Friday 1st December 2023 Space debris

Hazards, Situational awareness and responsible use of space

Dr Philippe Blondel

Friday 1st December 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Lecture 4 of 4 on the theme ‘Conserving the Planet’ in association with the Herschel Museum of Astronomy

Image shows the distribution of space debris in orbit © ESA

Near-Earth space is littered with hundreds of millions of man-made objects rushing at very high speeds and risking collisions with each other and with every space platform. The new constellations of thousands of satellites will be at risk; they also increase the risks, through chain collisions, accidental deorbiting and other accidents. In 2021, the G7 Summit committed to “safe and sustainable use of space”. The UN Space2030 agenda recommended “enhanced information exchange on space objects”. But how do we detect objects mostly smaller than a centimetre, fast enough and far enough? This talk will present the current situation, from space collisions to intentional creation of space debris, the approaching Kessler Syndrome and the geopolitical context, in Earth and beyond. Drawing on the speaker’s direct experience, we will then look at technological solutions and policy implications.

Philippe Blondel is a remote sensing expert. Born and educated in France, his PhD was about the radar imaging of the planet Venus. He then worked in the US and the UK, mapping the oceans and designing new instruments. He enjoys seeing the applications of his research, from new commercial products to international standards, from de-risking marine renewable energies to addressing the effects of climate change on Arctic environments. Philippe edited “Solar System Update” (Springer, 2006) and he teaches planetary physics at the University of Bath. He co-authored the White Paper on “In-Space Utilisation of Asteroids” (2017) and experimented and published on imaging space debris and small targets (2018, 2019). His Knowledge Transfer activities include working with industry and participating to the UK Parliament Office of Science and Technology on “Defence of space-based assets.

A video recording of the lecture is freely available here.

Friday 2nd February 2024 Johannes Kepler: his Life and Work

Nicholas Pallett

Friday 2nd February 2024 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) – astronomer, mathematician, visionary, dreamer, explorer, astrologer is best known for his laws of planetary motion, providing one of the foundations for Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation.
An illustrated talk focusing as much on the personal and family life of this ‘weird genius’, as on his towering scientific achievements and their impact.

Nicholas Pallett B.Sc. has worked mainly as a musician, singer, lyricist & composer in many genres including musical theatre, and in many parts of the world, and more recently as a music teacher/lecturer for the Bristol & Bath Education Authorities.
In the fields of Astronomy and the History of Science he considers himself an ‘amateur’, in the true sense of the word.

Tickets (£6/£3, proceeds to the BRLSI) available shortly.

Thursday 16th November 2023 Dying Stars Seeding the Universe

The Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture 2023

7.00 pm Thursday 16th November 2023 at the 10E 0.17 Lecture Theatre, University of Bath and online via Zoom

Dr Marie van der Sande
University of Leiden

Dr Marie Van de Sande discusses why a multidisciplinary approach is necessary in understanding how stars like our sun die.

Astrochemistry is a vibrant and interdisciplinary field that brings together astronomy, physics, and chemistry. While there is an enormous effort in understanding the chemistry of stellar birth and youth, the chemistry of stellar death is as important: the death throes of sun-like stars enrich the galaxy with fresh material to form the next generation of stars and planets by losing their outer layers by means of a gentle outflow. The presence of a companion star or planet is thought to produce intricate structures within the outflow, giving rise to the beautiful shapes of planetary nebulae, the later stage in the star’s life and an important part of Caroline Herschel’s surveys. This opens up the question of the fate of our own Solar System. To understand exactly how stars like our Sun die and how they are recycled into the next generation of stars and planets, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary, with astrochemistry playing a leading role.”

Background of Speaker

Dr Marie Van de Sande is an Oort Fellow at Leiden Observatory at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She studies the chemistry around dying sun-like stars by developing novel chemical models and comparing their results to observations. Marie obtained her PhD in 2018 from KU Leuven (Belgium), where she stayed on as a fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO). She moved to the University of Leeds as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow in 2021 and relocated to Leiden in September this year.”

The video recording of the lecture is freely available here.

The Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship was established in 2018 by what is now the Herschel Society, in association with the Royal Astronomical Society, to celebrate Caroline’s memory by supporting promising women astronomers early in their careers. Caroline, William’s younger sister, started out as his assistant, but in time became recognised as an important astronomer in her own right, was the first to be paid as such, and was awarded the RAS Gold Medal in 1828. The Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture is hosted by University of Bath in November in cooperation with the Society as part of the University’s public lecture series. Charles Draper, Chairman, Herschel Society.

Friday 1st March 2024 From Algebra to the Secrets of the Universe: the Fascinating life of Mary Somerville

Elisabetta Strickland

Friday 1st March 2024 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Part of a BRLSI series of events around International Women’s Day to celebrate Extraordinary Women.

