My selfless contribution to the International Year of Astronomy 2009 was to volunteer astronomy talks on one of Cunard's ships, under a scheme sponsored by the RAS. I gave 4 talks on a voyage (Cunard prefer this to `cruise') from New York to London in November 2009. In exchange, Cunard provided free flights beforehand from London to New York, and accommodation and food on board for two - my son Paul, aged 14, and me.
The entertainment programme is a crucial part of any Cunard voyage, and the audiences for all of my talks were large (~ 200) and enthusiastic. Each talk lasted one hour, and afterwards, and throughout the voyage, I was mobbed by questioners wanting my opinion on everything from fingerprinting (invented by one of the Herschels) to global warming to multiple universes.
Every night, a few of us braved the wintry cold up on deck 13 (the top deck) hoping to spot a real star, but the skies were resolutely leaden throughout the voyage, and the would-be star-gazers had to fall back on the other entertainments provided on-board.
Preparing the four talks was time-consuming, but it made me realise how much I didn't know about topics I thought I understood, and I enjoyed both giving the talks and answering the questions. Several of the audience have subsequently visited the observatory on La Palma (the deep-water port is popular with cruise ships), and it's been a pleasure to meet them again.
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27 February 2011