Guildford Astronomical Society


Aerial view of the University with labels

Our meetings are held in Lecture Theatre L in the Lecture Theatre Block (Level 2) of the University of Surrey, Guildford.

Click here for a map to show you directions to the University Main Car Parks. If you’re travelling using a SatNav the postcode is GU2 7XH.

A detailed map (available here) shows the location of the Lecture Theatre Block (pale blue and near the middle of the map), Main Car Parks 1-4 and Bus Stops next to Senate House and North of the Austin Pearce Building. There are also more convenient car park spaces available for disabled drivers at various nearby locations. The University also has a web page here for newcomers to the campus.

For a preview of the lecture room see here

Meetings start at 7.30pm on the first Thursday of each month (except August when there is no meeting) and usually finish around 10pm. One or two meetings in the year, (including the AGM), are set aside for members only; these are indicated in our list of Talks for upcoming meetings.

Note for Visitors: To help cover the cost of the room hire, we charge just £5.00 (£4.00 for Junior/Student guests) per meeting. On arrival, please introduce yourself to any member of the Committee (look for their badges) — you’ll be very warmly welcomed!

Tea/Coffee (biscuits included) available in the break for just £2. However, we respectfully ask that you don’t bring any food or drinks into the lecture theatre.

If you have any special access requirements, please contact the Secretary, .

See you there…

Meeting Format

Meetings generally take one of two formats:

  • An invited expert gives a talk/presentation – illustrated and/or animated – of an aspect of astronomy. Subjects are chosen because they’re topical, practical – or just interesting to astronomers. Each year we arrange a balanced mix, covering a wide range of topics. and levels.
  • A ‘members evening’, in which members present short talks on their own interests, projects, and topics of general interest.

Occasionally, invited speakers have to cancel, (usually at extremely short notice), and at these times the meeting often takes the form of an informal quiz, a question and answer session, or a hands-on Workshop.

Typically,the main talk of the evening lasts for an hour or so, after which we have a 15-20 minute comfort break. Tea, coffee and biscuits are available from the adjoining refreshments room.

A view of the Duke of Kent Building across the lake

Following the break, the remaining time until 10pm usually features Society news and business, (such as the latest reports from the Observatory, Observing Evening Reports, etc), and a short ‘What’s on?’ feature describing events happening later in the current month.


If there’s time at the end, some members go for a drink and chat. You’re welcome to join us in the bar in Wates House (see the map).

The 2016-2017 Session

Subject to change

DateTalk/Presentation TitleSpeaker
1 Sep 2016Exploring the Non-Thermal Universe: the Cherenkov Telescope ArrayProf Tim Greenshaw
6 Oct 2016Spacecraft I Have Known and LovedProf John Zarnecki
3 Nov 2016Extraterrestrial Resources: Mining the Moon and AsteroidsProf Ian Crawford
1 Dec 2016Black Holes and Spin-offsProf Katherine Blundell
5 Jan 2017Variable Stars: a vital area of observing for amateur astronomersGuy Hurst
2 Feb 2017The digital window to the Universe: Using computers to understand the CosmosDr Ramón Rey Raposo
2 Mar 2017Astronomy and Sex: the historical relationship between Women and the CosmosProf David W Hughes
6 Apr 2017The Greatest Light Show on EarthDr Colin Forsyth
4 May 2017Is there Life on Proxima b?Prof David Waltham
1 Jun 2017Planets and Pulsations: The New Keplerian RevolutionProf Donald W Kurtz
6 Jul 2017Members OnlyGAS Committee & Members
Aug 2017Note: There is no meeting in August 

The 2017-2018 Session

Subject to change

DateTalk/Presentation TitleSpeaker
7 Sep 2017The Gaia Revolution

Gaia is a European Space Agency mission is to reveal the composition, formation and evolution of our Milky Way Galaxy. The whole mission cost around 1 billion Euros, the Gaia satellite (launched in 2013) has the largest CCD camera in space with nearly 1 billion pixels and it is observing over 1 billion stars (1% of the Galaxy's population).

The revolution began with Gaia’s first data release (DR1) in 2016, which included the positions of over 1 billion stars, allowing the most detailed map ever of the night sky to be made. The revolution will continue with Gaia’s second data release (DR2, April 2018). DR2 will improve this map and extend it to 3D by publishing the parallaxes of these 1 billion stars, from which their distances can be inferred. It will be possible to turn this 3D map into a movie because DR2 will also include how stars move with time (proper motions and radial velocities).

Not only will Gaia revolutionise most of astrophysics because distances are so fundamental to the subject, it will also discover thousands of supernovae, tens of thousands of new planetary systems around other stars, monitor hundreds of millions of variable stars, study 500,000 quasars across the Universe, measure how space-time is warped by the gravitational fields of the Sun and major planets and provide our first census of asteroids in the inner Solar System!

I will present the scientific motivation for Gaia, the satellite itself and its measurement principles, the human side of Gaia, the contents of DR1 and highlights of its scientific results, the promise of DR2, MSSL’s contribution to the mission, how anyone can get involved with the mission now (Gaia Alerts) and the future of the mission.

