Monday, January 23, 2017

Astronomy on Tap: Vera Rubin, Dark Matter, and the Slow Speed of Light

We kicked off the New Year properly with the first Astronomy on Tap of 2017!  From the beginning, there was a very large crowd, and quite attentive to the wonder filled night to come. We started things off with a timely talk on “The Discovery of Dark Matter: Vera Rubin’s missing Nobel Prize” by Dr. Johanna Teske, a postdoc at the Carnegie Institute.  Johanna discussed the life of Dr. Vera Rubin, an astronomer who was instrumental in the discovery of dark matter, and yet was over looked for the Nobel prize. Her talk also focused on what dark matter actually is, and how it is important to understanding our universe.

 At the end of her talk, Johanna was bombarded with an endless number of questions ranging from dark matter to exoplanets.

Dr. Adric Riedel, who is a postdoc at Caltech, presented the second talk of the evening. Adric’s talk was titled “The Speed of Light is Slow” and he most certainly made sure that we left there fully experiencing the reasons why. Adric presented the audience with illustrations and movies showing the audience just how slow the speed of light actually compared to the vastness of space, with video and images of Star Wars scenes interspersed throughout the talk.

Here is a brief movie taken of Adric's talk demonstrating just how slow the speed of light is:


After the talks, we moved to the astronomy-themed pub quiz.  The quiz this time was relatively difficult, but a large chunk of the audience participated and we handed out prizes in the form of a NASA hat and Hubble Telescope booklet. All in all, the night was a great success with a massive turnout. Here’s to the next one!


Friday, January 13, 2017

Lecture & Stargazing: The Universe in X-ray Eyes

We started off the year back in Cahill, the astronomy and astrophysics department, after spending the last four months holding our events in Baxter Lecture Hall.  Cahill is a bit smaller, but more accessible and adjacent to the athletic fields for telescope observing. 

Tonight we were joined by Dr. Fiona Harrison, the Division Head of Physics, Math, and Astronomy here at Caltech, who is also the principle investigator of the NuSTAR x-ray telescope.  Dr. Harrison gave a riveting talk describing what sorts of astrophysical phenomena we can view in the universe when we look in the x-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum.  She also took us through the process by which you build and launch a space telescope into space, and what happens to it over time.  A unique talk from someone at the top of her field, we were glad to have her share her stories and lessons.

The weather was somewhat cooperative, so we had some telescope observing despite not having full access to the athletic fields due to construction.  In addition to observing, we offered a panel Q&A on a variety of astrophysical topics.  We addressed a plethora of questions on topics related to cosmology, the evolution of stars, the x-ray universe, and how we became scientists.  Thanks for coming, everyone!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Astronomy on Tap: Galaxies!

All photographs were taken by Christophe Marcade.

Tonight we finished off our astronomy events for the year with two great talks by local astronomers at our Astronomy on Tap series.  The theme of the night was galaxies, and the talks did not disappoint.  First off, we had UCLA postdoc Jordan Mirocha talking about his area of research, the formation of the first galaxies in the universe.

Next, we had a delightful talk by Caltech graduate student, Ivanna Escala, discussing the various ways in which galaxies can get ripped apart, starved of their star-forming fuel, or eaten by larger galaxies!

It was a fun night and a great way to finish off the year.  Have a great holiday, everyone.  See you in January!


Friday, December 9, 2016

Lecture & Stargazing: ALMA

Professor Nick Scoville, esteemed professor and principle investigator of the COSMOS survey, gave a lecture tonight on the revolutionary new telescope ALMA.  ALMA is an NSF-funded telescope, operating in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum, consisting of 66 individual radio dishes. It was built in the high mountains of the Andes in Northern Chile above 5,000 meters of elevation. 

All photographs were taken by Christophe Marcade.

