Thursday 18 November 2021 7 – 8.30 pm online only, The Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture 2021 – Earth versus Sun: a precarious relationship in Space

Sponsored by the Herschel Society, the University of Bath and the Royal Astronomical Society

Dr Jenny Carter, University of Leicester

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Bath University YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view it.

Friday 5th November 2021 BRLSI Zoom lecture delivered from California

Mars: Ancient rivers, lakes and oceans. But where is the water now?

Michael Carr
Leader of the Imaging Team for NASA on the Viking Orbiter and subsequent missions.

Image credit: (c) NASA/THEMIS

The history of water on Mars has huge implications for the possibility of life on Mars and the future of life on Earth. This is the first of two lectures on this subject, with the second lecture to be given by Steve Clifford in February.

Widespread fluvial dissection of the heavily cratered martian highlands indicates that, around 3.8 billion years ago, Mars had a warm, wet, Earth-like hydrologic system with precipitation, rivers, lakes and oceans. Mars then cooled and developed a kilometers-thick permafrost. Around 3.0-3.4 billion years ago massive eruptions of groundwater trapped beneath the permafrost caused huge floods that flowed into the low-lying northern plains to create an ocean that rapidly froze. The water subsequently sublimated away, some to form the present polar caps but most being lost to space, mainly during periods of high obliquity.

Michael Carr received a BSc from University College, London in 1956 and a Ph.D from Yale in 1960, both in Geology. After a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario he joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1962. He first started working on Mars in 1970, after joining the Mariner-9 imaging team. Subsequently, between 1976 and 1980, as leader of the Viking Orbiter Imaging team, he supervised the acquisition of 55,000 images of Mars. He was also involved with every following Mars mission until he retired in 2004. He has written over 200 papers on Mars and three books, The Surface of Mars (1981), Water on Mars (1996) and The Surface of Mars (2006). He lives in Woodside, California.

This talk was given remotely from California and it was planned to be available either remotely on Zoom or at the BRLSI where it would have been projected.  In fact it was online on Zoom only.

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view it.

Friday 1st October 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom and at the BRLSI

Life on Mars? A Short History of 19th-Century Exploration of the Red Planet

Dr Joshua Nall
Curator of Modern Sciences at the University of Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Image: (c) Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge (Wh. 6211)

Humans have long been intrigued by the possibility that Mars might harbour life. Planetary scientists nowadays continue to hunt for evidence of it, and space technologists even advocate settling ourselves there permanently. These are bold projects, and in this talk I suggest that we look back before we look forward, to consider how humans studied and thought about Mars before the Space Age. Investigating 19th-century arguments over whether the red planet was teeming with intelligent life, and exploring fantastical stories about what that life might do to us, reveal important lessons, I will argue, for how we understand the next century of Martian exploration.

Joshua Nall is Curator of Modern Sciences at the University of Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science. He is an historian of 19th- and 20th-century astronomy and physics with a particular interest in empires and extraterrestrials. His book, News from Mars: Mass Media and the Forging of a New Astronomy, 1860–1910 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) won the History of Science Society’s 2020 Philip J. Pauly Prize for the best first book on the history of science in the Americas.

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view it.

Friday 10th Sep 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom

The Lunar South Pole Environment

Dr Daniel Batcheldor
Senior Scientist and Subject Matter Expert in Physics as a contractor at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Image credit: (c) JPL/NASA Moon Trek

Humanity is preparing to return to the moon; this time not simply as tourists. Lunar regolith (dust) presents a risk when landing and operating anywhere on the lunar surface, but at the south pole this same material may also become a resource. However, the lunar south pole presents other interesting risks and opportunities particularly when it comes to the impact of the Sun. The perpetually low Sun angle, as it tracks around the horizon, will provide almost constant illumination for surface operations and photovoltaic power systems, but it may also generate a complex electromagnetic environment. In addition, large areas of the lunar surface will be in permanent, or near permanent shadow. Such shadows may be the location of significant resources but they may also hamper surface operations. In this talk, the effects of dust and the sun angle on lunar surface operations will be discussed, and technologies currently under development to help alleviate some of these issues will be presented.

Dr. Dan Batcheldor, astrophysicist, is a Senior Scientist and Subject Matter Expert in Physics as a contractor at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. He was previously the Head of the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. He moved to the US in 2004 and won multiple opportunities to use the Hubble Space Telescope. His research has covered all the sci-fi classics of Black holes, planets around other stars, and Mars. He is currently supporting the Artemis mission to land the first woman and  first person of color to the lunar south pole in the coming years.

Dr. Batcheldor attended the University of Hertfordshire after coming up through King Edward’s School on Broad Street and North Road. He is author of “Astronomy Saves the World: Securing our Future Through Exploration and Education” that advocates for the introduction of astronomy as part of core school curricula, thus improving the scientific literacy of the general public.”

