Our local star plays a key role in supporting life on Earth through a warm (but not too warm) climate, but there are multiple factors that determine the nature of Earth's climate. Our atmosphere plays a key role in mediating the interaction between the Sun's energy and the Earth's surface, reflecting some of the light and trapping some of it too. The distance from the Sun plays a big role too, as well as the orientation of the Earth's rotation axis and the wobbling about that axis over time. In this talk I will discuss the various factors that control Earth's climate and contrast Earth's habitability to the stark inhospitable nature of planets like Venus. We will look at what we know about the relationship between climatic shifts in the past, and events like mass extinctions. And we will discuss what is now happening with global warming, and try to understand how such trace amounts of greenhouse gases can have such a serious effect on our climate, as well as put the current warming into historical context.
Max Katz is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University. He holds an M.S. in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Here at Stony Brook, his research interests are mainly in computational fluid dynamics, specifically simulations of stars, especially the kinds of stars that explode.