Annual Museum Lecture Encourages Exploration of ‘Our Violent Universe’

October 2015 issue of Goddard ViewFrom the October 2015 issue of Goddard View

When Ed Weiler first started working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the late 1970s, scientists knew a lot about the universe, but some lingering questions about space remained unanswered.

Do black holes really exist, or are they just science fiction? Where did the universe come from? How did the elements that comprise life originate? Are humans alone in the universe?

Nearly four decades later, Weiler — a former associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate and a former Goddard center director — and several NASA scientists shared the progress made in under – standing the universe during an evening lecture and reception on Sept. 30 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“We mere humans just in the past 30 years have built space observatories which have enabled our minds and our spirits to travel any place in this vast universe,” Weiler said.

Sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable and organized by the Goddard Office of Communications, the annual event has taken place for the past 16 years, allowing the agency’s scientists to highlight recent research achievements in a variety of fields.

Approximately 1,000 guests – including NASA personnel, congressmen, academic leaders and industry representatives – attended this year’s event. Students, parents and teachers from the Oxon Hill High School robotics team in Maryland and military veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project were also present.

“We received more RSVPs this year than all the previous years and were very excited about the enthusiasm and interest,” said Jingli Yang, president of the Maryland Space Business Roundtable. “Besides the cutting-edge astrophysical science lecture and great food, our members and guests had a chance to network with government and industry partners.”

Delivering talks around the theme “Our Violent Universe,” presenters discussed their findings for some of the biggest high-energy astrophysics mysteries.

“These missions and these discoveries don’t just happen with one person,” said Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese. “It takes a team of people from around the world – from government, industry and academia – to make it happen.”

In addition to Weiler, presenters included John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate; Jeremy Schnittman, Goddard research astrophysicist; Fiona Harrison, principal investigator for the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array; Neil Gehrels, chief of the Goddard Astroparticle Physics Laboratory; and Joan Centrella, deputy director of the Goddard Astrophysics Science Division.

“These presentations really give people in industry and academia a chance to see how Goddard is contributing to astrophysics,” said Trusilla Steele, who co-organized the event with fellow Goddard Public Affairs Specialist Leslee Scott.

Claire Saravia, who produced the lecture, enjoyed bringing greater attention to the evening’s subject matter.

“High-energy astrophysics is so rich in interesting material, but it’s very difficult to grasp,” she said. “I’m proud to have helped play a role in spreading the word about some of the universe’s most fascinating phenomena.”

Standing under an enlarged image of the Milky Way, Centrella closed the event by telling the audience that ground-based observations are just the beginning of space exploration, and she encouraged attendees to ponder deeper questions about the universe.

“Much of the story can only be learned using instruments that are not subject to limitations posed by our atmosphere,” Centrella said. “These high-energy missions uncover a dynamic universe — one dramatically different from the tranquil tapestry we see above on a night sky from Earth.”

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