14 Oct 2009
A team of renowned planet and star hunters from Queen's University have been honoured by having their portraits displayed in an exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall this month.
Marking the 400th anniversary of when Galileo first turned a telescope to the heavens, the Explorers of the Universe exhibition portrays all aspects of astronomy in the UK. It has been commissioned by The Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
Professors Stephen Smartt, Don Pollacco and Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queen's Astrophysics Research Centre have all been included in the exhibition which has created a unique photographic record of 'today's Galileos'.
The portraits, taken by renowned photographer Max Alexander, range from academic research and observation to the stargazing public and capture the journey of discovery on which both scientists and the public are travelling.
Queen's Professor Don Pollacco is photographed at the SuperWASP planet-finding facility at 9,000ft on the island of La Palma. He is the primary designer and one of the lead scientists in this effort, which has already discovered over 30 planets orbiting other stars. He said: "Max is a real perfectionist, it took ages to get the light right for the shot."
Professor Stephen Smartt is internationally renowned for his investigations into what type of stars explode as Supernovae. He said of his picture: "One day I would like to see a Supernova as bright as the flash pictured in this photograph. There's a possibility that if one of the most massive and nearest stars in our galaxy exploded, it would look something like this. I'm not holding my breath, it could be anytime in the next 10,000 years, so meanwhile we have to look at more distant galaxies to find these explosions."
The comets and asteroids that Professor Alan Fitzsimmons studies are all orbiting our Sun similar to a celestial Merry-Go-Round - a factor which clearly provided the inspiration for his portrait which was shot in Leicester Square, London. He said: "Sitting on a fairground horse was different to my normal job of using some of the worlds largest telescopes for research. It was certainly an interesting experience to be a model for a morning. I just struck a pose, there was nothing to it."
Well-known Queen member and astronomer Brian May is also be exhibiting his own steroscopic imagery for the duration of the exhibition. The exhibition is in the Royal Albert Hall, London until November 2nd and admission is free. More details on the event can be found at Explorers of the Universe - Royal Albert Hall while more information on the work of the Queen's astronomers is available at http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/