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.

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

Autumn 2023 Lecture Programme, Theme ‘Conserving the Planet’

The Bath Preservation Trust Museums are looking at ‘Conservation in Action’ this year, and for the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, this is focused on ‘Conserving the Planet’. The Herschel Society have agreed to collaborate with them on a shared lecture programme on this theme which will consist of 4 lectures given from September to December 2023 at the BRLSI, Queen Square, Bath.

Friday 8th September 2023The Right Light at NightSteve Tonkin
Friday 13th October 2023The Astrophysics of Earth: light-life interactions beyond photosynthesisDr Robert Fosbury
Friday 3rd November 2023A cluttered and noisy sky? Meeting the challenge of satellite constellations (and why you should care)Dr Robert Massey
Friday 1st December 2023Space debris: Hazards, Situational awareness and responsible use of spaceDr Philippe Blondel

Friday 2 December 2022 The Fermi Paradox, or “Where is Everybody?”

Friday 2 December 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI in-person and Zoom lecture

Michael Perryman
Adjunct Professor, University College Dublin

This talk examines the question of whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Universe. The simple answer is that we do not know. But by looking at the huge numbers of stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy and beyond, the vast numbers of planets now known to exist around them, and the immense age of the Universe throughout which life might have developed, we can formulate the question in a different way: if alien civilisations have developed elsewhere, surely we might see some sorts of evidence for their existence? In 1950, the distinguished physicist Enrico Fermi famously formulated the paradox as ‘Where is everybody?’. Others have referred to it as the ‘Great Silence’ problem. It turns out to be a deceptively simple question that presents a challenge for theories assuming a naturalistic origin of life and intelligence, and possibly one with some alarming conclusions.  I will look at the problem in a number of ways, including:  What is life? Do we have any ideas of how common life, or intelligent life might be? Is the Earth special in the conditions under which life on our planet formed?  What sorts of searches for life are being carried out today?  And if we find nothing, what are the implications of one possible conclusion: that we are alone in the Universe…

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 space astrometry mission between 1981-1997, and of the follow-on Gaia space astrometry mission between 1995-2008. 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, the Tycho Brahe Prize of the European Astronomical Society, and the international Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2022. He has held a position as Adjunct Professor, University College Dublin since 2013.

This lecture was not recorded.

Friday 23 Sep 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI Film showing – William Herschel and the Universe

Director George Sibley

Image credit: (c)

This event is part of H200 – the Herschel Society’s celebration of William Herschel on the bicentenary of his death.

William Herschel, a 42 year old musician and amateur astronomer, discovered the first “new” planet in history in 1781. His telescopes, observations and theories transformed what was the clockwork universe imagined by Isaac Newton into the evolutionary and wonder-filled cosmos we know today. This is the story of how modern astronomy took shape under the pre-industrial skies of the 18th century.

George Sibley is a film director based in Florida. He plans to be present to introduce the film, and to answer questions in the discussion that follows. A trailer of the film is available here.

The film is available on Amazon.

Sept/Oct 2022 Herschel 200: This month we marked the bicentenary of the death of William Herschel in 1822 with a series of three very special events:

Friday 23 Sep 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI Film showing – William Herschel and the Universe. The film director, George Sibley, from Florida, will introduce the film and answer questions afterwards.

Friday 30 Sep 2022 7.30 pm St Swithin’s Church, The Paragon, Bath – Concert: A Celebration of William Herschel’s Music, Performed by The Bristol Ensemble and the Vauxhall Players and introduced by Dr Matthew Spring.

Saturday 1 Oct 2022 09:30 – 17:45 BRLSI All-day conference – A Celebration of William Herschel’s Astronomy

You can also attend the two BRLSI events remotely on Zoom. Click on the above links for more information and further links to video recordings and the 3-D virtual telescope,

A full list of Herschel 200 events, including those of other organisations in the UK and other countries can be seen here – International Herschel 200 event list.

Friday 6 May 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI Zoom lecture projected at the BRLSI and delivered from Cambridge 21-cm Radio Cosmology with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): What happened after the Big Bang?

