Jon Nese, host of Penn State’s “Weather World,” says you can trace the roots of a longtime partnership with the astronomy and astrophysics department to the ancient Greek meaning of the word “meteorology.”
Loosely translated, it means the study of things high in the air. While the Greeks may have underestimated the true breadth of the universe, they were right on the similarities.
The close relationship between the two disciplines prompted Nese, a teaching professor and associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, to link up with Christopher Palma, astronomer and associate dean for undergraduate students in the Eberly College of Science (ECoS).
The stars first aligned in 2011, when Palma appeared on the statewide television show for the first “Cosmic Connections” segment. Since then, he’s appeared dozens of times on the show that’s produced by students, faculty and staff. The segment now airs quarterly to mark each changing of the season.
Nese said astronomy was a natural fit for the show because the science between ECoS and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) so closely overlap. The University’s newly launched Consortium for Planetary and Exoplanetary Sciences and Technology combines the research talents of the two colleges. Additionally, courses in astrobiology, planetary science and space atmospheres and weather are taught in EMS. There’s also a long history of faculty members from both colleges co-advising graduate and honors undergraduate students.
“These courses are embedded in our program,” Nese said. “There are already naturally occurring connections between the disciplines that literally go down to the curriculum level and the individual faculty member level.”
Because outreach is a passion of his, Palma said he jumped at the chance to be on the show. For him, it’s a chance to get people excited about his field, dispel some common misconceptions about the science and showcase the value of space research.
“Outreach and communicating science and astronomy is baked into our department,” Palma said. “So it’s great to be able to piggyback off of ‘Weather World’s’ great following to talk about the work we do. It’s yet another way to reach people outside of our field.”
Palma’s research interests are in galactic structure, stellar populations and education but interviews focus on all things space-related, including exploration, the search for extraterrestrial life, astrophysics and current events. Each interview ends with a tip telling budding astronomers what to look for in the night sky.
Nese and Palma said they’re still in the planning stages of the next show, which will air a5 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22 on WPSU-TV and statewide at 5:45 p.m. on PCN. However, it’s likely they’ll discuss the collapse of the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the ultra rare alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. Archived interviews, including several “Cosmic Connections,” are available on “Weather World’s” YouTube channel.
Nese praised Palma for his continued commitment to the show and for allowing him to merge his own personal and professional passions.
“Part of this partnership stems from me being just another one of those kids with a telescope,” Nese said. “But, also, when you’re blessed enough to have 15 minutes of statewide television a day, that’s a responsibility. It’s our duty to inform the public about some of the great research that’s going on in our community.”