The 2015 Henry R. and Gladys V. Irons Lecture
Professor Sandra Faber
University of California, Santa Cruz
The Gift of Cosmic Time: Opportunity Seized or Opportunity Squandered?
A hundred years ago, astronomers did not know about the Big Bang, or
that our Milky Way is a galaxy in a vast sea of billions of other
galaxies. Our cosmic roots were a total mystery. Since then, a host of
powerful telescopes in space and on the ground have revealed our
cosmic past -- how the Galaxy was formed, how the Sun and Earth were
born, and how the very atoms that comprise our bodies and our planet
were synthesized. Standing on this firm knowledge of the past, we can
now look ahead to predict our cosmic future, and it is bright ahead.
We appear to have been given the most precious gift of all -- cosmic
time -- hundreds of millions of years of it. The supreme challenge is
now before us: will we use this gift, or squander it? To what extent
do we owe allegiance to a cause that is much larger than any of us:
realizing the cosmic potential of a powerfully sentient species. Our
growing cosmic understanding has finally raised the most profound
moral question ever faced by our species -- where is humanity headed?
Faber was one of three astronomers who diagnosed the optical flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope, and she played a major role in its repair. She established the scientific case for the twin Keck 10m telescopes, which inspired a subsequent wave of giant optical telescope building all over the world. From 1994-2005 she was Principal Investigator of the DEIMOS spectrograph, a large optical multi-object spectrograph for the Keck 2 telescope that is the most powerful instrument of its kind in the world. She and colleagues used DEIMOS to conduct the DEEP redshift survey of the distant Universe, which collected spectra of 50,000 distant galaxies and exploited the immense power of Keck to see and study galaxy formation 10 billion years back in time. She now co-leads the CANDELS project, the largest project in the history of the Hubble Space Telescope, to extend our view of galaxy formation back nearly to the Big Bang. She has co-authored over 300 scientific papers, and her work has been cited over 46,000 times.