Longmont Astronomical Society

Previous Monthly Meeting Presenters

October 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope:

Promises Delivered

Why was a "magic metal" key to designing the powerful new James Webb Space Telescope? How did scientists focus the optics after launch? And what amazing discoveries are astronomers making now that Webb is fully operational and returning fantastic new images to us almost daily? In this presentation, hear local expert Greg Wirth explain how engineers designed Webb's mirrors, what was involved in turning 18 separate mirror segments into a single telescope, and what scientists are learning from the data.

About the Presenter

Dr. Gregory Wirth is an astronomer and systems engineer at Boulder-based Ball Aerospace.  Since clear nights were a rarity growing up in cloudy and light-polluted central Michigan, Greg was blown away the first time he saw the night skies in Colorado as a teen.  He earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and spent sixteen years as a Support Astronomer at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Prior to joining Ball in 2018, Greg served as the Commissioning Scientist for the Boulder-based National Ecological Observatory Network.  At Ball, he has supported the Roman Space Telescope program and spent last winter commuting from Boulder to Baltimore as a member of the Wavefront Science Team responsible for commissioning the optical systems on the James Webb Space Telescope.  He lives in Longmont and plans his bike rides around the best snack stops.

September 2022

Learning more about Astrophotography

Several members have expressed interest in learning more about astrophotography; referred to below as AP or imaging. To facilitate this, astro-imagers in the club are developing materials and processes designed to meet individual needs and experience. The September general meeting will kick off this endeavor with a presentation, road map, and discussions.

Every individual brings a unique combination of interests, experience, and other elements to this project. If you are interested in learning to image please look over the following questions.. They are crafted to help you determine what you need to learn, what steps you need to take. There are so many different imaging paths to follow; getting as clear a handle on these issues at the outset will serve you well.

Here are questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do you want to image? Moon & planets, nebulae, galaxies, the Sun, asteroids & comets.
  2. Do you have experience with visual astronomy?
  3. Do you have any equipment?
  4. Do you have a budget in mind?
  5. What are your time constraints, if any?
  6. Where do you envision doing AP? Your backyard, dark sites?

August 2022

Evidence for Ancient Astronomy in Chaco Culture

Cherilynn Morrow

About the Presenter

Dr. Cherilynn Morrow earned a PhD in solar astrophysics from the University of Colorado in 1988. She conducted graduate research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and post-doctoral research at Cambridge University. Her dissertation research revealed a new model for the internal rotation of the Sun.

While serving as a visiting scientist at NASA Headquarters in the early 1990’s she began her award-winning work to integrate education and public outreach programs into scientific research environments in space and Earth science. Her work expanded to integrating the arts and indigenous culture during subsequent leadership roles in science education at the Space Science Institute, the SETI Institute, Georgia State University (GSU), and the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI). She is renowned for cross-cultural teaching innovations (e.g. Kinesthetic Astronomy and AstroJazz) that integrate art with science, and engage body, mind, and spirit.

Dr. Morrow has designed and implemented hundreds of professional and leadership development experiences for educators, and for scientists in education. This has included workshops and conference sessions for NASA and NSF scientists, Native American educators, National Park rangers, naturalists, science center & planetarium educators, artists, and yoga students.

Since 2005, Dr. Morrow has contributed hundreds of hours in support of interpretive and research programs at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This includes directing the NASA-sponsored Chaco Educator Institute in Astronomy (June 2008) where educators conducted mentored research in archaeoastronomy. She has also developed multi-sensory interpretive programs for Chaco cultural sites and provided support for archival and field research.

In September 2015, Cherilynn became a Fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences via her productive 2-week residency that generated new original music for AstroJazz.

Since 2020, Dr. Morrow has served as the Outreach Director for the NASA PUNCH mission to study the solar corona and inner heliosphere as a unified system. She leads the development and implementation of the multi-institutional, multi-cultural PUNCH Outreach program using an Ancient & Modern Sun Watching theme. The theme emphasizes ancient and contemporary Sun watching in Chaco Canyon and portrays NASA exploration of the Sun as a natural extension of humanity’s age-old devotion to observing the Sun’s rhythms and mysteries. The theme is designed to provide meaningful pathways for diverse populations to enjoy personal and cross-cultural connections to both NASA Heliophysics and to the observation of upcoming solar eclipses.

July 2022

Do Habitable Worlds Require Magnetic Fields?

Dr. David Brain

What makes Earth habitable? We know that the presence of liquid water is required, but are there other important characteristics of Earth that have made it noticeably more able to support life compared to its sibling planets Mars and Venus? One intriguing possibility is Earth’s magnetic field, which may have protected Earth’s atmosphere by preventing important species from escaping away to space. Neither Venus nor Mars possess global magnetic fields. Determining whether a magnetic field is necessary (or even helpful) for making a planet habitable is becoming increasingly important in an era where we have detected thousands of planets orbiting other stars, and want to know whether they are capable of supporting life. This talk will summarize the current thinking about the relation between planetary magnetic fields and habitability.

About the Presenter

Dave Brain is an Associate Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at CU Boulder. He is interested in the evolution of planetary atmospheres – especially for planets that may be able to support life at some point during their evolution. His main research focus is on the escape of planetary atmospheres to space, as well as the magnetic environments of planets. He uses both spacecraft observations and models in his research. In addition to being involved in multiple spacecraft missions, Dave is the Principal Investigator of a NASA-funded Team Science Center to study the connections between magnetic fields and habitability.

June 2022

Spectrographic Presentation

Clarke Yeager (LAS Member)

Clarke will discuss design issues that solve a common problem with spectrographs, a topic he presented at a conference in California.

May 2022

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and Game-changing Science

Dr. Joe Pesce

In this talk, we will explore one of our flagship observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.  ALMA is the highest altitude observatory, and the most advanced scientific instrument, on Earth. Observing in a previously under-explored region of the electromagnetic spectrum, ALMA is making stunning astrophysical discoveries, from our Solar System to the most distant regions of the universe. We will discuss radio astronomy, the observatory, and some of these game-changing observations. 

About the Presenter

Joe Pesce is an astrophysicist whose primary area of interest is supermassive black holes.  He has held research positions at the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Pennsylvania State University.  He is currently a Program Officer at the US National Science Foundation, responsible for most of the US Government's ground-based radio astronomy facilities (the National Radio Astronomy Observatory - NRAO - including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA, in Chile), the Very Large Array (VLA, in New Mexico), and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA, spread across the US).  In addition to his day job, he is a Part-time Professor at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia) and a Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado (Boulder, Colorado).  Previously, he founded, and served as CEO, of several firms specializing in high-level science and technology, critical thinking and problem-solving consulting and education.  

An important aspect of Joe’s work involves public outreach, as an ambassador for science in general and astrophysics specifically.  Among other activities, he has made numerous television and podcast appearances, and has served as science advisor to several science fiction series (television and online) and science fiction authors.  

He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Cambridge Philosophical Society; serves on the Board of Directors of The Presidents Leadership Class (University of Colorado, Boulder); is a proud alumnus of Peterhouse; is a member of the American Astronomical Society; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Sigma Pi Sigma; the American Institute of Physics; and the Cosmos Club (Washington DC).  
Joe received a B.A. degree in physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and M.Sc., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in astrophysics from Cambridge University (Peterhouse) and the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy.  

Joe’s other interests include science policy, space, leadership, interspecies communication, non-human intelligence, psychology, science fiction, and all things British.  He conducts art-history research and collects art, antiquarian books, and antique furniture.

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. 

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The Longmont Astronomical Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 806, Longmont, CO 80502-0806, USA

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