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A Status Report On The Stargazing & Lecture Series

Bwog does math too!

Looking for ways to get out of finals? Bwog checked to see if finding a new world altogether was possible. Bwogger Victoria Arancio trudged through the snow to see this gravity talk, because she’s that desperate. 

Every few weeks, the Columbia Astronomy Department hosts its Stargazing & Lecture series. As a part of their public outreach,  the department hosts talks on Fridays that discuss current scientific understanding of our Universe. Whether you’re a student, professor, or just someone who somehow found their way into Pupin, the talks are engaging and relatively easy to follow. I was able to attend the department’s last two talks; although very different from each other, both helped better my understanding of astronomy and also made voluntarily sitting in a lecture hall enjoyable.

Two weeks ago, the department hosted a book talk, focusing on the life and work of Jill Tarter, an astrophysicist and astrobiologist. Sarah Scoles’ Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, investigates not only the technology that may one day detect life elsewhere in the Universe, but this biography sheds light on the life of a woman struggling to be taken seriously in a field dominated by men. Jill Tarter is responsible for the SETI project, scientific research that looks for life elsewhere by detecting electromagnetic signals from other parts of the Universe. The weather was even nice enough so that the public was also able to observe through telescopes on the roof of Pupin!

Promising different topics for every public talk, last night’s Gravity: A Status Report was hosted by Columbia’s very own Rachel Rosen. Rosen somehow managed to do something that none of my previous teachers and professors could accomplish: explain physics in a way that was understandable to the general public. This blackboard talk centered around scientists’ current understanding of gravitational energy with relation to an expanding and accelerating Universe. The humanities side of me was wanting to pick up and run as soon as I saw her write physics equations on the board, but she explained the math in a way that made sense, like a story of our increasing understanding of how spacetime behaves. Although the snow made observing on the roof impossible, the department also has a 3D Wall where you sit in a classroom and watch stellar objects interact with one another.

If you’ve ever been curious about what lies beyond our Moon, then I would definitely recommend trying one of these talks. Even if you just want to check out the great view on top of Pupin, learning more about current scientific research in astronomy is worth the hour of your time.

Image via Bwogger Victoria Arancio

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