Space Lectures

Monthly adult evening lectures, each followed by a short planetarium show.

These Wednesday lectures are aimed at a level a little above most popular science lectures, so come prepared to exercise your brain and learn the science behind the headlines. The speakers are chosen from the best academic speakers in the UK, with a talent for explaining difficult concepts and the knowledge to give the very latest news from the research community. 

Although the primary audience is adults, older children are also welcome to attend.


4:30pm lecture £8/£6

6:30pm lecture £10/£8  

Multiple bookings: 5-for-4 ticket offer for phone or in-person bookings only. You must book all five tickets at the same time, specifying all dates and times. The cheapest ticket is free. 

Groups of 15 people or more from recognised organisations can save 20% off the ticket prices for this event (offer also applies to After Dark and Saturday Night at the Planetarium). Please visit the groups page for further information.


Lectures run on the second Wednesday of the month, except for April 2017 (fourth Wednesday). Click the title for further information:

14 September 2016 - Aurora Borealis: Mystery on our cosmological doorstep

Derek McKay (STFC)

There will be a reduced cafe service this month due to remodeling and installation of the new Hub Cafe.

Lecture: The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are a remarkable phenomenon. A good auroral display is one of the most beautiful and profound spectacles in the natural world. Yet, despite the fact they are so close to us, and have been studied for so long, they remain elusive and not well understood. Much of what has been written about them is now antiquated and out of step with the latest research results. This lecture will report on our dramatic recent findings and will describe our current, evolving understanding of these mysterious apparitions. In addition to the stunning images and underlying science, it will also explain how we go about predicting displays and how you can see the Northern Lights for yourself.

Derek McKay(-Bukowski) is the Radio Astronomy Coordinator at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He has an extensive career in deploying and commissioning telescope systems, such as the LOFAR station at Chilbolton Observatory and the KAIRA system in Arctic Finland. His primary research interest is combining radio and optical imaging systems to study the aurora borealis.

12 October 2016 - The Origins of Thermonuclear Supernovae

Dr Michael Childress (University of Southampton)

Lecture: A Type Ia supernova (SN Ia) is the thermonuclear explosion of a white dwarf in a binary star system. For years a fierce debate raged over whether the white dwarf's explosion was triggered by slow accretion of material from a sun-like (or giant) star, or the merger or two white dwarfs whose orbit decayed over billions of years due to energy lost to gravitational waves.  After decades of research and thousands of SNe Ia observed - including some in exquisite detail - signs point towards both of these "progenitor channels" being operative in nature. In this talk I will present some of the wealth of evidence we have accumulated that has led to this conclusion, including: the search for SN Ia star systems in pre-explosion images of SN locations taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, detection of circumstellar material around the SN progenitor system, the search for surviving SN companions in supernova remnants, sophisticated modeling of the SN explosion event and its signatures in the SN data, and detailed studies of the galaxies which host SNe Ia.

Michael Childress is a lecturer in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton. He obtained his PhD from the University of California Berkeley, studying "Host Galaxies of Type Ia Supernovae from the Nearby Supernova Factory” under supervision of Dr Greg Aldering and Professor Saul Perlmutter. After his he moved halfway across the globe to work with Professor Brian Schmidt on the SkyMapper Transients survey in Australia. His research interests range from the smaller scale life of stars to the grand scale of cosmic expansion and dark energy.

9 November 2016 - Sun Dogs and Blue Moons

Prof Don Kurtz

Lecture: Once in a Blue Moon.
The sky has many beautiful phenomena caused by the interaction of light with the air: blue skies, red sunsets, rainbows, glories, haloes, green flashes, sun dogs and blue moons. We will see pictures of these and learn where to see them and how they are formed. We will also see and learn about a blue sky on Saturn, murky sunsets on Mars, the black skies of many moons, and speculations about the skies on some of the more than 5000 exoplanets that have been discovered in recent years. 

Don Kurtz was born in San Diego, California, to an American father and Canadian mother. He obtained his PhD in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin in 1976, then spent 25 years in South Africa at the University of Cape Town, where he was Professor and Life Fellow. Don now has dual British and American citizenship and has been Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire since 2001. He is a vice-president of the Royal Astronomical Society and serves on many international committees. He is frequently invited to speak internationally to both professional astronomers and to the public. Don observes with some of the largest telescopes in the world, has over 2000 nights at the telescope, and over 450 professional publications. He is the discoverer of a class of pulsating, magnetic stars that are the most peculiar stars known. He is co-author of the fundamental textbook “Asteroseismology”. He is an outdoorsman and has travelled widely. Don enthusiastically gives many public lectures per year to diverse audiences all over the world on a wide range of topics. He is a regular guest on BBC Radio Lancashire and has appeared in prime time on the BBC's "Stargazing Live" with Dara O'Briain, on the BBC One Show, and on the "Sky at Night" with Patrick Moore. 

