The Universe Tonight

Nov 5, 2011 6:00pm
Hoku Ke'a

The Universe Tonight

Dr. Josh Walawander


The Dynamic Universe: Star Formation


Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, can be seen streaming across the sky in the early evening in winter and summer from here in Hawaii.  This "river of stars", made up of billions of distant suns, is marred by dark patches where the light of those distant stars is blocked by clouds of interstellar dust.  This dust is the raw material of star birth.
In the densest clumps within these interstellar clouds, hundreds or even thousands of stars of different sizes and colors are born in these stellar nurseries.  Although the process of stellar birth takes millions of years, we can look up at the night sky and see many of these regions at various "ages" and piece together the story of the early life of a star.
Come explore this process of star birth on Saturday, November 5 at 6:00 PM at the Ellison Onizuka Center for International Astronomy and Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Mauna Kea when University of Hawaii at Hilo astronomer Dr. Josh Walawender will present the monthly Universe Tonight talk.  His talk, entitled "The Dynamic Universe:  Star Formation", will explore process of star birth using objects which can be seen in small telescopes as illustrations and examples.  The goal of this talk is to link astrophysical processes with what we can see with our eyes using small telescopes.  Why do these objects look the way they do?
We will explore the early phases of star birth when the young stars are still shrouded in their parent gas cloud.  As these stars age and grow, they will destroy their parent cloud through stellar winds, radiation, and supernovae.  At this stage, they are sometimes visible as spectacular emission nebulae such as the Great Nebula in Orion which will be prominent in Hawaii's sky that night.  As groups of young stars evolve, they will emerge from their parent cloud and be visible as a scattering of jewel-like points of light cast against the backdrop of a black sky.  These "open clusters" still represent young stars. 
Our Sun was once part of one of these stellar nurseries, and later, part of a cluster of stars.  Now, roughly 5 billion years later, its stellar siblings have all drifted away, but we can watch as other stars are born and evolve and use them to understand our own star's origin.
After the talk, there will be telescopic viewing using telescopes provided by the VIS.  Dr. Walawender will be available after the talk for questions and to show visitors more of the objects discussed in the talk.
Dr. Josh Walawender is an astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the director of UH Hilo's new Hoku Ke'a instructional telescope.  He earned his bachelors degree at the University of California at Berkeley and his PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Prior to joining the faculty at UH Hilo, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the UH Institute for Astronomy in Hilo.  Josh has been an avid amateur astronomer since childhood and still enjoys monthly observing sessions under the Big Island's pristine skies.


On the first Saturday of each month, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) hosts The Universe Tonight, a special presentation on the current research and discoveries occurring on Mauna Kea. The presentation begins at 6:00 PM and is followed by the regular evening stargazing program at the VIS.

The Universe Tonight typically features an astronomer from one of the observatories on Mauna Kea giving a presentation on recent observations and discoveries from their telescope. Observatories are on a rotating schedule. If you would like to know about upcoming presentations, please call the VIS at (808) 961-2180 during operational hours.

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