

 

Tuesday, 20 January

From the Lobster's Eye to Alien Oceans (JUICE - ESA's mission to Jupiter)

Dr Nigel Bannister (University of Leicester)

What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life, and how does the Solar System work? These are the key questions which provide the motivation for the European Space Agency's JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, which will explore Jupiter and it's retinue of icy moons. JUICE was formally adopted by ESA in December 2014, clearing the way toward implementation of the mission, which is scheduled for launch in 2022. In this talk I will describe the mission, including the design of the spacecraft, and its scientific goals. I will summarise the instrumentation to be carried by the spacecraft - including contributions from the UK - and consider some of the engineering challenges of mounting a mission to the largest planet in the solar system.

 

Dr Nigel Bannister is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, where his research interests include planetary science, Ultraviolet and visible wavelength imaging systems, and the development of technologies derived from space instrumentation for the early detection of skin, lung and eye cancers. He is a Co-Investigator on J-MAG: the magnetometer instrument which will be flown on the JUICE mission, and is responsible for the radiation design of the instrument. His spare time is generally occupied keeping 15 ducks, 2 children and a retired greyhound under control.