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Professor Birkinshaw from the University of Bristol will be discussing the effect of gravity on light

Press Release - 28 October 2008

Public lecture: the effect of gravity on light

Members of the public are invited to learn about how gravity affects light, and how this can help scientists understand more about the universe, at a free lecture at the University of Bath next week (7pm, Thursday 6 November 2008).

Professor Mark Birkinshaw from the University of Bristol will be speaking about the effect of gravity on light as part of this year’s Herschel lecture, named in remembrance of the Bath astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781.

The gravity from a massive object such as a galaxy cluster or black hole can warp space-time, bending everything in it, even light. This alters the time taken for the light to reach an observer, and can both magnify and distort the image.

This changes the appearance of the distant Universe by making it appear brighter or fainter, and by changing the shapes of distant galaxies.

The distorted images can give highly-magnified views of very distant galaxies, providing astronomers with a chance to explore them at a very early stage in their development.

This process is known as gravitational lensing, and is one of the predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

In his talk, Professor Birkinshaw, who holds the William P. Coldrick Professorship of Cosmology & Astrophysics, will illustrate the effects of such ‘gravitational telescopes’ and discuss other consequences of gravitational lensing in general relativity.

Admission to the lecture is free and people can just turn up on the evening. The lecture starts at 7pm on Thursday 6 November 2008 in lecture theatre 3 West North 2.1 on the University’s Claverton Down campus.

The lecture is organised annually by the University and the William Herschel Society and will be podcasted on the University’s website following the event.

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