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Dudley Observatory

The Web



A series of three popular talks
on topics in astronomy and history
held each year.

Watch for updates!



Here are some of our past Skywatch Lectures:

Discovering Planets Around Other “Suns” by Dr. Harry Ringermacher

November 8, 2013


Recent advances in technology have changed the topic of “Exo-planet Hunting” to “Exo-planet Collecting”. There are at least as many planets around other stars as there are stars. This is now a scientific fact, not to be pondered philosophically any more. The most recent discoveries virtually assure that intelligent life is out there in our galaxy. Three or four of the roughly 3,000 candidate planets known are “super-earths” that lie in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of their stars. However, it turns out our solar system as a whole is quite unique and rare. I’ll talk about this and more…;


Dr. Ringermacher retired last year as Sr. Research Physicist at the General Electric Global Research Center where he was the project leader of the Infrared Imaging group and also worked with laser techniques and nuclear magnetic resonance for materials evaluation. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis and worked at the United Technologies Research Center until 1997 when he joined GE. He has numerous publications and patents on these subjects as well as peer-reviewed publications in his personal pursuits including General Relativity and Cosmology.


Dr. John Delano "A Bad Day for Dinosaurs: How an asteroid contributed to the mass extinction 65 million years ago"

September 25, 2013


At the new Dudley Observatory home location within miSci, the Museum of Innovation and Science Dr. John Delano, Astrobiologist University of Albany Distinguished Teaching Professor and NASA Researcher will discuss how the evolution of life on Earth has been punctuated by mass extinction events that globally wiped out large proportions of species existing at the time of the event. While these multiple mass extinctions have not all had the same causes, the most recent one 65 million years ago is known to have been associated with the impact of a large asteroid (and massive release of gases associated with major, but independent, volcanic events) that dramatically affected the planet’s environment and led to the extinction of ~50% of all species, including the many species of dinosaurs.


Prior to his talk there will be a welcoming reception celebrating the new Dudley Observatory home location within miSci, the Museum of Innovation and Science


John Delano received his Ph.D. in geochemistry at Stony Brook University, and is a Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University at Albany. In addition to being an Associate Dean at the University at Albany, he is affiliated with the New York Center for Astrobiology, which is funded by NASA’s Astrobiology Institutes program, headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His research is funded by NASA.


Laurie LeshinLaurie Leshin - Tuesday, January 22, 2013
"Curiosity on Mars: Roving the Red Planet"

Preceded at 6:30



Hear the latest from Mars as Curiosity roves the red planet seeking to understand Mars' habitability. Curiosity survived "7 minutes of terror" to successfully land within Gale Crater on Mars on August 5, 2012. With a highly diverse science payload of cameras, spectrometers and a chemistry laboratory, Curiosity is the most complex robotic mission ever to land on another planet. This lecture will provide an insider view of the mission, the results to date, and plans for future Mars exploration with Curiosity and beyond.Dr. Laurie Leshin is the Dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She served for 6 years as a senior executive at NASA, working on both the science and human exploration programs. Before coming to NASA, Dr. Leshin was The Dee and John Whiteman Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences, and the Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University.


BurnellJocelyn Bell Burnell - Monday, Nov 12, 2012
"In pursuit of pulsars"

Pulsars, or pulsating radio sources, are some of the most bizarre objects in the universe and have stretched our understanding of physics. They can be used to check Einstein's theories and one day may serve as navigation beacons for interstellar travel.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell, is a British astrophysicist. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars with her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics.

In the Beautiful Minds documentary she talks about how in science, "nothing is static, nothing is final, everything is held provisionally" and that "sometimes you have to abandon the picture".
BBC Beautiful Minds - Jocelyn Bell Burnell on Truth and Understanding

BinzelRichard Binzel - Tuesday, October 23, 2012
"Asteroids: Friends or Foes?"

One of the most profound legacies of the twentieth century space age is the realization that Earth impacts by asteroids and comets pose a hazard to civilization. But what is the level of this hazard? Is there cause for any serious concern? On the other hand what is the potential for beneficial use of these objects as future space resources? And are humans destined to visit asteroids as the first “stepping stones” in interplanetary space travel? Join us as Prof. Binzel, one of the world’s leading scientists on asteroids, addresses these questions.