The image is at Somerville College, the artist is James Rannie Swinton (1844).
Photo credit: Somerville College, University of Oxford (CC BY-NC).

It is an astonishing experience to go back in time and explore the world where study and research for women were forbidden by law. The fascinating life of the Scottish scientist and popular writer Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872) brings us back in this past and, in the same time, describes the fight of one great dame for equal rights and opportunities for women. Her fight was not political, in a sense that she did not try to influence the public opinion with her words or her actions, but by winning the respect of the scientific world. Her extraordinary mathematical talent only came to light through fortuitous circumstances. Barely taught to read and write as a child, all the science she learned and mastered was self taught. By giving this example of scientific competence, she backed the struggle towards education opportunities for women that lead to their access to schools. The Somerville College in Oxford was named in her honor in 1879 and produced famous graduates like Dorothy Hodgkin, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher.

Elisabetta STRICKLAND is honorary professor at the Department of Mathematics of the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. She has been Vice-President of the National Institute of Advanced Mathematics (INdAM) from 2007 to 2015. From 2014 to 2022 she has been a member of the Women in Mathematics Committee (WIM) of the European Mathematical Society. She is Honorary President of the Central Committee for the promotion of equal opportunities, workers’ welfare and non discrimination (CUG) of the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. She is also co-founder of the Gender Interuniversity Observatory GIO over the state Universities in Rome. Since 2016 she is Ambassador of Italy in the Committee of Women in Mathematics (CWM) of the International Mathematical Union.

In 2013 she has been awarded from the Capitoline Administration the Prize “Excellent Women in Rome”.

A recording will be available in April 2024.

Please note that you can also buy tickets for the whole BRLSI Extraordinary Women programme through the above link. A list of all the talks with links to more information can be found here.

Monday 4th March 2024 Ada Lovelace: the  Making of a  Computer Scientist

Monday 4th March 2024 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Part of a BRLSI series of events around International Women’s Day to celebrate Extraordinary Women.

The image is from the book cover (see below), credit: Bodleian Library

Ada, Countess of Lovelace, (1815-1852), is sometimes called the world’s first computer programmer and has become an icon for women in technology. But how did a young woman in the 19th century, without access to formal school or university education, acquire the knowledge and expertise to become a pioneer of computer science?   The answer lies in the archives in Oxford’s  Bodleian Library, which show a talented an inquisitive child growing into a serious scientist with a remarkable knowledge of cutting edge mathematics of the day, and a fascination with contemporary scientific developments – from mesmerism to photography.

Professor Ursula Martin CBE FREng FRSE is a fellow of Wadham College Oxford, recently retired from Oxford’s mathematical Institute, where she researched a variety of topics at the intersection of mathematics and computer science. Her work on Ada Lovelace’s mathematics has led to several papers and a recent book “Ada Lovelace: the making of a computer scientist” published by Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

A recording of this lecture will be made available in April.

Friday 3rd November 2023 A cluttered and noisy sky?

Meeting the challenge of satellite constellations (and why you should care)

Dr Robert Massey

Friday 3rd November 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Lecture 3 of 4 on the theme ‘Conserving the Planet’ in association with the Herschel Museum of Astronomy

Image shows Signal pollution in a 333-second exposure image taken from the Blanco four-meter (13′) telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory © NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/CTIO/AURA/DELVE.

65 years ago the Soviet Union placed the first satellite in space. There are now around 5,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO), the region up to 2,000 km above the ground, and their deployment is accelerating. 2019 saw the launch of Starlink, a satellite constellation built and launched by SpaceX, a system that on its own could soon have more than 30,000 spacecraft deployed. With other operators we could see up to 400,000 satellites in LEO by the end of this decade.

This is nothing less than a step change in our use of space. And like most paradigm shifts, it will have significant consequences. A key example is how it will affect the science of astronomy and our view of the sky. Some estimates suggest that the majority of ‘stars’ visible to the eye could be satellites, and professional and amateur astronomers alike now face significant challenges to our work. As a result our community has mobilised, working at a national, international and global level to tackle a complex problem, and to try to find a balance between the positive results of boosting communications and the impact on the space environment.

Robert Massey will set out the problem, what it means for scientists and the wider public, and what we can do about it.”

Dr Robert Massey is Deputy Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society. Before joining the RAS, his career took him from an undergraduate degree in Leicester and PhD research in Manchester to teaching in Brighton, and local politics in London alongside a stint as Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. In his spare time he enjoys running, cycling, hiking and cooking, and generally making the most of life in his new family home in Sussex. With a lifelong private and public passion for astronomy, he very much wants to avoid a world where satellites ruin our shared heritage of an unsullied night sky.

A link to a video recording of this lecture is available here.