Science, Public Policy, & the End of the Universe

Nick Suntzeff
Washington, DC
April 22, 2011

Andy Reynolds:

Good morning everybody, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department, for those from the outside world and we’re glad to see you this morning. Thank you for being patient. My name is Andrew Reynolds. I am the Deputy Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State and currently acting in the capacity of the Advisor as Secretary Clinton makes her final decision to invite a new advisor. This office has been around for 11 years. It was a creature of Madeleine Albright and we’re glad to say it’s been bipartisan, each successive administration has embraced the office and its objectives, which as much as anything is to bring to the State Department more scientists and engineers to help us in the pursuit of the diplomacy and development, which so greatly need their insights and their contributions as subject matter experts.

One of the programs that the Science and Technology Advisers Office has overseen and stimulated, and now made permanent, is the Jefferson Science Fellows Program, which brings to us tenured professors from our universities. Every year we go out with the help of the National Academy of Sciences and recruit from our distinguished universities, and their faculties, scientists and engineers who also have a passion to help contribute to public policy, international diplomacy, and development, and periodically we like to have our distinguished professors give a lecture, and today that is why you are here.

Nick Suntzeff is a very interesting person because he has -- he’s one of the bookends in my metaphor, which is that our scientists and engineers serve us as the alphabet, astronomy to zoology, and every discipline in between, and this gentleman happens to be on the A bookend, because his work is in astronomy and cosmology. Interestingly enough, Nick comes to us through a very distant place and that is Chile, where he was a great pioneer and advocate, not only for the work of the observatory there, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, in Chile, which is one of the finest in all the world, and some of the clearest air in all of the world there in Chile, but Nick also was the Director of Science for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. He has also been very instrumental in helping Chile organize one of the best international programs for research in astronomy and continues to be a man who hunts and gathers for opportunities to use astronomy as an instrument of international relations, cooperation, and goodwill, and most recently, he’s helping to build an observatory in the Middle East, and particularly in Qatar to build a small research laboratory in the university system there. This is testimony to what he brings to us as a science fellow and interestingly enough, he’s working in the Bureau of International Organizations, in the Office of Human Rights this year. So, he’s unusual because a Jefferson and oftentimes our American Association for the Advancement of Science fellows will go to their niches in the State Department or in AID, and work in the field where they bring their best tool sets, but Nick is working in IO, International Organizations Human Rights, and he’s working on a number of things in the resolution process. He said it’s an interesting challenge for him. It’s a different work style, but he’s also working in the area of disaster risk reduction, which is quite important when we think of development challenges.

Stanford, Santa Cruz, Lick Observatory, these are his institutions where he brings his degrees, or took his degrees. His work is specializing in cosmology, supernovae, stellar populations, astronomical instrumentation, and I think that this is one of the more unusual lectures you will hear. I hope that you enjoy yourselves. Thank you for coming, from the outside and from the Department of State, and AID, and I would like you to listen to Nick and then feel free to ask him some questions. Stay as long as you can. We will go past twelve. We won’t use that as a hard stop. So, without further adieu, Nick, please, come forward and give us this very interesting conversation.


Nick Suntzeff:
Well, thank you very much for inviting me. I’m a cosmologist and there is unfortunately no department of cosmology at the State Department, so when I came here I was going to have to use my science skills in somewhat other directions, but it turns out that although a lot of the people at the Jefferson Fellowship tracks do incredibly useful work, like parasitologists and climate change scientists, but just thinking like a scientist inside the State Department is a very, very importation addition to the State Department, because scientists, for better or worse, think very differently in many ways than diplomats do. Scientists tend to be a little bit flippant. We’re constantly playing with ideas and we’re constantly challenging each other with things that may or may not be true, but we would like to think about whether they are true, whereas in the field of diplomacy, words really matter and so one of the interesting frictions that I’ve had here is that my English, although is not very bad, I tend to be a little bit loose with my metaphors and perhaps my English, whereas it’s very, very important to get the words right. Now, words are very, very important in science too and especially definitions, and one of the things that I do appreciate here in the State Department is that there really are very specific definitions to things. So, if you say, “sustainable energy,” there really is a place you can go to find out what the word sustainable means, or renewable, whereas I think 99 point some odd percent of the population, although have an idea, a kind of a warm and fuzzy idea of those words, the actual definitions of the words are very, very important when you are dealing with talking with people about policy, or in the case in science, you have to have the definitions right.

So to start out, I’m going to weave my experiences as a cosmologist with what I’ve been doing in science policy. Most of what I’ve done in science policy prior to the State Department, I wasn’t really thinking that I was doing science policy. I lived in Chile for well over 20 years and I was involved with the Chilean Congress, the Executive Branch, their national science foundation, working with the U.S. Embassy, but to get things done inside Chile to promote science and education, and particularly, astronomy. So, I did have a background in policy, which I do bring to the State Department. My background in cosmology, cosmology is a very strange subject in a way. Cosmology, up until ten or fifteen years ago, was very uncertain. We had very, very little data. In the last 15 years, our idea of the universe has completely changed and some of what I say today may surprise you. I wanted to say at the outset though that in cosmology, many things are not well understood. So, when I’m talking, I will attempt to tell you the things that I am not sure of. I will also tell you some things which are either we think are true, which may not be true. There may be a whole house of cards that are going to come crumbling down, and I’ll try to tell you about that, and I’ll also tell you the things that I really don’t understand, because some of the basic things in cosmology, you can get two cosmologists who will argue with each other and both of them are certain, and they’re totally different opinions. There’s a famous phrase from an old cosmologist, that cosmologists are never in doubt, but they’re often wrong. Well, that’s still somewhat true in cosmology. There’s still some things we have, which are just probably terribly wrong and I’ll try to explain those things for you too. So, I will try to be honest while I’m talking about the science, to let you know what we don’t know.

Okay so, cosmology is the study of the size, the age, and the evolution of the universe. In cosmology, we don’t even really care about the fact that there’s stars in the galaxies. We tend to take everything in the sky and kind of average things out, and ask the question, where is it going to go in the future, and where did it come from, and this whole field was revolutionized by Albert Einstein and his general theory of relativity, which relates gravity to geometry, but it really didn’t take off until Edwin Hubble, who’s over here on the left, back in the, about 1929, discovered the expansion of the universe. What he discovered was that all the galaxies nearby our galaxy seemed to be moving away from each other and he was very, very careful not to call it an expansion. He just called it, he called it a cosmological redshift. Everything is moving away from each other as if there had been a giant explosion and stuff was flying out. His student, Allan Sandage, who’s over here on the right, took over Hubble’s work. This is -- when Hubble at the focus of the 100 inch telescope at Mount Wilson. Allan Sandage revolutionized cosmology. He was the first astronomer to really understand general relativity and take general relativity, and take it to the telescope, and test things about stuff in the sky that we can see, and then I was a student of Allan Sandage. So in a sense, although I’m very small picture down there, I have continuing sort of the heritage of Edwin Hubble, but I must admit that as we go forward in time, the intellects seem to be going down here.

Between Hubble and Sandage was really the great age of cosmology. This is the time when people argued about the Big Bang, the Steady State theory, where the universe was always eternal, whether it started with an explosion and that’s what we see today. Now, in the year 2011, we find -- we thought we found the universe had order to it and we understood that order, but we now begin to see that our understanding of the universe is getting torn apart once again. I’m not going to go very much into that, but it is a very interesting subject, because in the next decade or so, we’re really going to see I believe, things coming out of string theory, which challenge the observations that we think fit so well together in the theory that I’m going to be explaining to you. All right.

