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Christ Church and Space

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Friday, May 4, 2018

May the Fourth be with you... It's Star Wars day!

Christ Church has connections with the series itself, but we thought we’d also take a look at all of the other ways in which our students, staff and alumni are involved in research into space and galaxies far, far away.

First up, we have the fact that a Christ Church alumnus has actually starred in one of the Star Wars films! Riz Ahmed studied PPE at Christ Church, matriculating in 2001, and played the key role of Bodhi Rook, a former Imperial pilot, in ‘Rogue One’ (2016).

A bit closer to home, and Christ Church is lucky enough to have a telescope that any member of the JCR can borrow! Whether you’re already a keen stargazer or it’s something you’ve never even tried before, it’s a great way of spending an evening.

Amongst our academic staff we have number of astrophysicists who are engaged in exciting work on the solar system and beyond! From stars and galaxies, to black holes and asteroids, our researchers are working on some really fascinating things…

Professor Roger Davies, Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics and Dr Lee’s Reader in Physics, teaches an introductory course entitled ‘Astrophysics: from Planets to the Cosmos’. In addition to his academic roles, he was also elected as President of the European Astronomical Society in 2017. He started off working on galaxy dynamics, before moving to the USA, where as part of the ‘Seven Samurai’ team he worked out a new way of measuring the distances to galaxies, and discovered the ‘Great Attractor’, a huge concentration of galaxy clusters in the southern sky. He moved to Oxford in 1988 to lead the UK’s participation in the construction of the 8m Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, and was President of the Royal Astronomical Society 2010-2012. His research interests centre on cosmology and how galaxies form and evolve, and he has a longstanding interest in astronomical instruments and telescopes. Back in Michaelmas 2017 he gave a fascinating talk (part of our ‘Christ Church Time’ series) on galaxies and black holes!

Dr Kerri Donaldson Hanna is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and a UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellow, whose research focuses on understanding the formation and evolution of planetary crusts of airless bodies like the Moon, Mercury and asteroids. She was awarded a 2018 Winton Capital prize, recognising the outstanding work of young researchers, for her contribution to the field of geophysics. You can find out more about her research in this post from our Women in Science feature.

Dr Yiqing Liu is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow whose research interests include galaxy formation and evolution, and star clusters.

Dr Leah Morabito is a Millard and Lee Alexander Postdoctoral Research Fellow, using her research to try and answer questions on how super-massive black impact the evolution of galaxies. She’s developing innovative high resolution imaging techniques, along with information from a wide range of different kinds of telescope, to get a complete picture of the inner workings of galaxies with active super-massive black holes. You can find out more about her work in this post from our Women in Science feature.

Dr Fabian Schneider is also a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Christ Church, and a Hintze Research Fellow in the Oxford Centre for Astrophysical Surveys. His main research interests involve the evolution and final fates of massive single and binary stars. He was part of an international team of astronomers which revealed an ‘astonishing’ overabundance of massive stars in a neighbouring galaxy, which has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of how stars transformed the Universe into the one we live in today.

Some of our alumni have also made important developments when it comes to our understanding of space and what’s out there. To name just a few...

Sir Martin Ryle studied Physics at Christ Church from 1936-39. He went on to develop radio telescope systems, and also observed the most distant known galaxies in the Universe at the time. He was Astronomer Royal from 1972 to 1982, and, along with Antony Hewish, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 – which was the first time it was awarded for research into astronomy.

Going further back, we have Robert Hooke. He started studying at Christ Church in 1653 or 1654, and was granted an MA in 1663. Whilst at Oxford he undertook some astronomy, and later hypothesised on concepts relating to gravitation and orbital motion. In the ‘Micrographia’, published in 1665, he recorded his astronomical observations of stars and the surface of the moon, and later in his career he also observed Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the rotation of Mars, double stars, and other astronomical phenomena. He attempted to measure a shift in position of the brightest star in the constellation Draco, over the course of the year, to demonstrate the movement of the Earth around the Sun. He was an early observer of the rings of Saturn, and also discovered one of the first observed double-star systems, Gamma Arietis, in 1664.


All in all, Christ Church has some pretty impressive connections to the world of Astronomy and Astrophysics! You can find out more about studying Physics at Oxford on the subject pages of our website.