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Douglas MacDougal
"The Lonely Life of Comets: the Mysterious Motions of the Most Beautiful Objects in Our Solar System"
November 18th, 2013

Douglas will be focusing on conveying a basic understanding of comet orbits, using real examples in historical context, including comets in elliptical, parabolic, and hyperbolic orbits, and showing how energy concepts can be use to characterize comet orbits.

Examples will include some of the great comets of history, such as the Great Comet of 1577, the Great Comet of 1680, and Halley’s Comet, as well as some illustrative recent comets, as a prelude to a discussion of the hyperbolic orbit of C/2012 S1 ISON. Will ISON survive solar passage?

Using mathematical modeling software, Doug will compare the orbit of ISON with some famous “sungrazing” comets to help explore this question. ISON will in fact reach perihelion November 28, about 10 days after his talk, so the topic will be timely!"

Douglas W. MacDougal, an RCA member, observed his first comet at the age of six and has been hooked on astronomy ever since.

Some of his memorable experiences include seeing brilliant Comet Bennett rise with its glorious tail in the pre-dawn skies over Koko Head crater in Oahu, from the beach where he was to meet his wife a week later; drawing Comet Halley from his backyard scope as it steadily approached perihelion; and photographing the unforgettable Comet Hale-Bopp with its twin tails from the stunning 10,000’ skies of Haleakala, in Maui.

Douglas has a degree in mathematics, with a minor in physics, from the University of Vermont, and is an adjunct professor at Portland State University teaching celestial mechanics and (previously) astronomy.

Doug has taught courses in astronomy and mathematics in Portland's Saturday Academy, whose classes typically include talented middle school and high school students.

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 showing the stars to students at the OMSI Hancock Astronomy Camp.

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