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:

Fall 2019 Lecture Series

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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Saturn's system at the end of Cassini (Past Lecture)

Jonathan Lunine, David C. Duncan Professor of Astronomy

October 27, 2017

The Cassini spacecraft ended its 13 year odyssey in the Saturn system on September 15 with a fiery burnup in Saturn's atmosphere. What did Cassini discover during its time there, and especially what did it learn in the closing months of the mission? The answer is -- "an amazing amount", Professor Lunine will describe some of the highlights.

(Image Credit: NASA)

Exploring the Origins of the Universe with the CCAT-prime Telescope (Past Lecture)

Dr. Martha Haynes, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy

November 10, 2017

The Universe as we know it began some 13.8 billion years ago in the event known as the "Big Bang". Cosmologists today use forefront telescopes, instruments and techniques to try to trace the history of cosmic expansion, especially in the earliest times before the first stars, galaxies and supermassive black holes formed. In this talk, she will discuss how Cornell scientists are laying the groundwork for exploring early epochs in cosmic history by building a novel-design submillimeter telescope at an exceptional site in the Atacama region of northern Chile.

(Image Credit: ESA)

A Century of Observing at Fuertes [Centenninal Lecture]

Professor Phil Nicholson, Cornell Astronomy Department & Mike Roman, Cornell Alumnus

November 17, 2017

For the hundredth anniversary of the Fuertes Professor Phil Nicolson and Alumnus Mike Roman will give a special lecture highlighting the observatory's history and its long term impact at Cornell.  Instead of being held in the observatory classroom, this special lecture will be held at the Appel Service Center on north campus, across from Fuertes Observatory.

Black Holes on the Horizon: From Astronomy to Quantum Mechanics (Past Lecture)

Tom Hartman, Cornell Assistant Professor of Physics

December 01, 2017

Black holes are the densest, darkest objects in the universe, and their motion powers the brightest galaxies in the sky. They also provide a theoretical window into nature at the tiniest subatomic distances, by pushing the extremes of quantum mechanics, particle physics, and gravitation. In this talk, Professor Hartman will describe how black holes set fundamental limits on physical laws, from the exotic realm of quantum gravity to the everyday experience of boiling water.

(Image Credit: NASA)

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Fast Radio Bursts: Mysterious Flashes from the Distant Universe (Past Lecture)

Dr. Shami Chatterjee, Cornell Astronomy Senior Research Associate

March 17, 2017

With recent strides in radio telescope sensitivity and computational capacity, astronomers have discovered “fast radio bursts”, dispersed millisecond-long flashes of radio waves that appear to come from random directions in the sky.  Recently, we have caught one in the act and identified exactly where it came from, and the answer defies all expectations, because the source appears to be two and a half billion light years away. What mechanism could produce flashes so bright that they are detectable across the universe, and yet so common that there are five to ten thousand of these bursts all over the sky each and every day? Astronomers are in hot pursuit.