John C. Mather: So, greetings from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center here in Maryland in the United States. It is the largest scientific laboratory for NASA, and this is where I have been working for a long time, since 1976, and now I want to tell you the story of the work that I have been doing for much of this time — and the work of many others. So, I want to tell you about the history of the universe.
So, do you actually see on your screen my view graphs, my computer presentation?
OK, very good. So, I will try the next slide. See the thin trees up correctly? Good. I want to show where I started up my scientific career, as a child. This is a spot in New Jersey, which is an experimental farm of the Rutgers University of New Jersey. That is the place where my father was studying dairy cows, the production and improvement of milk from dairy cows. And it was also a very nice for a very young place for a very young person, such as myself, to read many books and to look at the sky at night. So, no one ever knows what the history will produce.
So, now I want to tell you what the astronomers are busy doing. We have, as the astronomers, the task of understanding the entire history of the universe and how it produces the possibility for life here on the Earth. So, the astronomers start from the picture of the Big Bang, as seen from the inside.
And I will tell you more about how we measured this. We have ideas about how the first galaxies and stars were made and how they changed with time. We have ideas about how stars enabled planets to exist. And, finally, how they enabled the possibility for life to occur. As you see there, in the middle of the screen, there are many possibilities that exist. So, astronomers have the easier part: we have to explain the physical part. And, eventually, the biologists will have to explain the biological part, which is much more difficult.
Now, I would like to give you a bit of a surprise here: when one wakes up in the morning to comb one’s hair or to prepare to depart for the day, you are already looking at evidence of that beginning of the universe. Because, when you look at yourself, you are looking at atoms that did not exist in the Big Bang material, but were produced later — by generations of stars which exploded and liberated their material back out into the outer space and it’s come back to be rig-formed and recycled into stars and planets. And we, therefore, are able to live on the planet Earth, because the previous stars exploded and then recycled.
So, it’s a strange and exotic story that we have to tell, but any story that would explain the whole history of the universe would, indeed, be strange and exotic.
Now, the next turned, I will explain a little bit for a general public about how astronomers are able to tell that story.
So, the first and, perhaps, the most important thing is that astronomers are able to look directly back in time. Light travel extremely rapidly, but its speed is, nevertheless, is not infinity. So, we are able to look back in time — small amounts or larger amounts, according to how far away we are looking. So, if you see at the Sun, you see it how it was 500 seconds ago; the nearest other star — as it was about four years ago; or, if you were able to look at the most distant things in the universe, you’d see them how they were about 15 thousand million years ago. And the best current number is 13.7 thousand million years ago.
So, we are able to look back in time, unlike all other scientists. Now, geologists, do, indeed, look back at old rocks, and historians look at old documents. But astronomers look at things as they actually were thousands up to billions years ago.
Our penalty, our challenge is that the images that we get are fuzzy and faint — and require a lot of calculation effort. But, nevertheless, we do, indeed, see the things as they were when light was sent out billions of years ago.
So, the next question that the public would have is: «How far back are you looking in time?» So, we have our quest just to measure distances.
So, we measure distances in the same way as the ancient Greek astronomers and the ancient Egyptian astronomers could do. We use the rules of trigonometry: if you know one side of the triangle and you know two of the angles, you can calculate the entire shape of the triangle. So, this is, basically, surveying — that has been done for thousands of years.
And the other technique is to use the standard candles: if a star is believed to be exactly like another star, but it appears fainter, then we say that it is farther away and, according to what we call the inverse square law for brightness of stars.
So, the combination of measuring distances and knowing the speed of light enables us to not only measure the size of the universe, but also its age.
So, the other thing we would like to know is how fast are things moving. Very few things will run rapidly enough across the sky for us to recognize their motion. But a few things are enough.
The other thing we are looking forward to measure is the rate of motion towards us or away from us. So, this chart shows the so-called Doppler shift. The Doppler shift has been known since the 19th century, and it was first observed with sound waves.
For astronomy, we use spectroscopy. We spread out the wave from a distant star with a prism or a grate in spectrometer, and, when we do that for the Sun, we see that there are dark lines across the spectrum, which are due to critical atoms and molecules in the atmosphere of the Sun.
And when we do the same thing with distant stars and distant galaxies, we see the same patterns of lines or the similar ones, but the wavelengths there are quite different. And we attribute this to the relative motion of those objects compared to ourselves.
So, we see that the most distant objects in the universe are actually going away from us quite fast. And we measure them for fastness by the change in wavelengths that we recognize in these spectra.
So, in 1929, Edwin Hubble made this chart and discovered, basically, that the universe appears to be expanding. Now, the lot of dots and circles on this chart represent individual galaxies. He was the first person to be able to measure the distance to other galaxies by studying the standard candles that he saw in them: they are pulsating stars that we recognize as standard candles, and so we can use their relative brightness to estimate distance. And he was also able to measure their speed from the Doppler shift.
So, this is the chart that he made, and what we see is that almost all of the galaxies are going away from us very rapidly — at hundreds and thousands of kilometers per second. And, if you divide the apparent speed into the distance, you can estimate the time it has taken to achieve all of these positions.
So, it appears that all of the distant galaxies are receding from us at the speed proportional to distance. Divide distance by speed and retain the age of the universe.
So, in 1929, when he discovered this, it was a very very important discovery — and was an almost complete surprise for anyone in the entire world, anywhere, with those news, headline news around the world that year — a much better news than the news of the economic collapse that occurred at the same year.
So, on this next chart I have illustrated some of the most famous scientists who worked on this subject. In the center, you see Albert Einstein, a very familiar kind of picture. In 1916, he gave us the General Theory of Relativity, which explains that the effect of gravity is to curve space-time. And so, this was a very surprising and puzzling prediction for him, but his calculations were quite quickly verified by measurements.
In 1922 the young man Alexandre Fridman, who is shown there on the left side of the picture, was working in Leningrad, and he said, «OK, I understand Einstein’s equations, and I predict that the universe was expanding from its initial condition.» And Einstein said, «That could not possibly be right».
In 1927 George Lemaitre, who is shown in the center there with Einstein, repeated the calculation and got the same answer, and, again, Einstein said, «That could not possibly be correct».
So, two years after that, Edwin Hubble published the chart that I just showed you and, of course, Einstein had to apologize for his crude behavior and his failure to understand the nature of the universe.
I’ve shown also some more modern scientists here: George Gamov is shown in the upper right corner. He came from Odessa to the United States, and in 1948, he was working with the two young men — Robert Herman and Ralph Alpher — who are shown in the lower left corner. They were calculating the story of the Big Bang, and they actually predicted that the universe should be filled with the heat of the Big Bang radiation. So, this is very bright radiation in relative terms — approximately 1 microwatt per square meter. And they predicted it correctly in 1948. It was not possible at that time to measure it, because technical means of that time were too primitive.
Now, in the lower right corner, I have two very modern scientists — Rashid Syunyaev and Jim Peebles — who are now making calculations for many years and telling us what we should see when we actually go and measure the sky. And they have been the pioneers in theoretical calculation.
So, now, in my next chart, I want to explain, that although everyone pictures the universe expanding from a point, it is not the way that that it seems to be to us. What we seem to see is that there is no center of the universe; there is no edge. And all of the astronomers that calculate the Hubble’s Law from observations like these would all believe that they were in the center of the universe.
So, since they all so believe, they are in the center, but there cannot be a center. So far, we cannot see that there is a center. It is not completely impossible, but no observations have shown any sign of a center or an edge of the universe. So, this is a very surprising combined result from all those calculations.
But it also means that it’s impossible for us to draw a picture, unlike we do in showing you the red color to signify that we cannot draw a picture.
