MICA seminar descriptions and info

Asterisk’s first seminar series is drawn from the Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA). The following seminars will be presented; most of the presenters have generously agreed to answer a limited number of questions, which can be posted to the forum thread devoted to each seminar, as can any general discussion about the topic. Each seminar will appear on Sunday at 6 PM (ET) in the Asterisk blog; the seminar files are also hosted in The Planetarium forum on the Starship Asterisk discussion board.

April 22, 2012
In Fire and In Ice: The Death of Stars
Presenter: Dr. Rob Knop
Professor of Physics, Quest University, Canada
Stars live for millions or billions of years, but they don’t live forever. When a star reaches the end of its lifetime, spectacular fireworks can result. In this popular talk for the interested layman, Dr. Knop outlines what it is that keeps a star together during its lifetime, and what happens to stars of various different sizes when that process finally breaks down. He talks about the ejection of planetary nebulae, the cooling of white dwarves, and the most spectacular of stellar events, supernovae.
First presented in Second Life in May, 2008.

April 29, 2012
Dark Mysteries: What is the Universe Made of?
Presenter: Dr. George Djorgovski
MICA Director, Professor of Astronomy and Co-Director of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at Caltech
One of the key goals of the science of cosmology is to determine the matter and energy contents of the universe; they, in turn, determine its ultimate fate – whether it will expand forever, or recollapse into a reverse of the big bang, a “big crunch.” A great progress has been made in this field over the past decade. We now know that about 70% of the total matter/energy content of the universe is a mysterious “dark energy,” which drives an accelerated expansion, and whose physical nature remains unknown. Another 25% or so is dark matter, whose nature is also unknown, but whose gravitational effects can be measured very well. Only about 5% of the total content is the matter we know, composed of atoms and known particles. We describe how cosmologists know these things, and what are they doing to help resolve these outstanding mysteries of science.
First presented in Second Life in September, 2008.

May 6, 2012
Neptune and Vulcan: Dark Matter in the Solar System
Dr. Rob Knop
Professor of Physics, Quest University, Canada
The cosmological Dark Matter is one example of a more general thing that we might call “dark matter” with lowercase letters– that is, something that has not been observed directly, but whose existence we infer because of its gravitational effects. In the 19th century, there was dark matter in the Solar System: Uranus was showing deviations in its orbit that could not be explained by the action of the Sun and the other known planets. That led to the discovery of Neptune. Similarly, deviations in the orbit of Mercury led to the postulated planet Vulcan inside Mercury’s orbit. However, it turned out that Vulcan didn’t exist at all, and that the answer to the question of Mercury’s orbit was a modification of our theory of gravity.
First presented in Second Life in April, 2009.

May 13, 2012
The Great Debate, Part I
Presenter: Dr. Giuseppe Longo
Department of Physics, University of Napoli Federico III
In 1920, Harlow Shapley and Heber D. Curtis held what became known as The Great Debate: Are distant spiral nebulae small and within our own galaxy, or are they large independent galaxies in their own right? This talk outlines the history that led up to The Great Debate.
First presented in Second Life in January, 2011.

May 20, 2012
The Great Debate: How Mistakes Can Correct Each Other, Part II
Presenter: Dr. Giuseppe Longo
Department of Physics, University of Napoli Federico III
In this second talk, Dr. Longo describes what happened during the Galaxy Debate, when the two champions of the prevailing schools of thought presented.
First presented in Second Life in February, 2011.

May 27, 2012
The 2012 Transit of Venus
Presenter: Dr. Sten Odenwald
Goddard Spaceflight Center
SpaceMath@NASA
Astronomy Cafe
On June 5, 2012, the planet Venus will move across the face of the sun. Such transits of Venus are among the rarest of planetary alignments, and they come in pairs that are eight years apart but separated by more than a century. Transits of Venus inspire public fascination and scientific activity. Historically, this rare alignment is how scientists have measured the size of our solar system, specifically the distance between the Earth and the sun, which is now identified as the “astronomical unit.” During the 1761 transit, observers noticed a fuzzy halo of light surrounding the dark spot of Venus, visible only when Venus was at the sun’s edge. Scientists of the time concluded that Venus must have an atmosphere, and later scientists confirmed that it does: a dense atmosphere of mainly carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid.

Dr. Odenwald presented “A Rare Astronomical Event: Transit of Venus” at the Library of Congress in May 2012, and here we offer the slides from his illustrated lecture.

June 3, 2012
The World of Galaxies
Presenter: Dr. George Djorgovski
MICA Director, Professor of Astronomy and Co-Director of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at Caltech
Galaxies are the basic building blocks of the universe on large scales. Studies of their structure, physics, evolution, and formation are the arena which spans most of the contemporary research in astronomy and observational cosmology. This lecture presents a brief overview of our current knowledge and understanding of galaxies and their lives.
First presented in Second Life in June, 2009.

