A proactive approach to apocalyptic scenarios: Join us for a distinguished lecture Jan. 16 on finding near-earth objects — before they find us

Of all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system’s origins, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration.

Dr. Donald Yeomans is coming to HMNS to explain the science of near-Earth objects — its history, applications, and the ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us.

Distinguished Lecture Jan. 16: Near Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find UsIn its course around the sun, the Earth passes through a veritable shooting gallery of millions of nearby comets and asteroids. One such asteroid is thought to have plunged into our planet 65 million years ago, triggering a global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs.

Yeomans provides an up-to-date and accessible guide for understanding the threats posed by near-Earth objects, and also explains how early collisions with them delivered the ingredients that made life on Earth possible. He shows how later impacts spurred evolution, allowing only the most adaptable species to thrive — in fact, we humans may owe our very existence to objects that struck our planet.

Yeomans will take us behind the scenes of today’s efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He will show how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.

What: Distinguished Lecture, “Near Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us”
Who: Donald Yeomans, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: HMNS Main, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 77030
How Much: $18 for the public; $12 for members

Dr. Donald Yeomans is a Senior Research Fellow with the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. Following the lecture, he will sign copies of his new book Near Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us.

Click here for advance tickets.

Decoding the world’s first computer: Unravel the mysteries of the Antikythera Mechanism at this distinguished lecture

The world’s first computer put the time cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets into mechanical form. And today, cutting-edge technology reveals the extraordinary sophistication of ancient Greece. What mysteries does the Antikythera Mechanism unveil?

Learn all about it at the HMNS distinguished lecture,  “Cosmic Time – The Antikythera Mechanism & Its Mysteries,” this Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., presented by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project’s Mike Edmunds, Ph.D.

Unravel the mysteries of the Antikythera Mechanism Nov. 20Photo courtesy of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project

More than 100 years ago, an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. It astonished the international community of experts on the ancient world. The machine dates from around the end of the 2nd century B.C. and is the most sophisticated mechanism known from the ancient world; nothing as complex is known for the next thousand years. The “Antikythera Mechanism” is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical “computer” which tracks the cycles of the Solar System.

What exactly is this complex device? For decades, scientific investigation failed to yield much light and relied more on imagination than facts. Now a new initiative is building on this previous work, using the latest techniques available today. The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project is an international collaboration of academic researchers supported by some of the world’s best high-technology companies, which aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Since 2005, innovative technologies have been used to reveal unknown elements of the mechanism by looking at the internal structure, with its complex and confusing gear trains. A remarkable window on microscopic internal details of inscriptions and gearing has been opened. Inscriptions can now be read that have not been seen for more than 2,000 years, and this is helping to build a comprehensive picture of the functions of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Mike Edmunds, Ph.D., The Antikythera Research Project

Mike Edmunds, Ph.D

Results from researchers are emerging on a stable basis as data continues to be analyzed. Come hear the latest findings from project astronomer Mike Edmunds of University of Cardiff at HMNS on Tuesday, November 20. This lecture is co-sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America – Houston Society and the Hellenic Cultural Center. Click here for tickets.

The Sun burps and the Earth reaches for the Lysol: Learn why in our Nov. 15 lecture, Our Explosive Sun

Welcome guest blogger Dr. David Alexander, Director of the Rice Space Institute.

If there’s one star in the sky that everyone can name — and point to, if needed — it’s the Sun. Kisosen, Wuriupranili, Huitzilopochtli, Bel, Ra, Sol, Apollo — the Sun has many names and has served many purposes for humanity over the ages. As a banisher of night, celestial timekeeper, or navigational aid, the Sun has been a constant presence over the history of humankind, bringing the hope of a new day and the renewal of returning spring.

Even today, in the early years of the 21st century, the Sun is no less important, although perhaps in a very different way. As we increasingly rely on technology in our daily lives, the Sun’s impact on the Earth can be both beautiful and alarming. The Earth is not only bathed in the light from the Sun but is embedded in its atmosphere, and as such is subject to the vagaries of the Sun’s dynamic activity. You might say that when the Sun burps, the Earth reaches for the Lysol.

Our Explosive Sun: The Source of the Northern Lights | Nov. 15 at HMNSSpectacular aurora over the city of Tromsø, Norway. Courtesy of Pål Brekke.

The Sun exhibits a wide range of energetic activity over a wide variety of timescales. The most dramatic of these are the so-called solar storms that drive clouds of ionized gas (plasma) outward from the Sun at speeds of millions of miles an hour. When these clouds reach the Earth some one to three days later, the effects can be catastrophic. The immediate effect is energizing the Earth’s magnetic environment in space, leading to a wide array of effects from enhanced atmospheric phenomena such as aurora, with the biggest storms generating aurora as far south as Houston, to increased particle energies and densities in low earth orbit, causing severe hazard for spacecraft and astronauts. In addition, the geomagnetic enhancements caused by these storms can also lead to noticeable effects on the ground, including the disruption of regional electrical grids with power outages being a not uncommon occurrence.

