Liberal Arts and Sciences · Majors · projects

A Voyage Through the Universe


On the evening of Tuesday the 30th of May,  I went to a guest lecture of Dr. John McKean at University College Groningen. I always like to follow guest lectures at UCG, because it feels so comfortable and cosy to be there, and still follow a lecture from a different person about a different subject. Dr. John McKean is an astronomer and assistant professor at the University of Groningen. The lecture was meant to give an introduction to the enormous universe we’re part of in a fun and original way. This goal was definitely accomplished, because I walked out of the room with more knowledge of the universe, a feeling that I actually understood the things he explained, and knowing that the lecture hadn’t been boring one minute.


Dr. McKean showed the students the universe via a software called ‘Mitaka’. It visualizes the universe with actual data collected by astronomers and other scientists. It uses theoretical models to paint a clear picture of how the universe looks like and the enormously grand scales involved in that universe. Dr. McKean started off at an air force basis in Japan and zoomed out until we could see the entire Earth. This already gave me chills and it was only the beginning. Afterwards, he zoomed further out to review our solar system. We looked at Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Mars, and our moon. We investigated the loops the planets make around the sun and the different structures of the planets.

But this was only our solar system, and as some of you may know, our solar system is only an enormously small part of the universe. So afterwards, Dr. McKean continued to review the rest of the universe: we looked at the rest of our galaxy and numerous other galaxies close to us. He wanted us to understand the scales of the universe, but the more he zoomed out to other galaxies and worlds, the more unrealistic it seemed. I always feel so overwhelmed by the size of the universe; I can never believe it, or never truly grasp the scale of it. Nevertheless, Dr. McKean kept on explaining everything we saw in a very clear and understanding way, which made me feel like I did actually understand something of the universe and her unbelievable scales.


Dr. McKean finished off by explaining something about black holes and how various scientists are currently searching for proof of a black hole existing in our galaxy. Even when explaining the mechanism of black holes, I could still understand it. He explained it in a very simple, but still in a scientific way, which was amazing. Most of the times, when someone tries to explain something difficult in an easy way, it becomes children’s language and you feel stupid not being able to understanding. On the other hand, when someone tries to explain a scientific fact, it’s often difficult to make it sound understandable. Dr. McKean didn’t have any trouble with finding the grey area in between being too scientific and being too childish: he was explaining the universe in a simple, but still scientific way; it was perfect. I enjoyed the lecture enormously and walked out of the room with a smile and more understanding of the universe than before. Definitely a successful guest lecture, so I’m looking forward to the next one at UCG!

By Josien Scholing


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