Looking Skyward, and Deep
Anticipating the potentially spectacular comet ISON, the College hosts experts to lecture on the history of the Chesapeake Impact Crater and on the mystery of planet Mercury.
CHESTERTOWN, MD—The Earth and Planetary Science Program at Washington College will get the community looking and thinking skyward with two space-related lectures in mid-October. On Oct. 17, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will share what he has learned about the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, a 24-mile wide dent in Earth’s surface formed by a meteor. And on Oct. 21, a space scientist will talk about one of the most intriguing planets in our solar system, Mercury. Both events are free and open to the public.
Professor Karl Kehm, who organized the talks, sees them paving the way for the arrival of the comet ISON, which is scheduled to blaze across Earth’s sky in late November. “The experts are saying it will either be the ‘Comet of the Century’ or fizzle out,” says Kehm, who teaches physics and environmental studies. “But either way, it should get the public focused on the heavens.”
The guest lecturer for Thursday, Oct. 17, is David Powars, a research geologist based at the Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center in Reston, Va. His talk on the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, Toll Science Center.
Powars leads his Center’s geological investigation of Coastal Plain deposits in the Chesapeake Bay Region as part of the USGS’s Atlantic Watershed Project. Working as a subsurface and surficial geological mapper, he was the principal discoverer of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, an accomplishment that earned the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Virginia Museum of Natural History. He will explain how scientists were able to piece together the crater’s story—that it was formed some 35 million years ago when a mile-wide chunk of space slammed with catastrophic force into a shallow ocean where part of eastern Virginia is now. Powars will address how the impact crater affects residents of coastal Virginia today.
On Monday, Oct. 21, at 4:30 p.m., Larry Nittler, an astrophysicist from the Carnegie Institution for Science who serves as Deputy Principal Investigator on NASA’s MESSENGER mission, will deliver a talk titled “Messenger at Mercury: Exploring an Enigmatic Planet.” The event takes place in Litrenta Lecture Hall, Toll Science Center.
The MESSENGER spacecraft began orbiting Mercury in 2011 and has returned a wealth of scientific data about the planet’s surface, interior, magnetic field and atmosphere. Nittler’s research focuses on the laboratory analysis and scientific implications of extraterrestrial materials, including meteorites and interplanetary dust particles. In addition to his work on MESSENGER (the name comes from MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), he is involved in the analysis of cometary samples from NASA’s Stardust mission and solar wind samples returned by the Genesis mission.
Both lectures are sponsored by the Glen Beebe ’81 Endowment and the McLain Program for Environmental Studies at Washington College.
Below, an image of the Spider Crater on Mercury. Courtesy of NASA.