Monday, January 06, 2014

Hunting for planets

A couple of weekends before Christmas we went on the traditional mad dash round the country, visiting friends and family that we wouldn't be seeing on the 'big day'.  This included a trip to the inlaws and a meal out with some of our friends from Birmingham, and it was all very pleasant.

On the way back north, we called in at the University of Central Lancashire's astronomy department to attend their annual Christmas lecture.  This year the speaker was Chris Lintott, well-known for his appearances on tv programme The Sky at Night, and he was mostly talking about the hunt for planets outside our own solar system.

Thanks to various new telescopes and technologies, the search has gone from strength to strength and we now know of several thousand such planets, including one around one of our closest neighbours, Alpha Centauri.  Rather amazingly, Chris Lintott told us that if a small probe using a solar sail or ion power was launched this year, it would reach that planet in only one hundred years' time!  A truly awesome fact.

The talk was fascinating, and although it included lots of science, it was done in such a way that it didn't bedazzle the laymen amongst us, muggins included.  We caught up with some of Dave's fellow students, and even had time for a meal at a nearby Chinese buffet.  And the best thing of all?  The talk was completely free!  I'm not sure how they manage that, but it was much appreciated and made a great evening out.

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