Just to be sort of compulsive, actually Hubble was not the one that discovered the Hubble Law, the expansion universe. It was this Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, who discovered it three years before Hubble. He’s not an observer. He’s a theoretician, a mathematician, but he discovered with the data that was in literature, the fact that the universe was expanding. He calculated the age of the universe. It’s roughly 3,000,000,000 years and unfortunately he published it in an incredibly obscure journal, which was the National Academy of Belgium, and so his, all of his work was later discovered, after Hubble had made his great discovery, and Lemaitre, although was very, very well known in cosmology and mathematics, he’s almost completely forgotten in the context of cosmology, but Lemaitre really was the pioneer of modern cosmology. Now, since the time of Lemaitre and Hubble, there’s been a goal for all cosmology, which is to measure two numbers. The first number is how fast is the universe expanding, that is how fast our galaxy is moving away from each other. That we call the Hubble constant. The other one, which is a little bit more obscure, which classically we call Q-nought, that says how fast the galaxies are changing their speed. That is their acceleration or deceleration. Now, with my very carefully selected prop here, we all know that gravity sucks, right? You throw something in the air and it decelerates. It stops and it comes back down. So, we know gravity always attracts other stuff. So, if you imagine the universe, which has galaxies where they are right now and the galaxies are moving away from each other, that movement should slow down over time, just like throwing something in the air slows down over time. So, the universe should be decelerating. The big question was, was the universe going to decelerate, come to a stop like when the grapefruit gets to the top and starts coming back down, is the universe going to come to a certain point, stop, and then come back in on itself, and come back down on a big crunch. Now philosophically, in a way that’s really nice, because that produces a universe which is constantly oscillating back and forth. It doesn’t have a beginning. It doesn’t have an end. So, most people try to create a universe which had enough matter so that the universe would expand out to a certain point, stop, and then come back in on itself. Of course theologically, that’s a really disturbing thing, because as everything comes back on top of itself, it crushes everything that existed and all life will disappear. It would only be reborn in another explosion. So, we’re all toast sooner or later in the theory of the Big Bang, with the universes as we say, close.

So, the goal was to measure the rate of expansion and how fast the expansion is changing. Each nought was measured by Lemaitre and Hubble first. Allan Sandage came up with the correct value back around 1955. We’ve been improving it since then, but not by very much and Q-nought, the deceleration of the universe was unknown until 1998, when we discovered it. I cofounded one of the two groups that measured Q-nought and we ended up with a very unexpected, and I can say, result. So, this the deepest image ever taken in a telescope. This is called the Hubble Deep Field. All the points that you see here are galaxies. When you look at a tiny, tiny, little patch of the sky with a Hubble space telescope and take a image, basically this is two weeks of exposure on a tiny patch of the sky, you see a bunch of galaxies, larger ones and smaller ones, but the noticeable thing is that the sky is still black. There is still blackness in between galaxies and I will explain in just a moment. We are actually seeing the edge of the universe here. So, we’re seeing to an end and there’s nothing beyond it. So really, the sky is black in the deepest image.

If you look at our night sky, this is a picture taken at the observatory where I work, at Cerro Tololo. Here is the Milky Way. This was taken with an astronomical grade camera that I built. The sky is still very black. The Milky Way of course isn’t, and up over on the right corner you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud, the closest galaxy to our own, but the sky is still black and this is the most profound observation you can make in cosmology. You don’t need a telescope. You don’t need anything fancy. The most profound observation that you can make is the night sky is black and it’s called Oblers’ Paradox, and though Obler is the one that first wrote it down, Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, also really, really worried about this. So, let’s think about this. This is one of the hardest things for me to explain to undergraduates when I teach them and I don’t have quite enough time to go through my normal explanation, but it’s sort of goes like this. Imagine you’re looking at a forest and the forest is not very deep. There’s a bunch of trees, but there are not so many trees that you still can’t see the -- you can still see the sky through the forest. So, in any direction you either see a leaf, let’s say, or you see through the forest, and you see the blue sky. If you put a little bit more forest beyond it, now some of the blue sky has been covered up by leaves that are farther away. Put another part of a forest beyond that, and sooner or later you will find out that in no matter which direction you look, you’ll see a leaf. The sky behind it is blotted out. So at that point, any direction you look at, you cannot see into the sky. Well, if the universe was infinite and it was not expanding, any direction, just imagine being stars, these stars mostly are in our galaxy, any direction you look at, sooner or later you’ll see a star, and if the universe is infinite, there is an infinite distance that you can go out to, but there will always be a star in that direction, which means that at night time, when the sun goes down, any point in the sky should have a star or a distant star in it and even though it’s a point of light, that star will be roughly as bright as the sun. so, the whole night sky should be as bright as our sun, just like if you look at a tree and there are lots of leaves on the tree, the whole tree is covered with leaves and you can’t see through it. The whole night sky is covered with stars. Some of them are very distant. Your eye can’t see them, but there’s still a star there.

So, Oblers’ Paradox is that the night sky is actually black, because the night sky, if the universe was infinite, should be the same brightness as the sun. so, whether the sun goes up or down, whether it’s night time or day time, in an infinite universe the sky should be totally blazing like the sun, which means that life could never exist on our planet, because it would be way too hot. So, that’s Oblers’ Paradox. Why is the night sky black between the stars, and as I showed you, it really is black between the stars. Here is the Hubble Deep Field again. The deepest image ever taken, still black in between the galaxies. So, Kant, Obler didn’t really do this, but Kant explained this, that the universe was almost finite and he led this new theological argument that the universe had to have a creation and that was consistent with Genesis in The Bible. Georges Lemaitre, who was a Catholic priest, thought that was a bunch of hooey and that The Bible had absolutely nothing to do with science, but this is an observation that is the most profound one in cosmology that the night sky is black and it should be black, if the universe was infinite. So, once you accept that explanation, you now have to worry why the universe is either not infinite or why the stars appear to disappear way in the distance, in the sky.

Okay, one other strange thing that’s happened in the last decade and almost no one has noticed this, I guess, except me, but I think it’s a very -- it’s a turning point in the history of humanity and I don’t mean to be -- sound to arrogant about it, but it really is. Five hundred years ago Magellan and his crew, or actually his crew, not Magellan, because he died on the trip, circumnavigated the globe. Of course they knew how big the earth was to some degree of accuracy. They didn’t know whether they could get around all the land masses, but on this trip, which took two and a half years, they circumnavigated the globe and at that point the earth became finite, really finite, technologically finite. So, after Magellan showed that you could go all the way around the earth on a ship, then it just became a job of the explorers in the to explore and discover all of the rest of the earth, the continents, the islands, the rivers, and so forth, but it was the step of Magellan, who we still see it as an important turning point in humanity, that we reach the point of technology where we could actually circumnavigate the globe. Now, you can imagine of you were a cook on Magellan’s ship and you’re out somewhere here in the Atlantic, and you’ve been making breakfast, and you’ve got all this garbage that you want to throw out. Now, you wouldn’t put it in a recycle bag and keep it for the rest of the voyage. You’d just look out at the ocean and say, “Jesus, it’s huge.” You’d just throw it out there, knowing that the ocean is so vast you’re not going to be affecting anything whatsoever, five hundred years ago. We now know you can’t do that. Our earth is not only technologically small, it is so small that human activity, if we throw enough junk into the ocean, will affect the course of the evolution of the earth in terms of climate change. So, we’re very careful now to worry about our impact on the earth through climate change. So, in 500 years we went from not being able to technologically explore the earth, to now, with the earth is so small that we have to worry about preserving it.

