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Friends Events in 2013

These are the events which were organised in 2013 for Friends of the RAS.


Nevil Maskelyne and the projects of eighteenth-century astronomy - a talk by Dr Rebekah Higgett (University of Kent)
Tuesday 17 December 2013, 13:00 - 14:00


Focusing on the career and connections of the Fifth Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, this talk will look at what astronomy was for in the 18th century. From his early voyage to St Helena to his long years at Greenwich, Maskelyne was an internationally significant figure who was involved with all the key astronomical projects of his time. The talk will be illustrated with images of instruments at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and archives of the Board of Longitude and the Maskelyne family, recently made available at Cambridge Digital Library.


Dr Rebekah Higgitt (University of Kent) is a historian of science who specialises in the relationship between science and the public in 18th and 19th century Britain.


Space Has No Frontier - a talk by Mr John Bromley-Davenport

Thursday 28 November 2013, 13:00-14:00

Bernard Lovell is one of the great un-sung heroes of the 20th century, a true pioneer of physics and astronomy. He is well known as a brilliant mind and the founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory and Lovell telescope.

What is less well-known about this modern Renaissance man is the full extent of his work during the Second World War and more particularly during the Cold War.  His work with radar during WW2 focused on the development of centimetre radar, of H2S (blind navigation radar) and ASV (air to surface vessel) radar. The first was used by RAF bombers while the development of ASV was vital to the fight against German U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay. Jodrell Bank, of which Lovell was Director, was the frontline of defence monitoring the potential threat of Soviet missiles at the height of the Cold War and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following his 1963 trip to Russia, where he visited the top secret Soviet space tracking station, Deep Space Network, Lovell was debriefed extensively by the British security services. The classified file of this debrief was only made available following his death, when the information could be of no threat to his safety.


The book explores Lovell’s contributions to his fields of excellence but is more than just a story of his life. Space Has No Frontier also shows how Bernard Lovell was a family man, a gifted musician, gardener and dendrologist, and a keen cricketer. He died in August 2012, one year before his 100th birthday. 

John Bromley-Davenport QC is a successful barrister, actor and public speaker. Alongside his legal career he has become well known on both sides of the Atlantic for his solo adaptions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, both of which have been met with ongoing media acclaim over three decades. He has also contributed and published articles in various mainstream print publications, including The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.



Wednesday 20 November 2013, 14:00-16:00


The RAS Library houses a world-class collection on astronomy and geophysics that is far more comprehensive than the libraries of most universities and research institutions.  It contains more than 10,000 books from popular level to conference proceedings, as well as a comprehensive collection of periodicals.  The Society owns the largest specialist collection of astronomical rare books in England, with about 4,000 items published before 1851, including works by Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo and Newton. Archival holdings comprise observational and other scientific material, administrative papers and correspondence from the mid-18th century to the 1940s, and the archive of William, John, and Caroline Herschel. 


At this special event for the Friends, the Librarian Jenny Higham will display and introduce some of the key treasures of the collection.  Items will include depictions of medieval astronomy from the very early days of printing, the first edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543), Giovanni Cassini’s celebrated scientific map of the Moon (1679), William Herschel’s notebooks revealing his moments of discovery, and objects from the Society’s collection of historical artefacts such as a Moon globe by John Russell and a sextant used by Captain Cook.



Meteorites - a lecture by Dr Sara Russell (Natural History Museum)
Wednesday 2 October 2013, 13:00 - 14:00


Professor Sara Russell is the head of the Division of Mineral and Planetary Sciences at the Natural History Museum.  Her research interests are in the origin and early evolution of the solar system, especially using meteorites as tools to learn about the pre-planetary environment.

She was an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, and then studied for a PhD at the Open University. After postdocs in the USA (Caltech and the Smithsonian Institution) she took up a position at the Natural History Museum as a researcher.

Europe's comet chaser, Rosetta - a lecture by Professor M.G.G.T. Taylor (Project Scientist of the Rosetta Mission, on behalf of the entire Rosetta Community)
Wednesday 11 September 2013, 13:00 - 14:00


The Rosetta Mission is the third cornerstone mission (after XMM and Cluster/SOHO) of the ESA programme Horizon 2000. The aim of the mission is to map the comet 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by remote sensing, to examine its environment insitu and its evolution in the inner solar system. The lander Philae will be the first device to land on a comet and perform in-situ science on the surface. Launched in March 2004 and after a number of gravity assists and various asteroid fly-bys, the spacecraft entered deep space hibernation in June 2011. Nearly 10 years after launch on 20th January 2014 at 10:00 UTC the spacecraft will wake up for comet rendez-vous preparation. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the mission up to date and provide an insight into the exciting years we have ahead of us as Rosetta reaches and studies its target.




