The Mount Kent Observatory at Cambooya.
The Mount Kent Observatory at Cambooya. Contributed

USQ boldly going where no man has gone before

THE man in charge of developing technology that will one day propel humanity on space missions to find potentially habitable, Earth-sized planets around nearby stars and searching for signs of life on those worlds is coming to Toowoomba next week. 

Dr Douglas Hudgins, program scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is in town as part of the 2017 University of Southern Queensland Festival of Astronomy and Space, which runs from October 3-10 in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Springfield.

Dr Hudgins will give a special talk at USQ Toowoomba's Allison Dickson Lecture Theatre from 5.30-7pm on October 9. 

He will overview the Exoplanet Exploration Program, including key results from the Kepler and K2 space missions, and the science expected from the TESS program, to be launched in 2018, in which USQ will play a key role through the expanded Mount Kent Observatory at Cambooya. 

USQ researchers who are helping lead the way in Australia's role in the discovery and characterisation of worlds beyond Earth will join a stellar international line up of speakers to share insights at the upcoming festival. 

USQ Astrophysics Group astronomer Professor Brad Carter said the new MINERVA-Australis research facility at Mount Kent Observatory will place Australian astronomy at the forefront of the international question to understand nearby planetary systems by supporting NASA's TESS mission.

"The Festival is a wonderful opportunity for USQ and the wider community to hear directly from Dr Hudgins about what has been learned about other planetary systems from NASA research, and what we may expect to find with TESS," Professor Carter said.

"Along with Dr Hudgins, we have a host of leading international and Australian astronomers, all of whom will give audiences fascinating insights into the wonders of the universe, from moon mysteries to the search for habitable planets outside our solar system.

"The Festival will celebrate astronomy and space in all its forms, from the basics of the night sky to some of the universe's deepest mysteries, with a series of free talks open to all."

Professor Tamara Davis - one of Australia's leading researchers from the University of Queensland, will begin the Festival with a talk on the subject on cosmology and dark matter with a presentation entitled "The Dark Side of the Universe".

Professor Fred Watson, an Australian Astronomical Observatory astronomer who many may know from regular radio and TV gigs including as resident 'space expert' on Channel 10's The Project, will share a history of our understanding of the Moon from the earliest times through to the space age.

A keynote speaker for the festival is one of world's leading experts in the study of the atmospheres of planets around stars other than the sun, Professor Giovanna Tinetti from the University College London,  who will deliver talks for the public in Toowoomba and at the Brisbane Planetarium.

Also taking part are USQ astronomers Professor Brad Carter, Associate Professor Jonathan Horner, Dr Carolyn Brown and PhD student Belinda Nicholson.

The Festival of Astronomy and Space, coinciding with World Space Week, will include free public talks in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Springfield from October 3 to 10.

For full details or to register your interest in any of the free events, click here.

Dr Douglas Hudgin's visit is funded as a gift of the United States Government.