Jason Shilling Kendall: Citizen Astronomer

William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Hunter College

Public Lectures for the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

Various Locations in, New York City


1609: The Birth of Science. How Galileo Shook the World

August 23, 2014
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
An offering of the AAA's New York Summer StarFest

In 1609, Galileo Galilei looked up at the heavens with a new invention: the telescope. What he saw and how he interpreted it began the modern scientific world. Without his work, humor, arrogance and sacrifice, our world would still be shrouded in mystical darkness.


Inflation, Gravitational Waves and the Big Bang

May 14, 2014
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Linder Theater at the American Museum of Natural History
An offering of the AAA's Astro Answers Series.

The science of astronomy has always opened new doors to discovery when a new observing technology is developed. In 1609 Galileo looked to the heavens with the first telescope, beginning what we now call the Scientific Era. In 1931, Karl Jansky viewed the sky in radio waves, seeing the Sun's emission and heralding a new vision of the cosmos. During the Cold War, orbiting gamma-ray treaty-monitoring telescopes detected elusive signals from the deaths of massive stars.

Now, in 2015, a new era of observation will commence. It is then that the very first gravitational wave sources will be seen by the LIGO and VIRGO gravitational wave detectors. This completely new area of observation will be able to probe the final milliseconds of colliding black holes, as space-time warps and twists under their violent death-dance. As a neutron star rotates, tiny changes in its crust cause starquakes that would make a nuclear bomb look like a firefly. Even more tantalizing, gravitational waves are thought to be produced during the first moments of the Big Bang. The first detection will open up a new field of discovery, as we listen for the sounds of the ringing universe.

Now with the latest results from the BICEP2 collaboration, there is tantalizing evidence that these primordial gravitational waves have been detected and that their detection leads researchers to think that the Inflationary epoch really did happen in the first moments after the Big Bang.

This lecture session will go over the elements of the Big Bang, and focus on the inflationary paradigm.

AAA Facebook Event Page | Meetup Page One | Meetup Page two | Facebook Event Page one


The Universe is 13.67 Billion Years Old

July 25, 2012
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Cicatelli Training Center, 505 8th Ave, New York, NY

How do we know how old the Universe is? What was it like at the beginning? What was before the Big Bang? I'll show you how we know this amazing thing, using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, WMAP, COBE, BLAST, ALMA and other major space tesecopes. We'll also see what scientists hope to learn about our Universe when it was a baby by using the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

AAA Class Sessions


Transit of Venus: Building a Sun Funnel and Learning about the Transit

Thursday, May 31, 2012
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Cicatelli Training Center, 505 8th Ave, New York, NY

I led a class about the 2012 Transit of Venus. First, there was a lecture on the history and importance of Transits in general, and of the Venus Transit in particular. We'll then have resources to build "Sun Funnels" which are small projection screens built with hardware-store parts that will safely show off the Sun in all its glory with Venus transiting, using a small telescope. We had a lively discussion about what to expect on the day of the Transit, and how to view the Sun safely.

Membership Form with the AAA | Observing the Sun with a Sun Funnel and a Galileoscope | Sun Funnel Specs: how to build one yourself


Astrophysics for Amateurs: an Intensive Reading Course

2011, January 25, February 1, 8, 15, 22 and March 1
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Paul Michael's "The Network" Studios. 242 West 36th St, 3rd Floor, New York City

The class will be a reading class of the entire text "Astrophysics is Easy!: An Introduction for the Amateur Astronomer" by Mike Inglis. This class is an offering of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.

Astrophysics means the physics of astronomy. The text will cover many areas, starting with measurements in astronomy (distance, brightness, color, velocity, temperature, size, and mass) and how they are done. We will discuss classification of stars and the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of stellar evolution (birth, life, aging, death, and remnants). We will then cover the interstellar medium and its contents (such as bright and dark nebulae and their constituents). We'll learn about Red Giants, Supenovae, Neutron Stars and Black Holes. The links above and below show the book's reviews and have its table of contents as a free preview. The text is designed with amateurs in mind, giving the essential ideas about physical processes without sifting through heavy mathematics. As such, it is a survey course of the standard, well-established processes of astrophysics. I will be supplementing the text with lectures and internet resources.

The structure of the class will follow the text, with students expected to do extensive at-home reading. The class time will be dominated by discussions on the reading for the week, with me leading the discussion and providing guidance and giving probing questions. Don.t be surprised if I randomly ask people to explain a whole section. In other words, don.t just read. Study it, and be ready with questions and be ready to talk about it. Answering questions about the week's reading is a more important use of the class's time than any lecture I might give, so I will de-emphasize lecture in order to answer all questions and to moderate discussion of the topics in the reading. This discussion is critical to a reading course and builds new intellectual relationships. We will always start with a recap of the reading, highlighting the salient points. Students will have required reading prior to the first class. So please see the links above and below to the textbook and get it now. The text is just under 200 pages, so finishing the text in six weeks will be easy.

