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Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures

100 Years of Einstein’s Relativity (And How it Underlies Our Modern Understanding of the Universe)

Jeffrey BennettMay 6, 2015

Dr. Jeffrey Bennett (University of Colorado)

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2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s completion of his General Theory of Relativity, the comprehensive theory of space, time, and gravity. Dr. Bennett explains the basic ideas of Einstein’s work (both the special and general theories) in everyday language and shows how Einstein’s remarkable ideas are being confirmed today by astronomical observations. He concludes with four reasons why relativity should matter to everyone.

 

Now Appearing at a Dwarf Planet Near You: NASA’s Dawn Mission to the Asteroid Belt

Dr. Marc RaymanApril 8, 2015

Dr. Marc Rayman (Jet Propulsion Labs)

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Dr. Rayman, the Mission Director for the Dawn exploration of Vesta and Ceres, explains the unusual mission (the first to orbit two different bodies in the solar system), what it found at Vesta, and what it is going to do as it gets to Ceres, the largest asteroid and the first dwarf planet discovered. He also gives a behind-the-scenes tour of the Dawn launch and the ion propulsion that allows it to visit multiple targets.

 

The Sentinel Mission: Finding the Asteroid Headed for Earth

Ed LuMarch 4, 2015

Dr. Ed Lu (Former NASA Astronaut; CEO of the Sentinel Mission)

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Asteroids, which hit our planet at least twice each year, are the only natural disaster for which we have a technological solution. We are all living with the threat of a 3-minute experience that could transform our lives and our planet forever. Scientists have found 10,000 Near-Earth Objects, yet there are an estimated one million in our inner solar system, and the vast majority of the threatening ones are still undiscovered. In this non-technical talk, Ed Lu describe the threat, and discusses the Sentinel Mission, an orbiting telescope to detect and track asteroids that cross Earth’s orbit.

 

Pluto on the Horizon: Anticipating our First Encounter with the Double Planet

Mark ShowalterJanuary 28, 2015

Dr. Mark Showalter (SETI Institute)

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The more we learn about Pluto, the more interesting it becomes. In the last decade, four tiny moons have been discovered orbiting the central “binary planet,” which consists of Pluto and its large moon Charon. Pluto itself has a thin atmosphere and shows signs of seasonal changes. On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto and provide our first close-up look at these distant worlds. Dr. Showalter, a co-investigator on the mission, describes how he discovered two of the moons of Pluto, explains what we currently know about the Pluto system, and sets the scene for the exploration that is in store.

 

Images of the Infant Universe: The Latest Results from the Planck Satellite

Dr. Lloyd KnoxNovember 12, 2014

Dr. Lloyd Knox (University of California, Davis)

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Professor Knox leads the U.S. team determining the basic characteristics of the cosmos from the data recently acquired by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. He shows the detailed images of the sky obtained by Planck, pictures made from light that has been traveling our way for nearly 14 billion years, since the universe was only a few hundred thousand years old. He further explains how such images provide us with our best means of studying events mere fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

 

The Copernicus Complex: Are We Special in the Cosmos?

Dr. Caleb ScharfOctober 8, 2014

Dr. Caleb Scharf (Columbia University)

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Is humanity on Earth special or unexceptional? Extraordinary discoveries in astronomy and biology have revealed a universe filled with endlessly diverse planetary systems, and a picture of life as a phenomenon intimately linked with the most fundamental aspects of physics. But just where these discoveries will lead us is not yet clear. We may need to find a way to see past the mediocre status that Copernicus assigned to us 500 years ago. Dr. Scharf helps us to come to grips with the implications of some of the latest scientific research, from the microscopic to the cosmic.

 

Monster Black Holes: What Lurks at the Center of Galaxies?

Dr. Chung-Pei MaMay 24 2014

Dr. Chung-Pei Ma (University of California, Berkeley)

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Black holes are among the most fascinating objects in the cosmos, in part because they can grow to monstrous size, swallowing the mass of millions or billions of suns. Dr. Ma describes recent discoveries of record-breaking black holes, each with a mass of ten billion times the mass of the Sun. New evidence shows that these objects could be the dormant remnants of powerful “quasars” that existed in the young universe.

 

Lifting the Cosmic Veil: Highlights from a Decade of the Spitzer Space Telescope

Michael BicayApril 16, 2014

Dr. Michael Bicay (NASA Ames Research Center)

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As the infrared cousin to Hubble, the Spitzer Space Telescope was launched in 2003 to study the cool universe with waves that are invisible to the human eye. It can probe the birth and youth of stars and planetary disks, and study of planets orbiting other stars. Dr. Bicay describes the long road leading to Spitzer’s launch, and presents highlights from the mission’s first decade of discovery.

 

Exploding Stars, New Planets, Black Holes, and the Crisis at Lick Observatory

Dr. Alex FilippenkoFebruary 26, 2014

Dr. Alex Filippenko (University of California, Berkeley)

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Lick Observatory, the first remote mountaintop observatory in the world, has had a remarkable record of discovery spanning 126 years. (Its first Director also founded the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.) Lick continues to be a vibrant research facility, especially for projects that require large numbers of nights on modest-size telescopes. Dr. Filippenko discusses the research areas in which Lick remains a world leader. However, the University of California Office of the President has decided that the university’s funding for Lick will be terminated by 2016-2018. Find out, from the President of the Lick Observatory Council, what is being done to try to keep Lick open.

 

Black Widow Pulsars: The Vengeful Corpses of Stars

Dr. Roger RomaniJanuary 22, 2014

Dr. Roger Romani (Stanford University)

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NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has revealed a violent high-energy universe full of stellar explosions, black hole jets, and pulsing stars. These cosmic objects are often faint when observed with visible light, but glow bright with gamma rays. Dr. Romani describes the quest to discover the true nature of the most puzzling of these gamma-ray sources. Several turn out to be a kind of bizarre star corpse called a ‘black widow’ pulsar.