Speakers

Pamela Gay, Ph.D.  – A Brief History of Great Amateur Achievements in Science

Anyone with access to the sky has the potential to make a discovery. Some people lack luck. Some people don’t look up. Most people don’t make discoveries. Some people, however, rewrite science books with what they find. From finding planets, to observing emerging stars, to discovering the universe in new colors of light, everyday people have done extraordinary things year after decade after century. In this talk, we will take a whirlwind tour through the ways that individuals and teams of everyday people have worked to expand our understand of our cosmos. You can call them armchair scientists, amateur observers, or citizen scientists. What ever you name them, you can become part of their number. This talk will close with a discussion of all the ways you can become part of the scientific revolution in this new golden age of astronomy.

Bio:  I am an astronomer, writer, and podcaster focused on using new media to engage people in science and technology. I work as the Director of Technology and Citizen Science for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and I’m principal investigator of CosmoQuest. Through CosmoQuest.org, I work to engage people in both learning and doing science. Join me as we map our Solar System in unprecedented detail through our citizen science projects, and learn astronomy through media productions like Astronomy Cast. Through this weekly podcast, Fraser Cain and I take you on a facts-based journey through our Cosmos, exploring not only what we know, but how we know it.


Phil Plait, Ph.D. – Science Communication in the Age of Snapchat

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and good old TV: our attention is divided amongst so many different media outlets, and worse, some of them propagate misinformation and false facts. It is more important than ever to effectively communicate on science topics. But with so much competition, what’s the best way to engage? In this program Phil Plait, who has over 500,000 followers on Twitter, hosts a popular YouTube series, and is known for his social media presence, discusses different strategies to reach people. This informative and entertaining talk gives you some insight into getting the point across, encouraging everyone to be themselves and have fun while doing so.

Bio: For as long as he can remember, Dr. Phil Plait has been in love with science. “When I was maybe four or five years old, my dad brought home a cheapo department store telescope. He aimed it at Saturn that night. One look, and that was it. I was hooked,” he says.
After earning his doctorate in astronomy at the University of Virginia, he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope as a NASA contractor at the Goddard Space Flight Center. He began a career in public outreach and education with the Bad Astronomy website and blog, debunking bad science and popular misconceptions. The book Bad Astronomy was released in 2002, followed in 2008 by Death From The Skies! He can most recently be seen in “Crash Course Astronomy”, a 46-part educational web series he wrote and hosted that has over 20 million views. He hosted the TV show “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe” on the Discovery Channel in 2010 and was the head science writer for “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix, due out in 2017. Dr. Plait’s blog has been hosted by Discover Magazine and Slate, and is now on Syfy Wire.
Dr. Plait has given talks about science and pseudoscience across the US and internationally. He uses images, audio, and video clips in entertaining and informative multimedia presentations packed with humor and backed by solid science.
He has spoken at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute (home of Hubble), the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and many other world-class museums and planetaria, conferences, astronomy clubs, colleges & universities, and community groups. He has appeared on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Pax TV, Tech TV, Syfy, Radio BBC, Air America, NPR, and many other television and internet venues. His writing has appeared in Discover magazine, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy magazine, Night Sky magazine, Space.com, and more.


Bob Berman – Lessons from Hollywood: How to Create A Great Backyard Sky-Show

Friends, neighbors, or a school or scout group may come over to look through the old `scope — but how to best dazzle them? Here are easy secrets — some of them right out of Hollywood — for putting on an unforgettable laser-based or telescope “performance” — and winning valuable friends for astronomy. This lecture describes the best objects to offer for various-sized telescopes, and what NEVER to show. How many objects to offer, how to build up to an exciting climax, how to present subtle detail without losing your audience, and the inexpensive gadget every backyard astronomer should own.

Bio:  Bob Berman is one of the best-known and most widely-read astronomers in the world. He is perhaps uniquely able to translate complex scientific concepts into language that is understandable to the casual observer yet meaningful to the most advanced. His dry, edgy wit engages readers of such diverse publications as Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, and The Old Farmers Almanac. He is the author of eight books, and is the astronomer for SLOOH, the community observatory. His newest book is “Zoom, How Everything Moves“.

He runs Overlook Observatory at his home in Woodstock, New York, USA. He was an adjunct professor of astronomy at the liberal arts college, Marymount Manhattan College, from 1996 to 2000 and has appeared on CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and the Late Show with David Letterman.


