UCR Department of Physics and Astronomy Hold Public Events to Teach about Dark Matter, Mercury Transit

Viewing events are free and open to the public

The poster for the Mercury Transit event

By Amy Zahn

UC Riverside’s Physics and Astronomy Department is holding a viewing of the rarely-seen Mercury transit — to educate the community about science in an accessible way.

Photo shows Mario De Leo Winkler.

Mario De Leo Winkler is a postdoctoral researcher in UC Riverside’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

“Mercury: Transit and Beyond,” an event to highlight Mercury’s passing between Earth and the Sun, will take place on Monday, May 9 in two parts. There will be a telescope viewing from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at UCR’s parking lot 30, and a public talk by Professor Stephen Kane of San Francisco State University at UCR’s Extension Center from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

While the Mercury transit occurs roughly ten times per century, it won’t be be visible from California again until 2019, and after that, until 2049. Additionally, it is unsafe — and impossible — to view the transit without special equipment. De Leo-Winkler encourages both students and community members to come out, even if just for a few minutes, to experience this rare occurrence.

De Leo Winkler explained that most of the images we see of outer space are captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, but since dark matter emits only gravity, it doesn’t show up. This makes the simulations all the more important to physicists, who have no other way of depicting the elusive substance.

The department will hold two more lectures in this series this year, one on May 26 about quasars and black holes, and another on June 9 about active galactic nuclei.


“This is a great way for the department to reach out to the local community,” said Umar Mohideen, the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The event cannot be observed without the aid of telescopes, so we want to use our equipment to make this unique opportunity available to the public.”

No RSVP is necessary for these free events.

The “Cosmic Wednesday” lecture took place at 6:30 p.m. on April 27 in room A265 of Bourns Hall. Professor George Becker discussed computer-generated simulations of dark matter, a special kind of matter that doesn’t emit light or magnetic or electric fields, making it difficult to detect.

“(Dark matter) is visualized and simulated inside computers so astronomers know what they’re looking for through telescopes because they can’t actually see it,” said astrophysics postdoctoral researcher Mario De Leo Winkler, who specializes in public outreach and education in science at UC Riverside.

De Leo Winkler hopes students and the community will take advantage of these hands-on ways to learn about both science and the research going on at UC Riverside.

“It’s a great way to get closer to the faculty members. We hope that some undergraduate students become graduate students,” he said, “or that they might be interested in these subjects that they didn’t know were being researched or taught at UCR.”

The Department of Physics and Astronomy can be reached at 951-827-5331. For more information about these events, contact De Leo-Winkler at mariodlw@ucr.edu.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-4756
E-mail: john.warren@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Mario De Leo Winkler
E-mail: mariodlw@ucr.edu.

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