2017 - 2018 Presentations

Friday, September 29th, 2017:  Dr. Marja Seidel

The Universe -- billions and billions of galaxies -- and our Milky Way, just a rather small one among them. Would you be surprised that less than 100 years ago, we still thought that the Milky Way was the only galaxy? How do we know that there are more galaxies in the Universe? And how do we know that they are all moving away from us?  The story of these discoveries is closely tied to the neighbourhood of Los Angeles. It is the story of Edwin Hubble, a dedicated researcher who revolutionized our vision of the Universe. 

This story will be told by Dr. Seidel, a postdoctoral research associate at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, CA. While she is a dedicated science communicator, her current scientific work is focused on galaxy evolution, combining observations and numerical simulations, to better understand the formation of galaxy disks and the influence of dark matter.  Her talk is a historical and humorous perspective of Mt. Wilson, Edwin Hubble, and our understanding of the Universe.


Friday, October 20th, 2017:  Dr. Christopher Burns

On August 17 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the unique signature of an astronomical event that had never been witnessed before: the merging of two neutron stars. Long thought to be the source of half the heavy elements (including most of the gold and platinum) in the universe, these explosive mergers fade away so quickly and are so faint that they are very unlikely to be caught by telescopes in visible light. Thanks to LIGO, which measures the gravitational waves of such events, astronomers at Las Campanas Observatory knew where to point their telescopes and were the first to capture a neutron star merger in visible and infra-red light.

Dr. Christopher Burns, of the Carnegie Observatories, will briefly introduce the concept of gravitational waves, describe how LIGO measures them, and tell the story of how the smallest telescope at LCO, the Swope, has become its most famous telescope overnight. 


Friday, November 17th, 2017:  Dr. Mia Bovill

Half a century before Hidden Figures, Harvard Observatory employed more than 200 women to classify and characterize the stars on a collection of half a million glass photographic plates. Largely forgotten by history, the work of Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Leavitt, Cecilia Payne and their colleagues forms the basis of our modern understanding of the stars and the scale of the Universe itself.

Dr. Mia Bovill is a postdoctoral researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, where she studies the smallest galaxies in the universe.  She received her PhD from the University of Maryland in 2011, roaming to UT Austin before spending three years at the Instituto de Astrofisica at U. Catolica in Santiago, Chile. She returned to Maryland to work on simulations of the first galaxies, in preparation for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).   Her interest in the Harvard computers started in 2002, when she did a summer undergraduate internship at the Harvard Observatory.


Friday, December 15th, 2017:  Dr. Louis Abraham

Galaxies are collections of many billions of stars embedded in invisible dark matter halos weighting many trillions of tons organized into structures that can span many millions of lightyears. Yet, despite these exotic---even unfathomable---features, galaxies grow, change, and interact in ways that can seem remarkably human.  Dr. Louis Abramson, a post doctoral research at UCLA, will describe the galaxy lifecycle and the factors influencing it, highlighting how these naturally (and not too inaccurately) reflect our own understanding of how biology and society shape human lives.  For, just like us, galaxies have an early period of vigorous, socially induced growth, a long span of productive maturation, and (alas) an inevitable death.  Just like us, external factors like environment, and internal factors like size, shape, and mass seem to predict the length and quality of a galaxys life.  So while this anthropomorphism is not how astronomers quantitatively approach theories of galaxy evolution, it does capture most of the key aspects any such theory must explain---and much of the academic debate surrounding them. Hence, its not too unfair to say that, with a little self reflection, we might better understand what turned an empty early universe into one filled with the multitude of galaxies we see today.


Louis Abramson was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. He got a BA in physics from Columbia University in 2009, and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 2015. Since then, he has been at UCLA.  While he doggedly refers to himself as an observer, he has spent most of the last few years thinking about how observations of galaxies inform very basic ideas of how and why these objects change over time.  As this frequently has him asking things like, What is redness? he is grateful to his boss who keeps him grounded working on a large Hubble Space Telescope survey based on gravitational lensing.


