Starting with a Bang

Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist to deliver lecture at grand opening of TU's digital planetarium

TOWSON, Md. (March 22, 2010)—Physics Nobel laureate John Mather will deliver the inaugural lecture for TU's digital planetarium and telescope facility on Saturday, March 27. Mather's speech, “From the Big Bang to Life and the End of the Universe,” will be held at 8 p.m. in Smith Hall 326. Telescope viewings, planetarium shows and other events will mark the grand opening of the newly renovated Watson-King Planetarium immediately following the lecture.

Fluctuations in microwave background light
, evidence of the Big Bang discovered by Mather and COBE, are represented in TU's renovated planetarium.

Mather was awarded the Nobel Prize for his critical role in confirming the Big Bang theory. In 1992, he led the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite experiment that detected minute variations in the brightness of light left over from the formation of the universe. Researchers had been looking for such phenomena for decades as evidence of the Big Bang; Mather’s team was the first to discover them. Mather was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2006, and in 2007 was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

After the lecture, free planetarium shows and telescope viewings will be held in TU’s renovated planetarium, located in Smith Hall 521.

The $50,000 planetarium update is the first since the facility's construction in 1965, and includes a state-of-the-art projector, new sound system and a redesigned seating layout that centers the audience in the room rather than around the perimeter as in a traditional planetarium space.

The new equipment and seating arrangement allow a more immersive experience for the audience, says Alex Storrs, associate professor in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences.

"Our fisheye-lens projector and the arc shape of the seats now allow us to put people right in the middle of the dome, where the illusion of the sky is best,” says Storrs. A centrally linked computer allows astronomers to zoom and pan through an astronomically accurate night sky, from the rooftop of Smith Hall to the limits of the known universe.

A new 16-inch telescope, which will be wired to the planetarium projector for indoor viewing, is expected to be installed later this year.

The redesigned planetarium and telescope facility will act as lab space for many courses in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences. It will also continue to serve the community as a venue for shows and stargazing, with free events for the public scheduled on the third Friday of every month during the academic year.

The grand opening event, including John Mather's speech, is free and open to the public. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP to

For a complete schedule of planetarium shows, telescope viewings and more, see the Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics' calendar of events.






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