Report of General Monthly Meeting - November 2017

U3A Guide to the Galaxy by Dr Jenny Shipway

Dr Shipway has been involved with the Winchester Science Centre for the last ten years, and until recently was Director of Communication and Learning there. She has been responsible for developing many of the programmes for the Planetarium there, as well as establishing it as a centre for academic seminars in the field of astronomy.

For her talk to Winchester U3A, however, she was – fortunately for us – to be able to explain matters in a simple and understandable way. Her illustrated talk – although without the benefit of the wonderful resources of the Planetarium showed us many of the easily identifiable stars in our own galaxy. Starting with Polaris or the North Star, so named because it is always above the North Pole and thus has been used as a navigational tool for centuries, she identified and helped us to find many of the major stars. We located Orion (three stars close together), the Plough (probably the best known), Sirius or the Dog Star, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Arcturus, Gemini (the Heavenly Twins, or Castor and Pollux) and several others. We could see the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters – so called because they are close together. Dr Shipway also explained that the difference in the colours of the stars was due to the difference in their ages, with the red stars being the newest and the one giving off a blue colour being the oldest.

She also demonstrated the huge range in the sizes of the different stars and planets, with Earth being only a tiny dot on the screen and others filling the screen.

It was very helpful to be told what we might see in the night sky at the present time,with Jupiter and Venus being particularly low in the sky and clearly visible just before dawn. Many of us, inspired by her excellent presentation will be out looking at the night sky in the next few weeks – remembering of course to wrap up warm as colder weather is on the way!

Julia Whitburn