2017 Fall Lecture Series
Depiction of Discovering the Structure of the Universe spacer


What IS that bright circle of blinding light we call the Sun? And what are all those eternal faint points of light filling the firmament after sunset?
For as long as there have been humans, we have been looking up and asking questions like these about both the daytime and nighttime sky.

Join us on a journey through time as we explore some of humanity's greatest efforts to understand the celestial realm.

spacer Pyramids at Giza Egypt

We begin forty-six hundred years ago with the Egyptian construction of monumental buildings that perfectly align with key stars in their nighttime sky. At the same time far to the west on the island of Great Britan, a ring of massive twenty-two ton stones are being erected to exactly align with the Sun and Moon on several important days of the year. And twenty-three hundred years ago an ocean away far to the south, a solar observatory at Chankillo in Peru is built that exactly aligns with the Sun on important dates throughout the year. The pyramids at Giza, the observatory at Stonehenge and the one at Chankillo are just a few of the most ancient Celestial Observatories we will be exploring.

depiction of Claudius Ptolemy spacer
Moving forward in time, we'll continue by discussing some of the greatest advances in understanding made before the invention of the telescope, including those by Claudius Ptolemy working at the Great Library in Alexandria almost two thousand years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus working five hundred years ago in Poland and the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe working with his great observatory on the island of Ven (now part of Sweden) four hundred years ago.
spacer Depiction of Galileo's main telescope
We'll then explain the function and evolution of the telescope and how it has transformed our understanding of the cosmos, starting with the earliest telescopes used by Galileo, Kepler and Newton in the 1600s through to those used by the Herschels and others in the 1700s and 1800s.

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This sets the stage for our third lecture where we'll discuss the greatest ground-based telescopes of the Twentieth Century, including those at Yerkes, Mount Wilson, Palomar and Mount Hopkins in the United States and the Keck, Subaru, VLT and other observatories in Hawaii, Chile, South Africa and Australia. We'll include the greatest radio telescopes, like those at Green Bank, West Virginia and the Very Large Array in New Mexico, the Arecibo in Puerto Rico and ALMA in Chile. An explanation of what radio telescopes are and how they specifically contribute to our understanding of the cosmos will be provided.

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We conclude our explorations by discussing the birth and evolution of space telescopes. We'll start with the famous Hubble Space Telescope; but there have been many other important telescopes in space, launched before and after the HST (e.g.- Uhuru, Chandra, Compton, ROSAT, IUE, MOST, Kepler, Hipparcos, GAIA, IRAS, HERSCHEL, COBE, WMAP, Planck, etc.). We'll also look at what is coming, like the James Webb Space Telescope to be launched at the end of next year, and the next generation of huge ground-based telescopes (TMT, Grand Magellan, ELT, etc.) that are now under construction. We will even talk about gravity wave and neutrino observatories like LIGO and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO).

Note that the exact content of the lecture series is open to discussion and can be adjusted to better match the interests of those attending.

The DDO 74-inch telescope dome spacer
The EWTA discussions are a continuation of the well-received "Evenings at the Observatory" lecture series program provided by the lecturers while they were working for the University of Toronto at the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) in Richmond Hill, home of the largest optical telescope in Canada.

No prior knowledge of astronomy or physics is assumed; all terms and concepts will be explained.

Program Schedule

I. Great Celestial Observatories of Antiquity.
Humanity begins to understand Celestial Mechanics.
II. The Roots of Modern Astronomy.
Cataloguing the Cosmos and Introduction of the Telescope.
III. One Hundred Years of Unprecedented Discovery!
Technology to make large telescopes combined with the newly discovered rules of nature called Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity provides our modern ("scientific") understanding of the origin and evolution of the Universe.
IV. Telescopes in Space and Deep Underground.
Our ability to place telescopes in space and deep underground to study particles and radiation beyond visible light has greatly expanded our undestanding of the Universe and our place within it.

The two-hour weekly discussions are initially being offered on Tuesdays* from 7:00 - 9:00 pm starting November 14 at Langstaff Community Centre, 155 Red Maple Road in Richmond Hill (2 blks North of Highway 7 and 2 blks East of Yonge).

(* We are taking requests to provide these lectures on an additional day of the week. Use the Registration Form to let us know that you would like to attend but can't come on Tuesdays.)


Registration FEE:   $125** + HST (i.e.- $141.25)
(** See Registration form for discounts; Fee includes light refreshments.)
Enrollment is limited.

About the Lecturers

picture of Ian Shelton Dr. Shelton has spent 30 years studying variations in the brightness and the spectra of stars to learn about their structure, composition and evolution.

Ian has taught Physics and Astronomy at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, studied the Aurora at Athabasca University in Alberta, and continues to teach Astronomy at the University of Toronto. Dr. Shelton is an honorary Lifetime Member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in recognition for his discovery of Supernova 1987A, the first supernova visible to the unaided eye since Kepler's supernova of 1604. He has been a staff member at some of the largest observatories in the world, including the 6.5-metre MMT in Arizona and Japan's 8.3-metre Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.

picture of Tuba Koktay Dr. Tuba Koktay is a graduate of the University of Istanbul where she studied the spectroscopic variations of hot, young stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Tuba is continuing her research started with University of Toronto Professor R. F. Garrison, one of the world's formost experts in the classification of stars. She ran the Outreach programs at the David Dunlap Observatory for the University of Toronto.