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(FREE and open to the public)
Friday July 11th 2003 7:30pm

Featured Speaker

Dr Michelle Thaller
Reasearch Scientist and Manager of the SIRTF Education and Public Outreach Program, CALTECH JPL.

The Invisible Universe : Infrared Astronomy
note: Dr Thaller presented on this topic in 2001 and returns to us with a much updated presentation including details of the imminent launch of the SIRTF (pronounced SERTIF) space telescope and she has promised to bring back the $50,000 Infrared Camera that was such an amazing piece of her presentation last time!

photo from JPL Image Library

Our eyes evolved to detect only a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, which we call visible light. The universe, however, is not constrained to match our human senses. What can we learn by studying other kinds of light besides visible light? In this lecture, we'll start by defining what the electromagnetic spectrum really is, and why the universe looks totally different in other kinds of light. Using infrared, or heat light, for example, allows astronomers to pear inside the dense nebulae where stars and planets are forming, as well as push our view out to the building blocks of the very first galaxies. We'll use a state-of-the art infrared camera to demonstrate the dramatically different view of the universe we see through infrared telescopes. This will be followed by a slide show depicting some of the latest discoveries and mysteries that infrared astronomers are currently studying.

For more information about infrared astronomy and NASA's infrared missions, go to http://sirtf.caltech.edu/SSC_EPO.html From this site, you can explore the Infrared Tutorial, or watch the short video, "Infrared: More Than Your Eyes Can See."

Official Bio:
Dr. Michelle Thaller is a research scientist at the California Institute of Technology who divides her time between astronomical research and public education. Originally from Wisconsin (and still a mid-westerner at heart), Michelle obtained her bachelor's degree from Harvard. Specializing in high-resolution velocity measurements of binary stars, her honors thesis laid some of the ground work for the recent detection of planets around other stars. Michelle obtained a Ph.D. from the Center for High Angular Resolution Astrophysics (CHARA) based at Georgia State University and the Mount Wilson Institute. Michelle's dissertation work included the first-ever detection of a "stripped core subdwarf" (a star that has been almost completely stripped of its outer envelope by the gravitational pull of a companion star) as well as the discovery and characterization of the phenomenon of colliding stellar winds in several massive binary star systems. In close, massive binary systems, the winds from both stars collide and form a large shock front between the stars that produces optical, X-ray, radio, and UV light. The existence of this shock front may influence stellar evolution, as binary stars are thought to transfer mass from one star to another. This transfer may be influenced, or even impeded by the shock.

During her research, Michelle has used both ground and space-based telescopes, including Kitt Peak National Observatory, Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories (in Australia), the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, and ROSAT. She is currently working to support NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), an infrared space telescope due to launch in 2001. SIRTF will complete NASA's armada of Great Observatories (the others are Hubble, Chandra, and the Compton Gamma Ray Telescope), and will extend our view of the universe to the farthest extent yet. SIRTF hopes to observe everything from planetary systems in formation to the era in the universe where galaxies were just starting to form, and the first stars had not "turned on" yet.

Michelle dedicates more than half her time to public education and outreach, and acts as one of the spokespeople for SIRTF and other Origins missions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Michelle has been featured in numerous television and radio broadcasts, and has recently written and starred in a documentary about infrared astronomy, which is now in national circulation. Her television appearances range from the sublime (Discovery Channel specials about life in the universe) to the ridiculous (the "X" show on cable TV).

Michelle has extensive teaching experience at many different academic levels. During the early '90s she taught astronomy for middle-school age students at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and was studied by their educational researchers as an example of an effective science teacher. Michelle taught both lecture classes and lab sections at Harvard and Georgia State University, and has thoroughly enjoyed working with both college students and non-traditional, minority based classes. Michelle is a frequent classroom guest in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and conducts regular teacher workshops in the LA metropolitan area.

For more information visit;
http://sirtf.caltech.edu/Media/bios/MT.html and also http://sirtf.caltech.edu/features/P_MichelleThaller.shtml


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