Nobel laureate explains universe, how galaxy may end

10/26/2012


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (October 25, 2012) — Renowned astrophysicist, John C. Mather, shed light on some of the mysteries of the universe during a lecture at Tuskegee University Wednesday. In a detailed and entertaining lesson to a packed audience in the ballroom of the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Tuskegee University, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics explained the evolution of the universe, from beginning to end.


John C. Mather is a senior astrophysicist and senior
project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope
at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. 
 
The audience listens to John C. Mather shed light on
some of the mysteries of the universe during a lecture
at Tuskegee University Wednesday. 
 
Mather is a senior astrophysicist and senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Although, Mather’s work in measuring cosmic background radiation helped to prove that the universe is expanding and made the Big Bang theory plausible. Mather said the Big Bang theory may not be the definitive explanation for the universe’s expansion.

“(The Big Bang Theory) conveys the wrong impression. You picture, a little grenade going off, but that’s not what we measured,” Mather explained. “We see stuff running apart from other galaxies, but we didn’t see the so-called explosion of the Big Bang.”

Mather said his work is like “looking back in time.” He said scientists can observe the remnants of the universe’s early days, but search to fill in the details about its origin and the development of life on our planet.

“It’s important to me and everyone who wants to know how we got here,” Mather said. “As scientists, that’s our job to figure out all the parts and how does it work.”

How will the universe end?

As scientists continue to seek answers about life’s origin, some already have a clear idea about the demise of the galaxy. In almost chilling detail, Mather outlined how scientists believe the Milky Way will end.

Mather said environmental conditions on Earth will worsen over several centuries. The planet will become warmer, the acidity of the oceans will increase and much of the land will be overtaken by the rising oceans. Also, our sun and stars will eventually die. Mather said the Milky Way is on an eventual collision course with the Andromeda Nebula and the Earth could possibly be thrown out of the galaxy.

“Some people think this is a terrible story; it’s just a story,” Mather said as the audience laughed. “To tell you the truth, we don’t know if it’s true.”

Better than Hubble

Mather also revealed details about NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the more powerful and capable successor to the Hubble Telescope. Set to launch in about six years, this massive infrared telescope can collect more light than Hubble and observe more wavelengths than its predecessor.

“So, we hope to see the first stars and galaxies that formed after the early universe,” Mather said.

Mather showed the visual capability differences between the Hubble and Webb telescopes with images of the Eagle Nebula. The nebula is known to be an area populated by infant stars, but the Hubble image was opaque because the cosmic dust and gases could not be penetrated. An infrared image clearly showed the young forming stars hidden within the nebula.

“That’s what scientists are trying to do today, see how are stars like the sun being made today,” Mather said of the Webb telescope.

To learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope project, go to:
www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html.


Luther S. Williams, provost and vice president for academic affairs, left, and Ret. Maj. Gen. Charles E. Williams, chair of the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees, right, presented John C. Mather with award for his service.


© 2012 Tuskegee University

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