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Why do astronomers do astronomy? It's often assumed that astronomy, at best, is the useless pursuit of measuring the positions of stars in the sky, making it painfully other-worldly, irrelevant, a waste of money, and something that is only studied by old men with long white beards.
However, in actuality, astronomy is a fast-moving subject at the cutting edge of all the sciences, from maths through physics and information technology, to chemistry and even biology. But, further to this, it is highly relevant because it is the most fundamental science of all: the study of how matter behaves in that laboratory of extremes we call the Universe.
Further to that, astronomy touches on some of the deepest questions we ask. How did the Universe begin - and how will it end? Is there an edge to space? How far are the stars? Is there life out there?
This heady combination of cutting-edge science and curiosity combine to make astronomy one of the most fascinating subjects of all. But it is still an area of complete mystery for most people. For instance, how do astronomers go about their tasks? Who goes into astronomy? And what can the person who hasn't studied the subject at university for six years hope to get out of it?
This talk splits into three unequal parts. First, the hows and whys of astronomy. Then a human look at astronomy - how a management trainee working for Top Shop gave it all up for the sake of the stars. Finally, there's astronomy for everyone - how anyone can be an astronomer.

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This event was on Wed, 16 Nov 1994


Professor Heather Couper

Professor of Astronomy

Heather Couper was the Gresham Professor of Astronomy between 1993 and 1996.

After studying Astrophysics at Oxford University, Professor Couper ran the Greenwich Planetarium, and...

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