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This Team of Female Astronomers Revolutionized Our Understanding of Stars
Today's video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.
Anna Frebel, Ph.D., is a member of the MIT physics faculty and earned her doctorate in astronomy from the Australian National University’s Mt. Stroll Observatory. She has received numerous awards for her pioneering work into the chemical and physical conditions of the early universe. They include the Ludwig-Biermann young astronomer award of the German Astronomical Society, the Annie Jump Cannon Award of the American Astronomical Society, and an NSF CAREER Award to continue her discovery of the oldest stars. Her book is Searching for the Oldest Stars: Ancient Relics from the Early Universe.
Professor Frebel’s research interests cover the early universe, and how old, metal-deficient stars can be used to obtain constraints on the first stars and initial mass function, supernova yields and stellar nucleosynthesis. She is best known for her discoveries and subsequent spectroscopic analyses of the most metal-poor stars and how these stars can be employed to uncover information about the early Universe. By now, she has expanded her work to include observations of faint stars in the least luminous dwarf galaxies to obtain a more comprehensive view of how the Milky Way with its extended stellar halo formed.
She carries out her observational research on old stars using the 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile through high-resolution optical spectroscopy. Recently, Professor Frebel also started a large supercomputing project to simulate the formation and evolution of large galaxies like the Milky Way in a cosmological context. The N-body dark matter halos will ultimately help her trace the cosmological path of the oldest stars from their birth in the early universe until their arrival in the Milky Way halo through various merger events. This huge data set will also enable to quantify the breadth of galaxy formation and the abundance of substructure of large galaxies, among many other things.
Anna Frebel: Stellar astronomy — so the work with stars — has actually a strong tradition of women working in the field and making significant contributions. Many people, certainly about a hundred years ago, they just thought, “Stars are not so interesting; let’s study galaxies.” That was the big thing, because that was the time when people found out that the universe is expanding and that was, of course, found out by studying galaxies. So that was a hot topic. Women were hired to do stellar work. So "stellar" in both ways — working with stars, but it also actually turned out that there work was stellar because they did so much. They classified stars; they calculated positions and other things about all these objects.
For example, Annie Jump Cannon classified in her lifetime, I think, half a million stars or something. And her classification scheme is still used and still taught. I teach it in my introductory astronomy class. Another lady, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; she found out that stars are made mostly from hydrogen and helium. Stars are made 75 percent hydrogen, 25 percent helium. But at that time — that was maybe around 1914-1915 — it was thought that stars are made of the same material as the Earth. And so this was absolutely brilliant because she applied quantum mechanical knowledge to stars for the very first time. And at first, people laughed at it and they wouldn’t believe her. But this is such a fundamental result; I cannot stress this enough. I mean everything we know about the universe rests now on the assumption and the knowledge that what stars are made of, namely mostly hydrogen and helium, because the universe is mostly made of hydrogen and helium.
And so these are just two examples of these early works by these women who were called the Computers, the Harvard Computers because they all worked up there and they painstakingly did all these classifications and calculations that, today, indeed computers do. But without their contributions, I think our overall knowledge of astronomy would not — or for a long time — would not have been what it was.
This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.
The most fundamental knowledge we have of stars comes from a team of Harvard astronomers working at the turn of the 19th century. This team, known as the "Harvard computers" for their ambitious calculations, was composed entirely of females. As astronomer Anna Frebel explains, male researchers were interested in galaxies — the day's hot topic. As a result, women pioneered the field of stellar research. Their methods of cataloging stars and determining their chemical composition are still taught at universities today.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.
- Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
- This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
- "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."
Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?
- A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
- This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
- The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.