As episode 21 indicated, the power of science fiction to motivate the imagination is perhaps as strong as science itself.
1957 is known for the launch of Sputnik but it was also the year that the scientist Fred Hoyle published a science fiction novel called The Black Cloud. One of its readers in Italy would be inspired by it to become an astronomer and embark on a career which involves the scientific study such clouds.
Professor Paola Caselli was that reader and since the autumn of 2007 has been the professor of Astronomy at the University of Leeds where Fred Hoyle had been a student. Her area of interest is the study of those regions of space of dust and gas (“dark clouds”) from which stars and planet eventually form.
Dust comes in many forms – cosmic, cometery and interplanetary dust which is responsible for the zodiacal dust we can see from Earth. Professor Caselli investigates cosmic dust grains (atoms or molecules of Silicon, Magnesium, Carbon and others) which act like magnets and help suck out the volatiles from a dust cloud in the early stages of star formation. Some of these process are probably taking place right now in the recently announced discovery of HL Tau and its associated proto planet HL Tau b.
She will be speaking on “From Interstellar Clouds to Planets: the Universal Factory“at the now famous, Leeds Astromeet on Saturday 15th November at the University of Leeds.