“The Birth and Death of Stars”


Contributing Writer
Walt Pickut
Board of Directors

Everybody knows that storks bring baby children, but where do baby stars come from? And how about the black holes that glide through the universe devouring them?

The public is invited to come to the Martz-Kohl Observatory, 176 Robin Hill Road in Frewsburg on Wednesday evening, May 16 at 7:00 p.m. to hear fascinating answers to these and many other questions about the night sky. This presentation is geared for general audiences, students and anyone else who enjoys looking up into the starry sky at night.

The evening’s speaker will be Mike Stafford, a former instructor of physics at Penn State-Behrend. He has also taught at Mercyhurst University and is currently an adjunct instructor of physics at Gannon University.

“The Birth and Death of Stars” will explain what stars are, how they form and evolve, and how they die, with a special emphasis on the formation of stellar black holes. Included will be an explanation of the work of the well-known physicist, the late Stephen Hawking.

Stafford’s interests in physics are wide-ranging, but he has a special interest in classical mechanics, which describe the motion of celestial bodies like stars and planets through space. Outside of physics, Stafford is a private pilot, licensed parachute rigger and currently an inactive expert parachutist. He is also an Extra Class ham radio licensee. He reads widely, can talk on many subjects, and with the sense of humor that usually spices his talks, he even claims – sometimes – to speak coherently! Q&A to follow, so guests are urged to bring along any questions they may have about anything that moves or shines in the night sky.

After the presentation, guests are welcome to visit one of the largest, public robotic telescopes in New York and tour the Martz-Kohl observatories.

If the weather is clear observatory staff invite guests to stay for public viewing using the telescopes. Please dress warmly. Although the classroom and control room are heated, the two observatories are not, as the telescopes must be kept at the same temperature as the outside atmosphere for good viewing. Spring evenings can still be quite cool.

The Martz-Kohl Observatory is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit association with a mission to inform educate and inspire the general public and support teaching in the sciences of astronomy and physics. There is never an admission fee, but a donation of $5 dollars will be appreciated to support operating expenses.

See Mars!

Please note that on Friday, July 27, Mars will make its closest approach to planet Earth. It will appear brighter in the sky than it has since its 2003 approach when it was closer to Earth and brighter than at any time in the last 60,000 years. It will appear nearly twice as bright as the solar system’s giant planet, Jupiter. If the sky is clear, the observatory will welcome guests to view the mysterious red planet for themselves through the Martz-Kohl telescopes.

Though Wednesday is the observatory’s usual open night for public viewing, because of this special event, and because of variable viewing conditions from night to night, extended hours may be made available during the week of closest approach. Please check the Martz-Kohl Observatory website for details as the date approaches: www.martzobservatory.org.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.