Space Week 2018 set to broaden horizons

Topics include the possibility of life on other planets, the changing space industry and black holes

Aina Andreu, from Barcelona, looking at the stars during the Global Star Count in Orion at Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork. CIT Blackrock Castle will host an open night where you can learn about Martian exploration and, if weather permits, there will be stargazing during Space Week 2018. Photograph: Miki Barlok

Aina Andreu, from Barcelona, looking at the stars during the Global Star Count in Orion at Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork. CIT Blackrock Castle will host an open night where you can learn about Martian exploration and, if weather permits, there will be stargazing during Space Week 2018. Photograph: Miki Barlok

 

Is there life on other planets? How is the space industry changing? And how can we all gain a deeper understanding of the shared heritage that is space?

These and many other questions are up for exploration as Space Week blasts off in Ireland and runs from October 4th to 10th. There’s a strong focus on events for schools and professional development for teachers, and there is also plenty for the general public.

Exoplanet journey

During Space Week, Dr Elizabeth Tasker will give a public talk at Trinity College Dublin, she will speak to students at Dublin City University and she will take part in a careers event at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). An astrophysicist and science communicator working at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), she has exoplanets in her sights.

“Only 25 years ago, we only knew of the planets within our solar system. Now we know of nearly 4,000 other worlds. This has opened the door to seriously debating one of the most fundamental questions humans have ever asked: ‘Are we alone in the Universe?’” says Tasker, noting that we are only at the start of answering such a question.

“At the moment, we have found Earth-sized [exoplanets] but we have no way of knowing if they are actually Earth-like: do they have atmospheres like our own, do they have water and continents or are they entirely dry or drowning in global oceans? Exactly how alien can a rocky world be, and could the strangest of landscapes still support life? These are the questions for the next 25 years.”

Her overarching message is that we are watching an “incredible journey unfold” and it’s one to savour. “Let’s not rush to the end and claim an Earth-sized world is Earth 2.0,” she says. “Instead, let’s relish every step from finding the same sized planet to ours, to ones with similar or wildly different air and rocks, to finally hunting for the whiff of life that has never experienced the Earth.”

New opportunities

Dr Niall Smith, head of research at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, takes a similarly expansive view of space research and careers. “We are in a golden era of space,” he says. “We are learning more about the cosmos in which we live, we are building better telescopes and spacecraft and the whole space industry paradigm is being completely disrupted, which opens up lots of new opportunities for Ireland.”

During Space Week, Smith will speak at careers events for secondary school students at DCU and CIT, and he sees a bright future for space-related technology.

“One of the big areas where we can use technology in space for our benefit is to connect with each other,” he says. “There are parts of the world where it is just not economical or practical to use ground-based technologies for communications, and this can lead to isolation. This is where I think satellite communications will have a huge impact, connecting these communities. These are the kinds of impacts that space technology can have, they can help people every day and enrich their lives.”

Engage with our shared heritage

Other Space Week events include a series of public talks on star formation, black holes and even time-travel in alternate universes at DCUniverse in DCU, and a talk on “A Short History of Rockets” hosted by Shannonside Astronomy Club and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

CIT Blackrock Castle will host an open night where you can learn about Martian exploration and, if weather permits, there will be stargazing. “We want to get everyone thinking more about space and engaging with it,” says BCO general manager Clair McSweeney. “It is above us, it’s free and it’s our shared heritage.”

Space Week Ireland runs from October 4th-October 10th and is organised by CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory with the support of Science Foundation Ireland and ESERO Ireland. For more information and to book places where required, see spaceweek.ie