Guildford Astronomical Society

Prof David W Hughes

Prof David W HughesProf David W Hughes

David W. Hughes is the Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sheffield, UK. He has spent his life teaching and explaining the joys and complexities of astronomy to students and doing research into the minor bodies of the solar system and the history of astronomy.

He was a co-investigator on the extremely successful European Space Agency’s GIOTTO space mission to Comet Halley and also on ESA’s Smart 1 mission to the Moon.

David has served on a host of space and astronomy committees and has twice been a Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Astronomical Association. He has lectured all over the world, led astronomical eclipse expeditions and has three times given the prestigious annual Herschel Lecture in Bath. In 1990 asteroid 4205 was named David Hughes in his honour.

DateTalk at GAS meeting
6 Dec 2012The Star of Bethlehem, an astronomer's view

In 1976 I wrote an 85,000 word book explaining the biblical and astronomical clues as to the physical nature of the Star of Bethlehem. The conclusion was that the wise men had predicted and seen a close approach of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the zodiacal constellation of Pisces. This was the sign that a new king of the Jews had been born in Israel.

This talk discusses the Jupiter-Saturn theory and also contrasts it with a host of other suggestions concerning comets, new stars, and lunar conjunctions. One tentative conclusion of the planetary conjunction hypothesis is that Jesus was born on Tuesday 15th September 7 BC. Another Biblical possibility is that St Matthew made the whole thing up!

See David's presentation here [PPT: 20.2Mb, Members only].

6 Mar 2014Astronomy and Art

Over the centuries astro-art has been produced by astronomers, artists, and the specialist ‘scientific-artist’. First were the astronomers who were keen to have a permanent visual record of their observations. Before photography, the astronomers had to get out their sketchpads, pencils and paints to record the comets, planets, moons and galaxies they saw. Their artistic skills were also used to map the stars in a constellation, or represent the path of an eclipse.

True artists, exemplified by Monet, Van Gogh, Escher and Palmer, have also been inspired by celestial phenomena but are less concerned with scientific accuracy. The scientific artist, an amalgam of the astronomer and the artist, first worked in the twentieth century. These visionaries use their paints to show us what it would be like to use rockets to explore the Solar System, stand on an orbiting rock in the rings of Saturn; to fall into a black hole; or to witness the birth of the planets.

See David's presentation here [PPT: 18.1Mb, Members only].

5 Mar 2015The Influence of Astronomy on Life in Ancient Times

Astronomy had a profound effect on the development of civilisation. As the first science it introduced things that were constant and predictable to what was usually an unpredictable life style. The Sun, Moon, stars and planets provided daily timekeeping and a year-long calendar to regulate their lives, and the means to navigate on land and sea. The yearly variation of the Sun’s rising, setting and noontime positions marked the progression of the seasons and thus heralded the times to gather, hunt, fish, sow and harvest. The monthly variations of the Moon’s phase helped them predict the tides, and see at night.

Astronomy was important in all aspects of ancient life. The Sun, Moon, stars and planets provided a basis for stories, myths, religions, festivals and fortune telling. And pyramids, henges, and churches were all orientated in specific solar directions.

In this talk we go back go back to the time of the cave men and the early towns and cities, and ask a simple question, “What was the use of astronomy?”.

See David's presentation here [PPT: 18.6Mb, Members only].

3 Mar 2016Mars, my second favourite planet


Colder, smaller and about 50% further from the Sun than Earth, Mars is just in the Sun’s “habitable zone”. The surface iron oxide gives it a red colour but what makes it endearing is its terrestrial nature. Mars has a day like the Earth’s and seasons like the Earth. These annually change the size of the icy polar caps and the ferocity of the winds and the extent of the atmosphere. The surface is pittered with impact craters, but also boasts giant volcanoes and huge canyons. Even though the surface is now desiccated there is clear evidence that it was once wet. Many mysteries remain. Did life break out on Mars? Do living things inhabit subsurface regions? Ever since the dawn of the space age Mars has been a prime target. Mars-space teams with orbiting craft and surface rovers slowly wander across its deserts. Humans look on with fascination. Just how long will we have to wait before our colonisation begins?

See David's presentation here [PPT: 21.7Mb, Members only].

2 Mar 2017Astronomy and Sex: the historical relationship between Women and the Cosmos