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Astronomy knowledge -- like the universe -- continues to expand

SPIE event draws research leaders to Marseille as the telescope turns 400

SPIE Astronomical Instrumentation

BELLINGHAM, WA, USA - 23 July 2008 - Today's telescopes are as much as 100 million times more sensitive than the first telescopes developed 400 years ago. But their function remains the same: to expand human knowledge about faraway objects. More than 2100 of the world's leaders in astronomical instrumentation met recently to share that knowledge by way of reports on their latest findings, technologies, and applications at the SPIE Astronomical Instrumentation symposium. The biennial event has become the leading gathering for the field, and this year was held 23-28 June in Marseille, France. More than 1900 technical papers were presented in 12 conferences.

Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, told the banquet audience that data about space is "a shared legacy." Mountain said that combining accumulated knowledge is the way to facilitate progress toward answering the driving questions about the universe such as, What is dark matter? How are galaxies formed? Is there life on other planets?

Mountain's message resonated with the event's overall theme of synergy between gAttendees enjoy a Welcome Reception outside the Palais des Arts.round- and space-based projects and shared project management knowledge, as did those of other speakers.

In a conference on Modeling, Systems Engineering, and Project Management, an overflow audience heard presentations by several major space agencies that underscored appreciation in both ground- and space-based research of the importance of project management to a project's eventual success, said conference chair Martin Cullum of the European Southern Observatory. Cullum said that modeling, which is now done at unprecedented levels of sophistication and detail, was particularly stressed, with the majority of presentations being on that topic.

Astronomers and scientists around the world continue to demand better telescopes to collect more light and produce better images, noted Eli Atad-Ettedgui of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Reports in the conference chaired by Atad-Ettedgui on Advanced Optical and Mechanical Technologies in Telescopes and Instrumentation highlighted ground-based optical/IR telescopes in the 8- to 10-meter class, and projects including the Thirty Meter Telescope, the European Large Telescope, and the Great Magellan Telescope.

New tools in integrated modeling look very promising and already are being applied to the design and evaluation of effects such as wind shake, vibration, and thermal and atmospheric turbulence, Atad-Ettedgui said.

In a plenary talk on the history of the universe, John Mather, 2006 Nobel laureate in physics, looked into the future of the universe as well as reviewing the past. He illustrated his talk with videos including one demonstrating the launch and opening of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). See the 1.5-minute clip (by John Frassanito and Associates). Mather is the Senior Project Scientist for the JWST at Goddard Space Flight Center, and Chief Scientist of the Science Mission Directorate of NASA Headquarters.

"The subject in which we are working -- the study of light -- has already been given 14 Nobel Prizes, including mine," Mather noted. "We are thus in the right field of science."

Plenary presentations also reflected the synergistic focus of the event, with speakers representing a variety of major space research agencies:

  • Tim de Zeeuw, European Space Observatory
  • Fabio Favata, European Space Agency
  • Simon White, Max Planck Institut für Astrophysik
  • David Spergel, Princeton University
  • Daniel Eisenstein, The University of Arizona, Steward Observatory
  • Pierre Astier, Université Paris, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
  • Piero Madau, Lick Observatory, University of California
  • Masanori Iye, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
  • Rosemary Wyse, Johns Hopkins University
  • Malcolm Longair, University of Cambridge.

SPIE student scholarship winners Richard Querel of University of Lethbridge and Giorgia Sironi of Università degli Studi dell'Insubria were presented with their awards at a Lunch with Experts hosted for students. SPIE is announcing scholarship winners at its events throughout the year. Last year, the Society donated $1.6 million in scholarships, grants, and financial assistance.

Conference proceedings papers are being published online in the SPIE Digital Library beginning immediately as approved. For more information on the SPIE Digital Library, visit SPIEDigitalLibrary.org.

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Picture caption:

Attendees enjoy the Welcome Reception held outside the Palais des Arts at the Parc Chanot in Marseille.