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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Ancient Lights and Modern Change

<onomer Sydney Wolff ‘62 started her talk by discussing recent advances in astronomy. She recently gave a talk at her fiftieth reunion about the past fifty years in astronomical research. After only a few years, she found herself significantly updating her talk.

Astronomical research has entered a golden age. “What has made astronomy develop most rapidly has been the development of new technologies,” Wolff said, “and especially the ability of telescopes to go into space.”

Spacecraft have now visited every planet except Pluto. The New Horizon spacecraft will reach Pluto in July 2015.

Because the atmosphere blocks many types of energy such as x-rays and gamma rays from reaching telescopes on Earth, sending telescopes into space allows astronomers to see the full spectrum of energy in space.

She compared her old textbook to a new textbook she published. The old textbook has a bland grey cover while her book has a colorful picture of a star-forming region in space. “Astronomy has become way more colorful, way more interesting, and you can just understand way more what is going on,” Wolff said.

Astronomers can now view the evolution of the universe from 400,000 years after it began to expand. “We can now see galaxies where the light left them when the universe was only 400,000 years old,” Wolff said.

Astronomers have also recently begun working to find habitable planets that could support life. “The planet is maybe a millionth in brightness compared to the star,” said Wolff.

However, they can see the small dip in brightness when the planet moves in front of the sun and blocks some of its light. This has allowed Kepler to find 976 planets around 740 stars.

A recent paper postulated that twenty-two percent of Sun-like stars have planets similar enough to Earth and the right distance from their sun to support life.

She concluded by discussing the possibility for life on other planets. “If we find no evidence of life on the nearest 1,000 planets, then maybe in the corner of the galaxy, we truly are alone,” Wolff said.

“I really loved convo this week. I thought her talk was really exciting and I am really curious to see where her work with the telescope takes her,” said Isaama Stoll ’14.

“I did not expect her to bring up a more ‘dutiful’ cause to working in the scientific fields – as we are in perilous times for our planet,” said Gaston Lopez ‘17, “she expressed a sense of urgency towards the sciences in learning how to adapt to the new environment we will have on earth, one that I felt was one we needed.”

“The universe is so vast and so complicated, but there are so many fascinating observations modern scholars have made in the past few decades which have expanded the breadth of our knowledge about the universe immensely,” Stoll said, “her talk was a wonderful introduction into many of those observations and discoveries modern astronomers have made.”

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