Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Public Lecture and Stargazing: March 26, 2010

Tonight's event from 8 to 10pm on Friday, March 26th, was a great time for everyone. Over 60 people attended a lecture by Grad Student Yuan Li entitled "Shaping Galaxies with Supermassive Black Holes". Yuan discussed first what a black hole is, and then explained how SMBHs are almost always found at the center of galaxies. She explained the M-sigma relation in an amazingly understandable way and provided some ideas about what might cause this correlation, including a great movie of a galaxy merger. Yuan's lecture was interesting and elicited a huge number of questions from the people in attendance.

The weather was hazy, with views of Mars and the Moon. Later in the evening it cleared up a little more, and Mizor and Alchor were observed as well. The 13th floor classroom was put to new use with a movie screening by Lia Corrales of Tyler Noerdgen's investigation of the night sky in national parks. A compelling section of his work, called "Sky Above, Earth Below" , which details light pollution at so-called dark sky sights, was shown.

We got some press coverage of last night's event. Read it now in the Columbia Spectator.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 5, 2010: Gamma-ray bursts

We had an exciting evening on Friday March 5 from 7 to 9 pm with about 60 visitors to Pupin Hall and Rutherfurd Observatory. John Ruan, a Columbia College Senior in the Department of Astronomy (going on to graduate school next year) gave a fantastic lecture about gamma-ray bursts. Among the most amusing anecdotes he gave was the number of Coca-colas all of humanity would need to drink over the age of the universe in order to equal the amount of energy given off by one gamma-ray burst. The answer was a number too large to count in your lifetime!

Although it was hazy, the skies were clear enough to get a peak at Mars. The Red Planet is on a close approach to the Earth right now (an event that happens approximately once every two years) and so our view of it is getting to be pretty good. Even a small pair of binoculars can reveal that it is a disk and a moderately powered telescope can resolve the white polar ice caps! Definitely worth a look.