2015 Talk Archive

November – A Conversation With An Old Friend, The Moon

November 5th, 2015 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Ari Silburt
LM 159 (80 St. George Street)

The Moon is intimately connected to humans, whether we realize it or not. It has been there since the formation of the Earth, and has watched over life as we evolved to the present day. Like ourselves, the Moon has also been changing with time, and there are many layers to its existence. In this lecture I will re-acquaint the public with the Moon, describing its formation history, its relationship to humans, its current relationship with the Earth, and future space plans on the Moon.

About the Speaker:
Ari Silburt is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, and is very passionate about extra-solar planets. In particular he is interested in how solar systems are formed, using n-body simulations and other numerical techniques to aid his research. In his spare time he enjoys hanging out with the Blue Jays, contemplative nature hikes, and of course, looking up at his old friend, the Moon.

October – Falling Into a Black Hole: From Spaghettification to Singularity

October 1st, 2015 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Nick Tacik
LM 159 (80 St. George Street)

Black holes are one of the most fascinating objects in the universe. From science fiction to the offices of astrophysicists, their mystery has captivated many. But what do we really know about them? Surprisingly, a whole lot! What happens when you fall into a black hole? What happens when two black holes collide? How do we know black holes really exist? What is a wormhole? Is spaghettification even a real word? In this talk, I’ll answer all these questions, and more, about the wondrous world of black holes.

About the Speaker:
Nick Tacik is a final year PhD student in the department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He received his BSc from McGill University in 2009. He is interested in numerical relativity super-computer simulations of rapidly rotating binary neutron stars as well as binary black holes. He grew up in Regina and finds the Toronto winters cool and mild.

September – Placing the Planets

August 6th, 2015 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Christa Van Laerhoven
MP 102 (McLennan Physical Labs, 60 St. George Street)

The planets didn’t start off where they are now. We know this from looking at the small things: the asteroids, comets, and Kuiper Belt objects. The movements of the planets leaves its fingerprint on how these small bodies are distributed. Indeed, the small bodies are a better tracer of planet migration than the planets are. This talk will included an overview of the formation and migration of planets in the solar system, including the “Grand Tack” and “Nice Model”. I will also touch on how the planets might move in the future.

About the Speaker:
Christa Van Laerhoven grew up in a small town just east of Vancouver, BC. She did her B.Sc. at U.B.C. and her Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She studies extra-solar planets in multi-planet systems and how their orbits change over long periods of time. She also studies the orbits of Kuiper Belt objects and what the structure of the Kuiper Belt means for how the solar system planets migrated.

August – Astronomical Adventures in Antarctica: From the Bottom of the World to the Beginning of Time

August 6th, 2015 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Jamil Shariff
Location: MP 102 (McLennan Physical Labs, 60 St. George Street)

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is a glow across the entire sky, left over from the heat of the Big Bang. Measurements of the CMB have dramatically increased our understanding of the early universe. However, many unanswered questions remain. In this talk, I will discuss an ambitious experiment — Spider — which aims to answer some of them. Spider observed the CMB while hanging from a helium balloon flying over Antarctica. I spent three months on a research team there, assembling, testing, and launching Spider. I will explain why we had to go to such extremes, pushing limits both human and technological. Using vivid photos and videos, I will show what it was like to live on this amazing continent.

About the Speaker:

Jamil Shariff is in his final month of the PhD programme in the U of T Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. He helps design and build telescopes that are launched from Antarctica on high-altitude helium balloons. Experiments he has worked on have aimed to answer questions like, “how do stars form in our Galaxy?”, and “what happened at the very beginning of the universe?”. In his spare time, he enjoys cycling, science fiction, and penguin whispering.

June – Geneses? How frequently does life emerge?

June 4th, 2015 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Amaury Triaud
Location: MP 102 (60 St George St., McLennan Physical Laboratories)

The origin of life on Earth is the centrepiece of countless foundation myths from various cultures and civilisations. The recent discovery of thousands of planets orbiting stars other than Sun is opening a new line of scientific enquiry that aims to tackle that oldest of topic, and find out whether another genesis has occurred elsewhere in the cosmos. In this talk, I will explore why searching for evidence of extraterrestrial biology is crucial to appreciate how life emerged on Earth, but also how important it is to understand the conditions that are required to sustain it. I will show the techniques and the progress that we are making.

