The Discoverer of pulsars at this year’s CWAS AstroFest

The Central West Astronomical Society’s annual AstroFest is being held again this weekend, 14-15 July.

A stellar array of international and local guest speakers will be in the Central West to share their astronomical insights, and enthusiasm for astronomy, in general.

This year’s keynote address will be presented by Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell – the discoverer of pulsars.

In 1967, the young Jocelyn Bell, was working as a research assistant at Cambridge University, where she had helped to build a large radio telescope.

While she was spending endless hours analysing reams of paper chart recordings, she noticed what she referred to as “scruff” in the recordings.

This scruff was a pulsating radio source which reappeared exactly one Earth rotation (one sidereal day)  later everyday day.

This was the unmistakable sign of a celestial object.  

When she brought this to the notice of her thesis supervisor, astronomer Antony Hewish, it was soon realised that what she had discovered was a rapidly spinning neutron star, later termed a pulsar.

The discovery was announced in early 1968, just over fifty years ago, now.

Today, pulsars are a major field of astronomical research.

They represent a major area of study at the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope.

In fact, the Parkes telescope has discovered more pulsars than every other radio telescope in the world, combined.

It is a great honour to have Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell visit Parkes and present the keynote address of the AstroFest, the John Bolton Bolton Lecture, from 4:30 PM on Saturday, 14 July, in the Coventry Room of the Parkes Shire Council Library and Cultural Centre.

All are welcome to attend.

There is an attendance fee of $20 per person, payable at the door.

Another speaker at the AstroFest is Prof. Elaine Sadler of the University of Sydney.

She will be presenting a talk titled, “The Revolution in Radio Astronomy”.

Another special international guest speaker is Amy Shira Teitel, a spaceflight historian who has her own youtube channel, Vintage Space. 

Amy has also written for The Daily Beast, National Geographic, Discovery News, Scientific American, Ars Technica, Al Jazeera English, and Popular Science.

She is a co-host for the Discovery Channel's online DNews channel.

Another popular speaker is our very own Donna Burton from the Milroy Observatory in Coonabarabran.

During the AstroFest, the “David Malin Awards” astrophotography prizes will be presented by world-renowned astrophotographer, Dr David Malin, himself.

The associated exhibition will be officially opened at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory’s Visitors Centre on the following day, Sunday, 15 July.

On Sunday, 15 July, the activities shift to the CSIRO Parkes Observatory.

Members of the Central West Astronomical Society will have telescopes setup on the lawns of the Visitors Centre for daytime astronomy viewings of the brightest stars and planets.

To round out the activities at the dish, Amy Shira Teitel will give a free public lecture at 11:00 AM in the main theatre, about the first female American astronauts.

This year is the 15th annual CWAS AstroFest, which since the inaugural event in 2004, has grown to become the premier event of its kind in Australia.

So come along and share with the Central West Astronomical Society, an unforgettable astronomical experience.

See you there.

For more Information, visit:

Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS, is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th Century".

As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.

The discovery was recognised by the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics to her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish.

She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics) in 1965 and obtained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1969.

At Cambridge, she attended New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), and worked with Hewish and others to construct a radio telescope for using interplanetary scintillation to study quasars, which had recently been discovered.

In July 1967, she detected a bit of "scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. She established that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse every one and a third seconds.

Temporarily dubbed "Little Green Man 1" (LGM-1) the source (now known as PSR B1919+21) was identified after several years as a rapidly rotating neutron star.

She worked at the University of Southampton between 1968 and 1973, University College London from 1974 to 82 and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (1982-91).

From 1973 to 1987 she was a tutor, consultant, examiner, and lecturer for the Open University.

In 1986, she became the project manager for James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

She was Professor of Physics in the Open University from 1991 to 2001.

She was also a visiting professor in Princeton University in the United States and Dean of Science in the University of Bath (2001-04), and President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004.

Bell Burnell is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics in the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Mansfield College.

She was President of the Institute of Physics between 2008 and 2010.

In February 2018 she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee.