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“From The Big Bang To California” Is Topic of Last Science On Saturday Lecture

May 10 , 2005

A nearby black hole, hurtling through the plane of our galaxy like a cannonball, is heading in our way. The goods news -- this runaway black hole is considered a “safe” distance away from us -- approximately 6,000 to 9,000 light-years away. The black hole, called GRO J1655-40, is streaking across space at a rate of 250,000 miles per hour. Even though, by definition, black holes swallow light, this runaway black hole has a companion star, allowing astronomers to track it. The hole is slowly devouring the companion, which apparently survived the supernova that originally created the black hole.

Astronomers have known about stellar-mass black holes (ranging anywhere from 3.5 to approximately 15 solar masses) since the early 1970s. But what makes a black hole? How can it be detected? What can we learn from it? And, how will it help us to understand our own galaxy?

These questions – and more – will be answered this Saturday, May 14, as Los Banos High School hosts the last in a series of three lectures titled Science on Saturday. These lectures are free of charge and are targeted for middle and high school students. The presentations are aligned with the California Science Standards and topics are selected from the forefront of science and technology research in a variety of disciplines. The series is presented by Merced College, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Science & Technology Education Program, Merced County Office of Education, Merced Union High School District, Los Banos Unified School District, Delhi Unified School District, and UC Merced.

“The Big Bang to California” is the topic of the last lecture and participants will learn about some of the most recent discoveries in astronomy. They will explore the origins of the Universe; the formation of galaxies, black holes, stars and planets; discover the importance of the interstellar medium; and hear about recent NASA explorations in our own Solar system. Some of this research is occurring at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where scientists are studying the important role that super-massive black holes play in the formation of galaxies.

This lecture will be presented by LLNL Research Astronomer Dr. Wil van Breugel, who has more than 25 years of experience in conducting astronomical research using a wide variety of telescopes on earth and in space. He obtained his PhD at Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, where he discovered that some galaxies exhibit strong radio emission which is powered by jets emanating from massive black holes at their centers (`radio galaxies'). Approximately 12 years ago, van Breugel joined LLNL as a research astronomer at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. He is now using the world's largest optical, twin 10-m telescopes of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to study the formation and evolution of the most massive galaxies and clusters of galaxies in the early Universe.

All lectures begin at 9 a.m. and end at 11:30 a.m. Seating is on a first come first serve basis and there is no pre-registration.

Directions to Los Banos High School are as follows:
Los Banos High School
1966 S 11th Street

Coming from the West
Take CA-152 East
Turn right on S 11th Street
Arrive at 1966 S 11th Street
Coming from the East
Take CA-152 West
Turn left on S 11th Street
Arrive at 1966 S 11th Street

For more information call 384.6107 or access the Merced College web site at

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