I’ve recently finished delivering two public lectures on Galaxies at this year’s Inverness Science Festival.
The theme of my talks was ‘Island Universes’, telling the tale of when and how we discovered our Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy, and how the teeming multitudes of spiral nebulae, hitherto believed to be collapsing dust clouds, were in fact individual galaxies.
The talk started with some observational astronomy, before discussing the great debate of 1920 between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis. The main unresolved issue here was the distance to the spiral nebulae, particularly Andromeda, which was unknown. This lead us into pulsating stars and the work of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who systematically analysed and determined the period luminosity law for cepheid variable stars.
Finally we discussed Edwin Hubble and the ramifications of his observations on the red shift of distance galaxies, and how this has informed our current understanding of the history and future dynamics of the universe.
I’ll let some choice slides do the talking from here on.
Q&As are always lively after astronomy and space talks, and the younger audience members always surprise me with their amazing knowledge and frank curiosity. Some choice sample from the two evenings below. Answers on a postcard please .
1. Is the singularity at the end of a black hole the size of the Planck length?
2. If a giant hole suddenly appeared in the Earth how many Pluto’s could you fit inside it?