Gizmodo has recently launched a new series of articles to explore how the best images in science were created and why. In a recent article in this series by Ryan F. Mandelbaum entitled, “The Making of ‘Pillars of Creation,’ One of the Most Amazing Images of Our Universe”, the author presents a classic set of images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope showing a zoomed-in view of the Eagle Nebula. The article explains some of the details about the instrument that took these images, and how a color image is obtained by combining black-and-white photographs taken at a number of different wavelengths. In the article, UConn astronomer Prof. Kate Whitaker explains why an advanced space-based instrument like the HST is required to obtain awesome views like this of our cosmic neighborhood.
Monday, March 26, 2018
The 21st Annual Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture was hosted by the UConn Physics Department, featuring Dr. Takaaki Kajita, 2015 Nobel Prize Winner from the University of Tokyo, speaking on “Oscillating Neutrinos.” After the lecture, a banquet with the speaker was held for members and guests of the department. We enjoyed welcoming alumni and visitors to the department for this special occasion, made possible by a generous gift from UConn Physics alumnus Henry Katzenstein and his family.
The physics department will be hosting Prof. Geri Richmond from the University of Oregon to give a Special Lecture on Diversity and Inclusion. The talk is Tuesday, November 28, 3:30pm, Physics/Biology Building, Room 131
The Katzenstein Distinguished Lectures series continued in Fall 2016 for its 19th year, with an October 28, 2016 lecture by Professor Leon N. Cooper of Brown University, entitled “On the Interpretation of the Quantum Theory: Can Free Will And Locality Exist Together In The Quantum Theory?” Professor Cooper shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics with Professors J. Bardeen and J. R. Schrieffer. The Nobel Prize was awarded for the first microscopic theory of superconductivity, now known as the BCS Theory. Superconductivity as evidenced by the disappearance of electrical resistivity was first observed in Mercury by Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911. Immediately, many theorists including Albert Einstein, set out to explain this newly observed phenomena. However it was not until 1933 that the essential property of magnetic flux exclusion was observed by Meissner and Ochsenfeld. No successful microscopic theory was developed until the 1957 Physical Review Paper that developed the BCS theory. A crucial element for the theory was published in a short letter to the Physical Review in 1956 by Leon Cooper, entitled ‘Bound Electron Pairs, in a degenerate Fermi Gas’. These pairs are now commonly referred to as ‘Cooper Pairs’.
The 2016 lecture took place in Physics Building Lecture Room P-36, and an excellent attendance included physics undergraduates, graduate students, faculty from Physics and other departments, and a number of UConn Physics alumni. Prior to the lecture, Professor Cooper met informally with Physics students in the Physics Library, and then met people at a reception that preceded the lecture. Following the lecture, Professor Cooper joined with Henry Katzenstein’s son David, a Professor at Stanford Medical School, along with faculty, staff, alumni and guests for a gala dinner at the University of Connecticut’s Foundation Building. The Katzenstein Lectures are made possible by an endowment established by the late Dr. Henry S. Katzenstein and his wife Dr. Constance A. Katzenstein. Cornell Professor David Lee (1996 Nobel Laureate in Physics and 1956 M. S. alumnus of UConn) gave the first lecture of the current series of annual lectures by Nobel Laureates, in 1997. Henry Katzenstein received the very first Ph.D. in physics from our Department in 1954 after only three years as a graduate student here.
This story was published in the University of Connecticut 2017 Annual Newsletter.
On Monday, August 21, 2017, the moon eclipsed the sun across the US. What began as a small organic outreach activity blossomed into an epic community event. With help from UConn communications, the UConn Physics club, and staff in the physics department, astronomers Jonathan Trump, Cara Battersby, and Kate Whitaker hosted an eclipse viewing event open to the public. Solar projectors, solar glasses, and solar telescope drew and estimated 2,000 visitors, including many children and families to share in the majesty of the heavens. To read more about the great American eclipse, read the recent UConn Today article by Elaina Hancock, featuring commentary by astronomers Trump and Cynthia Peterson.
For more about the event and others around the state, see this article in the Hartford Courant
Please join the Department of Physics at UConn for a Solar Eclipse Viewing Party!
Hosted by Prof. Cara Battersby, Prof. Jonathan Trump, and Prof. Kate Whitaker
August 21 2017, Horsebarn Hill 1:00 – 4:00 PM (next to Dairy Bar) weather permitting
From our location, the solar eclipse begins at 1:25pm and ends at 4:00pm. Maximum (partial) occultation occurs at 2:45pm.
The organizers have 150 solar eclipse glasses available on a first-come, first-serve basis (encouraging folks to recycle them when they are
done). No reservations are necessary. Here is the schedule of the events:
- 2:00pm Short Tutorial on Eclipses
- 2:45pm Maximum (partial) occultation
- 3:15pm Ask an Astrophysicist
There will be also an ongoing activity from 1-4pm making pin-hole cameras (great for kids!), while supplies last. Finally, there will be 4 solar
telescopes set up for the entire event.
All ages are welcome!
Join our mailing list for updates: http://tinyurl.com/uconn-astro-mailing-list
A Total Eclipse of the Heart (of America)
Elaina Hancock – UConn Communications–
A spectacular and likely unforgettable show will take place in the sky Aug. 21.
“Have you ever seen a total solar eclipse?” asks Cynthia Peterson, professor emerita of physics. “It’s a really, really exciting event!”