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 25th June 2021 at 7.30pm on Zoom,

Light Pollution is Bad for All

Bob Mizon, Dr Bob Fosbury, Sophie Spencer, & Charles Draper

Astronomers are aware of the difficulties light pollution can pose for the pursuit of their activities. However, there is increasing evidence of much broader impacts on our health and environment that bring much wider interests to bear. Artificial light offers many benefits. But it needs to be the right light at the right times and in the right places. Getting this wrong is bad for human health (mental and physical), and harmful to many forms of wildlife. More lighting doesn’t always mean more security, and our communities lose contact with the pleasures of the night sky. Reducing energy wasted on unnecessary artificial lighting can also contribute to climate change targets, and save costs.

These issues need to be addressed at several levels. National governments have a key role. The recently published report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dark Skies proposed 10 Policies for the UK Government. One of them was to set standards for the brightness and colour temperature of lighting. Another was to create a dark sky towns and cities initiative. Here the requirement is for a tailored approach that meets the needs of different parts of the community. This requires engagement with local government, businesses, public sector institutions, residents’ groups and special interests. Astronomers both professional and amateur can play a key role in engaging these wider interests for the benefit of all.

The Panel (Bob Mizon, UK Coordinator of the Commission for Dark Skies; Dr Bob Fosbury Astronomer Emeritus, ESO, and Hon. Prof., UCL Inst. Ophthalmology; Sophie Spencer, Director, CPRE Avon and Bristol; and Charles Draper, Chairman of Bath and Surrounds Starlit Skies Alliance and the Herschel Society) will set the national scene in the context of the APPG Report, and then describe how this is being attempted in the Bath area, and more broadly in the West of England, as an example for discussion and the sharing of good practice.

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 7th May 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom

The Search for Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilisations via Anomalies in Astronomical Survey Data

Prof. Michael (Mike) Garrett
University of Manchester
Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

Image credit: NASA

Energy-intensive civilisations are likely to have a significant impact on both their local and extended environments – we already see evidence for this here on Earth. Advanced technical civilisations may reveal themselves to other civilisations by introducing anomalous signals into astronomical data. Artificial radio signals are perhaps the best known example but there are also many other possibilities e.g. excess infra-red emission due to waste heat losses. I will present a non-exhaustive description of some of the main anomalies or “techno-signatures” that astronomers around the world are currently seeking, with a focus on the recent work being conducted at Manchester and the Breakthrough Listen initiative (BLI). BLI has recently produced its first candidate signal – BLC1 – I will  discuss this new development and the future role long-baseline interferometry can play in follow-up observations and future surveys. I will also talk about the need for astronomers to broaden our horizons – to open up our minds to new possibilities and concede that there is a lot about the Universe we do not understand. As the universe continues to evolve for billions of years to come, we speculate on whether other, non-biological forms of intelligence and consciousness, may be out there awaiting discovery.

Biography of the speaker

Prof. Michael (Mike) Garrett is the inaugural Sir Bernard Lovell Chair of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, and Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics ( He is a former director of JIVE (2003-2007) and Director General of ASTRON (2007-2016) in the Netherlands. He did his first degree at the University of Glasgow (1986) and received a Ph.D. from Manchester in 1990. 

As General Director of ASTRON, Garrett was responsible for the final design, construction, commissioning, and operational phase of the 150M€ LOFAR telescope.  He also helped define the design of the Square Kilometre Array telescope, and previously coordinated several large European projects (EXPReS, RadioNet, and ASTERICS). Garrett’s scientific interests range from studies of compact cosmic objects in our own Galaxy to investigations of high-redshift systems in the early Universe. 

Garrett has a significant interest in SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) and related public outreach activities. He is currently co-chair of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) SETI Permanent Committee, and serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the SETI Institute and Breakthrough Listen Initiative. In 2018, he developed a new multi-disciplinary course at the University of Manchester – Are we Alone? The course regularly attracts 150 students/yr.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 9th April 2021 at 7.30pm on Zoom,

Hipparcos and Gaia: space astrometry — unravelling the formation and evolution of our Galaxy

Dr Michael Perryman

Image credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

The Hipparcos satellite project of the European Space Agency was dedicated to measuring the accurate positions of more than 100,000 stars. Doing so from space represented a fundamentally new discipline in space science. With the publication of the scientific results from the Hipparcos mission in 1997, ESA adopted the Gaia mission, a follow-on and vastly more advanced star-mapping satellite, in 2000. Gaia was launched in 2013 and continues to operate from its advantageous location at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point, L2. Gaia is measuring the positions of more than two billion stars in our Galaxy with extreme accuracy, and is set to revolutionise many areas of astronomy and astrophysics. The talk will explain why the measurement of star positions is of such scientific importance. It will review the two thousand year history of this branch of astronomy, called astrometry, explain why these measurements are being made from space, illustrate how the very exacting measurements are made in practice, and present some of the many areas of astronomy that are being impacted by these new experimental insights.

