2014 Talk Archive

December – Seeing Beyond Red with Cool Technology

December 4th, 2014 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Suresh Sivanandam
Location: LM 161 (80 St George St., Lash Miller Chemistry Laboratories)

Humans often don’t realize that they can sense more than visible light. They feel infrared radiation as heat, which is also another form of light. Over the past few decades, there has been an explosion of technological innovation in the detection of infrared light. This has opened up huge discovery spaces in astronomy. It has enabled us to see the effects of our galaxy’s central supermassive black hole, and take pictures of planets in nearby star systems. Stardust in galaxies also lights up in the infrared, allowing us to track the evolution of galaxies from very early times. The technology required to detect infrared light is quite unique and presents difficult engineering challenges. I will present an overview of the great new discoveries in infrared astronomy and the associated technological breakthroughs that have ushered in this new and exciting era of astronomy.

About the speaker:

Suresh Sivanandam is a Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute. He constructs novel infrared instrumentation for studying how galaxies in our Universe evolve. Currently, he is involved in building an infrared imaging spectrograph called WIFIS that will be heading to Kitt Peak, Arizona next Spring

November – Listening for Stellar Whipcracks

November 6th, 2014 – 8:10PM
Speaker: Stephen Ro
Location: MP 102 (60 St George St., McLennan Physical Laboratories)

A supernova is the explosive conclusion of a star where extremely hot, luminous gas is ejected. These events can momentarily become some of the brightest objects in the universe. Thousands of supernovae have been observed in the past several decades and they’ve given us incredible insights into the universe. In the past few years, a handful of observations have discovered another energetic flash of light which precedes the supernova. These flashes are generally missed by supernova-dedicated telescopes since they are very brief in duration with colours outside of the telescopes’ spectral range. In this talk, I will introduce aspects of explosion physics by wielding a whip to discuss an origin of this flash. Later, I will demonstrate how the majority of people have already seen a similar flash here on earth.

About the speaker:

Stephen was born in Toronto and grew up in Caledon, Ontario. He attended Queen’s University and completed his undergraduate degree in mathematical physics. Now, he is a fourth year doctoral student studying the winds of massive stars and core-collapse supernovae. On his spare time he may be having coffee, playing guitar, cycling around Toronto or some combination of the above.

October – Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrology, What’s in a Name

October 2nd, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Michael Williams
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

One question that I have been asked a lot over the years is “what is the difference between astronomy and astrophysics?”  More surprisingly I have frequently run into people who confuse the words astronomy and astrology. We will take a voyage through time and see how astronomy, astrophysics and yes even astrology are connected. We will explore how human understanding of the universe around us has evolved from an Earth centered view to our modern cosmology, of an expanding universe, where the Earth is just one world among many.

About the speaker:

Michael did his graduate work at the University of Calgary, where he worked on searching for extra-solar planets in globular clusters and converted a cold war era satellite tracking telescope to be used to search to asteroids and variable stars.  Since completing his MSc, he has worked for various observatories writing telescope control software.  Currently he works at the University of Toronto managing the telescopes and developing demonstration equipment used for undergrad classes.

September – Dreaming Big with Big Telescopes: The (near) Future of Astronomy and Cosmology

September 4th, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Laura Newburgh
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

Despite the heroic efforts of astronomers and cosmologists over the years, the Universe remains a mysterious place. Our biggest questions are still un-answered: What is dark energy? What was the Universe like when it was less than a second old? How did the first stars form? Is there life on other planets? What can we learn about the Universe from gravitational waves? I will talk about the new ambitious telescopes being built and planned to help answer these fundamental questions.

About the speaker:

Dr. Laura Newburgh is currently a Dunlap Institute postdoctoral fellow working on the CHIME experiment to unlock the secrets of dark energy. She spent her graduate work at Columbia University and her first postdoctoral position at Princeton University building instruments for microwave telescopes to measure properties of the early Universe. She likes travelling, coffee, and walks in the park.

