Longmont Astronomical Society

Previous Monthly Meeting Presenters

April 2022

The Visible Broadband Imager of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope

Dr. rer. nat. Friedrich Woeger

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) is - by far - the largest telescope for observations of the Sun. Constructed on the Haleakala volcano on Maui due to its pristine sky and seeing conditions, it will allow solar physicists to gain exciting new insights into what drives our star. In this presentation, Dr. rer. nat. Friedrich Woeger will introduce DKIST's design features and state-of-the-art subsystems and instrumentation that make it a truly unique facility for the solar physics community for decades to come. Dr. rer. nat. Friedrich Woeger will touch briefly on its optical setup, the adaptive optics system, and all first light instruments.

One of DKIST's first light instruments is the Visible Broadband Imager (VBI) that aims to take movies of the plasma motions in various layers of the solar atmosphere. Dr. rer. nat. Friedrich Woeger will present its design details and show some data acquired during the various campaigns of its commissioning that demonstrate the capabilities of the telescope.

About the Presenter

After graduating from the University of Freiburg, Germany, Friedrich joined the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, as Associate Scientist. Since then, he moved on to a Senior Scientist position as the Instrument Systems Scientist for DKIST, where he was involved in the design, fabrication, assembly, testing and verification of various DKIST subsystems, such as the Data Handling System and the Wavefront Correction System, and is the Principal Investigator of the Visible Broadband Imager. He has worked with many teams, including those that provided Visible Spectro-Polarimeter, the Visible Tunable Filter, the Diffraction-Limited Near-Infrared Spectro-Polarimeter, and the Cryogenic Near-Infrared Spectro-Polarimeter, overseeing the commissioning of these instruments at DKIST.

In the future, Woeger will guide development of new instrumentation for DKIST.

March 2022

An Antarctic Odyssey:

Winter-Over at South Pole Station

John W. Wiggs

In a lavishly illustrated presentation, John W. Briggs of New Mexico will describe his year-long experience living at the Geographic South Pole while working for the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. In preparation for this at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, John was a team member building a 24-inch infrared telescope and related experiments that were set up at the Pole in time for him and colleagues to observe the July, 1994, explosive crash of fragmented comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into the planet Jupiter.

John weathered the "winter-over" with 26 other members of the U.S. Antarctic Program in an experience that many believe approximates what life will be like someday at a lunar or Martian outpost. Once begun, South Pole winter-over is an irreversible commitment, since the Program's special LC-130 ski planes can't land in the winter temperatures -- in 1994, sometimes as low as 107 degrees F. below zero (with windchill, as low as -180 degrees). John will delight the audience with his perspective on the total South Pole experience -- the strange natural environment, the odd social atmosphere, and the challenging, ongoing science.

John W. Briggs has lived and worked at far-ranging observatories in various technical capacities, including Mount Wilson, Yerkes, National Solar, Maria Mitchell, Venezuelan National, Chamberlin, and South Pole Station.  He came to New Mexico with his family in 1997 to assist in the final commissioning of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at Apache Point.  In the 1980s he was an assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine and built Bogsucker Observatory in Massachusetts.  He is a member of many astronomical organizations including the Springfield Telescope Makers responsible for the annual Stellafane Convention in Vermont, and he serves on the board of the century-old American Association of Variable Star Observers.  His principal activity now involves the Astronomical Lyceum, an informal museum, library, laboratory, and lecture hall devoted to historical astronomy and its preservation, and his role as secretary of the new Alliance of Historic Observatories.

February 2022

Fire in the Sky:

Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics

Dr. Robert Q. Fugate

In this talk I describe the need and basic principles of adaptive optics as applied to astronomy and how using lasers to create artificial guide stars enables AO to work for very faint objects. I present a short history of how the military pioneered laser guide star AO and in particular my involvement by telling some stories of events and milestones and highlighting some of the contributions of famous people. Finally I will give some examples of how LGSAO is revolutionizing ground based astronomy today by being the enabling technology that makes building modern extremely large telescopes feasible and relevant.

January 2022

Monsters in the Universe:
New Insight into Black Holes

Dr. Joe Pesce

Black holes are among the most enigmatic objects in the universe, and come in a variety of sizes, from several times the mass of the Sun to monsters with many billions of times the mass of the Sun (and maybe even atomic-sized ones).  New advances in astrophysical instruments - with traditional electromagnetic observations as well as new ones using particles and gravitational waves - make this a golden age of black hole research.  Recent findings from gravitational waves and the early universe are challenging traditional views. 

