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Weekly Speaker Program

June 10, 2019: Dr Phil Langill U of C Professor, Astronomy and Astrophysics.       website

David Williams introduced our guest speaker, Dr. Phil Langill.

As an Instructor in the department of Physics and Astronomy and the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory’s director, Dr. Langill is able to do the two things he loves best: teach and tinker. He conveys his passion for science to people of all ages and stages and academic backgrounds, and he fixes and fiddles with telescopes, detectors, and software.

He has a Master’s in Nuclear Physics and a PhD in Astrophysics, and has used research telescopes in Victoria, Hawaii, and Chile.

He is the Chair of the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Public Outreach Committee.

He’s a sports fan (Go Flames!), and enjoys hiking, curling, cards, and dice.

History – Rothney Astrophysical Observatory - inaugurated on January 7, 1972

Alan Clark was assigned the task of designing an observatory to support the new astronomy undergraduate program. This led directly to the generous offer of a quarter-section of land by Sandy Cross (aka Alexander Rothney Cross), a prominent rancher and long-time citizen with deep connections to the early history of Calgary. The adopted name of the resulting observatory incorporates the family name of Rothney in recognition of this initial gift.

In 1981, the National Research Council of Canada decided to finance the construction of a new facility. This facility would house a one-and-a-half metre telescope capable of operating in the infrared range. Alexander Rothney Cross signed on to the project by making another donation. The Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake also provided a gift: a Baker-Nunn camera that the armed forces had used to track satellites in the sky.

Dr. Langill provided a very interesting presentation on the observatory and also on discoveries. Most of the research he and his students work on is focused on the study of stars, x-ray sources, possible black holes and planetary nebulae. From quantum physics to space research, researchers explore how our world works, and help to explain the extraordinary.

He asked several questions:

  1. What do astronomers do? Inspire engineers, mathematicians, scientists and physicists!
  2. Scientists answer questions.
    1. Is that a star or a planet?
    2. How big is it? How far away is it?
    3. What is it made of? Could it sustain life?

Dr. Langill also provided a few examples of his students' projects, including the identification of two planets orbiting a star very far away. They accomplished this by forming a triangulation of many of the telescopes in the world to form one huge Earth-size telescope capable of finding previously unidentified stars and planets.

At the RAO they have both optical and radio telescopes. Calgary has the largest “dark sky” telescope in Canada.

As Dr. Langill states, “It’s only up to your imagination as to what you want to study”. (Wow we’ve come a long way from the days of my first Brownie camera!)

Gerry Meek expressed the thanks of the club to Dr. Langill, and presented him with our world-famous Boltman.

  • Phil Langill and Gerry Meek Phil Langill and Gerry Meek

reported by Mike Carlin

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