Dr George Seabroke
Senior Research Associate, MSSL, UCL
5 Oct 2017From Quark to the CosmosProf Ian Shipsey
Head of Particle Physics
University of Oxford
2 Nov 2017Diamonds in the Sky – The Importance of White Dwarfs in Modern Astrophysics

While it is more than 150 years since the first known white dwarf, Sirius B, was discovered, these stars remain enigmatic objects. They are implicated in Type Ia supernova explosions and the population can be used to place limits on the age of the Galaxy. In recent years new surprises have emerged, suggesting that white dwarfs are accreting the remnants of their ancient planetary systems. These stars might also be used to probe the fundamental physics of the cosmos. This talk will discuss the history of the the discovery of white dwarfs leading to these latest discoveries.

Prof Martin Barstow
Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Head of College, College of Science & Engineering, University of Leicester,
President, Royal Astronomical Society (2014-2016)
7 Dec 2017Mars: A Warm and Wet Beginning

We’ve now found evidence of extensive river systems in the area which supports the idea that Mars was warm and wet, providing a more favourable environment for life than a cold, dry planet. Arabia Terra was essentially one massive flood plain bordering the highlands and lowlands of Mars. We think the rivers were active 3.9–3.7 billion years ago, but gradually dried up before being rapidly buried and protected for billions of years, potentially preserving any ancient biological material that might have been present. These ancient Martian flood plains would be great places to explore to search for evidence of past life. In fact, one of these inverted channels called Aram Dorsum is a candidate landing site for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Rover mission.

Joel Davis
PhD Student, UCL-Birkbeck Research School of Earth and Planetary Sciences
4 Jan 2018Exploring the Pluto-System: A view from New Horizons

The New Horizon spacecraft flew-by Pluto in July of 2015, observing Pluto and its five moons using a suite of instruments that included two cameras, an ultra-violet and an infrared spectrometer. This talk will give an overview of New Horizons' exciting results, and describe what the post-Pluto future holds for this important mission.

See Carly at TEDxBoulder Pluto: Worth the Wait?

Follow Carly on Twitter.

Dr Carly Howett
Senior Research Scientist
Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, USA &
New Horizons Mission Team Member
1 Feb 2018Dark Future?

The talk examines recent and current trends in lighting and their significance for the night sky, and what the future may bring for astronomy as LEDs, switch-offs, remote control and 'intelligent lighting ' (and even driverless cars) become the norm.

Bob Mizon
Co-ordinator, BAA Commission for Dark Skies
1 Mar 2018Structure in the Early Universe

Carlos Frenk is helping to answer some of the most basic — yet profound — questions about our Universe and its origins. These relate to what it is made of, how matter and energy were organised in the early stages of the Big Bang, and how structure subsequently evolved into the pattern of galaxies that we see today.

Using incredibly powerful supercomputers, he builds and runs simulations of the cosmos. The results can then be compared with observations of the real Universe to test theories about its formation, structure and evolution. His techniques are now commonly used within the field of cosmology to explain how the stars and galaxies arose.

Up to 85 per cent of the mass of the Universe is thought to consist of dark matter — mysterious matter that barely interacts with electromagnetic radiation such as light. Carlos and collaborators also pioneered the theory of cold dark matter, a now widely accepted model for the formation of larger cosmic objects through the aggregation and merging of smaller, collapsed, objects.

Prof Carlos S Frenk
Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics Director, Institute for Computational Cosmology, Physics Department, Durham University
5 Apr 2018Lucky Planet

Science tells us that life elsewhere in the Universe is increasingly likely to be discovered. But in fact the Earth may be a very unusual planet – perhaps the only one like it in the entire visible Universe. In his talk on the "Lucky Planet”, Professor Waltham asks why, and comes up with some surprising and unconventional answers.

Prof David Waltham
Dept of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway College, University of London
3 May 2018Twinkle: An Alternative Approach to Science Space Missions

Twinkle is a small, low-cost mission that will use spectroscopy to decode the light from hundreds of extrasolar planets. Twinkle will be able to reveal, for the first time, the chemical composition, weather and history of worlds orbiting distant stars. The Twinkle satellite will be built in the UK and launched into a low-Earth orbit within 3 to 4 years, using a platform designed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and instrumentation led by UCL. This project also is allowing for collaboration between amateurs and professionals in gathering data for candidate stellar systems. Dr Tessenyi will be updating us with the latest developments in this exciting program.

Dr Marcell Tessenyi
Dept of Physics and Astronomy, UCL
7 Jun 2018Astrobiology; The Cradle of Life

How did life begin on Earth? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? How can we look for it?

These are three fundamental questions for modern science. In this talk I will discuss how we are trying to answer them.

Prof Nigel Mason
Professor of Physics, Open University
12 Jul 2018Members Only
AGM & Members Presentations

NB: This is the second Thursday in July
GAS Committee & Members
Aug 2018Note: There is no meeting in August 

Click here to see the profiles of past and forthcoming speakers.

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