Well, this is also a picture that almost no one has ever seen. This is a map of the universe as we know it today, or actually as we know it four or five years ago. I’m not going to explain much, but right now I’m going to leave it kind of as a teaser, but this is the universe. You are looking from the center, where we are, in the middle of all that white junk, out to the edge, which is basically at the point of the Big Bang. It’s about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, but that is our universe and there is an edge to it. So, we have the ability right now technologically, with our telescopes, to map out all of the galaxies in the universe, and with the next 20 years, we’ll have a telescope which will digitize the whole sky -- it’s going to be in the southern hemisphere, so there will be a little bit in the north that we miss -- and it’s going to find basically every galaxy. So we’re at the same point, like 500 years ago, but right now where the universe went from being technologically not understandable to being simply a finite object. And in the next 20 years, we’ll just -- we’ll map out all the 50 billion galaxies in the universe and be able to go to Google universe with your little cursor and go to every galaxy that’s out there. Now some of the small ones we’re going to miss, but the vast majority, 99 some percent of the galaxies, there will be a database that you could carry around on your iPod which will have every galaxy in the universe. And they’ll all have really boring names like, you know, minus 25 something or other, but they’ll all be there. And that’s it. There’s nothing more. That’s our universe. There are no more galaxies. So to be provocative at this point, we look at this universe, and we think, “My God, that’s really huge. So we just can just throw junk out into space. It’s not going to affect anything.” Just like Magellan’s could throw their junk out into the ocean and worry -- not worry about the fact that you’re going to change anything, because the universe is -- excuse me, the earth is so, is so large. Well our universe is unimaginably big. It’s 14 billion years old. Light has taken 14 billion years to get to the edge from there to the center. And clearly if we throw anything out into space, nothing is going to happen. Maybe. 500 years from now, I’m not so sure that this universe that we’re in is going to look that small. We’ll have mapped it all out, and there’s nothing in physics which says that there’s not something we could profoundly do wrong that will affect the whole universe. So, there’s a -- in physicists, there’s a joke that the universe reappears every 14 billion years when a civilization gets large enough to build a large Hadron collider. Which, you know, I don’t know, it’s not going to produce a black hole. It’s not going to produce anything that’s going to kill us, but I still want to be very provocative and say that the universe seems really huge right now, and we’ll have mapped it out, just like the time after Magellan mapping out the earth, but we will -- that’s it, and we have to probably take care of the universe.

Okay now let me jump back into public policy. I’m a Jefferson Science Fellow. I work in the Bureau of Human Rights, which when I got here seemed to be the Office of Human Rights. Somehow the offices and the bureaus seem to have gotten mixed up all. So my business card is wrong. Most of the time I spend working with people in that bureau on disaster risk reduction things, but also I’m kind of -- I get thrown other things, too, that a scientist -- that the -- where they need a scientific opinion. And as I said, there’s a really wonderful creative friction between diplomacy and science and the diplomats sometimes are less -- I don’t want to sound too insulting -- they’re willing to mold words so that you can make compromises with other people. Whereas in science, if you’re a good scientist, you can’t do that. It’s either right or wrong or I’m not sure. But you can’t write bad science into a U.N. resolution. And once it’s there, if it’s sitting there, you got to change it. And there is some bad science that’s gotten into some of what we have supported at the United Nations. And a little bit of what I’ve done has been helping people try to clean some of that stuff up.

But I’m not going to talk about science policy in general. I’m going to talk about science policies I know. Because science policies, I mean, there are departments at like Georgetown that are, that deal with science policy. But I’m going to talk about the science policy that I’ve been involved with and which is in astronomy. And the first time I got involved in science, in sort of international science and science policy, was back in the 1970s when I helped build -- I didn’t go there -- but I helped design this observatory which sits, where you can see on the Google map where it says “A”. Now that’s in a rather, how can I say, complicated part of the world. It’s in Iraq. It’s almost within spitting distance of the border with Iran. It’s actually in Kurdistan in Iraq. And they’re just all sorts of small countries around there that have not gotten along very well in the past. And you can see the evidence of that in the telescope that we helped build, which is in the middle there. There’s a large hole which is a hole -- well, actually that hole is -- there’s another hole that you can’t see there -- which is the hole which stopped them building the observatory when the Iran Iraq War happened, and the Iranis launched a missile at it and put a big hole in the dome. Unfortunately, during the Gulf War, some American pilot decided it’d be really cool to shoot a missile at this white thing on top of the hill, and that’s the hole you see there. So this observatory has not done too well. I can’t say that it is a sterling example of success in foreign science policy. But still, it’s interesting, that in this very complicated part of the world, there was a real interest in producing an astronomical observatory. There’s tremendous interest in the Arab countries and in Iran to study astronomy. Because after all, at one time, that was the center of astronomy. Some of it was astrology -- the three Magi in the New Testament probably were astrologers that came from Iran -- but astrology and astronomy were the same at that time. Astrologers studied the sky and they made predictions; they also wrote down their observations. So astronomy is not distant to the people that live in this region. As a matter of fact, because there is so little light there, they live with the whole night sky looking down upon them. They know what the Milky Way looks like. When I teach at Texas A & M, half of my students have never seen the Milky Way. In the country of Belgium, there’s no place you can go to see Milky Way. The whole country is covered with lights. And the Belgians are now really worried about this, and they’re going to try to make little areas where there’s not much lighting so people can actually go out and see the stars, because they’ve lost all the stars. So this is at Mount Korek observatory on the border with Iraq, but it really is in Kurdistan. So I just decided to go to the web and say, okay, well this is a really obscure part of the world for most people. But it’s not for astronomy. So, I just pulled these things off.

So here’s the Amateur Astronomer’s Association of Kurdistan. Cool. Then here’s the one in Iran, down over here. Here’s the Azerbaijani Astronomy Club. There’s the Turkish one. There’s the Syrian one. And that’s probably the Armenian one. So even though these countries have vastly different politics and histories and so forth, they all do astronomy. And astronomy actually unites all of these people. They can -- there’s a whole system of amateur astronomers around the world that communicate with each other. Doesn’t matter what country you’re in. If you go to the web page “Astronomy picture of the day”, which is one of the most popular web pages on Google -- excuse me, on the internet -- which, is just, everyone calls it A P O D, many of the pictures you see will actually come from countries like Syria or Iran or Turkmenistan. They’re amateur astronomers everywhere with their telescopes, taking pictures and exchanging information. And when I go to countries -- I haven’t been to any of these countries, I’ve been to Qatar -- when I give a talk on astronomy, the whole, the whole place is packed. Everyone wants to know about astronomy because it’s in our history. There’s something about, innate in the human being that we look up at the sky -- not only when we’re thinking, we always look up -- but we always look, we look to the sky for hope in getting wisdom. And there’s some primordial connection between what’s in the sky and what we feel inside. And everyone, doesn’t matter what country you’re in, wants to know why it, why is stuff up there the way it is. So astronomy is a very, very powerful way of uniting people. And we haven’t taken enough advantage of this.