So, we, the human beings, live in the three dimensions of space and one of time. But, to be able to look at the universe from the outside the universe, would require a higher number of dimensions, which we can only imagine and cannot draw. So, I’m sorry, we cannot draw you a good picture, and we cannot see the center or the edge, if there is one.
So, here I would like to summarize the history of the early universe.
So, if we imagine that the primordial material, whatever it may have been, may have actually extended infinitely far in every dimension, and there may have been more than the four dimensions that we know about.
So, some small portion of this material did something strange and began to expand. It expanded so fast that even light could not keep up with the expansion.
So the small volume that I’ve just described, 10 cm in size, we imagine to accelerate very rapidly and become the entire expanding universe we are now able to observe.
An extremely implausible story, but, nevertheless, the one that seems the best — at the moment.
You will also ask, how the entire universe fitted in that small volume that I’ve just mentioned. And there are many parts to this.
One is that space itself is extremely empty: stars are very very far apart from one another.
Even atoms are almost completely empty: the atomic nuclei are very tiny compared to the size of the whole atom. And if you could reach inside the atomic nuclei, you can actually tear them apart and find that they are maid of even smaller particles called quarks and gluons.
So, the calculation says that it is actually not as impossible as you might think, for the entire present day universe to be produced from this very small volume of primordial material.
This is the story of what is called «inflation» and has been known since the middle of the 1980s.
So, now, the next question for us we are due to want to know is «How is it possible that we can exist?» Since the universe is expanding and we do not see ourselves as expanding, how can we exist?
So, the short region of the answer is that gravitation, which is across the universe, is actually apt to stop the expansion for regions of the universe that are slightly more dense than average. So, it means that some parts that were initially created in the Big Bang material that are more dense — the will stop expanding; they will turn into galaxies and clusters of galaxies — and then — stars.
And, therefore, it is possible for the Sun to exist and for the Earth to exist and for all of the complex life here on Earth to exist. It all depends on the fact that gravitation is able to stop the expansion of the certain parts of the universe.
So here we are.
So, on this chart I have shown the short graph of the early history of the universe. Here you should see a picture of the Big Bang, as measured by the cosmic background radiation explored at the WMAP observatory.
And we imagine that the galaxies were formed from small parts that flowed together as small streams flow together to form giant rivers.
And, then, in the lower left corner I have a picture of the nearest galaxy, the nearest large galaxy, — it’s called the Andromeda Nebula. You can see that it’s very beautiful, and it has even two small satellite galaxies orbiting around it.
So, I will skip some of the history of the universe here. I’ll just mention a few of the major events:
When the universe was just about three minutes old, the atomic nuclei of helium were formed from protons and neutrons.
When the universe was about 389,000 years old, the electrons found the atomic nuclei and the gaseous material became transparent, instead of being a hot plasma.
So, when the universe became transparent, then the primordial heat radiation, which could travel only very short distance before that, — afterwards it was able to travel all the way across the universe.
So, we are now sitting here on Earth, and we are able to measure and observe the primordial heat radiation as it was when the space became transparent when the universe was 389,000 old.
So, after that, the first stars formed, and I’ve never seen how that occurred, but we calculate there must be something to make them form from gas.
And then, the great surprise occurred 5 billions years ago: the universe began to accelerate again. So, it’s going faster and faster every year — a tremendous surprise!
So now, I’d like to illustrate some of the events that probably happened to the Earth. The Sun and the first solid bodies in the solar system were formed 4.567 billion years ago — only about 1/3 of the age of the universe. And, so, we have this very precisely measured from radioisotopes and the tiny particles that we have retrieved from meteorites.
So, about 90 million years later, a small planet, probably, about the size of Mars, which we have given the name of Theia, — it is said to have hit the Earth, and it would have knocked anything off the Earth, and materials, like carbon and hydrogen, would have gone back out into space. The rock in debris was left and reformed into the Earth and the Moon about 90 million years after the formation of the Solar system. So, then, following that, the Earth began to cool.
Then, about several hundred million years later, Jupiter and Saturn are thought to have switched their orbits twice. And so, during that period of time, the Earth was bombarded with very many meteorites and comets, and water and carbon, probably came to Earth during that period of time.
Then, at the end of that, the life is supposed to have formed. There is vast full evidence that life could have formed as soon as the conditions became suitable here, on Earth, and the temperature was low enough, and there was enough water for produce to occur.
Another interesting fact is that the early Sun was, probably, much more active and had many-many spots on it and has been getting brighter with time and making the Earth get warmer and warmer. So, it’s possible even that there was a completely frozen stage for some portions of that early life.
So, as you know, no doubt, also, the continents here on the Earth were moving over the course of time, and they were causing the tremendous changes to the atmospheric composition. Sometimes, it appears that the atmosphere was poisonous — full of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. But, over time, those molecules would go back into the rocks through biological and chemical activity of many kinds.
So, there are these many continents that the scientists and geologists have recreated in their maps. And, very recently, only a hundred million years ago, the Atlantic ocean opened up separating both Americas from Europe and Asia, and all the latter from Africa.
Very recently, the human beings came to live in Africa. And the start or the origin of the human race is in Africa about 150,000 years ago — very recent, during an Ice Age, where much of the world was dry and much of the world was covered by ice.
So, I don’t have time to tell you all of the stories about this. I would just like, however, to point out that it is also the 400 years of telescopic astronomy: Galileo pointed his small telescope at the sky — and we have been celebrating it all around the world with the International Year of Astronomy.
I have some bad news for the future: it’s possible that all of the carbon dioxide will be used up by biological activity and will become limestone. And, at that point, the Earth will become very cold, because we will be completely out of — we will have no greenhouse gases left. That’s a possibility and may not become true, since we cannot predict the geological future very well.
About a billion years into the future, our Sun will become so bright that it will become too hot for us here, regardless of whatever we may do as living beings.
Then, in about 5 billion years, the Sun will actually swell and become so large that the Earth orbits within the surface of the Sun. And, at that time, the Earth may be destroyed.
At about the same time, the beautiful Andromeda Nebula that I showed you a few minutes ago will collide with the Milky Way, and it will be a spectacular time to be an astronomer, but we will have to move to some other planet. Not that we know how to do that, but some future astronomer on some other planet will have a good time.
In about 7.6 billion years, the Sun will be extinguished and will become a white dwarf star.
And, many billions of years after that, we anticipate that, as the universe will continue to accelerate, the distant galaxies will go away, all the stars will burn out — and it will become dark.
But this is only a theoretical prediction, and there are many other possibilities, including the possibility that the acceleration will stop, and the galaxies will flock back together — and then there will be a cosmic collapse. We don’t know, of course.
Now, I would like to tell you a little bit of the story about my personal work that led to Nobel Prize.
In 1974, I graduated the higher school in Berkley, California, after an attempt to measure the cosmic heat radiation from the Big Bang. It was not a successful attempt, but it showed us that we needed to do a better job. And we all knew that a better measurement could be done with a space mission.
So, in 1976, when I came to Goddard Space Flight Center, we began to design this observatory, called the Cosmic Background Explorer. And what you see here, in the picture, is a guard shield of that golden-yellowish covered cone, and inside the cone there are instruments or, rather, they are the collections of instruments. Two of them are inside the helium tank — and that operate at the temperature of 1.5° above absolute zero. And the others are surrounding the tank and are just protected from the Earth and the Sun, so that they can become cold.
So, this observatory is still in orbit around the Earth, but it was only used for about five years to make the initial observations.
So, it’s called the Cosmic Background Explorer and one could still clearly see it in the evening if one turns up to look.
Now, this is the chart that shows the first scientific result of this mission. We show here the prediction of the spectrum of cosmic microwave heat radiation. The smooth curve is the prediction, and the first measurements that we reported are the little boxes on the curve. You will see that all the little boxes are exactly on the curve, which was exactly what was to be expected, but it was not a known fact. And when we showed that measurement to the Astronomical Society, we received the standing ovation and many minutes of applause.