Bob King – Summer Celestial Showstoppers: Getting the Public Excited about the Night Sky

This summer will be an exceptional one for planets with Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars all visible in the evening sky. Mars will also be at its closest to Earth since 2003. Along with returning comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner and a favorable Perseid meteor shower, there’s no better time to engage the public in the night sky. We’ll look at key weekends for observing, good locations for sidewalk astronomy and provide tips on contacting local media to get the word out.

Bio:  Bob King has enjoyed the night sky and astronomy since childhood but chose photojournalism as his vocation and made the stars his lifetime hobby. He grew up in Illinois and received a teaching degree in German from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Because photography was another early passion, he worked as a photographer at a newspaper in Champaign before moving to Duluth to work at the News Tribune, where he’s been the photo editor since 1990.  He writes a regular astronomy blog called Astro Bob and teaches community education astronomy classes at the UMD planetarium. Bob also writes for the online astronomy websites Sky & Telescope and Universe Today. He lives in Duluth with his wife Linda and has two children, Katie and Maria.  His book “Night Sky with the Naked Eye” is an activity-based book aimed at both beginning and amateur astronomers. In it he guides readers to all the wonderful things visible in the night sky without special equipment. His second book, “Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die,” is a bucket list of must-see night sky sights.


Dave Tosteson – Connecting with the Deep Sky

My presentation will be on visual deep-sky observing, encouraging amateurs to push the limit of what can be seen at the eyepiece. I will use examples of the process of how I pick unusual and interesting targets, and how I go about preparing and observing them. Also, I will discuss how to keep accurate records for communication and possible use in future writings.

Bio:  I’ve been interested in all things space since 5 years old. I started astronomy as a hobby after my education and training, at age 29. Deep space visual observing has always been my passion, starting with a 10″ reflector in 1985, and graduating to an 18″, 25″, and now a 32″ scope since 2005. I try to push the limits of what can be seen at the eyepiece, and have observed galaxies in the Hubble Deep and Ultra Deep Fields, a gravitationally lensed arc, brown dwarf stars, and quasars at progressively higher redshifts to my recent record of z=6.30. I have been writing articles for newsletters and local newspapers, plus Sky & Telescope, the Reflector, Deep Sky Observer (Webb Society, Britain) and Amateur Astronomy since 2009. I have been an invited speaker at the Texas and Okie-Tex Star Parties, and several previous ALCONs. I have been a member of the Minnesota Astronomical Society since 1985, and enjoy traveling to Total Solar Eclipses with my wife Monica.


Ron Schmit – Outreach: Making the Cosmic Connection

“​For everyone, as I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” ​~ ​Plato
Back even further than that time, we knew, and I know not how or why, that we were citizens of the cosmos. We​ ​​all feel it, like a nagging urge, when we look into the night sky. ​​It doesn’t matter our age, our status,​ or our education​; w​e all feel this pull. It is this universal attraction​ which drives me to share the sky with others. I do that through outreach – the outstretched arm of our organization​ -​ which invites the public ​to view, to ask,​ ​to explore, and to learn. Through this process, we don’t hope to impress, or beguile. Our mission is to open them up to a new awareness; to reconsider their place is this world, through a cosmological context. Whether ​with a green laser, a telescope,​ ​​or a planetarium projector, I am ​just a doorman, holding open the hatchway and inviting all inside. I’ve played this role in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for over 30 years. ​​Allow ​me to share what I have learned in that time, and how you too can ​reach out to those in your community.

Bio:  Ron Schmit has been an astronomy educator in the Twin Cities for over 30 years. He has taught at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Planetarium, the Minnesota Astronomical Society, and the Eisenhower Observatory. He has participated in the “Girls in Space” program with the Girl Scouts of Amercia and is a Solar System Ambassador with JPL/NASA. He is currently the Observatory Coordinator at Jackson Middle School​, in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.​ His quest to explore the heavens has always included the desire to help others – to open them up to the wonders of the cosmos.


Lou Mayo – NASA’s Space Science Education Program and the NASA – AL Partnership

NASA through its Science Mission Directorate has made a significant commitment of resources and man power to nationwide science education, outreach, and literacy. To accomplish this, we develop partnerships with academia, industry, and professional societies with nationwide reach into targeted populations to act as ambassadors for NASA space and Earth science mission stories of discovery. We also utilize cutting edge technology and communication infrastructures to achieve the highest level of visibility and adoption of our programs.

In this talk, I will outline the NASA SMD education program and how NASA and the Astronomical League are working together to engage the country in the many wonders of our universe.

