LCO’s Astro on Tap Anniversary & Fund for Maui

By Joanne A Calitri   |   September 5, 2023
Las Cumbres Observatory scientists Emily Manne-Nicholas, Andy Howell, and Curtis McCully (photo

The Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) celebrated its one-year anniversary of “Astronomy on Tap” at the M. Special Brewing Company State Street taproom, on August 24. The back patio bar was packed with scientists, astronomers, students, and budding Jedi Knights in training, some with their pets, gathered to hear the presentations by Senior Astro-data Scientist Curtis McCully PhD, Senior Scientist and UCSB Adjunct Faculty Andrew Howell PhD, and Telescope Operations Scientist Emily Manne-Nicholas PhD. Those sporting any space-themed wardrobe elements were awarded a free LCO poster of a space event of their choice. Donations were taken for raffle prizes, like the coveted LCO beer glass.

At the event, LCO was raising funds for Maui and matching donations via Aloha United Way 211 Resource Helpline. LCO’s formal statement: “Las Cumbres Observatory operates an observatory on the island of Maui on Mount Haleakalā. This site is the home of our two-meter Faulkes Telescope North and two of our 0.4-meter telescopes. We are all deeply saddened by the devastation caused by the wildfires in this special place. LCO employs two people on Maui who manage the site and tend the telescopes. They and their families are safe and are assisting in the recovery efforts. The observatory itself has had power restored and was reopened for observations.”

Starting off wasMcCully, who led the research team that discovered significant data on the thermonuclear supernova SN 2012Z in Galaxy NGC 1309. Following the Hubble Space Telescope data, they found that the star not only survived the explosion, it became brighter than before. Note: Supernovas are catastrophic explosions of stars. 

He provided, “Observations were first taken in 2005. It exploded in 2012, followed by observations in 2016 and 2019. This was the first time that the progenitor star of a white dwarf supernova had been identified. What we are observing and never expected, is a star that survived a supernova and was brighter. When the white dwarf explodes, the explosion collides with the companion star heating it up and making it brighter. We expect to see this effect when we come back and observe it again. We are hoping in a year to schedule the next viewing with the only telescope right now that can observe it: the Hubble telescope. It is approximately 100 million light years from Earth. To demonstrate how difficult it is to measure, it is similar to viewing three inches of an object in NYC from Santa Barbara.”

Manne-Nicholas and Howell presented the humor of science vs. the media. Topics included Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks (12P)’s noted “horns,” explained via two hypotheses: the comet was impacted and Manne-Nicholas’ personal favorite, due to cryovolcanism. She also discussed the enormous amount of space debris – approximately 27,000 pieces being tracked by the Department of the Defense with 23,000 larger than a softball, thus punctuating the Kessler Syndrome. The debris are yet to be cleaned up and methods proposed to do so, however, not currently successful. She postulated that whoever is responsible for launching craft into space is also responsible to take it down properly. 

Howell did not disappoint with his rants on SpaceX launching Starlink satellites from Vandenberg on the Falcon 9 rocket, of which he states there are now 4,500 satellites in orbit via Elon Musk. He argues it pollutes the sky and messes with astronomy. Next was the age of the universe controversy delineated at 26.7 billion years by the University of Ottawa, rather than the known fact of 13.8 billion years. In addition to the media’s sensationalism of it, Howell brought in statements from Joe Rogan, Twitter, Reddit, and noting even Google states it erroneously, adding Google only gets the answer wrong in English, not in Spanish. His final rant was on science fact versus the media in the case made by Grusch to Congress who claimed aliens exist and world governments are hiding aliens and their technology in a Cold War for over 90 years.

Howell fielded questions and concluded the event he was asked, “Andy are you an alien who is here to debunk any news of aliens on Earth?” to wit – pun intended – he stated emphatically, “Not at all, I wish I could as a scientist verify it so I would win a Nobel Prize and make billions of dollars! I’m not saying there are no UFOs or aliens, I’m saying it has not been proven via science to date!”

In addition to the presenters, representing LCO at the event were its Director Dr. Lisa Storrie-Lombardi with her husband astrobiologist Dr. Michael Storrie-Lombardi, scientist Dr. Tim Lister, Director of Development Dr. Sandy Seale, and Post-Doc Researcher and Software Engineer Joey Chatelain.  



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