So, what it means is that the Big Bang Theory is actually correct... well, as close to be proven as possible. There is no proof of a thing so dramatic as the Big Bang theory. But all of the measurements now agree with it, and this is one of the most important parts of the evidence.
So, we now really do believe that the universe came from the Big Bang that produced this heat radiation, which is measured. Now, after many years of effort, we now know that its temperature is exactly 2.725 K and its bias is very very tiny — about 50 parts per million.
So, this was the first major result of the observatory. And two years later, in 1992, we showed those several charts to Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist and scientists, and he said that it was the most important discovery of the century, if not of all time.
So, what we have here is the map of the temperatures of the heat radiation from the Big Bang. The each of the ovals there that you see is the map of the entire sky.
So, the first map, the top one shows the raw data as they come in. And all we can see is that one side of the sky is a little pinker and the other side is a little greenish. And we say that it has to do with the fact that the Earth is moving relative to the rest of the universe.
When we remove that effect mathematically, we see that picture in the middle: and what we now see is a red band across the middle, which is due to the electron population in our own Milky Way Galaxy.
When we remove that one, as well, by doing some more mathematics, we see the picture at the bottom, which is the map of the temperature of radiations across the sky — of that primordial heat radiation.
So, those differences are very small — approximately 0.00003 K. So, there we have to believe that those temperature variations are responsible for our own existence — or that they are produced by dark matter, which is a new discovery from astronomers, and they are responsible for the density variations that enable some regions of the universe to stop expanding and to turn around and become galaxies, stars and planets.
So, something like one of these small spots is responsible for our own existence. Now, we can’t see the one that is our own history, but we can imagine it was the one like this.
So, three years ago, on this month, I received a telephone call from Stockholm saying that we’re going to receive Nobel prize, and, so, that was for the discovery of the black body form. And that’s the theoretical curve that I showed you with the little boxes on it. And I researched its anisotropy — in Greek words, it means «not the same in every direction». So, those are the small lumps and bumps that you’ve seen in the colored map.
So, when I came to see the King of Sweden and receive my diploma, I received a nice cheque — and I started a foundation for promotion of science and the arts, mostly, for scholarships for young people.
So, now, however, I would like to say that there are some surprises still open for astronomers. And this cartoon says that we frequently obtain a surprise that everything is not the way the astronomers have said that it is. And so, I will illustrate one of those surprises here.
In 1998, here is the picture from the cover of the Science magazine, because it was discovered in that year that the universe was accelerating, going faster and faster each year. And it was discovered, especially, by these three men in the right-hand picture.
They studied distant stars called supernovae and the found out that the most distant ones they could see were 20% too faint. And the result of it is that we believe that the universe has been accelerating in the last 5 billion years — due to some force, which we call «dark energy». But, in fact, we do not know anything about this thing that we call the «dark energy» and we cannot even establish if it is really a force.
So, it’s pretty clear that this is a potential Nobel prize-winning discovery. Who knows when we may actually know what that substance, if it is a substance, actually is? But it’s one of the most important topics of current investigation in astronomy.
So, astronomers have a few mysteries open, which we share with physicists.
And number one is: Why is there only ordinary matter in the universe — and there’s no antimatter anywhere in the universe, except very temporary antimatter particles? There are no anti-galaxies that we can tell.
The second question is: What is dark matter? I told you: there is dark matter, and it’s responsible for small temperature variations in the microwave radiation. And this dark matter is, apparently much more abundant than the matter we are made out of. But it does not interact with light waves. We cannot see it directly. We cannot determine whether it has any gravitational force. So, we’re very sure that it exists, but there is no particle of dark matter that we have ever seen in a laboratory.
What is the dark energy? I’ve just told you that we have dark energy, but we don’t know what it is.
Now, every student — from elementary school to a graduate school and on — always says: «Well, are you sure that Einstein was right about relativity? Are you sure that we can’t go faster than the speed of light?» And, of course, it’s still a good question.
Astronomers are busy trying to answer the questions: How did we arrive here on Earth? How is it possible that the Earth has come to exist?
And, of course, a more philosophical question is: Are we the only human beings in the universe? Are we the only intelligent creatures in the universe?
A part of that question is: How is it possible for the Earth to become a place where we can live? And another part is: Is there another place in the universe that could support life?
So, after all those inquiries, the final question is: What is going to happen in the future?
...Which leads me to the next project that I’m now working on, called the James Webb Space Telescope. So, before I explain what for is that space telescope, let me explain about infrared light.
Infrared light is like ordinary light that you see with your eyes, but it has somewhat longer wavelengths. So, it comes from somewhat cooler objects. So, it’s important to us, for a number of astronomical reasons.
Number one: for a one to look at the most distant universe, the light of the first galaxies that we would like to understand started out as ultraviolet light, but when it arrives at us, it has been red-shifted by the expansion of universe; so, it arrives as the infrared light. So, to learn our history, to look back far in time, we need to use infrared telescopes.
The other thing that is important to us is that, as you see here, objects at near room temperatures, like ourselves, emit infrared radiation, and it’s quite different in character from the visible light that we would see.
So, if we want to study, as astronomers, what objects are like at a near room temperatures, we should study infrared radiation that comes from such objects.
So, that leads us to the concept for this new telescope. This is called the James Webb Space Telescope, and it is planned as the next great space telescope after the Hubble Space Telescope. So, it’s been in preparations now for fourteen years, and it’s going to be launched in 2014, according to our plan.
This is a very different telescope from any other that we’ve ever seen in the outer space or on the ground, because it’s made out of segments; it unfolds after it is launched in the space; and it’s extremely cold.
So, I’m going to show you how this is done in a moment. But I just want to tell you who is going to build it:
NASA is the lead organization for this project, and it’s been lead from the Goddard Space Flight Center who are I am speaking.
We are working this as an international partnership with European and Canadian space agencies; and we have contracted with Northrop Grumman, which is a large aerospace firm located near Los Angeles Airport, to build the observatory.
There are instruments that cover the entire range of all infrared wavelengths that we want to study — and they come from [the University of] Arizona, here in the United States, from the European Space Agency and from Canada.
So, I should also say that this telescope is much larger that any telescope that we have ever had in space. The Hubble space telescope’s mirror was 2.4 m in diameter; and the one that we are flying now has the diameter of 6.5 m, so it’s much much much larger and will collect much more light from the distant universe. And it’s also arranged so it’s very cold.
I am going to show you the orbit where we’re going to put it in. But what you see in the picture here — as the larger pad that you see as blue — is actually a giant umbrella that is made of five layers of plastic. And the plastic layers protect the telescope from the heat of the Sun and the Earth.
So, the telescope will be capable of achieving a very low temperature of approximately 40° K, so it does not emit any infrared light itself.
So, here is the orbit that will be used for the telescope. It orbits around a place called the Sun — Earth Lagrange point L2. L2 is about 1 million miles or 1.8 million kilometers away from Earth. And we put the telescope out there, so that the umbrella or the Sun shield can protect the telescope from the heat of the Sun and the Earth at the same time. So, this point has been known since 18th century when it was discovered by mathematicians.
Now, this one illustrates a couple of places where the model of the telescope has been. We had a model built to suit the show for the world to see how big the telescope is and how powerful it may be. So, it’s been travelling around the world to spend to many cities. Here it’s show as it was in Munich, Germany, a year ago, and as it was in Washington the year before that. So, you see that it’s very large.
Now, here, I hope, you will be able to see the movie showing how the telescope unfolds after it is launched. See that the telescope is much larger than the rocket and, so, it has to be unfolded after it is launched.
