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 ). Please visit the groups page for further information.


Lectures run on the second Wednesday of the month, except for February and April 2018 (third Wednesday).

This years dates are September 13, October 11, November 8, December 13, January 10, February 21, March 14, April 18, May 9, June 13 and July 11.

Click the title for further information:

10 January 2018 - TRAPPIST-1, and the study of Earth-like worlds

Dr Amaury Triaud (University of Birmingham) 

Lecture: He will describe the steps and motivation that led to the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system. We will look at philosophical and scientific arguments and then he will show how we detected the planets, what we can learn about them and how we will remotely explore their atmospheres in the near future, in search for evidence of extraterrestrial biology.

Further reading:


A regular visitor to observatories in the Atacama desert, Amaury Triaud is the discoverer of over one hundred exoplanets. He obtained his PhD at the Observatoire de Genève in Switzerland, then moved across the globe to do post-docs at MIT, Cambridge, US and the University of Toronto, Canada before becoming a Kavli Institute fellow at the other Cambridge here in the UK.

His observations focus on planetary systems that are different compared to our own, either by the type of planets that compose those systems, by their architectures, or because of the type of star(s) they orbit. As part of the SPECULOOS collaboration, he now searches for planets the same size and the same temperature as the Earth and aims to find out if life emerged elsewhere in the Universe. The first such examples were found in the TRAPPIST-I system.

Active in outreach, he created an exoplanet exhibit at the University of Toronto at Scarborough in 2015, has been scientific consultant for a sci-fi trilogy entitled Quantika and has engaged in public lectures, debates, scientific cafés, observing nights, visits of the observatory, classroom interventions, multidisciplinary seminars, exhibits. Besides all his scientific endeavours, he enjoys fencing, photography, tango, (g)astronomy and anything creative that comes his way.


21 February 2018 - Dwarf Galaxies in the Local Group

Dr Noelia Noël (University of Surrey) 

Lecture: A “Grand Challenge” in modern astrophysics is to understand how galaxies form and evolve. Our Local Group of galaxies, i.e., the galaxies around Andromeda and the Milky Way, are the best laboratories we have at hand.

In particular the "Magellanic Clouds”, our two nearest Irregular dwarf galaxies, provide the best workplace to study galaxy formation. 

The Magellanic Clouds are currently interacting with one another while orbiting around the Milky Way. Their close proximity allows us to resolve their individual stars, providing a unique ‘Rosetta stone’ for understanding galactic encounters and mergers. In this talk she will show how to use stars to perform "galactic archaeology", unpicking the fossil record of a galaxy’s past by forensically dissecting its stellar content. 

Noelia Noël grew up in a small Argentinean town, 800 km south of Buenos Aires. When she was five, her father built a dome on top of her home's roof and put a telescope there. That's when she became interested in the Magellanic Clouds, our two closest irregular galaxies, seen as two ''Milky'' patches on the Southern skies. She obtained her PhD in 2008 from the Institutio de Astrofisica de Canarias, after which she relocated to the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh for a postdoc position.

From Jan 2010 she worked as a Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and from Dec 2011 until Feb 2013 she did a postdoc at the ETH Zurich. Noelia joined the Astrophysics group at the University of Surrey in March 2013 and was appointed Lecturer in Astrophysics in November 2016. Her research focuses on the study of resolved stellar populations in nearby galaxies.

 Further information:

14 March 2018 - Catching Einstein's Waves

Professor Nils Andersson (University of Southampton) 

Lecture: The breakthrough detection of gravitational waves from merging black holes in 2015 sent ripples of excitement through the scientific community and led to the recent award of the Nobel Prize in Physics.  The observation confirmed Albert Einstein’s 100-year old prediction and provided further support of his curved-space/warped-time theory of gravity.  The follow-up observation of colliding neutron stars in August 2017 – an event that was seen across the electromagnetic spectrum – engaged a large part of the international astronomy community.  What made this event so exciting?  Why did it take the best part of a century to detect the gravitational waves in the first place?  What are they, anyway?  The answers to these – and many other – questions will be revealed in this entertaining journey through Einstein’s wonky universe.

Nils Andersson is Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Southampton, where he leads one of the largest research groups in Gravitational Physics in Europe. He is an expert on Einstein’s theory of relativity and related astrophysics and has done seminal work on many extremes of physics involving black holes, neutron stars and gravitational waves. His current research is focused on neutron star phenomenology, the underlying nuclear physics and complex astrophysical fluid dynamics. He has held several prestigious fellowships, including a Leverhulme Prize Fellowship in Astrophysics and is an elected Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

Professor Andersson is a keen science communicator and has given frequent popular talks on matters of gravity, including at the Science Centre in Valencia and the Museum of London. He has written a series of science-related books for younger readers, including the award winning “A gentle wizard” which provides an entertaining and personal introduction to Einstein's universe. 

18 April 2018 - The Cassini Mission to Saturn: 13 years of discovery

Professor Emma Bunce (University of Leicester) 

Lecture: The NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn was the largest interplanetary spacecraft to be launched to another planet.  During its 13 years in orbit around Saturn Cassini has made in-depth investigations of the planet, its ring system, the orbiting moons, and the magnetosphere.  Major results and mysteries from the mission so far span a range of topics such as the elusive planetary rotation rate, the discovery of geological activity on Enceladus, the discovery of new ringlets, new moons near the rings, and a moon stealing particles from the narrow F ring.

