Astronomy Talks

Las Cumbres Observatory is pleased to present a series of free public talks featuring leading scientists speaking about exciting new discoveries in astronomy.

Everyone is welcome to these events.

Contact: seminarchair@lco.global

Upcoming events

February 21, 2018

Professor Debra Fischer

Location:  TBA

Past events:

November 16, 2017

The Exploration of Pluto by New Horizons

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Dr. Alan Stern

We are very excited to have Dr. Alan Stern speaking at our upcoming event!  Dr. Stern has been involved in many space missions over the course of his career, the most recent of which is the New Horizons mission that flew past Pluto in July 2015 for which he is the Principal Investigator. Dr. Stern's research has focused on studies of our Solar System's Kuiper belt and Oort Cloud, the satellites of the outer planets, comets, Pluto, and the search for planets around other stars. He has also worked on the theory of spacecraft rendevous, mesospheric clouds on the terrestrial planets, galactic astrophysics, and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres, including the atmosphere of the Moon. Throughout his career, Dr. Stern has helped to develop several scientific instruments for space-based satellite missions, particularly those that observe ultraviolet light. These instruments include those onboard the ESA/NASA Rosetta mission to comet 67P/C-G and the Mars Express satellite as well as the SWUIS ultraviolet imager, which has flown two Shuttle missions and was used to observe comet Hale-Bopp, the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, and a search for Vulcanoids (asteroids between the Sun and Mercury). Dr. Stern served as NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, a position that essentially made him NASA's top-ranking official for science, from 2007-2008, during which time a record 10 major new flight projects were started. In 2007, Stern was listed among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World.

The Exploration of Pluto by New Horizons

New Horizons is NASA’s mission to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. After a dramatic, 26-year effort to develop and fly the mission, New Horizons made the first exploration of Pluto and its moons in July of 2015. I will recount the history of the mission, review its historic encounter with planet Pluto, discuss the major scientific discoveries made to date, speak to the viral public reaction to this exploration, and outline the mission’s future plans for its extended mission to explore the Kuiper Belt and its next flyby in January of 2019.

November 6, 2017

Turning Stars Into Gold

New Vic Theater, 33 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

On August 17, for the first time in history, gravitational waves generated by two merging neutron stars were detected on Earth. An alert was sent to astronomers across the globe. Las Cumbres Observatory telescopes were one of the first to capture the flash from the "kilonova" explosion accompanying the merger. Come hear about this revolutionary discovery and how it is ushering in ​a new era in astronomy.

August 9, 2017

The Spinning Sun, The Twirling Stars

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Dr. Tim Brown

We are pleased that our own Dr. Tim Brown of Las Cumbres Observatory will be speaking at our event in August! Dr. Tim Brown is Principal Scientist at LCO and Adjunct Professor with the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Before joining LCO, he spent over 25 years with the High Altitude Observatory, a division of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and was concurrently an Adjoint Professor in the department of Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences, at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2016, Dr. Brown was awarded the prestigious James Craig Watson Medal for Astronomy by the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy awarded him this honor for “his visionary scientific and technical advancements that have been critical to the fields of helioseismology, asteroseismology, and the emerging field of spectroscopy of transiting exoplanets, and for his critical role in helping a new generation of scientists and facilities to succeed.”

The Spinning Sun, The Twirling Stars

All stars rotate.  The Sun spins roughly once per month;  some stars -- ones that are otherwise similar to the Sun --  spin several times per day. It turns out that this huge difference is related to age:  like people, young stars move faster than old ones.  But why?

A picture addressing this question is just now becoming clear. I will tell the story of how astronomers have gained this clarity, and what the picture is.  It describes a tangled relationship between the magnetic fields that cause sun- and starspots, rotation that carries spots around their stars, and the still-mysterious processes that drive stellar magnetic cycles.  Studying these phenomena has required all the tools of modern astronomy, from imaging of the Sun's outermost atmosphere (the same "solar corona" that will be on dramatic display in this month's solar eclipse), to supercomputer models, to space-based photometry.  Unexpectedly, the new understanding based on these studies suggests that our own Sun's magnetic behavior changed markedly at least once in the distant past, and that in the fairly near future it may change again.


May 17, 2017

Asteroids and Comets: Keeping an Eye on Things that Go Bump in the Night

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Dr. Amy Mainzer

We are pleased that Dr. Amy Mainzer will be speaking at our event in May!  Dr. Mainzer is the Principal Investigator of NEOWISE, a mission studying asteroids and comets using the reactivated Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite and run from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. She is also the Principal Investigator of Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam), a proposed NASA Discovery mission selected for extended Phase A study in January 2017. In 2012, Dr. Mainzer was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal. Her research interests include asteroids, brown dwarfs, planetary atmospheres, debris disks, star formation, and the design and construction of new ground- and space-based instrumentation. Dr. Mainzer has appeared a number of times in the History Channel series The Universe and events hosted by NASA TV.

Asteroids and Comets: Keeping an Eye on Things that Go Bump in the Night

The region near Earth is filled with remnants leftover from the solar system's formation long ago: asteroids and comets. Work is ongoing to catalog and track Earth-approaching objects, and to understand the frequency and energy with which they can potentially impact Earth. Much progress has been made in recent years, resulting in the discovery of the majority of near-Earth objects large enough to cause global devastation. However, more work remains to be done, as the majority of asteroids and comets large enough to cause severe regional damage have yet to be found. The process of searching for and characterizing Earth-approaching objects also teaches us about the rest of the asteroid and comet populations throughout the solar system, helping us understand its assembly and evolution.

