Fuertes Observatory Lecture Series

Public lectures at the Fuertes Observatory take place at 7:30pm in the observatory classroom (unless specified). Lectures are usually given several times a semester by Cornell faculty, researchers, and students studying astronomy. Each lecture is followed by an Open House Night, weather permitting. See the list of upcoming lectures below:

Spring 2021 Lecture Series

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, our Spring 2021 Lecture Series will be online over Zoom. On lecture nights, the lecture can be watched from the following link: 


Meeting ID: 931 5114 1571
Password: Fuertes

Upcoming Lectures

Tension in the Cosmos: How Fast is the Universe Expanding Today?

Professor Michael Niemack, Department of Physics, Cornell University

April 2nd, 2021

Recent measurements of the cosmic microwave background (the remnant light from the Big Bang) suggest the Universe is expanding slower than measurements of supernova and other more “local” sources. These differing measurements of the Hubble expansion constant could indicate that a more complex model is needed to describe our Universe or could be due to a problem with one or more of the measurements themselves. We will discuss our current dark energy and dark matter dominated cosmological model as well as recent measurements from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope and other observatories that have contributed to this tension in our cosmological model. We will also briefly describe next generation observatories including the CCAT Observatory and Simons Observatory that will help address these questions in the future.

Past Lectures

Exoplanets and the Search for Habitable Worlds

Postdoctoral Fellow Jayesh Goyal, Department of Astronomy, Cornell University

March 26th, 2021

For centuries, humans have wondered about the existence of planets around stars, other than our own Sun. However, for the first time in human history we have the capability not just to find, but also to characterize these far away worlds, termed as “Exoplanets". In this talk Dr. Goyal will show the astonishing variety of exoplanets that have been discovered and techniques used to find them. He will discuss how we study exoplanet atmospheres using the combination of remote sensing observations, 1D and 3D atmospheric models, retrieval techniques and thereby characterize them. Dr. Goyal will also briefly discuss how modeling the atmospheres of exoplanets from first principles, aid in-depth understanding of different processes, in the past as well as present Earth.  Finally, he will show our approach to answer one of the most fundamental questions of humanity, Are we alone in this Universe?

Click on the video to see the recorded lecture!

Cornell Reaches New Heights: Building a Telescope at 18,400 Feet

Professor Martha Haynes, Department of Astronomy, Cornell University

December 11th, 2020

Cornell University is the major partner in an international collaboration establishing the CCAT Observatory at 5600 meters (18,400 feet) elevation on Cerro Chajnantor in the Atacama region of northern Chile that will host the Fred Young Submillimeter Telescope (FYST), named for Fred M. Young ’64, M.Engr. ’66, MBA ’66. The FYST will be a 6-meter diameter telescope designed to operate at submillimeter to millimeter wavelengths and capable of mapping the sky very rapidly and efficiently. This talk will give an overview of the observatory, the telescope and the forefront science to be done with it.

The New Science of Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Professor Sean McWilliams, Department of Physics and Astronomy, West Virginia University

December 4th, 2020

Prof. McWilliams will discuss the recent history of the birth of this new field of observational astronomy that leverages gravitational waves, which are an extraordinary prediction of Einstein’s theory that we are now regularly observing for the first time. He will highlight some of the most exciting discoveries that this field has made possible, and will describe our plans and hopes for the future of the field.

(Image Credit: NASA)

Pulsars: Timekeepers of the Cosmos

Professor Maura McLaughlin, Department of Physics and Astronomy, West Virginia University

November 20th, 2020

(Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Collisions of Black Holes and Neutron Stars

Professor Zach Etienne, Department of Physics and Astronomy, West Virginia University

October 16th, 2020

Click on the video to see the recorded lecture!

A Space-Based Physics Lab: Probing Neutron Star Physics & Gravitational Waves with Millisecond Pulsar Timing

Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow Thankful Cromartie, Cornell University

October 9th, 2020

Click on the video to see the recorded lecture!

How Do Galaxies Get Their Gas?