So, the first, the telescope’s solar power cells come out and the telemetry antenna for the radio waves. And then the plastic shield comes out. This is all done by remote controls. Motors and activators cause this to happen, while we sit here on Earth making sure that it is all working correctly.
So, the last thing for it to happen is to adjust the telescope to the right shape. And you will see in a moment that mirrors come to a form of the giant hexagon that is the primary mirror.
So, there is the telescope as it will be and used in flight — a tremendous challenge from the standpoint of engineering, but obviously the one that we must solve to make this observatory work in space.
So, we had many inventions to make to show that this observatory would work. Probably, the most important one for us was what we call the «mirror phasing algorithms».
When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, it did not work correctly: there was an error in the mirror. So, it was necessary to learn how to measure that error of the mirror and to calculate how to make a repair. So, the mathematics was developed for the Hubble Space Telescope repair. And now, because we know how to do that, we can use the same mathematics to adjust all eighteen pieces of the mirror to correct their shape and position, so they function as the single giant reflecting mirror.
So, now, I just want to illustrate that we wanted to practice this adjustment with the small telescope. This is a model that can be adjusted just in the same way that the telescope in space. So, we’ve learned how to do this and demonstrated that it does work.
I would like to show you, just for a moment, engineering drawings of the instruments’ packages. I can’t really explain these to you. I just wanted to say that they are coming along very well. And Europe is contributing the Near Infrared Spectrograph in the upper right side here and the Mid-Infrared Instrument on the lower right picture. So all of these are coming along beautifully, and they will be in to arrive at the Goddard Space Flight Center next year.
One more thing I wanted to show you also was that we will test the telescope. This is the giant chamber, which the astronauts used when they were getting ready for their trip to the Moon. They rehearsed their operations inside this test chamber.
We are now preparing this test chamber to cool down to the very low temperature. That’s necessary, so we can test our telescope inside, as well.
Now, I’d like to talk a little bit about the astronomy that the people hope to do with this observatory.
This picture was taken quite recently with the space telescope. And the startling thing that I want to point out to you is that curve on the image, in the upper right corner, which turns out to be caused by the gravitational force of the galaxies that you see in this picture. The curved pink curve there is actually the image of a much more distant galaxy that has been distorted by the gravitational field of these galaxies that you do see.
So, Nature has provided us an additional lens out there in space to mend and concentrate the light of even more distant galaxies. And if we can find these places, we can see much-much further than we could ever see without knowing about them.
So, we anticipate that the James Webb Telescope will do the same, but even better.
So, the next picture here shows that we have found a number of galaxies that appear to be held together by dark matter. These are galaxies photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. They are very nearby, and they are very small.
But we calculate how massive they must be — and we calculate that their mass could exist only in the form of dark matter. That’s necessary to hold those small galaxies together.
So, it’s clearly one of the greatest intellectual challenges of our age: to find out what is the dark matter and the dark energy that fill our universe and cannot be seen in our laboratories.
Now, the Hubble telescope has given us these beautiful pictures of galaxies interacting with each other. These galaxies — they are relatively close to us and are in relatively recent times. We think that our own Milky Way Galaxy may have done this as well and may have collided with other neighboring galaxies in its history. And, of course, as I’ve told you, we think that will happen to us in about five billion years when the Andromeda Nebula comes to at us and collides with us. So, it will be a spectacular event.
Now, I think, you may even be able to see here a computer-generated movie of a collision of two galaxies. I hope this is working for you. For just a moment, a computer-generated movie looks like the picture in the upper center chart here. And then you see what will happen to the galaxies as they have completed their collision. So, this is a possibility for our own Galaxy, as it collides with the Andromeda Nebula.
And we would love to know how stars and planets formed. Astronomers have been drawing pictures like this one for many-many years, but it’s still pretty much a theoretical prediction. It’s very hard to observe this process of forming, because stars happen to form inside dusty regions of the sky where we cannot see them.
Here is one of the most famous pictures taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s called the Eagle Nebula and it’s a place where stars have just formed. Very recently formed stars are here, and there you can see that they are burning very brightly, and they are making the dust clouds begin to evaporate.
But we think that the stars that we now see were formed inside the dust clouds many hundreds or thousands or so of million years ago. And we would definitely like to see inside the dust cloud to see how this process works.
So, with infrared light, we can actually see the same region — and it looks very different. So, the infrared light will go through the dust clouds and enable us to see stars, as they were being formed, and help us understand the process.
Ideally, over the course of time we would learn how the Earth could be formed around the Sun that would be formed inside one of these dust clouds.
Now, very recently, it has been recognized that we can even detect planets around other stars.
When I was a young person, it was known that it was never going to happen. It was completely impossible to imagine how this could be done. But it has been done!
This is a drawing based on the picture that was made with the Hubble Space Telescope. And it shows a ring if dust orbiting around the star called Fomalhaut in the Southern sky. And it was predicted that there would be a planet inside that dust cloud.
And just last year it was actually measured. The picture in the lower right-hand corner here shows you the star Fomalhaut, as it was observed more than once. And, on the side picture, you see two images of the planet as it moves inside the dust cloud in the years 2004 and 2006.
It’s even now possible to see these pictures in the other parts of that photograph that were made with the telescopes on the ground. So, when planets are very bright and when we use the very advanced optics in the telescopes on the ground, it’s possible to see these little planets — or, actually, I should say these large planets — orbiting around other stars.
So, what is especially exciting, very recently — as shown in this movie — once in a while a planet passes between us and the star that it’s orbiting around. So, this is showing what’s been seen many times already: a planet blocking some of the light of its star. And, half an orbit later, of course, the planet would go behind the star, and the star would block the light of the planet. So, you see, the total flow of light is diminishing, while the star blocks the light of its planet.
So, we can take a difference between the brightness we see when they are not aligned then and the cases when they are aligned and one is blocking the light of the other. Then we can determine how much light came from the planet, and we can determine some properties of the planet.
Even some of the starlight will pass through the atmosphere of the planet — and we will be able to learn about of the atmospheric composition of the planet, as it goes in front of its star. So, this has already been done with telescopes in space. The Hubble telescope has done this; and the Spitzer space telescope has done this; and then, very recently, the European space telescope called CoRoT has done it.
So, we are building up a large catalogue of stars with planets that can be seen in this way. So, in course of time, we may hope, eventually, to look for stars that have planets like Earth. That is the mission called the Kepler Project, just launched this year, which in the next few years should discover planets like Earth orbiting stars like the Sun.
So, it’s quite possible that in the next few years we will hear an announcement that another Earth have been found and that it will take us a little while to determine whether such another Earth could happen to support life. But, anyway, it’s coming.
I would like to close by saying that there are a few other places where one can also look for life. In the Solar system, I think, everyone has heard that Mars could have been alive and has been wet, has water just under the surface — in frozen form, as ice, now.
There are other places, as well, to look. Europa is shown in this picture. Europa is a satellite of Jupiter. It has an ocean that is covered with ice. And you can see these brown strips on the picture — they are where the materials have come up from below in the spaces between the ice. So, this looks just like the Arctic Ocean with ice sheets on it.
Certainly, this is a very interesting place to go for hunting for life in the Solar system. We are certain it cannot exist on its surface, but it could possibly exist in the ocean under the ice.
In the very long term, I don’t know how many decades in the future, we hope to build an observatory like this that would study the light from planets around other stars. Whether or not this is the exact observatory that will be build, we don’t know, but the little picture in the lower right illustrates that there are certain terrestrial chemicals that you would look for in the atmosphere of another planet to see if there is a life.
If you can find this combination of water vapor, carbon dioxide and oxygen and/or ozone, you would say: this planet is very much like Earth. Particularly, since the oxygen on the Earth comes from life, from planets in our G, we would know that if we see another planet that has the oxygen in its atmosphere, then it probably has a life like the Earth. We would not know, of course, if it is intelligent life, but we would know that it has life.