Bio:  Lou Mayo is a planetary scientist at NASA, professor of astronomy at Marymount University, and Program Manager for the NASA Space Science Education Forum. He is an accomplished science education specialist having lectured, worked, and written extensively in the space science education field in the areas of Astrophysics and Astrobiology, Planetary Science, and Heliophysics. Additionally, he has over 30 years experience in planetary research and mission science serving on Voyager and Cassini instrument teams studying the atmospheres of the outer planets.


Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D. – Galaxy Clusters: An Achromatic View of Dynamic Worlds

A large fraction of galaxies are collected into clusters that each can contain hundreds of galaxies and span several million light years. These clusters are the most massive gravitationally bound structures in the universe. Our own Milky Way lives in a smallish group of a few dozen galaxies dominated by the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. Massive clusters have formed only relatively recently in cosmological terms, as their gravity locally overcame the expansion of the universe. Sometimes they grow violently in merging collisions with other clusters, but more commonly they grow relatively steadily by accretion of matter from their surroundings. Remarkably, and despite their impressive visibility, the namesake galaxies actually contribute only about a percent to total cluster masses, which are dominated by the still-unidentified “dark matter”. Even most of the “ordinary matter” in clusters (about 10% of the total mass) is spread between the galaxies in the form of ionized gas at temperatures of tens of millions of degrees. That gas is strongly stirred by the galaxies and other phenomena. Its dynamical states offer some of the best clues to how clusters form and evolve. In this talk I will outline what we know about the makeup of galaxy clusters, how they form, how we know those things and lay out some of the current puzzles about clusters that cost astronomers sleep.

Bio: Professor of Physics and Astronomy – University of Minnesota

Research Interests:

Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics:

  • Acceleration of Cosmic Rays in Multiple Contexts,
  • Magnetohydrodynamics,
  • Supernova Remnant Dynamics
  • Radio Galaxy Dynamics
  • Galaxy Clusters

Pranvera Hyseni – Little Things Make a Big Difference

Sponsored by the Jack Horkheimer, Stargazer, Charitable Fund

Pranvera’s presentation “Little Things Make a Big Difference” is about the history of astronomy in Kosovo during the last few decades and how AOK’s STEM activities are improving scientific literacy to a young generation, by providing free activities in schools and universities. It is her mission to educate and inspire others in order to change the world.

Bio: Pranvera Hyseni is the “Founder and Director” of the Astronomy Outreach of Kosovo (AOK) which is the largest non-profit astronomy outreach program in the Republic of Kosovo now in its first decade of independence after the armed conflict.
Often seen on television and is an icon of social media, Pranvera and her organization have received several recognition awards. Selected as one of 24 winners in the world for The Mars Generation’s “24 Under 24 Leaders and Innovators in STEAM and Space Award”


Brandon Hamil – The Traveling Astronomer

This entertaining and fast-paced astronomy talk will center around unique astronomy experiences that anyone can participate in if they just venture out onto the road. This country is big and filled with amazing astronomical experiences that simply await your arrival.

Throughout the course of Brandon’s extensive national travel, he has met many astronomy celebrities, leading authorities in our field, and owners and leaders of a wide-variety of astronomy companies. During this presentation, you will hear about some of these people, several unique telescopic observing experiences that you too can seek out, and numerous astronomy related facilitates that you simply must visit! Bottom-line: traveling can add adventures to stargazing and offer dividends to your hobby that are simply not available in your own backyards!

Bio: Brandon Hamil is a frequent and sought-after speaker at astronomy clubs around the country. He is a dinosaur – a strictly visual astronomy observer, but a true astronomy enthusiast who enjoys ALL aspects of his time at the eyepiece.  He is a member of the Minnesota Astronomical Society’s ALCON 2018 planning committee and was instrumental in his club landing the ability to host this upcoming Astro League’s national event.  Brandon is a frequent participant in public outreach and star parties.

When Brandon is not enjoying astronomy, he can be found pursuing a few of his other passions including his family, track and field (his favorite sport), The Alley Lutheran Church and being a Current Events/News Junkie! Professionally his entire career has been in financial services. He is married to Carolyn (his college sweetheart) from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.  The couple have two teenaged children, Justin (an avid high school baseball player) and Rachel (who enjoys basketball). Justin no longer does backyard astronomy with Dad since Justin’s free time is now consumed with playing Xbox online with his buddies, but Rachel still enjoys accompanying him to star parties with her very own telescope. The family resides under the light polluted skies of St. Paul, MN suburbia.