Professor D.J. Pisano, Department of Physics and Astronomy, West Virginia University

October 2nd, 2020

Click on the video to see the recorded lecture!

Fast Radio Bursts: An Evolving Cosmic Mystery

Professor Duncan Lorimer, Department of Physics and Astronomy, West Virginia University

September 18th, 2020

Fast Radio Bursts are millisecond-duration pulses of unknown origin that were discovered by an undergraduate student at West Virginia University in 2007. A decade on, with over 100 further bursts currently known, fast radio bursts remain enigmatic sources which parallel the early days of gamma-ray burst astronomy in the early 1970s. I will tell the story of their discovery, summarize what we know about them so far, describe the science opportunities these bursts present, and make predictions for what we might learn in the next decade.

Click on the video to see the recorded lecture!

How to Search for Dark Matter

Andre Frankenthal, PhD Candidate, Dept of Physics, Cornell University

September 13, 2019

What is dark matter? Despite decades of intense effort, we still have not found direct evidence for it, apart from its inferred gravitational presence. Dark matter constitutes about a quarter of the universe energy content and yet we have few clues about what it is made of. In this talk, Andre will describe the broad and active program currently underway to search for direct evidence of dark matter. This program encompasses diverse and complementary experimental techniques, theoretical models, and simulation paradigms. We are looking for dark matter everywhere: in the skies, in the laboratory, and on the planet – so far, with no luck. In this context, he will introduce his work in searching for dark matter using particle accelerators, which is part of a new front of theoretical and experimental efforts with potential to help us uncover this ever-growing mystery.

(Image Credit: Tom Abel & Ralf Kaehler (KIPAC, SLAC), AMNH)

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The Search for a Second Earth

Dr. Siddharth Hegde, Carl Sagan Institute Research Associate

May 03, 2019

Are we alone? Or are there other worlds out there, like the Earth, that can support life? The field of exoplanet research has seen unprecedented progress over the last decade with over 3500 planets now been detected outside our Solar System. Further more, this number is expected to rise exponentially over the next few years with new and improved ground- and space-based telescopes set to take center-stage. Recent advances on this front suggest that small, Earth-sized, planets are abundant in our galaxy with many thought to lie in the host star’s habitable zone where the conditions on the planet are optimal to have liquid water on the surface. This realization, coupled with the ongoing discovery of new organisms on Earth in environments previously thought to be inhospitable for life, suggests that extraterrestrial life could be far more commonplace than previously imagined. In this talk, Dr. Hegde will explore some of the methods that can be used in characterizing an Earth-like planet for potential habitability and life by providing a link between geomicrobiology and observational astronomy.

Image Credit: Jack Madden

Exploring the New Frontiers of Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Professor David Chernoff, Astronomy Department, Cornell University

April 26, 2019

Gravitational waves were first directly observed in 2015 when LIGO and Virgo detected the inspiral and merger of two massive black holes. At least 8 more examples of merging black holes and 1 example of merging neutron stars have been recorded subsequently. These discoveries highlight the emergence of a new astronomical discipline, gravitational wave astronomy. The experimental confirmation of the existence of black holes, a unique prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity, represents a home run for gravitational wave astronomy. We will review some of the history of the hunt for gravitational waves and speculate how the new discipline will help scientists explore new and otherwise inaccessible regimes of our Universe.

(Image Credit: Natinoal Science Foundation)

6th Annual Yuri's Night Lecture

Professor Nikole Lewis, Astronomy Department, Cornell University

April 12, 2019

In the past two decades we have seen rapid growth in our capabilities to detect and explore planets around other stars. Facilities like the Kepler, Spitzer, and Hubble Space Telescopes have revealed fascinating worlds that bear little resemblance to the planets in our solar system. Future facilities like the James Webb Space Telescope as well as space and ground based “life finder” missions will increase the fidelity with which we can explore these worlds along the path to answering the questions “How did we get here?” and “Are we alone?”.

