Longmont Astronomical Society

Previous Monthly Meeting Presenters


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. 

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.

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