November 2021

Star-Struck:  Space Weather for Humans and Technology

Professor Delores J. Knipp

Delores Knipp

The visual manifestations of extreme space weather are terrifying and awe-inspiring: Blood-red aurora filling the skies, and in the days of the telegraph, sparks flying from terminals. The non-visual impacts of space weather in today’s technology-driven world can be pervasive, especially for spacecraft and any system relying on precise position, navigation, and timing. This presentation will touch on the “best of the worst” space weather storms, including an event in 1967 that nearly triggered World War III and the little-discussed storm of December 2006 that shut down the GPS system on the Sun-facing side of Earth.

Professor Delores Knipp is a Research Professor at the Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder).  She earned a Ph D in Atmospheric and Space Physics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1989. Her career spans more than 30 years as an active-duty Air Force Officer and civilian professor at the US Air Force Academy where she taught physics, meteorology and astronomy, followed by more than a decade at CU Boulder. During that time, she wrote the first space weather textbook for upper division undergraduates entitled ‘Understanding Space Weather and the Physics Behind It.’  From 2014-2019 Professor Knipp was the Editor in Chief for the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Space Weather Journal.

Prof. Knipp’s research focuses on the space environment and the atmospheric and solar events that disturb it. She works with students to investigate methods for: 1) specifying satellite drag; 2) describing how structures on the Sun produce disturbances in near-Earth space; 3) improving scientific use of space environment measurements from DoD, NASA and international space missions; 4) inter-comparing measurements from research and commercial satellites with an eye toward making broader use of commercial satellite 'housekeeping' data to monitor environmental conditions in near-Earth space; 5) describing the effects of extreme space weather at Earth: and 6) developing educational material related to space weather.  She also studies historical space weather events to understand the impacts these events have had on society and the US military.

In 2019 she joined the ranks of Fellows at the American Meteorological Society.  Later that year she was awarded the 2019 International Marcel Nicolet Medal for Space Weather and Space Climate.

October 2021

 Moons and Small Bodies in the Solar System

Dr. Amanda Hendrix, Senior Scientist, Planetary Science Institute

ahendrix's picture

There are many moons and many types of small bodies in our solar system. Main belt asteroids, near-Earth asteroids, Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects… the list goes on.  Each of these worlds is unique - and many have been, or will be, visited by spacecraft missions. I will share some of the unique characteristics of these bodies, particularly as has been learned from recent missions. I will discuss results from the Lunar Reconnaissance Mission, Cassini, Galileo and Dawn missions (among others), and will discuss plans for the upcoming Psyche, DART, Lucy, MMX and Dragonfly missions.

Dr. Amanda Hendrix engages in UV spectroscopy of planetary surfaces including icy satellites, asteroids, Earth’s moon, Mars and Jupiter’s moon Io. She studies surface composition, weathering processes and radiation products.

Dr. Hendrix has 20+ years of experience in planetary science research. Hendrix received a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder. As a graduate student and post-doctoral research at LASP/Univ. Colorado, Hendrix gained valuable experience in UV spectroscopy and instrumentation and began a career of investigating solar system surfaces (largely airless bodies) in the UV. After LASP, she spent 12 years at JPL, progressing from a science planner on Cassini to Deputy Project Scientist, before moving to PSI in 2012. She is a co-investigator on the Cassini UVIS instrument as well as on the LRO LAMP instrument.  She has led observing and research teams and published results in numerous NASA R&A and HST programs. Hendrix is the Director/PI of the NASA Toolbox for Exploration (TREX) team. She co-authored Beyond Earth: Our Path to a new Home in the Planets, published by Penguin/Random house in Nov 2016. Minor Planet 6813 Amandahendrix was named in her honor. Besides research, she enjoys teaching and sharing her love of planetary science with students and the public.

September 2021

The Southwest Research Institute's Suborbital

Research Initiative: First Flights in Next-Gen Suborbital

Dr. Dan Durda

We are in the midst of a revolution in scientific access to space. This  revolution, fueled  by billionaire investors like Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, is fielding human flight sub-orbital systems right now. This new stable of vehicles, originally intended to open up a space tourism market, includes Virgin Galactic’s SpacesShip2 and Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Each offers the capability to fly multiple humans and their research payloads to altitudes of 70-140 km on a frequent (daily to weekly) basis for per-seat launch costs much less than ever before. At Southwest Research Institute we have been funded to conduct a multi-flight next-generation suborbital series of research missions.

