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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Public Star Night at the Little Thompson Observatory

Public Star Night at the Little Thompson Observatory

Friday, September 17, 2010
7:00 – 11:00 p.m

850 Spartan Ave at Berthoud High School (park east of the high school)
Directions are posted on the website,

The guest speaker for this Friday is Dr. John Bally, of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, University of Colorado in Boulder. The title of his talk will be: “The birth of stars and planets.”

The last decade has seen remarkable progress in our understanding of stellar and planetary birth. Stars form from the gravitational collapse of dense, dusty, and cold cores of predominantly molecular gas. Most Galactic star formation occurs in rich clusters and transient associations containing hundreds to thousands of sibling objects. Massive stars in the birth environment of low-mass stellar systems can have a profound impact on their formation and evolution. Their intense UV radiation, winds, and explosions can be both destructive and constructive. While massive stars tend to destroy their parent molecular clouds, their UV radiation may also trigger the gravitational collapse of adjacent cloud cores and stimulate further star formation. Exposure of proto-planetary disks to such UV radiation may promote the growth of kilometer-sized planetisimals, thereby solving one of the thorniest problems in planet formation – the transformation of gravel-sized solids of ice and rock into self-gravitating bodies whose collisions eventually lead to the growth of planetary systems. The supernovae explosions of these massive stars can contaminate planetary systems forming nearby with various radioactive species essential for the development of life-sustaining planetary systems such as ours.

John Bally did his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, and obtained his PhD at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, earning his PhD in millimeter-wave radio astronomy in 1980. He joined AT&T Bell Laboratories for 11 years as a Member of Technical Staff, working in the Radio Physics Research Department at Crawford Hill in Holmdel NJ with the group that discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background.

While at AT&T, he studied interstellar molecular clouds; the outflows and jets produced by forming stars, and built sensitive mm-wave receivers. He participated in several expeditions to the South Pole in Antarctica to set-up the first permanent astronomical observatory there.

Since 1991, he has been a professor of astrophysics in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has made extensive use of the world’s major observatories such as the Hubble, the facilities of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, and the facilities on Mauna Kea in Hawaii such as Gemini and Caltech Sub-millimeter Observatory.

His current research includes the formation of stars and planetary systems, the first blind search for dense, dusty clumps that may soon or are currently forming clusters of stars. During the last decade he has concentrated on massive star and cluster formation.

He has recently re-kindled his interests in cosmology and is exploring the Lee Smolin hypothesis of “cosmic natural selection” in which black holes produce Universes. This theory may provide an `explanation’ for the so-called anthropic principle and for the small but non-zero value of the cosmological constant. This highly speculative and “risky” research direction is a natural outgrowth of his interest in massive stars, the most massive of which form stellar-mass black holes at the ends of their lives.

John Bally is an avid skier, and owns a home in Breckenridge, CO where he operates a small observatory.

Weather permitting after the presentation; visitors will be invited to look through our large telescope at various celestial objects. Public star nights are held the third Friday of each month (except July, when we are closed for annual maintenance). No reservations are necessary for these nights. Just come and join us for the talk and some observing afterwards. If you have any questions, please call the observatory information line at 970-613-7793 or check the LTO web site at:


Meinte Veldhuis,

President, Little Thompson Science Foundation

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