So, I would conclude by saying that there are many places to learn more about that project:
The James Webb Space Telescope has its own web page.
Cosmology has its own web page with Lambda web site.
The Nobelprize.org web site has many lectures, and you can read them there.
And I even have a small book, a paperback book — unfortunately, so long, only in English, I think, — called The Very First Light, that tells the story of Cosmic Background Explorer satellite and what it felt like to go and receive the Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden.
So, I would like to conclude, and I will be very happy to have questions from you.
Thank you very much for your attention, and thank you for the questions.
Lubov Strelnikova: Thank you! It is incredible that you managed to embed the amount of information so huge within an hour-long presentation.
After the tribute of applause to Dr. John Mather, let us proceed and hear the answers to the questions that we are receiving via the Internet, as well as to those that will come directly from the auditorium here.
Question: The latest data indicate that the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago. Does it imply that the radius of the universe is equal to 13.7 light-years?
John C. Mather: Yes, but it is the size of the observed universe only. On the other hand, we imagine that there is much more universe behind the point we can see. So, the universe could, actually, have infinite size, but we would not know.
Question: Does this size change?
John C. Mather: Yes, as the universe gets older, the amount of time that we can see gets larger. And so, yes: astronomers living another billion years in the future will say that universe is 14.7 thousand million years old.
Question: If we accept the theory of The Big Bang, then we should agree that the matter, space and time were created at the point of the Big Bang, as if they had just come to be from nonexistence. Is it really so?
John C. Mather: In physics, we are actually not able to describe the creation of space and time. We only describe the process of change. So, we are unable to answer that question.
Question: Yes, but there is yet another aspect of that question — the hypothesis that the universe accelerates as it expands: does it imply that time also accelerates, since time was created together with other dimensions?
John C. Mather: No, the only thing we see is that the distant objects are accelerating. So, we measure time with the same kind of clocks that we always used.
Question: So, time does not accelerate, does it? But we sense it otherwise. John, do you feel that time goes quicker and quicker?
John C. Mather: Yes, time seems to go quicker and quicker every day. But the clock says, «No!»
Question: Is it true that the data obtained with the use of COBE orbital observatory imply that the universe is egg-shaped? We know that after an explosion the fragments disperse spherically. The Big Bang was the greatest explosion that ever occurred. So, why does our universe look like an oval rather than a sphere?
John C. Mather: Yes, the oval I showed is just a map. Just as we show the surface of the Earth as an oval, those ovals are just representations of the entire sphere. It looks so, because I don’t have a spherical movie screen for you.
Question: What is the cost of the COBE project? Could you, please, name the exact expenditure total in any specific currency, John?
John C. Mather: It's an interesting question. I think, at the time it was built it cost about 300 million USD. In modern money, it would be more money because of inflation of currency. But, in another way of saying, it was worth the work of 1,500 people operating for several years to do it. So, it’s much smaller than the James Webb space telescope, which has much more budget and takes much longer. And it's much more powerful.
Question: As if made of gold they are — both of these telescopes — with so huge monies invested in them.
John C. Mather: They are more expensive than gold.
Question: Do you believe that there are many universes produced by series of big bangs? Or, alternatively, there was a single Big Bang resulting in the only space-time we dwell in, wasn’t there?
John C. Mather: I believe that it is highly probable that there are other universes, but we will never be able to prove it. Only mathematicians can speculate about this for us.
Question: My question is about, let’s say, alternative physics. Some scientists believe that the universe is too deeply penetrated with enigma and mysteries to deny the applicability of alternative sets of physical laws. Do you agree? Can it be proved or disproved by means of space researches?
John C. Mather: Well, it certainly is true that we don’t know all of the laws of science or physics. So far, what seems to be true is that each new discovery is a small modification of the old ones. But I’ve already told you about some of the great mysteries that we have: we do not know what is matter; we do not know what is dark energy; we do not know what is the nature of quantum gravity; we do not know whether the string theory is correct theory... So, there are huge mysteries still open in the physical sciences and, of course, biological sciences are making discoveries at the immense pace these days. So, we do not know what we will be discovering, but, I think, it will be thirst needing, and we have many centuries of scientific discoveries in front of us. Maybe, millions of years.
Question: Thank you, John. And I’d like to congratulate you with the surprisingly high level of attention to your person paid by Russian female audience. Generalizing those incoming personal queries, they would like to know: Are you married, John? Who is your wife? Is she an astrophysicist, too, or a researcher in some other field of science? And so on...
John C. Mather: Well, I am happy to say that I am married, and my wife is a ballet instructor. She teaches classical ballet to adults, and she has been doing that for the most of her life. And she is very beautiful and talented herself. And she is not a scientist.
Question: Now we know why you are in so good physical shape.
The next large group of questions we have received via Internet may be generalized as the principal one: do astronomers acknowledge belief in God? Just this short and simple.
John C. Mather: I think the answer is «yes, some do and some do not.» And, of course, the astronomers that believe in God would, probably, believe in a different form of God from the one that have been described for many thousands of years in our traditions. So we picture God as a being clothed in the cloud in the sky — and I don’t think astronomers would see that kind of God. We have a different kind of God.
Question: Here is yet another bulk of questions that can be generalized as a logical sequence of the following three questions: First, what was there before the Big Bang? Second, why did the Big Bang happen? Finally, when will the new Big Bang occur? Can you give any answers to these three?
John C. Mather: Well, to be honest, I think the best answer to all three would be: we do not know.
Well, the next Big Bang may be happening right now somewhere in some universe that we cannot see.
But our own universe, we think, will continue to expand for many billions of years before it might possibly turn around and collapse. So, it’s not soon for us.
But, because we cannot see if there are other universes, we cannot tell about whether they are also expanding. So, I am sorry, I cannot answer those questions.
Question: Now, John, some folks from Ural region have invited you to pay a visit there; the promise to offer you a dish of the famous Uralian pelemene. A lady from Yekaterinburg would also like to invite you there. Have you ever visited Russia?
John C. Mather: Yes, I had visited Russia with my wife, as a tourist, many years ago. I think it was around 1986 or 1987. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was around when President Reagan visited Moscow. So, we saw many beautiful things there in Russia then — all the way from Sochi to Leningrad.
Question: Now, here I see not only questions submitted via Internet. Along with them, lots of thanks. And I would like you to hear those expressions of gratitude. Thank you very much for your very interesting and highly informative presentation.
Nevertheless, some questions address the issues outside the scope of mere scientific interest. For instance, an IT educator from Ulan-Ude has asked, «Is it possible that the dark energy of the universe may be, actually, a dark house to provide the resort to the souls of the deceased human beings?» I am sorry, if the question sounds somewhat naпvely.
John C. Mather: We, astronomers, cannot be able to answer that question. I think we need to consult our religious leaders. But, I think, they would not know either.
Question: Thank you. The next question is about the modern telescopes’ range of penetration. How deep into the outer space will you see with the use of the new orbital super-telescope when it will have finally been deployed?
John C. Mather: So far, we can see approximately 10 or 11 billion light-years, which gets us within very short time from the beginning. We can see with those telescopes within about 800 million years after the explosion, after that great Big Bang. With the new telescope, we hope to be able to see within 200 million years within that great explosion — so much closer. In the terms of physical distance, we will not see any much farther, but we will see much closer to the Big Bang itself.
Question: You have told that many experimental data confirm the Big Bang theory. Is it still possible that the theory is principally wrong, after all? The history of science, time to time, incorporated the cases of apparently flawless theories disproved. Can you estimate the probability that the Big Bang theory will eventually prove to be wrong?
John C. Mather: So, could it be that there was no Bib Bang? Yes, there are many things that might have been a little different and surprising. The idea of the Big Bang is hard to escape. Since Edwin Hubble showed us his picture in 1929, it’s been clear that something very exotic and strange occurred to make the galaxies appear to fly apart.
