Nerenberg Lecture 2009

Nerenberg 2009 poster

Nerenberg Lecture 2009:

Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 7:30 PM in Conron Hall (University College 224)

Sunspots, Murder, Whiskey, and Witchcraft

Dr. Sallie Baliunas
Astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Former Deputy Director of the Mount Wilson Observatory
Discover Magazine: One of America's outstanding women scientists
Science advisor, Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict



Premise: Through the complex mechanisms of magnetohydrodynamics, the Sun generates magnetic fields that produce regions on the Sun's surface that are cooler than their surroundings. This makes them appear as dark spots to us, varying in size from the smallest observable scales to ones with the diameter of the Earth. Sunspots have been observed by telescope since the early 17th century, and records have been kept of their numbers ever since. That number usually varies in cycles of about 11 years, but the peak intensity of the sunspot cycle also changes. The number of sunspots decreased to expected low values in 2007, but unexpectedly the number still has not risen again as it should. Where are the missing sunspots and what might their absence mean? Answering that question leads not just to the physics of other stars and exoplanets, but on a path through history taking us from witchcraft laws, to whiskey and the forensics of ancient murders.

Bio: Dr. Sallie Baliunas received her AM and PhD degrees in Astrophysics from Harvard University, where she is now an Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She was awarded the Newton-Lacy-Pierce Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Bok Prize from Harvard University, as well as the Chris Award from the Columbus International Film and Video Festival. She served as Deputy Director at Mount Wilson Observatory from 1991 - 2002 and currently leads the International Astronomical Union's Working Group, Astronomy from the Moon. She hosted two science series for the Annenberg Channel, Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science, and Science in Focus: Energy, whose episode Force and Motion, received the Remi Bronze Award. In 1991, Discover magazine profiled her as one of America's outstanding women scientists. From 1997 - 2000 she was the science advisor for the science-fiction television series, Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict. She works on solar change and its influence on terrestrial ecosystems, magnetohydrodynamics of stars, exoplanets and laser electro-optics for the correction of turbulence in the earth's atmosphere that blurs astronomical images.