Star Talks

Star Talk: Computer Vision on Mars

“Star Talk: Computer Vision on Mars”, with Professor Jonathan Kelly

Abstract: Modern computer vision technologies have been key to improving our understanding of the Red Planet over the past 15 years. Vision systems are deployed on-orbit (e.g., the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), on the surface (e.g., the vision sensors on the rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity), and have also been used for safe entry, descent, and landing of recent robotic platforms reaching the surface. In this talk, I will review the design and use of several of these vision systems, including, for example, how the Curiosity rover makes use of visual navigation methods when wheel odometry is unreliable (rolling over sandy terrain).

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Star Talk – The Gaia Satellite: Mapping the Milky Way in 3D

“The Gaia Satellite: Mapping the Milky Way in 3D”, with Professor Jo Bovy

Abstract: For hundreds of years, astronomers have been working to map the structure of the Universe and of the Milky Way, but this endeavor is hampered by the difficulty of measuring distances to celestial objects. Prof. Bovy will tell the story of how we have determined our place in the cosmos, from measuring the size of the solar system and the distance to nearby stars, to figuring out how far other galaxies are. He will then take us to the present day, giving an overview of the new Gaia satellite mission which is making us see the Milky Way with new eyes by measuring the distances to a billion stars in the Milky Way.

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Star Talk: The Algonquin Pulsar Project

“The Algonquin Pulsar Project”, with Professor Ue-Li Pen

Abstract: The Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO), built in 1965, along with the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) are the first to achieve long baseline interferometry (VLBI), whereby two single-dish telescopes are combined to provide the same resolution as a telescope the size of Canada.

CITA, the Dunlap Institute, and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics collectively have continued the Canadian VLBI tradition with a new program to conduct transnational interferometric observations of pulsars and fast radio bursts (FRBs). The former has been named “scintillometry,” whose purpose is to utilize VLBI on earth in combination with scattering in the interstellar medium (ISM) to create an effective telescope size of ~astronomical unit to study pulsars and the intervening matter between us and them. The latter could provide the first ever spatial localization of FRBs.

Pulsar VLBI is located at the Algonquin Radio Observatory, which is visited frequently for data collection. The Crab pulsar will be studied using scintillometry techniques and VLBI. To obtain better images, one would need a telescope with a larger diameter. An easy way to increase diameter was to combine the signals from multiple telescopes using them as an interferometer thus creating VLBI. The data collected at Algonquin are synced up to data collected with other telescopes across the world. The radio waves that is emitted from the pulses propagate to telescopes on earth directly and indirectly via deflections on a scattering screen in the interstellar medium in space. The different paths interfere thus causing scintillation. By observing the scintillation with multiple telescopes on Earth, it is possible to estimate the pulsar’s position with extremely high precision.

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Star Talk: The quest for 1% – the past, present and future for measuring the Hubble Constant and the expansion of the Universe

“The quest for 1%: the past, present and future for measuring the Hubble Constant and the expansion of the Universe”, presented by Professor Hilding Neilson

Abstract: Almost a century ago, Edwin Hubble discovered that galaxies appear to be moving away from us and that farther galaxies moved at faster rates. This discovery revolutionized our view of the Universe and started the field of modern cosmology. Ever since, astronomers have been trying to better measure the expansion of the Universe, the Hubble constant, using numerous standard candles. In this talk, Professor Neilson will talk about the rich history of measuring the Hubble constant from some of the great arguments to the paradigm shift initiated by the results of the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project. He will conclude by discussing the future for measuring the Hubble constant to 1% precision to shed new insights into the dark matter and dark energy content of the Universe.

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Star Talk: Variable Stars – Action in the Sky

“Variable Stars: Action in the Sky”, presented by John Percy, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Dunlap Institute

Abstract: Stars aren’t changeless and boring. They may eclipse, pulsate (vibrate), flare, erupt, or even explode. These processes cause the stars to vary in brightness over time and, by studying these variations, we can learn about the nature, evolution, birth and death of the stars, and about the physical processes that occur within them. Variable stars help us to understand some of the most exciting and bizarre objects in the sky: exoplanets, supernovas, pulsars, quasars, gamma-ray bursts, and even black holes. I will also explain some of the ways in which Canadian astronomers, and skilled amateur astronomers, and my undergraduate research students are contributing to this research.

