For over 40 years, the Westport Astronomical Society has brought the wonders of the night sky to the thousands who have visited the observatory. We’re a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that’s free and open to the public every Wednesday night from 8-10 pm, if the skies are clear. The Dome Observatory houses a 12.5″ Newtonian telescope and the lawn regularly hosts the newly upgraded and HUGE 25″ Obsession telescope, the largest in Connecticut available to the public.
WAS has free monthly meetings with experts at the top of their fields. We feature speakers from the Hayden Planetarium, The American Museum of Natural History, Yale, NYU, UConn, Cornell, Wesleyan, Columbia as well as educators from all over the globe who enrich our community with cutting edge discussions on cosmology, physics and astronomy. Additionally, there are additional special, private events scheduled throughout the year for our members and supporters.
Warm With A Slight Chance of Rain: A 3.7 Billion Year Old Weather Forecast for the Planet Mars | George D McDonald
Evidence for a wetter Martian past has formed some of the most exciting discoveries from recent missions to Mars. The observations of ancient river valley networks from orbit, and detection of clays and other altered minerals both from orbit and by rovers on the ground now provide strong evidence that there were large amounts of liquid water on Mars’s surface for significant periods of time during its early history.
The presence of surface water requires both a substantially warmer and wetter climate than is found today. Understanding exactly how this climate was maintained and how these conditions were later lost is a major ongoing topic of research, and studies of Mars’s current day atmosphere are providing many clues. These include ground-based observations that are giving us estimates of how much water Mars once had, measurements by the MAVEN mission of the rate at which Mars is losing its atmosphere to space, and modifications to models originally developed to predict present-day weather on Mars. I will discuss these efforts as well as the recent discovery of present-day seasonal liquid water and fog outbursts, and what they may be telling us about a wet, ancient Mars.
Discovery Museum High Altitude Balloon Projects | David Mestre, Director of the Henry B. DuPont III Planetarium
Long time friend of WAS David Mestre, the Director of the Henry B. DuPont III Planetarium at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, will give a talk on high altitude balloon missions the Museum is collaborating on. Missions as varied as working with students on capturing solar eclipse imagery to high altitude animatronics are all exciting projects in the high altitude pipeline at Discovery Museum.
Planet or Star? Understanding spectroscopic signatures of transiting exoplanets | Wilson Cauley, postdoctoral researcher at Wesleyan University
We now know that there are planets around almost every star in the galaxy. However, detailed studies of exoplanets have been limited to a few favorable objects around relatively nearby, bright stars. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future, even into the lifetime of the James Webb Space Telescope. The intense scrutiny these nearby exoplanets have received forces us to dig down into the details of our observations to really understand what is going on. I will talk about attempting to observe the atmospheres of these planets and how signatures from the stellar surface can get in the way. Understanding these effects is crucial to the interpretation of the observations and therefore to the physical processes actually occurring in the system.
Wilson Cauley is currently a post-doctoral researcher at Wesleyan University studying observational signatures of exoplanet atmospheres. He came to Wesleyan in the fall of 2014 after finishing his doctorate at Rice University where he did his thesis work on the accretion and wind properties of intermediate mass young stars. Wilson’s was married in October 2015 and recently celebrated their first anniversary! When he’s not doing astronomy he enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy novels, playing computer games, and caring too much about the NY Rangers hockey team.
March speaker is still TBD
Hubble Who? | Dr. Moshe Gai, Professor of Physics UCONN
What did Edwin Hubble do to deserve a two billion dollar monumental project two hundred miles up? How did all the stuff around us (and the stuff we can’t see) come to be? This will be one hour of unadulterated (i.e. no math) sheer fun. Moshe Gai will guide us through the contributions of a number of scientists who have enabled us to gain fascinating insights into what comprises the cosmos. Plan on an exciting narrative that promises to be extensive and absorbing.
Dr. Gai’s research activities are split between being a facilitator of a newly emerging research group at UConn in Nuclear Physics with the creation of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and his own research activities that encompass studies in Nuclear Astrophysics, precision and high sensitivity measurements of electro-weak phenomena and studies of the structure of the nucleon. Dr. Gai enjoys engaging young students in Science and it shows…
Dark Matter – Fact or Fantasy? | Dr. Philip Mannheim, Professor of Physics, UCONN
While there is extremely good evidence for the validity of Newton’s Law of Gravity for systems of size up to that of the solar system, the situation for much larger astronomical systems such as galaxies is not at all as clear. Specifically, the motions of galactic stars and gas far from galactic centers do not show the familiar and expected Keplerian fall off. Rather, the orbital rotational velocity curves appear to be flat in structure, leading to the suggestion that galaxies be composed predominantly of large amounts of non-luminous dark matter.
