Stargazing Oxford: Thinking Big

17 January 2012 by Philip James Ma...

Stargazing Oxford is more than just a local astronomy fair - it will represent what we at Oxford Astrophysics are all about. Think big: come and explore the Universe from the Denys Wilkinson Building!

When we first imagined "Stargazing Oxford," we had in mind something like a village fete: a local fair for local people, put together with sticky tape and string by their local astrophysicists. Now, in the week before the event, it's still a local science fair - but it has also taken on a subtly different feel. The whole university physics department seems to be involved somehow! Scientists are busy designing posters, media services are helping shape their ideas while cranking the printing presses, the caterers are writing a menu (and a shopping list), and the building services team is getting us all in line, and all while our access officer, Sian Owen, comes to terms with having (at last!) her very own science festival. But we are also thinking of it as a tribute, to our colleague and friend Steve Rawlings. He’d have loved to have been there to join in the fun, and perhaps more than any of us he knew how to think big.

Watching the professionals at Oxford Physics in action getting ready for Stargazing Oxford has been pretty inspirational for those of us who work here, and we reckon it will be for everyone else in Oxfordshire as well. It also reminds me what the physics outreach programme is all about. The BBC Stargazing Live TV shows on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week will find their way into living rooms all around Oxfordshire, and once there they will give thousands of viewers an idea of the value of looking up, and of understanding the night sky above our heads. Now that's outreach! What we are doing with Stargazing Oxford is providing the next step: we are inviting those same viewers in, to where we work on understanding the night sky for a living. We're saying: Interested in Space? Well, you ain't seen nothing yet!

A lot of people out there in Oxfordshire have probably never visited their local University before - but everyone loves to think about Outer Space, and what might be out there, in the unknown. Research scientists are the explorers of the 21st century. These days the New World isn't just over the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it's orbiting a bright star 600 light years away! You don't have to wait 6 months for the explorers to return, you can go with them on the internet. And the voyages of discovery aren't made in sailing ships, but in spaceships - and in observatories, and in laboratories, and in universities of people. We all pay taxes to fund places like Oxford University, and one of the things we get in return are: discoveries. Pure human achievement, stuff that all of us can celebrate. Come along to your local physics department on the 21st of January, and discover for yourself!

Stargazing Oxford: A Space Science Festival hosted by Oxford University Physics Department

Catch BBC Stargazing Live at 8pm Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and also on iPlayer. And why not join in the big push to investigate 250,000 stars using the Kepler satellite data, as the Zooniverse's PlanetHunters project attempts to find a brand new exoplanet - this week.

Categories: marshall | exoplanets | galaxies | Kepler | stargazing | dark matter | rawlings | community