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Star Talk: Planets Around Expired Stars

“Exploring the Ghostly Side of Galaxies with Dragonfly”, presented by Dr. Roberto Abraham

Abstract: Professor Yanqin Wu investigates the formation and evolution of planets, both inside and outside our own Solar System. Her current attention is devoted to a recently discovered puzzle, the presence of planetary systems around white dwarf stars, stars that have lived through their lives and are cooling off quietly in their cemeteries. The observational evidences are difficult to square with our current knowledge about the extra-solar planetary systems, and perhaps a new picture is required.

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Star Talk: Exploring the Ghostly Side of Galaxies with Dragonfly

“Exploring the Ghostly Side of Galaxies with Dragonfly”, presented by Dr. Roberto Abraham

Abstract: Bigger telescopes are usually better telescopes…. but not always. In this talk I will explore the ghostly world of large low surface brightness structures, such as galactic stellar halos, low-surface brightness dwarf galaxies, and other exotica such as supernova light echoes. These objects are nearly undetectable with conventional telescopes, but their properties may hold the key to understanding how galaxies assemble. I will describe why finding these objects is important, and why it is so devilishly difficult.

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Star Talk: The World Records of the Universe

“The World Records of the Universe”, presented by Dr. Bryan Gaensler

Abstract: We all love it when a world record is broken. But the records set here on Earth are puny and pathetic compared to those set elsewhere in our vast cosmos. What’s the coldest place in space? What’s the fastest object in the Universe? What’s the biggest object we’ve ever seen in space, and the smallest? How weak and how strong does gravity get? Join astronomer Bryan Gaensler for a tour of the extremes of our amazing Universe.

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Star Talk: Seeing Beyond Red with Cool Technology

“Seeing Beyond Red with Cool Technology”, presented by Dr. Suresh Sivanandam

Abstract: 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. I will end with the pinnacle of space engineering, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is going to be the largest space telescope ever built. When this telescope is launched in 2018, it is going to completely revolutionize astronomy as we know it.

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Star Talk: Thermonuclear Supernovae

“Thermonuclear Supernovae and the Quest to Understand Why White Dwarfs Explode”. presented by Professor Marten van Kerkwijk

If a carbon-oxygen white dwarf explodes, it will look like a type Ia supernova, with most of the carbon and oxygen fused to silicon- and iron-group elements. But it remains unclear both under what physical conditions the explosions are triggered and in what astronomical configurations these conditions are brought about. What is clear is that the standard picture, in which unstable fusion is ignited in white dwarfs that approach or are made to exceed the largest possible (Chandrasekhar) mass, can easily reproduce neither the rates nor the properties of normal type Ia supernovae. I will discuss these and related conundrums, describe our efforts to see if supernovae could result generally from mergers of similar-mass carbon-oxygen white dwarfs, and try to summarize possible observational tests.

Marten van Kerkwijk is a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, with interests covering much of astronomy but a focus on compact objects (“stellar corpses”), stars and binaries, their structure, formation, and evolution, and their use to infer fundamental physical properties. A major focus of his career has been to use neutron stars to study high-density and high field-strength physics, in conditions out of reach of terrestrial experiment (and theory, as yet), and to solve associated astronomical puzzles. More recently, he has turned to a different quest: to understand what triggers thermonuclear supernovae.

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Star Talk: Cosmology, Cell Phones, and Video Games

Welcome back to a new school year! We will be continuing our monthly ASX’s Star Talk on September 24th at 8pm. Our speaker is Keith Vanderlinde, an Assistant Professor at the Dunlap Institute and Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

Prof. Keith Vanderlinde has spent the last decade building and using telescopes to study the Universe: its composition, history, and eventual fate. Aided by technologies that make cell phones possible, and which make video games a staple of modern culture, he and colleagues from across Canada are building a massive new radio telescope in Penticton, B.C., which will map a larger volume of space than ever attempted before.