Dr Eloy de Lera Acedo
University of Cambridge.

Image credit: (c) SKA Organisation/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

In this talk Dr de Lera Acedo will discuss the science behind understanding how the first stars formed and ionised the intergalactic medium, ~ 300 Myears after the Big Bang, effectively transforming a mostly simple and empty Universe into the realm of complex celestial objects we now know it to be today. The SKA, with its unprecedented imaging capabilities, will in a few years be able to image this unexplored epoch of the infant Universe, and a series of precursor instruments are already paving the way. He will discuss these, their science cases and their latest results.

Dr de Lera Acedo is a STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow at the Cavendish Astrophysics laboratory of the University of Cambridge, from where he leads the Cavendish Radio Cosmology group and the REACH (Radio Experiment for the Analysis of Cosmic Hydrogen) project. Dr de Lera Acedo’s career started designing radio antennas and modelling and calibration techniques for the Square Kilometre Array telescope, and over the last decade has transitioned to cosmology research of the early epochs of the Universe using highly precise calibrated radiometers. The Cosmic Dawn (birth of the first stars) and the Epoch of Re-ionization (subsequent shaping of the InterGalactic Medium by those first stars) are the two unexplored epochs under study by Dr de Lera Acedo’s group at Cambridge.

Dr de Lera Acedo will give the lecture remotely from Cambridge via Zoom. It can be attended remotely on Zoom or in the room at the BRLSI where it will projected. 

This talk was being given remotely from Cambridge and 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 1 April 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI Zoom lecture projected at the BRLSI and delivered from Texas The Water Cycle of a Cold Early Mars and its Potential Role in the Persistence of a Northern Ocean

Stephen Clifford
Senior Research Scientist with the Planetary Science Institute in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Image credit: (c) National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Investigations by robotic spacecraft have provided persuasive evidence that early Mars was water-rich, hosting numerous lakes and possibly a northern ocean that covered as much as a third of the planet. This talk will review the evidence for such an ocean as well as the process that may have affected its timing, duration, and ultimate loss.

Steve Clifford has cooperated with Mike Carr who gave the lecture on 5th November last year on Mars: Ancient rivers, lakes and oceans. But where is the water now? – so this lecture will follow on from Mike Carr’s.

Stephen Clifford is a Senior Research Scientist with the Planetary Science Institute in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he conducts research on the hydrologic and climatic behavior of water on Mars. His research has included studies of the stability and replenishment of Martian ground ice; glacial flow and polar evolution; the seismic and hydrologic effects of impact cratering; large-scale groundwater transport; and the and geophysical investigations of planetary environments with deep-sounding radars. Steve has been involved with radar investigations on a number of European Space Agency missions including the MARSIS orbital radar sounder on the Mars Express, the CONSERT radar on the Rosetta comet mission, and the WISDOM Ground penetrating radar on the ExoMars rover (which will be launched in September). He received his Master’s in Physics and PhD in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts.

This talk was being given remotely from Texas and the video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel. Please go the following link to view it.

Saturday 5th March 2022 18:00 GMT – Free Zoom Webinar: New Views of William Herschel (1738 – 1822)

In Memory of Michael Hoskin (1930-2021)

Professor Woodruff T Sullivan (University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.)
Sarah Waltz (University of the Pacific, Stockton, Cal.)
John Mulligan (Rice University, Houston, Tex.)
David Koerner (Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ariz.)
Clifford Cunningham (University of Southern Queensland, Austin, Tex.)
Stephen Case (Olivet Nazarene University, Kankakee, Ill.)

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of William Herschel’s death, “New Views of William Herschel (1738-1822)” will be presented as a Zoom session (“Webinar”) on Saturday 5 March 2022 at 1300 ET (US & Canada). The session is dedicated to the memory of the preeminent Herschel scholar Michael Hoskin(1930-2021), and sponsored by the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society. There are six talks over a period of three hours, including a 15-minute break.

