Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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AAA Seminar Recap from January 14
January 18, 2010

At the AAA seminar, we had a good bit of discussion on current topics. I had to be late due to work, so I arrived at 7PM. Rich Rosenberg was already set up and looking at the current night sky, talking about upcoming events. Rich described the upcoming events of the Opposition of Mars, and also discussed the nature of precession, showing them off with Cartes du Ciel.

The new direction of the AAA Seminar is to have members bring in short presentations on topics of interest in Astronomy. The format is 10 power-point slides, 10 minutes to present them and 5-10 minutes of discussion. I will lead the discussion and guide it as best I can, but the drivers will be the presenters. As chair, I feel it is important to encourage people to learn more about various areas of astronomy, and years of teaching have taught me that you learn nothing better than when you have to teach it to others. To this end, my first “victim” was AAA Member Evan Schneider, who discussed the Kepler Mission. Evan discussed the core elements of the mission, its science goals, and its core technology. Evan’s presentation was an excellent example of what can be done. There are a few more on the plate for February, but all AAA members are encouraged to contact me about areas of the field that interest them that they would like to discuss in Seminar.

After Evan, I spoke about a number of hot topics that were presented at the AAS meeting in Washington D.C. that I attended from January 3-8. I briefly discussed the oral paper I presented on Tuesday, about the efforts that I and the Club did in New York this year for the International year of Astronomy. We received a large round of applause at the AAS over the accomplishment of having the lights turned out for Dyckman Fields, and I promised that we would try again this year.

On the science topics,it is clear that the hottest topics at the conference were exoplanets, the results from the new Hubble WFC3, and the findings of the gamma-ray telescopes Fermi and SWIFT.

I first discussed further extensions of the Kepler telescope early science findings. In sum, information was released on five Jovian-scale planets around other stars. All of them had orbital periods of a few days. In addition, due to tidal locking, all five had striking day-night temperature variations of thousands of degrees. These non-Earths provided good tests of the telescopes ability to find planets, and to hone techniques for weeding out false positives, and deciphering the signals due to stellar variability. It will still take 3 years to get real Earth analogs, but these large, extreme planets confirm the telescope’s capabilities.

Next, I discussed the findings of the new WFC3 that replaced the NICMOS on the Hubble Space Telescope. The most striking findings have been with a re-examination of the GOODS field, once again replicating the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field Survey. This survey shows galaxies in their infancy, with a number of z~7 and z~8 galaxies in the field, with some candidates for z~10 which will take extensive follow-up observations to confirm. These findings show us objects far fainter and more distant than any quasar, giving us pictures of the universe as it was only 300 million years after the Big Bang. I had the fortune of attending the Oral Session on High-z Galaxies at the AAS conference, which detailed these results and further elucidated on the effects that such early galaxies had on the early universe. One of the interesting challenges is that these early galaxies should have formed more heavy elements by 300 million years than they appear to have done. This is causing the professional community to re-evaluate the early formation scenarios and processes of the young universe.

Next, I briefly talked about the use of millisecond pulsars found by the Fermi Gamma-Ray telescope as a galactic GPS system in the hunt for gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are expected from galaxy mergers as the supermassive black holes in their cores collide. They are also expected from the vibration cosmic strings, which are topological defects arising from universe-wide phase transitions shortly after the Big Bang. General Relativity predicts these waves if these events occur, and using distant pulsars to create immense baselines for observation allows the test their existence and also the veracity of General Relitivity.

Third, I talked about the incremental release of the COROT-7b data. This Earth-sized exoplanet orbits too close to its star to be anything other than a molten slag heap. But the side facing away from its star is colder than Pluto. The sounds of the rocks cracking and breaking as it librates in its tidally-locked orbit must be astonishing.

I also displayed the first-light image from the WISE spacecraft, and talked about the controversy surrounding a nearby Type 1a Supernova candidate: the recurrent nova T Pyxidis.

In sum, the 2010 AAA Seminar got off to a great start, and I hope that you will consider not only coming to the seminar, but being a presenter of some aspect of current astronomy.

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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