Science is deeply rooted within society and culture and while, at the Flamsteed, we are incredibly privileged to have access to talks from professionals in the field of astronomy, there is tremendous value in hearing the voice of people who have not dedicated their working careers to the subject. There is a great breadth of knowledge and personal experience that can be drawn from our society’s very own members. It had been a few years since Flamsteed members were invited to give a short talk to the Flamsteed audience on an astronomically themed subject of their choosing so it was decided that the evening of Tuesday 1st May, would be a good time to bring these talks back.
An eclectic programme of short, 15-minute and 30-minute talks, covering a wide range of topics had each been carefully prepared by five knowledgeable volunteers. The promise of an interesting evening had meant that the event was fully booked and a crowded audience eagerly awaited the talks to begin in the foyer of the Peter Harrison Planetarium.
First up was Adrian Challinor with a talk on Project DRAX at the Spaceguard Centre. Located in the Welsh Marches, the Spaceguard Centre is a working observatory that specialises in the search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and is the main source of information about NEOs in the UK. Having visited the Centre in 2017, Adrian recalled the great visitor experience that it had provided and discussed the project to install a 24-inch Schmidt Camera that the Centre had recently taken ownership of to conduct a wide-field sky survey to detect NEOs and other transient phenomena.
Andy Sawers was next with his talk, Claudius Ptolemy and the Almagest. Andy introduced us to the second century Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy and provided a description of the treatise that Ptolemy had written on the apparent motions of the stars and planets. This work became known as The Greatest Compilation and it established the model of a geocentric universe, a scientific schema that would be followed and unchallenged for more than a thousand years until Nicolaus Copernicus published his heliocentric theory.
Astronomical Mirror Coating was the subject of the next talk, delivered by Stan Payne. Holding up a light bulb, Stan presented us with an example of a thermionic valve (vacuum tube). Drawing upon his professional experience of working with vacuum tubes, Stan outlined other uses for vacuums, specifically focusing on the coating of astronomical mirrors which can be achieved with precision vacuum technology.
Next to take to the stage was Bobby Manoo, with his mysteriously titled talk, Exoplanets: The Truth Is Out There. Bobby talked about the discovery of exoplanets and the various processes used to detect them. Touching upon habitable zones and the possibility of extraterrestrial life existing somewhere out there, our imaginations were stirred further by a depiction of where it is believed that our solar system is located within the Milky Way galaxy. Correlations were drawn between where exoplanets have been detected (i.e. how far we have explored in our search for extrasolar planets) and the explored galaxy in the fictional TV series, Star Trek.
Finally, Jan Cernohorsky addressed the subject of stellar evolutionary stages with his talk entitled, Supernovae: Mass Is Destiny. Beginning by defining stars, with the help of a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, Jan explained that depending upon its initial mass, every star goes through specific evolutionary stages dictated by its internal structure and how it produces energy. A description of the core-burning nuclear fusion stages was punctuated by movies showing three-dimensional core-collapse supernova simulations.
Listening to talks delivered by Flamsteed members is always enjoyable and this was certainly no exception. It was a special evening – one that we hope to repeat again in the future.