Join us for a rare opportunity to hear astrophysicists talk about the latest research in the fields of astronomy, physics, planetary geology and space exploration.
29 April 2022
Why does the length of a day on Saturn change over time?
Nahid Chowdhury (University of Leicester)
The length of a day on Saturn has been changing constantly ever since the first sophisticated proxy measurements were taken by the Voyager I and II spacecraft back in the 1980s and then later by the NASA Cassini spacecraft in the early 2000s. Using ground-based observations of Saturn's infrared northern aurorae, we carried out our own unique experiment to try and detect the hypothesised "twin-vortex" mechanism in the planet's atmosphere that is suggested to drive the changes in Saturn's rotation rate. In this talk, we'll present the results of this experiment as well as a staggering discovery that answered one of the longest standing questions in planetary science.
Nahid was born in Oldham but grew up in Leicester which is where he attended primary school all the way through to university, graduating with an MPhys Physics with Astrophysics degree in 2017 before starting his PhD in planetary science, which he is set to finish in 2022. His primary research focus is on the infrared aurorae of the gas giant planets and his work involves observing the aurorae of Jupiter and Saturn using major ground-based telescopes and then investigating the impact of these emissions on the wider local planetary environments at large. He led the recent study which addressed why Saturn's rotation rate is subject to change over the course of several years. He also supports the foundation year teaching in physics and maths at the University of Leicester and is a keen public outreach enthusiast which led him to holding paid positions at both the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London and the National Space Centre in Leicester.
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Dr Vassilia Spathis (University of Kent)
The icy moons in our outer Solar System are postulated to be some of the most likely places to find evidence of life close to Earth. This is largely due to the presence of subsurface oceans, with upcoming missions setting out to search for bio-significant molecules and ingredients for life. In this talk, we will briefly explore some of the icy moons and prebiotic ice chemistry that are of interest to space scientists and the search for life in our Solar System.
Dr Vassilia Spathis started as a Forensic Science and Chemistry graduate, before acquiring a PhD in Physics in 2020. She has since been working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Space Science and Astrochemistry at the University of Kent investigating whether hypervelocity impacts could be responsible for the synthesis of prebiotic molecules in our Solar System, with a particular focus on the outer Solar System icy moons.
Hannah Banks (University of Cambridge)
Take a look around you. Everything that you can see has interacted with the light entering your eyes – that’s what allows you to observe it. However nearly 85% of matter in the Universe doesn’t behave in this way. It can be neither seen nor felt. Whilst this mysterious “Dark Matter” vastly dominates over the visible Universe, it has never actually been detected. In fact, we still do not even know what it is….In this talk we will explore the astrophysical and cosmological phenomena which indicate that there must be more to Universe than what we can see, before turning to how scientists around the world are racing to pin down the nature and properties of this mysterious substance.
Hannah Banks is a PhD student in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge where she is researching theories “Beyond-the-Standard Model” of particle physics. At present, she is particularly interested in how Quantum technologies could be used to probe unanswered questions in fundamental physics, such as the nature of Dark Matter. She previously completed an MSci in Physics at Imperial College and has worked as both an explainer and planetarium presenter at the Royal Observatory Greenwich for several years.
Dr Stephen Wilkins (Head of Astronomy, University of Sussex)
The James Webb Space Telescope, or Webb, is the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Like Hubble before it, Webb is an international mission, featuring strong involvement from the UK and Europe. Ultimately thousands of scientists from across the world will use Webb to answer outstanding questions including: when and how did the first stars and galaxies form, and, what do the atmospheres of alien planets contain?
Born and raised in Yorkshire, Stephen completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Durham before gaining his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. Following a short spell in Oxford, Stephen was appointed a lecturer at the University of Sussex. Today Stephen is a Reader and Head of Astronomy at Sussex.
