Open Night at the Observatory

Alastair Hodson and Rémy Köth demonstrating our pulsar keyboard during Science Discovery Day (credit: Carolin Villforth).

Alastair Hodson and Rémy Köth demonstrating our pulsar keyboard during Science Discovery Day (credit: Carolin Villforth).

It is now a bit more than a week ago that we celebrated an Open Night at the University Observatory in St Andrews. During the day, we had our pulsar keyboard out as part of Science Discovery Day, and many visitors enjoyed a pulsar demonstration by astronomy graduate student Alistair Hodson, and tried their luck with composing music out of pulsars. In the evening, the pulsar keyboard was joined by a radio receiver, and Dr Claudia Cyganowski was present to explain to visitors that a very small part of the static noise that they were hearing was part of the echo of the Big Bang. They had to be their own radio antenna though to be able to hear this.

Anne-Marie Weijmans introducing Shine and the St Andrews Brass Quintet during the Open Night (credit: Carolin Villforth).

Anne-Marie Weijmans introducing Shine and the St Andrews Brass Quintet during the Open Night (credit: Carolin Villforth).

 

 

Apart from trying out our two science demonstrations, visitors were also treated to a concert by the St Andrews Scholarship Brass Quintet under direction of Bede Williams, who performed astronomy inspired music by Scottish composer Eddie McGuire. The concert started with the piece ‘Orbit’, a duet for two trumpets that not only involved music but also orbital choreography. The full quintet then played ‘Auriga’, with each instrument representing one bright star in this constellation. The performance was concluded by the trumpet solo ‘The Big Bang’.

The St Andrews Brass Quintet performing 'Auriga' by composer Eddie McGuire (credit: Carolin Villforth).

The St Andrews Brass Quintet performing ‘Auriga’ by composer Eddie McGuire (credit: Carolin Villforth).

After the concert, it was time for some astronomers to talk about their take on the astronomical themes introduced by the musicians. Dr Duncan Forgan talked about orbits of exo-planets, which are planets discovered outside our own solar system, orbiting stars other than the Sun. He even had some music incorporated in his talk, using orbital frequencies. Prof Ian Bonnell then talked about stars and other interesting features of the constellation Auriga, and Dr Rita Tojeiro explained the things we know and don’t know about the Big Bang.

Ian Bonnell talking about the stars in Auriga (credit: Carolin Villforth).

Ian Bonnell talking about the stars in Auriga (credit: Carolin Villforth).

Unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperating and the star gazing did not work out as planned. Still, many people came to the observatory to see the telescopes themselves, to take part in the children and parent activities, and to enjoy our Shine displays, concert and talks. If you want to see the Observatory in action though: during the International Year of Light it will be open for visitors every Wednesday between 7 and 9 PM (apart from summer closure May to August, when it does not get astronomically dark in Scotland). So do drop by, and see what our astronomers are up to!

PS: were you there at the Open Night? Did you fill in our questionnaire already? If you didn’t, click HERE and take 5 minutes to fill out our form. You will help us to improve our Open Night with your feedback, and you can register for our prize draw for a beautiful Hubble Telescope picture book!

 

About Anne-Marie Weijmans

I am a lecturer and Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews. My research is on galaxies, but here you will see me mostly as project manager of Shine.

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