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Howard Astronomical League - 2017 Meetings

2017 General Meeting Topics / Speakers

January 19

HAL Annual Election & astrophotos, Wayne Baggett provides an update on the James Webb Space Telescope

February 16

Annual treasurer's report & members astrophotos plus special guest speaker.

Speaker: NASA Astrophysicist, Dr. Ira Thorpe

Title: The 100 Year History of Gravity Waves, and the LISA/LISA Pathfinder Missions 

Abstract: In September 2015, nearly a century after Albert Einstein’s publication of the theory of General Relativity, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) instruments detected gravitational waves produced by colliding black holes in the distant universe. While that feat marked the end of a nearly six-decade quest to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, it marks the beginning of a new an exciting field of astronomy that will use gravity, not light, to explore and understand our universe and the strange phenomena that inhabit it. Just as electromagnetic astronomers have developed a suite of instruments to cover a wide range of that spectrum, gravitational wave astronomers are developing instruments that are sensitive to different frequencies of gravitational waves. One of the most promising bands, expected to be rich in both number and variety of sources, is the milliHertz band, which is only accessible to a space-based observatory. 

In 2015, the European Space Agency launched LISA Pathfinder, a technology demonstrator for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) concept. LISA Pathfinder’s primary objective is to demonstrate that a test mass can be placed in near-perfect free-fall and that it’s acceleration can be precisely measured using a laser interferometer. In this talk Dr. Thorpe will describe LISA Pathfinder, its key technologies, NASA’s role, and the preliminary results to date. He will also provide a look forward to the prospects for realizing LISA and the tremendous science output that it will achieve.

March 16

Speaker: Elizabeth Warner gives a talk entitled: "Education, Public Outreach and Research at a Small Observatory". The UMD Observatory was dedicated in 1964 and was established as a teaching facility. A public program was added and those Open Houses continue today. While maintaining the existing educational and public outreach portions, Elizabeth Warner has also established new outreach initiatives since taking over in May 2002. A challenge from a student and a change in the program she mentored led to starting a research program with undergrad students.

April 20

Dr. Adam Szabo, Chief of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Heliospheric Phyics Labratory, will be speaking to us about the Earth and Solar Wind Science Observations of the DSCOVR Mission.
May 18

In addition to the recurring meeting elements, the talk for May is:

Eclipse 2017: Through the Eyes of NASA
The August 21, 2017 eclipse will be the first time a total solar eclipse has traversed the Continental US since June 8th, 1918. This talk will outline NASA’s science education  plans, unique science, and show how scientists and the public can get involved.

Speaker: Lou Mayo
Lou Mayo is a planetary astronomer working for ADNET Systems at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He is Program Manager for NASA's 2017 Eclipse Science Education Program and Heliophysics Education Consortium and professor of astronomy at Marymount University.

June 15

Guest Speaker HAL Member and UMBC Professor Bob Provine:

The Perception of Color in Astronomical Objects

The human eye has been displaced as the sensor of choice of astronomers, but astronomers and other physical scientists still refer to red and blue light as a shorthand for long and short wavelengths and make fallacious assumptions about the nature of the perceptual world, neglecting that there are differences between the physical world and our perception of it. Data from neuroscience indicate we descendants of hunter-gathers are not ideal astrophysicists. Issues of color are also significant for amateur astronomers trying to describe and understand what they see. What is responsible for the color the point sources of stars and the distributed sources of nebula? Why do the stellar
pairing double star Alberio look especially blue and gold? Why does the companion of Aldebaran look green, a unique hue for stars? Why does color disappear from landscapes after sunset? 

In describing these and other phenomena, Bob will demonstrate that color is not a property of the physical universe, but is generated by the brain to provide an additional dimension of image contrast. There is no red, blue, or green in the cosmos. Building on Land's Retinex Theory, he will provide evidence that color must involve more than simply wavelength perception, otherwise there would be no stability of color under different conditions of illumination. Perceived color is the result of ratios of reflectances of wavelengths off different surfaces, not of specific wavelengths. he will also provide demonstrations of these phenomena. Although his data reflect accepted color theory, they are startling when encountered for the first time."

July 20

Guest Speaker: Roopesh Ojha, NASA Astrophysicist

Dr Roopesh Ojha works for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space telescope at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His current research is focused on multi-wavelength and multi-messenger observations of active galactic nuclei and the design of the next generation of high energy space observatories.

TALK TITLE: Astronomy on Ice

ABSTRACT: The South Pole is a hotbed of astronomical research. Despite being a somewhat hostile environment for humans, it provides unique advantages for many kinds of telescopes making possible observations that would otherwise only be possible from space or not at all. It is also a fantastic place to study atmospheric phenomenon that are rarely seen elsewhere on Earth. The speaker "wintered over" with a sub-millimeter telescope and will provide glimpses of science and life at the bottom of the world where daily life is about as "otherworldly"as you can get without leaving our home planet.

August 17

Guest Speaker: Dr Bindu Rani, NASA Post Doctoral Fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center

Talk Title: Wobbling jets in active super-massive black holes

Abstract: Powered by accretion onto super-massive black holes (masses up to 10 billion Solar mass), active galactic nuclei (AGN) are strong emitters of electromagnetic radiation over a range spanning more than 20 decades in energy. About 1 in 10 AGN convert a substantial fraction of accretion energy into highly collimated and relativistic outflows of energetic plasma called "JETS". Many AGN jets do wobble, i.e., show temporal variations in their direction on parsec scales. While the causes of "jet wobbling" are not agreed upon, it is a powerful  probe of energy extraction from super-massive black holes.

September 21 Member's solar eclipse reports and photos
October 19

In addition to the recurring meeting elements, this month's talk is:

Guest Speaker:

Dennis M. Conti - Chair, AAVSO Exoplanet Section
High Precision Exoplanet Observations with Amateur Telescopes

With the upcoming launch of TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), the need for follow-up observations by amateur astronomers to detect false positives is an essential part of TESS accomplishing its science mission. Exoplanet observations by amateur astronomers have already proven their value in programs such as KELT and a recent pro/am Hubble collaboration. Fortunately, best practices for conducting high quality exoplanet transit observations with small telescopes (8” and larger) are now well-established. Training material, online courses, and tools are now available to allow a larger number of amateur astronomers to contribute to the TESS Follow-Up Observing Program (TFOP). This talk will review the more important of these best practices. In particular, it will present some new and innovative techniques that should prove beneficial in helping amateur astronomers detect false positives in a more reliable way.

November 16

Guest Speaker:
Ernie Wright is a programmer/animator in the Scientific Visualization Studio at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  He's been a member of the LRO public outreach team since 2008.

Topic: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Science Results

Amateur astronomers tend to avoid moonlit nights, but the Moon is both starkly beautiful and scientifically important.  As a fossil of the formation and early evolution of the inner solar system, it opens a window on the early history of our own planet.  New data gathered by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that it's also surprisingly active--LRO has found evidence of geologically recent volcanism, a shrinking crust, a much higher than expected impact rate, and widespread deposits of water ice near the surface.

This presentation will take a tour of the Moon using LRO imagery and data visualization, highlighting some of the science and connecting it with features that can be seen in amateur telescopes.  The tour will include Apollo landing sites and a description of the role played by LRO data in predicting the circumstances of the recent total solar eclipse.

December 21 Holiday Potluck plus President Johnson's Year End Wrap-up.

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Last modified: December 05, 2017 @ 21:05 EST