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'Ask a Scientist' presentation March 20 to explore exploding stars

March 12, 2013
Justin Vasel

EAU CLAIRE — Justin Vasel, a 2011 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire physics graduate, will present "Stealthy Neutrinos and the Search for Exploding Stars" March 20 as part of the "Ask a Scientist" series.

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. at the Acoustic Café in downtown Eau Claire.

During his presentation, Vasel — who currently is pursuing a master's degree in physics and is a student researcher and teaching assistant in the physics department at the University of Minnesota Duluth — will discuss the solution to a current problem in astronomy research: the difficulty in studying exploding stars, also known as supernova explosions.

"These explosions are very rare; they happen in our galaxy on average only two or three times each century, making it very difficult for astronomers to be looking in the right place in the sky at the right time," Vasel said.

The solution to this problem lies with tiny particles called neutrinos, which are produced in copious amounts within a star right before the explosion happens, Vasel said.

"I am involved with an experiment called HALO (Helium And Lead Observatory), whose purpose is to listen for these neutrinos and then alert astronomers worldwide so that they can point their telescopes and watch and study the explosion as it happens. (The observatory) is located 6,800 feet underground in a laboratory called SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada," Vasel said.

During his presentation, Vasel will focus on how neutrinos are used in cutting-edge physics research, providing a deeper understanding of the universe in which we live. He also will discuss how stars work and why they explode in the first place.

The presentation, which is intended for a general audience with no prior knowledge of physics or astronomy, will consist of a 30-minute talk followed by a question-and-answer session.

The final "Ask a Scientist" presentation for the spring 2013 semester is:

  • April 17 — Dr. Jonathan Gardner, chief, Observational Cosmology Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, "A Scientific Revolution: The Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes."

For more information about the series, contact Dr. Paul Thomas, professor of physics and astronomy, at



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