The Universe is Bigger than State College
When reading the headlines lately, there seem to be two purveying schools of thought. The first states that Penn State is a party school, one with a rampant football culture which was clearly the root cause of systematic child rape. The second school contends that there is, in fact, more to be proud of than just our sporting and partying lineage. The members of this side may go on to cite arbitrary rankings, with supporting arguments in a style similar to what you might find on a “Top 10 Rappers” debate.
But amid the arguing, somewhere, there is still scientific collaboration going on — concrete advancements that deserve to be looked at as more than just ammunition in an argument about why your school is great. These are things at which we can collectively step back from the minutia of a scandal that will play itself out over the years to come. These are genuine achievements of the human race.
Recently, the automobile-sized rover “Curiosity” landed on Mars. That event probably filled most peoples’ quotas for interest in astronomy for the next year or so. However, if you’re like me, that interest isn’t something that comes and goes as often as pop culture sees fit.
Last year, a Nobel Prize-winning Astrophysicist by the name of Adam Reiss came to Penn State to speak on his research. Along with colleagues, he showed that the Universe was expanding at an accelerating rate. His work confirms the existence of a new form of matter known as dark matter.
Dark matter is not sinister. It does not have an evil plan to take down Penn State. It has been so named because of a unique characteristic: it doesn’t absorb or emit light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation. This confirmation has led to a sort of revision of our understanding of the universe.
With this new understanding, we are in need of a new picture. Enter the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the work of which is responsible for the imaging of over 200-million galaxies. Using BOSS technology (Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey), Data Release 9 — the most recent release — has shown the positions of 800,000 new galaxies, quasars, and stars, bringing the total to over 1.35 million. The effects of this work are shown in the video below.
Much like the Curiosity landing, the appreciation for this animation (which looks like something you might find in the title credits of a sci-fi movie) only grows the more you understand the work that went into it.
This work can in part be credited to at least several Penn State employees. In fact, the Survey Coordinator Donald Schneider is also the Department Head of Astronomy and Astrophysics right here at Penn State. But the point I’m trying to make is that this isn’t about why Penn State is better than, say, Pitt — who by the way features a professor as the Survey Spokesman. It’s about the collaboration of many people to achieve something amazing.
Being a part of State College is often compared to living in a bubble. It is clear from comments on almost all of the articles that many people never left. I hope that when I’m in my fifties, the sporting events I attended, or their legitimacy in the eyes of a governing body, continue not to be a reason for me to get upset.