Well, I was in Chile, and Chile is perhaps one of the oldest and -- it’s one of the oldest and best astronomy programs in the world. And it started with, back in the 1950s, when a professor from the University of Chile decided that it would be nice to put a telescope in Chile because Chile has the darkest skies and the clearest weather in the world. There are places in northern Chile where it is totally clear. No clouds for 330 nights out of the year. And there are places where I lived in Chile that are about 300 miles north where it hasn’t rained. In history. There -- obviously a long time ago, but since people have been living there, it’s never rained. It’s totally different part of the world. Very beautiful. Anyway, this is an expression of some of the presidents that have been involved in astronomy. Here’s Eduardo Frei, the father, back in the 1960s, who inaugurated Cerro Tololo observatory. Cerro Tololo is a joint venture between the United States, NSF, and the University of Chile. It survived through the Allende years. It wasn’t nationalized by Allende, because the workers who were unionized at Cerro Tololo liked the observatory and liked the relations with the United States, and so it remained independent, whereas almost everything else in the United States was nationalized. Then came along Señoro Augusto there, who didn’t like the presence of the observatory, but again because there was so much support in the country of average people, that the observatory was able to survive for most of -- was able to survive during the Pinochet years and prosper. And then a little bit later, Ricardo Lagos came up to the observatory to inaugurate a new telescope. Michelle Bachelet here is with my collaborator Mario Hamuy. He’s one of her science -- was one of her science advisors. Mario is also a cosmologist. And then most recently you see Sebastián Piñera, the present president of Chile, talking with Tim de Zeeuw, who is the president, the head astronomer at the European National Observatory in Chile. Chile right now has almost four billion dollars worth of telescopes. So all of these people have been involved in astronomy, just one small science. But it’s part and parcel of this country of Chile. Every Chilean -- I’m not kidding -- every Chilean knows where Cerro Tololo is. Almost every Chilean knows that Chile is the best place in the world to do astronomy. They’re very, very proud of it. Which has allowed this science to survive regime changes from Frei to Allende to Pinochet and then back to democracy. And it still is very powerful in the country. Sebastián Piñera, Ricardo Lagos are both amateur astronomers. They both have their own little observatories, and they look at the night sky. Michelle Bachelet also has a small telescope that she likes to look through. Many, many politicians love astronomy. Well these are just pictures of where I worked at Cerro Tololo in the Andes at about 8000 feet, and the one that I’m helping build right now is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope -- and that’s just an artist rendition of it -- that’s the telescope that’s going to digitize the sky every night. It’s going to produce about three or four terabytes per night. So we’re going to create a databases that we think handled by Google, which are petabytes in size. And we’ll look for -- we’ll be able to map out the universe to the edge.

Okay, one of the things I’m proud of having helped here while I’ve been at the State Department, is a joint statement by President Obama and President Sebastián Piñera last month when the President visited Chile. And as part of their joint statement, which was about 15 paragraphs long, the one that I pull out here, it said that, “Both heads of state highlighted the effective collaboration in the field of astronomy and astro-engineering which will allow the operations of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope,” -- that’s the one I showed you before -- “and the ALMA telescope,” -- that’s a big radio telescope in northern part of Chile -- “involving an investment of one and a half billion dollars with a close collaboration between public and private and academic research institutions in both countries.” So both of the presidents have agreed that a point of, excuse me, a point of contact between the two countries is astronomy, and they note the historical significance of astronomy. So this is a small science, but this is a powerful statement about the collaboration between these two countries. And this collaboration, again, lasted through incredibly large regime changes.

Okay, so, one or two more slides before I get back to the cosmology. Last year was the international year of astronomy. Which was supported by the United Nations, UNESCO, and also the International Astronomical Union. And, as important part of this was 100 Hours of Astronomy. Now, if you’re old enough, like me, you remember the day that we, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It’s a day which, like the death of President John Kennedy and a few other things -- for some people when Princess Diana died -- it’s a photographic memory. But the landing on the moon was probably the only event in human history which has united all of the earth. Where when people looked up at the sky and looked at the moon, they weren’t looking at an American landing on the moon, although it was an American, they were looking at mankind being on the moon. Well, the same thing happened last year. Perhaps in a smaller sense. 100 Hours of Astronomy. And we, and even some rank amateurs like this guy over here participated. 100 Hours of Astronomy was a couple of days where the whole world, organized through the United Nations, was supposed to look up at the sky, and all sorts of things were planned in it. Education. Telescopes. Mobile planetarium and so forth. But the most amazing thing is that half a million people, excuse me, half a billion people participated in this over a period of a couple of days. So this, in a separate sense, it wasn’t as grand as landing on the moon, this united the world in terms of astronomy. And astronomy is not political. Everyone looks up at the sky and wants to know what’s there. And so this was an incredible success, that 148 countries participated. Countries like North Korea were part of this. And amateurs all around the world brought their telescopes out. Schools went to where the amateurs were, and they looked up in the sky and the amateur astronomers and few professional astronomers would explain what were out there. But it’s an incredibly large and successful program. So this is an example of international science policy. Using science to bring people together that bypasses the differences we have across borders. And the differences we have in our politics. Astronomy is above that.

Let me just tell you a few more things. Countries that you would not think would be involved in astronomy really are very, very deeply involved in astronomy. Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has one of the greatest astronomers that ever lived - Ulugh Beg. Who was such an outstanding astronomer that he produced the best position of the stars since Ptolemy and until the 1800s. He made this -- he didn’t have a telescope -- he used what was, what is basically a meridian circle. But he published this data, and this is the data that Copernicus used and then Kepler used, as part of with using Brahe’s data, to discover the laws of the planets. They have one of the best sites in the world - Mount Maidanak - which, they’re trying to build a telescope. It’s been tested by one of the people I work with as an outstanding site. And you look at it, it’s in a very, very complicated part of the world. Yet, across all of those borders, they all share this heritage of Ulugh Beg and the history of astronomy. When you look up in the sky, everyone around the world except in some Asian countries, when they look at the stars and they give names to the stars, those names are names that the Arabs gave to the stars back in the 13, 14, 1500s. There’s a huge presence of, this case -- not in this case, but in a case of the Middle East -- of Arab astronomy influencing what we do here. We -- the stars Sirius, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse -- all of these stars have names which are Arabic. And the influence in the Arabs and Moslem astronomy is still being felt. And they would like to build on that. They would like to once again be part of the international astronomy exploration, because it is in their heritage to do so. So as Uzbekistan.

Qatar. I’ve been in Qatar, working with Sheikh Salman al Thani. Qatar is probably the worst place you ever want to put a telescope. The highest point is about 50 meters above sea level, and we’re standing on it right here. But, and it’s real clear, but the sky is not really blue, it’s kind of red, because of all the dust. But still it’s a -- it’s a very, very good place to put a telescope. So we’re -- it’s not -- the sky is, could be better, but if you put a small telescope, it doesn’t really matter where you put it. So, we’re building a telescope with the Qatari Foundation and the University of Qatar. Texas A&M, where I work, has a campus there. And we’ve just begun to put site survey equipment on top of this little mountain. And in the next year or two, we’re going to build and install a telescope that’s maybe two meters across. About four or five million dollar project. And this will be a Qatari telescope. It’ll be used by their students. It’ll be used by some of their astronomers. But it’ll also be used by Texas A&M, because we’ll be able to use this telescope at night while it’s daytime in Texas, so it’ll be a wonderful way of teaching our students. We’re on a, also a similar telescope in McDonald Observatory in Texas, that Qatar will have access to so their students during the daytime can use our telescope at night.

