Monthly Archives: August 2014

Pimms, finger food, and tales of the end of the world

Sounds like a recipe for a good evening, doesn’t it?  That was the menu on offer at the Shropshire Astronomical Society summer social held in Rodington yesterday evening.  I was invited to be the guest speaker at this event, so after lunch I jumped on a train down to Wellington where I met Mandy Bailey, a fellow SPA Council member and one of the officers of Shropshire Astronomical Society, who gave me a lift to the village hall in Rodington (not far from Knockin, the site of one of the e-MERLIN telescopes).

Now, visits to astronomical societies vary; some take you out for dinner, some go to the pub afterwards, some do neither.  This particular evening started with a bring-and-share buffet and a refreshing glass of Pimms – I was most impressed!  Once people had eaten and the mountain of food had diminished somewhat, we formed teams for an astronomical “Quizz” (the extra “z” for redshift perhaps?).  Our team, the Scatterbrains, came close to being disqualified as we had two PhDs at the table, but I did point out that most professional astronomers have pathetically bad sky-knowledge.  With questions ranging from classical composers to energy calculations to song lyrics, I don’t think we actually had much of an advantage!

Following the quiz and the answers, it was time for my talk.  Starting with a brief look at what a galaxy actually is, we moved on to look at a simulation of what happens when they collide (greatly speeded up of course, as the process takes millions of years – and research contracts are generally only three years long!).  We then used M31 as a case study to see the reasons why we use different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum for probing different aspects of galaxies, with a brief detour into how radio interferometry works and why it is such a powerful technique.  We then looked at a series of examples of galactic collisions in various stages of their interactions, including the results of several ongoing studies being carried out by me and my various collaborators.  We ended with a look at what relevance this all has for the future of our own Galaxy, and a note that the timescales are such that there’s no need to start building a rocket in your shed just yet.

Questions from the audience followed, of which there were several good ones, showing that they had certainly been paying attention!  Sadly I had to leave almost as soon as I was finished in order to catch a train home, but not before they presented me with some cider and a lovely box of chocolates, and a Shropshire AS mouse mat with a picture of the Lovell telescope!  The members of the society (the only one of its kind in Shropshire, I learned) are a very friendly bunch and the evening was thoroughly enjoyable.  After torrential rain for most of the morning, and more showers just after I arrived, the sky did clear up during the evening, promising some good observing from the village hall where the sky is reasonably dark.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some people had a very late night!

Shropshire Astronomical Society: friendly members, good food, great venue.  5 stars!