Our 31st Season on the Mountain

Apr 13: Exoplanets

In the last decade, the commissioning of new observatories (both on Earth and in space) and the development of new techniques for analyzing large datasets (including the application of deep learning) have allowed dramatic advancements in our understanding of extrasolar planets. This talk will explore how exoplanets are formed, what techniques allow their discovery, and why they have been fundamental to understanding our place in the Universe.

Our speaker, Dr. Megan Ansdell, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley's Center for Integrative Planetary Sciences.

Dr. Megan Ansdell

Megan Ansdell

May 11: Largest 3D Cosmic Maps

The last century has seen a revolution in our understanding of the cosmos, including its age — 13.8 billion years — and content: 95% dark matter & dark energy, with only 5% normal matter! To test cosmology theories and to grasp how stars and galaxies formed, UC Berkeley collaborates world-wide to make huge 3D maps of hydrogen, the most abundant cosmic element.

Our speaker, Dr. Josh Dillon, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the UC Berkeley Astronomy Department.

Dr. Josh Dillon

Josh Dillon

Jun 8: Gravitational Lensing: Bends in Spacetime ~ CANCELED

100 years ago, Einstein predicted that light rays would deviate from straight-line paths in the space near massive objects. Today, we use this fact to weigh galaxies, discover planets of other stars, and “see” invisible black holes. How did this idea of gravitational lensing come about, and how do we use it today to probe all fields of astrophysics?

Fatima Abdurrahman, Doctoral Candidate, Astronomy Department, UC Berkeley

Fatima Abdurrahman

Jul 13: Saturn Spectacular

The Cassini space probe’s 13-year exploration of Saturn stands as the most successful interplanetary mission in NASA history. Its "Grand Finale” (with dives off the outer ring edge, and between inner rings & cloud tops) culminated with a death-plunge into Saturn’s depths. Insights earned during these maneuvers bring Saturn's complex glory into focus as never before.

Our speaker, Dr. Matthew Tiscareno, is Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute's Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

Dr. Matthew Tiscareno

Matthew Tiscareno

Aug 10: When Worlds Collide

Planet Earth is regularly being struck by interplanetary debris: fine dust, rocks, boulders (big enough to outshine the Sun as they streak through the atmosphere), asteroids, comets, and even small stray planets. Some of these collision events offer glorious night-time views; others can cause planetary annihilation. Infall of secondary debris ("shrapnel" from the original impact) can raise atmospheric temperatures by hundreds of degrees, globally.

Our speaker, Dr. Kevin Zahnle, is Planetary Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center.

Dr. Kevin Zahnle

Kevin Zahnle


The first human mission to Mars will be our greatest adventure of the 21st-century. As with all expeditions, its success will depend on planning. The first steps are already under way: achieving longer spaceflight missions, planning for deep space journeys beyond the Moon, and exploring extreme terrestrial environments as Mars “analogs.” NASA'S Pascal Lee will discuss progress made around the world — from the Arctic to Antarctica, from basement labs to the International Space Station — to achieve the first human voyage to Mars. He will explore the what, why, how, when, and who of our first journey to the Red Planet.

Dr. Pascal Lee is a planetary scientist at the Mars Institute and at the SETI Institute. He also directs the Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center.

Dr. Pascal Lee

Pascal Lee

Sep 21: The Martian

MOVIE NIGHT: 2015 film starring Matt Darron, depicts the struggle of an astronaut left behind on Mars as he awaits rescue. Post-screening discussion by Jeffrey Silverman of Science vs Cinema.

The Martian

Oct 5: Illuminating Dark Matter ~ RESCHEDULED to Apr 18, 2020

Dark matter is mysterious stuff that affects the motions of galaxies, inside and out. But we can't see dark matter at all. It does not absorb, reflect, or emit light; in short, it's dark. And it's a big deal, since it constitutes 85% of the mass in the universe.

Robert McGehee, a PhD scholar in Physics at UC Berkeley, and soon to be a Leinweber Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan, will illuminate dark matter for us by describing the ingenious methods scientists are using to search for it.

Robert McGehee

Robert McGehee