Friends of Palomar Observatory Events

Upcoming Events

At present, there are no planned events for the Friends of Palomar Observatory. We will be announcing a full schedule of Friends events for 2015 during the winter.

Past Events

Visit to Griffith Observatory

Saturday 27 September 2014, 10:00 am

The members of the Friends of Palomar Observatory participated in a guided tour of Griffith Observatory. Docents from Griffith described the various exhibits and we enjoyed a planetarium show.

Finding the Youngest Exoplanets: Palomar Observatory at the Forefront – Dr. David Ciardi (Caltech)

Saturday 12 July 2014, 7:00 pm

David Ciardi is a research astronomer from the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at IPAC/Caltech. He has a large range of scientific interests that includes exoplanets, star formation, interstellar dust, and molecular clouds. His presentation will be followed by a star party at the Palomar Observatory Outreach Center.

David Ciardi. (D. Ciardi/Caltech)

Abstract: Astonishingly, it has only been 25 years since the first discovery of planets around other stars. Since that time, astronomers, both professional and amateur, have discovered more 1,700 planets, not including an additional 2,600 to-be-confirmed candidates discovered by the Kepler Mission. Nearly all of these planets have been discovered around stars like our Sun, and one thing is clear from all of these discoveries, nature creates exoplanetary systems with a range of diversity. However, little is actually known about planets at the earliest stages of formation. Palomar Observatory has been used at the forefront of astronomy to search for and discover the first transiting exoplanet around a newly formed star. In his presentation, David Ciardi will describe the discovery of the first exoplanet in orbit around such a young star—at the cusp of formation. This detection was made at Palomar Observatory as part of the Palomar Transient Factory, and has since been confirmed in follow-up observations at other facilities including the Palomar 200-inch Telescope, the Keck Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The New Era of Exoplanet Direct Imaging – Dr. Sasha Hinkley (Caltech)

Saturday 26 April 2014, 7:00 pm

Sasha Hinkley. (S. Hinkley/Caltech)

Caltech Astronomer Sasha Hinkley will give at talk at the Planetarium at Palomar College. His talk will be followed by a planetarium show by Mark Lane, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Director of the planetarium. Please RSVP to sbf at or call (760) 742-2131.

Abstract: Most of the hundreds of extrasolar planets identified in the past 15 years have been detected indirectly throughcareful monitoring of the planets' effect on their host star's light. By overcoming the extremely large brightness ratio between the stars and their faint exoplanetary companions, we are now able to actually image wide-separation exoplanets using large ground-based observatories such as Palomar. Sasha will describe efforts spanning two hemispheres to implement a new generation of astronomical instruments at observatories like Palomar dedicated to this task. These instrumentation platforms will allow us to extract detailed spectroscopic information about exoplanets, providing insight into the atmospheric chemistries, compositions, and thermodynamic properties of these objects.

NASA's Kepler Mission: Discovering Strange New Worlds – Dr. William Welsh (San Diego State University)

Saturday 26 October 2013, 7:00pm

William Welsh with a model of the Kepler spacecraft. (W. Welsh)

William (Bill) Welsh is a Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University, and a member of NASA's Kepler Mission. He has been very involved in the study of circumbinary planets, and led the discovery of two planets, Kepler-34 and Kepler-35.

Abstract: Over the past two decades hundreds of new planets have been discovered, but nearly all of these "exoplanets" are giant, Jupiter-size planets. Earth-like planets are much smaller and very much harder to find. NASA's Kepler Mission, launched in March 2009, has a precision 100x better than ground-based planet searches and is the first telescope capable of detecting Earth-size planets orbiting a star like the Sun. In this talk I will present the results of Kepler's search for terrestrial planets, and will also highlight some of the strange and wonderful discoveries Kepler has made. In particular, I will discuss a new class of planets Kepler has found, the "circumbinary planets." These are planets orbiting around a pair of stars, and have two suns in their sky.

"Super" Supernovae and the Quest for the First Stars – Dr. Jeff Cooke (Swinburne University)

Saturday 21 September 2013, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

Jeff Cooke is a Research Fellow at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. Previously, he was a McCue Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Irvine and a Postdoctoral Scholar at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Cooke received his B.S. in Astronomy at San Diego State University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics at the University of California, San Diego. His work spans a broad range of topics from galaxy formation and evolution, to quasar absorption-line systems, to supernovae. He holds the record for the most distant supernova, a record he continues to break.

