Events for the Public

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sponsors a variety of free programs for the public. Among these events are Observatory Nights held on the third Thursday of the month (excluding June, July and August). Observatory Nights feature a nontechnical lecture and telescopic observing from the observatory roof if weather permits. The lectures are intended for high-school age and older audiences but children are also welcome. We also sponsor a variety of other special observing events throughout the year. No reservations are necessary, but seating is limited to the auditorium's capacity. Admission is free.

These events--unless otherwise noted--are held in Phillips Auditorium (at the rear of the CfA complex near Madison Street and large parking lot), 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, about 1 mile west of Harvard Square. Parking lots marked for Observatory Staff are open to the public on event nights. Parking is free.

The Observatory does not host private events.

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Monthly Observatory Night
Thursday, January 15, 2015
7:30 pm: Science Unshackled: How Obscure, Abstract, Seemingly Useless Scientific Research Turned Out to Be the Basis for Modern Life
C. Renee James

Fans of the TV show Connections know that the path from discovery to practical use can be a long and winding one, with surprises along the way. That's the theme of C. Renee James' new book, which reveals how obscure studies of natural phenomena - from poisonous cone snails to exploding black holes - led to unexpected benefits. Science Unshackled brings both science and scientists to life and shows how simple curiosity can result in life-changing breakthroughs. C. Renee James is a professor of physics at Sam Houston State University and author of Seven Wonders of the Universe That You Probably Took for Granted.

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Monthly Observatory Night
Thursday, February 19, 2015
7:30 pm: Sniffing the Air of Alien Earths
Sarah Rugheimer

Are we alone in the universe? We've found hundreds of planets orbiting distant stars, including several dozen in their star's habitable zone. But do any of them host life? To find out, we'll need to look for telltale molecules like oxygen or methane. The next generation of telescopes may answer this question when they take their first "sniffs" of alien air. Sarah Rugheimer is a 2014 Harvard Horizon Scholar and member of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative.

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Monthly Observatory Night
Thursday, March 19, 2015
7:30 pm: Mapping the Universe
Daniel Eisenstein

Galaxies are not scattered randomly throughout the universe. Instead, they group into stringy filaments that span hundreds of millions of light-years. How did such structure evolve from the bland primordial soup that followed the Big Bang? New clues are coming from an ambitious mapping project, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has measured the distance to galaxies halfway across the observable universe. Daniel Eisenstein is director of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Monthly Observatory Night
Thursday, April 16, 2015
7:30 pm: Astronomy in the Year 2020
Jeff McClintock

Travel into the future for a preview of the Giant Magellan Telescope. This cathedral-sized telescope perched on a Chilean mountaintop will, like Star Trek's Enterprise, take us where no one has gone before. Stunning developments in optics technology will deliver images 10 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Center for Astrophysics is not only a founding partner in this grand endeavor, but also is building the premier first-light instrument that will study other earths, the first stars, and the origin of our universe. Jeff McClintock is a senior astrophysicist at the CfA and a lecturer in the Harvard University Astronomy Department.

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Monthly Observatory Night
Thursday, May 21, 2015
7:30 pm: Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved
Marcia Bartusiak

For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes - not even light - seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein, Hawking, and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the cosmos. Marcia Bartusiak's numerous works include The Day We Found the Universe, Archives of the Universe, and Einstein's Unfinished Symphony.