Dunlap Institute Videos: Cosmos From Your Couch

Cosmos From Your Couch

Looking for a way to connect with the wider world–or maybe the wider universe–during the pandemic? The Dunlap Institute and our partners from across the University of Toronto want to connect with you! Come hear about everything from old cosmic mysteries to the latest research, all from the comfort of your own couch. We’ll be presenting talks online via Zoom and YouTube.

All talks will be streamed live on the Dunlap Institute YouTube channel and archived below for future viewing.

Misconceptions About the Big Bang - Dr. Michael Reid

Nearly everyone has heard that the Big Bang was an explosion that created the universe. Starting from a tiny seed called a singularity, the whole universe sprang into being. Or did it? This common description of how the Universe began isn’t entirely wrong, but nor is it entirely right. In this talk, Dr. Michael Reid showed how the well-intentioned ways we describe and illustrate the beginning of the Universe often reinforce misconceptions, and how these misconceptions lead to unnecessary skepticism about the Big Bang theory. He talked about what the theory does say, what it doesn’t say, and how we can imagine it more accurately.

Dark Energy & Dark Matter - Dr. Renée Hložek

Do you lie awake at night wondering what the difference is between dark matter and dark energy? Watch Prof. Renée Hložek's talk about how they are different, how they change the Universe and why you should care about these exciting dark components of our cosmos! She tells you not only about what they are and about some of the exciting telescopes we are building to discover the secrets of the Universe. Bring your cup or tea or cocktail, settle down and get ready to explore our exciting cosmos.

Finding Your Space in Time and Place - Dr. Roberto Abraham

In this talk, Dr. Roberto Abraham does his best to give you an astronomical perspective on Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Roberto Abraham is a Professor of Astronomy in the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. His research is in galaxy formation and evolution, as well as in the use of new technologies to enable breakthrough discoveries in astronomy. He is the former president of the Canadian Astronomical Society, has received many awards for his research and teaching, and has been involved in the construction and management of some of the most innovative telescopes on earth and in space.

Whispers From the Cosmos - Dr. Katie Breivik

The recent discovery of gravitational waves marks the dawn of a new field of astronomy and provides new opportunities to study several elusive systems in the Cosmos. Compact binaries, made up of pairs of stellar remnants, are difficult to observe with traditional astronomical observations, but they are the most prolific source of gravitational waves. In this edition of Cosmos From Your Couch, we did a light-speed intro of General Relativity, gravitational waves, and what we’ve learned from the 12 gravitational-wave detections to date!

A Brief History of Everything - Dr. Patrick Breysse

Fourteen billion years ago, the universe was little more than a cloud of hot hydrogen gas. Dr. Patrick Breysse tells the story of how that cloud of gas evolved into all of the galaxies, stars, and planets we see around us today. In the process, he explained some of how astronomers study the history of the universe, and how telescopes are secretly time machines that let us look directly into the distant past. He also talked about some of the great mysteries that remain in this story, and how we’re working in Toronto and elsewhere to solve them.

Questions From Your Couch - Dr. Katie Breivik, Dr. Abby Crites and Dr. Maria Drout

Did you have a question for one of our astronomers? Our expert team was live on Thursday, April 2nd at 7pm EDT for a “Cosmos From Your Couch” – Q and A edition!

SuperBIT - Mohamed Shabaan

Is it possible to weigh the entire Universe? If so, why does it matter?

The fascinating answer lies with a telescope and team with roots at U of T and the Dunlap Institute. In recent years, Balloon-borne telescope “SuperBIT” has been making serious scientific strides at relatively low costs, and there’s much more to come.

Astronomical Alchemy - Dr. Maria Drout

As Carl Sagan once said, “We are made of star stuff.” In other words, every element in the Universe has its own astronomical origins story. Elements are created everywhere: from the centres of stars, to supernovae explosions, to the Big Bang itself.

Professor Maria Drout took us on a journey through the periodic table, highlighting exciting new results which will shed light on the origin of the heaviest elements in the Universe.

Cosmos From Your Couch: Ask Us Anything! - Dr. Illana MacDonald, Dr. Cameron Van Eck and Dr. Suresh Sivanandam

Did you have a question for one of our astronomers? Our expert team was live on Thursday, April 17th at 7pm EDT for a “Cosmos From Your Couch” – Q and A edition!

Exploring the Past Lives of Distant Galaxies - Dr. Kartheik Iyer

No tale about the Universe can be complete without talking about galaxies. Galaxies are massive cosmic structures containing billions to trillions of stars. But they can be a challenge to understand, because they are incredibly diverse in shape, size, and formation.

In this episode of “Cosmos From Your Couch,” we’ll explore galaxy evolution, and connect populations of galaxies across different ages of the Universe to figure out how they grow through cosmic time – and why some galaxies eventually stop forming stars.

The World Records of the Universe - Dr. Bryan Gaensler

It’s always exciting when a world record is broken. But the records set here on Earth are small-scale and puny, compared to those set elsewhere in our vast cosmos.

What’s the coldest place in space? What’s the fastest object in the Universe? What’s the biggest object we’ve ever seen in space? And what’s the loudest sound ever?

Join Professor Bryan Gaensler on a tour of the extremes of our amazing Universe.

Planets Under Construction: How to Study a Million Year Process - Dr. Nienke van der Marel

Planets around other stars, also called exoplanets, are seen everywhere! In the last 25 years, thousands of exoplanets have been found throughout the Milky Way. How do we find these planets? What are the chances of discovering life there? And if they are so common, why is it that we still don’t know how they are formed? With the ALMA telescope we can now finally zoom into the birth cradles of planets: dusty disks around young stars. The spectacular images have given us new insights, but also raised many more questions on the process of planet formation.

Our Galactic Home: The Milky Way Galaxy - Dr. Gwendolyn Eadie

Have you ever been to a place with almost zero light pollution, and seen the beautiful band of stars that spans across the night sky? The feeling of awe at this sight can be moving — it’s no wonder artists around the world love to photograph it! But what exactly is this band of stars and what does it tell us about where we are in the Galaxy, and in the universe? Join Prof. Eadie for a discussion about our Galaxy, from its spiral arms to its stellar halo, to its central black hole… and even its dark matter!  Together, let’s take a virtual tour of our shared Galactic home — the Milky Way!

Archaeoastronomy - Dr. John Percy

Archaeoastronomy can be defined as “the study of how people in the past have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena, and what role the sky played in their cultures”. University of Leicester archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles has described it as “a field with academic work of high quality at one end, but uncontrolled speculation bordering on lunacy at the other”. This presentation will highlight examples from both the Old World and the New World. Presenter John Percy is a Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, and Science Education, at the University of Toronto, and an Associate of the Dunlap Institute. He has a longstanding interest in this and other interdisciplinary aspects of astronomy.

Adaptive Optics - Dr. Masen Lamb

The twinkling in stars has long captured the imagination of humanity, acting as a doorway to the night sky for many and even serving as the focus for a classic children’s lullaby. The Earth’s turbulent atmosphere is responsible for this twinkling however, and its effect has hampered modern astronomy for decades. Space telescopes such as Hubble have been able to avoid this situation by existing well above the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the logistics with building space telescopes on a large scale (both in size and quantity) has largely motivated astronomers to explore other means to manage the effects of the turbulent atmosphere. The most prevalent method is through a technology called Adaptive Optics, where deformable mirrors help to mostly remove these atmospheric effects throughout the course of an observation. This talk aims to outline this technology and discuss its current and future role for ground-based astronomy.

Tension in the Expanding Universe - Emily Tyhurst

What happens when scientists disagree on a measurement? The Hubble constant, the number which describes the expansion of the universe, can be measured from the cosmic microwave background, and from supernova data. However, these numbers have been in worsening disagreement for years. What tools do we as scientists use to investigate when methods might have systematic errors built in? What would it mean for cosmology, the study of the history of the universe, if both measurements were right? Join PhD Candidate Emily Tyhurst for this exciting story that goes all the way back to the origins of the universe itself.

Odyssey of the Voyagers - Dr. Ilana MacDonald

Over 40 years ago, two small spacecraft left the Earth to go on an incredible journey through our solar system. Their mission was to visit the four giant planets orbiting around our sun, and to carry a golden record, which would act as a time capsule for future generations and maybe even extraterrestrial beings who came across it. The Voyager probes have now reached the very edge of our solar system and continue to travel into interstellar space! Learn about their amazing travels and the impact they have had on our vision of humanity’s place in the Universe.

Connect with Mi’kmaw Moons—A Two-Eyed Seeing Project - Dave Chapman (RASC Halifax Centre) & Cathy LeBlanc (Acadia First Nations)

ThThe Mi’kmaw Moons Project is a volunteer collaboration by RASC Fellow Dave Chapman (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) and Mi’kmaw cultural interpreter Cathy LeBlanc (Newcombville, Nova Scotia) that began in 2013 and continues today (see biographies and project summary below). The aim of the project is to educate all Canadians in the lunar time-keeping practices of indigenous people (especially the Mi’kmaq) by presenting traditional teachings alongside our understanding of the Moon’s celestial motion according to conventional (i.e. western) astronomy, using an approach known as Two-Eyed Seeing[1]. The project has created a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/www.MikmawMoons), a multitude of oral presentations in various formats, the publication of an award-winning article in the Griffith Observer magazine (reprinted in JRASC 111(1), February 2017, and a series of language videos. Cathy and David presented the banquet presentation “One Moon—Two Eyes” at the 2015 RASC General Assembly in Halifax, Nova Scotia The next steps for the project may include an educational children’s book and a planetarium show.


Dave Chapman is a graduate of University of Ottawa (B.Sc., 1975) and University of British Columbia (M.Sc., 1977). He worked for 31 years as a Defence Scientist. He is a Life Member (since 1986) of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and was the editor of the RASC Observer’s Handbook (2012–2016 editions). The RASC awarded him the Simon Newcomb Award in 1986, the Service Award in 2015, and the Fellowship Award in 2020. He has been an amateur astronomer for over half a century.

Cathy Jean LeBlanc is a graduate of St. Thomas University (B.A., 2002). She is a Mi’kmaw cultural interpreter (10 years with Parks Canada), an artist, and a member of the Big Drum group Women of the Shore. Cathy currently works for the South Shore Regional School Board as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner.

[1] Two-Eyed Seeing is a guiding principle introduced by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall in 2004. It refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all (see www.integrativescience.ca/Principles/TwoEyedSeeing).

Wonder and Awe in Astronomy - Dylan Jow

The heavens have captured the imagination of all cultures and civilizations since the beginning of human history. Carried out in part by today’s modern astronomers, interpreting the stars is part of our shared heritage as a species. Why does astronomy hold such a central place in our minds? Given that it’s unlikely the cure to cancer is written in the stars, what role does the scientific discipline play in modern society?

Gravitational Waves: Sirens of the Universe - C.J. Woodford

Get an up-close and personal take on the several Gravitational Waves discoveries that have changed science for the better. Starting with the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015, the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration and partners have broken records in physics, astronomy, and interferometry – with still more to come. We will talk about what went into the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) that discovered the first gravitational wave, GW150914, from theoretical, engineering, and computer simulation viewpoints, plus some of the major discoveries that have accompanied the detentions since.

Toronto’s Astronomical Heritage - Dr. John Percy

In this richly illustrated, non-technical presentation, you will learn how Toronto has become a “centre of the universe” for astronomical research, education, public outreach, and communication, in parallel with the growth of the city and country. You will meet some of the remarkable people (e.g. Helen Sawyer Hogg), and organizations (e.g. the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada), and facilities (e.g. the David Dunlap Observatory) which have helped bring us to where we are today. Along the way, you will also appreciate the many ways that astronomy impacts society and culture — in the past, and today.

Peeking into the Invisible Universe with Radio Astronomy - Vincent MacKay

The colourful stars and galaxies that we can see with our eyes and traditional telescopes is only a small portion of the light coming from the sky. What constitutes that ‘invisible’ light that our eyes cannot see, how do we observe it, and what can it tell us? Discover radio astronomy, an exciting area of research that complements observations of the visible universe and allows us to dive deep into the cosmos.

Cosmic Dawn - Dr. Patrick Breysse

Shortly after the big bang, the universe was a cold, dark place, barely recognizable to those of us used to seeing beautiful telescope images of a sky filled with brilliant lights. Dr. Patrick Breysse will tell the story of how this cosmic dark age ended with the birth of the first stars, and how those stars burned off the fog of the early universe and built the sky we see around us today. He’ll also talk about how astronomers are peering back in time to see this cosmic dawn with our own eyes.

Ask Us Anything!

Do you have a question for one of our astronomers? Our expert team will be live on Tuesday, July 28th at 7pm EDT for a “Cosmos From Your Couch” – Q and A edition! Submit a question for us at events@dunlap.utoronto.ca and then stay tuned to see it answered live on YouTube!

What Dark Matter Isn’t - Harrison Winch

Eighty-five percent of the matter in our universe is made up of a mysterious invisible substance scientists call “dark matter”. Although we know some of its basic properties, we have no idea what dark matter actually is, or how it relates to the regular matter we know and love. What is this strange substance, and how can we find out? In this talk Harrison Winch will introduce some of the many theories proposed to explain dark matter, and demonstrate how astrophysicists work to constrain or “rule out” some of these theories. This approach stems from the importance of falsifiability in science, and he will explain how this philosophy of falsifiability guides current dark matter research. By the end of the talk, he hopes to convince you that the important question to ask is not “what dark matter is,” but “what dark matter isn’t.”

Misconceptions about the Universe: From Everyday Life to the Big Bang - Dr. John Percy

Misconceptions are deeply-held beliefs which are incorrect.  People have misconceptions about the most basic of astronomical topics, such as the cause of the seasons. In this profusely-illustrated, non-technical presentation, we will gently correct these “heavenly errors,” from everyday life, to exotic black holes, to the birth of the universe, to beliefs about fringe topics. This presentation is especially relevant to teachers and their students, since almost all of the topics are on the school science curriculum.

The Astronomy of Shakespeare - Dr. Jeremy Webb

“O, swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable”

Throughout his work, Shakespeare makes consistent use of the cosmos to help convey everything from the feelings and thoughts of his characters to simply the passage of time. Shakespeare not only had a firm grasp on astronomy, but appeared to have a keen interest in it as well! As part of our tour through the solar system and beyond, we will compare various references to the night sky in the works of Shakespeare to their real-world counterparts in attempts to decipher their meaning. We will also explore how the scientific beliefs of Shakespeare’s time influenced his writing, and how they have evolved over time.