The end-of-Cassini mission sequence took place on Sept 15th 2017, after the Grand Finale orbits where the spacecraft plummeted between the inner edge of the ring system and Saturn itself. From a data gathering perspective, this dramatic end of mission sequence has taken us into completely unexplored regions of the Saturn system, and we have gathered much new data from this final episode of the mission. This Grand Finale phase adds to the previous 12 years of continuous operations at Saturn, yielding a 13 year continuous dataset which has led to many discoveries giving us an unprecedented insight into the nature of the Saturn and its environment.

This presentation will review a selection of the amazing discoveries from this epic mission, as well as providing a focus on magnetosphere-related work carried out at the University of Leicester, relating to the effects of Saturn's rapidly rotating magnetosphere and the origins of Saturn's dynamic auroral emissions.

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 95 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).

For more information, see her website:

9 May 2018 - Black Holes in the Universe

Professor Rob Fender (Universities of Oxford and Cape Town

Lecture: Black holes are the most exotic objects in the universe. Infinitely dense at their centres, they create a region of space from which no signals, not even light, can escape to the outside Universe. And yet, via their interactions with stars, matter and light, we find evidence for black holes in all directions and distances in the Universe. In this talk I will discuss the science of black holes and how, using a range of ground- and space-based telescopes, we can study them and their interactions with normal matter. In particular, in the centenary year of their discovery, I will focus on the relativistic jets produced by black holes, which - unexpectedly - carry mass and energy away from the black hole at velocities close to the speed of light. I will conclude with the latest results on the extraordinary gravitational wave burst observed in August 2017 which was associated with the formation of a low mass black hole in a galaxy 140 000 light years away.

Rob Fender is a professor in the Astrophysics group at Oxford. He started his academic career in Southampton, where he did his BSc. He followed this up with a PhD from the Open University, after which he has done a postdoc at the University of Sussex. Moving across the channel, he became Universitair Hoofddocent (senior lecturer) at the 'Anton Pannekoek'-institute - part of the University of Amsterdam - came back to the UK in 2003 where he was Professor of Physics and Head of Astronomy at the University of Southampton until he moved to Oxford in 2013. He also holds a position as Visiting SKA Professor at the University of Cape Town.

His research interests focus on black hole accretion and radio astronomy, although he enjoys dabbling in many other areas. He has done many observations at a variety of frequencies (primarily using radio and X-ray telescopes) to understand the relation between the infall of matter (accretion) and outflow of kinetic energy (in winds and jets) around accreting black holes. In other radio news, he's heavily involved in the first wide-field searches for radio transients with new and next-generation radio telescopes such as LOFAR, MeerKAT and, ultimately, the Square Kilometre Array. The idea is to use this approach to find rare and exotic phenomena in the universe, such as merging neutron stars, and to identify the electromagnetic counterparts of the first-detected gravitational wave sources.

 His research group page can be found here.

13 June 2018 - Space Weather: The science behind the forecasts

Dr. Olugbenga Ogunmodimu (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Lecture: Weather forecast has become an integral part of our everyday life in the 21st century. We are careful to check expert forecast through our telephone apps, the internet and news channels. The importance is borne out of the necessity for us to plan for our choice of clothes, car and bus routes among other reasons. However, weather is not just about what goes on in our terrestrial environment.

Space weather refers to conditions on the Sun, in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere which can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and even endanger human life and health. Adverse conditions in the space environment can cause disruption of satellite operations, radio communications, navigation, and electronic power grids, which could result at a plethora of socio-economic losses. Space weather effects can also be fascinating and benign (e.g. the auroral northern and southern light).

This talk will highlight scientific efforts towards the forecast of space weather and its effect on human life.

Dr. Olugbenga Ogunmodimu is a space weather scientist who works with the Manchester Metropolitan University as a research fellow. He had his Master’s degree in Satellite Communications and Space Environment and his PhD in Space Plasma Environment and Radio Sciences from the space and planetary group at Lancaster University. He has worked in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - Goddard Space Flight center, Baltimore, The Canadian Space Agency, The Centre for Atmospheric Research of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

 His main interests are in scientific project planning, the development of space weather models, proposal writing and project implementation. The focus of his doctoral research was on the effect of space weather phenomena on Terrestrial technology, where he built models that could be utilized to forecast the effect of space weather on radio wave absorption. He has presented his finding in highly rated colloquiums and scientific conferences as well as to non-scientific audience. 

11 July 2018 - Valhalla, Discworld and 21st Century Cosmology

Professor Bernard Jones (University of Groningen) with Marlies van de Weijgaert (University of Groningen)

Lecture (subject to change): Cosmology has made gigantic leaps over the last half century. Our perception of the Universe has undergone a shift. We now ‘know’ that it expanded from a Hot Big Bang, we know its size, its temperature and how fast it is expanding and all of this with a precision undreamt of only 50 years ago. We now have out ‘Standard Model of the Universe’.

This knowledge, besides painting a beautiful new picture of our Universe, has also revealed a deeper and unexpected mystery: if our Standard Model is correct, we have no idea what 95% of the Universe is made of! Will our current model ultimately go the same way as Epicycles, the Heliocentric view, Valhalla and the Discworld?"



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

Wednesday 13 June
Wednesday 13 June
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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.