For the past decade, Andy Fraknoi, the (and I do mean “the”) astronomy teacher at Foothill College has gracefully conducted the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series. Every academic year Andy hosts about 6 lectures. For anyone wanting an ever-so-gentle expansion of their astronomy knowledge, this is it.
If you have never attended one of these lectures, here is what you need to know.
Cost: Free. Absolutely free. Not even a donation bucket at the door but I don’t want Foothill College to get any ideas. Actually, there is one minor cost (see “parking” below).
College: Foothill College is one of most beautiful community college campuses. Take I-280 to the El Monte exit in Los Altos Hills. Follow the signs but, if you miss the sign, head toward the hills.
Parking: $2. Parking at Foothill College is something that you should be prepared for. First, they really do enforce it. Second, generally you pay for parking at a small kiosk where you get a ticket to put on your dashboard. Third, the parking kiosk may or may not accept dollar bills. I try to always remember to have 8 quarters in my pocket when I go to any community college in California. Fourth, the specific parking lot makes a difference. As you enter the campus, you may find yourself in a slow moving lane of cars waiting to get into Lot#1. At this lot, there may be a person who can give you a parking stub and who can actually make change. Therefore, stay in this slow moving lane if the smallest monetary unit you have is a $5 bill. Others, can go around this lane, beware of pedestrians crossing the road, and circle almost all the way around the campus and go into a parking lot that I think is labeled #7. You will exit the campus circle road to the right and enter this mostly empty parking lot. Because you have completely circled the campus, you are almost as close to the lecture hall as those who are still in line for parking lot #1.
Location: The talks are held at Smithwick Auditorium. For these talks you can mostly follow the crowd but there are enough signs to guide you if necessary. The walk is steep because this place is not called “Foothill” for nothing. There is a parking lot, I think it is #5, that is almost at the same level as the Smithwick but some nights you have to be there early to find a spot there.
Bathrooms: We know you are embarrassed to ask so we will tell you anyway. There are bathrooms at the theater but you have to ingress from outside of the theater itself. When I lived in Minnesota, I don’t think there were any theaters that asked you to go outside to find the little boy’s room.
Time: The lectures are always held on a Wednesday at 7 p.m. and there is never more than one within one calendar month. I think there has only been one exception to that rule in the last 10 years. Here’s a little secret: the talks almost always start a few minutes late because “there is a slow moving lane of cars waiting to park” and now you know why.
Leader: If you don’t know anything about Andy Fraknoi, where have you been? He is often on the radio or quoted in the press. He has won awards for his teaching. He has written astronomy texts including a recent collaboration with the Disney people. He has a great sense of humor although you only get a small sample at each lecture.
Lecturers: The lectures are almost always great and the one exception that I can think of was one of the best attended lectures because the speaker was so famous, a Nobel prize winner. So I recommend every lecture without reservation.
Credit: One unit of astronomy course credit at Foothill is available to those who attend all six of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures in 2010-2011 (you may watch one on the Web) and write a short paper. Lectures are always on Wednesday evenings, and there are two each quarter, from October through May. To register for the course, Astronomy 36, go to: http://www.foothill.edu/admissions.php
Schedule: Here is the schedule for the first two talks of 2010-11 academic year.
Wed., Oct. 20, 2010, 7 p.m.:
“The Ultimate Fate of the Solar System and the Music of the Spheres”
Dr. Gregory Laughlin, University of California, Santa Cruz
(On how the long term orbits of the planets might change over many eons of cosmic time and how the regularities of planet motions can form patterns like music.)
Wed. Nov. 17th, 2010, 7 p.m.:
An Update from the Kepler Mission: The Search for Other Earths
Dr. Natalie Batalha, San Jose State University and NASA Ames
(The Kepler telescope in space is searching for planets around other stars. It has already found a few and there are traces of many others in the data. By the time of this talk, Dr. Batalha, one of the mission scientists, hopes to be able to tell us about a number of other candidates.)
Can’t Make It:
Past Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures are now available in MP3 format at:
Andrew Fraknoi, Chair, Astronomy Program
Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd.,
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022, USA
Telephone: (650) 949-7288
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