ASA Harley Wood Lecture

In conjunction with the Annual Scientific Meeting, the ASA sponsors a public lecture in the city where the Scientific Meeting is held. The lecture is named in memory of Dr Harley Wood, the first President of the ASA.

The Harley Wood Lecture was inaugurated in 1984 as an annual lecture in honour of the first President of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA).

Harley Wood was Director of Sydney Observatory for over thirty years from 1943 to 1974, during which time the Observatory was engaged in the Astrographic Catalogue, a mammoth international project to photograph the whole sky. His work in the wider context of the Australian and international astronomical community was prolific. He was also heavily involved in the popularisation of astronomy and making astronomy available to everyone. In particular, he was at the forefront of moves to draw Australian astronomers together into a professional organisation and in recognition of this work became the Foundation president of the ASA.

Harley Wood photographing the spectrum of a comet.

The Harley Wood Lecture for 2005 will be delivered by:

Prof. Bryan Gaensler
Department of Astronomy, Harvard University
Denison Distinguished Visitor, University of Sydney

The Brightest Explosion in History:
Amazing Magnetars and the Giant Flare of 27th December

On the 27th December 2004, dozens of spacecraft orbiting the Earth detected the brightest explosion in the history of astronomy - an incredible pulse of radiation from the constellation of Sagittarius, so intense that it electrified the Earth's upper atmosphere, and for a fifth of a second easily outshone the combined light of the 400 billion stars of the Milky Way.

This extraordinary event prompted astronomers from all around the world to race to the nearest telescope to watch the explosion and its aftermath. We now know that this giant flare of radiation originated from an object named SGR 1806-20, located about 50,000 light years from Earth. SGR 1806-20 is unquestionably one of the most bizarre objects in the Universe, a tiny super-magnetic rapidly spinning star called a "magnetar". I will explain where magnetars come from and what we know about them, and will show some of the incredible data that my team and others were able to record on the once-in-a-lifetime event that unfolded in the weeks and months after 27th December.

Lecturer's biography:

BRYAN GAENSLER is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, and works in the high energy astrophysics division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He is currently in Australia as a Denison Distinguished Visitor at the University of Sydney and he has just received a prestigious ARC Federation Fellowship that he will bring him back to Sydney for five years beginning in 2006.

After obtaining his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Sydney in 1998, he was appointed as a Hubble Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then as the Clay Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, before joining the Harvard faculty in 2002. He was awarded the 1995 University Medal in Physics, was the 1999 Young Australian of the Year, gave the 2001 Australia Day Address to the nation, and is a 2005 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. Prof. Gaensler has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific papers on neutron stars, black holes, supernova explosions and cosmic magnetic fields, has edited two books on pulsars, and has written dozens of popular articles on science and astronomy. He was born and bred in Sydney, but has more recently been toughing out the long American winters in Belmont, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife Laura, a postgraduate student in religion, and his two-year-old son Finn, a future Test cricketer. (See also an earlier profile.)

Univ.Sydney Venue and Date:

Monday 4 July, 7:30pm - 9:00pm.
Webster Theatre, Veterinary Conference Centre
University of Sydney

There is no cost but bookings are essential.
Please leave a message, with a name and number of people attending, by contacting the School of Physics at the University of Sydney - by phone on 02-9351-3472 or by email at If you need further information, please leave a return phone number or (preferably) use the email address.

A large campus map showing the location of the Veterinary Science Conference Centre is available here. The Conference Centre is at E7.
The University has a "pay-and-display" parking regime, and heavy fines are imposed for non-compliance. Parking costs after 3.00pm are $2.00 per hour to a maximum of $6.00. The ticket machines accept coins only.

IYOP The 2005 Harley Wood Lecture is an event
of the
International Year of Physics.

List of Harley Wood Lecturers

1987 - Paul Wild
The Beginnings of Radio Astronomy in Australia
1988 - Ron Ekers
Revealing the Invisible Universe
1989 - David Malin
Astronomical Reflections - Light from between the Stars
1990 - Sidney van den Bergh
Asteroids and Dinosaurs
1991 - Colin Norman
The Hubble Space Telescope
1992 - Barry Jones
Science Intellectuals can Transform Australia
1993 - Patrick Moore
Exploring the Planets
1994 - Jeremy Mould
High Resolution Imaging with the HST
1995 - Malcolm Longair
Black Holes made Easy
1996 - Russell Cannon
How Old are the Stars?
1997 - David Jauncey
The Vision Splendid: Radio Astronomy in Space
1998 - Brian Boyle
Mapping the Universe
1999 - Rev. Robert Evans
Exploding Stars, an Australian Discovery Story
2000 - Martin George
Silhouettes and shadows:Eclipses - fascinating and informative
2001 - Brian Schmidt
Measuring the Universe
2002 - Penny Sackett
One Hundred New Worlds: The Search for Other Solar Systems
2003 - Paul Davies
The State of the Universe
2004 - Matthew Colless
Surveying the Universe
2005 - Bryan Gaensler
The Brightest Explosion in History: Amazing Magnetars and the Giant Flare of 27th December

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