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Monitoring the Milky Way at Life Newcastle upon Tyne

Other posts by  |  Sheelagh Caygill on Google+ |  January 31, 2012 | 0 Comments

See the Milky Way in a new light as Newcastle’s Life Science Centre guides visitors through the February night skies this Saturday.

The first Saturday of every month is always a little bit special as the centre’s Planetarium offers a unique Live Skies event.

Narrated by Life’s head of public engagement, Elin Roberts, the presentation is ever changing and pertinent to the date.

But February 4’s event is set to be extra special as it will be hosted by guest narrator Dr Andrew Fletcher from Newcastle University’s School of Mathematics, who carries out research into radio astronomy, the interstellar medium and astrophysical magnetic fields.

And this weekend he will be tailoring Live Skies to his area of expertise – the Milky Way.

He says: “On a clear dark night, a white band stretches across the sky. We call this the Milky Way and its light is produced by billions of distant stars. In this show we will see why it appears so narrow, that new stars are still being born, old stars sometimes disappear in powerful explosions and how the space between the stars is far from empty.

“We will also discover what a galaxy is and how to see our biggest neighbouring galaxy on a dark night.

“The winter sky is full of activity and last weeks’ show of  Northern Lights made so many more people aware of not only the beauty but the scientific reasons why it was so spectacular. Looking up on a dark night I still find it amazing that we know so much about the stars and galaxies, thanks to our most powerful telescopes: the numbers and distances are so big.”

Dr Fletcher will be available to meet would-be astronomers of the future in a special ‘Meet the Scientist’ pop-up space within the main exhibition during the day.

Dr Andrew Fletcher

“I and my colleague Fred Gent will be showing some movies from our latest computer simulations of how supernova explosions stir-up the gas in-between the stars. We will be on hand to explain how we use this research to understand what we see using the biggest radio telescopes in the world and to talk about opportunities for young people in the astronomical world.”

As well as lecturing at the university Dr Fletcher is a published author and works with radio astronomers as a member of international collaborations including The Global Magneto-Ionic Medium Survey (GMIMS) and The Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) Magnetism Key Science Project.

He is also the university representative on the management committee of LOFAR-UK, the organization which built and runs the British station of the Europe-wide Low Frequency Array.

Entrance to the rolling programme of Planetarium presentations is free as part of the general admission price to the Life Science Centre (which also includes the Human Life exhibition, the Motion Ride and the Science Theatre).

Live Skies starts at 4pm and is available on a first come first served basis. The Planetarium seats 64 people, with space for four wheelchair users.


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