Jay McLaren, Ph.D. – The Eye as an Astronomic Instrument

Our skills at seeing faint wisps of light with subtle shapes and delicate structures are not automatic, but come with practice. We can become better observers if we understand how we see and use our most important observational tool, our eyes. Our eyes serve two important functions, optical and sensory. The cornea and crystalline lens behave as a complex optical system that collects light and focuses an image on the retina. It can focus distant objects in the sky and quickly change its focal length to view objects on the table in front of us, and it does so automatically. As a sensory system, the retina responds to the pattern of light in the image and communicates details of the image to the brain where this activity becomes our visual perception. The retina does not simply repeat the image, but it extracts features such as edges, objects, color, movement, and texture, before it sends this information to the brain.

In our astronomical observations, our perception is influenced by many of the properties of the eye and the visual system. Dark adaptation reflects the time needed to recover sensitivity of photoreceptors, the cells that sense light, after exposure to bright light. These cells work well under a wide range of lighting conditions, from bright snow at midday to dim moonlight at midnight. Viewing charts in red light allows us to preserve night vision in receptor cells that are not sensitive to red. Variations in sensitivity and structure across the retina make the appearance of faint objects, such as the blinking nebula, change depending on whether we look directly at them or slightly to the side. This review of vision and the process of seeing will provide an understanding of many phenomenon that we experience at the eyepiece. If we understand how we see, we will better understand what we see and we will become better observers.

Bio:  Jay W. McLaren, Ph.D. is a Professor of Ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. He has spent his professional career studying physiologic properties of the eye, fluid dynamics and pressures in the eye as they relate to glaucoma, cornea structure and disease, and physiologic optics. Non-invasive measurements have been a special area of interest, including measurement of fluid turnover in the anterior segment of the eye, monitoring intraocular pressure by telemetry, and assessing cell and nerve densities in the corneas of patients. Dr. McLaren has B.A. degree in Physics and Mathematics from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and earned his Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He recently retired from his research position and spends time volunteering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and local parks.

Jay became interested in amateur astronomy in the mid 1980’s, when Haley’s Comet was last visible. He has completed the Messier, Caldwell Silver, and Hershel 400 Astronomical League Observing Programs and all of his observations have been visual and by star-hopping. He currently uses a 12-inch Orion Dobsonian telescope.


Richard Schmude Jr. – The Polar Regions of Mars

During 2018 we will have the opportunity to study both the shrinking South Polar Cap and the changing North Polar Hood. I plan to give an overview of our current knowledge of the polar regions of Mars. Some topics will include: year-to-year changes in the polar caps, sizes of the polar hoods and polar region storms. I will then give the audience a time table of events which will occur during the second half of 2018. This should help people with their Mars pins and to better study the planet. Finally, I will present some questions which I hope amateur astronomers will help answer regarding the polar regions of Mars.

Bio:  Richard Schmude, Jr. was born on June 18, 1958 in Washington DC. He attended public schools in Maryland, Los Angeles and Houston. He attended a local community college and then transferred to Texas A&M University. He earned bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry and Physics. He then earned both a Master’s degree in chemistry (under the guidance of Dr. Jaan Laane) and a Ph D degree in physical chemistry (under the guidance of Dr. Karl Gingerich). Since 1994, he has been teaching at Gordon State College in Barnesville, Georgia. His research areas include measuring the brightness of the planets and analyzing images mostly of Mars and Jupiter. He is currently the Executive Director of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers. He is also the coordinator of the Remote Planets Section and assistant coordinator of the Mars and Jupiter sections of the ALPO. He is also a member of the Flint River Astronomy club.


Cristin Finnigan – Space Law 101: The Basics

Space activity is governed by international treaties as well as national legislation, and as we see a shift in space exploration from government-led operations to commercial ventures, the interplay between the two may be changing. We will briefly examine the history of how space law was developed, how it helped shape some of the early space programs, and where it is headed in the future (and possible implications for activities such as asteroid mining, human settlement, and on-orbit satellite servicing).

Bio:  Cristin Finnigan has been a space enthusiast since she saw Halley’s Comet when she was six years old. She was so excited about it, she started checking out books about space and astronomy from her elementary school on library day; drawing and labeling “diagrams” of planets, stars, and comets; and calling it her “research.” That excitement was reinforced when her dad took her to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama a few years later. From then on, she has kept her eyes to the sky.