February 22, 2017

Hearing the Stars

Fleischmann Auditorium, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara

FREE Planetarium show at 6:00pm

Lecture at 7:30 pm (Auditorium doors open at 6:45 pm), followed by a reception with the speaker

Viewing of the night sky provided by the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit.

We want to thank the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History for graciously providing the venue for this event.

Lars Bildsten

Professor Lars Bildsten

We are pleased that Prof. Lars Bildsten will be speaking at our event in February!  Prof. Bildsten is the Director of the Kavli Insitute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB. In January, he was awarded the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, awarded jointly by the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society. Bildsten has been recognized “for his leadership and observationally grounded theoretical modeling that has yielded fundamental insights into the physics of stellar structure and evolution, compact objects and stellar explosions.”

Hearing the Stars: New Insights into Stellar Interiors 

Space-based observations from the Kepler satellite have provided a remarkable new tool for studying stars. Simply by measuring how bright a star is over many years, we can now directly measure its mass, radius, rate of rotation, and sometimes, the magnetic field it possesses. This has now been done for tens of thousands of stars across the Milky Way, also allowing us to identify those few stars that are in short-lived phases of their evolution. It's a great story of how theory and observation, together, can make a remarkable impact on our understanding of the universe.

December 12, 2016

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

We are pleased that Prof. Tabetha Boyajian will be speaking at our event in December! Prof. Boyajian is an assistant professor at Louisiana State University studying the fundamental properties of stars and works to characterize the host stars of planets in other systems. She has recently studied a distant star known as KIC 8462852 whose light is being blocked by something massive. The cause of the blockage is something that remains a mystery to scienctists and many theories have been put forward, including the possibility of an alien megastructure. In February 2016, Prof. Boyajian gave a TED talk on this mysterious object and how scientists are looking for answers and testing their hypotheses on the cause of its brightness variation. Prof. Boyajian is also the manager of the Planet Hunters project, which utilizes citizen scientists to search for signals of planets among the Kepler space telescope data.

The Most Mysterious Star in the Galaxy


The NASA Kepler Mission provided 4 year long, ultra-precise light curves for over 150,000 stars - in hopes of finding the sign of transiting planets. In Kepler's field of view was KIC 8462852, a star that citizen scientists identified to have unusual, random patterns in its light curve. I will talk about the discovery, the current leading theories, and future work planned to study this star.

October 19, 2016

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Join us for an informal meet-and-greet with the speaker following the talk.

We are pleased to have Dr. Robert Kirshner speaking at our October event! Dr. Kirshner is a Harvard College Professor of Astronomy and Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University. He has authored over 200 research papers dealing with supernovae and observational cosmology. His work with the "High-Z Supernova Team" studying high-redshift supernovae and the acceleration of the universe that implies the existence of dark energy was dubbed the "Science Breakthrough of the Year for 1998" by Science Magazine. For this work, Dr. Kirshner and the High-Z Team were awarded the Gruber Prize for Cosmology in 2007.

Einstein's Blunder Undone: Exploding stars, Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe


Just 100 years ago, Albert Einstein invented a new theory of gravity: general relativity. When he applied it to the universe as a whole, he inserted a mathematical term, the cosmological constant, to account for a static universe. But within a decade, astronomers showed that the universe is not static, but expanding. Einstein discarded that cosmological constant, dubbed his "greatest blunder." But more recent observations of exploding stars halfway across the universe show that the universe is not only expanding, but the expansion is speeding up. We attribute this to a "dark energy" that is very much like Einstein's cosmological constant-- a mysterious repulsive energy that makes up 2/3 of the energy in the universe.

September 21, 2016

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Join us for an informal meet-and-greet with the speaker following the talk.

We are pleased to announce that former NASA astronaut Dr. Edward Lu will be speaking at our event in September! Dr. Lu spent 12 years of his career as a NASA astronaut, flying on three space missions and spending over 200 days in space. He was also one of the first astronauts to live on the International Space Station for a period of six months. He currently serves as Chief of Innovative Applications at Liquid Robotics, a company located in Silicon Valley that specializes in ocean data services and Chairman of B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goal is to predict and prevent catastrophic asteroid impacts on Earth.

Talk abstract:

Planetary Defense from Asteroids - Coming Soon to a Planet Near You

We are on the verge of having the capability to defend our planet from devastating asteroid impacts.  Advances in asteroid hunting telescopes will soon give us the ability to know of the potential for an impending asteroid impact decades before the impact, giving us time to gently nudge the asteroid so that it misses the Earth.  Surprisingly, the hardest part of this process may be the decision making required to protect the Earth.  

May 18, 2016

Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara

7:00 pm (Doors open at 6:30 pm)

Join us for an informal meet-and-greet with the speaker following the talk.

We are pleased to have Dr. Seth Shostak speaking at our first event! Dr. Shostak is a senior astronomer and the current director of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. He specializes in radio astronomy and astrobiology. Dr Shostak has published more than 300 popular articles on science and is the current host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science". Dr. Shostak will speak about his work at the SETI Institute and "Science Searches for E.T."

Talk abstract:

Despite a half-century of eavesdropping experiments, SETI researchers have failed to pluck a signal from the cosmos that would tell us that someone is out there.  What’s the game plan today, and how is it affected by the discovery of thousands of planets elsewhere in our galactic neighborhood?  What happens if a signal is found?  Also, how mirror-and-lens telescopes – even small ones – could help uncover evidence of cosmic confreres.