UCLan professor selected to join prestigious society

26 May 2023

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson has been selected as a Councillor of the Royal Astronomical Society

A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) professor has been handpicked to offer his expertise to a highly prestigious advisory group.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson has been appointed to the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and will use his experience to advise the government on astronomy related subjects.

The Head of UCLan’s School of Natural Sciences said: "It's an honour to be asked to do this. It’s a great opportunity. The RAS has a national role as the voice of astronomy and I see my appointment as a chance to actually influence government thinking and lobby for government spending on science in general, for universities and for university science departments, and astronomy in particular.”

As a councillor, he will be part of a team of 12 who are responsible for overseeing the running of the RAS. This includes organising their monthly meetings, the publications of academic journals and the in-house magazine, Astronomy and Geophysics. The Council is also responsible for organising the National Astronomy Meeting, which is hosted by a different University each year.

Government Select Committees and research councils consult the RAS regularly on a range of topics including science funding, grant policies, and issues such as light pollution, which has a huge impact on people's access to the night sky.

"I see my appointment as a chance to actually influence government thinking and lobby for government spending on science"

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson

Professor Ward-Thompson, who was part of the Event Horizon Telescope Consortium which published the first ever image of a black hole in 2019, said: "When you last saw a shooting star or the Milky Way, how did it make you feel? Did it make you feel small? Did it give you a sense that there is something larger? For me, that’s all part of what makes people realise our planet’s a tiny place in the cosmos and how we’ve got to look after it.

"Apollo 8 was the first mission to contain a human crew that went round the far side of the moon, and it took a very famous photograph of the Earth rising over the moon. The image of this pale blue orb hanging in all of that blackness suddenly made people realise that the Earth is unique. It is a very special place and we really do have to look after it.

"That was in 1968, and that photo been credited with birthing the green movement, as people realised that we have to do something to protect our planet. The climate change awareness of today, would not have happened in the same way, without human beings going into space."

The RAS was established in 1820 to encourage and promote the study of astronomy, astrophysics and the solar system. Today, the RAS includes almost all professional astronomers in the country, including PhD and postgraduate students. The society is also open to amateur astronomers so that members of the public, with a keen interest in astronomy, have access to the most recent discoveries and news from the field.

Written by Cathy Browne