June 10, 2012
Dark Matter
Presenter: Dr. Paul Doherty
Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and director of The Splo Museum (in SL)
A brief overview of what we know about dark matter, some history of when the idea arose, and current experiments designed to detect or otherwise figure out what dark matter is.
This talk was presented in Second Life in February, 2012.

June 17, 2012
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Presenter: Dr. Fiona Harrison
Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Caltech and Principal Investigator for the NuSTAR Explorer Mission
The new X-ray telescope NuSTAR is due for launch the week of June 10. This mission deploys the first focusing telescopes to image the sky in the high energy X-ray (6 – 79 keV) region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Previous orbiting telescopes have not employed true focusing optics, but rather have used coded apertures that have intrinsically high backgrounds and limited sensitivity. The NuSTAR instrument consists of two co-aligned grazing incidence telescopes with specially coated optics and newly developed detectors that extend sensitivity to higher energies as compared to previous missions such as Chandra and XMM. The observatory will provide a combination of sensitivity, spatial, and spectral resolution factors of 10 to 100 improved over previous missions that have operated at these X-ray energies. Dr. Harrison presented “The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)” and here we offer the slides from her illustrated lecture.

June 24, 2012
Galaxies in Collision
Presenter: Dr. Rob Knop
Professor of Physics, Quest University, Canada
Stars within a galaxy like our own almost never collide with each other. Galaxies themselves, however, run into each other all the time. What’s more, when the Universe was younger and smaller, they ran into each other more often. In this talk, Dr. Knop gives an overview of the sorts of things we see observationally when galaxies run into each other, causing not only the beautiful cosmic collisions that we’ve seen images of, but also triggering huge bursts of star formation and even tremendous activity at the nucleus of those galaxies.
First presented in Second Life in October, 2008.

July 1, 2012
Dark Energy: From Einstein to the Nobel Prize
Presenter: Dr. George Djorgovski
MICA Director, Professor of Astronomy and Co-Director of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at Caltech
An historical review of the theories and astronomical observations which led to the idea of Dark Energy.
First presented in Second Life in October, 2011.

July 15, 2012
From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and the End of the Universe
Presenter: Dr. John Mather
NASA GSFC, Nobel laureate in physics 2006, project scientist for the JWST
The history of the universe in a nutshell, from the Big Bang to now, and on to the future – Dr. Mather tells the story of how we got here, how the Universe began with a Big Bang, how it could have produced an Earth where sentient beings can live, and how those beings are discovering their history. Dr. Mather was Project Scientist for NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which measured the spectrum (the color) of the heat radiation from the Big Bang, discovered hot and cold spots in that radiation, and hunted for the first objects that formed after the great explosion. He explains Einstein’s biggest mistake, shows how Edwin Hubble discovered the expansion of the universe, how the COBE mission was built, and how the COBE data support the Big Bang theory. He also shows NASA’s plans for the next great telescope in space, the James Webb Space Telescope. It will look even farther back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will look inside the dusty cocoons where stars and planets are being born today. Planned for launch in 2014, it may lead to another Nobel Prize for some lucky observer.
First presented in Second Life in January, 2010.

July 22, 2012
A Few Bits about Quantum Theory, part 1
Presenter: Dr. Paul Doherty
Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and director of The Splo Museum (in SL)
In this first lecture of two, Dr. Doherty traces the history of light as wave and particle. He discusses Planck’s solution to the puzzle of blackbody radiation leading up to 1905 when Einstein proposed an explanation of the photoelectric effect using light as quanta of energy, later named photons. He also shows how the spectra of atoms observed in the 19th century is described by the Bohr model of the atom using electron waves.
First presented in Second Life in February, 2011.

July 29, 2012
A Few Bits about Quantum Theory, part 2
Presenter: Dr. Paul Doherty
Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and director of The Splo Museum (in SL)
This second lecture on quantum theory covers the 20th century. Dr. Doherty looks at the Bohr atom, continues to wave functions, looks at electrons as waves, revisits the two slit experiment, samples quantum coherence, and pets Schrodinger’s cat.
First presented in Second Life in March, 2011.

August 3, 2012
The Discovery of the Accelerating Universe
Presenter: Dr. Rob Knop
Professor of Physics, Quest University, Canada
In 1998, two teams of astronomers observing supernovae discovered that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. The speaker, Dr. Knop, was on one of the two teams, working with Saul Perlmutter. In this talk, he describes just how it is that you can measure the expansion history of the Universe by observing distant exploding stars, and what surprising things they saw in the results that indicated the expansion of the Universe was in fact accelerating. At the end, he’ll briefly mention some things about “dark energy,” the mysterious substance that is causing this surprising universal acceleration.
This talk was given in Second Life in November, 2011; it had been previously presented in April, 2009.

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