Christmas Lecture – The Moon: What it is, What was, and What might have been … Steven Balbus, FRS

December 7, 2019 @ 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Willingdon Memorial Hall
Church St
Eastbourne BN20 9HT

Title: The Moon:  What it is, What was, and What might have been … Steven Balbus, FRS


The story of how Newton’s comparison of the Moon’s orbit with terrestrial falling objects led to a universal theory of gravity is a textbook classic of the history of science. This thunderclap flash of insight forever united the celestial and the mundane. But had the Moon been a bit farther away, its orbit would have been bizarrely noncircular, the notion of universal gravity more elusive, and the seventeenth-century scientific revolution may or may not have been. This is one of several ‘just-so-happens’ qualities of the Moon that have affected life on Earth, both culturally and biologically. The talk will be about some of the effects our daughter planet (as the Moon should be regarded) exerts on the Earth. We will see how very, very different the world would be with even slight changes in the Moon’s mass and orbit, let alone – perish the thought – without her.


Steven Balbus (1953–    ) was born in Philadelphia and received degrees in mathematics and physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His PhD in theoretical astrophysics was from the University of California at Berkeley. He held postdoctoral positions at MIT and Princeton University, and joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1985, thereafter moving to the École Normale Supérieure de Paris in 2004 and then accepting the Savilian Chair of Astronomy at the University of Oxford in the spring of 2012. Steven Balbus is a theoretical astrophysicist with research interests in gas-dynamical processes and is known for his work with John F. Hawley on turbulence in accretion disks. He was the recipient of a Chaire d’excellence in 2004 and has been a Spitzer Lecturer at Princeton and a Miller Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley. For his work on accretion disks, Balbus shared the 2013 Shaw Prize (sometimes called the ‘Nobel [Prize] of the East’) in Astronomy with Hawley.

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