Today, a flotilla of spacecraft and a battalion of ground-based observatories are constantly monitoring the Sun across the electromagnetic spectrum and measuring the changing properties of the solar atmosphere, its magnetic field, and flow speed. Solar scientists use this huge wealth of information to generate an understanding of the physical processes that govern the solar variability and how the effects of this variability propagate through space and ultimately interact with the Earth.

Dr. Pal BrekkeDr. Pål Brekke

On Thursday, Nov. 15, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Rice Space Institute and the Royal Norwegian Consulate host solar physicist and author Dr. Pål Brekke of the Norwegian Space Centre for a lecture in the Museum’s Wortham Giant Screen Theatre as part of Transatlantic Science Week 2012. Dr. Brekke will present a visually spectacular tour of the solar atmosphere and the geomagnetic phenomena that it generates. So please, join us as we celebrate Apollo, the Sun, in all his celestial glory as he burps his way through the 21st century. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased in advance here.

About our guest blogger:  
Dr. David Alexander is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Director of the Rice Space Institute.  He is Chair of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society and the Solar Heliospheric and Interplanetary Environment (SHINE) program.  He received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2004 and was appointed a Kavli Frontiers Fellow in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences.  He is author of The Sun, part of the Greenwood Press Guides to the Universe series.

HMNS Lecture Series: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science in the Medici Court

On Nov. 7, Alessio Assonitis, Ph.D., and Sheila Barker, Ph.D., will present a fascinating presentation on the natural sciences at the Court of the Medici Grand Dukes. The lecture, “The Medici Court: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science,” will take place at HMNS at 6:30 p.m. and is sponsored by the Medici Archive Project, Florence, and Arader Galleries, New York and Houston.

More than the arts, it was the sciences that flourished under the protection of the Medici grand dukes. After all, long before the Uffizi was used to display the Medici art collection, it was used to house a collection of natural wonders, a pharmaceutical laboratory, and a rooftop botanical garden. Vesalius, Galileo, Evangelista Torricelli and Niels Stensen are among the many scientists who found a thriving scientific community in Tuscany’s universities, botanical gardens, chemistry laboratories, and at its physics institute, known as the Accademia del Cimento (Academy of the Experiment).

Jan van der Straet's 1570  "The Alchimist's Laboratory," painted for the Studiolo of Francesco de' MediciJan van der Straet’s 1570  “The Alchimist’s Laboratory,” painted for the Studiolo of Francesco de’ Medici

The Medici grand dukes and grand duchesses were not just passive bystanders in their patronage of the sciences. They took part in scientific activity, whether developing new medicines, carrying out chemical experiments, planning mining operations, or introducing exotic plant species to Tuscany. The repercussions of all this scientific ferment can be found in court entertainments, the arts, military technology, industry, cuisine, espionage, and assassination techniques of the 200-hundred-year dynasty.

Dr. Alessio Assonitis will examine some of the more fantastic chronicles from the Medici archive — including meteorological and astronomical anomalies; archaeological discoveries, technological contraptions and medical absurdities; eccentric individuals, bizarre objects and supernatural events.

Dr. Sheila Barker will discuss the activities pursued personally by the Medici grand dukes and grand duchesses and how these scientific endeavors influenced the arts and many other areas of life during the Renaissance.

Alessio AssonitisAlessio Assonitis, director of the Medici Archive Project, was born in Rome and received his doctoral degree in Renaissance art history from Columbia University in 2003. He has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, Herron School of Art, and the Christian Theological Seminary. He arrived at the Medici Archive Project in the fall 2004 with a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He became MAP research director in 2009 and director in 2011.

Sheila BarkerSheila Barker, Ph. D., is director of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists, which is based at the Medici Archive Project in Florence, Italy. Her work on the Medici grand duchesses focused specifically on their contributions to medicine, both as patrons and as amateur practitioners, and was just one aspect of her larger research project on the history of medicine, botany, and pharmacology at the Medici Court — a project which has led to publications on poisons in early modern Italy; on anti-malarial medicine at the Medici Court; and on the establishment of a Florentine pharmacy in 17th-century Tripoli.

To learn more about how the Medici dynasty’s patronage steered the course of art history and scientific progress, visit HMNS’ world-premiere exhibition, Gems of the Medici. For tickets to “The Medici Court: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science,” click here.