Jeff Cooke and the Hale Telescope. (J. Cooke)

Abstract: Very massive stars end their short lives in extremely violent and luminous supernova explosions that can be seen out to great distances. Using a new method, our team has discovered supernovae out to distances much farther than has been previously possible - distances that equate to explosions that occurred 10-12 billion years ago. Several of our discoveries are 10-100 times more luminous than normal supernovae and belong to a rare class of "super-luminous" supernovae. Interestingly, two of these "super-luminous" supernovae may be the first bona-fide examples of a long-theorized third type of supernova explosion believed to have been more common in the early Universe. New surveys now underway will allow us to detect these "super" events all the way back to when the first stars formed after the Big Bang. I will show how we are hot on the trail to discover the deaths of these first stars.

Visit to the New Palomar College Planetarium

Saturday 24 August 2013, 6:00pm – 7:30pm

The Sky Tonight and Undiscovered Worlds—a full dome presentation.

Are Supernovae Round? – Dr. Douglas Leonard (San Diego State University)

Saturday 13 July 2013, 7:00pm

Douglas Leonard. (K.Calligan/Daily Aztec)

Douglas Leonard is Associate Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University, having previously served as National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Scholar at the California Institute of Technology and, prior to that, as a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Five College Astronomy Department in Amherst, MA. Dr. Leonard received his B.A. in astronomy from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.S., and Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley. His publications include over 50 articles in the technical literature. A passionate science educator, his latest endeavors include work on several BBC/Horizon videos on black holes, cosmology, and the deaths of stars.

Abstract: Roughly once per century in a typical galaxy, a massive star ends its life in a spectacular explosion called a supernova. The physical process by which these stars explode, however, remains a mystery. Conventional wisdom holds that a spherically symmetric mechanism is at work, one that expels the ejecta equally in all directions. Using recent evidence derived from a novel observational technique employed at the world's largest optical telescopes (including the Hale), I will argue that the innermost regions of these stellar explosions are, in fact, severely distorted, the result of an explosion mechanism that is strongly non-spherical in nature.

Observing and Imaging Our Sun – Jim Lafferty

Saturday 15 June 2013, Solar Observing 12:00 pm, Presentation 2:00 pm

Jim Lafferty and his Takahashi FSQ106N. (J. Lafferty)

Jim Lafferty hails from Redlands, in Southern California, and has been an amateur astronomer for 35 years. After many years of visual observing, he took on nighttime deep sky imaging. In 2010, he got the solar "bug" and turned from the "dark side" to the adventure that is imaging the Sun. Observing and imaging our nearest star in both traditional "white light" and in the specific band of hydrogen alpha, Jim's work has been featured in Sky and Telescope Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, the UK's "The Astronomer", Amateur Astronomy Magazine, NASA's APOD,, Yahoo News, numerous blogs and online astronomy sites, and in High School Physics Textbooks. Jim also participates in various public outreach events, as well as giving presentations on the sun in the classroom. He is the author and publisher of the full color hardcover book Imaging Our Sun (2012).

For this presentation, Jim will walk us through the basics of observing and imaging the Sun with both hydrogen alpha and white light filtered telescopes. We will discuss the solar features you can expect to see through the eyepiece and some basic info on the best ways to image the sun. Some details on the most common equipment and software will also be discussed.

There will be solar observing at the Outreach Center 12:00 – 5:00pm.

The Search for AM CVn Systems with the Palomar Transient Factory – David Levitan (Caltech)

Saturday 11 May 2013, 7:00 pm

David Levitan at the Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea. (D. Levitan)

Abstract: Among the most exotic "stars" known are the AM CVn systems—ultra-compact binaries with orbital periods less than an hour. Their extremely short orbital periods make them strong Galactic sources of gravitational waves, but no one has yet understood how many of them exist in the Galaxy. I will describe these systems and why understanding their population is essential, and show how we use the Palomar and Keck telescopes to find new systems and by doing so, better determine their population.

Please send your feedback to palomar-info at

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Last updated: 7 October 2014 AFB/ACM/SBF