“New Views” refers largely to Herschel’s non-astronomical life, in particular musical and other aspects of his life in Hanover, Yorkshire, and Bath before he became an astronomer following his discovery of Uranus in 1781 at age 42. Two of the presentations include many selections from his musical compositions, and a third looks at how Herschel’s fame and discoveries led to his inclusion in poetry. Two others look at his close research connections with his sister Caroline and son John.

All are invited to attend, participate via “Zoom Chat”, and ask questions of speakers. The full program (including abstracts) is available as a downloadable PDF here.

Start time is Saturday 5 March 2022 at 1300 ET (US & Canada) = 1800 GMT. If you are unable to attend the Webinar, note that the entire Session has been recorded and is available here.

Friday 4th March 2022 BRLSI in-person lecture also available online

The James Webb: The Next Generation of Hubble Telescope

Professor Martin Ward
Emeritus Temple Chevallier Professor of Astronomy at Durham University.

Image credit: (c) National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Hubble Space Telescope has become an icon of Astronomy and it is now more than 30 years old. The new and much more powerful James Webb Space Telescope will soon extend our frontiers of observation. Professor Martin Ward has been involved in this exciting project for many years, and in this lecture he will give you a flavour of what is to come.

Lecturer background

Martin received his BSc. From Imperial College London. He then studied for his Masters and PhD degrees at Sussex University, combined with working at The Royal Greenwich Observatory, based at Herstmonceux Castle, in Sussex. He then accepted a Fellowship at Cambridge University. After this he moved to the USA, and worked at the University of Washington in Seattle, on preparations for the launch of Hubble Space Telescope, before returning to the UK to take up a lectureship at Oxford University. His first appointment as a professor was at Leicester University, where he was involved in the National Space Centre project based in Leicester. In 2004 he move to Durham to become the first holder of the title Temple Chevallier Professor of Astronomy. At Durham University he was Head of the Physics Department and the Science Director of the Institute of Advanced Study.

He has been an advisor to NASA and the European Space Agency in various roles, and has been associated with the James Webb Space Telescope project for more than 20 years. He has published nearly 400 papers in scientific journals. He has long standing interests in public outreach, and has appeared on the Sky at Night, with Patrick Moore, In Our Time, with Melvyn Bragg, and Start the Week, with Andrew Marr.


NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight ready James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

This represents the first six of 18 segments that will form NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror for space observations. Engineers began final round-the-clock cryogenic testing to confirm that the mirrors will respond as expected to the extreme temperatures of space prior to integration into the telescope’s permanent housing structure.

The video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI Youtube Channel: go to the following link to view it.

Friday 4th February 2022 BRLSI Zoom lecture projected at the BRLSI and delivered from California

A Tour of the Dynamic Universe

Dr Jeffrey Scargle
NASA Ames Research Center, retired.

Image credit: (c) National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Casual observation of the night sky leads one to view the Universe as well-ordered and stable, changing only in minor ways and regularly, smoothly and predictably at that. Even intensive study with telescopes — starting with Galileo, and including William Herschel, Edwin Hubble and many others — only reinforced this vision of a Clockwork Universe. Space-based missions (including the Herschel and Hubble Observatories, named after the mentioned pioneers) opening up new wavelengths, as well as advances in technology enabling better ways of discovery, have led to a quite opposite view: the Dynamic Universe. This talk is essentially a guided tour of some remarkable events in this ever-changing, highly active universe. We start nearby with the Earth and our Sun, transit the Solar System, pass by exploding stars, active galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, ending with perhaps the most dramatic events of all: merging black holes, accessible through a completely new mode of observation in the form of gravitational radiation, “ripples in space-time.”

Jeff Scargle graduated from Pomona College and gained a PhD from the California Institute of Technology. Subsequently he was at the
University of California at Santa Cruz, Lick Observatory and then became a research astrophysicist in the Astrobiology and Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center.

This talk is being given remotely from California and can be attended either remotely on Zoom or at the BRLSI where it will projected. 

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