Upcoming planetarium talks give insight into modern sciences

Parkland College, Prospectus News, Staerkel Planetarium, Scott Wells, Peter Floess,

View of the lobby in Parkland’s William M. Staerkel Planetarium. Photo by Scott Wells

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

Staerkel Planetarium’s coming “World of Science” series hopes to introduce its guests to just that, with a range of topics—at both the microscopic and macroscopic levels, on earth and beyond—addressed by learned voices in their fields.

“[We hope] that our audiences leave with not only a greater appreciation of what our scientists are working on at the moment, but with some of the amazing results that have emerged from their research,” said David Leake, director of the planetarium.

Leake emphasized his understanding that several Parkland instructors offer extra credit to their students for attending planetarium events.

The first lecture, on Oct. 7, is by University of Illinois physicist Peter Abbamonte: “How Laws, Sausages and Science Are Made: An Inside View of How Science Really Works.”

Despite the rather eclectic title, the focus of Abbamonte’s presentation is his experiences working with some of the smallest pieces of existence known to man and interacting them with water at time frames that make mere seconds look like eons, as well as explaining what he says is the true nature of the scientific method and how science is done.

Nov. 4’s “The Threat of Zika Virus and other Vector-borne Pathogens” is by viral disease epidemiologist James Dobbins, a veteran of both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dobbins says his lecturewill be an update on the current Zika virus disease outbreak in the Americas, as well as provide some additional information on the rapidly expanding Zika virus disease outbreak in Southeast Asia.” He says his presentation will work to identify the real risks people face from Zika and sort out the true and untrue elements of the “almost constant media hype” surrounding it.

Photographer Tom Murphy and UIUC Geologist Bruce Fouke will give a talk called “The Art of Yellowstone Science: Mammoth Hot Springs as a Window on the Universe.”

According to the website of the World of Science Lectures, “in this presentation, photographic art at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park is melded with cutting-edge natural sciences to search for common laws of nature through the power of observation and a willingness to embrace the unexpected.”

The lecture will work to tie in the phenomena viewed in places like right above Yellowstone’s brewing supervolcano and connect them to laws of nature universe-wide.

The two co-authored a book on the subject, which is to be made available to attendees following the Nov. 15 presentation.

Dec. 2 will see retired U of I astronomy professor and world-known science fiction and popular science author James Kaler, who has talked at the planetarium before, presenting “Cosmic Dust.”

“[C]osmic dust, usually in the form of complex silicates or carbon, plays a
powerful role,” Kaler said. “The dust, which is so fine you could not see it, helps form both stars and planets.”

Kaler, who has published over 120 academic papers relating to astronomy, will explain in his lecture how small objects in space coalesce to create the gargantuan objects that exist in the universe, from the one you’re standing on to the stars that are thousands of times bigger than our sun.

Kaler hopes his lecture will help the audience gain an appreciation of “the variety of the stuff of the galaxy and the universe, and that it all has a personal role in making us.”

The first lecture after winter break is on Feb. 7, 2017, by Cultural Resource Coordinator with the Illinois State Archeological Survey Thomas Loebel. “Seeing Beneath the Ground: Geophysics and Recent Archaeological Explorations and Discoveries in Illinois” will discuss the use of geophysics—the field of natural studies regarding earth’s ground processes—at prominent archaeological sites local to Parkland-goers.

March 3 will see David Kristovich, head of the Illinois State Water Survey’s Climate and Atmospheric Section, discuss the volatile nature of Midwestern weather and why the region sometimes bears witness to some of the harshest winter storms in the country in his “Observing the Worst Winter Storms East of the Rockies.” He will take into account new findings from modern weather testing instruments and the impact of the Great Lakes in the equation.

Cosmologist, astronomy professor, and resident faculty member at the UIUC’s Observational Cosmology Laboratory Joaquin Vieira’s “How the Universe Began” is a lecture on just that, although he will make a point of sharing where our collective lack of information leaves blank spots in the history of—literally—everything. Vieira actively works with information retrieved by the most advanced astronomical equipment, like the Hubble Space Telescope and the orbital-based Chandra X-ray Observatory, to generate models of time and space. Vieira’s presentation is on April 7.

This academic year’s final “World of Science” lecture is by David Leake, who will discuss on May 7 the complete solar eclipse set to occur later in the year and the best places to view the event. Complete solar eclipses only happen every blue moon, with only a few places in the world able to view it, due to perspective—in other words, being in the right place at the right time.

Even though the sun will be covered by the moon, the former’s corona—it’s hot and bright outer shell—will still be visible as if it was around the moon itself and still has the potential to cause eye damage, Leake stresses. There are locations within Champaign-Urbana and surrounding areas that have special equipment that provides both optimal viewing and protection from the star’s potentially-blinding rays.

Leake speaks highly of “World of Science” and is excited not only to make the event possible but also to attend the presentations.

[B]ooking speakers into our ‘World of Science’ series was one of the first tasks I inherited when I began at the planetarium 27 years ago and, though it is a lot of work, it is quite enlightening for me as I get to hear from top-of-the-line scientists,” Leake said. “I learn things, too.”

An overview of “World of Science” as well as a plethora of other information about Staerkel Planetarium, including its full calendar for the entire fall 2016 semester, can be found on its website: http://www2.parkland.edu/planetarium/.