Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures public
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Listen to exciting, non-technical talks on some of the most interesting developments in astronomy and space science. Founded in 1999, the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures are presented on six Wednesday evenings during each school year at Foothill College, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. Speakers include a wide range of noted scientists, explaining astronomical developments in everyday language. The series is organized and moderated by Foothill's astronomy instructor emeritus An ...
 
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When light from space enters Earth’s atmosphere, it is distorted and displaced, something our eyes perceive as “twinkling.” Adaptive optics can remove a great deal of this distortion, essentially restoring much of the detail we’ve been robbed off in our view of the stars and galaxies. Dr. Max, a world-renowned pioneer in this technique, shows us ho…
 
In this talk, astrobiologist Charles Lineweaver discusses the history of life on Earth and what we can deduce from our understanding of the universe about the existence and history of life elsewhere. He recounts the ongoing discovery of large numbers of exoplanets -- planets orbiting other stars -- and what we can learn from the varieties of planet…
 
What would it have been like to be an eyewitness to the Big Bang? In 2014, astronomers using the powerful BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole thought they’d glimpsed evidence of the period of cosmic inflation at the beginning of time. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement, and Nobel whispers spread like wildfire. But had these scien…
 
New exploration indicates that caves may be more common on rocky and icy worlds in our Solar System than we have thought in the past. Caves below the Earth show us a very different planet than the familiar one we experience on the surface. Each dark cave system has its own micro-organisms and distinctive mineral and chemical properties. Dr. Penelop…
 
In this illustrated talk, Dr. Burgasser explains what happens when a newly forming star doesn't have "what it takes" to produce energy in its core in an ongoing way. This results in "failed stars" or brown dwarfs -- objects that were predicted in theory, but only discovered in the 1990's. Today, many thousands of these brown dwarfs are known, spann…
 
Pluto’s large moon Charon turned out to be far more interesting than astronomers expected. Pluto was the star when the New Horizons probe flew by, but the features on Charon’s surface tell a fascinating tale of how icy worlds could form far from the gravitational influences of the giant planets. There is evidence of a world-wide sub-surface ocean e…
 
In this nontechnical talk, illustrated with the latest images and video, Dr. Thaller asks what makes a world habitable? What creates and sustains an environment friendly to life? She then discusses the history of life on Earth and what we are learning about our planet, and our neighbors Mars and Venus from such missions as the Parker Solar Probe, t…
 
Decades after we last set foot on the Moon, and several years after the Space Shuttle was retired, space activity is finally leaving the doldrums. Permanent bases on the Moon and Mars are now within reach, and a new Space Race is brewing, with Asian countries ascendant. Dr. Impey (University of Arizona) reviews the history and landmarks of the inte…
 
Where is the best place to find living life beyond Earth? It may be that the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn harbor some of the most habitable real estate in our Solar System. Life loves liquid water and these moons have lots of it! Such oceans worlds have likely persisted for much of the history of the solar system, and as a result …
 
The NASA Kepler mission revealed that our Galaxy is teeming with planetary systems and that Earth-sized planets are common. However, most of the planets detected by Kepler orbit stars too faint to permit detailed study. The NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS,) launched in 2018, is finding hundreds of small planets orbiting stars that …
 
The Vera Rubin Observatory will house a survey telescope that will image the night sky faster and deeper than ever before. Its camera, at 3.6 Gigapixels, will be the biggest digital camera ever built. The Rubin Observatory will be able to image the entire visible sky every few nights, and build up, over 10 years, a 900-frame full color movie of the…
 
Prof. Jim Bell (of Arizona State University), who is a key leader in projects to take images with NASA's rovers on Mars, discusses the history and current state of our exploration of the red planet. He summarizes the scientific findings from the Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance missions. He puts each mission into the larger context …
 
A bird that mimicked a black hole. The astronomer that discovered microwave ovens. A telescope that got shot. The science of astronomy is filled with true stories (and tall tales) of the adventures and misadventures that accompany our exploration of the universe. Dr. Levesque, who interviewed over 100 astronomers for her well-reviewed popular book,…
 
Craig Venter & Daniel Cohen suggested that if the 20th century was the century of physics, the 21st century will be the century of biology on our planet. Jill Tarter believes that their idea will be extended beyond the surface of our world, and that we may soon have the first opportunity to study biology that developed on other worlds. In this lect…
 
By measuring the rapid orbits of the stars near the center of our galaxy, Dr. Andrea Ghez of UCLA and her colleagues have moved the case for a supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy from a possibility to a certainty. She reports on her pioneering observations of stars near our galaxy's center (that orbit the monster black hole…
 
After encountering Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft, for the first time flew by a member of the Kuiper Belt of icy objects beyond Neptune. This particular object, informally named “Ultimate Thule” (meaning the farthest place beyond the known world,) turned out to be a “contact binary” – two smaller icy worlds stuck together. Dr. Jeff Moore, a pla…
 
Black holes are one of the most remarkable predictions of Einstein's theory of gravity: so much material is compressed into such a small volume that nothing, not even light, can escape. In Spring 2019, the world-wide Event Horizon Telescope released the first real picture of gas around a massive black hole and the “shadow” it makes as the gas swirl…
 
Dr. Adam Frank (U of Rochester) first discusses the history of our search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), including the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox, and the searches for radio messages from other civilizations that have taken place since 1960. He then explains how new research and funding is expanding our thinking about the ways we…
 
Dr. Brown (whose discovery of dwarf planet Eris led to the reclassification of Pluto) discusses the history of planetary discovery (and demotion), why we think a new, larger Planet 9 is on the verge of being found, and the techniques that we are using to try to find this very faint body lurking in the far reaches of our planetary system. This was r…
 
May 22, 2021, Dr. Janna Levin (Columbia University's Barnard College) Dr. Levin helps us to understand, and to find delight in, black holes – perhaps the most opaque theoretical construct ever imagined by physicists. She takes us on an exploratory tour of the neighborhood of a black hole, and help us feel the visceral experience of encountering bla…
 
Lick Observatory, the first continuously inhabited mountain-top observatory in the world, has been doing ground-breaking research since its opening in 1888. 30 years after Lick Observatory established itself as a leader in astronomical research, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic hit the United States. Research, while hampered by the conditions at the t…
 
Astronomers today understand that the universe is full of a mysterious substance they call “dark matter” (because it doesn’t give off any light or other radiation we can detect.) Dr. Tom Shutt (of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) discusses the motivation behind the multi-decade, world-wide effort to test the idea that dark matter is in the f…
 
Nobel Physics Prize laureate, Dr. John Mather, explains how the early cosmos (whose precise characteristics he helped pin down) became our present-day universe of galaxies, stars, and planets. Dr. Mather is the Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (which will be a much larger instrument than the Hubble when it is launched in late 20…
 
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