The reason she and so many others are excited for this event has a lot to do with its rarity. The last time a total solar eclipse was visible from the mainland United States was 38 years ago, in February 1979.
Very specific conditions have to be met to create an eclipse that can be viewed from Earth. The Earth and the moon must align perfectly with the sun as they speed through space, an amazing coincidence. To fully understand how this happens, Peterson says, it’s helpful to know some basic astronomy.
Conditions for a Total Solar Eclipse
The Earth moves in space around the sun, completing a full orbit once every 365.25 days, she explains. As the Earth and other members of our solar system travel around the sun, they continue in essentially the same plane, on a path called the ecliptic. Some celestial bodies, such as our moon, deviate from the ecliptic slightly.
The orbit of the moon is inclined on the ecliptic plane at an inclination of 5 degrees. As the moon deviates 5 degrees above or below the ecliptic plane, it will cross the plane at points called nodes.
“That is the first essential piece of the eclipse puzzle,” says Peterson. “The moon must be at a node for an eclipse to occur. Otherwise, the moon will not align and no eclipse will be seen from Earth.”
The moon’s position in the lunar cycle is another vital eclipse component. As the Earth travels in its orbit, the moon tags along, keeping its gaze locked on Earth, always facing from the same side as it completes its own orbit around Earth once every 29.5 days. Over the course of a month, the moon’s appearance changes, from crescent to full to crescent again and finally to what appears to be its absence, when it’s called a new moon. A new moon is the other requirement for a solar eclipse.
“The basic rule for a solar eclipse is to have a new moon at a node,” Peterson points out.
But during an eclipse, how can our moon, which is relatively small, appear almost as big as the sun, which is pretty gigantic?
Peterson explains, “The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and the sun is also 400 times farther away from the moon, so the moon appears to fit exactly during an eclipse, when they are both the same angular size.”
Holding up her fist, she demonstrates: “Find a large object ahead of you and pretend it is the sun and your fist is the moon. If you hold up your fist and look with one eye, you can’t see the object/sun.”
These are the conditions for a total solar eclipse like the one coming up. “Solar eclipses happen when the new moon obstructs the sun and the moon’s shadow falls on the earth, creating a total solar eclipse.” Peterson moves her fist slightly away from herself until the edges of the object can be seen around it. “Or, when the moon covers the Sun’s center and creates a ‘ring of fire’ around the moon, it’s what’s called an annular eclipse.”
It’s those bits of the sun peeking out from behind the moon – in both partial and total eclipses – that everyone needs to be careful of. It’s extremely important to view the eclipse safely, Peterson stresses. “The problem with the eclipse is that every time it happens, some people are blinded [from looking at it unprotected]. The shadow goes whipping by at 1,000 miles per hour, and you never want to stare at the sun, even a sliver of it.”
So be prepared, and ensure you wear proper solar eclipse eye protection. Regular sunglasses will not help. Solar eclipse glasses can be used, welder’s goggles, or telescopes with proper lenses. Be sure the eye protection you choose is certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Other popular viewing methods are DIY viewing boxes like these.
Peterson, like many others who wish to get the full eclipse experience, will be traveling to an area directly in the path of the eclipse’s shadow. These areas are called totality. The Aug. 21 eclipse will cover an expansive area of totality that will include 14 states and 14 major U.S. cities, stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. For a map of the path of totality, go to the NASA website. Connecticut is unfortunately hours of travel from the nearest totality. Peterson will go as far as Nebraska for the experience.
“You’ll only see a partial eclipse here in Connecticut,” she says. “It will get a little darker, like a cloud covering part of the sun, and then brighten up again.”
She encourages those who can to try to travel to a viewing point for the total eclipse, where they may see “amazing phenomena” like the diamond ring, shadowbands, crescent-shaped solar images under trees (instead of the usual ‘coins’ which are pinhole images of the sun), and extremely sharp shadows in the final minute before totality, due to the very narrow sun at that time. “These phenomena can only be seen in totality,” she says.
The next chance to see a total solar eclipse will be in 2024, when its shadow will be cast closer to Connecticut. It will start in the U.S. in Texas, then make its way north, through northern Vermont and New Hampshire.
“That’s less than seven years from now,” Peterson points out, “but that’s the end of eclipses crossing the U.S. until the 2050s.”
For those on campus next week, you aren’t out of luck. For this eclipse there will be a viewing party on Horsebarn Hill behind the Dairy Bar, from 1 to 4 p.m., hosted by the Department of Physics. “We’ll have solar telescopes, a pinhole camera activity, and will do some short mini-lectures on astronomy at UConn and about how eclipses work,” says Assistant Professor of Physics Jonathan Trump, one of the faculty members who will lead the viewing party.
Peterson, longtime astronomer and scientist, says witnessing an eclipse – especially a total eclipse – can be extremely emotional. She suggests reading Annie Dillard’s essay about solar eclipses, where the author compares the contrast between viewing a partial eclipse and viewing a total eclipse to the difference between flying in an airplane versus falling out of the airplane. “Those are very different experiences.”
But wherever you are on the afternoon of Aug. 21, Peterson says, stop and enjoy the show: “Good luck and clear skies!”
The eclipse will be live-streamed by NASA, and can also be viewed on PBS’ NOVA at 9 p.m. on Aug. 21.