How the Space Age has Changed our View of the Universe

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A public lecture by Professor David Southwood.


The last half century has seen great advance in our knowledge of the universe, helped by the advent of space telescopes unhindered by the presence of intervening atmosphere, and also from spacecraft which have explored the solar system directly.


We’ll review what the space age did for astronomy, from the earliest discoveries of the X- and g-ray sky where the true violence of the universe was revealed and black holes and other extraordinary phenomena became observable, to the later developments of infrared and microwave astronomy in space.


Previously seen as the most likely hope for hosting life, Venus was rapidly shown to be an inhospitable place.  Interest shifted to Mars and Mars is now the grand target of a new programme of exploration by the US and Europe with the issue of conditions for support of life there being central to the programme. Even the moons of outer planets have provided tantalising glimpse of possible environments where life might have been seeded.


Professor David Southwood retired in May 2011 from being Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency.  In the past ten years he has been in charge of developing and operating European spacecraft for space astronomy and planetary exploration, as well as projects in cooperation with the USA, Russia, Japan, India and China.

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