What is the most fascinating astronomical discovery of the last quarter-century? The William M. Staerkel Planetarium asks YOU to decide!
In honor of its 25th anniversary, the planetarium is asking patrons to go online
and cast a vote for what they think is the greatest scientific discovery in astronomy from the last 25 years. Votes from the survey will be tabulated on March 1, and a scientist will present on the winning topic for the planetarium's April 5 "World of Science" talk.
The annual "World of Science" lecture series features local scientists who present a public talk on their expertise. Held on the first Friday of the months that Parkland classes are in session, the talks cover a wide range of the sciences.
"After we got the idea to feature an astronomical discovery during the time the planetarium has been open, the list of possible topics got to be long!" said David Leake, planetarium director. "We decided to get the public involved to help us decide."
Leake asked several astronomers from the University of Illinois to help with the list, narrowing it to a "top ten" that includes (in no order):
- Dark energy and the accelerating universe: In 1998, observations of a certain type of exploding star showed that not only is the universe expanding, it is accelerating!
- Extrasolar planets orbiting other stars: In the fall of 1995 the first confirmed planet orbiting another star (51 Pegasi) was announced. As our instruments improved, today we suspect over 800 extra-solar planets.
- First views from the surface of Saturn’s Moon, Titan, and its lakes: In early 2005, the Cassini spacecraft unleashed the Huygens probe towards Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Huygens survived the trip and revealed the first images from an surface of another moon. During the decent, we also saw lakes of methane and evidence of rain.
- Confirmation of the Kuiper Belt in the outer solar system: Gerard Kuiper first hypothesized about a belt of comets past the orbit of Neptune back in 1951, but the first to discovered was in 1992. Today, over 1000 Kuiper Belt objects have been found. Study of this area of the solar system led to the demise of Pluto as a planet.
- Evidence of water on Mars: Going back to science fiction stories back to the late 1800s spoke of water (and life) on Mars, but it wasn’t until the Mariner 9 mission that we saw evidence of ancient running water. The Mars Odyssey (2001), Recon Orbiter (2006) provided more evidence. Then the Phoenix lander photographed ice on the surface in 2008.
- Hubble Deep Field image: Of the countless breathtaking images provided to us by the Hubble Space Telescope, one that stands out is the Hubble Deep Field, taken in 1995. What was an empty area near the Big Dipper turned out to harbor over 3000 never-before-seen galaxies.
- Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter: We all watched in 1994 as fragments of this comet clobbered the southern hemisphere of the planet Jupiter thus illustrating how collisions have shape the solar system.
- Geysers on Neptune’s Moon, Triton and Saturn’s moon, Enceledas: The farther out in the solar system you go, the colder it gets, so few expected activity during our excursions to the other planets. But Voyager 2 saw liquid nitrogen geysers on Neptune’s moon, Triton, in 1989 and, more recently, water geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceledas.
- Sun/Earth relationships and the effects of coronal mass ejections: Though the northern lights have been observed since humans first gazed skyward, we started to get a sense of just how much the Sun affects our planet after the launch of the SOHO satellite in late 1995. Monitoring the Sun 24/7 has resulted in a new field of research called “space weather.”
- View of stars orbiting the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way: The radio signature of what appears to be the center of our galaxy was discovered in 1974 but there was speculation as to what was there. In 2002, the first star orbiting the center was seen. Since then, further studies of the galactic center have revealed a four billion solar mass black hole.
"It was a different time in 1987. Voyager 2 was about to pass by Neptune for the first time and Pluto was still a planet! And it would be a little less than three years before the Hubble Space Telescope would be launched into orbit," explained Leake.
A link to the survey can be found on the front page of the Staerkel Planetarium's website, (www.parkland.edu/planetarium
). To count, votes must be received by the end of the work day on February 28. A full schedule of World of Science lectures can also be found there.