But the details of what that event was are still open to discussion. It has to be a lot like to Big Bang, but it does not have to be exactly the same. So, for instance, when we finally discover the better story about the quantum gravity or string theory, maybe, we will discover that the Einstein’s theory of relativity is not quite correct. Then, we’ll have a new story for you.
I think it will resemble the Big Bang, but might be different in some details. That’s my guess. But, as you know, we do not actually observe the Big Bang directly. We have many observations that we must interpret. So, it’s always possible that we will be surprised.
Question: I am sorry for an apparently irrelevant question. However, it might be an intriguing one. Recently www.archive.org have published a finding of a study that claimed to have proven the incidental nature of the darker or colder spot in the microwave background map, which were, essentially, the primary subject of your Nobel prize-winning work. That publication implies that the darker area was the artifact of miscalculations, rather then the actual anisotropy in the background heat radiation. Thank you.
John C. Mather: I have not seen the material you are describing. But, of course, many astronomers worked with us to try to make sure that there were no mistakes. So, of course, we don’t think there was a mistake.
One could never be completely sure, but our observations have been confirmed by other astronomers as the new telescopes have been flown: the microwave spots that we saw have been observed again by many astronomers with the equipment on the ground and in space. So, we are pretty sure that that was the correct measurement.
Similarly, the spectrum that I showed to you there, it was also observed by another experiment. So, although mistakes are possible, we don’t think they were very large. So, I think, the basic theory is still correct.
Question: As far as we know, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is slowly increasing at the rate of approximately 3 cm per year. Hypothetically, what will happen to the either after they will have lost the connection between them?
John C. Mather: If so, when the Moon loses its connection with the Earth, it will be very far in the future. So, I don’t know what the calculation says, but it will stay with us for a long time. If you multiply 3 cm per year by, say, 5 billion years, that is a lot of meters. So, it will get farther away and, eventually, the Moon could escape. I don’t know if it will happen before the Sun expands and swallows up the Earth. But if the Moon escapes before the Sun swallows us up, then we will, of course lose the tides that the Moon produces: the ocean will stop going up and down as it does –nearly as much; but we will still have the tides from the Sun.
And the other major effect that the Moon has on the Earth is to make the spin axis of the Earth change with time. So, because of that, that would also change. So, I am not sure. I don’t really know. But that’s a good question. We should find out.
Question: Yet another concern for NASA, isn’t it?
And one more Moon-related question to answer, before we lose it, is: You have obtained a large number of spectacular snapshots of the most distant space objects with the use of the Hubble Space Telescope. Why don’t you have any blowup pictures of the Moon surface or of the Solar system planets’? What is the reason behind such selectivity?
John C. Mather: Well, actually, we do take pictures of the objects that are close, but interesting. But it is easier for us to invest to actually sent a space mission out there to get the pictures. So, we have already sent space missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, as well as to some asteroids and comets. So, it’s much better to take a picture close up than to take pictures from far away with a big telescope. So, the pictures are available, and you can find them quite easily on Internet.
Question: A schoolteacher of physics expressed the worry about the recent exclusion of astronomy as a self-standing discipline, from the regular high-school curricula in Russia. Is it still there in the United States? What is your personal opinion about the need for teaching astronomy at schools — should it be taught as a separate course or integrated with physics?
John C. Mather: Here, in the United States, the astronomy is one of the most popular science courses. It’s attractive for students. It talks about our own history, and students can see the subject with their own eyes at night. So, I think, astronomy is one of the most interesting subjects for students, and I hope that we could continue to teach it everywhere.
Also, it’s one of the things that helps students get interested in science to begin with, and from there they can go on into the more difficult areas, other kinds of physics, and chemistry, and biology. So, I think, it’s very important for us to continue to offer it to the schools.
Question: Yet another personal question: Mr. Mather, have you ever seen any of the NBC series «The Big Bang Theory»?
John C. Mather: I haven’t seen any series, but it is said that it’s very funny, and I have heard that their scientific discussions are correct. So, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it personally, but it’s supposed to be a lot of fun.
Question: Well, I thought you were an expert in that serial, John.
Now, we have reached a huge bulk of «catastrophic» questions. Everyone would want to know about the hypothetic "end of the world’ in 2012 that may result from Nibiru planet colliding with the Earth. What do you think about those anticipations? Will we collide with that Nibiru? Will it be the end? What do the astronomers predict?
John C. Mather: I don’t think that any astronomer would ever believe in any of those stories. I believe there is some story that the ancient calendar from Mayan inhabitants from ancient Central America would not have enough digits to represent the next year in 2012. But I think that, if the were alive today, the would just add another digit. So, I don’t think there’s any problem with the calendar. I’m not buying any insurance about that.
Question: Thank you for your soothing answer.
The next question has come from Baku via Internet: «How long will the human civilization be able to survive on Earth? And when will the humankind reach the other galaxies?»
John C. Mather: Well, how long will our civilized life last — I do not know. But we certainly can see that everything changes very quickly these days — much more quickly than any time in history. So, I can’t really predict when we can go to another galaxy. Right now, there is no scientific knowledge that tells us how to go to another galaxy. At the moment, it is even too difficult to go to the nearest star, which is much closer. Even just to get to Mars, which is too close, it is too difficult for us today. So, we do not know how. And we may never be able to do it. So, I’m sorry. It’s to difficult, I think.
Question: Well, then, could you answer the much more simple and entirely professional question submitted by your colleague, an astronomer from Irkutsk, «Do you participate in any partnerships with Russian astronomers and astrophysicists? And do you see any difference between astronomers and astrophysicists?»
Here, in Russia, the two professions are all too jealous about one another: if you call an astronomer «the astrophysicist» or vice versa, they may even take it as a personal offense. Do you see any difference between the two disciplines?
And which of the two callings is more applicable to you?
John C. Mather: Well, OK. Yes, I have exclusive contacts with my Russian colleagues. Rashid Sunyaev is the one I see more often, because he travels occasionally here.
The difference between astronomers and astrophysicists is not very large. The astrophysicist attempts to understand the details of the physics behind the observations, and the astronomer takes the observations and interprets them as well. So, I don’t think there is much difference.
And I think of myself as of astrophysicist, because my initial degree is in physics. But there is not a very large difference.
Question: Could you explain in more details the issue of the dark matter? You have told that the new telescope will help collect more data about it and that today we know very little about its nature. After all, have we learned anything at all about it? If yes, what has we learned?
John C. Mather: OK. What the dark matter is recognized by is its gravitational force. So, the way that we study it is to find galaxies and clusters of galaxies where there is enough dark matter to bend the light or to affect the orbits of the stars.
So, it has been known for many, many years that the galaxies do not spin the way that they should spin if the only matter there is made of stars and gaseous material. So for, maybe, fifty years we have known there is a problem with the dark matter. But we do not know what it is.
And, so, astronomers can tell you much more about where and what dark matter is and, maybe, eventually, how it got that way. But to really learn about dark matter we need to have a particle made in a laboratory — say, at a Large Hadron Collider in Europe or, maybe, in a laboratory where a natural dark matter particle might collide with a detector. And then we could learn a lot more about dark matter. Right now, it’s very large mystery, and I don’t think it’s going to be an easy problem.
Question: John, could you, please, explain the following paradox: how could it be that while your country is the acknowledged world leader in the field of space research where astronomy is taught to and highly popular among schoolchildren — notwithstanding all that — how can it be that so many folks believe in astrology and the prognoses and horoscopes generated by the astrologists? How can these two outlooks coexist in the mind of the same individual?
John C. Mather: Well, I think your question is a question for people in a different area of science — psychology and sociology, — but it’s a puzzle to me, as well. I’m surprised. I thought, personally, after many centuries of the educational progress that more people would understand the astronomy, but they don’t.
