Wednesday 3rd April 2024 Introduction to John Herschel

Dr Emily Winterburn

Wednesday 3rd April 2024 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Meet John Herschel,  much less famous today than either his father or his aunt yet in his day he represented the very definition of what a scientist should be.  In 1824, as the BRLSI began, he too was just starting out. On the 8 June, there will be a Conference dedicated to every aspect of the life & work of this great man, but for today let’s just get to know him. What did he do? Why should we care about him? What were his politics? What was his family life like? Come along on 3rd March and find out.

This introduction to John Herschel will prepare us for the all-day conference on Saturday 8th June 2024,

Emily Winterburn is one of the authors for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to John Herschel. She is also the author of a biography of John’s aunt, Caroline Herschel (The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel, 2017) and completed her PhD on the Herschel family in 2011. She is the former curator of astronomy at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Today she is a teacher and writer living in Leeds. She is also honorary vice president of the Society for the History of Astronomy.

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

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.

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.