Apollo 8: First Humans to Leave Earth, Was It a Big Gamble or a No-Brainer? [History Lecture]

Dr. Peter Thomas, Visiting Scientist, Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, Astronomy Department, Cornell University

March 22, 2019

The talk will review some of the context and development of the Apollo 8 mission which was the first human visit to another world.  As part of the “space race” the flight required decisions that in current context would be rash, and even then caused great concern.

Studying Star Formation In The Early Universe: An Infrared Perspective

Cody Lamarche, 6th year PhD candidate, Astronomy Department, Cornell University

March 15, 2019

Cody Lamarche will be talking about his work using fine-structure spectral lines in the far-infrared to investigate the properties of the early universe, including star formation, active galactic nuclei, and the interstellar medium.

(Image Credit: Madau & Dickinson (2014))

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Searching for Intelligent Life in Cornell Classrooms and Beyond

Jack Madden, 4th year PhD candidate, Carl Sagan Institute, Cornell University

November 09, 2018

Jack Madden will discuss several of his research projects using computer models to predict the habitability of exoplanets, as well as measure learning of students learning astronomy using virtual reality.

(Image Credit: Jack Madden)

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Cornell's Submillimeter/Millimeter Telescope CCAT-Prime: Unveiling the Secrets of the Early Universe and the History of Star and Galaxy Formation in the Universe (Past Lecture)

Dr. Thomas Nikola, Cornell Research Associate

May 11, 2018

CCAT-Prime is a 6-meter class telescope for submillimeter and millimeter astronomical observations that is being built in northern Chile by an international collaboration under the leadership of Cornell. The telescope will be equipped with several instruments that employ the most advanced submillimeter and millimeter detector technology. The telescope will study the history of the early Universe, and Research Associate Thomas Nikola will present on the instruments that his team is developing, as well as the scientific motivation for building the telescope.

(Image Credit: Dr. Thomas Nikola)

The Search for Life Begins at Home: Using Our Pale Blue Dot to Find Others (Past Lecture)

Dr. Jack O'Malley-James, Carl Sagan Institute, Cornell Research Associate

March 23, 2018

Astronomers have now found the first habitable rocky worlds around other stars – worlds that could have just the right temperatures to support life. So what happens next? To find out if these habitable worlds are inhabited, we need to know the global effects life can have on a planet, and crucially, which of those effects we could observe with our telescopes. We can gain some clues by looking at what life on Earth does today, but, so far, the planets we have found seem to have dramatically different environments compared to the modern day Earth. However, if we look millions, or even billions of years back through time, we start to find overlaps between conditions on these worlds and our own. The further back in time we look, the more alien our planet becomes. Strange environments, climates and weird forms of ancient life serve as perfect tools for figuring out many more of the unique “fingerprints” biology can leave behind on a planet for us to find. All of this takes us a step closer to finding extraterrestrial life – if it is there – on the un-Earth-like worlds around our nearest stars. In this talk Dr. O'Malley-James will discuss how we do this, what we might find, and what the future has in store for our quest to find other Earths.

(Image Credit: Dr. O"Malley-James)

Sixth Annual Yuri's Night Lecture: Interstellar Probes: How to Fly By Proxima Centauri in Your Lifetine

Dr. Mason Alan Peck, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell Associate Professor

April 20, 2018

Several Cornellians advise the Breakthrough Starshot project, an audacious attempt to fly a tiny probe--1 to 2 grams--to our nearest star.  This demanding mission requires technologies that don't exist yet but which we hope will be in place in 20 years' time, when we anticipate the probe will launch.  If successful, this lightweight spacecraft will reach 20% light speed after a few minutes' thrust from a high-power laser. Then, some 21 years after launch, it will fly past Proxima B and transmits a few bits of data back to Earth: spectral information from an image? Radiation measurements? Confirmation of the presence or absence of radio communications near the planet?  This talk describes the technical challenges and speculates about other missions we could undertake if we had only 1% of the required capability, such as reaching Mars in a day and spanning our solar system in only 8 weeks.

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