As this is a reading course, there will be no grading or tests. The homework will be about 30 pages of the text per week, which will require at least six to eight hours each week. Each student is also expected to use the Internet to look up unfamiliar topics and words. It'll take work and dedication to read this entire book in six weeks. It is good to know how to skim past certain sections and know how to find things on Google. Students will be expected to actively engage each other during the course outside of the class environment. Attendees are not required to have a physics background nor an extensive mathematics background. The course is geared for both adults and advanced high school or precocious middle-school students.


Introductory Cosmology: an Intensive Reading Course

2010, July 12, 19, 26 and August 2, 9, 17, 23 and 30.
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Ripley Grier Studios, 520 8th Avenue, 16th floor. New York City

Cosmology is the study of the origin and evolution of the Universe. As such, it is a big topic, employing a wide range of physics, both theoretical and experimental. Cosmology has deep ties both to astrophysics, as many cosmologically important observations of celestial objects must be interpreted through the prism of astrophysics, and to fundamental physics, since the form our Universe displays is determined by gravitation, particle physics, nuclear physics, and thermodynamics. These various physical processes have come together into a simple "concordance (or standard) model" of cosmology which makes detailed predictions of a wide range of observable phenomena.

This is an exciting time in cosmology. Technological advances over the past decade have made possible an array of observations which strongly constrains the properties of the Universe. The discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating presents a great challenge to high-energy physicists to explain the source and nature of the mysterious "dark energy" which is likely driving this expansion. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has observed more than a quarter of the sky, detecting nearly 200 million celestial objects and measuring spectra of more than 675,000 galaxies, 90,000 quasars, and 185,000 stars. Wide-coverage gravitational-lensing surveys are probing the distribution of mass in the Universe. And last, but not least, measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, notably the results from the WMAP satellite, have yielded values for cosmological parameters with an accuracy of several percent. After spending decades in what cynics called "an attempt to measure two numbers" (the Hubble constant the deceleration constant), we are now in the age of "precision cosmology". The two main goals of this class will be to develop an understanding of the standard model and to show how most of the deluge of observational data are nicely consistent with that model.

As time permits, we will also examine a few possible trouble spots and also how cosmology can be used as a tool for probing fundamental physics and astrophysics.

The structure of the class will be a reading-based course, with students expected to do extensive at-home reading. The class time will be one hour discussion of readings, and one hour of lecture, based on the week's required reading. It is more important to use the classtime to answering questions about the week's reading than any lecture I might give, so I will break off lecture in order to answer all questions, and to moderate discussion of the topics in the reading. This discussion is critical to a reading course, and builds new intellectual relationships with people. That is ultimately the goal, to have a group of people bear down on a topic in a week knowing that they might not "get it" but that others might, where they don't. That being said, I will always start with a recap of the reading, highlighting the salient points. The first class will have required reading prior to the first class. So, please see the links to the textbook below and get it now.

Text: Introduction to Cosmology, B. Ryden, 2003, Addison Wesley.

As this is a reading course, there will be no grading or tests. The homework will be reading two chapters of the text per week, which will require at least 6-8 hours each week. It is also expected that the student will use the internet to look up topics and words that are not familiar. Problems listed in the text will be covered as requested, but they are not requirements. The text-based problems are best answered in the online chat-room sessions, and students are encouraged to use this forum. It is expected that the student will begin reading prior to the first class. Even though this is a reading class, it will take work and dedication to read this entire book in 6 weeks. The emphasis will be on physical ideas, but we will encounter calculus and simple differential equations. No prior knowledge of cosmology will be assumed. However, you will get more out of this class if you have already taken one or two physics courses and are familiar with concepts in thermodynamics. If you have questions about the appropriate level of pre-requisites, please contact me. Remember that this is a reading course, and that the classtime will be devoted to answering questions based on the reading. It is good to be familiar with how to skim past certain sections and know how to find things on Google. It is also expected that the students will engage each other during the course using the exclusive online chatrooms that will be provided.

A Discussion with Dr. David Spergel, WMAP lead project scientist
August 30, 2010, 7:00 PM.

As part of the Cosmology class I am teaching, I asked someone from the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) team to come talk to us via conference call about the amazing science results of this incredible mission. Dr. David Spergel of Princeton, one of the project leads, has agreed to talk for about 45 minutes and take questions about the WMAP mission and its results on Monday, August 30 at 7:30 PM. Our class is free, but we ask that all attendees help pay for the room, which works out to be about $5. Seating is limited, on a first-come basis, except for class-members, who have reserved seats. Non-class-members are welcome to stay after Dr. Spergel's talk to participate in our final class, where we'll talk about Inflation and Structure Formation. The whole event lasts from 7:30 PM to about 9:30 PM.


William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Amateur Astronomers Association of New York Astronomical Society of the Pacific