Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Sep 20th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Transcending Time With A Telescope

news2-1Astronomy professor gazes 15 billion years into the past
Ever since she was a little girl, Sandra Faber has been pondering the heavens. She recalls spending many evenings lying on the grass, gazing skyward and meditating upon the origins of our cosmos. “I think most kids look up with wonder at the night sky,” she says. “It just struck a chord of awe in me.”

Faber has spent her entire adult life pursuing that sense of awe. Now, as professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, she is working at the cutting edge of her field to answer the questions starry-eyed youths have been asking for centuries, including one enigma that puzzles scientists to this day.

Faber is leading a group of more than 100 observers from all over the world in a study that will utilize the Hubble Space Telescope to collect light from the furthest reaches of our universe in an effort to shed light on the formation of some of the earliest known galaxies. In the process she will gain a better understanding of black holes, and determine, once and for all, whether dark energy—the theoretical force astrophysicists suspect is at the root of our universe’s perpetually accelerating rate of expansion—is science fact or science fiction.

news_starsThe Hubble Multi-Cycle Treasury Program will capture images of 250,000 galaxies, with the help of two very powerful cameras. The first, known as the Advanced Camera For Surveys, was installed in 2002 and can capture visible light from as far back as 9 billion years. However, Faber is more excited for the observations she will be able to make with the newly installed, infrared-sensitive Wide Field Camera 3. Using the Wide Field camera’s infrared capabilities, Faber will be able to peer back in time and get a good look at galaxies that formed around 13 billion years ago, roughly 600,000 years after the Big Bang, when the universe was still very much in its infancy, and when the rules governing cosmic development were different than they are now.

“Telescopes are humanity’s time machines,” she says.

Faber is certain that observing these young galaxies will yield new clues to many unanswered astrophysical questions. For one, she hopes to answer whether galaxies form around existing black holes or if it is the galaxies themselves that produce the ultra-dense gravitational behemoths.

Yet, while learning about galaxy development and black holes is of great interest to Faber, she is most excited for what the project will reveal about what she calls, aside from quantum theory, “the most puzzling and interesting discovery of modern physics”—dark energy.

Astrophysicists know that the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang. What is puzzling about our universe’s expansion, however, is that it appears to be speeding up. “If gravity works the way that it should, we should see that expansion slowing down,” Faber says. “It’s totally counterintuitive.”

This program, according to Faber, “will determine unequivocally whether there is dark energy in the universe, and, therefore, whether what appears to be the greatest puzzle in modern physics is really a puzzle or not.”

The researchers will answer this riddle by looking carefully at a particular class of supernovae—known as Type Ia supernovae, which are produced by the extremely powerful explosion of white dwarf stars. These Type Ia supernovae are also called “standard candles,” because astronomers believe that all Type Ia supernovae burn at the same brightness. By comparing nearby, present-day standard candles with their 13 billion-year-old predecessors—born when the mysterious force, currently explained as dark energy, was not active in the universe—the team will be able to determine two things with certainty: one, whether all Type 1a supernovae are the same brightness; and two, whether dark energy really exists.

Whatever information is gained from the observation, the program will be a success, Faber says. “This study is going to put the capstone on two of the major missions of Hubble,” she explains. It will have charted, for the first time, the earliest stages of galaxy evolution, and it will have added to the growing cache of data for future generations of astronomers to study and synthesize.

The telescope will be brought out of orbit soon, and gathering as much information as possible now is crucial to humanity’s understanding of how the universe operates, and, in turn, how we came to exist on this planet.

“Our existence on this planet is not magical,” Faber says, adding that it came as the result of natural processes, which began with the Big Bang and continue to this day. For Faber, understanding those processes is crucial for the betterment and perpetuation of mankind. “I think that astronomical knowledge is the most important knowledge,” she says. “We have to keep telling this story.”

Comments (1)Add Comment
former M.D.
written by F.J.Stols, April 26, 2010
i was just wondering if the father of Sandra Faber was named Jaap Fabius from the Netherlands, who went to the U.S. app. 1960 as a mathematician to San Francisco? I happened to go to the same school in The Hague, and to the same University (Leiden)
F.J.Stols, the Netherlands

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past

 

The Peace Equation

Sunday is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a global peace-building day when nations, leaders, governments, communities and individuals are invited to end conflict, cease hostilities, creat 24 hours of non-violence and promote goodwill. Monday is Autumn equinox as the Sun enters Libra (right relations with all of life). The Soul Year now begins. We work in the dark part of the year (Persephone underground) preparing for the new light of winter solstice. Tuesday to Wednesday is the Virgo new moon festival. We know two things about peace. “The absence of war does not signify peace.” And “Peace is an ongoing process.” In its peace-building emphasis, the UNIDP, through education, attempts to create a “culture of peace, understanding and tolerance”. Esoterically we are reminded of the peace equation: “Intentions for goodwill (and acting upon this intention) create right relations with all earth’s kingdoms which create (the ongoing process of) peace on earth.” At noon on Sunday, in all time zones, millions of participating groups will observe a moment of silence for peace on earth. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and doves released as the New Group of World Servers recite the Great Invocation (humanity’s mantram of direction). To connect with others around the world see www.cultureofpeace.org    Let us join together with the mother (Virgo). Goodwill to all, let peace prevail on earth. The dove is the symbol for the day.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sweet Treats

Local cannabis bakers win award for cookies

 

What fashion trends do you want to see, or not see?

Santa Cruz  |  High School Guidance Counselor

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.