August – Testing Einstein’s Remarkable Theory

August 7th, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Aaron Zimmerman
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

Einstein’s theory of General Relativity introduced the concept of curved space and time,replacing the idea of gravity as a force of attraction. The theory is simple, beautiful, and has far reaching consequences, but nevertheless its predictions must be verified by observation. I will discuss two famous predictions of General Relativity: the bending of starlight by the Sun, and gravitational waves – travelling ripples in space and time.  I will discuss the ideas behind both, how each idea can be tested, and current efforts by large teams of scientists to directly observe gravitational waves.

About the speaker:

Dr. Aaron Zimmerman was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attended the Univerisity of New Mexico for his undergraduate studies before going to Caltech for graduate school, where he studied black holes and gravitational wave physics with his advisor Yanbei Chen. Following his PhD, he became a postdoc at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA), where he continues to work on black holes.

July – The Intricate Dance of Star and Planet Formation

July 3rd, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Dr. Quinn Konopacky
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

The birth of stars is a complex and dynamic process, one that leads eventually to the formation of planets and possibly life.  Yet we still know very little about the way in which the Universe turns a massive cloud of gas and dust into a stable Solar System like our own.  I will discuss what astronomers currently understand about the process of star and planet formation, and what we have learned about the birth of our Solar System from studying the youngest stars in the galaxy.

About the speaker:

Quinn Konopacky is a Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto.  She got her Ph.D in 2009 from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Her research interests include star and planet formation, binary stars, and the dynamics and atmospheres of directly imaged exoplanets.

2014 AstroTour Keynote – Mysteries of the Dark Universe

June 21st, 2014
Speaker: Edward W. “Rocky” Kolb
Location: J.J.R. MacLeod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, 1 King’s College Circle

Ninety-five percent of the universe is missing! Astronomical observations suggest that most of the mass of the universe is in a mysterious form called dark matter and most of the energy in the universe is in an even more mysterious form called dark energy. Unlocking the secrets of dark matter and dark energy will illuminate the nature of space and time and connect the quantum with the cosmos.

Cosmic Web

About the speaker:

Edward W. “Rocky” Kolb is the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College and Dean of the Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago, as well as a member of the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. The field of his research is the application of elementary-particle physics to the very early Universe. He is co-author of The Early Universe, the standard textbook on particle physics and cosmology, and author of Blind Watchers of the Sky, a popular science book on the history of astronomy and scientific cosmology. Kolb has also travelled the world giving scientific and public lectures, and has appeared in television and film productions, most recently interviewing Stephen Hawking for the Discovery Channel.

June – How the Tides Turn

June 5th, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Nathan Hetherington
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

The tides are a phenomenon that has fascinated people for millennia. You might know the Sun and the Moon are somehow responsible, but how do tides on Earth actually work, and how did we figure it out? Tidal forces play an important role not just on Earth, but in many other places in the Universe such as the moons of the Jovian planets, stars being devoured by black holes, and the merging of galaxies. In this talk, I will describe the exciting world of tidal physics, and show that tides just like the ones we see every day on Earth can have significant and sometimes dire effects elsewhere in the Universe.

About the speaker:

Nathan Hetherington is a third year graduate student who grew up in New Brunswick, next to the Bay of Fundy which hosts some of the highest tides on Earth. He did an undergraduate in Physics at the University of New Brunswick. For his PhD here in Toronto, Nathan does research looking at streams of stars formed from clusters that have been torn apart by tidal forces. Looking at their shape and structure can tell us more about the mass distribution of the Milky Way and provide clues about how the Universe has evolved. He also likes to bake cookies, ride bicycles, and play tabletop role-playing games.

May – The Atmospheres of Alien Worlds

May 1st, 2014 – 9:10PM
Speaker: Ernst de Mooij
Location: MP 102, 60 St. George Street

Over the past few decades more than one thousand planets have been discovered outside our Solar System. What is even more interesting is that we have started to investigate atmospheres of these planets using telescopes both on the ground and in space. In this talk I will show how astronomers study the atmospheres of these alien worlds, and what we have learned from these observations.

