Wish Upon a Star

Leading astronomers said yesterday that observational studies and new sky-watching techniques will open up new knowledge of our universe in the coming decades, as they addressed a capacity Science Center crowd of more than 500 alumni and students.

"We in particle physics research are hoping for a new particle accelerator so that we can explore the energy range of 1 trillion electron volts," said former Higgins Professor of Physics Steven Weinberg. The new accelerator would cost $3 to $4 billion, Weinberg said.

The distinguished panel of Harvard professors discussed topics in astronomy and cosmology ranging from our expanding universe to mysterious matter that may fill up black voids in space at "The Universe: The Beginning, Now and Henceforth".

"Astronomy and cosmology is an area where there are not a lot of facts, but the aim is to reduce the amount of speculation through scientific investigations," said Professor of Astronomy Robert P. Kirshner '70. Telescopes and spectrography enable scientists to determine changing intergalactic distances and measure the dimensions of the universe, he said.

Stressing the need for more observational work, Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy Irwin I. Shapiro said that for the first time, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was being put to practical observational use.

Shapiro, who is also the Director of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, hopes to get information out to 80 percent of the radius of the universe with the new technique which involves the gravitational effects of large masses on light.

And for those worried that our expanding galaxy might collapse, the speakers made every effort to assure their intrigued audience that this was simply not possible.

"As far as we know, the universe can expand forever and Harvard can have a 350 billionth birthday," Kirshner said.