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"Parade of the Planets: Past, Present and Future" Lecture on 28 April at State College Area High School

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A free public lecture titled "Parade of the Planets: Past, Present, and Future" will be given at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, 28 April, in the North Auditorium of State College Area High School by Chuck Higgins, instructor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. His talk is the fifth of six in the 2000-2001 Friedman Lecture Series, which focuses this year on "Origins in Astronomy."

Using a combination of computer animations, interactive displays, and pictures, Higgins will describe the makeup of our solar system. During his lecture, which is suitable for all members of the public, he will focus on our planetary neighbors, discuss their compositions, and compare them to Earth.

Planets in our solar system formed about 5 billion years ago, when a huge cloud of gas and dust coalesced out of interstellar space with the formation of our star, the Sun. As the Sun formed and grew hotter, the planets also formed and evolved, but did so under extremely violent conditions. Early planets seared with incredible heat and were torn apart by collisions with other solar-system debris. Slowly, the planets cooled and grew in size until, after billions of years, the numbers of collisions decreased. The planets now show us their history through their extraordinary colors, features, moons, and shapes.

Higgins will take the audience on a tour of the planets, using the latest images from spacecraft and the best images from the Hubble Space Telescope. He will discuss what is likely to happen to our solar system, including the Earth, in the very distant future. He also will introduce some of the other planets that scientists have recently discovered around other stars.

Higgins joined the faculty of Penn State in 1999 and currently teaches students about general astronomy, the planets, and the universe. He is a planetary radio astronomer by research training, and focuses on the strange and powerful radio pulses from Jupiter's magnetic field. Before coming to Penn State, he was a National Research Council postdoctoral associate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He earned his doctoral degree in astronomy at the University of Florida in 1996 and his bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1988.

The final lecture in this series-focusing on stars, planets, and life-is scheduled during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life" will be presented by Frank Drake, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, at 4:00 p.m., on Saturday, 14 July, in 100 Thomas Building.

The "Origins in Astronomy" series is hosted by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and is largely funded by the Ronald M. and Susan J. Friedman Outreach Fund in Astronomy. Friedman is a member of the department's Board of Visitors.

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