The Astronomical Unit


Talks for Astronomical Societies

SARS-CoV-2 (Coronovirus)
While there are "social distancing" restrictions in force, I am not taking bookings for "in person" talks at least until August 2020. However, I am doing "virtual" talks by Zoom.

An advantage to the hosting society is that I will not have any expenses to be met (although I've never knowingly refused a donation made on my behalf to the Commission for Dark Skies). Either I can tweak the talk to fit into the free 40 minute Zoom slot, or the society can purchase a Zoom license that permits meetings of unlimited length.

If this is of interest, please complete the form at the bottom of the page, putting "Zoom" at the end of the Society's name.

Duration: Talks typically last for about an hour, which includes about 15 minutes for questions/discussion, but this can be varied if you wish.

Availability: My calendar is usually a good indicator of my availability for "short journey" and Zoom talks, but I am more restricted with long journeys, especially those involving an overnight stay, because of daytime commitments.

Queries/Booking: See the bottom of this page.

Pseudoastronomy: (Complementary and Alternative Astronomy)

Part 1: The Beginnings: Charlatans and Frauds

One way to get famous in astronomy is to have your name associated with a discovery. We tackle "fake news" from the Chevalier d'Angos, Frédéric Petit, Georg Waltemath, Leo Brenner (aka Spiridon Gopčević) & Rudolf Steiner, some of which still affects us today.

Part 2: Planet X, Zetans, and Lost Civilisations

Did the ancient Sumerians describe a planet that will destroy Earth? Can astronomy be used to explain the locations of ancient pyramids and temples? Was there an advanced ancient master-race that was wiped out by a comet in 12,500 BCE? Did the ancient civilisations we know about arise out of nowhere, taught by visitors from Atlantis or other planets?

The clear answer to all these is a resounding "No!" yet the myths persist.


Part 3: Hollow Moon and Flat Earth

Is the Moon an alien spacecraft?
Is Earth really a disc accelerating upwards at 9.8ms-2?
Are Daily Express astronomy headlines ever correct?

You might have thought that ignorance isn't a choice anyone would make, or that the tension between fundamentalist religion and scientific astronomy died during the Enlightenment. You'd be wrong!

How Old Is It?

Aristotle thought it was eternal; James Ussher dated its creation to 6pm on 22 Oct 4004 BCE; Newton eventually decided that it was infinite, static, and eternal; by 1958 it seemed to be younger than the oldest stars; by 2013, this had all been resolved and we now accept the Universe to be approximately 13.8 billion years old. This talk traces the ideas, evidence and reasoning for the answers to this most fundamental of questions.

Are We Alone?

In 1961, Frank Drake introduced his eponymous equation. In the half-century since then, we have a much better idea of the likely values of some of the parameters. This talk examines the state of play with respect to SETI and potentially habitable exoplanets, and examines our current understanding of the likelihood of there being similar planets to Earth. It "reboots" the Drake Equation in the light of these developments.

The Star of Bethlehem

Theories abound for the Star of Bethlehem. In this occasionally provocative talk, we look at the actual evidence and its cultural context, discuss some recent astrological and astronomical interpretations, and arrive at some definitive conclusions about the story.

Ten Ways the Universe Tries to Kill You

From gamma-ray bursts to asteroid impacts, an overview of cataclysmic events. This light-hearted but scientifically robust approach incorporates a lot of fundamental cosmological processes, from stellar evolution to galactic interaction. It is appropriate for both beginning and intermediate amateur astronomers.

Two Eyes are Better than One

The binocular is not limited to being a beginner's instrument and a subordinate adjunct to a telescope, but is an exceptionally valuable astronomical instrument in its own right. Find out how to choose and use binoculars for astronomy: discover what makes a good (or bad!) binocular, distinguish between valuable information and advertising hype, and learn how to optimise your viewing experience.

I will bring a number of binoculars and mounting options for the "hands on" experience. I also need to be able to park at the venue to unload kit. Please contact me prior to booking if space or parking may be an "issue".

(Video taken impromptu on a cheap point-and-shoot camera, so quality leaves a lot to be desired!)

Time and Calendars

Why is the tenth month named for the Latin word to 8th? Why does the UK fiscal year begin on 6th April? What is the Twins Paradox? The measurement of time has always been a facet of Astronomy. The phases in the development of the Gregorian calendar most (but not all!) of us use today make a fascinating story which blends science, history, sociology, religion and psychology. From there we look at different ways of reckoning time, and examine the consequences of special relativity for time reckoning.

Although it indicates when I am not available, this calendar should not be taken as a definitive indicator of when I am available, especially if overnight stays may be involved, as I have daytime teaching commitments that I need to honour.


If you have any queries prior to booking, please to email me using your default email client.

Which talk are you booking:
Charlatans and Frauds
Planet X, Zetans and Lost Civilisations
Hollow Moon and Flat Earth
How Old Is It?
Are We Alone?
The Star of Bethlehem
Ten Ways the Universe Tries to Kill You
Two Eyes are Better than One
Time and Calendars

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