Chris Lintott 15 Q&A

Chris is currently working at Oxford University as an astrophysicist, working on  the chemistry associated with star formation. Also a number of citizen science projects that anyone can get involved with. See the links below for more information.

He has also been a regular member of the Sky at Night since his first appearance in 2000.

If you could go back in time and meet any scientific figure, what period would that be and who would you like to meet most?

CL– Not that far back in time, but Richard Feynman, mostly so I could learn from him. I’d love to know what he would make of modern cosmology. Further back, Brahe would be an excellent companion on a modern observing run.

Do you have a favourite constellation?

CL– Cassiopeia. Instantly recognisable, and surprisingly underrated as a home of deep sky objects. Those clusters are great!

WASNET– Cassiopeia is great because it circumpolar in the northern hemisphere so is a good target as it is in the milky way star field.

What do you regularly observe?

CL– Professionally, galaxies as seen in the radio. Recreationally, Jupiter and the Orion Nebula, over and over again.

What do you specialise in?

CL–Not enough! I suppose galaxy formation is my current specialism, but I dabble in star formation and exoplanets. The joy of astronomy is that you can range widely and broadly while using the same set of skills.

WASNET- Astronomy now has so many sub fields, but there is plenty of cross over with collaboration on projects.

Who influenced you most to take up astronomy?

CL– I heard a lecture by Patrick Moore which ended in an explanation of the fact that what we didn’t know about the Universe completely overwhelmed what we did know. That was hugely exciting, and I wrote to Patrick to tell him so. I got a postcard back and the rest is history.

What advice would you give to a beginner just starting out?

CL– Don’t worry about astrophotography or fancy kit. Get to know the sky first, and get to like the feeling of being out under the stars. Then wonder what you want to do with it – for many, the joy of just knowing the sky is enough.

The Drake equation,N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L ,  attempts to estimate the number of possible civilizations in our universe, Is there life out there….?

CL–Well, f_l and f_i let alone f_c and L are completely unconstrained, so maybe. But I hope so.

What is the best part of being an astronomer and the worst?

CL–The best part is the people – astronomers are friendly, imaginative and exciting to be around. The travel’s good too. The worst is the continual sense that there is more that could be done.

If you could visit anywhere in the universe where would that be and why?

CL–The edge of a globular cluster, so I can look back at the Milky Way

What gadget do you find indispensable as an astronomer?

CL–I’m gadget free as an observer; my telescope doesn’t even have a drive. Honestly what I use most often is the app that tells me the ISS is going overhead.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries our understanding of the universe has taken huge leaps forward.  Which discovery do you think had the greatest impact?

CL– I think probably the expansion of the Universe, which brings with it the idea of a Big Bang and a beginning to our Universe. That’s had profound effects on all sorts of thought, scientific and non-scientific.

We still only know what 5% of the universe is composed of normal matter, What about the other 95%?

CL– Don’t know. But isn’t that fun?

What future discovery are you looking most forward to?

CL– What the other 95% is.

What book would you recommend for our WAS members to read on cloudy nights?

CL– Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. But skip the first 100 pages. Seriously – skip the first 100 pages.

WASNETWritten in 1930 you have to make some allowances for its age, especially in the early chapters as Chris says. It sets out to tell the ambitious story of the entire history of mankind from the perspective of the Last Men, the very distant descendants of homo sapiens who are facing destruction by our dying Sun.

As a stranded desert island astronomer you are allowed to take three things with you,  what would they be?

CL– Assuming ‘the internet’ is cheating : A 20” reflector with drive and batteries, a really good pair of binoculars and a tripod for them, and a star atlas with a pencil to make my own annotations.