Matt Taylor studied Physics at Liverpool University and obtained a PhD in space plasma physics at Imperial College London. He has worked for ESA since 2005, spending most of that time involved in project science activities with ESA's four spacecraft Cluster mission and the Sino-European Double Star mission. Most recently he became Project Scientist of the Rosetta mission.


This event is organised with the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) as part of the Festival of the Planets. See below for more information on this series of events in London.




Visit to the Mullard Space Science Laboratory
24 July,14:00 and 17:00


To include talks and laboratory visits.

'The search for gravity waves' - A Public Lecture by Professor Mike Cruise
Tuesday 14th May 2013 13:00-14:00

The Universe has been explored by astronomers for over 400 hundred years, mostly using light, radio waves, X-Rays and the Infra-red to give some indication of what objects exist and how hot they are. For nearly one hundred years scientists have also been aware of the possible existence of another form of radiation, Gravity Waves, which, if detected, would tell us about the mass and motion of astronomical objects. Gravity Waves are minute ripples in the geometry of spacetime and were predicted by Einstein but the weakness of these waves has prevented their detection to date.

Large laser facilities in the US are now being upgraded in a new attempt to pick up and analyse the gravity waves emitted by black holes and neutron stars in our Galaxy and beyond. Progress on this challenging experiment will be described and some predictions will be made of the science that may result.

Professor Mike Cruise is Professor Emeritus at the University of Birmingham. He chairs committees on the Physical Sciences at the European Space Agency and is Treasurer of the RAS.



Book launch of Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe with the authors Dr Simon Mitton and Professor Jeremiah Ostriker
Friday 17th May 2013 13:00-14:00

At this special event for Friends, come and meet authors Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton for the launch of their book on the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy. Both of them will give presentations lasting 20 minutes on the content of the book. Simon Mitton will cover the fascinating historical background of the intellectual puzzle: How did structure arise in the universe, and how did we learn about it? Jeremiah Ostriker will then give an insider's story on the importance of the cosmic microwave background for recovering the earliest history of structure in the universe.

The talks and the book too are accessible to a general audience and readership.

After the talks there will be an informal reception and book signing session, accompanied by light refreshments courtesy of the publisher Princeton University Press. Jerry and Simon will be pleased to meet as many of you as possible.

Jeremiah P. Ostriker is Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. His books include Formation of Structure in the Universe and Unsolved Problems in Astrophysics (Princeton). Simon Mitton is at the University of Cambridge where his research is in the history of astronomy. He is a Vice President (2012-2014) of the RAS, and a RAS Guest Lecturer on astronomy for Cunard's Queen Mary 2. His publications include a dozen books on astronomy, ranging from popular history and biography to academic monographs.

Please see for further details on the book.



'Of how planetary interiors shape their outer surfaces' - A talk by Professor Carolina Lithgow-Bertelloni
Wednesday 29th May 2013 13:00-14:00

Professor Carolina Lithgow-Bertelloni will show in her talk how the interior of the Earth (and other terrestrial planets) is extremely dynamic, giving rise to large changes in topography that can even control biogeographic dispersal. She will compare Earth to other planets and spend a few minutes covering the data and modelling techniques used to study Earth's and other planetary interiors.

Carolina Lithgow-Bertelloni a professor of Geophysics at UCL with broad interests in solid Earth geodynamics and tectonics. She uses both computational and laboratory methods and she is deeply grounded in observations. Prior to her arrival at UCL in 2007 she was an associate professor with tenure at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.



Trip to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd
Tuesday 29th January 2013

A special visit was arranged to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd for the morning of 29th January 2013 for 20 Friends.

The programme, courtesy of Dr Stuart Eves, Lead Mission Concepts Engineer, comprised:
* Introduction and presentation on small satellites
* Their application to Astronomy
* Visit to the SSTL Ground Station
* Visit to the SSTL manufacturing facilities.

The programme finished at 1pm and lunch followed at a simple self-service restaurant a few minutes' walk away.



Friends Discount for Astrofest
Friday 8th February 2013

European Astrofest at Kensington is offering a discount to Friends on Friday 8th February (£20 as opposed to £26 for both the morning and the afternoon sessions).



'Planetary Magnetic Fields' - A Public Lecture by Professor Richard Holme (Liverpool)
Tuesday 9th April 2013 13:00-14:00

PDF of the Planetary Magnetic Fields lecture

External link to the PowerPoint presentation, including the movies and animation.