BBC Stargazing Live 2013: Birmingham University

See? It's true.
Brian, Dara and friends where at it again during the week: BBC Stargazing Live, three evenings of astronomical shenanigans designed to spread awareness of, and love for, the simple act of Looking Up, seemed to go down a storm again this year. What some people don't realise is that the TV shows were only a part of Stargazing Live, with various supporting events organised up and down the country.

One of these was at the University of Birmingham, and that's where I've been today.

Rather than an evening affair*, this was a daytime thing running from 11am until 5pm. Here's a rundown of what I did:

This was a 15 minute whistle-stop tour of existence hosted by the scatterbrained Professor Crackers and his assistant Tess Tube, all the way from the National Space Centre in Leicester. Aimed primarily at the under-10s, this was naturally attended by many from the distinctly-over-10 category, and there was plenty there for all. Starting with a Big Bang we flew, with the help of some audience participation, through a brief history of the universe, its structure and our place in it.

From Here to the Edge of the Observable Universe
The original lecturer was unable to attend, and I forget the name of he who jumped in as a replacement... But this was a run through of the methods we use to figure out how far away things are, and why doing so is important. I was impressed at how deep it went at points- some of it was pretty tough for a public lecture!

This was a live feed from the surface of Mars!
Oh, all right then...
... it was a practise run for budding rover operators
Professor Martin Hendry, from the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Glasgow provided this lecture, outside of his immediate research area in the spirit of the day - that is, anybody can get interested in any area of astronomy. It was all about - you guessed it - the Little Rover That Could, my friend and yours, Curiosity, but started off with a brief history of the exploration and visitation of worlds other than our own, and finished with a glimpse of what may come to pass, including planned and potential future Mars orbiters, landers and rovers, and, tantalisingly, talk of manned missions...

You wouldn't tell, but this was inside the planetarium.
You had to be there, I guess.
Immersive Theatres brought along their inflatable planetarium for a three-hundred-and-sixty degree 3D tour of the possibilities of life elsewhere in our universe and, indeed, our own solar system, narrated by Ron Weasley.

I love lectures, but there was other stuff on offer to shake the day up a bit. Other things we had a go at included some interactive and visual demonstrations about the search for gravitational waves; driving a very small Mars rover with nothing but a webcam perched atop it as your guide; making your own telescope; and a codebreaking treasure hunt. There was also a room full of mathematical puzzles (as maths is an incredibly important subject to get good at for anyone wanting to do anything related to astronomy) and a more crafty room in which participants made space-inspired works of art.

There were some sungazing opportunites planned (do NOT ever at all EVER look at the sun without significant protection), but the Sun neglected to make an appearance. Not to worry, though, as Fog, Cloud and even Snow were on hand to cover for it.

The best bit? Tickets were free, but you did have to enter a lottery to get them. Keep your eyes peeled this time next year...

* There is/was/have been night-time actual stargazing, but I didn't get the opportunity to go to that/those.


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