Interview With Professor Carolin Crawford

On the 1st of September 2019, I interviewed professor Carolin Crawford. Carolin Crawford is the Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. She used multi-wavelength observations to investigate the environments of some of the most massive galaxies in the Universe, but her research was gradually eclipsed by a growing role in the public communication of science. Carolin gives many talks every year enthusing about astronomical advances to a wide range of audiences; she also makes regular appearances on local and national radio.

It has come to my attention that users on mobile devices can not play the audio so I have transcribed it into text bellow.

Theodore: What first interested you in astronomy.

Professor Carolin Crawford: It was looking at the night sky. I used to go out my back garden with my dad who used to look for satellites. And while I was bored waiting for the satellites to appear, I used to look at the constellations. He would teach me what he knew and I decided that I was interested in what stars were. It was from the age of 7 thinking the night sky was beautiful wanting to know more about it starting to read library books and I just got hooked at an early age.

T:What would be your advice for young astronomers?

C: For young astronomers. How young. Secondary School?

T: Yes, secondary school.

C: I think the most important thing is to, first of all, you need to work hard at maths and physics or just general science. Because they are important tools for any kind of professional astronomers. If you’re an amateur astronomer it’s less important but if you want to be a professional astronomer you need these tools. You need to be really good at maths and physics and feel comfortable with the aspects of those the most important thing is to learn about the subject to read about the subjects that could be astronomy magazines it could be watching TV programmes or it could be watching lectures on the Internet. There’s any number of things you can do to just find out more because there’s so much in astronomy. It could be about planetary exploration it could be about the expansion and evolution of the universe as a whole. You need to find what it is that really fascinates you and just do your own research. If you choose to go into astronomy later there’s a lot as I say in math and physics involved and you need to remember why you’re doing it. You need to remember what the really cool science is that you want to do later on. So just doing your own investigation to say whether it’s magazines, TV, Internet whatever. And just find out as much as you can. The other thing that I was suggesting to someone else earlier is there’s a lot of local astronomical societies very welcoming of younger members and they will have monthly speaker meetings and maybe telescopes that you can borrow and will have expertise about setting up telescopes. So they can often be a great source of information and enthusiasm.

T: Where’s your favourite telescope.

C: Oh, my favourite telescope. It’s not necessarily a telescope but it’s a site which is the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It is where the telescopes like the Canada France y telescope or The James Maxwell telescope or The UK infrared telescope ones that I used a lot when perhaps earlier my research career. Where you are 14,000 feet and you’re above the cloud layer and the air is so cold and it’s so still and there’s no street lighting and you have a perfectly dark sky. You’re further south so you can see more of the Milky Way and the stars don’t seem to twinkle when you’re not looking through much of the atmosphere and the sky is just awe-inspiring. When you use a professional telescope you’ll often be taking exposures to collect data for perhaps half an hour or 20 minutes at a time even for hours visiting telescopes. When you look at this galaxy you set it going for a couple of hours and that gives me the chance to sneak outside sometimes these telescopes have like a walkway around the outside or. Out. Round the telescope with my binoculars and do my own observing while big telescopes collecting my data which is actually really enjoying being in such a dark spot where the sky so fantastic. So. It’s more of a sight than a telescope.

T: And finally what’s been your favourite astronomical object you’ve seen through a telescope.

C: Well Again it depends whether it’s me with a small telescope at home I love spiral galaxies everybody loves spiral galaxies. They’re nice targets to look at. They’re a bit challenging. My favourite object that I have studied to collect with various colleagues. We’ve collected data on it with telescopes all around the world you know out in space is a big fat galaxy called NGC twelve seventy-five. And it’s one of these really massive galaxies that live right at the core of a cluster of galaxies not so far away about 250 million light-years away so it’s relatively nearby but the supermassive black hole at the centre. And it looks a lot like a sort of squashed spider. You know if you go to the Internet and just put your favourite search engine Hubble space telescope image NGC 1275 you’ll see what I mean. It’s got long tendrils. You know it’s a big fat elliptical but you’ve got these long filaments of you know ionized gas and what have you stretching out from central is just a bit different. And it’s a really interesting object to study. That’s my favorite.

T: OK. Thank you.

C: You’re very welcome.

And just in case you’re wondering, this is NGC 1275.

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