The night was pretty cloudy, so we didn't get the chance to actually do any stargazing, but the evening was still very well managed and attended, and I still had a lot of fun (and learnt a lot!) After an introduction from Dr. Graham Smith, Simon Stevenson gave us an excellent presentation on observing black holes.
We learnt that black holes are relatively easy to see if they are next to another star (although the radio and X-ray images look nothing like the very glamorous artistic impression from NASA on the left) but if that second star collapses and you have two black holes next to each other, then it becomes very difficult to see anything at all. However, these black holes will orbit one another, with the orbit slowly decreasing in size until they combine. This combination causes a ripple in space time (coolest phrase ever??!) and produces gravitational waves. It also produces a sound! He introduced the LIGO - a massive experiment set up to try and measure these gravitational waves.
After the talks there would normally be telescopes out in chancellors court, but because of the weather we were inside. There were still lots of things to look at and do, including some very fancy telescopes that you could program to track specific features across the sky. I was surprised at how short the telescopes were! By adding in a series of reflections, the effective length can be increased in what appears to be a short casing, like the orange one on the left.
|A telescope built by a former member of UoB's AstroSoc|
They also had a lycra universe which gave an awesome demonstration of how the planets orbit the sun - it's the first time I've seen a golf ball painted like the Sun before! After asking lots of questions about the inner workings of the LIGO, and battling each other on the computer at "Big Bang pong" we left chatting excitedly about all the things we'd learnt, and wondering how we could get our work in the Chemistry department even half as engaging...
The next of these event is on the 25th March, and I'm already crossing my fingers for clear skies!