14 December 2016 - Dark Matter

Prof Justin Read (University of Surrey)

Lecture: Since its discovery by the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky in the 1930's, dark matter has continued to capture the public imagination. It raises the velocity of stars and gas in galaxies, bends light around massive galaxy clusters and promotes the growth of structure in the Universe. In this talk, I will explain the key evidences for dark matter, and our latest theories for what it is. I will show that the latest data point towards dark matter being some new particle that lies beyond the standard model of particle physics. If this is correct, then billions of these particles will flow through your head by the time you finish reading this paragraph (without effect thankfully). This is such a striking thought that it has already inspired many artists and writers, from Cornelia Parker's "Cold Dark Matter" sculpture to Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials". I conclude with a look to the future and our prospects for detecting or creating such a particle in the next five years.

Justin Read completed his PhD in theoretical astrophysics at Cambridge University, UK in 2004. After a two-year postdoctoral research position, also in Cambridge, he moved to the University of Zürich to join the computational science group. In 2009, he joined the University of Leicester as a lecturer in theoretical astrophysics, and in October 2010 he was awarded an SNF assistant professorship at the ETH Zürich. In April 2013, he took up a full Chair at the University of Surrey, UK. He was recently awarded the MERAC Prize by the European Astronomical Society for his high impact research in computational astrophysics and cosmology.


11 January 2017 - A Universe of dwarf galaxies

Dr Samantha Penny (University of Portsmouth)

LectureDwarf galaxies are the most common galaxies in the Universe, yet they are frequently overlooked due to their small size and low luminosity.

Despite their diminutive nature, they are an extremely varied and fascinating galaxy population, spanning a wide range of sizes and structures. They greatly outnumber galaxies like our Milky Way, and are thought to be the initial building blocks of the Universe. In this talk, I will present some of the latest cutting-edge research being done to better understand these galaxies, from surprisingly difficult dwarf galaxy searches in our own Galactic neighbourhood, to the discovery of the densest galaxy found to date.

Samantha Penny studied Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff university before obtaining her PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2010. She then jetted off halfway around the world to work at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, studying the formation mechanism behind ultra compact dwarfs and compact elliptical galaxies and Monash University in Melbourne, where she examined the influence of environment on galaxy evolution and mass assembly. In 2014 she started working at the University of Portsmouth, where she works on the MaNGA galaxy survey (Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory).

Her research focuses on the assembly and evolution of galaxies, utilising large spectroscopic surveys including MaNGA and GAMA to examine galaxy formation, evolution, and the quenching of star formation. Her current research is primarily based on uncovering the formation mechanism of passive dwarf galaxies by examining stellar their kinematics using spectroscopy from the MaNGA IFU survey.

8 February 2017 - Tuning in to the Universe: probing the cosmos with radio waves

Dr David Bacon (University of Portsmouth)

Lecture: We are living through an astonishing period of discovery about the Universe. We're even learning about new forms of material and energy in the Universe which are invisible, by seeing their effects on things we can see. An exciting new step in this adventure will be performed by the new generation of radio telescopes, bigger than ever before and starting their explorations right now. In this talk I will discuss our current picture of the cosmos, and show how radio waves from billions of light years away will take our understanding to the next level in the coming decade.

David Bacon is a Reader at Portsmouth University. He obtained his PhD at the University of Cambridge, after which he was awarded a PPARC research fellowship to carry out research at the University of Edinburgh, followed by an STFC Advanced Fellowship in 2004. In 2007, he joined the University of Portsmouth as a Senior Research Fellow and RCUK Academic Fellow, becoming a Senior Lecturer in 2012. His research interests include cosmology at radio wavelengths, gravitational lensing and theories of gravity.


8 March 2017 - Earth’s magnetosphere and aurora

Dr Robert Fear (University of Southampton)

Lecture: The Earth’s magnetosphere is the region of space occupied by Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetosphere is buffeted on a continuous basis by the solar wind – a stream of hot magnetised gas (called a plasma) which flows out from the Sun through to the edge of the Solar System. It is a highly dynamic environment, and these dynamics arise from the complex interplay between the magnetic field of the Earth, and that contained in the solar wind. The dynamics of the magnetosphere impact on our lives in two respects: firstly, they are responsible for the highly dynamic aurora, or northern lights; secondly, it has potentially damaging effects on a number of ground- and space-based technologies. Our understanding of both the aurora and magnetosphere has transformed from humble beginnings in the early 20th century to the modern day, yet many questions remain and they are both active topics of research both for those interested in pure scientific research (“How does our Solar System work?”) and the application of this field on modern technology (space weather). In this talk, we will discuss how the magnetosphere works, its relationship with the aurora, and its effect on our lives.

Robert Fear obtained his PhD in Space Plasma Physics from University College London. Working in UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, his thesis was on spacecraft observations of the fundamental plasma process of magnetic reconnection. He now holds a position as lecturer at the University of Southampton. His research interests include magnetic reconnection, large-scale solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling and formation, evolution and dynamics of transpolar arcs and other polar cap auroras.

