Category for past lectures/events with recordings and/or text version available.

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 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.

Friday 13th October 2023 The Astrophysics of Earth: light-life interactions beyond photosynthesis

Dr Robert Fosbury

Friday 13th October 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Lecture 2 of 4 on the theme ‘Conserving the Planet’ in association with the Herschel Museum of Astronomy

Image shows a chart of spectra and the effect on life © Bob Fosbury

Sunlight is the dominant energy source for Earth’s biosphere. There will be evolutionary advantages for life that make the most effective use of available photons before they finally degrade to heat and radiate back into space. Photosynthesis in cyanobacteria and in plants uses water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to synthesise the sugars that build plant structures. These can be used directly as food for animals to eat but can also be captured and stored for long periods as ‘fossil fuels’.

It has taken over two centuries to gain an understanding of the how photosynthesis works and yet we are only just beginning to appreciate the ways by which light interacts with animal life. Apart from the obvious use of light for vision — the evolution of which is thought to have driven the Cambrian explosion in life’s complexity — we now know that light performs other functions, many of which require photons with colours beyond the visual range but still reaching the biosphere from the Sun. Research is revealing which colours have beneficial effects and which are damaging. Over billions of years, the biosphere has adapted to thrive under the solar spectrum modified during its transmission through the atmosphere. The introduction of artificial lighting on a huge scale over the planet during recent decades is breaking this adaptation in ways that are damaging to life, including humans. This understanding allows us to suggest new lighting strategies that should have very significant health benefits and which could be less costly than the current extravagant overuse of energy-efficient but environmentally damaging white lights.

Robert (Bob) Fosbury is currently an emeritus astronomer at the European Southern Observatory and an honorary professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology at UCL.

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

Friday 8th September 2023 The Right Light at Night

Steve Tonkin

Friday 8th September 2023 7.30 pm – in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom.

Lecture 1 of 4 on the theme ‘Conserving the Planet’ in association with the Herschel Museum of Astronomy

Image is of light polluted and pristine skies in Dorset © Bob Mizon

Light Pollution was first identified as a problem by astronomers, but its consequences reach far wider. It is now widely recognised that artificial light at night, especially bright white light, can have profoundly negative effects on human health, and this is just the tip of an iceberg of harm. The effects on wildlife have been devastating, leading directly to the death of billions of birds each year and being a major driver of the “insect apocalypse” (studies suggest that 40% of insects will be extinct within the next few decades).

The solutions are at hand, are simple to implement, will have a net saving (of money, energy use and carbon emissions) and need not compromise security or our ability to safely work, travel and associate at night. We need to act now before it is too late.

A video recording of this lecture is freely available here.

Friday 5th May 2023 The Quest for Cosmic Dawn

First Results from the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has delivered the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe so far. Webb’s First Deep Field is galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, and it is teeming with thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared.
Image credit: NASA

Friday 5th May 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI and can be attended remotely on Zoom.

Richard Ellis
Professor of Astrophysics, UCL

The first billion years after the Big Bang represent the final frontier in assembling a complete picture of cosmic history. During this period early galaxies formed and the universe first became bathed in light.

How and when did all this occur? Recent progress with the James Webb Space Telescope suggests we may soon witness this dramatic period when the universe emerged from darkness. The motivation is fundamental: the origin of starlight began the chemical evolution which ultimately led to our own existence in this remarkable universe.

Richard Ellis is Professor of Astrophysics at University College London. A Welshman by birth he has held professorial positions at Durham, Cambridge and Oxford universities and spent 16 years at the California Institute of Technology where he was Director of the Palomar Observatory. Richard is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his research achievements in cosmology and galaxy evolution. One of the most highly-cited astronomers, he has recently published a semi-autobiographical account of the progress over his career in studying distant galaxies in “When Galaxies Were Born: The Quest for Cosmic Dawn” (Princeton 2022).

“When Galaxies Were Born: The Quest for Cosmic Dawn” is available from Amazon at a cost of £23 with free delivery on this link: Anyone who brings a copy of the book to the lecture can get it signed by Richard Ellis.

A recording of the lecture is freely available here.

Friday 14th April 2023 Supermassive Black Holes

How to feed them and what happens when you do

Image is an artist’s impression of a black hole with accretion disc.
Image Credit: XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA

Friday 14th April 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI and can be attended remotely on Zoom.

