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Progress in the Study of the X-Ray Background

04/07/2004 3:00 PM 37-272 Marlar Lounge
Riccardo Giacconi; , Research Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Johns Hopkins University ; President, Associated Universities, Inc.; 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics

Description: Riccardo Giacconi has probably seen deeper into the universe than any other human being. He has conducted his explorations not with the naked eye, but with a series of increasingly sensitive detectors, relentlessly searching for the source of cosmic x-ray radiation. In this first-person account of pursuing one question for 40 years, what emerges most clearly is the kind of focus, determination, and invention required to make discoveries in the Nobel Prize league. Giacconi confesses that "X-ray astronomy is not easy" _ an admirable understatement _ but he succeeds in proving three key points: from the Uhuru satellite to the Hubble and Chandra telescopes, the success of experiments depends as much on brilliant instrument design as on data analysis; individual, identifiable galaxies are the source of the universe's x-ray radiation background; and so we are now "looking at objects whose nature we do not know" _ objects that the next generation of astronomers will understand only if they have the resources to build new instruments.

About the Speaker(s): Over a span of 40 years, Giacconi has helped create the field of X-ray astronomy. In 1962, a team of researchers led by Riccardo Giacconi detected the first extrasolar X-ray source, and in 2002, Giacconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (with Raymond Davis, Jr. and Masatoshi Koshiba) "...for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources." Giacconi received his Ph.D. from the University of Milan in 1954, and went on to postdoctoral work at Indiana and Princeton Universities. In the late 1960s, he joined a private venture to build space hardware and instruments for NASA and the Department of Defense. Giacconi became Associate Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics High Energy Astrophysics Division in 1973. He later became Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which operates the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1992, Giacconi was named Director General of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which runs a number of observing facilities in Chile. In 2001, the ESO completed construction of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the most advanced and largest system of telescopes in the world. In 1999, Giacconi became President of Associated Universities, Inc., which operates the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Tape #: T18507

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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