Will Gater - "Alien Worlds" Lecture

On Wednesday we were treated to an enthralling lecture by returning speaker, Will Gater. 

Will, an Astrophysics graduate of UCL, is a freelance journalist of astronomy, author of several books and a regular presenter on TV and radio. 
Entitled "Alien Worlds: the extraordinary inhabitants of the Milky Way" Will took us on a spectacular tour of the burgeoning field of Exoplanets.  Setting the scene with Ancient Greek and Middle Ages philosophical reflections on the Plurality of Worlds, he took us through the groundbreaking discoveries of exoplanets,  namely those around Pulsar PSR B1257+12 in 1992, detected by investigating radio pulse anomalies, and then those orbiting a main sequence star, 51 Pegasi, identified in 1995 by the radial velocity method.  
Will continued to explain in detail the various methods of detection employed,  including the transit method, gravitational micro-lensing and the aforementioned radial velocity "Doppler shift" technique.  The Kepler mission, of course, featured largely and how its astonishing catalogue of discoveries continues despite its severely curtailed capabilities owing to mechanical problems.  
Will related the initial shock and still not fully understood nature of exoplanetary systems and their dissimilarity to our own.  The plethora of close orbiting  "hot Jupiters" and "super Earths" and corresponding paucity of systems structured like our Solar System is a distinct puzzle for near-future projects such as the EELT, JWT, TESS and others to try and solve. 
Having outlined the caveats in getting too excited about Earth-sized worlds in "Goldilocks Zones" around other stars, Will finished his brilliant (and non-stop!) talk on a fine up-note by presenting  the staggering extrapolated statistics of Earth-sized,  temperate worlds in the Milky Way.  There are probably billions out there,  he concluded, as we applauded another truly excellent evening and speaker at WAS lecture-night.

Mark Cullen

Cosmic Kidz and Stargazing Live

On Sunday 2nd April 2017 Wycombe Astronomical Society held its second Cosmic Kidz event.....an astromomy and science show for families. This year we were able to tie this in with the BBC's Stargazing Live programmes, being broadcast from Australia.

The event started at 2.15pm at a new venue - Amersham School in Amersham. Guests streamed in steadily from the start and this continued throughout the afternoon. It is difficult to estimate numbers but there must have been 130 or so and all were treated to a fun afternoon. Firstly, the sun was shining! This meant that the children and adults could enjoy some solar viewing. Several members had set up their telescopes and solar scopes which allowed for safe viewing of solar prominences and sun spots.

Inside there was a variety of displays and exhibits. We had 5 planetarium shows throughout the afternoon and each one was full. This was run for us by Mark at The Black Hole planetarium and all children and adults came out saying that they had learnt something. There was space food for the children to try - freezedried ice cream and freezedried strawberries. The mint chocolate ice cream was particularly nice! Paul Hill from the European Space Agency put on an excellent show - with explosions and "count downs" and the opportunity to wear a genuine spacesuit. WAS member, 13 year old Rio, gave two excellent talks which were well received and we had an indoor telescope display too.

The children had the opportunity to enter a competition by answering questions related to the show....what is the area in space called in which you have to wear a space suit in order to survive? (The Armstrong Line), Identify the object down the microscope (head louse), How is space food preserved?  (freeze dried) etc. The winning entry won a digital microscope. There was also the prize raffle in which a "GoTo" scope was the first prize and a pair of binoculars the second.

The lovely clear weather continued into the evening which allowed the second part of our event - the Stargazing Live part - to take place. This was just as busy as the daytime event and children and adults were treated to many a fine object. For a lucky few that arrived early the planet Mercury was a real highlight. Jupiter, another big highlight rose later in the evening and this produced the usual wows. M37 a lovely cluster in Auriga, M42 - Orion Nebula, the Moon and other objects were on display throughout the evening.

Huge thanks must go to all members who helped during the day and evening...no matter how big or small a role each member had it was a real team effort that made the event so successful one.


Stargazing at Waddesdon Manor

Over 60 guests at Waddesdon Manor enjoyed a rewarding stargazing evening in the company of members of Wycombe Astronomical Society. Following a leisurely dinner (while waiting for the clouds to disappear!) the guests listened to a short talk in the Powerhouse by Sandy Giles entitled “Celestial Signposts” – all about using constellations and stars to locate astronomical objects in the night sky. Then, thankfully, the skies cleared and the guests joined about fifteen WAS members on the parterre to see a wide range of objects through telescopes – Jupiter, M42, M3, M45 to name a few. Mark Cullen’s cumulative image stacking setup was particularly popular, showing spectacular views of the Leo Triplet, M81/M82, M51 and M101. All the guests were very appreciative of this now regular outreach event and as an indication of just how lucky we were with the weather, the roads all the way home were wet indicating that rain had fallen  - everywhere else but Waddesdon!


Dark energy and the ever-expanding Universe - Professor Carolin Crawford – Wednesday 21st September 2016

Photo by: Morton Hardaker 

Photo by: Morton Hardaker 

This lecture was given by Carolin Crawford, an experienced observational astronomer who also has a significant role in the public communication of science.  

A rapt audience of sixty-five was treated to fast-paced summary of the more recent history of Cosmology. Professor Crawford’s exciting, accessible talk was enjoyed by all. 

The topic focused on key questions. How did the Universe begin? What will happen to it in the future? The talk began with the concept of gravity as the key player in the Universe. It was Newton who was able to demonstrate the physical cause that kept the planets in orbit around the Sun. Newtonian mechanics was phenomenally successful, but was unable to explain everything. One of its failures was in explaining the precession of Mercury. 

The talk jumped to the early 20th century and Einstein. His field equations did away with Newton’s ideas and instead relied on a geometric description of space and time. The mass of bodies in space curved the space-time around it; the bigger the mass the greater the curvature. The theory explained things where Newton’s theory had failed.

A Universe containing other galaxies arrived with the observations of Edwin Hubble. As did the idea of an expanding Universe and, consequentially, the theory of the Big Bang. 

The rate at which this expansion has taken and is taking place was key to the rest of the lecture. The idea of Dark Matter was introduced to explain the motion of galaxies, the large scale structure of the universe and the structure of Cosmic Background Radiation. The concept of Dark Energy was then needed to explain the unexpectedly faster acceleration of the expansion of the Universe.

It was encouraging for the Society that even more younger members are attending our lectures. We seem to be experiencing our own period of expansion.