Blackett Science Lecture

The 9th annual Blackett Science Lecture took place on Tuesday 26th November in the Ellis Theatre given by the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, Professor Steven Balbus titled ‘The Moon: what is, what was, what might have been’.

A large audience of pupils and Friends of the Marlborough Telescope outreach group listened to the story of how Newton’s comparison of the moon’s orbit with terrestrial falling objects led to a universal theory of gravity, but had the moon been a bit farther away, its orbit would have been bizarrely noncircular, the notion of universal gravity much more elusive, and the scientific revolution of the 17th century may or may not have been.  This is one of several “just-so-happens” qualities of the moon that have affected life on earth, both culturally and biologically. The talk covered some of the effects our daughter planet (as the moon is thought to be) exerts on the Earth.  We will see how very, very different the world would be with even slight changes in her mass and orbit, let alone without her. We might not even have been here.

Professor Balbus attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied mathematics and physics and a PhD at the University of California, Berkely in theoretical astrophysics.  He has held long term appointments at MIT, Princeton University, and the University of Virginia, and visiting Professorships at UC Berkeley and Princeton University. His field of specialty is astrophysical fluid dynamics and he is best known for his role in developing a theory for the origin of accretion disk turbulence. For his work with his collaborator J. F. Hawley, he received the $1M 2013 Shaw Prize in Astronomy. He is currently working on a theory for the origin of the Sun’s internal rotation.

Balbus is the 21st Savilian Professor, a post some 50 years older than that of the Astronomer Royal and famously held by Sir Christopher Wren, the 4th Professor.


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