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Terence Dickinson Engages Astronomy Enthusiasts In A Tour Of The Universe

"You can carry the universe around in your head," Terence Dickinson told astronomy enthusiasts May 12 at Trent University's Wenjack Theatre, as part of his presentation entitled A Brief Tour Of The Universe.

But first, you need perspective - "how big, how far and why?" Mr. Dickinson, one of Canada's leading science writers, and an acclaimed authority on astronomy, offered that perspective as he related the vastness of the solar system to a ballpoint pen and two golf balls on the theatre stage. If one of the golf balls is representative of the sun, the earth is the size of the ball on the ballpoint pen about 10 feet away, he said. Mr. Dickinson gave the size of the solar system some context by hypothetically placing the planets; Pluto would be hovering above the Otonabee River while the microscopic comets would be bumping into cars on highway 115.

"Distance is truly the great governor of the universe," he said.

Other examples of how immense the solar system is peppered Mr. Dickinson's presentation, including a comparison of constellations to thimbles of sand and a mention of the fact that it would take 4.3 years travelling at the speed of light to get from earth to the closest star.

"It's big, but you can sort of grapple with it. The importance of the universe and the distances involved, is what it's going to compel us in the long run to do - to get into the stars."

Mr. Dickinson also showed his audience different visual perspectives on earth and on space, from his collection of photographs taken from around the world.

Mr. Dickinson will be receiving an honorary degree from Trent University at the May 28 morning convocation ceremony. He is one of North America's leading astronomy writers, an editor, broadcaster, and teacher renowned for unraveling and explaining the mysteries of the cosmos for amateur astronomers across the country.

Known as Canada's leading author of astronomy books for both adults and children, Mr. Dickinson has published 14 books. NightWatch is one of the best-selling stargazing books in the world. His down-to-earth style has made him a best-selling author with more than half a million books in print. He is a weekly columnist for The Toronto Star and a regular commentator for the Canadian Discovery Channel and CBC Radio. He has been editor of SkyNews since the magazine's first issue in 1995. He was appointed by the Governor General as a Member of the Order of Canada and received the Royal Canadian Institute's Sandford Fleming Medal for achievements in advancing public understanding of science. Asteroid 5272 Dickinson is named after him.

Posted May 13, 2004

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