Dr Carolin Villforth
Senior Lecturer, University of Bath

Supermassive black holes are present in the centres of practically all massive galaxies. Through most of their lives they have little impact on their surrounding galaxies. In rare cases, however, gas accretes onto the black hole, turning it into a so called active galactic nucleus. These objects can outshine entire galaxies. I will explain how gas is driven onto supermassive black holes to make them active and how an accreting black hole can impact its host galaxy.

Dr Carolin Villforth is a senior lecturer in the Astrophysics group at University of Bath. Carolin completed her Diplom in Physics at University of Heidelberg in Germany. She obtained her PhD working on variability in accreting black hole systems from University of Turku in Finland. Before moving to Bath, she held research positions at the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, University of Florida and University of St Andrews. Carolin studies the connection between supermassive black holes and galaxy evolution.

A recording of the lecture is freely available here.

Friday 3rd March 2023 Accuracy, Innovation and the Advance of Astronomy 1923 – 2023

Image of Laser guide stars in action at ESO’s VLT – credit: ESO/P. Horálek

Friday 3rd March 2023 7.30 pm given in person at the BRLSI and can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom.

Professor Mike Edmunds
President of the RAS and Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics at Cardiff University

How have advances in technology changed astronomy over the past 100 years? In this talk I will show just how closely discovery has followed technical innovation, allowing observations that would previously have seemed impossible. Obviously great advances have come with spaceflight allowing observations from outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but two other factors have also been crucial – the development of efficient detectors of electromagnetic radiation and the application of computers to both instrument control and data analysis. Driving down experimental errors in pursuit of ever-more accurate measurements has been important too. I will particularly highlight advances in cosmology, the nature of galactic nuclei and the discovery of exoplanets.

Mike Edmunds is Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University in Wales. Both his first degree (Natural Sciences) and Ph.D (Astronomy) were from the University of Cambridge. He moved to Cardiff University in 1974, where he was in succession Research Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor, serving as Head of School between 2002 and 2005. Prof. Edmunds. main areas of research have been in the determination and interpretation of the chemical composition of galaxies and the Universe, and on the origin of interstellar dust.

In recent years he has worked in the history of astronomy. He also has particular interests in physics education and public outreach. He has served on the Councils (and many committees and panels) of the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Council. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was the 2004 George Darwin lecturer on “The Elementary Universe” for the Royal Astronomical Society, and has just retired as Chair of their Astronomical Heritage Committee. He is also Chair of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, Chair and Member of the Institute of Physics Curriculum and Welsh Education Committees and a vice-president of the Herschel Society.

A recording of this lecture is freely available here.

Friday 3rd February 2023 Ireland and the Herschels – Some Surprising Connections

Image of Michael Burton in front of the Armagh Observatory and the Troughton Dome, where the oldest telescope in the world still in its original dome resides: credit (c) Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

Friday 3rd February 2023 7.30 pm from Northern Ireland and can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom.

Professor Michael Burton
Director, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus in 1781– the first new planet found by humanity since antiquity – made him famous overnight.  It is just one of many discoveries – by William, Caroline and John – that have left their impact on science. 
Less well known are the Irish connections to their astronomical endeavours.  Inspired by the discovery of Uranus, Archbishop Richard Robinson (who knew Herschel in Bath), the Primate of All-Ireland, founded Armagh Observatory in 1790.  Armagh is now the longest running observatory in the British Isles continuously used for astronomical research.  The famous NGC Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars was compiled in Armagh in 1888, following on from John Herschel’s General Catalogue, using a telescope that still works today. 
Motivated by Herschel’s building of the “40 foot”, the 3rd Earl of Rosse built his 6-foot diameter Leviathan at Birr Castle in Ireland in 1845, so succeeding it as the worlds’ largest telescope.  His son, the 4th Earl, followed Herschel’s discovery of infrared radiation from the Sun by making the first observation of the infrared with a telescope – finding it was also emitted by the Moon, so beginning the field of infrared astronomy.
The connections between the Herschels and Ireland are multifarious.  Armagh Observatory and Planetarium’s Director, Professor Michael Burton, will expand on some of them.  His own research career can be said to be following in the Herschels’ footsteps.  It began in Edinburgh studying cosmic sources of infrared radiation using one of the first telescopes specially built for the infrared – the UKIRT in Hawaii.  So important has the field now become that the James Webb Space Telescope – the most expensive telescope in history – was built specifically to observe the cosmos in the infrared.
In past decade Michael has been studying the structure of our Galaxy – another field started by the Herschel’s – using radio telescopes in Australia to map giant clouds of molecules where stars are forming.  His talk will also touch on this work and reflect on the profound effect the Herschel’s have had on astronomy today.