26 April 2017 - NASA Juno mission to Jupiter

Dr Emma Bunce (University of Leicester)

Lecture: The Juno mission to Jupiter is NASA’s latest endeavour to explore our outer solar system. Launched from Earth in 2011, Juno’s trip to Jupiter took about five years. Though the journey may seem long, this flight plan allowed the mission to use Earth’s gravity to speed the craft on its way. The spacecraft first looped around the inner solar system and then swung past Earth two years after launch to get a boost that propelled it onward to its destination. In July 2016, Juno successfully fired its main engine and was captured into orbit around the giant planet to begin its scientific mission. The daring spacecraft will now spend ~1.5 years performing a total of 37 orbits around Jupiter, beginning with two orbits that last 53 days before burning the main engine once more to adjust Juno into its final “science orbit”.  This final trajectory takes Juno around the largest planet in our solar system 35 times in 14 days orbits, skimming just a few thousand kilometres above the cloud tops at closest approach.  The orbit and spacecraft and have been carefully designed to perform a clear set of science objectives in the solar system’s harshest space environment.

Juno will improve our understanding of the solar system's beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Specifically, Juno will determine how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed). Juno will look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties of the most dynamic atmosphere in the solar system. The close 14 day orbits will allow Juno to map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the nature of the planet's deep interior (which is otherwise invisible). Finally, Juno will explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, including the auroras – the brightest of any in the solar system – providing new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic field is connected to its atmosphere.

Emma Bunce was awarded her PhD in 2001 for her thesis entitled “Large-scale current systems in the Jovian Magnetosphere”. In 2003 she was awarded a PPARC Post-doctoral Fellowship to study Saturn’s magnetosphere, she was then appointed to the Department’s lecturing staff in 2005, and has enjoyed teaching undergraduates ever since. In 2009 she was promoted to Reader, and in 2013 she was promoted to Professor. To date, she has published roughly 90 papers in the scientific literature and her work has received national and international recognition.

Her main research interests have focused on the giant rotating magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, with a particular desire to explore and understand the mechanisms which generate the dynamic auroral emissions in their upper atmospheres. She has recently take on the role of PI on the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo MIXS instrument, and is a Co-Investigator on the NASA Cassini magnetometer team. She is also currently acting as the Deputy PI on the Imperial College (PI Professor Michele Dougherty) JUICE magnetometer, and a Co-Investigator on the JUICE UVS instrument (PI Randy Gladstone, SWRi).


10 May 2017 - Euclid: a space mission to map the dark Universe

Dr Dida Markovic (University of Portsmouth)

Lecture: The Euclid space telescope, with a planned launch in late 2020, will use its two instruments to observe the optical and infra-red light across nearly half the sky. It will image and measure the redshifts of millions of distant galaxies in order to catalogue them, their properties and their spatial distribution. From the apparent distortion of galaxy shapes we will measure the gravitational lensing caused by dark matter mass bending the space through which light travels. By looking at the tendency of galaxies to cluster, we will search for the remnants of giant acoustic bubbles from the early universe. Using them as a 'standard ruler', we will study the history of expanding space and therefore the history of cosmic gravity. With these two nearly independent measures of the topography of our space-time, we will attempt to unveil the nature of gravity, dark matter and dark energy.

Dida Markovic is a postdoc at the University of Portsmouth, working on Euclid, a mission to map the geometry of the dark Universe. She has obtained her PhD with the International Max Planck Research School in February 2013 in the Physical Cosmology group at the Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich, on ‘Constraining Cosmology in the Non-linear Domain: Warm Dark Matter.’ Her research interests include large scale structure, cosmic shear and warm dark matter.


14 June 2017 - When Galaxies Collide

Professor Carolin Crawford (University of Cambridge)

Lecture: There is a whole Universe of galaxies out there, displaying a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours. I shall be talking about those 'peculiar' galaxies that appear very different from their mainstream counterparts - galaxies which have been pulled together and then pulled apart by gravity to make some of the most spectacular deep sky objects. I shall discuss the toll that such an encounter exerts on an individual galaxy's properties, and the wider implications of the phenomenon.

Carolin Crawford is Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, Emeritus Gresham Professor of Astronomy and one of Britain's foremost science communicators. Professor Crawford’s primary research interests are in combining observations from different wavebands to study the physical processes occurring around massive galaxies at the core of clusters of galaxies - in particular, how they relate to the central supermassive black hole.


12 July 2017 - TBC


4.30pm Space Lecture tickets include:


Entry to upper exhibition and cafe


Lecture followed by Q&A and a short break


Planetarium show


Event ends.


6.30pm Space Lecture tickets include:


Entry to upper exhibition and cafe


Lecture followed by Q&A and a short break


Planetarium show


Event ends, Science Centre closes


Space Lectures are a fundraising event for Winchester Science Centre.

Wednesday 08 March
Wednesday 08 March
Wednesday 26 April
Wednesday 26 April
Wednesday 10 May
Wednesday 10 May
Wednesday 14 June
Wednesday 14 June
Wednesday 12 July
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Visual warning: as with all planetarium shows, the show after the lecture includes large moving images which may affect people with photosensitive epilepsy, balance disorders and/or extreme motion sickness.