About the Speaker

Dr. Amaury Triaud is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto. A regular visitor to observatories in the Atacama desert, he is the discoverer of over one hundred planets. He now searches for planets the same size and the same temperature as the Earth and aims to find out whether life emerged elsewhere in the Universe.

May – Cosmic Déjà Vu: Echoes from a Supernova

May 7th, 2015 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Lauren Hetherington
Location: MP 102 (60 St George St., McLennan Physical Laboratories)

In 1572, astronomers around the world saw a brilliant supernova which outshone every other star in the sky. It faded from view over the following two years and yet, today, we can still detect light from this ancient stellar explosion. How can this be? The answer lies in light echoes: light reflected by dust far from the initial explosion. Join us for the May AstroTour talk to discover what can we learn from these radiant echoes in space and how it is that they often look like they’re moving faster than the speed of light.

About the Speaker

Lauren is a fourth year PhD candidate studying tidal streams – dwarf galaxies or globular clusters which have been torn apart by gravity. They can help us learn about where mass is in our galaxy, and detect clumps of dark matter. She was born in New Brunswick, and studied physics and math in Fredericton. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, role-playing games, and making loud noises in enclosed spaces to savour the echoes.

March Special Event – Lights Off Universe On
Come explore our precious place in the cosmos!

Special Earth Hour AstroTour

March 28th, 2014 – 6PM
Speaker: Dunlap Institute Director Bryan Gaensler
Location: ES 1050 (33 Willcocks Street)


  • 5:40 – 6:40 – Planetarium Shows (15 minutes each)
  • 6:00 – 7:00 – Reception in the Earth Sciences Building Lobby
  • 7:00 – 8:00 – Talk by Bryan Gaensler
  • 8:00 – 8:15 – Post-Talk & Time to Walk to the Telescopes
  • 8:15 – 10:00 – Telescope Observing, Activities, & Refreshments
  • 8:30 – 9:30 – Earth Hour!

Why the Universe will get us in the End

The stars of the night sky appear gentle, peaceful and unchanging. But this  is a lie. The Universe is a violent and catastrophic place, with dozens of tools at its disposal to wipe out all life on Earth with almost no warning.  Astronomers are still only beginning to appreciate the true scope of the dramatic forces that drive the Universe’s evolution.

Video Coming Soon!

About the Speaker

Professor Bryan Gaensler is an award-winning astronomer and author, who is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work on dying stars, interstellar magnets and cosmic explosions. A former Young Australian of the Year, NASA Hubble Fellow, Harvard professor and Australian Laureate Fellow, Gaensler is Director of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. His popular astronomy book “Extreme Cosmos” was published worldwide in 2012, and has been translated into four other languages.


March – Interstellar: The Science Behind the Movie

March 5th, 2014 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Ari Silburt
Location: MP 102 (60 St George St., McLennan Physical Laboratories)

Interstellar is one of the biggest pop sensations of our decade. Currently ranked 21st on IMDB’s “Top 250” list, Interstellar marks an impressive feat of science, suspense and scenery. But how truly accurate is the science behind the movie? Could habitable planets really orbit a Supermassive Black Hole? Can 7 years really pass on Miller’s planet for every hour on Earth? Is it possible that one can enter the fourth dimension through a black hole? In this talk I will examine the science behind the movie, and discuss what is possible vs. what is plausible.

About the Speaker

Obtaining his undergraduate degree in Physics from Mount Allison University, Ari Silburt is now a PhD candidate studying exoplanets at the University of Toronto. Specifically, he is interested in how (ours and other) solar systems are formed, using n-body and statistical techniques to aid his research. In his spare time he enjoys music production, swing dance and Jeff Goldblum.


February – An Astronomer’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 5th, 2014 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Miranda Jarvis
Location: MP 102 (60 St George St., McLennan Physical Laboratories)

From a dark enough place, the Milky Way can be seen as a bright swath of stars across the sky. It is a galaxy composed of billions of stars, amongst which our sun is just one. What shape is the Milky Way? What is it made of? How does it behave? And how did we learn all of this? I will provide answers to all of these questions and more as we tour our galaxy and some of the exciting things in it.

About the speaker

Miranda Jarvis’ dream job is Science Officer aboard a Starship, but she’ll settle for practicing astronomy here on earth. She is a first year graduate student at the University of Toronto, continuing on from undergraduate studies also at U of T. She is interested in galaxies: how they are created, behave and evolve, and in new techniques to observe them. When not doing astronomy, Miranda is a member of the varsity fencing team and a Girl Guide leader.