About the speaker:

Dr. Ernst de Mooij received his PhD from Leiden University in 2011, after which he moved to Toronto to work as a postdoc at the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. His research is focused on characterising exoplanet atmospheres using a variety of large ground-based telescopes.

April – The Cosmic Dark Ages

April 3rd, 2014, 8:00pm
Speaker: Jielai Zhang 
Location: MP 103, 60 St. George street

Have you ever wondered what happened between the Big Bang and today? For example, how soon after the Big Bang did the universe become populated with stars and galaxies? Were the first stars and galaxies just like the ones we see around us? What was there when there were no stars and galaxies? How can such questions be probed from the confines of our little planet Earth?

About the speaker:

Jielai travelled from her home in Australia less than 2 years ago to pursue an Astronomy PhD at the University of Toronto, working in galaxy evolution. She has helped put together an optical telescope to see the faintest lights around galaxies and galaxy clusters in order to learn about their history. These histories can lead to new understanding of models for the evolution of matter in the universe. Back in Australia, Jielai studied a bachelor of physics/mathematics and aeronautical space engineering- all with the intention of one day discovering the secrets of the cosmos. In her spare time, Jielai likes to snowboard, travel, be surprised and visit home.

March – The Harvard Computers: Women who catalogued the stars and helped us understand the Universe

March 6th, 2014, 8:00pm
Speakers: Kelly Lepo
Location: MP 103, 60 St. George street

For most of history, a computer was a person who performed calculations, not an electronic device that connects you to the internet. The Harvard computers were a group of women, including Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Antonia Maury who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s under the direction of Edward Charles Pickering. They performed the highly skilled but tedious job of processing the astronomical data that came out of the observatory. In this talk, I will discuss the important contributions of these women, whose work helped shape our modern understanding of the Universe, and the social prejudice of the time which permitted these women to be computers, but not astronomers.

About the speaker:

Kelly Lepo is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. She uses astronomical surveys to look for stars that may one day explode as type Ia supernovae. She also enjoys teaching people about astronomy and their place in the Universe, and is, among many other education and outreach positions, a regular speaker for AstroTours.


February – The AstroTour Supernova Extravaganza

February 6th, 2013, 8:00pm
Speakers: Wolfgang Kerzendorf, Marten Van Kerkwijk, Kelly Lepo, and Laura Chomiuk (Michigan State University)
Location: Reichman Family Auditorium (Room 1050), Earth Sciences Building, 5 Bancroft Ave. University of Toronto

A supernova, SN 2014J, has just been discovered in M82, the Cigar Galaxy. This stellar explosion is the first to be visible with a pair of binoculars since 1987, and one of the nearest thermonuclear (or type Ia) supernovae to us since the time of Johannes Kepler. To celebrate, AstroTours will be holding our very first panel discussion, featuring both a series of short talks and an extended Q&A session. Our panel of experts will describe the history, present understanding, and outstanding questions of thermonuclear supernovae, and how SN 2014J can challenge our understanding.

About the speakers:

Prof. Marten van Kerkwijk is a Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics at UofT, with interests covering much of astronomy but a focus on compact objects (“stellar corpses”), stars and binaries, and their structure, formation, and evolution. Two particular aims are to learn how matter behaves at extremely high density from the properties of neutron stars, and to understand why some white dwarfs explode as type Ia supernovae.

Dr. Wolfgang Kerzendorf is a Postdoctoral Fellow working at the UofT Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. His research focuses on finding possible companion stars to white dwarfs that have exploded as supernovae, and what these stars can tell us about how the supernovae are triggered. His other interest is eScience, where he explores how to combine astronomy and computer science.

Prof. Laura Chomiuk is a Professor of Astronomy at Michigan State University, and is interested in studying compact objects and explosions of stars through the radio waves they emit, as well as finding exotic explosions through surveys of the night sky. She performs very sensitive radio studies of type Ia supernovae and their surroundings, and has plans for SN 2014J.

Kelly Lepo is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. She uses astronomical surveys to look for stars that may one day explode as type Ia supernovae. She also enjoys teaching people about astronomy and their place in the Universe, and is, among many other education and outreach positions, a regular speaker for AstroTours.