Systems Engineering Seminar

The First Two NASA Nobel Prizes: Cosmic Microwaves and Dark Energy

Presented by:
Dr. Michelle Lynn Thaller, GSFC Code 600

Tuesday November 1, 2011, 1:00 p.m.
Building 3 Auditorium


The First Two NASA Nobel Prizes: Cosmic Microwaves and Dark Energy

NASA is racking up the Nobel Prizes! This year the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Adam Riess from the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, along with two other astronomers who worked to detect the mysterious “dark energy” that may dominate the fate of our universe. In 2006, Goddard’s own John Mather won the prize for his study of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. NASA should feel justifiably proud of these awards, but let’s face it, neither subject is particularly easy to explain to friends and neighbors. What exactly is dark energy, and why are all the physicists so excited about detecting extremely weak microwaves from space? Take an hour out of your week to learn about some truly strange and astonishingly deep discoveries about the universe on the largest scales imaginable.



Photo of Dr. Michelle Lynn Thaller Dr. Thaller is the Assistant Director of Science for Communications at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. Michelle obtained a Bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University. Specializing on the lifecycles of stars, she has been an observer on the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the ROSAT X-ray satellite, and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, as well as many ground-based observatories such as Mount Palomar, Kitt Peak, and Mount Stromlo, Australia. After a post-doctoral research fellowship at Caltech, Michelle worked as one of the managers of the Spitzer Space Telescope at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Michelle is a nationally recognized spokesperson for science and astronomy. She has produced, written and starred in several podcasts available on iTunes and YouTube, and she has received the highest honors for on-line programming, including the Telly, Aegis, and CINE Golden Eagle awards. Michelle has also been one of the regular hosts of “The Universe,” television series on the History Channel, National Geographic Channel’s “the Known Universe” and Discovery Channel’s “How the Universe Works.” Behind the scenes, Michelle has led efforts to develop high-quality apps for smartphones and iPads, as well as involve NASA missions with social media such as FaceBook, Twitter, and Second Life. In her current role, Michelle represents all of NASA’s science themes, from Earth science, the Sun and space weather, solar system exploration, all the way out to cosmology and the deep universe. Michelle speaks to members of Congress and their staff regularly, as well as international embassy staff and internal NASA policy-makers. She continues to be inspired by the fact that NASA is a world treasure, and the universe belongs to everyone equally.



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