August 2021 

Dark Matter and Why We Need It

Dr. Angela Collier

Some of the most exciting open questions in Astronomy pertain to the origin and properties of dark matter. Dark matter accounts for ~85% of the mass of the Universe but still eludes direct detection. I will discuss in detail the evidence of dark matter and it’s role in shaping the cosmos. While the importance of dark matter is well understood, it’s underlying nature is still a mystery. Many cosmologists maintain they are ‘on the verge’ of solving this mystery (though they have been on the ‘verge’ for 30 years now.) I will describe a few of the more interesting theories and experiments. You will not leave this talk with an answer to the question ‘What is dark matter?’ but you will hopefully understand its importance.

June 2021 

Radio Astronomy: Past and Future

  Dayton Jones

Senior Research Scientist, Space Science Institute 

The radio astronomy community was dealt a blow last December when the iconic Arecibo radio telescope collapsed. I will discuss how this happened and what options may exist for a replacement. Looking ahead, large arrays of small telescopes will provide more capabilities than any single-aperture telescope could. The international astronomy community is developing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a massive project to construct several hundred dish antennas in South Africa to observe at medium radio frequencies, and hundreds of thousands of dipole antennas in western Australia to observe at low radio frequencies. In parallel, the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory is proposing a next-generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) to observe at higher frequencies with an array of dish antenna in the southwestern US. I will briefly describe the plans for these future facilities and some of the primary science goals that have motivated their design.

Dayton Jones grew up in Philadelphia and attended Carleton College (BS in Physics, 1974), University of California at Santa Barbara (MS in Scientific Instrumentation, 1976) and Cornell University (MS in Astronomy, 1979, and PhD in Astronomy, 1981). Following graduate school he was a postdoc with the VLBI radio astronomy group at Caltech, then a National Research Council postdoc at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He joined the JPL staff in 1986 and worked there until 2015 when he joined the Space Science Institute in Boulder, retiring from JPL as a Principal Scientist. He is currently working part-time as a Senior Research Scientist at SSI and living near Lyons. His research interests center on high resolution radio imaging and astrometry using interferometry. He is an author on more than 100 refereed papers in scientific journals. His other interests include amateur radio, hiking, skiing, and reading. 

May 2021 

Juno Update at Jupiter: What’s Happening to the Great Red Spot?

Fran Bagenal, University of Colorado, Boulder


The giant planet Jupiter is recognized by its orange and white stripes—and its Great Red Spot (GRS). A large red storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere has been observed by modest Earth-based telescopes for centuries. In 1979 the Voyager spacecraft made movies of the GRS which showed that it is about the size of two Earth diameters and had hurricane-scale wind speeds that circulated in six days. Since July 4, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been in orbit around Jupiter and made more than 30 orbits over Jupiter’s poles. Fortuitously, in the past year, Juno made some passes close to the GRS, providing new measurements of the depth of the storm and its turbulent atmospheric structures. In this talk, LASP scientist Fran Bagenal will show how Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been observed by telescopes on Earth as well as from spacecraft near Jupiter. The storm has noticeably shrunk in size over the past 40 years…Will it disappear? Will it grow back to the size it was during the Voyager epoch? 

Dr. Fran Bagenal was born and grew up in England. In 1976, inspired by NASA’s missions to Mars and the prospect of the Voyager mission, she moved to the US for graduate study at MIT. After Voyager flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune she joined the faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1989. She was professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences until 2015 when she chose to focus on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto (flyby July 14, 2015) and Juno mission to Jupiter. Juno went into orbit over the poles of Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and has since made 33 passes over Jupiter’s swirling clouds. She remains a Research Scientist at CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics in Boulder.

April 2021 

How do Galaxies Get their Shapes?

Dr. Angela Collier

Astronomers classify galaxies into three categories, based on their morphology: elliptical, spiral and irregular. Each type of galaxy spans a wide range of size, kinematic properties, and chemical makeup. The appearances of galaxies are shaped over billions of years by interactions with other galaxies and internal dynamical processes. While we do not know for sure how galaxies form to take these different shapes observed today we can find clues in galactic simulations. I will discuss the current state of the field and my own work on dark matter interactions within galaxies. 

Angela Collier is a theoretical physicist who explores the role of dark matter interactions in large scale secular dynamics through analytical calculations and numerical simulations. She currently works at JILA and CU Boulder as a research postdoctoral fellow in the Eccentric Dynamics Group. She is originally from eastern Kentucky.

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