Earth in focus
13 Sep 2019
As a student, Physics teacher Dr Andrew Taylor attended the first Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) back in the 1980s. Fast forward through space and time, and his passion for astrophysics and astronomy still burns as bright. This year he was invited to be a guest speaker at the observatory’s conference for summer school alumni.
SuperVOSS 2019 – The Search for Extra-Astronomical Life – was held at Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban Hills south of Rome, from Tuesday 3–Saturday 7 September.
Developed and launched by the European Space Agency, the Sentinel satellites carry a range of technologies, radar and multi-spectral imaging instruments for land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring. Andrew’s presentation – Astronomy Looking Down – explained how science can use astronomical techniques and satellite imaging systems to observe earth, gathering data captured by the Sentinels in order to understand topics as diverse as road usage or river systems or forest fires or the spread of pollution, detailing how he has applied these techniques (with a little help from his friends, colleagues and students) in his own research.
“It’s the same technique astronomers use when hunting for asteroids, but instead of looking up we’re looking down, observing what’s happening on earth.”
Andrew thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to focus on his passion for space and science in the heart of the Italian countryside. Some of his highlights include a visit to the European Space Research Institute in Frascati, which specialises in Earth observation, and presentations on imaging black holes with the Event Horizon telescope, discovering the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanet system, the possibilities of finding other planets in the Goldilocks Zone, and developments in space exploration technology.
“I had a wonderful time catching up with some of my VOSS classmates, meeting people from other summer schools, making connections and, especially with regard to teaching, identifying ways we can collaborate with colleagues overseas. It was pretty amazing.”