Interview with the author
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.