One day, York astronomer Pat Hall took his eye away from the telescope and turned his gaze on the graduate students within his orbit. Not surprisingly, their ancestries were as diverse as the galaxies. He was planning a series of public talks about astronomy and wondered why, in so multicultural a city as Toronto, they should be delivered only in English when they could be delivered by his multilingual graduate students in other languages.
Right: Image of spiral galaxy in Ursa Major recorded by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
That’s how Astronomy in Your Language came about. During May, Hall and three graduate students will give four public talks about exciting new developments in astronomy – in English, Spanish, Farsi (Persian language) and Mandarin. It’s a first for York’s Physics & Astronomy Department and if it turns out to be popular, Hall plans to do it again next year, though the mix of languages depends on the mix of graduate students.
Astronomy is riveting in any language. At the Wednesday night talks in May, Hall and the graduate students will show visitors images of space taken over the last 20 years that have transformed our understanding of the universe. They will show lots of images taken from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, X-ray and infrared-light images taken from satellites in orbit, and sweeping spans of the night sky taken as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at the New Mexico observatory with a camera whose lens can capture 20 per cent of the sky. After the show, visitors will get a chance to look at the night sky at York’s Observatory.
"The overall focus is on how much our understanding of the universe has changed over the past 20 years since the Hubble was launched," says Hall. "They’ll hear about very distant galaxies – galaxies that go almost as far back as the beginning of the universe — and stars and planets within our own galaxy that we weren’t able to see before."
Most exciting of all will be pictures of gravity bending light, something Einstein predicted. They are called Einstein’s mirages because they produce an optical illusion – images of the same galaxy in two different places, says Hall.
The public talks will be offered on the following Wednesdays in May:
• May 2 – English – by Patrick Hall
• May 9 – Spanish – by Mauricio Argote
• May 16 – Farsi – by Alireza Rafiee
• May 23 – Mandarin Chinese – by Sunne Dong
Presentations begin at 8pm in Room 317, Petrie Science & Engineering Building, followed by observing at 9pm (weather permitting) in the York Observatory.
Any questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.