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Non-technical Talks on Astronomy

I have been an astronomy lecturer for more than three decades.   I have spoken at conferences, civic group meetings, science festivals, Star Trek conventions, retirement homes, libraries, corporate retreats, and celebrity forums. My talks assume no background in science and mathematics, and are illustrated with superb color images from the world’s best telescopes.

Here are just some of the topics I can address for your organization:

Where Bill Gates’ Great Granddaughter Will go for her Honeymoon: The Top Tourist Sights of the Solar System
Illustrated with the latest images from U.S. and European space probes, this talk takes the audience on a “trip-of-a-lifetime tour” of the planets and moons in our cosmic neighborhood. Highlighted sites include the 4,000-mile lava channel on Venus, the towering Mount Olympus volcano on Mars (three times the height of Mount Everest), and “Cold Faithful” the salt-water geyser on one of Saturn’s moons. Explore the must-see, alien vistas that future tourists will surely include on their itineraries.

Black Holes: Space Warps, Time Machines, and the Gruesome Death of Stars
When the largest stars in the universe die, they leave behind a bizarre “star-corpse” whose properties challenge the human imagination. These black holes affect the nature of space and time itself and are the dramatic proof of Einstein’s most spectacular theory. Using analogies and thought-experiments (without mathematics), we will explore how these objects form, why falling into a black hole is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” and how astronomers are finding these stellar corpses by watching some of them consume their neighbor stars for lunch.

The James Webb Space Telescope: Our Giant Eye on the Invisible Sky  

The early images from the James Webb Space Telescope have been applauded by scientists, the media, and the public.  But there is far more to our expectations from this remarkable space instrument than just pretty pictures.  In this introductory talk, we discuss what makes the Webb a truly pioneering instrument, what the early images actually show, and what scientists expect the telescope to accomplish in years to come.  In the process, we will come to understand how the Webb observes an “invisible universe” of infrared rays, and what astronomers are hoping to learn from it about “cosmic evolution” — the birth and death of stars, planets, and galaxies.

What Were the Atoms in Your Body Doing 8 Billion Years Ago: The Story of Cosmic Evolution
Although few people ever think about it, the atoms that make up your body are “on loan” to you from the Earth’s “atom collection.” Thanks to modern astronomy, we now know the history of these atoms even before they were part of the Earth. In this talk, we examine the history of the cosmos, and how it evolved from the heat of the Big Bang to conditions that make astronomy fans possible. We focus on the role of exploding stars, which create new elements and recycle them so that to be available to future generations of stars, planets, and life-forms.

A Grand Tour of the Universe: If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Mars
This is my most frequently requested talk: covering the most beautiful sights within our solar system, throughout the Milky Way Galaxy (the vast island of stars inside which the Sun is located), and in the largest realm of the universe of galaxies. Enjoy the most spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the largest telescopes on the ground, including the rings of Saturn, the places where new suns are being born, the “corpses” of exploded stars, and cannibal galaxies, that eat their smaller neighbors for lunch. (Is best on a large screen and with a good projector.)

How did Pluto Get Kicked out of the Planet Club and What Are We Discovering There Now?
The public perception is that in 2006, astronomers suddenly demoted Pluto from being a full-scale member of the planet club, leaving Pluto fans angry and confused. Hear the inside story of what really happened to Pluto, learn about the discovery of other Pluto’s even farther from the Sun, and see the remarkable things the New Horizons probe discovered as it flew by Pluto in 2015, including the almost-frozen nitrogen sea, with its floating ice-bergs of rock-hard water.

The Fermi Paradox: If the Universe is Teeming with Planets and Life, Where are all the Aliens?
Astronomers have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars, some of them located in zones where life might comfortably exist. If, as scientists now conclude, there may be billions of Earth-like planets out there, why have we not been visited by alien tourists? This is what the great physicist Enrico Fermi asked in the 1950’s. Knowing more about the vast scales of space and time, we can now answer Fermi in a variety of imaginative ways and explain why evidence of intelligent life out there may be harder to find that we thought.

Martians We Have Known and Loved
The story of how humanity imagined, observed, and explored the red planet that was our neighbor, this talk takes you from the realm of science fiction to the latest images of our robot rovers exploring the martian surface.   Learn why NASA still considers Mars a strong candidate for a “second genesis” – the independent start of life on another world.

50 Years After Our First Step: What Do We Know about the Moon

2019 is the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first steps on the surface of the Moon. In that time, the Apollo missions, a fleet of robotic probes from several countries, and observations from Earth have taught us a lot about Earth’s surprising satellite. In this non-technical talk, we look at the past, present, and future of the Moon, including its violent origins, its unexpected storehouse of frozen water, and its long-term future, as it slowly moves away from Earth. Illustrated with beautiful images taken from orbit and on the surface, the talk helps the Moon “come alive” for audiences of all ages — as an eerie world next door, as an ever-changing object in the sky, and as a possible future destination for humanity and its ambitions.

Contact Andrew Fraknoi via the contact form on this website.

Comments on Past Talks
“You exceeded even the high standards we’ve come to expect from you in your talk to the Fellowship Forum today. You made me proud to introduce you, for you exemplified the best in communication. The ability to explain is a great boon, but to it you add the power to excite the minds of your audience. I’ve introduced a wide variety of speakers, but none ever who kept his hearers in such a constant state of attention and enjoyment.”
- William Goss, Former President, Canada College

“You could tell from the ‘edge of the chair’ attention and extended applause that you were superb. Thank you for the best program of the year.”
- Harry Kalshian, Advanced Information Systems, American Bell Company
Non-technical Talks on Astronomy - Andrew Fraknoi - Astronomy Lectures - Astronomy Education Resources