Friday, May 18, 2012

May 11: The Immortal Quantum

Our final speaker of the spring was PhD candidate, Cameron Hummels, who traced the path of energy through the Universe from the Big Bang to everyday processes here on Earth. In his usual enthusiastic style, Cameron reviewed the different forms energy can take using both himself and an array of props to demonstrate his points. Laying down the gauntlet for future speakers, Cameron capped his discussion of the conservation of energy with the legendary physics pendulum demo in which he released a x pound weight, attached to the ceiling of the lecture hall, and shut his eyes tightly as it swung away and then back to within millimeters of his chin. A great time was had by all 250+ audience members.

The skies mostly cooperated for visitors to observe some familiar targets such as Mars, Saturn and the Mizar and Alcor star system in the handle of the Big Dipper. Back indoors, graduate student Yuan Li led a discussion on brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood and graduate student Jana Gcrevich ran our 3D Astro Wall.

On a closing note, Cameron is one of the founders of our outreach program. It's his blood, sweat, and tears that got his fellow graduate students and members of the department motivated to share their knowledge of the Universe with the public, teachers, and students of New York City. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for the world of astronomy), Cameron is graduating this summer and leaving Columbia for the southwest where he will begin a post-doc at the University of Arizona on galaxy evolution. We wholeheartedly thank him for all his hard work and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Our summer event series kicks off Friday, June 1st. Stay tuned for more details…


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April 27: How is a Hubble Image Made?

The beautiful pictures of our universe provided by the Hubble Space Telescope are some of the most inspiring in Astronomy. This past Friday, PhD student Christine Simpson explained to attendees how these images are made. Explaining the basics of the telescope, CCDs and the color-assignment process, everyone could walk away with a deeper appreciation of these images.

In response to requests from several audience members, Christine has provided the following links related to her talk: Hubble’s Hidden Treasures contest and contest submissions to date; a nice explanation of the meaning of color in Hubble images; and an article from Sky & Telescope that describes Hubble image processing.

After the talk, some stayed to hear about Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. The cold weather also provided clear skies for observations on our roof. Columbia students helped visitors observe Saturn, the Moon, and the Mizar-Alcor star system in the Big Dipper's handle. Visitors were also able to experience our 3D wall. Our next lecture of the semester is May 11th. We hope to see you there!