Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An Astrophysics Professor at River Bend Lodge

We recently hosted Professor Michael Bode and his family at River Bend Lodge. Professor Bode is the Director of the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moore's University, which is considered to be one of the world's leading authorities in astronomy and astrophysics. Professor Bode is also a past Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have some time with Michael, after dark, gazing at the heavens while he gave us a short talk on what we were looking at. Michael specializes in 'exploding stars' and we wish to thank him for giving us of his time and a very interesting talk!! This is what he had to say of his time spent at River Bend Lodge.

“We'd never been on safari before and didn't quite know what to expect. Our 4 days and nights at River Bend were however some of the most memorable we've had as a family. Each day was full of adventure and discovery with our guide Mikey. We had some very close encounters with the wildlife and literally never knew what would be around the next corner - his knowledge of the flora and fauna was unbelievable and his enthusiasm just infectious. 

Then there was the Lodge itself where we felt pampered and at home. Between the twice daily drives, and all the food(!) we also managed to tap into Michael's expertise to enhance my daughter's photographic skills while I learnt far more about wine in a glorious couple of hours with him (Michael Price) than several decades of quaffing had imparted. I thus felt the least I could do was show them, and some of the other staff, a few things from my own area of expertise in astronomy.

I've been to the Southern Hemisphere several in my career, and maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm always taken aback a little by the Southern sky. First of all, familiar things are literally 'upside down' to a northern European like me. Then there are the unfamiliar constellations and objects such as the Magellanic Clouds that are too far South to see from home. Finally, the Milky Way is even more glorious 'down there'.

We chose a dark spot in the grounds and looked up. The most obvious object was our own Moon, just past first quarter. Also easily visible was the giant planet Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Turning much further afield, to the stars, I pointed out Alpha Centauri, one of the nearest stars to the Earth at just over 4 light years away. Easily visible across the sky was the great constellation of Orion where the two supergiant stars Rigel and Betelgeuse clearly showed their distinctive blue and red colours respectively. These are stars in the later stages of their lives which are likely to go out with a bang in supernova explosions. In between them, I pointed out Orion's belt and sword, with the latter being the illuminated part of a giant cloud of dust and gas that covers that whole region of sky but most of which is invisible to our eyes. In that cloud, new stars are being formed. 

Stretching across the sky was the Milky Way, the diffuse band of light that is in fact the Galaxy in which we sit, comprising around 200 thousand million stars - a giant spiral structure over 100,000 light years across, with us circling our star the Sun some 30,000 light years from our Galaxy's centre. Finally, the faint blotches known as the Magellanic Clouds off to one side of the Milky Way are in fact small satellite galaxies of our own. Light from the larger of the two takes over 150,000 years to reach us. There was lots more to see, but by now it was getting late, and we had to be up bright and early for our final drive, so we said our goodnights and turned in.”

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