Richard Binzel, Professor of Planetary Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT, is one of the world's leading astronomers studying Pluto and the asteroids.

He is credited with having established compelling evidence linking certain Earth-impacting meteorite types with specific asteroids. In 1999,Binzel devised the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, which assigns a number to the likelihood that a newly discovered asteroid will strike the Earth.

Photo Credit: L. Barry Hetherington

BellTrudy E. Bell - November 15, 2011
"The Mysterious George Washington Hough & His Amazing Astronomical Inventions"

George Washington Hough was assistant astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory, astronomer and later director of the Dudley Observatory, and director of the Dearborn Observatory in Illinois. A meticulous observational astronomer, he was known for his discovery of 648 close double stars, and four decades of systematic visual observations of Jupiter. He was also a prolific inventor, whose self-registering meteorological instruments and astronomical devices were adopted at a number of 19th-century observatories.

Research, which included consulting unpublished correspondence and documents at eight institutions, was supported by the Herbert C. Pollock Award of the Dudley Observatory.



Dave Latham

Dave Latham - October 25, 2011
"Super Earths and Life"

Dave Latham is an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge. He works on the discovery and characterization of planets around other stars, with the goal of identifying planets enough like the Earth so that water could be liquid on the surface and life as we know it might be comfortable. NASA's Kepler mission is enabling important progress towards this goal.


BriggsJohn W. Briggs - September 27, 2011
Adventures in Astronomy:
Imaging the Solar System from Home

Modern technology allows smaller observatories to photograph and explore the sky at a level of detail unimaginable only a short time ago.  Backyard observatories can now record images of extraordinarily distant objects in our Universe, in color and in beautiful aesthetic detail.  It has also become more practical than ever before for privateobservatories to make exciting scientific measurements, thanks to computers, digital cameras, and specialized software. 

PasachoffJay Pasachoff - November 30, 2010
"The Sun and Solar Eclipses"

Professor Pasachoff will describe the most recent of a series of eclipse observations, including Greece in 2006, Siberia in 2008, China in 2009, and Easter Island in 2010, and place ground-based eclipse observing in the context of contemporary solar research from the ground and from space.

Jay Pasachoff is especially known for his scientific work at total solar eclipses; the total solar eclipse of 11 July 2010 was his 51st! He worked at the Harvard College Observatory and Caltech before going to Williams College in 1972. He received the 2003 Education Prize of the American Astronomical Society, "For his eloquent and informative writing of textbooks from junior high through college, For his devotion to teaching generations of students, For sharing with the world the joys of observing eclipses, For his many popular books and articles on astronomy, For his intense advocacy on behalf of science education in various forums, For his willingness to go into educational nooks where no astronomer has gone before"

FilippenkoAlex Filippenko - October 19, 2010
"Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe"

Observations of very distant exploding stars (supernovae) show that the expansion of the Universe is now speeding up, rather than slowing down due to gravity as expected. Over the largest distances, our Universe seems to be dominated by a mysterious, repulsive "dark energy" that stretches the very fabric of space faster and faster with time.

Alex Filippenko, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the world's most highly cited research astronomers. Winner of the top teaching awards at UC Berkeley, he was named the National Professor of the Year in 2006. He has produced several astronomy video courses for The Teaching Company and appears in numerous television documentaries.



Owen Gingerich Owen Gingerich - December 8, 2009
"Kepler, Galileo, and the Birth of Modern Astronomy"

2009 is the 400th anniversary of Kepler's Astronomia nova, and of the first astronomical use of the telescope, especially by Galileo. I will argue that more important than Kepler's elliptical orbits and the law of areas was his pioneering insistence on astronomy based on physical causes. Particularly remarkable about Galileo's use of the telescope was the way in which he used his observations to challenge the traditional geocentric cosmology. In very different fashions these two contemporary astronomers hastened the astronomical revolution and became the fathers of modern astronomy.