And perhaps the most, I wouldn’t say controversial, the most difficult nut to crack is North Korea. It’s sort of, can’t say it any other way, it’s a pathetic country. If you look at this map on the, on the right here, this is a map of all the lights on, in Asia. You can see Japan, the kind of wormy looking thing on the right. You can see China. You can see South Korea, which is right in the middle, and if you look just above it, it’s black. That’s North Korea. That’s how far -- that’s how underdeveloped they are. But the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea really, really, really wants to be part of the astronomical world. And they have made contacts through the International Astronomical Union to the United States, generally through Malaysia or Thailand, and some American astronomers have gone, especially Ed Guinan here, who’s on the International Astronomical Society Board, and is also a wonderful promoter of astronomy around the world, especially in undeveloped countries. Anyway, so the North Koreans are sending young astronomers to eastern, east Asian countries to work with east Asian astronomers and also American astronomers that have to be there. So this is a indirect but real form of contact between one of the countries that is the pariah country here in the United States, and people in their country that really want to bring North Korea into the, into the modern age, at least through astronomy. So this is a real opportunity. And just like ping pong was a real opportunity. I would have loved to see that ping pong match. That is -- Henry Kissinger. Anyway. But astronomy can be seen in a similar way. I don’t want to be, sound too arrogant about it, but astronomy right now can go into countries where we have little or no relationship, and we can begin the process of making contacts to scientists in these other countries. North Korea right now is a possibility. Another real possibility is Palestine. Palestine has a tremendous amateur astronomy population. Incredibly strong population. And Ed Guinan and other people have gone into the Palestinian communities, in particular the -- Gaza -- and brought small telescopes as part of the international astronomy year, and worked with their amateur societies to bring modern technology -- just simple telescopes -- to the people who really want to learn about astronomy.

Okay, let’s get back to the universe. So here it is again. Let me explain a little bit about this. Now, of course, we can’t step outside the universe and look into it. That’s impossible. But we can -- just like we can’t step outside the earth and see the whole earth, there’s always one side that’s kind of missing, but you can go around it and sooner or later see everything. Well the universe has an edge to it. The edge is not an edge in space; it’s an edge in time. The universe is about 14 billion years old. We know it very precisely. We know it to better than -- the age of the universe to better than one percent. And as we look farther and farther out into the universe, we look back and back in time, because it takes light a certain amount of time to get to us, so we see as we look farther out in the universe, galaxies get younger and younger and younger. And then there’s a point where we don’t see galaxies any more. And then at one point, we see the radiation, the flash from the Big Bang. And what’s being plotted here, this big circle that is turning, that is the flash that we see from the Big Bang 400,000 years after the Big Bang. There’s about 400,000 years which we can’t see directly, but we’re working on that. But between 400,000 years and today, we can see pretty much all of the universe. I can take any big telescope now, point it in the sky, and I can see to the very edge of the universe where the galaxies disappear. What’s shown here in white are just the galaxies that have been mapped out with a small telescope as of eight years ago, with a Sloan survey, when this -- the telescope that I showed you in Chile, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, gets going, we’ll be able to fill all of these things, all those white dots will be galaxies, and they’ll all have names. That’s all there is, and there isn’t any more.

So, cosmology is thinking weird stuff about the universe. So, there are lots of things about cosmology, some of them technical, some not, that bother me, but I’m going to try to give you a flavor of some of the weird things in our universe that we may or may not understand. Okay, one of the weirdest things is that everywhere we look in the universe we see galaxies. Well, you know, we’re in the universe. There are lots of galaxies, so what. Well, since light has a finite travel time, that means that -- I see a galaxy over there and I see a galaxy over there, it’s taken light, if they’re distant, maybe five billion years for that light to get to me and maybe five billion years for that light to get to me from that galaxy. But the universe, because it’s four-dimensional and it’s really hard to explain, those two galaxies, in my universe, have never seen each other. Now I can look out and see that they exist, but that galaxy, as there’s not been enough time in the universe for that galaxy to have been able to see that galaxy. Every point in the universe is its own center. Well, so what. So what if that galaxy can’t see that galaxy. Well, that’s really weird, because if I take a little patch of sky over in that direction and count up the number of galaxies, and let’s say maybe there are about a hundred, then I look at the same patch of sky over in this direction and I count the number of galaxies, maybe there are 95, but statistically, they are the same. When you do this across the whole sky you discover that the whole sky in a cosmological sense has the same average number of galaxies. But how can that be if that’s -- if those galaxies over there have never seen, have never touched that part of the sky? They’ve always been outside the universe of that, of those two directions. So, how can things have the same number, average number, if they’ve never seen each other? It’s like going to an island in the Pacific and discovering everyone speaks English. Well, there are one of two conclusions. One is that somehow English just naturally appeared with these people and that they, just by pure probability happen to speak perfect English, or chances are, some ship stopped and someone taught these people English. Chances are it’s the latter. So, these two things have never seen each other and we don’t understand how they can have the same number of galaxies. The only way to explain it is at some point they were actually touching each other, but they aren’t. They’re too far away from each other. So that’s something really weird. The universe is geometrically flat. Well, that may not be very exciting for you, but for a mathematician like me it is. If you take a gigantic triangle in the universe, add up all the angles, they add up to 180 degrees like a normal triangle. But that doesn’t have to happen in general geometry. So imagine the earth. You take a point on the pole, two points on the pole and draw two lines of longitude that go down to the equator, and let’s start the longitude lines out at a right angle so that they’re a right angle at the top of the pole. When they go down and hit the equator, they hit the equator also perpendicular, and let’s draw the third part of the triangle on the equator from one piece of latitude to the other. Now we have a triangle that goes from the North Pole to the equator, to the equator to the North Pole. You now have three angles at the North Pole and at these two, which are all 90 degrees. Ninety times three is 270, not 180. So, in a geometry that’s curved like the earth, a large triangle doesn’t add up to 180 degrees, it adds up to something larger. But in largest triangles in our universe, conceptually we don’t do the measurement directly, everything adds up to 180 degrees. The universe is flat like a plane. Another thing is, where is all the anti-matter? We see normal matter here. If you read Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code” where they talk about -- no, his other book where they talk about anti-matter, you know that anti-matter will destroy normal matter and produce a big explosion. So we know -- and the anti-matter should be as calm as the matter in the universe, but it’s not. So we’re missing that. Perhaps one of the most profound things is what is time? And, since I’m running out of it, I won’t go into it, but I’d love to talk more about this. I’d like to give a whole lecture on what time is, because time is one of the most bizarre concepts we have. At the microscopic level, time goes backwards and forwards. There is no direction for time in quantum mechanics. At any particular point all probabilities of the universe go off in any direction and we just happen to follow the most probabilistic one. But by the time we get to us this big, time goes in a certain direction. So from very small to where we are, something happens that creates time. We don’t know what that is. There are ideas, but we don’t know. More weird stuff.

