Astronomy on the QM2

The Queen Mary 2, click here for more pictures.

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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Chris Benn (

27 February 2011