However no dark matter has yet been found despite the now 40 year astronomical, accelerator and underground searches for dark matter. We review all of these developments as well as a recent proposal by the speaker to modify gravity in a way that would eliminate the need for dark matter altogether. Further, we show that these same galactic rotation curves possess an explicit imprint due to the global cosmological Hubble flow, an imprint which is characteristic of this modified theory, and identify it as a possible manifestation of Mach’s principle, with dark matter being no more than an attempt to describe global cosmological physics in local galactic terms.
Philip Mannheim is an elementary particle theorist who pursues research in grandunification and in dynamical models of mass generation, and who has recently become involved in the explosively growing interface between particle physics and astrophysics. He is active in elementary particle theory, many body theory, astrophysics, cosmology, and general relativity. In all of his work, the notion first of maximum symmetry and then second that of symmetry breaking has been an abiding focus. Given this interest in local symmetry, it was thus natural to extend it to gravity as well, and to consider the possibility that just like the other fundamental strong, electromagnetic and weak interactions, gravity might also be a theory with dimensionless coupling constants and purely dynamical mass scales, i.e. that it might be locally conformal invariant. Given this motivation, conformal gravity theory was then explored in detail, and it was found to solve the dark matter, flatness, horizon, cosmological constant, universe age, and cosmic acceleration problems, all naturally, and all without fine tuning. More recently, the same conformal gravity theory has been shown to be consistent at the quantum level; and with it thus being both renormalizable and unitary, it is advanced as a candidate theory of quantum gravity which can serve as an alternative to string theory.
Summer Solstice Star-B-Q Picnic and Elections | Pot Luck Party at 6!
It’s the Summer Solstice Star-B-Q Picnic and Westport Astronomical Society Board Elections!
Observational galaxy formation and evolution | Dr. Katherine E. Whitaker, UCONN
As an observational extragalactic astronomer, I study the formation and evolution of massive galaxies over the past eleven billion years of cosmic time. I am interested in pushing our detection of quiescent “red and dead” galaxies even earlier in time (within only a few billion years of the Big Bang itself!), as well as understanding the detailed physics of the structures and underlying stellar populations of massive galaxies. With exquisite Hubble Space Telescope imaging and spectroscopy, my collaborators and I continue to explore the rich uncharted territory of the distant universe. Our understanding of the cosmos is fundamentally tied to the study of galaxies, the birthplace of all stars and life itself. As we reveal how galaxies are evolving from the earliest times to the present day, we are continually piecing together an intriguing timeline of the cosmos.
The Bob Meadows Annual Stellafane Report | WAS Observatory Director Bob Meadows
WAS Observatory Director Bob Meadows reports on the latest innovations from The 82nd Convention of Amateur Telescope Makers
A Brief History of Chemistry in the Cosmos | Dr. Daniel Wolf Savin – Astrophysics Laboratory, Columbia University
Come travel down the cosmic chemical pathway from the Big Bang to the formation of stars and to life as we know it. Our chemical studies have advanced understanding how the first stars formed and how the raw materials needed for life were first synthesized. Join me as I hop, skip, and jump my way across cosmic time and explain key chemical processes along the way.
Daniel Wolf Savin received his Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard University, working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He was a post-doctoral research physicist at the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley. From there he moved to the Astrophysics Laboratory at Columbia University, where he is now a senior research scientist. His research career began in the area of atomic laboratory astrophysics but has since expanded to include molecular laboratory astrophysics, plasma laboratory astrophysics, and solar physics. Dr. Savin was a driving force behind the recent creation of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) of the American Astronomical Society and currently serves as the LAD Secretary. He has authored or co-authored over 170 publications and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Cosmic Fireworks: Explosions from Massive Stars | Dr. Maryam Modjaz, Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, NYU
Dr. Modjaz’s research and that of her group addresses problems in stellar death astrophysics through extensive and panchromatic observations of various types of massive stellar explosions, specifically Gamma-Ray Bursts and Supernovae, which are among the most powerful explosions in the universe, as well as a growing class of exotic transients. With the goal of understanding their stellar progenitors and the explosion conditions that determine the fate of massive stars, she also studies these stellar explosions’ host environments and host galaxies, in particular the metallicities at the explosion sites, as a promising new tool for differentiating between various progenitor models. Astrophysics is entering the Golden Age of innovative time-domain surveys that stand to revolutionize our understanding of the transient sky. Dr. Modjaz is part of the very successful Palomar Transient Factory (PTF, which finished as such in Dec 2012, and is now continuing as iPTF), as well as the large-scale Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) planned for around 2020. She is also member of of the SWIFT SN Team.
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