Another one I’d love to talk about is where are they? This is Fermi’s great question. If the universe has lots of intelligent life, why is it we don’t see any? We’re discovering planets all over the place right now. There are now, we know of more than 500 planets on our lists and yet none of them we have seen life on. It would be hard to see life on those planets. But I think it’s a very profound question that we have not seen intelligent life to this point. I’m a real pessimist. I actually think that all the evidence right now points to the fact that life has only existed on earth and nowhere else in the universe. I’d love to argue with people about this, because 99 some-odd percent of the people will disagree with me and I could be wrong. But there is another way of looking at this argument that very few people use, which makes it pretty clear that life is probably very, very uncommon in the universe. Well, to me the weirdest thing is that the universe is dead. And now I’m going to get into the depressing pessimistic part of my talk. We don’t realize it, except the astronomers, but basically the universe has died. There’s almost no gas left on all the galaxies. On our galaxy, which has 100 billion stars, 80 percent of the gas has been used up into stars and 20 percent is left. We only have a couple more billion years before there’s no more gas in our galaxy. We look around at all the other galaxies around us and basically all the normal galaxies have almost run out or have completely run out of gas. Only these tiny little insignificant ones, like the one up in the right corner there with the large Magellanic cloud with a tiny little galaxy, still has a bunch of gas to burn to create into stars, but when -- that’s going to be -- those sorts of galaxies make up very, very little mass of the universe. So, we’re living in a time in the universe where everything is dying and in a couple more billion years, basically everything is dead. Now there will still be stars, but there aren’t going to be any new stars. There’s going to be nothing happening. So, why is that? So the weird thing is the discoveries we’ve made in the last 15 years is that 99.5 percent of the universe you can’t see, which is really annoying. Seventy-three percent of it is dark energy, 23 percent of it is dark matter. The rest of it, maybe one percent, is us. Now I’ll get -- I’ll tell you a little bit about dark energy and dark matter, but these are things that we can’t see, we don’t know what they are, and yet they comprise almost 99 percent of the universe. So we’re living in a universe where almost everything that’s out there that we see, you know, the podium, you, the earth, stars, galaxies, everything that we see is only a little less than one percent of what’s out there and the rest of what’s out there is stuff we can indirectly detect, but we have no idea what it is, dark energy and dark matter.

Dark matter. Well, another lecture, but dark matter we can see very, very clearly in galaxies, because galaxies revolve way too quickly for the amount of matter. I can take a galaxy like Andromeda here and tell you how much mass there is in that galaxy, how many billions of times the mass in the sun there is. And just by Kepler’s laws, I should be able to tell you how fast the galaxy is rotating. The more mass there is the faster it rotates. So I calculate the amount of mass in it. I can calculate, I can observe how much mass there is. I can calculate how fast it rotates and it’s rotating way too slowly. There’s a huge amount of matter, maybe 10 times the amount of matter I can see in the stars that’s required to make that galaxy rotate as fast as it does, and that’s called dark matter. What is it? Well, we have absolutely no idea. It could be not gravity, that we just misunderstand gravity. It could be weird particles. There’s a big rumor going out in the start of last night on the Internet that the people have seen this really weird bump in a diagram coming out of the Large Hadron Collider at 113 gigavolts, electron volts. Maybe it’s -- maybe they finally discovered this particle which is out there, but is causing dark matter. I’ve searched for dark matter. I spent 10 years looking for normal matter as dark matter and it just isn’t there. You know, I looked for black holes. I looked for burned out stars. We did a very careful census of what’s around our galaxy and it’s not normal matter. Maybe the solution is in String Theory, which -- I lived on a floor at A and M with all string theorists and it’s weird. That’s all I can say. Yeah, I’d love to tell some stories about our String Theory, but I won’t. General relativity. This is -- the formula for General Relativity. That’s all there is. Simple formula. Actually, it’s really complicated, but that’s it. That’s the whole formula for how space and time behave according to Einstein. But all this says is that mass causes space to bend and bent space causes mass to move. And that equation which I just showed you is the equation which governs our cosmology. And through that equation is the way I’m able to measure the fact that there is dark matter and dark energy.


So, let’s talk a little bit about dark energy. This is something that my group discovered back in 1998, and it still makes no sense, but it’s easy to explain. Okay, so imagine taking a piece of space right here and another piece of space right here. It could be in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter. So, let’s imagine a cube here and let’s imagine a cube here. These two pieces of space have the property that they can feel each other and they don’t like each other and they push away from themselves. And this type of repulsion we actually see in quantum mechanics. So it sounds weird to vacuum something that has nothing in it actually has a zero-point energy and that energy doesn’t like anything else around it and pushes everything else away. So over time, this piece of space and this piece of space push each other away. Okay? Now they’re a little bit farther. Now there’s a piece of space in between them that’s -- over a billion years have passed and there’s a new piece of space. Ah. But this piece of space doesn’t like that piece of space or that piece of space. So this one pushes -- this piece of space pushes that one farther away and pushes that one farther away. Now there are two pieces of space that have just opened up, which push -- you can see what happens is that as the universe evolves and there’s more volume to the universe, there’s more and more space that doesn’t like the rest of space and it pushes the rest of space away. That’s called an exponential acceleration that every piece that comes in pushes everything else away and now there’s more space, which pushes even harder and harder and harder and harder and that seems to be what dark energy is. We don’t know what it is, but that’s the way it is working. Well, if you take dark energy and convert it into matter by Einstein’s formula E=mc squared, the amount of dark energy is about three times the amount of matter in the universe, dark matter mostly. You take the dark energy and dark matter, add them together, you’ve now got up to 96 percent of the universe. So, the stuff, this vacuum, actually has a little bit of energy in it that permeates the whole universe and it’s pushing really, really hard, and it’s pushing so hard now it has overcome matter. It doesn’t matter how much gravity there is elsewhere, dark energy is now so powerful that we can throw away all the matter in the universe and, as cosmologists, predict what’s going to happen to the universe, if our simple model is right. So, this is where I wave my hands a lot.

What’s going to happen? Now, we’re not going to run the clock backwards. We’re going to run the universe forward. Okay, so, dark energy. Dark energy has taken over the universe and it’s driving the universe to be larger and larger and larger. Dark matter is way too dilute. Dark matter doesn’t matter anymore. So, it’s only dark energy which is creating the -- which is pushing the evolution of the universe. This gets -- one of the things you were taught in physics or you’ve heard, is that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. That’s a lie. Things can go faster than the speed of light. You can’t push something faster than the speed of light, but you can stretch space faster than the speed of light. And General Relativity is stretching and curving space. There is nothing in General Relativity which says that there can’t be some process whereby you start out with two things and in between these two things you stretch space and make these things move faster and faster away from each other, and they can actually appear to go faster than the speed of light. But as soon as they go faster than the speed of light, one relative to the other, then they can’t see each other. So that’s what dark energy is going to do in our universe. Right now we can see to the edge of the universe, but in another 10 billion years, the edge of the universe is going to be stretching due to dark energy, because it’s pushing away from everything else. That edge of the universe is going to disappear. And over more and more time, the distant galaxies we see will then get pushed even faster than the speed of light and they’ll disappear from our sky. So in about 100 billion years, which is about seven or eight times the age of the universe, all the galaxies in the sky are going to disappear due to dark energy, except the few that are around us, which are gravitationally bound to us. So, they move farther and farther and faster and faster away, and we don’t see them anymore, and we end up with one of two things. So this is about between eight to 15 times the age of the universe right now, but in our simple model, if dark energy exists, and it really looks like it does, this is what’s going to happen. Either there’s the optimistic case where the universe gets -- everything gets going faster and faster than the speed of light, but the galaxy still remains the same. The stars get older and older and die, but a star will still exist. A planet will still exist. If dark energy has a slightly stiffer form, and we don’t know what it’s form is yet, not only is the universe going to expand faster and faster than the speed of light, but that expansion is going to go down into the subatomic particles so that the electrons will be ripped off the protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons will get accelerated faster than the speed of light from each other. Inside the proton and the neutrons where there are corks, those things will get ripped apart. Everything gets ripped apart. So right now in cosmology, the big question is, is the universe going to die a civilized death or is it going to die this terrible death where everything gets ripped apart? So, that’s what I’m working on today. So here’s a good picture of dark energy.

