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Drake Observatory Series tackles tricky topics

April 1, 2011
News PhotoOn Friday, April 1, the Drake Municipal Observatory 2011 spring lecture series will continue with a discussion on how the universe defies common sense to play tricks on its inhabitants.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 8 p.m. at the Drake Municipal Observatory, 4898 Observatory Rd. in Waveland Park on the west side of Des Moines.

Titled "Pranks A Lot," the discussion will focus on the principles of physics that contradict human intuition.

"There are things that we scientifically know are physical realities, but that seem to defy "˜common sense,'" said presenter Herbert Schwartz, astronomy lecturer at Drake. "For example, why should a feather and a one-ton weight fall at the same speed, disregarding air resistance? How can a black hole, which actually has an escape velocity greater than light, radiate energy? The universe is playing mischievous tricks on us, and this seemed like a good topic for a lecture on April Fool's Day."

The Drake Municipal Observatory series, presented every Friday through May 6, consists of non-technical, illustrated presentations by Schwartz and Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Charles Nelson. The duo recently discussed the observatory series on Iowa Public Radio's Talk of Iowa.

Each discussion will be followed by the opportunity to view stellar objects through the observatory's large refracting telescope and several smaller reflecting telescopes.

This semester, Nelson and Schwartz will discuss:

*    April 8: "Thank You, Yuri Gargarin" -- What has space travel given us besides Velcro and Tang?

*    April 15: "Death and Taxes" -- The fundamental forces of nature have been in place since the beginning of time.

*    April 22: "Searching for Earth II" -- What are the chances of finding another Earth-like planet with the capabilities to sustain life?

*    April 29: "Probing the Long Waves" -- How do radio telescopes gather information?

*    May 6: "Star Hopping" -- Explore the stars without computers or batteries.

The programs are held regardless of the weather, although the selection for observation is subject to change due to sky conditions or other special circumstances. Individuals, families and small groups are welcome to attend the presentations. A parent or responsible adult must accompany children.

For more information, contact Drake's Department of Physics and Astronomy at 515-271-3141.

The Drake Municipal Observatory 2011 Lecture Series: "Pranks A Lot"

The discussion will focus on the principles of physics that contradict human intuition.

When: Friday, April 1, at 8 p.m.

Where: The Drake Municipal Observatory, 4898 Observatory Rd. in Waveland Park on the west side of Des Moines.

Cost: Free and open to the public.