The history of astronomy is the history of learning to glean information from light. The first new window on the universe was opened in the 1700s by scientists working together across the disciplines of optics, chemistry, and physics. They passed the light from a star through a glass prism, and measured the rainbow or spectra produced. They compared the measurements of starlight with the measure of spectra found of elements heated in a lab. They discovered that stars contained materials found on Earth, and invented “stellar spectroscopy” and modern astrophysics.
Roger Griffin is following in their footsteps, and belongs to the long line of scientists who design and build instruments to collection information contained in light and make it possible to learn about the nature of stars, galaxies and planets.
Roger built an instrument to measure the velocities of stars moving toward and away from us, taking a laborious process, and making it 100s of times faster, and more accurate.
Roger's WorldWideTelescope (WWT) tour visits the objects that he observes, his binary stars. He’s been observing them for decades. Roger presents the atlases he made of Procyon and Arcturus and obits these stars. Leaving our galaxy, he visits Andromeda, the large and small Magellanic Clouds the only galaxies visible to human eyes without a telescope.
Planet hunters adopted Rogers’ method to discover planets orbiting other stars.
Earthshine: Nick, the visionary
Nick Woolf’s story is about how to detect life on other planets.
Nick realized that if they were ever going to find life on another world they had to know what an inhabited planet looked like. He wanted the spectral signature of a planet with life on it, and he figured out how to observe Earth without leaving it.
He observed Earthshine — the sunlight reflected by the Earth’s atmosphere that lights up the dark side of a new moon. The light contains the spectral signature of an inhabited planet: Earth.
Seeing in the Dark: Wal, the observer
Wal Sargent’s story is about using big telescopes to see, read, and understand the history of the Universe.
His WWT tour begins with a flight to the early universe and ends with a fly through the Large Scale Structure of the Universe. Wal looked at bright, distant objects called quasars as if he was staring into the beam of a flashlight, shining at him from the distant past. He realized he was seeing the history of the Universe head-on, and then he and his students learned how to turn the beam sideways and seperate the layers of history.
Wal was attracted to things that were unusual. He worked at Mt Palomar and he was on the team that built the Keck Telescopesto see further and better.
The Magic of Math: Donald, the theorist
Donald Lynden-Bell is a mathematician, applying math and physics to the things that astronomers see.
He started work at the same time astronomers opened the first new window on the Universe observing radio waves from space. Eventually they built telescopes to observe all the frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the longest, coolest cosmic microwaves to most energetic X-rays and gamma ray bursts.
Donald says creativity is a lot of astronomy, and that mathematics is there and we discover it.
Using the WWT we travel to the early Universe to investigate a quasar - a supermassive black hole and the disk of gas spinning around it.
We observe an accurate simulation made using Donald’s math of the collapse of a gas cloud the formation of such a disk beginning a new star, solar system, or galaxy.
Donald provides a glossary of unusual phenomena that captured his imagination.
Conclusion: Alison, the filmmaker
At some point human history ancient people looked at the sky and began to wonder about questions like "Where am I? What am I? How did I get here?"
And these people began looking for the story of their creation and existence.
The generations alive in 1965, in the 20th century, are the first generation in the history of humankind to know the true answers to those questions.
This WorldWide Telescope tour visits the beginning, and the important stages in the history of the Universe:
1 the CMB - plasma, light, dark matter, magnetic fields…
2 Quasars - stars, proto planetary disks & planets
3 life forms – archea, eubacteria, eukaryotes
4 the large scale structure, the life cycle of stars and
5 animals & plants
6 human life – tools, science & the discovery of the