Sten Odenwald

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Sten Odenwald is an astronomer who runs the website Astronomy Cafe, and is a researcher studying the cosmic infrared background and space weather. Since receiving his Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University in 1982, he has been an astronomer in the Washington, D.C. area, primarily at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Early life[edit]

Odenwald was born in Karlskoga, Sweden, and emigrated to California with his family in 1955. He grew up in Oakland, where he attended primary school. Odenwald had interests in biology, chemistry, geology and electronics. In high school, he began a program of astrophotography.

After attending Fremont High School, Odenwald attended U.C. Berkeley. While there, he took courses in tensor analysis, General Relativity, and quantum theory. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Astronomy in 1975, and attended Harvard University as a graduate student in Astronomy.

At Harvard, he studied accretion disks around supermassive black holes.[citation needed] He then worked with Dr. Giovanni Fazio, and completed his Ph.D. in 1982 by investigating the far-infrared properties of the Milky Way's galactic center (purportedly the stomping grounds of a million-solar-mass black hole).[citation needed] He also worked at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, participating in high-altitude balloon launches involving the 1-meter infrared telescope that Fazio and his team built in 1975. While at Harvard, he was the Teaching Assistant for Owen Gingerich and David Latham.[citation needed]


Following the completion of his Ph.D., Odenwald moved to Washington, DC in 1982, where he worked as a post-Doctoral candidate at the Space Sciences Division of the Naval Research Laboratory until 1990. After a brief stint working for NASA headquarters pursuing education projects, he joined Dr. Mike Hauser with the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Team in 1992, working on the Diffuse Infrared background Experiment (DIRBE). This led to independent studies of extra-galactic objects, and collaborations with Dr. Alexander Kashlinsky and Dr. John Mather, who were investigating the cosmic infrared background, which as yet had not been detected by 1997. When the COBE program ended, Odenwald continued his collaboration with Kashlinsky and Mather, with the help of a 5-year NASA research grant.[citation needed] Odenwald worked on education activities related to the IMAGE satellite, and helped to form the NASA Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum. Since 1998, Odenwald's research has focused on space weather, specifically the way in which solar storms cause economic damage to satellites in space.[citation needed]

Current research[edit]

Odenwald currently works under contract to NASA at the Goddard Spaceflight Center, in education-related areas of space science. His most recent papers simulate the economic impacts of very large solar 'superstorms' to the commercial satellite network.[citation needed] He participates in TV programs for NASA, radio interviews and other areas to foster public education, and interest in astronomy and space research.[citation needed]

For Odenwald, education was a natural extension of his personal and professional interests, at a time when NASA was being asked to take the lead in inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists. These programs, in K-12 education, are called Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or 'STEM'.[citation needed][edit]

The Astronomy Cafe is a website that Odenwald started in 1995 as an experiment in public education using the new medium of the World Wide Web.[citation needed] It initially offered essays and collections of visual imagery in astronomy. Odenwald started the Ask the Astronomer section of the site, where he invited people to email questions about astronomy, and he would post the answers. The Astronomy Café traffic grew, and by 1998, the Ask the Astronomer section had reached 3000 questions. Odenwald decided to stop answering new questions after that, mainly because the questions had become repetitive. Ask the Astronomer still remains a popular search destination, and gets over 70,000 visitors to this page each month.[citation needed] Over the years, Odenwald has created web resources in astronomy, including those used by NASA.[citation needed]


Odenwald has published a number of books, beginning with the 1998 publication of The Astronomy Cafe,[1] and most recently, contributing to Stepping Through the Stargate, with the chapter entitled "Stargate: The Final Frontier?".[2] Other publications include the 2001 book The 23rd Cycle: Learning to live with a stormy star",[3] Patterns in the Void: Why Nothing is Important in 2002,[4] and a sequel to his first book, the 2003 publication Back to the Astronomy Cafe,.[5]


  1. ^ Odenwald, Sten (1998). The Astronomy Cafe. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-3278-5. 
  2. ^ Elrod, P. (2004). Stepping through the Stargate: Science, Archaeology and the Military in Stargate Sg1. City: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-32-6. 
  3. ^ Odenwald, Sten (2001). The 23rd Cycle. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12078-8. 
  4. ^ Odenwald, Sten (2002). Patterns in the Void. Boulder: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3938-3. 
  5. ^ Odenwald, Sten (2003). Back to Astronomy Cafe. Boulder: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4166-3. 

External links[edit]

Sites Odenwald writes or contributes to[edit]