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Lecture Titled "From Stardust to Dinosaurs to Footprints on the Moon to Stardust Again" Scheduled for 24 March

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14 March 2001 -- A free public lecture titled "From Stardust to Dinosaurs to Footprints on the Moon to Stardust Again" will be given at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, 24 March, in 101 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus by Chris Churchill, research associate in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. Churchill's talk is the fourth of six in the 2000-2001 Friedman Lecture Series, which focuses this year on "Origins in Astronomy."

"We humans, and all life on earth, are intimately connected with the billion-year life cycles of the stars. We are constructed from the very atomic elements fused together in the inferno-like cores of stars," Churchill says. "The oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and calcium in our bodies, and in the atmosphere and in the Earth's oceans, were once confined to the innards of stars out there in the galaxy. That is, until the stars blew up and spit those elements back out into space."

Churchill will explain the cyclic processes of the stars in the galaxies and how they forge the chemical elements that make us up. He will explain how we are connected to those processes. He will discuss the fate of dinosaurs: "Dinosaurs were a very successful, intelligent species. They had 165 million years to figure out what we have figured out in less then 2000 years," Churchill says. "So, why didn't they walk on the Moon first?" In addition, he will discuss the ultimate fate of our Sun, and address humanity's only chance to escape final extinction—getting out of the solar system.

In his talk, Churchill plans to expand on an analogy of humans as a member of a galactic "ecosystem," an oasis driven by the stars. He will describe our connection and dependence upon the births, lives, and deaths of stars in the Milky Way. "Imagine you were an insect in a desert oasis and you lived only three days, but you were able to understand your place in the century-to-century ecological cycles," Churchill says. "Human lifetimes are so short compared to the stellar life cycles in our galaxy-oasis that it is like we are short-lived insects isolated in a tiny patch in a dynamic and fragile ecological system. Our intimate connection to the stars and dependence upon their life cycles is real. Knowing this, we better know ourselves, our place, and our ultimate fate."

Churchill has been a faculty member at Penn State since 1996. He researches the creation of chemical elements throughout the cosmos and the origin and evolution of galaxies. This semester he is teaching an advanced undergraduate-level course on space colonization sponsored by the Space Technology and Society Program. Churchill earned his doctoral degree in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1997 and his bachelor's degree in physics at California Polytechnic State University in 1989.

Remaining lectures in the series—focusing on planets and life—are scheduled as follows:

  • "Parade of the Planets: Past, Present and Future," Chuck Higgins, Penn State, 11:00 a.m., Saturday, 28 April, in the State College High School North Auditorium.
  • "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life," Frank Drake, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, 4:00 p.m., Saturday, 14 July, in 100 Thomas Building.

The "Origins in Astronomy" series is hosted by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and 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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