Dr Pooja Surajbali (Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics)
The High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) gamma-ray observatory, located in Mexico, is designed to detect signals generated from the most energetic electromagnetic waves which, in turn, were emitted by sources in the sky. In this talk, Dr Pooja Surajbali will present the development and application of novel data analysis and modelling techniques to observations from HAWC. She will discuss how she used these data analysis tools to perform blind searches for extended structures in the very high-energy gamma-ray sky which culminated in the discovery of an exciting, previously unseen and mysterious region of gamma-ray emission.
Dr Pooja Surajbali was born in Mauritius where she studied up to her Bachelor which was in Physics with minor in Astrophysics at the University of Mauritius. In 2014, she was awarded the State of Mauritius Postgraduate Scholarship to do a Masters in Astrophysics at University College London and then proceeded to do her Doctoral studies at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in association with the Ruprecht-Karl University of Heidelberg. Her doctoral research involved the development of an array of sophisticated data analysis tools and their application to gamma-ray observations from the HAWC observatory. She is now a full-time postdoctoral researcher at MPIK.
Lord Dover (University of Kent)
The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program - but we do. In this talk, Lord Dover - a PhD student researching near-Earth asteroids - will explain the ongoing efforts by scientists and engineers to protect Earth from deadly asteroid impacts. He will describe how astronomers detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids and the technologies we could use to deflect them. Lord will also discuss the recent loss of Arecibo Observatory in the context of planetary defence and look at NASA’s upcoming DART mission.
Lord is a third year PhD student at the University of Kent researching how Solar radiation drives the physical evolution of small asteroids. He previously studied at the University of Hertfordshire, obtaining a BSc in Astrophysics and an MSc in Astronomy. Lord has also previously worked as a science communicator at Bayfordbury Observatory, where he was a presenter in the UK’s largest mobile planetarium. Most recently, he has been generating 3D computer models of asteroids using data from optical telescopes and planetary radar facilities.
Dr Angelos Tsiaras (University College London)
Today, we have discovered more than 4000 exoplanets – planets that do not belong to our Solar System and are orbiting around other stars. So far, we know that there are all sorts of different exoplanets: rocky or gaseous, small or large, hot or cold, but we don’t know much about them. One of the questions that most of us want to know is if any of these planets is suitable for us to live on it. In his talk, Dr Angelos Tsiaras will discuss what it takes to find a habitable planet other than the Earth, and how close are we in achieving this goal.
Angelos is an astronomer and physicist, currently working as a senior research fellow at University College London (UCL) and as a part-time astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. He holds a BSc in Physics from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a PhD in Astronomy from UCL. Angelos has been studying and working in the field of exoplanets for the last ten years, with most of his work being around the characterisation of the atmospheres of exoplanets with the Hubble Space Telescope. More recently, together with his colleagues discovered the atmosphere with water vapour around a habitable-zone exoplanet, K2-18b. Angelos’ expertise is on astronomical data analysis, both with ground-based and spaced-based telescopes, and he is developing user-friendly scientific tools that are used both within and outside academia, as he is strongly supporting Open Science and the collaboration between the public, amateur astronomers and professional astronomers.
Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder (Royal Observatory Greenwich)
The discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus might just possibly be an indicator that there is some form of life in the clouds of the hottest planet in our Solar System. In this talk, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer Emily Drabek-Maunder – who is also a co-author of the key paper about this discovery – explains how astronomers can use telescope observations of gas to search for life beyond the Earth. She will discuss the recent discovery of phosphine in Venus' clouds, what it means and what happens next.
Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder is an astrophysicist and Senior Manager of Public Astronomy at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. For the past ten years, she has studied the formation of solar systems using long wavelength telescopes (infrared to radio) located around the world. She obtained her PhD in Physics from the University of Exeter studying the formation of stars and BSc in Physics and Mathematics from Loyola University New Orleans. Emily has previously worked as a researcher at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago, USA, Imperial College London and Cardiff University. She is a part of the research team that recently announced the discovery of phosphine, a possible biosignature, in the atmosphere of Venus.