Sidney Wolff
Sidney Wolff

A world-wide effort to build new telescopes promises to revolutionize our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Universe. For the first time, we will be able to see—not merely make theories about—the formation of the very first stars and galaxies.

At an illustrated lecture at the Arizona Senior Academy at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 16), Sidney Wolff will describe those telescopes and discuss some of the outstanding questions in astrophysics and cosmology that they will address. Among those questions are the structure and formation of our Milky Way galaxy and the elusive nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Wolff recently led the design and development phase of one of those telescopes: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is now under construction. When it is fully operational in 2023, the LSST will map and remap the entire visible sky every three nights for 10 years. The resulting data can be used to form a movie to reveal any changes in brightness such as supernova explosions or movements of objects such as asteroids headed toward Earth. With its 8.4-meter-diameter mirror produced at the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab, the LSST will be sensitive enough to see deep into the Universe. Its unique 3,200-megapixel camera (compare to the 8-megapixel camera in an iPhone) will be programmed to take a picture every 15 seconds.

Wolff is an Astronomer Emerita at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. She has previously served as the director of that institution as well as president of the LSST Corporation. She has a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Carleton College and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2006 she was awarded the Education Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

Written by Marcia Neugebauer, Academy Village Volunteer

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New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology: Sept. 2015
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