Department of Physics Seminar Series: Douglas MacDougal
Monday, April 23, 2018 - 3:15pm

SB1 107, 1025 SW Mill Street
Free and open to the public
Light refreshments will be served


Douglas MacDougal
Adjunct Professor, Department of Physics, Portland State
Amateur Astronomer and Author
Partner at Marten Law
"Of Comets, Orbits, and the Curious Case of ‘Oumuamua, 1I/2017 U1,
Our First Interstellar Visitor"


Last October, a unique object was discovered in the sky by the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala in Hawaii. Now determined to be neither comet nor asteroid, the object likely began its journey from far beyond our solar system. It may have come from the region of Vega in the constellation Lyra, although Vega was not near that position when the object was there about 300,000 years ago. This talk will put this fascinating object in the context of comet orbital science to help reveal what makes it so special. We will use comparison examples from history, including the Great Comet of 1680, whose difficult orbit calculation Isaac Newton famously conquered in his Principia; our familiar periodic Comet Halley; some spectacular high-speed sun-grazing visitors from the Oort cloud; and the barely-hyperbolic trajectory of the recent Comet ISON.


About the speaker
Douglas MacDougal holds degrees in mathematics and law, and is a lifelong amateur astronomer. He saw his first comet at age six, and years later photographed the unforgettable Comet Hale-Bopp with its twin tails from the stunning 10,000’ skies of Haleakala. He has a passion for using his computer to re-create interesting dynamical problems in the history of astronomy and solve them again using the simplest, modern, mathematical methods. He is the author of a book using these techniques, Newton’s Gravity, an Introductory Guide to the Mechanics of the Universe (Springer, 2012). He has taught astronomy and math courses as an adjunct professor at Portland State University, and is a regular instructor at Saturday Academy in Portland.

He is also a lawyer, specializing in water rights and natural resources law in a downtown Portland law firm. He loves crunching numbers in his spare time. In the summer, Doug can often be found photographing the stars at the Oregon Star Party and at other dark sky sites in Oregon. 


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