Mark Thompson: The Secrets of the Universe... Exposed

The welcome recording over the PA tells us that this event is part of the Assembly Rooms’ ‘Enchanting ideas’ series for a ‘more discerning audience’, getting a chuckle from the audience. Enlightening us about the wonders of space, Mark Thompson, astronomer, BBC presenter and author of A Down to Earth Guide to the Cosmos is marvellously qualified in this subject. As promised, his style is down to earth.

As promised, his style is down to earth.

If you never studied physics but think the universe is interesting you’ll appreciate his presentation style, which is easy to follow without dumbing things down. Thompson opens by telling us that we are made from atoms and every atom has come through the core of a star. So even though the talk does momentarily give me that feeling of insignificance that often comes when we’re thinking about the universe, it’s nice to know that we’re part of it. As Thompson says, we’re part made of the same stuff, born from star dust if you want to be romantic about it. He takes us through the solar system and shows images taken from space telescopes, including a particularly beautiful image of Saturn, where the distant speck of Earth can be seen between its rings.

Thompson takes us through the history of telescopes, making gentle fun of NASA and the ‘service mission’ to repair the mirror in the Hubble telescope. We learn about the sun and the fascinating facts of how stars die but it’s not all talk, Thompson even makes a comet using soil, water, ammonia and soy sauce (for the organic elements) that forms into a solid mass with evaporations coming off it when mixed with dry ice.

Thompson is a likeable presenter and there were quite a few impressed ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ in the audience throughout. This is an interesting lecture that concluded with a very amusing link with Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; it turns out that in recent astronomical theories, 42 is indeed an important number.

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The Blurb

Ever since our distant ancestors turned their gaze on the sky we have tried to unravel its mysteries. With fun live demonstrations, Mark brings the current view of the universe to life with a bang!