Music and the Cosmos
7 May 2009
It was a magic night when science and music met at Music and the Cosmos - an event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. The Sydney Science Forum and Sydney Conservatorium of Music presented the special event, featuring leading astronomers from the University of Sydney's School of Physics and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Brass Ensemble.
The extremely popular event, held on 6 May 2009, was booked out and attracted an audience of 800 people. The main event was held in the University of Sydney's Great Hall, with the music and talks also streamed live onto three large screens in the General Lecture Theatre in the Main Quadrangle.
Robyn Williams, presenter of the ABC's Science Show on Radio National, was special guest compare for the evening, introducing the speakers and music and giving his own entertaining astronomy commentary.
Professor Bryan Gaensler, Professor Tim Bedding and Professor Geraint Lewis, all from the School of Physics, each presented on a different aspect of astronomy in an entertaining and accessible way, delighting the audience with an exploration of the latest in astronomy research.
Professor Bryan Gaensler's talk focussed on some of the most violent events in the Universe. He described the catastrophic 'supernova' explosions that result when massive stars end their lives and presented some of the remarkable reports of these events recorded by ancient Chinese astronomers. Professor Gaensler also explained how supernovae generate energetic subatomic bullets known as 'cosmic rays', and leave behind incredibly magnetic, dense, collapsed stellar remnants known as 'magnetars'.
Professor Tim Bedding spoke about the planets in our solar system and methods for identifying planets around distant stars. He introduced two methods: the wobble effect where the star wobbles slightly as it is tugged by the gravitational pull from its orbiting planet, and the transit effect where the light from a star is slightly dimmed as the planet passes in front of it and slightly eclipses the star. The Doppler effect in light waves is used to detect the wobbling stars, which Professor Bedding illustrated with sound waves by swinging a noise-emitting box around his head lasso-style. The transit effect is being used in the Kepler spacecraft, launched in March 2009, to look at 100 000 stars simultaneously to search for planets of similar size to Earth, in which Professor Bedding and his colleagues are involved.
Professor Geraint Lewis spoke about galactic cannibalism and the future of our sun and all stars - that they will eventually run out of fusion fuel and expire. Professor Lewis explained how galaxies can collide, losing their spiral arms as stars are thrown out in the collision, with the end result being a merger of the two galaxies. He illustrated the concept with an example of what might happen when our galaxy, the Milky Way, collided with its neighbour, Andromeda.
All three astronomers prompted many questions from the audience, in the question and answer session hosted by Robyn Williams towards the end of the evening.
The science was complemented by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Brass Ensemble playing three suites from 'The Planets' by Gustav Holst: Mars Bringer of War, Saturn Bringer of Old Age and Uranus The Magician. Scott Kinmont, lecturer of Trombone Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and one of Australia's leading brass players, conducted the ensemble in their celestially-inspired performance.
'Four Suns', an original composition by Cliff Kerr, who is a PhD student in physics and has also completed study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, was performed by Cliff on piano and Vanessa Tammetta on violin. The four movement piece explored different aspects of the sun, inspired by a series of artworks painted by Cliff's mother.
Professor David Day, Dean of the Faculty of Science, and Dr Alan Maddox, Lecturer in Musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, concluded the evening giving their own take on the meeting of science and music.
Following the formal segment of Music and the Cosmos, the audience were invited to go outside and enjoy astronomy-related physics demonstrations in the Main Quadrangle, including looking through a telescope set up on the lawns for the event. The crowd enjoyed food and drinks as they mingled on the grass in the Main Quadrangle and in the Nicholson Museum, where they could see The Sky's the Limit: Astronomy in Antiquity exhibition.
The unique astronomy experience of Music and the Cosmos was a huge success, with many in the audience thanking the speakers, musicians and event organiser, Trixie Barretto, from the Faculty of Science Marketing and Communications Unit.
Contact: Katynna Gill
Phone: 02 9351 6997