A recording of this lecture is freely available here.

Tuesday 15th November 2022 Unveiling the Dark Universe with the Dark Energy Survey

The Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture 2022

7.00 pm Tuesday 15th November 2022 at the 10E 0.17 Lecture Theatre, University of Bath and online via Zoom

Dr Alexandra Amon
University of Cambridge

Dr Amon uses observational data for over 100 million galaxies and a technique called ‘gravitational lensing’ in order to test the Standard Cosmological Model. The intriguing results she and her collaborators find hint at cracks in the currently accepted model for our Universe, which is mostly dark, with over 95 percent of it in the form of dark energy and dark matter, whose natures are the biggest mysteries in modern physics.

In her Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture entitled “Unveiling the Dark Universe with the Dark Energy Survey”, Dr Amon will describe some of the mind-blowing historical moments leading to the paradigm-change, the challenges in the field, the Dark Energy Survey and its results, including the experimental process – from nights at the remote telescope to hurdles in the data analysis. The conclusions will guide the audience to appreciate current mysteries and future directions.

Dr Amon is an expert in cosmology and a Senior Kavli Fellow at the Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Before this, she was a Fellow at Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She obtained her Masters degree and PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2018 and has numerous awards, such as the Michael Penston Thesis Prize/Fermilab Tollestrup Award. Dr Amon is co-coordinator of the Weak Lensing group of the worldwide collaboration “The Dark Energy Survey”, including over 100 members.

the video of Alex Amon’s lecture is now available on Youtube, here.

Friday 4th November 2022 Views of the Universe with the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory’s Sharp Eyes

Image (of the Chandra X-ray Observatory) credit: (c) CXC/SAO/NASA

Friday 4 November 2022 7.30 pm BRLSI in-person and Zoom lecture

Professor Belinda Wilkes
University of Bristol

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched on 23 July 1999 by the Space Shuttle Columbia. Now in its 23rd year of operations, Chandra continues to be an indispensable tool for expanding the frontiers of knowledge throughout astrophysics. Chandra’s uniquely high (subarcsec) spatial, and spectral resolution have facilitated the deepest and sharpest images of the X-ray sky to date, resulting in changing paradigms in multiple celestial source types. Combining the X-ray data with that from optical, infrared, and radio telescopes gives us an even deeper understanding of each source. I will review Chandra’s unique capabilities, and take us on a tour of some of the most spectacular discoveries across the whole range of celestial sources. These include the birth and death of stars, super-massive black holes, active galaxies, clusters of galaxies, dark matter, merging neutron stars, and more.

Professor Belinda Wilkes is a Royal Society Wolfson Visiting Fellow at the School of Physics, University of Bristol. She recently retired as a Senior Astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) (Cambridge, MA, USA), where she served as Director of the Chandra X-ray Center, which operates NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, from 2014-2020.
Wilkes received her BSc (Hons) in Astronomy and Physics from St. Andrews University, Scotland in 1978 and her PhD in Astronomy from Jesus College, University of Cambridge, England in 1982. She spent two years as a NATO postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, and moved to CfA’s High Energy Astrophysics Division in 1984. She is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, American Astronomical Society, American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Cambridge Philosophical Society, and a member of the International Astronomical Union, and the European Astronomical Society. She has received numerous awards, including the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Medal, 5 NASA Group Achievement Awards, and a NASA MSFC Director’s Commendation, and many Smithsonian Institution Exceptional Accomplishment Awards. In 2018 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge University.
Wilkes’ research involves X-ray and multi-wavelength studies of active galaxies: super-massive black holes in galaxy nuclei. She is author and co-author of over 490 science publications, including 170 refereed papers, two books, several book chapters, and multiple articles and interviews in the public media.

the video recording of this lecture is now freely available on the Virtual BRLSI YouTube channel here.