We got started a little late due to some technical difficulties with the equipment in the lecture hall, but Professor Scoville regaled us with a broad discussion as to how both optical and radio telescopes work.  He showed us photos from his visit to the ALMA site, and taught us how scientists use data from the various telescopes combined as an interferometer to get very high resolution images back of gas and molecular cloud structures where stars are being born.  It was really an excellent talk!

After Professor Scoville's lecture, we hosted an expert Q&A panel answering questions on a variety of topics across astronomy, physics, and planetary science.  Simultaneously, audience members were given the opportunity to spy the heavens with our telescopes set up on Beckman Lawn.

Thanks to everyone who attended, and again I'm sorry about the technical difficulties with the A/V setup.  It won't happen again.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Astronomy on Tap: Space Robots and Black Hole Jeopardy

Tonight's Astronomy on Tap event was an exciting one, featuring talks on some very popular topics including the search for life in the universe and black holes!  Attendance was a little light, probably due to this week being the Thanksgiving holiday, but I think all the attendees had a good time regardless.  We started off with a talk by Ricky Nilsson, who discussed the probability that extraterrestrial life may exist, and in what form such life might find itself.  This argument featured the famous Drake Equation detailing the uncertainties in how detecting life, intelligent life, and intelligent life capable of communicating with us over the vast distances of the cosmos.  

Next up was Hannalore Gerling-Dunsmore, who put together a whole game show called "Black Hole Jeopardy" for audience members.  Black hole information sheets were placed around the room over the course of the night, so people could familiarize themselves with information about black holes.  Then three lucky contestants were selected from our audience (professional astronomers were barred from participating).  These contestants played a modification on the popular game: Jeopardy! with black hole-related questions.  While Hannalore's questions were very challenging, even to those of us with formal training in astrophysics, the contestants did pretty well, and they were rewarded with NASA-related prizes like tshirts and pint glasses.  I think everyone learned something about black holes from this event.

Lastly, the astronomy pub quiz had some great questions regarding the space program, cerenkov radiation, and Star Wars.  Everyone got really into it, and the top 2 participants got science prizes from JPL.  Thanks everyone for coming out and see you next month!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lecture & Stargazing: Great American Eclipse Preparation

Tonight we hosted a lecture by Dr. Erika Hamden, who described how to prepare for the Great American Eclipse.  The Great American Eclipse is a total solar eclipse set to occur next August, where the center line (the strip where the total eclipse will be visible) will stretch across the continental United States.  Erika gave some background on eclipses, what causes them, and what you can see when they happen.  She detailed her experiences having seen one in China in 2008, and pressured everyone to get to somewhere on the center line next summer to catch this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

All photographs were taken by Christophe Marcade.

After her lecture, we had a Q&A panel with our local experts answering questions on all sorts of topics ranging from future rocket engine drives to the most interesting and underrated discoveries in the field of astronomy in the last year.

Due to the proximity to Halloween, we invited guests and volunteers alike to show up in their costumes.  I brought Oscar the Grouch along, and several of the attendees showed up in costumes.

Observations went well, and we saw several targets including the first-quarter moon, Mars, and the Double Cluster before the end of the night.  See you again next month!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pasadena Astronomy Festival

All photographs were taken by Christophe Marcade.

Today was the Pasadena Astronomy Festival, the final event of Pasadena Astronomy Week at the Pasadena Convention Center.  It was a whole-day event staffed by members of all of the Pasadena-based astronomy institutions: Caltech, JPL, IPAC, Carnegie, Planetary Society, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Thirty Meter Telescope, Giant Magellan Telescope, and KidSpace.  

There were all sorts of activities and booths set up for members of the public to visit and learn about the universe. There was the booth demonstrating how to make a comet with household materials (and dry ice):

The all-terrain Mars Rover that could ride over bumpy surfaces like children:

 A couple of infrared cameras demonstrating how things look in the near-infrared part of the spectrum (primarily by surface temperature):

And our telescopes set up to observe the sun during the day, and astronomical targets at night:

 We had a great time staffing this event, and we hope you had a great time attending.