Scheduled Discussion Topics:

Please note the talks start at slightly different times because they vary in length and the aim is to finish them around 9.30pm, so they will start promptly. Arrive early if you want to settle down and listen to them with a cup of tea or coffee.

The Golden Age of Exoplanet Exploration Part 2.

18th May 8.45pm

Since the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star in 1995, several thousand more have been discovered. We’ve peered into the atmospheres of some, and we’ve found whole families of planets orbiting strange stars -- many in configurations starkly different from our own. We’ve learned a lot from NASA's Kepler mission, which launched 10 years ago and ceased operations in November 2018. A new NASA planet-hunting spacecraft called TESS, which began science operations as Kepler was winding down, will give us thousands of new discoveries in the coming years. And the Spitzer Space Telescope has provided us valuable insights into what these worlds might be like. This show will look at the state of exoplanet science and give us a view of what future discoveries may be around the corner.

Speaker: Karl Stapelfeldt, Chief Scientist, NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Office, JPL

Small Worlds, Big Science

15th June 8.30pm

Among the planets and far beyond are small worlds that hold clues to the formation of our solar system. NASA's robotic spacecraft allow us to visit comets, asteroids, and dwarf planets up close. We are just beginning to figure out what these places are like, what they are made of, and how they formed.

Speaker: Dr. Carol Raymond DAWN Principal Investigator and Manager of the JPL Small Bodies Program

Darkness Surrounds Us

13th July 8.45pm

All the material we can see is just a small fraction of the universe. The rest, a full 95 percent, is invisible and mysterious. These are the enigmatic dark matter and dark energy. While dark matter keeps things like galaxies together, dark energy acts in an opposite way – it pushes groups of galaxies apart and expands the universe itself. This event will discuss how astronomers are working to map the universe’s dark matter so they can see the effects of dark energy. The results could help us understand if the universe will expand at an accelerating rate forever.

Speakers: Alina Kiessling and Jason Rhodes both Astrophysicists at NASA-JPL

Mapping the Heavens to Understand Dark Matter and Black Holes

10th August 8.45pm

From time immemorial humans have been charting the night sky to make sense of the cosmos—from the mapping of stars for navigation to today’s digital surveys of galaxies to understand dark matter. In this 60-minute-long presentation Dr. Priya Natarajan, author of the book “Mapping the Heavens,” recounts the evolution of celestial map-making and shows how maps literally track our ever evolving cosmic view. In particular, she discusses recent developments in our understanding of two invisible entities: dark matter and black holes. Dr. Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale University, interested in cosmology, gravitational lensing and black hole physics. Her research focuses on making dark matter maps of clusters of galaxies, the largest known repositories of dark matter.

Speaker: Dr. Priya Natarajan

Our Solar System – How Geology Began

7th September 8.45pm

Professor Sara Russell takes us on a geological voyage around our Solar System, describing how the Solar System came to be as it is today and looking at rocks and landscapes on other planets.

Speaker: Professor Sara Russell

Space Cameras

5th October 8.45pm

Space-exploring cameras are bringing the universe into an even sharper focus. Imaging experts on the Mars rovers teams discuss how to get images from millions of miles away to screens here on Earth. This is not just for people interested in astrophotography – the talk is illustrated with many stunning images from Mars.

Speakers: Dr. Justin Maki and Hallie Abarca

The Search for Life – Exploring Ocean Worlds

2nd November 8.45pm

The search for life is "civilization level science." What happens if or when we find it? Using the upcoming block of "Ocean Access" missions, astrobiologist Morgan Cable shows us why ocean worlds are important and what the discovery of life could mean to us as a civilization.

Speaker: Morgan Cable, Astrobiology and Ocean Worlds, JPL


30th November 8.45pm

Explore volcanoes on Mercury and the history of formation through our past missions to our Solar System's smallest planet with Professor Dave Rothery.

Speaker: Professor Dave Rothery

Apollo 8 Go for TLI 1969

21st December 8.45pm

On 21st December Apollo 8 launched, the mission lasted 5 days and carried astronauts James Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman to the Moon and back. They were the first humans to leave low Earth orbit and head for another celestial body. Mike Collins, who was later to be the command module pilot on Apollo 11, was acting as Capcom (the point of contact on the ground) at Houston and the Apollo 8 crew.

At 002:27:22 (mission time) Collins said: Apollo 8. You are Go for TLI. Over.

At 002:27:27 Borman replies: Roger. We understand; we are Go for TLI.

Mike Collins later said of giving the go for Trans-lunar Injection, that the call to the spacecraft for the TLI burn was about as dramatic as asking for a second lump of sugar, that there ought to be more to this "umbilical snipping ceremony". The photographs of Apollo 8’s TLI taken by David Le Conte with assistance from Joe Coldwell and Bill Perry are the only record of this event, which in total lasted 5 minutes and 29 seconds.

We will be showing original footage of the Apollo 8 mission along with mince pies and other Christmas nibbles.

Some possible future discussion topics:

  • Mars Exploration: Curiosity and Beyond - with Anita Sengupta (Royal Institution lecture)
  • Spectroscopy in astronomy – Part 1, Visible light
  • Thomas Wright of Durham (led by Jason Hill)
  • Gravitational waves (led by Jason Hill)
  • It's about time! (the adoption of GMT)
  • The Liberation Monument
  • The Moon illusion
  • Stereoscopic views of the universe
  • Apollo 8 – The 50th anniversary
  • Aurora