Public Outreach

In 1986, superstars Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson won a Grammy for “Best Song of the Year” for “We are the World“, a single recorded to support the African charity USA for Africa (https://usaforafrica.org/) to provide food and relief aid to starving people in Africa, specifically Ethiopia where a famine raged. With sales in excess of 20 million copies, it is the eighth-bestselling physical single of all time, and it immediately generated 60 million dollars.

But 1986 also marked the 300th anniversary of one of the most popular science books of all time, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. And a NASA mission just over the horizon may turn the sci-fi conversations about alien life from this classic pop-sci book into science fact.

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JWST observations compared to Hubble’s.

Like the musical “Hamilton”, the James Webb Space Telescope lives up to the hype. Already, astronomers have used it to discover galaxies older and more distant than ever before, and it’s only getting started. One of the astronomical processes JWST will elucidate is the formation of stars. Understanding star formation is critical if we want to answer questions about the origin of life on Earth and the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. But even though scientists have been thinking about star formation since before the word “scientist” existed, some of the most basic questions about the process remain unanswered.

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Gravitational lensing of distant galaxies observed by Hubble. From https://www.nasa.gov/content/discoveries-highlights-shining-a-light-on-dark-matter.

Although our current understanding of gravity, the theory of general relativity, arose only one hundred years ago, scientists were speculating about exotic gravitational effects going back to before the word “scientist” even existed. Today, astronomers employ gravity in a variety of ways to study the cosmos, to look for planets outside our solar system and even to weigh some of the largest celestial bodies in existence. These measurements have shed light on some of the darkest of astronomical mysteries.

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First Friday Astronomy/So You Got a Telescope? Event – 2022 June 3

Did you get a new telescope, find an old telescope, just need help to learning how to use your telescope? Join Boise Astronomical Society for a hands-on telescope tutorial. Tutorial starts 5p MT at Boise State: maps.boisestate.edu/?id=715#!m/89075.

followed by

Weighing and Measuring the Universe with Galaxy Clusters – Dr. Andres Salcedo, U of Arizona

Lecture starts 7:30p MT

Attend virtually: boi.st/astrobroncoslive or In-person attendance on Boise State’s campus: maps.boisestate.edu/?id=715#!m/89069

Watch Dr. Salcedo’s talk!

Jupiter’s moon Io has long been famous for its sky-splitting volcanic eruptions, powered by Jupiter’s tidal gravity. But strange ridge-like features in regions adjacent to the volcanoes have raised questions since their discovery — What are they? How are they formed? Are they somehow related to the volcanoes? A recent study has argued that, even under Io’s whisper-thin atmosphere, these ridges are probably vast dune fields. This new discovery adds yet another world to our growing trove of worlds where aeolian processes operate.

Voyager’s approach to Jupiter. From https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/science/jupiter/.
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A Hubble image of a dark knot of gas and dust called a “Bok globule”. From https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_541.html.

You may not know it, but every time you sweep your floor, you’re conducting an experiment in planet formation. The growth of dust bunnies under your broom resembles in some ways the processes of agglomeration that took place in the early Solar System and eventually produced the planets. By studying ongoing planet formation in other solar systems, we can probe the murky origins of our own Solar System. Insights from a Enlightenment-era German philosopher and World War II mathematicians, bolstered by newly bloomed mechanical desert flora, are uncovering the chaos that pervaded our Solar System’s beginnings.

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