After the talk, join us for a night of stargazing. Our targets: the Moon and M13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules.

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Star Talk: The Night Sky in Ancient Egypt

ASX will be holding our monthly Star Talk on March 19 at 8pm. The speaker is Sarah Symons, Assistant Professor at McMaster University. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 103 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

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Star Talk: Riding the Tide on Black Holes

ASX will be holding our monthly Star Talk on February 26 at 8pm. The speaker is Eric Poisson, professor of physics at the University of Guelph. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 102 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

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Star Talk: More to the Universe than Meets the Eye

ASX will be holding our monthly Star Talk on November 13 at 8pm. The speaker is James Taylor, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 102 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

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Star Talk: New Ways to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

ASX will be holding our monthly Star Talk on October 23 at 8pm. The speaker is Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at University of Toronto. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 102 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

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Stardust: ASX and the Star Spot Live Interview with Marshall McCall

This upcoming Thursday, February 27th, the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society will be collaborating with The Star Spot in a live interview with Dr. Marshall McCall. The event will start at 8 p.m. and will be held in the McLennan Physical Laboratories(MP), room 134.

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Third Instalment of the Star Talk Series: Exploring Mars with Rovers

ASX will be holding our third Star Talk on November 21 at 8pm. The speaker is Dr. Ralf Gellert, Principle Investigator of the Canadian Alpha-Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 103 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

Ralf Gellert writes, “Last Summer the newest Mars Rover Curiosity made a picture perfect landing in Gale Crater to investigate the habitability of Mars in the past and present.
But what does this mean in detail and how does the rover tackle this task? The talk will discuss the rover, its tools and science instruments, how they work
together, as well as how the rover is operated on a day to day basis for over a year so far.
I’m the Principle Investigator of the Canadian Alpha-Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), an improved version of the APXS instruments on board the earlier
Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Opportunity still operates to this very day over 9 years after landing. The APXS instruments analyze the chemical composition of soils and rocks and contribute to the overall findings of all missions. APXS data allow to connect the different landing sites together to get a global view of how Mars developed some 3-4 Billion years ago. All the missions show that water, one of the key ingredients needed for habitability, played a major role in Martian history.
The rovers found varying conditions, acidic and recently more neutral water that could shed light on the question, if life could have developed on Mars around the same time it did on Earth.”

In case you missed it, here is a link to the audio from the Star Talk.

 

Planetary Magnetism: Unlocking the Secrets of Planetary Interiors

ASX will be holding our second Star Talk on October 24 at 8pm. The speaker is Dr. Sabine Stanley, a Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. The talk will be given in McLennan Physical Labs (60 St George Street). The room is number 103 on the first floor. This is a FREE event and open for all ages.

Sabine Stanley writes, “Many planetary bodies in our solar system have magnetic fields that we can observe with spacecraft instruments. These magnetic fields are generated deep in planetary interiors by complex motions in liquid conductors. Because these magnetic fields are observable outside of the planet, they can act as important probes of planetary interiors. In this talk I will describe what we know of planetary magnetic fields and how they have provided us with fundamental information about the structure, composition and evolution of planets.”

In case you missed it, here is the audio from the Star Talk.

 

The Spectacular Deaths of Stars

ASX held our first Star Talk on September 26 at 8pm. The speaker was Dr. Chris Matzner, a University of Toronto associate professor. The talk was given in the Lash Miller building (80 St George Street) right next to McLennan Physical Labs.

Chris Matzner writes, “Although stars appear fixed in the celestial sphere, in fact they do not last forever. Our own Sun, like most stars, will burn down one day to aglowing cinder and gradually fade away. But some stars go out with a bang, lighting up the sky with their brilliant explosions. I will tour the thrilling and macabre ways stars can meet their ends, but I will also consider how stellar death enriches the Galaxy and makes the Universe fertile for life.”

In case you missed it, here is a link to the audio from the Star Talk.

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