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Public Science Talks

Sunday, July 21 and Monday, July 22 – SJSU Campus, Engineering Building

Sunday, July 21

12 pm

Speaker: Dr. Lloyd Knox, UC Davis Professor of Physics

Topic: An Image of the Infant Universe as Revealed by the Planck Satellite. The Planck satellite was launched in 2009 to make high-resolution, high-sensitivity maps of the sky at millimeter to submillimeter wavelengths. From these observations we have the highest-resolution, lowest-noise full-sky map ever made of the cosmic microwave background. I will explain how this map is quite directly showing us what the Universe was like when it was just 380,000 years old and how we can use it to both extrapolate backwards in time to fractions of a second after the big bang and forward in time to the current epoch and beyond.

1 pm

Speaker: Dr. Pamela Marcum, Project Scientist for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) at Ames Research Center.

Topic: Exploring the Universe From 42,000 Feet: SOFIA. SOFIA, an airborne observatory optimized for conducting astrophysical investigations across the infrared-to-sub-millimeter spectral range, is an international partnership between the U.S. and German space agencies. SOFIA’s maiden science flight occurred in November 2010, followed by hundreds of science flight hours using three of seven 1st-generation instruments. The first year of SOFIA science covered Solar System to extragalactic astrophysics, and demonstrated various observation modes including instrument team science, peer-reviewed observations by the community, and a target of opportunity that required coordination of heroic proportions! My presentation will highlight major SOFIA discoveries, describe the idiosyncrasies of operating a flying observatory, and outline the expanding potential for new investigations as the full science instrument complement is commissioned.

2:00 pm – break

2:30 pm

Speaker: Brian Day, Director of Communication and Outreach at the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI).

Topic: Exploring the Lunar Environment With NASA. A new generation of robotic lunar explorers is revolutionizing our understanding of the Moon. Our previous view of the Moon as being a static, totally arid, totally airless world is being replaced by an understanding of the Moon’s remarkably dynamic environment. Current missions provide exciting opportunities for the public to directly participate in planetary science and exploration. These lunar missions also help us understand processes that shape the environments of other worlds including a number of asteroids and moons of other planets.


Speaker: Dr. Christopher P. McKay, Planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames.

Topic: The search for life on other planets, with an update from the Mars Curiosity Rover. Mars Curiosity Rover has been operating on Mars for over 200 days. I will present our current status on the search for organics in the soil and the prospects for determining the habitability of the site. If we find organics on Mars, the next challenge will be to determine if they are of biological or non-biological origin. There are other worlds in the Solar System that are also of keen interest in the search for life: my favorite is Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn.

Monday, July 22
7:30 pm

Speaker: Alex Filippenko, UC Berkeley

Topic: Comet ISON and STEM Public Outreach. If it lives up to expectations, Comet ISON (more formally, C/2012 S1) may become the most spectacular comet to be seen from northern hemisphere skies since Come Hale-Bopp in 1997. Dr. Filippenko will describe comets and their importance, as well as when and how to observe this particular comet and what we might expect to see. Comet ISON provides us with a great opportunity to stimulate public interest in astronomy, especially among young people. Also, the date of this talk, July 22, is “pi approximation day” (22/7 is roughly pi, 3.14…), and Dr. Filippenko will present some interesting facts about pi that can be used to get students more excited about STEM fields.