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Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures

Beyond: Our Future in Space

Chris Impey

Credit: Jeff Smith/University of Arizona

Feb. 15, 2017

Dr. Chris Impey (University of Arizona)

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Decades after we last set foot on the Moon, and several years after the Space Shuttle was retired, space activity is finally leaving the doldrums. Permanent bases on the Moon and Mars are now within reach, and a new Space Race is brewing, with Asian countries ascendant. Dr. Impey reviews the history and landmarks of the international space program, gives a snapshot of the current situation, and plots the trajectory of the future of space travel.


Will the 21st Century be the Time We Discover Life Beyond Earth?

jilltarterOctober 11, 2017

Jill Tarter (SETI Institute)

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In 2004, Craig Venter & Daniel Cohen suggested that if the 20th century was the century of physics, the 21st century will be the century of biology on our planet. Jill Tarter believes that their idea will be extended beyond the surface of our world and that we may soon have the first opportunity to study biology that developed on other worlds. She talks about her vision of the future of understanding life on Earth and beyond our planet. And she discusses projects that are underway and are planned to learn more about the possibility of intelligent life among the stars.


Is Anyone Out There: The $100 million Breakthrough: Listen Project


March 15, 2017

Dan Werthimer (University of California, Berkeley)

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What is the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe and how might we detect signals from alien civilizations? Dr. Werthimer describes current and future projects searching for such signals, including the new $100-million Breakthrough Prize Foundation Listen project. He shows how new technologies are revolutionizing the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). He also discusses the SETI@home project, which analyzes data from the world’s largest radio telescope using desktop computers and cell phones from millions of volunteers.


The ‘All-American’ Eclipse of the Sun this August

Andrew Fraknoi

May 24, 2017

Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College)

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On August 21, 2017, there will be a rare eclipse of the Sun visible throughout the U.S. and North America. People in a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina will see a spectacular total eclipse, while everyone else will see a nice partial eclipse. Fraknoi describes how eclipses work, why they are one of nature’s most spectacular sights, and exactly when and where the eclipse of 2017 will be best visible. He also provides practical tips for how to observe the eclipse and the Sun safely and what experts are worried about for this first U.S. eclipse of the Internet Age.


The Monster Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy


January 25, 2017

Dr. Andrea Ghez (University of California, Los Angeles)

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By measuring the rapid orbits of the stars near the center of our galaxy, Dr. Ghez and her colleagues have moved the case for a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way from a possibility to a certainty. She reports on her pioneering observations and discusses some of the surprising results this work has led to.


Space-time Symphony: Gravitational Waves from Merging Black Holes


November 2, 2016

Dr. Lynn Cominsky (Sonoma State University)

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Gravitational waves are predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. They travel at the speed of light, but are much harder to detect than light waves. On September 14, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) received the first direct gravitational wave signals. The event that produced them was the merger of two distant and massive black holes that were in mutual orbit. Prof. Cominsky presents an introduction to LIGO, to gravitational waves and how they were detected, and to the kinds of black holes that “make waves.”


The Science and Non-science of Star Wars

Dr. Seth Shostak

October 12, 2016

Dr. Seth Shostak (SETI Institute)

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In this wide-ranging, humorous talk, Seth Shostak takes a look at Star Wars and other science fiction films from the point of view of a skeptical scientist, tells stories about the movies he has been asked to advise, and muses about aliens from space and how we might make contact with them.


Finding a New Earth: Exoplanets and the Habitable Zone

Dr. Stephen Kane

May 11, 2016

Dr. Stephen Kane (San Francisco State University)

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Over 1500 new planetary systems have now been discovered, many of which include planets quite different from those in our own Solar System. A key step towards finding “Earth 2.0” will be to identify rocky planets that occupy the “Habitable Zone” of their stars. Dr. Kane describes what the idea of a Habitable Zone means and shows examples of planets that lie in their star’s Habitable Zone (even if the star is not like our Sun.)


How Things in the Universe Came About and How They Ended Up Within Us

Dr. Tom Abel

April 6, 2016

Dr. Tom Abel (Stanford University)

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Dr. Abel takes us on an illustrated journey through the early stages of the universe, using the latest computer animations of how the first (massive) stars formed and died, and how stars built up the first galaxies. He also discusses how the early stars seeded the cosmos with the chemical elements necessary for life.


Einstein’s Blunder Undone: The Runaway Universe

Dr. Robert KirshnerNovember 11, 2015

Dr. Robert Kirshner (Harvard University)

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In the past 20 years, astronomers have shown that the universe is not only expanding, but speeding up. In this talk, Dr. Kirshner, who was in many ways the “godfather” of these investigations, discusses the methods used to discover cosmic acceleration and presents the evidence that we live in a Universe that is only 4% matter like the atoms of the periodic table.