An honorary professor of Dundee University’s Duncan of Jordanstone Art College is heading for the stars.
Astronomer Nigel Henbest is booked on one of the first flights of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic programme and will talk about the preparations he is undergoing for blast off at the Big Bang event, organised as part of next month’s Wigtown Book Festival.
He said: “I have the ticket, it’s number 245, and hope to make the trip within the next two to three years.
“I have done all the training, including going in a centrifuge that subjected my body to huge G-forces – it was like having a small elephant sitting on my chest.”
Professor Henbest, who has written a host of books on astronomy as well as presenting TV and radio shows on the subject, will also take part in a talk with Heather Couper about space exploration.
The pair will look at how, from at least 40,000 years ago to the present day, humans have probed the mysteries of the night sky.
They will also discuss the often maverick scientists who have helped discover the secrets of space.
Professor Couper, whose father is from the Dundee area, said: “It’s part of our psyche, we have a fascination with the stars that’s absolutely primal – looking at the night sky is like staring at an ever-changing and utterly beautiful landscape.
“All round the world there are ancient monuments aligned to astronomical events, like the Callanish Stones and Maeshowe in Scotland.
“And we are still trying to understand what they were for – the latest evidence for Stonehenge suggests it was related to the midwinter sunset rather than the midsummer sunrise.
“We’ll also be looking at some of the remarkable characters from the history of astronomy, like Tycho Brahe, the 16th-century Dane who studied comets and discovered supernovae but who also had a false nose made of gold after losing the real one in a duel and lived in a castle with a beer-drinking moose.”
They will also discuss the career of Dundonian Thomas Henderson, who was the first person to measure the distance to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own.
Big Bang will also be paying tribute to one of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen when Professor Malcolm Longair delivers a talk entitled James Clerk Maxwell’s Legacy.
Professor Longair, originally from Dundee and a former Astronomer Royal for Scotland, said: “He is one of my great heroes – he shaped the whole of modern physics and fully deserves to be up there with Newton and Einstein.”
In 1871 Maxwell was the first Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge and oversaw the establishment of the Cavendish Laboratory.