When you look up at the sky on a clear night do you ever ask yourself: how many of the twinkling stars have planets, like the planets orbiting our own sun? And how many of those planets might be capable of harbouring life, like the precious planet we live on? Is there some special combination of properties that a star must possess to elevate the chances of its hosting a habitable planet? Or are some sun-like stars just too unsafe for their planets?
Thanks to the launch of the NASA Kepler Mission the past three years have seen dramatic progress in the study of other stellar systems in our galaxy. Kepler has been continuously monitoring the brightness of around 150,000 stars in our galaxy and has to date discovered over 2,000 candidate planets. Kepler’s exquisite data has revolutionised the study of stars, in particular thanks to the application of a powerful new technique called asteroseismology, the study of stars by observation of their natural resonances (“the music of the stars”).
In Birmingham, we have a long and proud tradition of astronomy research, education and public engagement. In 1984 we opened our Wast Hills Observatory where to the present day Birmingham undergraduates acquire real world technical skills as they design, execute and analyse their observations of the universe.
We are embarking on a development of the Wast Hills Observatory into a flagship scientific facility for the West Midlands, as the centrepiece of a new partnership between our academic staff (professional astronomers), our students, local schools and the public.
Our path begins with replacing our 30-year-old telescope with a powerful state of the art telescope that can be operated on-site, via a broadband internet like, or even as a robot without human intervention! This new telescope will allow the University of Birmingham to participate in the exciting new future of astronomy of the “changing skies”.
The telescope will transform the face of undergraduate skills training and public participation in science. We want to act now to get ready for this exciting future, and we need your help to have our new telescope before the end of 2013.
How you can help
The School of Physics and Astronomy need £40,000 to replace the current 30-year-old Wast Hills Observatory telescope with a state of the art telescope four times more powerful. You can be part of the exciting new future of astronomy by making a donation towards the new telescope. To contribute, please visit our giving pages and select “Physics Telescope Fund” in the designation drop-down menu. For more information on the Wast Hills Observatory visit its website.