Custodians of the cosmos

An evening of exploration of the central role that space plays in our everyday lives.

Join Professor Andy Lawrence from The Royal Observatory Edinburgh and eminent photographer Max Alexander for an exploration of the central role that space plays in our everyday lives. Learn about the increasing threat of space debris and why studying the skies is of vital cultural and economic importance. Discover the people and technology that are working to protect this fragile environment and how unconstrained growth may put both space activity and astronomy at risk. This discussion is centred on the themes of Max Alexander’s major photography exhibition Our Fragile Space, which is exhibited throughout the Edinburgh Science Festival on The Mound.

This event is presented by Royal Observatory Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival.


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Professor Joanne Wheeler, MBE
Director, Earth-Space Sustainability Initiative

Joanne is a leading expert in the field of satellite and space law, policy, regulation, space sustainability, spectrum and commercial contracts, having worked at the UK’s Ofcom, the European Space Agency and for over 20 years in private legal practice in this area. She was awarded an MBE for services to the UK space industry in 2017 and is ranked Tier 1 in legal directories.

Joanne is the Director of the Earth & Space Sustainability Initiative, which is working to develop and publish practical industry-led space sustainability standards taking a holistic approach. She is the co-founder and Chair of the Satellite Finance Network, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society and Deputy Chair of the UK National Space Centre. She Co-Chairs the UK Government’s Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council and was awarded an honorary Professorship by the University of Leicester in 2022.
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Professor Andy Lawrence FRSE FRaS

Professor Lawrence’s main specialisation is the study of active galactic nuclei and quasars, and especially the clues from their variability and their spectral energy distributions. He has also worked on other extragalactic topics such as starburst galaxies and the measurement of large scale structure. He often used very large scale surveys, and most recently was the PI of UKIDSS, and have been using PanSTARRS to look for extreme transients. Hi interest in large scale surveys also led him to work on the concept of the Virtual Observatory.

Andy’s undergraduate degree (Astrophysics) was in Edinburgh, followed by a PhD in X-ray Astronomy at the University of Leicester. He held research positions at MIT, the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and what was then Queen Mary and Westfield College in London. His first Lectureship was also at QMW. Andy was appointed as the Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh in 1994, a position he still holds today, working at the beautiful Royal Observatory Edinburgh, a historic site shared between the University’s Institute for Astronomy and STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

He is also a Visiting Scientist at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), Stanford University.
A man looking at the camera


Max Alexander
Photographer and creator of the Fragile Space exhibition

Max Alexander has photographed icons from the worlds of science, astronomy and politics, including Neil Armstrong, Stephen Hawking and Nelson Mandela. Originally from New Zealand, now based in London and Madrid, Max is an editorial and commercial photographer, who has worked for a large number of prestigious organisations around the world for over twenty-five years.

In his projects and commissions, Max combines the ability to capture his vision with responding to the client’s needs. He makes a connection with the people he photographs and is always responsive to them. A firm believer in the power of serendipity, Max harnesses this with patience and insight to produce inspired, intriguing and powerful photographs.

Max specialises in science communication through photography. This can best be seen in two high profile exhibitions at the Royal Albert Hall in London for UK research councils and The Wellcome Trust. Explorers of the Universe was a cornerstone project for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, and Illuminating Atoms was for the International Year of Crystallography 2014. His passion for understanding the universe and making it meaningful to others has motivated him to work in this arena – and he is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In his work for the UK Space Agency, Max has extensively photographed the British astronaut Tim Peake, including documenting his Soyuz training, and directly provided him with photography training while he was onboard the International Space Station. He is a team member of Asteroid Day and their Photographer-in-Residence.

In partnership with
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Space junk


Wednesday April 3rd, 2024 18:30-19:30


The Royal Society of Edinburgh




Professor Joanne Wheeler, MBE