Claire Bretherton wants to know your big questions about astronomy

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Claire Bretherton wants to know your big questions about astronomy

If you’ve got a big question about astronomy, then listen up! On the line has just launched the ‘Big questions answered’ phone line. Claire Bretherton has the details…

Rob:
Hello, I’m Rob Edwards, and I’m here with Dr Claire Bretherton at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. You’ll be used to us answering questions asked by our Planetarium visitors after our shows. In future episodes we’d like to answer your questions. Claire, what can you tell us about this?

Claire:
Yes, we’d love to answer your own questions, so we’ve just set up a phone line where you can leave your big questions about astronomy. The telephone number is 0208 123 9911. All you need to do is ring up, leave your first name and your question and then we’ll pick a selection of our favourites to answer in our monthly podcast.

Rob:
So, can listeners ask any question they like about astronomy?

Claire:
Yes, you can ask any questions about astronomy you like, but to give you an idea of the sort of questions you might like to ask, we’ve actually been around to some of the staff here at the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum to see what big questions about astronomy they’d like to ask.

Sarah:
Hello, my name is Sarah, and I’d like to ask, ‘Why is it called space when it’s so full of stuff?’

Claire:
Well, that’s a really good question, and you’re right, there is a huge amount of stuff out there. I mean, our Sun is just one of over 100,000 million stars in our galaxy alone and our galaxy is just one of at least 100,000 million galaxies out there in the universe. But the distances between these things are absolutely huge, so most of what’s out there is almost empty space.

Janet:
Hi, I’m Janet, and what I’d really like to know, Claire, is, ‘What’s the furthest a spaceship has ever got to?’

Claire:
Well, the furthest a man has actually travelled in a spaceship is to the Moon. That’s the only other place that human beings have actually gone to. Twelve people have walked on the Moon in total. The first was of course Neil Armstrong in 1969 and the last was Gene Cernan in 1972.

So it’s been 36 years since man last walked on the Moon, but of course unmanned spacecraft can go much, much further because they don’t need to carry all of the equipment, the food and water, that human beings need to survive.

The Voyager probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, have been travelling for over 30 years now but they’ve only just got to the edge of our Solar System. It will take much, much longer to get to the next nearest star.

Ruth:
Hello, my name is Ruth and I’d like to know, ‘Are black holes black inside?’

Claire:
We don’t really know what it’s like inside a black hole. Black holes are made when massive stars die, stars that are more than 25 times as massive as our Sun. What happens is that the centres of these stars become crushed so much, become so dense, that gravity is so strong that not even light can escape.

Of course, if light can’t escape, then we can’t get any information from inside those black holes, so we really don’t know what’s going on inside.

Dan:
Hi, my name’s Dan, and I want to know where shooting stars come from.

Claire:
Well, shooting stars aren’t actually stars at all. They’re actually meteors: small bits of grit or dust that come into the atmosphere around our planet. When they come into our atmosphere they heat up. They get very, very hot and they light up, which is why we see this flash of light going across the sky.

Colin:
My name’s Colin and I’d like to ask, ‘What’s the Moon made of?’

Claire:
Well, contrary to popular belief, the Moon’s not actually made of cheese. It’s actually made of the same sort of rock that the Earth is made out of.

We think that early in the Solar System an object about the size of Mars crashed into the Earth sending huge amounts of rock up into space. Much of this rock fell down back down to Earth again but some of it started clumping together due to gravity and formed the Moon.

Rob:
Claire, thank you very much for answering those questions. If you’d like to call us and leave a question yourself the telephone number is 0208 123 9911. Calls cost your operator’s standard rate, and please ask the bill payer’s permission before calling. Thank you.

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