Heaven’s Above! Handover interview

Heavens Above! is the astronomy section of the Sci@StAnd site. This month, we see the handover of this section from the current author John Weaver to the new author, Kate Gould.

So Kate, tell me a bit about yourself:

Well first off, I’m a first year here at St Andrews and like a lot of people, I have a fascination with astronomy that stems from a love of the night sky. Being in St Andrews is actually pretty convenient for this, seeing as there is not only an amazing observatory, but several excellent stargazing sights. I also enjoy music, weightlifting and exploring!

And what are you studying?

If you hadn’t guessed already, my major is astrophysics (although I have a strong interest in other disciplines of physics as well). One of my favourite things about astrophysics is how inclusive it is: anyone from amateur astronomers, to kids, to professional researchers all have a passion for the universe. I’ve found from speaking to a lot of people that they all know quite a lot about space without even realising it. In fact, I once had a job interview for a restaurant in which we spent the entire time talking about black holes!

That’s great! Did you get the job?

Well, yes and no – it was either work for a year or come to St Andrews and of course I chose the latter!

You seem to be interested in outreach – have you done any of this before?

Since coming to university I’ve helped out at several observatory open nights, which has been really rewarding. It’s great to see people of all ages get excited about astronomy and if I can help spark their passion then all the better! I’d love to get more involved in outreach in general, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write for Sci@StAnd. I’ve been inspired by a lot of science presenters as well and I’d like to pursue the advocacy of physics, especially astronomy, in the same way that these people have.

Which particular presenters have you drawn inspiration from?

A huge inspiration for me is Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s said a lot of very relevant things about politics and science – about the importance of science missions, about “the importance of discovery empowering the nations of the world”. Reading his essays and watching his lectures online were a pivotal part of my decision to pursue a career in astrophysics. He taught me that if anything, the most important thing for the future of our world is the investment in learning about the universe we live in. If you want to be inspired by him, go on YouTube and watch “the most astounding fact”. Essentially he said that the universe is in us – and this should make us feel big, because we are all connected, not only as humans, but with the universe as well.

 I think I’ve actually seen that one – he’s a favourite of mine too. And have you got any ideas about what you’d like to write about yet?

Yes! I’d like to write some articles focusing on astronomy in and around St Andrews. Having stargazed a lot since coming here, what I’ve noticed is that although the general level of light pollution in St Andrews is quite low (see castle sands on a dark night you’ll be amazed!), the light pollution near the observatory is quite bad, mostly due to inefficient street lighting and the floodlights on the sports pitch. I’d like to raise awareness of this problem and try to get it solved, so writing an article is my first port of call. I’d also like to write about the next up and coming technology in astronomy, mainly large telescopes and space travel.

Sounds great! I can see there won’t be a shortage of articles. What advancements in astronomy do you expect to happen in the next few years?

Already there is an increasing movement towards space travel – both manned and unmanned. I think the recent space exploration project Starshot really has the potential to go places (no pun intended) and recently SpaceX vowed to have a manned mission to Mars by 2018, all of which is incredibly exciting. Another big area of development is telescopes – the James Webb space telescope is one of the most exciting up and coming telescopes and has a mirror area 15 times larger than Hubble! Just think about how much more detail we can see with that. Ground based optical telescopes are also advancing at a crazy rate – the next largest telescope under construction is the European Extremely Large Telescope and will be 40 m in diameter!

I can imagine that the images coming from these telescopes will be something special indeed – do you have a favourite astronomical object?



You seem so sure of that! Why Jupiter?

Aside from being the most visually interesting planet (in my opinion, anyway), Jupiter has a wealth of both physical and chemical phenomena that make it incredibly complex and beautiful. One of my favourite examples is the fact that beneath the surface, the pressure is so high that hydrogen actually becomes a liquid, and exists as liquid metallic hydrogen. Because of this interior metallic hydrogen, which is rotating incredibly fast, a strong magnetic field is generated – and so we see aurora on Jupiter! There are so many other reasons why I love Jupiter but I don’t want to go on all day!

I can certainly see why you like Jupiter so much. We’re going to have to round it up there but I’m sure there will be more coming very soon! Best of luck and thanks to all of our readers of Heavens Above!

Happy Stargazing!



  1. Jupiter image: http://space-facts.com/jupiter/
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