Your Universe


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           YOUR UNIVERSE 16th FESTIVAL 2020


Saturday 7th March 2020 UCL cloisters:

2020 EXHIBITS, including telescope demonstrations and LIFE ON MARS


Life on Mars

For centuries we have looked to Mars and wondered Is there life on the red planet.

This summer we are sending two new rovers to Mars to find the answer to this big question. Part of UCL has even produced the special camera being used in the search for life.

Curiosity Rover




                    Expert panel / audience discussion

(presented at a level suitable for general public and families)

                                                (7th March, 2020)




The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is one of the most successful scientific instruments in history. Its legacy embraces all aspects of space science, from the solar system and extra-solar planets, to the very first stars and galaxies. At the same time, it  produces striking images with deep influence in the public perception of the Universe.

The session was chaired by: Dr Antonia Bevan, astrophysicist at UCLAntonia Bevan

Dr Antonia Bevan is a research fellow in the Astrophysics Group at UCL, where she also completed her PhD. Her research focusses on supernova explosions and their role in the origins of cosmic dust in the Universe. For this work, she collects observations of supernovae using a range of telescopes around the  world and develops software to model these observations. Outside of her research, she spends much of her time promoting inclusion and diversity in science through mentoring programs, outreach and engagement.

The panelists were:

Prof Christopher Riley
Hubble: from dream to reality

The Hubble Space Telescope is the most famous scientific instrument in history; a triumph of human ingenuity, vision and ambition.  Conceived in the 1950s, the dream of an orbiting space observatory was a vision far beyond our capabilities, at the dawn of the space age.  It would take a collision of new emerging technology, political will power and shear stubborn tenacity to rise to turn the dream into a reality that would change our view of the Cosmos forever.  Science writer and historian Christopher Riley told this often surprising story of the Hubble Space Telescope, and those who turned the dreams of decades into the scientific breakthroughs of the century.

Hubble service 4

Riley is a BAFTA, RTS & Grierson nominated filmmaker and science writer. He produced the Sundance Award Chris Rileywinning Ron Howard film 'In the Shadow of the Moon' and directed the hit YouTube documentary recreation of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering space flight 'First Orbit'.  He is a writer and director on the Patrick Stewart PBS series  'Breakthroughs' and the multi-award winning National Geographic Will Smith / Darren Aronofsky series 'One Strange Rock'. He produced and directed the Emmy nominated 'Hubble's Cosmic Journey', narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson and is Visiting Professor of Science and the Media at the University of Lincoln.


Prof Richard Ellis, UCL
Cosmic Dawn: Hubble’s Quest for the Earliest Galaxies

Deep field

The first billion years after the Big Bang represents the final observational frontier in assembling a complete picture of cosmic history. During this period early stars and galaxies formed and the Universe became bathed in light for the first time. Recent progress has raised the exciting prospect that we will soon be able to directly witness this  period when the Universe emerged from darkness and the first galaxies began to shine. Professor Ellis reviewed the rapid progress being made with Hubble, and the prospects with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
The motivation is fundamental: the origin of starlight begins the process of chemical evolution which ultimately leads to our own existence in this remarkable Universe.Richard Ellis

Richard Ellis is Professor of Astrophysics at University College London.
After obtaining his Ph.D. at Oxford University, he established a major astronomy group at Durham University and later became the Director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. In 1999 he emigrated to the California Institute of Technology where he was Director of the Palomar Observatory.
Ellis’ research interests span the distribution of dark matter, the history of the cosmic expansion and studies of the first galaxies seen when the Universe was less than 5% of its present age. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Sciences.


Dr Stephen Feeney, UCL
Hubble trouble: A hidden mystery in the expansion of the Universe

Since the Universe's expansion was discovered in the early 20th Century, the rate of that expansion has been a continuous source of controversy. One of the Hubble Space Telescope's main tasks was to resolve this controversy by measuring the distances to faraway galaxies to an unprecedented level of precision. This goal was achieved by measuring the brightnesses of exploding stars in these galaxies and pulsating stars in the Milky Way's neighbourhood. The controversy remains, however, as our best theory of the Universe's origin and evolution predicts a very different rate of expansion. Do we therefore need to re-write our theory, adding mysterious particles moving at near light-speed, perhaps, or exotic dark energy that acted as anti-gravity when the Universe was young? Or have we simply made a mistake when measuring the expansion rate?

Stephen Feeney

Dr Stephen Feeney is a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCL. Prior to this he was a Flatiron Research Fellow at the Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York and a postdoctoral researcher in the Astrophysics Group at Imperial College London, after having gained his PhD at UCL. His research interests include observational cosmology, the cosmic microwave background, early-universe physics and astro-statistics.


Prof Jay Farihi, (UCL)
Hubble's Ultraviolet Vision Reveals Rocky Planet Pieces

Prof Farihi highlighted the unique capacity of the Hubble Space Telescope to study ultraviolet light, which is impossible from the ground. The most powerful 'UV goggles' ever built have helped astronomers identify rocky and Earth-like compositions among exo-planetary systems, including evidence for water. These planetary systems offer a glimpse into the future of our solar system, and thus Hubble's ultraviolet vision is somewhat akin to planetary archaeology.

Jay Farihi

Prof Jay Farihi is a faculty member in the Astrophysics group at University College London, an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, and previously a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He did his doctoral research in California where he is a native, and post-doctoral work on the big island of Hawaii where he is a frequent visitor to the telescopes. In his spare time he is a connoisseur of whisky, and avid reader and music lover, and travels as often as possible.


Affelia Wibisono , UCL
Space observations of auroral displays on Jupiter

As we explore the wider Universe, understanding how magnetic fields shield life on Earth from the cataclysmic storms from the Sun and other stars is becoming increasingly important. Aurorae provide stunning displays of the interactions between magnetic fields and a planet’s atmosphere. The study of these phenomena is critical to understanding our cosmos and the existence and prevalence of life across it.


Jupiter Aurora NASA

Here on Earth, the sky over Canada, Norway and Iceland (and on rare occasions the UK) glow beautiful reds and greens as solar radiation rain into our atmosphere. However, Earth’s aurorae pale in comparison with those of Jupiter, which burst and crackle dynamically with bright and violent flares energetic enough to power all of human civilization. Affelia showed spectacular videos of these aurorae and discussed how the combination of the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Juno spacecraft (along with other flagship missions like the Chandra X-ray Observatory), are finally helping us to understand how planets produce these enigmatic and inspiring displays.

affelia wibisono

Affelia Wibisono is a PhD student at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL, working on Jupiter's aurorae with observations from the Hubble SpaceTelescope, JUNO and XMM-Newton space missions.

Affelia is also an experienced science communicator and has worked in a number of science centres and museums.


 Watch our video "The Experience of Your Universe: A Short Story", and look at a selection of images from previous years. You can also follow us on Twitter for updates.

Your Universe…


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