FrebelAnna Frebel - September 28, 2010
"Our cosmic ancestors: The oldest stars in the Universe "

There are stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy that are almost as old as the Universe itself, which is some 14 billion years. I will present some of those stellar fossils, and show what we can learn from studying them. This includes the origin and evolution of the chemical elements from which we humans and the world around us are made off. We really all are made from 'star stuff' and even a little bit of Big Bang material.

Dr. Anna Frebel is currently a Clay Fellow at Harvard Center for Astrophysics. Her research interests broadly cover how the oldest stars can be used to learn about the very first stars, their supernova yields, and stellar nucleosynthesis. She is best known for her discoveries and subsequent spectroscopic analyses of the oldest stars, and how they can be employed to uncover information about the time shortly after the Big Bang. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Freiburg (Germany) and received her PhD from the Australian National University's Mt. Stromlo Observatory in 2006. Since then has received a numerous awards for her work.

Michael TurnerMichael Turner - November 10, 2009
"The Dark Side of the Universe: Beyond stars and the starstuff we are made of"

The sky is filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies, all lit up by their stars. But, stars account for less than one percent of the material in the Universe, and galaxies are held together by a new form of matter -- dark matter -- that accounts for 1/3 of the stuff in the Universe. The other 2/3 exists as in an even more mysterious form -- dark energy -- and is causing the expansion of the Universe to speed up, rather than slow down.




Eric ChaissonEric Chaisson - October 13, 2009
Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature

Using astronomical telescopes and biological microscopes, among a virtual arsenal of other tools of high technology, modern scientists are weaving a thread of understanding spanning the origin, existence, and destiny of all things. Now emerging is a unified scenario of the cosmos, including ourselves as sentient beings, based on the time-honored concept of change. From galaxies to snowflakes, from stars and planets to life itself, we are beginning to identify an underlying, ubiquitous pattern penetrating the fabric of all the natural sciences--a sweepingly encompassing view of the order and structure of every known class of object in our richly endowed Universe.


DelanoProf. John Delano - November 13, 2008
“NASA’s search for life in the Universe”

Is life common, or is it rare, in the Universe? What about planets orbiting other stars? Are they common, or are they rare? Are the basic molecular ingredients necessary for forming life elsewhere in the Universe common or rare? These are just some of the questions, which have been asked by human beings for centuries, to be explored in this Skywatch Lecture. Not only is NASA working hard on these, and other, questions, but some tantalizing answers have already emerged. The United States Space Agency is currently designing instruments and spacecraft capable of detecting life on planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. It currently seems reasonable to imagine that the current generation of humans will soon be able to point at stars in the night sky having planets where life will be known to exist. That will be a startling point when we as a species can peer at a living Universe.

Sten OdenwaldDr. Sten Odenwald - December 11, 2008
"Cosmology in the 21stCentury"

Dark matter, dark energy, strings theory, extra dimensions and Higgs Bosons. These pivotal ideas in 21st Century cosmology are about to be put to the test as the European Large Hadron Collider continues to power-up since last September. How did the universe start? Why does it look the way it does today? What is the nature of mass, energy and dimension? With each new discovery, we are pushed towards ever-more subtle questions requiring the efforts of nations and armies of scientists and engineers to answer. Tonight, we will explore what questions have firm answers, and what questions remain open for the latest round of investigation. We will explore the subtle interplay between space, matter and dimensionality on the quantum scale, and the imprints they have on the cosmic scale. We will also look at what new discoveries await the latest experimental researches by LHC, neutrino and gravity wave telescopes, and future space observatories. Finally, we will step back and see how well the emerging picture of the physical universe matches our intuitive and religious views about creation and destiny.

Dava SobelDava Sobel - October 9, 2008
"Galileo and the International Year of Astronomy"

In October 1609, using his own handmade telescope, Galileo initiated the string of discoveries that opened the heavens to scientific scrutiny. In 2009, everyone--not just astronomy buffs, but non-astronomers with no prior experience or interest in the subject--will be able to see all the things Galileo saw, from the phases of Venus to the moons of Jupiter.

Also: Unveiling of Historic remake of "Dedication of the Dudley Observatory "