Let’s go back to science policy for one last view graph. This came out five to six years ago. I’ll just read it to you. A pew survey of six predominantly Muslim countries released last month confirmed that the majorities of all those countries surveyed had negative views of the United States. Yeah, that’s not surprising. Yet last June, this poll of six Arab states found that in all but one, American science and technology were viewed favorably by a majority, dah, dah, dah. And in Morocco, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, 80 percent admired American science and technology. No other aspect of American society, movies, education and even democracy, attract as much support. So, in ending this talk I want you to remember this particular quote. The cosmology I talked about, everyone in the world is interested. And I’ve talked with Imams in Qatar. I’ve talked with Tibetan monks who are really interested in cosmology in Nepal and in China. Cosmology and astronomy have interest everywhere and, as you can see, in countries that are not normally friends of the United States, particularly, the things that they really do admire about us are American science and technology. And that’s really an important tool that can be used in diplomacy. And one of the best ways to do this is to use international collaborations, such as astronomy, but there are many other ones, to unite countries. And U.S. science is the most trusted U.S. achievement in foreign countries. International projects can unite scientists, engineers and educators. We have international projects that may go into Africa and the Middle East and Asia, but there’s one big problem that we have in the United States, is there’s no clear funding mandate that coordinates all of our efforts. At NSFD we state in commerce, et cetera, of how to coordinate these large projects to bring cooperation between countries in parts of the world, which are rife with revolution and poverty, but will be able to unite peoples across borders. And people not just across borders, but across religions. I don’t have any solution for this, but having lived in Chile through Pinochet and later, knowing people that lived in Chile before that, astronomy was able to survive huge regime changes and still be admired in its host country. And the same thing can happen in foreign countries, especially in areas such as Africa and the Middle East. So, I will end this talk by just showing you a globe of the universe. We now are able to produce globes of the way the universe looks, and in your lifetime, the universe has now become finite. Thank you very much.


Andrew Reynolds:
Well, I hope everyone fastened their seatbelt on that one. That was outstanding and thank you for ending up on the very important point of science diplomacy valued here. We have one microphone here today and for those of you who would like to ask the doctor a few questions, please do so and do tell us who you are. Identify yourself and your organization please and we are recording, so --

Naj Meshkati:
I’m Naj Meshkati. I am a professor of engineering at USC and I was a Jefferson Science Fellow here. It was really a divine intervention for me to be in Washington D.C. and coming to this talk, which was an excellent talk. I want to say that it was a music to my ear, because if I may add one just friendly point to you. One of the major centers for astronomy has been the city of Maragheh and the Maragheh school of thought, which is in Iran. I read about that by reading Dr. Ismail Seralgeldin’s book on science, Islam and values.

Nick Suntzeff:

Naj Meshkati:
In fact, Dr. Seralgeldin in that book says the Maragheh school of thought for astronomy even impacted or influenced Copernicus and others. One of my friends that is a science historian is writing a book on the role of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi to see who was the chief astronomer over there. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ulugh Beg, they made a stamp of him in the Uzbekistan. His cousin Hulegu, the descendant of Genghis Khan, he went and started the Maragheh Observatory, they call it [foreign language]. I would like to make a suggestion, because I was in Baku, Azerbaijan a month ago and Azeri’s are extremely interested, because the city of Maragheh for the geography is in the province of Azerbaijan of Iran. And these Azerbaijan of Iran and country of Azerbaijan before the Turkmenchay Treaty of 1828, over one territory. That’s why they considered themselves the same as Iranian Azeri’s and there is the same language. Very much like the country of Macedonia and the state of Macedonia increased. Talking to my Azeri colleagues, they are extremely interested in Maragheh’s observatory. And I noticed that you had that webpage by Iranian astronomers and I was reading that about the [foreign language] universe and the [foreign language], which is a universe. I think if I may suggest that astronomy is extremely advanced in Iran and it’s one of the biggest NGO in Iran is Iranian Astronomical Association. I know that for a fact, because I’m born and raised in Iran. This could be, after Fukushima, by the way, I think about unthinkable. It may be unthinkable before Fukushima to think about U.S., Iran and Azerbaijan rebuilding the Maragheh astronomy, but in light of Fukushima that we should be thinking about the unthinkable. I think it’s a very valid proposition, because Azeri’s, I’m sure the Azeri’s ruling circle of President Ilham Aliyev, because there are coming from Nakhchivan region and they have part of their family coming from Maragheh. They are willing to chip money to rebuild Maragheh Observatory and I’m sure Iranian government would be extremely interested in participating to rebuild that thing to the glory that it used to be. And thanks again for the excellent presentation. The issue of science diplomacy is close to my heart and I would consider that that you take that as a friendly proposal to your consideration. It could be like very much like another Sesame project. Instead of Jordan and accelerator in Iran for astronomy. Thank you.

Nick Suntzeff:
[affirmative] Thank you. Very interesting point. Yeah. A number of U.S. astronomers have gone to Iran and talked with the Iranians about astronomy, as the speaker -- as the questioner just said, Iran has a very advanced scientific program. Their astronomy is excellent. Some of the best students we have in the United States come from Iran. And they’re really hungry for stepping into the first world in terms of astronomical instrumentation. Now, there are problems with ITAR and real diplomacy problems with Iran, but the people, the scientists and the average person, are much more connected with astronomy and would love to see that in those states. And I certainly would love to be part of it. I love going to Qatar and working there, even though it’s really hot in the summertime. [laughs] Yeah.

Ray Arnaudo :
Ray Arnaudo in the Policy Planning Office. I had just a question. You lost me on why we -- why we know the universe is continuing to expand and that it is not, at some point, going to stop and collapse. I mean, I got the grapefruit theory.

Nick Suntzeff:

Ray Arnaudo:
But what happened -- I mean, how is it that we know dark energy is forcing everything out and it’s not going to thin and then pull all back.

Nick Suntzeff:
Okay, good question.

Ray Arnaudo:
In 30 seconds or so.

