David Southwood, President of the Royal Astronomical Society
Part of the show The Last Organism Alive on Earth
This week, we sent our resident Naked Astronomer, Dominic Ford, to the sunny seaside resort of St. Andrews in Scotland, to visit the biggest annual gathering of astronomers in the UK, the National Astronomy Meeting. Organized by the Royal Astronomical Society, NAM as itís known, brings together both professional astronomers and amateur observers. On Monday, he caught up with the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor David Southwood and asked him what role the society still has to play.
David - Well, itís the professional society of astronomers, founded by William Herschel in 1820. It really looks after the professionalís standards of astronomers but increasingly, looks after, making the general public aware of how important astronomy is to our nation as a whole.
We need to tell people why doing astronomy is important, not just in some intellectual sense, itís important for our society in innovation, in building technologies that could be used elsewhere. Your mobile phone has technology in it that was developed originally for interplanetary communications. You use GPS possibly to find where you are today. Well, that came out of the international geophysical year back in 1957. Creative uses of GPS are still coming and advances on GPS still rely on an interface with astronomy and just as astronomy used to be used by sailors, without them needing to know what stars were but they need to know how the stars moved. Frankly, astronomy is behind an awful lot of things that we take for granted, like the sailors did 500 years ago.