The University of Sydney

Home Page   |   Scientific Program   |   Public Talk   |   Posters   |   Venue and Facilities   |   Accommodation and Transport   |   Registration   |   Conference Dinner   |   Contacting the Organisers

Public Talk

   Speaker Biography

   Talk Abstract


Public Talk

The Harley Wood lecture is an annual astronomy talk open to the public, which is held during the ASA meeting. For 2005 the lecture will be given by:

Prof. Bryan M. Gaensler
Department of Astronomy, Harvard University

Title and abstract:

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. 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 Institition, 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 currently toughs 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.

Update (June 2005): Bryan has been awarded one of the prestigious Federation Fellowships for 2005, and will be returning to the University of Sydney.

Venue and Date:

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

A large campus map showing the location of the Veterinary Science Conference Centre is available here. The Conference Centre is at E7.

Last modified on 17 June, 2005.
For further information (and additions or corrections), contact: