Astronomy Professor John Cannon Download .MP3
Professor John Cannon is an observational astronomer. He studies dwarf galaxies—systems that are smaller and less massive than our Milky Way. These objects are important components in the formation of structure over cosmic time.
Who majors in astronomy: Motivated, organized, quantitatively capable students with strong physical intuition and a drive to learn. Astronomy students see skid marks on the road and wonder how fast the car was going.
Why Mac for astronomy: First, because the college is strong across the board. Second, because the way we do science sets us apart. Macalester focuses on research opportunities for students and has the resources to support that model of teaching. Astronomy students often use their research here as a springboard for further work at national and international facilities.
What’s new: Astronomy is changing very quickly, with multiple new telescopes coming online in the next few years. We are learning how large galaxies are built, in part by observing dwarf galaxies.
What are extreme galaxies: Outside the norm. Large spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are common, but I’ve been researching some very compact “extreme” galaxies. These systems hold enormous potential for studying dark matter and for probing how stars are formed.
Student research: During summer 2009, seven student researchers worked with me to acquire, analyze, and interpret data on dwarf galaxies. This research was supported by Macalester and by grants from the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute, the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, which operates the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Research Corporation, which supports physical and biological science research.
If you could have unlimited time on any telescope: Probably the Australia Telescope Compact Array. All the constellations that you can see in the southern sky from here are upside down there—plus you have kangaroos bounding around. Or maybe back to the VLA (Very Large Array) telescope in New Mexico, where I have taken some Mac students.
Free time: Sports, running, hiking, travel. When I was at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, my wife and I traveled all over Europe. If I had to pick two top travel goals, I would say Machu Picchu in Peru, where they had amazing astronomy, and Easter Island— I just want to understand how that happened.
Favorite book: For fun, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. The Dan Simmons series The Hyperion Cantos may be my favorite.
A perfect Saturday afternoon: Looking back on a successful week of work, and going on a hike or to a sold-out Iowa football game with my wife and friends.
One thing you always have with you: My curiosity. Why are things the way they are? Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?
People would be surprised to know: I’m afraid I’m a Parrothead. My best friend and I have been going to Jimmy Buffett concerts for an embarrassing number of years, and it’s been a lot of fun.