Astronomy Talk: Cosmic Alchemy: Neutron Stars, Gravitational Waves, and How to

Houge Park

3972 Twilight Dr · San Jose, CA

How to find us

Bldg #1, near the parking lot

Location image of event venue


Come join us for our monthly Astronomy talk!

Many of SJAA’s events, like this one, are public and free to attend, but if you’re enjoying what SJAA has to offer, consider becoming a paid member for only $20 per year:

7:30pm to 8pm: Social time, come and mingle. We will have snacks and beverages.

Talk begins at 8pm.

Topic: Cosmic Alchemy: Neutron Stars, Gravitational Waves, and How to Make Gold
Speaker: Dr. Ryan Foley

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, a radiant form of energy similar to light, but caused by gravity. A century later, scientists detected the first gravitational waves from two merging black holes. This landmark discovery and new way of viewing the Universe resulted in the 2017 Nobel prize.
On August 17, 2017, a new kind of gravitational wave source was detected – two colliding neutron stars. Professor Ryan Foley and his team found its aftermath, a kilonova, in optical light – the first detection of light from a gravitational wave source. He will tell the harrowing story of how his small team of young, diverse scientists using a tiny telescope made this incredible discovery.
Examining the data in detail, they found that the neutron star merger produced large amounts of heavy elements – like platinum and gold – that were shining brightly. Professor Foley’s work heralds the start of a new scientific field, where we can combine gravity and light to understand the Universe.

Prof. Foley studies exploding stars, often with a telescope from the top of a mountain. He is interested in characterizing the many ways a star can die. He received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 2008, was a Clay Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and is now a member of the UC Santa Cruz faculty. He is a Sloan fellow, Packard fellow, and Kavli fellow. He was awarded a 2018 NEXTies award in the “Wildcard” category. He lives close to the beach and tries to see the ocean every day.