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Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

‘Black Holes, White Holes and Worm Holes’

by Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford

Wednesday May 14th

Memorial Hall 7.00 pm

Abstract: Are there really black holes in space? How do we know? What are white holes? Is travel through a worm hole to another universe possible? This introduction to these extreme objects will introduce black holes and answer questions just like these!

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the legendary astronomer who discovered pulsars over 40 years ago, will be visiting St Peter’s and will answer some of these fascinating questions.

See the event poster here

Admission is free, but tickets are required. Light refreshments provided.

To reserve tickets please email: or phone 01904 527300


Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, DBE, FRS, FRAS (born 15 July 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist. At age eleven, she attended the Mount School in York, where she was impressed by one of her physics teachers.

Following her physics degree from the University of Glasgow she began work on her Ph.D. at Cambridge University, where she discovered the first radio pulsars while studying with her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish. Hewish went on to share the Nobel Prize in Physics with Martin Ryle in 1974 for the discovery of the pulsar.

Having assisted in the construction of the radio telescope that was to be used to track quasars, she operated it and analysed over 120 meters of chart paper produced by the telescope every four days. After several weeks of analysis, she noticed some unusual markings on the chart paper. These markings were made by a radio source too fast and regular to be a quasar. Although the source's signal took up only about 2.5 centimetres of the 121.8 metres of chart paper, she recognized its importance. She had detected the first evidence of a pulsar.

She has taught at institutions including Universities of Southampton, UCL, Oxford, Bath and Princeton, and served as a Professor of Physics at the Open University for ten years. She was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004, president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 until October 2010, and in October 2014 she will become the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was awarded a CBE in 1999, which was elevated to a DBE in 2007.

Along with being credited with one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th Century, she has become one of the UK’s most prominent female scientists and has campaigned to improve the status and number of women in professional and academic posts in the fields of physics and astronomy. She is currently a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Mansfield College

What is a Pulsar?

Chandra Crab NebulaThe term pulsar is an abbreviation for pulsating radio star or rapidly pulsating radio source. At the end of a very large star’s life there can be a supernova explosion, which causes a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span. The explosion expels much of a star’s material enriching the interstellar medium with higher mass elements, ultimately making all life in the universe possible. Interestingly, although no supernova has been observed in the Milky Way since Kepler's Star of 1604, supernova remnants indicate that on average the event occurs about three times every century in the Milky Way. Following the supernova, what remains is a rapidly spinning neutron star, which emits radio waves in narrow beams as it rotates. When the beam points towards the Earth, a pulse of radiation is seen, hence the name pulsar. Dame Bell Burnell found that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse per second, and because of this regularity some people had thought that it might come from extra-terrestrials, dubbing the signal: "Little Green Man 1" (LGM-1).