Question: And do you, personally, drop an occasional glance into one of those horoscopes — just to satisfy your curiosity?
John C. Mather: As for me, personally, I don’t, but my wife does, and she finds them for me and tells me all about it.
Question: Here you are, John! Start with yourself and your dear ones!
Now, the next question: What is the most important and crucial answer to the enigmas of the universe that you expect to receive with the use of James Webb Space Telescope?
John C. Mather: I think that the most important question is the formation of first stars and galaxies. And that could possibly produce a great surprise for us. It is suggested, for instance, that, perhaps, the first stars were not made of the ordinary matter that we see today, but were, actually, formed by dark matter, and that they may have burned the dark matter in their centers. So, this is one of the most surprising possibilities and, I think, it would be very exciting if we could learn whether this is true or not.
The other thing that I think would be wonderful and surprising is to detect any evidence of life on another planet. And, so, I don’t know whether the James Webb telescope can do that — probably not, — but some future telescope, not too far in the future, possibly, will tell us about the planets that are alive elsewhere in the universe. I think, that will be very important both for science and for culture.
Question: Some students from St. Petersburg wonder what will be your next undertaking after the new space telescope will have been launched. In other words, what is your long-term goal? Probably, they would be happy to share it...
John C. Mather: The next challenge will be to use the telescope to decide what, I think, is the most important scientific project and to try to obtain the observations that would help us make an advance in our area.
But also, I would like to start my work on the next telescope to follow this one. However, I don’t know what will happen in five years.
Question: After all, you know, John, your telescope does not at all look like a telescope. Rather it looks like a surfboard with a sail. Who was the project designer in charge for the telescope appearance? Why does it look so bizarre and non-telescopic?
John C. Mather: Yes, we do understand. That was, of course, partly, my idea, but also the idea of many other people. But it is required to do two things.
One is to make the telescope cold, so that it is protected from the Sun and the Earth. And the Hubble space telescope looks much more like a telescope: it is a tube and it is orbiting around the Earth. But it is kept warm by the heat of the Earth and the heat of the Sun.
For us, to make a telescope that is cold, it must have a special shade that protects it from the Sun and the Earth; and the other side must be open to the outer space, so the heat can escape. So, that’s why the telescope looks as strange as it does.
And the other part of it is that, because the telescope must be larger than the rocket that carries it into space, it must be folded up. An so, that makes it look even more strange. So, it’s because of the special requirements that we have.
Question: Anyway, it looks very beautiful as it unfolds, although you have not bothered at all about its design appearance.
Now, one more personal question: Besides your current projects with NASA, what are your personal interests in astrophysics?
John C. Mather: Well, I would not separate those two areas, because, I think, my personal interests are very closely connected with my work for NASA. I think I’ve described already that I’m interested in the first stars that formed after the Big Bang and, then, the process of the formation of planets and possibilities for life.
But, currently, the most of my work is connected with engineering to make sure that this wonderful new telescope will function correctly when it is launched. So, I work with scientists and engineers to make that true.
Question: Thank you, John. Let’s talk about our feelings, at last. The question reads, «What were you feeling, Professor Mather during the Nobel Prize awarding ceremony?»
John C. Mather: I had many feelings, of course, when I received the Prize. The one feeling is that I am amazed of myself being on the same list of people as Albert Einstein and the great scientists of the past.
So, another part is that I know that the work that I did was a part of the very large team, and so I always wanted to make sure that the people could see that it was a team project. In modern times, that is required to do one of these new discoveries.
Now, not all sciences are done in large teams, but, at least, in astronomy, it takes very large team to build a new telescope or to build a new observatory of some sort. On the other hand, you see in biology and sometimes in astronomy that a very small team of people still can make a great discovery.
Also, it was wonderful just to be celebrating, to meet famous people besides myself and to get acquainted with and meet the King of Sweden, to meet the Prime Minister. And to have a banquet in the great hall there filled with thousands people was a totally overwhelming event.
Question: Well, we congratulate you once again. But tell me, John, why there are so many American scientists among Nobel Prize winners. Do you believe it to be a normal situation? Or is it biased to some extent? Please, try to be sincere when answering this question — rather than being merely politically correct.
John C. Mather: Of course, I feel proud, to certain degree, that so many Americans have won the Prize. But, I think, it’s somewhat of an accident of our own history that there was a period of time when the United States had very generous support for science and many countries could not do that.
And now, I think, the world is changing rapidly, the countries are becoming much more prosperous and producing many very brilliant scientists and engineers. And America now worries that it will be no longer be the leader that it has been for so long. So, we have reports for our Congress that are very frequently complaining that we do not educate our students well. So, I think, you may see in the future that many more Prizes are being going to other countries.
Question: John, may I give to you a piece of advice? As a Prize Winner, you are entitled to recommend the nominees to the Nobel Committee, aren’t you? So, please, could you start recommending Russian scientists as soon as possible? It would look logical and fair, I believe. Any more questions from the auditorium?
«John, tell us please, do you believe in Nostradamus predictions? Thank you.»
John C. Mather: Do you believe in Nostradamus predictions? I don’t actually know what they are. So, I don’t know, but, probably, not.
Question: I would like to ask another question that has to do with the space researches: What is the difference between the dark energy and the dark matter?
John C. Mather: Well, in fact, «the dark energy» is the name that we give to the force that, we imagine, causes the universe to accelerate, to expand more rapidly every year. And «the dark matter» is the name we give to what we think are the small particles that are like ordinary matter particles, but do not interact with light waves. So, they have gravity, but they don’t cause the universe to accelerate.
Now, are these really true things? Since we cannot make any of them in the laboratory, it’s very hard to know for sure. So, in the future it may become that we’d believe that dark energy is just a different way of gravity; that, maybe, Einstein’s theory of gravity is incomplete; or that the quantum gravity has a new prediction for us.
Similarly, a dark mater may be made as the result of some experiment in the laboratory, and, maybe we will know how to understand them in the next ten or twenty years. But I do not know. I am sorry, we can’t really be sure.
Question: Well, John, are you sure in the Large Hadron Collider? Does it scare you? Is it possible that the LHC will produce a new Big Bang?
John C. Mather: Yes, I heard something about those public concerns over there that when we would turn on the Large Hadron Collider a new Big Bang could occur. But, we think, it’s very unlikely, because Nature already produces very high-energy particles in space. You know, cosmic rays come to us with the energies that are much, much, much higher than those that are produced in the Hadron Collider. So, the Nature has already done the experiment, and if there were going to be a new Big Bang produced by those kinds of interactions, it would have already occurred. So, we don’t think it’s very dangerous.
Question: Please, John, human society needs definite answers. When the scientific community is not unanimous and even some physicists argue that the risk of the LHC’s catastrophic explosion is non-zero, it will be enough to scare laypersons to death. So, why do the physicists keep the public in a suspended state of mind instead of coming out with the definite statement that there is on hazards at all associated with the LHC? Why don’t they reassure us with such a definite statement? Why do even some physicists express their doubts and concerns about the LHC safety?
John C. Mather: In my opinion, there is no danger in the Collider work. If there were any danger, the universe would already be over, because Nature already produces these kinds of collisions by natural processes, — and nothing bad has happened.
Question: Well, if there is no danger, we will do our best to stop worrying. Any further questions, please?
A student of the Moscow University has asked, «Will it be ever possible to probe even deeper into the past of the universe — beyond the boundary of the cosmic microwave background?»
