Science@Cal Lecture, June 2010

Our June 19 talk was given by Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, and was entitled “Magnetic Stars, Space Weather and Life: Stellar Activity and its Effect on Planets”


Sunspots are some of the oldest astronomical phenomena observed by human beings. These “freckles” on the the face of our Sun may look innocuous, but they are actually the footprints of huge magnetic loops that protrude from our star. These loops sometimes twist and snap, causing spectacular solar flares that send radiation and energetic particles hurtling towards Earth. These flares are responsible for beautiful aurorae, but they can also cause the troubling disruption of satellites and other infrastructure. Similar phenomena are observed on many other stars in our Galaxy, with some stellar flares being even more powerful than those of the Sun. What is it like to be a planet around those stars? How do flares and starspots affect a planet’s ability to support and sustain life? These are just some of the questions we will explore.

Dr. Walkowicz is a Kepler Postdoctoral Fellow in the Astronomy Department at the UC Berkeley. She studies magnetic activity in the atmospheres of cool stars through both observation and theory. She is active in the development of the next generation of ground-based telescopes as Chair of the Transient Working Group for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and is a member of the team working to find earth-sized planets using the new Kepler space telescope. Dr. Walkowicz grew up in New York City, before obtaining her undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins, and a PhD from the University of Washington. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing and writing comics, and painting.

You can watch the video of her talk by clicking on the image below:

You can also see details of the next talk in the series, and the full calendar of talks.