Multi-colored galaxy

2016-2017 Frontiers of Astronomy Lecture Series: “Our Future Off‐Earth”

In cooperation with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Astronomical Society, the Department of Astronomy—through the support of the Arthur S. Holden, Sr. Endowment—is sponsoring the 2016-2017 Frontiers of Astronomy Lecture Series, featuring free lectures by renowned astronomers from across the country.

The fourth speaker in the series is Christopher Impey from the University of Arizona. On Thursday, March 9, at 8 p.m. at the museum, Impey will present “Our Future Off‐Earth.”

The Space Age is half-century old. Its early successes were driven by a fierce superpower rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States, which tended to obscure the fact that exploration and risk‐taking are built into human DNA. Decades after we last set foot on the moon, and several years after the Space Shuttle was retired, space activity is leaving the doldrums.

A vibrant private sector, led by SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, plans to launch supplies cheaply into Earth orbit and give anyone the chance of a sub-orbital joyride. New materials are being developed that could lead to space elevators and transform the economics of space travel. Fighting gravity will always be difficult, but engineers are rethinking rockets and developing new propulsion technologies. Permanent bases on the moon and Mars are now within reach, and a new space race is brewing with the Asian countries ascendant. Medical advances might even allow us to reach for the stars.

Impey’s talk will review the history and landmarks of the international space program, give a snapshot of the current dynamic situation and plot the trajectory of the future of space travel. The time has come to envision our future off‐Earth.

Impey is a University Distinguished Professor and deputy head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. He has more than 170 refereed publications on observational cosmology, galaxies and quasars, and his research has been supported by $20 million in grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). He has won 11 teaching awards and teaches an online class with more than 13,000 people enrolled.

Impey is a past vice president of the American Astronomical Society and has been an NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar and the Carnegie Council’s Arizona Professor of the Year. He has written more than 40 popular articles on cosmology and astrobiology, two introductory textbooks, a novel and five popular science books: The Living Cosmos (2007, Random House), How It Ends (2010, Norton), How It Began (2012, Norton), Dreams of Other Worlds (2013, Princeton) and Humble Before the Void (2014, Templeton), with two more in preparation. Find more information on Impey’s publications.

Impey also will give a special astronomy colloquium titled “Science Literacy in the MOOC Era” Thursday, March 9, at 2:30 p.m. in the Sears Building, Room 552. In a world shaped by science and technology, the persistently low level of science literacy of the general public is a cause for concern. This talk will look at the science knowledge and beliefs of undergraduates, using an instrument tethered in the biennial surveys conducted by the NSF for the National Science Board. Even after taking several science courses, many students have only a vague idea of how science works, and their habits of mind are influenced by pseudoscience and easy access to online information of dubious quality. The next frontier of science education is online learning, but only if ways can be found to increase engagement and use high-quality pedagogy. The role of MOOCs, or massive open online classes, in science literacy will be considered.

More information on the Frontiers series is available at the Frontiers of Astronomy page and the Astronomy Colloquium page.