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Astrophysics: Dust Thou Art

Professor Brian Keating

Carl Sagan once poetically said “we are starstuff.” But what, exactly, did he mean by this quip? While exotic phenomena like black holes, anti-gravity, and hidden extra dimensions are delightful to consider, they remain inscrutable, far from definitively proven. Indeed, they may not even exist. Yet, while physicists and philosophers debate the properties of these cosmic sensations, the properties of the quintessential substance in the universe — dust — remain largely uncelebrated. Dust, that most humble of substances, litters the cosmos, forming the firmament on which we stand while simultaneously confounding attempts to reveal the cosmos’s earliest secrets. We will take a deep dive into the astrophysics of dust and develop a dose of "cosmic humility," for as another great mind, Mahatma Gandhi, once said: “The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust.”

Presenter: Professor Brian Keating is an astrophysicist at UC San Diego's Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences and has lectured frequently at Osher. He received his PhD at Brown University and did postdoctoral work at Stanford and Caltech. Keating co-leads a team operating the Simons observatory Telescope in the Atacama desert in Chile.

Th 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., May 3, Classroom 129

Astrophysics: Understanding Saturn and Its Moons: Grand Finale of the Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

Morgan Cable, PhD

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched in 1997 with two elements: the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe. The spacecraft reached Saturn and its moons in July 2004, beaming home valuable data that transformed our understanding of the Saturnian system. The Huygens probe descended onto the surface of Titan, the most distant spacecraft landing to date. This talk will review the Cassini mission, the instruments on board, and the discoveries that were made before the spacecraft dove into Saturn in October 2017, after 20 years in space.

Instructor: Morgan Cable works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. She served as the Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini Mission. Cable has a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology.

Coordinator: John Kroon

Course Number: OSHR-70062   Credit: 0 units


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