The transient sky: an integrated programme of study 2011 - 2016

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Mathematics and Physics

Abstract

To the naked eye, the night sky appears constant, apart from the motion of the Moon and brighter planets, and the passing of the occasional comet or meteor. However, detailed observations reveal that this is far from the truth. Many stars vary in brightness, either due to intrinsic variability or because an orbiting planet (called a transiting exoplanet) passes in front of it, blocking out a portion of the starlight. Faint, small Solar System bodies, orbiting the Sun and hence changing their position in the night sky, are revealed on exposures taken with large telescopes. Such exposures also reveal stars exploding as supernova in distant galaxies. Even the Sun - the brightest object in the sky - is continually changing. Giant explosions on its surface, known as flares, take place over timescales of minutes to hours. Recently, observations of the Sun with high-speed cameras reveal that changes in the solar atmosphere can occur over timescales of much less than a second. All these phenomena lead to what is termed the transient sky, i.e. a sky whose appearance varies with time. We plan a coordinated programme of observational and theoretical astrophysics to study such phenomena. This will make use of instruments and facilities developed specifically for the investigation of the transient sky, on timescales ranging from less than a second to months. Major themes which will be covered by our Rolling Grant programmes include: the study of activity and variability in the solar atmosphere at high time resolution with the ROSA imager; the discovery and characterisation of transiting exoplanets by the SuperWASP and RISE facilities; the detection of Solar System bodies and supernovae using data obtained from the Pan-STARRS sky survey. Our Rolling Grant programmes will also make extensive use of other major STFC facilities for followup and complementary observations of the Sun, exoplanets, Solar System bodies and supernovae, as well as the stars which explode as supernovae. These facilities include satellites, such as the Hinode solar mission and the Hubble Space Telescope, and large ground-based telescopes including the 8-metre diameter Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, and the 4-metre diameter William Herschel Telescope at the Isaac Newton Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

Publications

10 25 50

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Armstrong D (2012) A transiting companion to the eclipsing binary KIC002856960 in Astronomy & Astrophysics

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Barbarino C (2015) SN 2012ec: mass of the progenitor from PESSTO follow-up of the photospheric phase in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Barros S (2013) Transit timing variations in WASP-10b induced by stellar activity in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Barros S (2011) A lower mass for the exoplanet WASP-21b A lower mass for the exoplanet WASP-21b in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

 
Title The science in science-fiction films and television programmes 
Description This is a collection of presentations which use clips of science-fiction films and television shows (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek) to show how science is portrayed in these media, and discusses how accurate (or otherwise) these portrayals are. Presentation includes discussion of our research on exoplanets. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact The presentations were first produced back in 2007 - supported by an STFC Public Understanding of Science (PUS) Small Award - and since then have been regularly updated. They have been delivered to audiences totalling many thousands - probably over 3000 over the last 3 years alone, These include the general public, schools, higher educational institutes, research establishments. 
 
Description Advances in our knowledge of how energy is transported through the solar atmosphere from the photosphere out to the corona; discovery and characterisation of exoplanets; discovery and characterisation of solar system bodies including comets and asteroids; discovery of supernovae and identification and study of their progenitor stars.
Exploitation Route Astrophysics is a constantly evolving research area, with each publication providing further information on a particular research topic, which is then followed up by subsequent work by individuals and teams (both the authors of the original publication and others in the research field).
Sectors Education

 
Description Used by the astrophysics academic community as a basis for further study - e.g. discovery of an exoplanet will then subsequently be followed by studies of the exoplanet to determine e.g. its density.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Leverhulme Research Project Grant
Amount £169,201 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-249 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2012 
End 05/2016
 
Description Research Fellowship
Amount £82,660 (GBP)
Funding ID VP1-2012-025 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 03/2015
 
Description STFC Astronomy Grants
Amount £1,674,429 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/L000709/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 03/2017
 
Description STFC Astronomy Grants
Amount £37,969 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/M003493/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 03/2015
 
Description STFC Astronomy Grants
Amount £98,989 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/M003515/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 03/2015
 
Description UK-India Education and Research Initiative
Amount £48,900 (GBP)
Funding ID UGC -UKIERI -2017/18-014 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description Annual in-house activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Astronomy lectures and presentations are given at the following annual events: (i) QUB Horizons in Physics} (which attracts around 400 4th- and 5th-form students per year), (ii) Physics Open Days (around 200 6th-form students), (iii) Physics Teachers Conference (about 50 Physics teachers from schools in Ireland).


Increased take-up of Physics and Astronomy degree programme over last 3 years.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017
 
Description Jupiter Watch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Attended by over 500 annually.

Increased awareness and appreciation of astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2016
 
Description Links with W5 Discovery Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact An ongoing partnership with the W5 Discovery Centre in Belfast (Ireland's award-winning science and discovery centre). We developed the Planet Quest exhibition, based on explaining the multi-wavelength nature of modern astronomy. This includes spectacular infrared images from telescopes and satellites, information stands on the nature of infrared radiation, and hands on activities for children. It showcases high-profile Queen's astrophysics research to illustrate to the public that world-leading, technology-driven research is happening in Belfast. The exhibition initially ran March - September 2012, attracting 10,000 visitors, and we hope to run it again during the period 2014 - 2017. Astrophysics staff also host talks, Q&A sessions and hands-on building games in W5 (aimed at Key Stage 3 pupils), and further support W5 through the creation of astronomy CPD materials and a centralised web resource for secondary school physics teachers.

Increased interest in astronomy and science from schoolchildren.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description Michael West lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have initiated a series of high-profile public lectures, The Michael West Lecture Series in Astronomy, following a philanthropic donation from Dr West which funds a Fellowship with a major outreach and education component. These lectures, which are scheduled typically twice per year, each attract 200 people, and are now the most widely attended public lecture series at Queen's University and indeed in Ireland as a whole.


Increased requests for e.g. school talks. Media interviews.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
URL https://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/wiki/public/outreach/start
 
Description School visits 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact All members of the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) at Queen's University are involved in schools talks, covering their research topics as well as more general interests in astronomy. Most are at secondary level but also at primary (we actively take part in STEPS), either in the classroom or at Queen's. ARC staff deliver a total of about 40 talks/year to pupils, with typical class sizes of 25.

Hard to assess, but in Northern Ireland uptake of Physics at university level has increased steadily in recent years, in contrast to the UK trend.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018