Friday, January 26th, 2018:  Dr. Tuan Do

Have you ever wondered just what supermassive black holes are?!  Have you ever considered how astronomers discovered that our very own Milky Way galaxy has one at its center? Dr. Tuan Do, from UCLA's Galactic Center Group, will solve these mysteries this coming Friday, as he, "Reveals the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way."  As a bonus, he'll also discuss the exciting observations coming in 2018 that seek to test Einstein's theory of General Relativity with stars in orbit around this supermassive black hole.  It's heady stuff!  Please join us!


Friday, March 23rd, 2018:  Dr. Corey Jamison

Our Solar System is vast and varied. From the sulfuric acid rains of Venus, to the sulfur spewing volcanos of Io, to the sulfate-rich ice shell of Europa, there exists a tremendous diversity of chemical and geologic activity.  GCCs own astrochemist, Dr. Corey Jamieson, will explore with you the chemistry of the Solar System, focusing on Europa, the smallest of the Galilean moons of Jupiter.  Europa isnt just a pretty name:  It is an intriguing body, due of course, to its abundance of liquid water.  This indicates a potential for habitability, which naturally excites the imaginations of sci-fi lovers everywhere.  The upcoming Europa Clipper mission (coming to a launchpad near you in the early 2020s) will further studies of Europa's composition and geology.  So come and join us in the planetarium to converse about the finer details of the Solar System.


Friday, April 27th, 2018:  Dr. Johanna Teske

Dr. Johanna Teske, currently the Carnegie Observatories Origins Postdoctoral Fellow, grew up in Central Pennsylvania, with a farm field at the end of her street. Those relatively dark skies, allowed her to observe the "real" night sky (unlike the Glendale skies... sigh!) and meteor showers in the early morning hours.  As a girl, she also enjoyed creek-walking, writing short stories, and pretending to be a spy.  Later on, Johanna got her B.S. degree in Physics from American University in Washington, DC, and then her Ph.D. in Astronomy from University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.  Following that achievement, Johanna spent two years doing astronomy in Washington, DC before moving to Pasadena in August 2016. In her free time Johanna likes teaching astronomy to others (and learning from them!), watching baseball, and running marathons.

When she isn't running, Johanna concentrates on learning more about two aspects of the Universe:  Studying the chemical environments for planet formation & the compositions of exoplanets and discovering more planets. 

Overall, Johanna's research uses high resolution optical spectrometers and imagers mounted on big telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. This means lots of travelling to Hawaii and Chile for observing runs, and observing and tinkering with the instruments.  This, apparently, is her favorite part of her job. 

Please join Dr. Teske at the Glendale Community College planetarium for a Conversation With the Stars (and planets).


Friday, May 27th, 2018:  Dr. Ralph Bird

Dr. Ralph Bird is a currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, though he was once a nuclear safety engineer for Rolls-Royce Plc.  As cool as both civil and submarine power plants were, the lure of research pulled Dr. Bird towards the two fascinating instruments he now uses: GAPS (a balloon borne experiment searching for antinucleon cosmic rays) and VERITAS (a very-high-energy gamma ray telescope array).  

Studying cosmic rays, which are extremely fast moving subatomic particles, can tell astronomers a lot about the objects that produce them, and perhaps even how those objects are able to accelerate the particles to such high velocities.  Such awesome accelerating power must come from somewhere and Dr. Bird is working to understand the physics of such extreme environments.  

Dr. Bird also examines how very high energy gamma rays (electromagnetic radiation) that can be used to understand those cosmic rays.  In particular, by studying galactic gamma ray sources and searching for gamma ray as well as optical emission associated with fast bursts of radio energy, he hopes to constrain (and hopefully find!) dark matter through indirect observations. 

Hes got a lot of cool stuff to tell you about, so please join him, and the planetarium team, on May 25th for a conversation about the universe.