Nick Suntzeff:
I didn’t -- well, I didn’t explain that very well. The -- if I throw this up in the air, it goes up a certain distance and it comes back. If I throw it farther it goes up higher and higher and comes back. But there’s a certain point where I throw it up in the air and it’s not going to come back. That’s the escape velocity, and it’ll just keep on going out into space and never ever come back. Well, the thing is that with dark energy, which is now overcome -- which is now stronger than all gravity, it’s -- the galaxies are now beyond their escape velocity for all the other galaxies. So there’s so little matter in the universe relative to the amount of E=mc squared of the matter relative to dark energy, which is basically a negative gravity. The negative gravity is now more positive -- is now more forceful than normal gravity, and so things are expanding outwards and, but they’re actually going faster and faster and faster, because we’re no longer -- normal gravity is no longer taking hold, it’s this dark energy. Now, the dark energy, we don’t know -- we really never know what’s going to happen in the future. It could be just like freezing water. So you take water and you make it cooler and cooler and cooler and it gets more and more dense until it gets to be four degrees above the freezing point and then it actually starts to expand, which is why ice floats. And when ice -- when water goes from the liquid to crystal, it gives off lots of energy. Now, if you watched water cooling and you knew nothing else about water, you’d just predict that it would get more and more dense and naively, you would just think it would get denser and denser and denser and colder. Well, the same thing could happen with dark energy. The dark energy could be getting bigger and bigger and more and more powerful until some point happens. It could go through a phase transition and suddenly we could just disappear. I mean, you have no idea what could happen with this stuff, but right now it’s -- we’re just kind of like watching water get colder and colder in liquid form and we could be fooling ourselves terribly. So --

Donna McIntire:
Thank you very much for your talk. Donna McIntire from the Bureau of Overseas Buildings. I’m an architect, so I’m trying to understand this, mostly from the visual perspective. You said that -- two things you said I didn’t really understand. One is that the universe is flat. And the other is this image that you’re showing where there seems to be this edge. How is it that the edge is defined? And I think you said something about 400,000 years or something old, but could it be that the dark energy has expanded at that edge so much that it has disappeared and we can’t see it after that point?

Nick Suntzeff:
You should become a string theorist. That’s a very good question. That’s sort of the stuff that string theorists talk about, but they add two or three dimensions to the universe, which I can’t understand, so they’re now thinking in six dimensions instead of four, and I can’t even think in four. I have to think in three. The point is that there are so many ways we can measure the age of the universe. Forget the expansion of the universe. I can look at an old star and see how much uranium it has in it and how much uranium has radioactively decayed. The universe is 14 billion years old. So, that doesn’t mean there’s stuff that is out there that there’s an edge and there’s no stuff beyond it. It’s just we just can’t see it. And if the universe gets older, that stuff at the edge will now become visible, because it’s now -- we’ve now had a long enough time for that light to get to us. So the edge is purely an edge in time. It’s not an edge in space. It’s a little more complicated than that, because the universe really is four dimensional, but conceptually that’s a good enough explanation. We can’t see farther back than 400,000 years, because the sky just gets bright. It gets hot. It’s about 3000 or 4000 degrees. It’s like the surface of the sun and we can’t see beyond it and we have -- we’re going to have indirect ways of measuring it and we have indirect ways of looking back to a tiny fraction of a second after the universe formed. I didn’t have a chance to go into the theory of inflation, but one of the most amazing coincidences that exists in physics and astronomy is that when you look at a subatomic particle, in really tiny scales, there are little fluctuations that are going backwards and forwards, which is called -- from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, little particles can appear and disappear on very, very short periods of time. If you take those fluctuations, freeze them in time, and then splash them all across the sky, okay, you’re doing that conceptually, so you’re taking a tiny little thing inside, you know, I’ll take one of these little sprinkle thing here and imagine that there are little fluctuations and now I suddenly expand that to the size of the universe, so now these little fluctuations are large patches in the sky. The patches that we actually observe on the sky are identical to the patches that we observe inside subatomic particles, statistically. So there is a 1:1 connection between a tiny particle and what’s in it and what we see splashed across the sky in what this -- all this stuff is. All those little splotches are the same as fluctuations at a tiny scale. So any theory of cosmology has to tie what happens inside a tiny particle to the whole universe. And that’s one of our challenges. I’m sure that doesn’t answer your question, but it’s -- but I can’t say that I understand it either. There is a theory called inflation, but I don’t believe it. Yeah.

Aaron Margolis:
Aaron Margolis. Thank you for your talk. You mentioned that in 8 billion years we won’t be able to see anything outside the local cluster.

Nick Suntzeff:
No, no, no. In about a hundred billion years.

Aaron Margolis:
In a hundred billion years we wouldn’t be able to see anything outside the local cluster, because it would be moving way too fast. Should a society on foreign planet arise at that point, wouldn’t they think the local cluster was the entire universe? They’d have no knowledge.

Nick Suntzeff:
Oh, great question. Absolutely. So, let me put it another way. We’re so arrogant that we think we can look out at the universe and everything that’s out there we can explain the whole evolution and origin of the universe. But there -- as I said, in a hundred billion years, and like you were pointing out, some of the universe is going to be hid and now you see a much smaller part of the universe and the question is, are you going to come up with the same cosmology a hundred billion years from now seeing just the local cluster as we do today? And we’ll say, of course not, we have so much more information and dah, dah, dah, but maybe part of the sky is being hidden from us now and we’re just not smart enough to understand what the real cosmology is, because the edge of the universe that we see actually there could be something beyond that that has expanded faster than the speed of light, which caused our universe. And so there are some theories of cosmology which take that into account. The problem is you can’t test it. It’s just kind of an intellectual game at this point. But you’re absolutely right. We can only come up with the cosmology of what we see in the sky and if something’s hidden from us completely, it’s not included in our cosmology. We may be missing an important fact. Great question.

Justin Burke:
I’m Justin Burke. I’m an economic student at the Foreign Service Institute. My question, I know you didn’t get into time too much, but I understand sort of conceptually that quantum mechanics time doesn’t exist. You can put on your rose-colored glasses and see, you know, maybe time does actually exist. But yet when you describe the universe, you’re describing it as being bound in time. And I’m just curious, is it our observation of the universe that’s bound in time or is the universe itself somehow bound in time?

Nick Suntzeff:
Good question. Let me put it another way. Imagine you have a compass and you want to find the North Pole. Let’s say the North Pole is the same as the north magnetic pole. So we’re going to walk to the North Pole, the actual North Pole of the earth. The compass will point you toward north and you start walking and then you look at your compass again and you change your direction a little bit. You sort of walk your way up to the North Pole and the closer you get to the North Pole, still your compass points to the north. When you stand on top of the North Pole, and you finally get there, which way does your compass point? Nowhere. You’re on the North Pole. Any direction you go is south at that point. Now, imagine the same thing happens in time. We go backwards in time. Instead of having a compass, we now have a little time sensor. We’re walking backwards in time. We’re pointing this thing and we’re following it back in time. The closer and closer we get to the point of creation, we still can measure time, but at the point we get to creation, just like when you’re standing at the North Pole, time does not exist. Now, that may sound profound, but actually it’s just bad mathematics. Because when you’re at the North Pole, it no longer makes sense to use north and south. You should just use x and y. You can -- it’s easy to step off the North Pole in any direction with a map, you just can’t use north, south, and longitude and latitude. You just change coordinates. Well, as we go backwards in time, the closer you get to the point of creation, it’s quite possible it’s the coordinates we’re using that are wrong and if we find the right change in coordinates, we’ll discover that there actually is no point at which the universe started. Just like there is no ultimate point at the top of the earth. You can always step out away from that point and you end up going backwards. So, you end up going to the North Pole with your compass and you now change coordinates and you go a little bit beyond, and now you can go in any direction, north, south, east and west again. So basically they get reflected around the coordinates. So we’re using the wrong coordinate system when you go back to the beginning of the universe. Now, that’s a nice analogy. No one has any idea of what I’m talking about, because there’s no theory which explains this, but that’s the sense that you don’t have to have a beginning for something to look like it’s finite.

Andrew Reynolds:
Ladies and gentlemen, please -- one more.


Nick Suntzeff:
Thank you.