John C. Mather: Yes, certainly. You know that the microwave heat radiation from the Big Bang has many properties. One of them is polarization. You know, if you wear polarized sunglasses, you turn your head — and the sky may become lighter or darker. And so we can measure the polarization properties of the cosmic microwave radiation from the Big Bang. And it is predicted that those polarization properties may arise from gravitational waves in the primordial material. So, in the first sub-microseconds after the Big Bang, these conditions would be produced. And, if we can measure this polarization, maybe, we will be able to understand something much closer to the Big Bang itself. It is possible, and the astronomers are working on it now.
Question: Thank you. I was expecting that sort of question for a long while, and now it has finally arrived via Internet — I mean, the UFO. Here they are, the extraterrestrials aboard their spaceships, John. So, it’s the turn of the most popular question now, «Have the astronomers ever spotted any unidentified objects with the very strange behavior — far beyond any explanation by any natural reasons and physical laws?»
John C. Mather: Well, there are very many strange things that we have observed, and the strangest things are those that we see in the sky very, very far away. And, I think, the biggest surprise for astronomers in the last few years was about gamma-ray bursts. You know, for about forty years we knew that there were stars or something exploding and producing immense amounts of gamma-radiation. And now we know that these were happening at the edge of the universe: they are stars that explode and they aim the little jets of material at us. So, it is the biggest surprise to me from astronomy.
Now, do we see, as astronomers, any flying objects here, in the Earth’s atmosphere? No, they don’t come to visit me. I am very sorry, but they had not visited me. I had not seen them. And I don’t know of any astronomers who have seen them.
Question: Well, as far as I know, the average number of Americans who reported UFOs by far exceeds the other nations’ averages. May that effect be the result of the Americans’ luxuriant imagination?
So, the next question reads, «Which of the two projects will produce more scientific outputs — your new super-telescope or the LHC?» Of course, if they could be compared in any way.
John C. Mather: They are difficult to compare and it is difficult to say, which one will be more effective. Both are the great pieces of equipment. They work on the very different subjects. Both of them are addressing questions of the great importance to science. And we certainly hope that the both will work beautifully, which is all luck.
Question: Which of the recent discoveries and achievements in other sciences, rather than physics, have been the most important ones for the mankind? I mean, those made during the last few years.
John C. Mather: Yes, I understand. It is a very large question. I think that the among all those, the parts that intrigue me most are in biology and in the history of mankind. So, there are many discoveries about how human beings came to live here on Earth and the history of our ancestors in Africa.
The ability we now have — to do genetic analyses and find out where our ancestors have travelled. I have sent my DNA offered to be analyzed, and so now I have a map from the National Geographic in the United States that says my Y-chromosome came by way of Khazakhstan to the United States, and so did that of the most Europeans, I think. So, this is, perhaps, the most affording field, and it is rich of interest. But it seems to me that the most rapid progress in the things of the most great personal importance to people are all coming from biology these days — in terms of scientific discoveries.
For engineering, we certainly now also have many wonderful challenges about the future energy supply and the climate change of this world. But those unite just science projects, so they are also very large engineering projects and social projects.
I don’t think I entered on your question.
Question: The related question is, «What would you like to learn about yourself with the new means offered by modern genetics and biology?
John C. Mather: What would I want to know about myself? Well, I’d certainly want to know more about my family history and how people migrated around the world. I think, it’s fun to think about that. It’s not actually important, but it’s interesting. So, it seems very popular to trace one’s family history as far back as possible. So, for instance, my ancestor was an unmarried woman in England, maybe, several hundred years ago. It would be nice to know something about the rest of the family and how did that happen. So, it’s not important, but interesting.
Question: Thank you. Another question from Internet, «John, do you have enough off-duty hours to enjoy reading? If yes, what are your favorite genres and authors?
John C. Mather: So it happened that the authors I like tend to be non-fiction authors writing about the world politics, and the climate change, and things of that sort. But, mostly, I read news, the material, The Economist magazine, which I’m subscribed to, and many other news magazines and, of course many professional scientific magazines that I get every week. I am sorry to confess that I do not read any fiction material more.
Question: And do you watch TV?
John C. Mather: I very rarely watch TV.
Question: Dear Professor, have you heard anything about the outstanding Russian scientist and cosmologist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky? Here in Russia, we conduct annual memorial Tsiolkovsky readings in his native city of Kaluga, which offer Russian cosmologists an opportunity to discuss many global and space-related issues. You have mentioned the global climate change — do you believe that it might be caused by some extraterrestrial reasons?
John C. Mather: Yes, I see, there are two questions here. I am not aware of Dr. Tsiolkovsky, but it sounds like his works might be very interesting.
The possibility of cosmic causes for global climate changes may exist. Of course, we have only begun to understand the causes of the ice ages, and those were very large climate changes here on Earth. So, there is a lot of what we so not know. We are constantly being surprised by new scientific results, including those in the climate change now, also. It was only quite recently recognized that it is occurring.
By the way, it was predicted by Reiners, I think, back in 1895, when he was studying the effect of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere, and people did not believe him at that time. But now it is quite well recognized that carbon dioxide and other molecules really do make the Earth get warmer. And he knew in 1895 that the use of gas as fuel will force a climate change. But it was hard to prove. Now we know from the observations that things are changing very quickly. And it is pretty clear that scientists agree that it is happening mostly because of human activity.
But there are certainly chances for cosmic causes as well. Just today, I was reading a scientific paper about whether passages through different parts of the Galaxy could change climate changes here on Earth. The answer that they’ve got is: no, it is not possible. But it is certainly an interesting scientific question. Our cosmic environment does change as the Sun orbits through the Galaxy.
Question: In this connection, what is your opinion of Kyoto Protocol? As far as I know, the United States have not signed it yet. What are your personal attitudes to the Protocol and the U.S. President’s and/or Senate’s — whoever is responsible — reluctance to ratify it?
John C. Mather: Unfortunately, I am not an expert on this subject, so I don’t have a careful understanding of it. But it looks to me like Americans now understand much better than they did before that the climate change is important and that the world’s response to the climate change must be developed. Something that requires cooperation of all nations is necessary. So, I certainly hope that we will achieve that.
Question: Now, my friends, it is time to formulate the final question, and it is going to be the one about the scientific institutions. John, in spring the President of the United States delivered a bright speech on the U.S. science and education systems. Your President promised the upsurge of the U.S. science funding. In other words, President Obama made stakes in favor of science amidst the crisis.
Here in Russia, we have all read that speech, as it was translated and published in Internet and other media, which resulted in many discussions in the scientific community. So, the question is: Have you already enjoyed the fruits of the shifted governmental priorities? Has your laboratory benefited from that promised «rain of gold»?
John C. Mather: The answer is that no dramatic changes have occurred for science in this country, as yet. There are small changes that are occurring, and, I think, things are going in the better direction. But, of course, there cannot be any «rain of gold», while money must come from somewhere. So, the Government receives taxes from the taxpayers, and, so, it’s all up to them what they will do.
Right now, everybody is very concerned about the economic crisis. But, I think, the President is correct that, for the long term, we must have educated people. Otherwise, we will not maintain our position as a prosperous country. So, I think, the President is clearly correct to focus on education, as it is very important part of our future. And I think it is obviously true for all nations.
So, I would like to thank my colleague Luba, especially for arranging all of these events. And I very much enjoyed speaking with you. And, so, if we have time for just one more question, that would be fine, but I wanted to make sure to thank you for arranging this. It has been very interesting for me.
Lubov Strelnikova: We just have been going to thank you, John for your presentation and for your patience while answering for such a long time to our questions, some of which may have sounded silly. Thank you very much. Once again, I am very sorry that you had to wait for us for an hour, because we were all ignorant of the fact that over there, in the USA, you do not practice switching your clocks to and from the DST mode. So, thank you very much for your patience, once again, John.
Your answers to our questions will be published in the Internet, and the first abstracts are going to appear there within a few days. Meanwhile, John, we will stay connected. Thank you and good-bye.