Cristin turned her love of research into a career as a paralegal. She is currently a student in the University of North Dakota’s Space Studies Master of Science program focusing in space law and policy. She is the AIAA Region V Deputy Director – Public Policy and Twin Cities Section Public Policy Officer, a volunteer in JPL’s Solar System Ambassadors Program, and is collaborating as a co-founder of a robotics fabrication shop in the Minneapolis area.


Terry Jones, Ph.D. – Mass Loss in Hypergiants

Hypergiants are among the most luminous and massive stars known. They lose over half their mass during the later stages of their lives, profoundly affecting the surrounding interstellar medium. I will discuss how astronomers are using new techniques and instruments on large telescopes to study these enigmatic stars.

Bio:  Professor of Physics and Astronomy – University of Minnesota

Research interests:

  • Infrared Astronomy
  • Polarimetry
  • Interstellar medium
  • Galaxies

Clement Pryke, Ph.D. – Pursing the shadows of gravitational waves from the beginning of time from the South Pole

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the thermal glow from the Big Bang birth of our Universe. Studying its pattern has taught us an enormous amount about the content, evolution and fate of the  universe in which we find ourselves. Basic theory allows us to push our understanding back to an enormously high energy state, and a very particular set of conditions which apparently applied at that time. However, we need a much more radical theory dubbed “Inflation” to explain how those conditions were set up. If inflation did in fact occur it will have launched into the fabric of spacetime a background of gravitational waves, and searching for this signal is currently one of the most important quests in all of cosmology. The world leader in this field are the BICEP/Keck series of experiments which are located at the South Pole in Antarctica. This talk will describe the cosmological paradigm, the basics of the CMB, and then move on to how our telescopes work and how we search for inflationary gravitational waves.

Bio:  Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy – University of Minnesota

Research interests:

  • Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Cosmic microwave background

Pryke is an experimental cosmologist and educator. His research currently centers on the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the after glow from early times when the Universe was a smooth hot plasma. By studying the CMB we can learn much about the origin, contents and ultimate fate of the Universe – CMB studies are at the center of the current “golden age” of cosmology. Pryke has played a leading role in the construction and operation of a series of CMB telescopes cited at the South Pole in Antarctica, and the analysis of the data they produce.He was a key member of the DASI team which produced the first detection of the polarization of the CMB. He then went on to co-lead the QUaD experiment – another ground breaking CMB polarimeter. Currently he is co-leading the BICEP2 amd Keck-Array experiments which take sensitivity to the next level in the quest to detect gravity waves spawned by inflation in the first instant after the big bang. Pryke is also a member of the SZA and SPT collaborations which are using the CMB as a “backlight” to study the evolution of massive clusters of galaxies and learn about the mysterious dark energy which appears to pervade empty space.


Evan Skillman, Ph.D. – The Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury Program

The Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury program (PHAT) was one of three large, multi-cycle Hubble Space Telescope projects.  The program imaged ~1/3 of M31’s star-forming disk in six filters. PHAT allowed the construction of a stellar cluster catalog using image classifications collected from the Andromeda Project citizen science website. The Andromeda Project enabled the largest systematic study of the distribution of the initial masses of stars. The data imply no significant dependencies of the distribution of initial masses on cluster age, mass, or size, providing direct observational evidence of a universal distribution.

Bio:  Professor/Director of Physics and Astronomy – University of Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics

Research interests: 

  • Chemical abundances,
  • Star formation,
  • Evolution of galaxies.

Lawrence Rudnick, Ph.D. – Too Good to be True?

When we look around the universe, we find, in the words of Freeman Dyson, that it “must have known that we were coming.” What did this prominent theoretical physicist mean by that extraordinary statement? In what way do the properties of the universe, the values of fundamental constants, and even physical laws themselves seem tuned to our existence. We’ll look from our solar system out to the Big Bang, and examine the question of whether we’re special, or an accident, or? Spoiler alert — we won’t answer the question, but we’ll explore a number of interesting issues along the way.

Bio:  Lawrence Rudnick is a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Minnesota. His research is primarily on clusters of galaxies and large scale structure in the universe, explored through radio and X-ray observations. He is also involved with work on radio galaxies, and helping design and carry out a new generation of large scale surveys. He has worked in a variety of public education activities, including teacher training programs and a long run on public television’s Newton’s Apple. And after 27 years of toiling for a new major planetarium in the Twin Cities, he will be celebrating this weekend the opening of the new Bell Museum, with its digital theater and space-related exhibits.