Michael Perryman obtained a degree in physics, and a PhD in radio astronomy, at Cambridge University. During a 30-year career with the European Space Agency, he was the scientific leader of the Hipparcos mission between 1981-1997, also serving as project manager during its operational phase, 1989-1993. He was the co-originator of the Gaia satellite mission, and ESA’s project scientist from its earliest concepts in 1995 until the Critical Design Review in 2008, establishing the instrument concept, technical feasibility, operational and data analysis principles, its organisational structure, and coordinating its scientific case. He was Professor of Astronomy at Leiden University, The Netherlands, between 1993-2009, and has received various awards for his leadership of space astrometry, including the Gold Medal of the French Astronomical Society, the Academy Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the Tycho Brahe Prize of the European Astronomical Society. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Lund University in Sweden in 2010, and was the Bohdan Paczynski Visiting Professor, Princeton University, in 2013.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 5th March at 7.30 pm on Zoom

NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter

Dr. Fran Bagenal
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
University of Colorado, Boulder

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars. With its suite of science instruments, Juno is investigating the interior structure, mapping Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measuring the distribution of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere. JUNO is also the first spacecraft to fly over Jupiter’s aurora and measuring both the energetic particles raining down on the planet and the bright “northern & southern lights” they excite. A huge bonus is the small public outreach camera that is taking fantastic images of Jupiter’s beautiful clouds. The images – some science, some art – are processed and shared by the public around the world. NASA’s JUNO mission was launched in August 2011 and has been in orbit over Jupiter’s poles since 4th July 2016.

Dr. Fran Bagenal is a research scientist and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is co-investigator and team leader of the plasma investigations on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter. Her main area of expertise is the study of charged particles trapped in planetary magnetic fields and the interaction of plasmas with the atmospheres of planetary objects, particularly in the outer solar system. She edited the monograph Jupiter: Planet, Satellites and Magnetosphere (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Born and raised in the UK, Dr. Bagenal received her bachelor degree in Physics and Geophysics from the University of Lancaster, England, and her doctorate degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT (Cambridge, Mass) in 1981. She spent five years as a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College, London, before returning to the United States for research and faculty positions in Boulder, Colorado. She has participated in several of NASA’s planetary exploration missions, including Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo, Deep Space 1, New Horizons and Juno.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Friday 5th February 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom,

The Looking Glass Universe – From Baryogenesis to Biogenesis

Is there a connection between the excess of matter over antimatter and handedness in biology?

Roger Blandford (KIPAC, Stanford University)

Image credit: ESO/APEX & MSX/IPAC/NASA and A.Symes

The laws of physics were long thought to be unchanged when viewed in a mirror.
We have known for over sixty years that they are not.
As Sakharov first explained, this asymmetry, in action during the first moments of the universe, may account for the prevalence of matter over antimatter today.
Likewise, as Pasteur first showed, the laws of biology are similarly asymmetric, as is exhibited by the structure of DNA.
In this talk I will discuss how there might be a causal connection between these two qualities, mediated by cosmic rays.
On the way, I will illustrate this uneven-handedness using recent, exciting, astronomical discoveries, involving black holes, neutron stars and exoplanets.

Roger Blandford took his BA, MA and PhD degrees at Cambridge University. Following postdoctoral research at Cambridge, Princeton and Berkeley he took up a faculty position at Caltech in 1976 where he was appointed as the Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics in 1989. In 2003 He moved to Stanford University to become the first Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) and the Luke Blossom Chair in the School of Humanities and Science. His research interests include black hole astrophysics, cosmology, gravitational lensing, cosmic ray physics and compact stars. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2008-2010, he chaired a two year National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He was awarded the 1998 Dannie Heineman Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the 2013 Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the 2016 Crafoord Prize for Astronomy and the 2020 Shaw Prize for Astronomy.

The recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view.

Wednesday 18th November at 7.00 pm on MS Teams, Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture, Supermassive Black Holes – the Ultimate Galaxy Killers?

Image credit: ESO/WFI (Optical); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)

The talk is being run by the University of Bath in conjunction with the Herschel Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

There are over one billion galaxies in the Universe, each home to over a billion stars and one central supermassive black hole weighing in at up to a billion times the mass of the Sun. Theoretical astrophysicists think that these supermassive black holes can either heat or remove the cold hydrogen gas within a galaxy needed to form new stars through a huge outburst of energy. This process has to occur in computer simulated universes to stop galaxies evolving and growing too large. However, the big problem is that astronomers have never actually observed this process happening in our Universe.

This talk will focus on the research of astrophysicists trying to understand the conflict between observations of galaxies and their supermassive black holes and the current best model of the Universe. In particular Dr. Smethurst will highlight the work being done by the MaNGA survey team who are attempting to map the insides of over 10,000 galaxies in order to solve this long-standing problem.

Dr Becky Smethurst is an astrophysics research fellow at Christ Church at the University of Oxford working with the innovative data provided by the SDSS MaNGA survey to determine the effects of supermassive black holes on their host galaxies. She was awarded her PhD by the University of Oxford, using the public’s classifications of the shapes of galaxies from the online citizen science project Galaxy Zoo in her thesis on galaxy evolution. She then had a research fellowship at the University of Nottingham where she also started presenting videos for the science YouTube channels Sixty Symbols and Deep Sky Objects.

A slightly edited recording of this lecture is available on the following link.