In­ter­view with the au­thor

Paul Mur­din

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOKS -

What are your favourite mem­o­ries so far from your life as an as­tronomer?

In 1971 I was sit­ting at my desk in a cor­ner tur­ret of Her­st­mon­ceux Cas­tle when I cal­cu­lated from data gathered by my col­league Louise Web­ster that the com­pan­ion to the X-ray emit­ting star HDE 226868 was more mas­sive than a neu­tron star or a white dwarf could be. With a rush of adrenalin, I re­alised that it must be a black hole.

What are the So­lar Sys­tem’s most fas­ci­nat­ing places?

Size doesn’t mat­ter in the So­lar Sys­tem. The small ce­les­tial ob­jects are the most fas­ci­nat­ing: comets, some as­ter­oids, Kuiper Belt Ob­jects. They are like fad­ing for­eign-lan­guage news­pa­pers from a time cap­sule; de­ci­pher them and you can get re­ports about the So­lar Sys­tem’s early era.

If you were in charge of the next ex­ploratory space probe, where would you send it to in­ves­ti­gate?

I would put a rover on Saturn’s moon Ti­tan, drive it to the shore of a meth­ane lake and spoon up liq­uid to see which pre-bi­otic mol­e­cules it con­tains. Then I’d know more about the ori­gin of life.

Tell us some­thing about our own planet that we might not know.

Earth doesn’t care if we as a species sur­vive the mess we are mak­ing. Earth will clean it all up or cover it over af­ter our species has dis­ap­peared. What will be left will be fos­sil ev­i­dence of a great ex­tinc­tion and strata of plas­tic, car­bon ash and ra­dioac­tive el­e­ments, traces of the An­thro­pocene, briefest of all the ge­o­log­i­cal epochs.

Paul Mur­din is a Bri­tish as­tronomer, broad­caster, lec­turer and writer. In 1988 he was awarded an OBE for his con­tri­bu­tion to as­tron­omy.

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