The Research Triangle Park

RTP180 Recap: Outer Space

By Author Mar 01, 2019

February 21, we invited five star speakers to take us on a journey far beyond our atmosphere and into outer space! Our universe is vast, and so is the Triangle’s dedication in exploring some of humanity’s greatest questions about space. With beer and popcorn as our launch preparations, it was time for RTP180: Outer Space to take off!

Daniel Scolnic of Duke University started off with incredible insight about the dark universe. Dark energy and dark matter take up 96% of the universe, meaning scientists only understand 4% of what’s out there. This does present a challenge on predicting the growth of the universe, but Daniel revealed that our resources will lead us to answers soon enough. The astronomy community is dedicated to developing better technology, and combining it with current knowledge of standard models to explore the great unknown. Watch Daniel’s talk here

Dr. Mohammad Ahmed of North Carolina Central University introduced us to neutron stars. Fun fact: neutron stars are the size of Manhattan, and spin up to 50,000 rpm! To learn about the nature of a neutron star, Mohammad familiarized us with the Equation of State (EoS) that describes the pressure, volume and temperature of the matter. He also introduced us to an impressive piece of technology: the High Intensity Gamma-Ray Source (HIGS). HIGS is the world’s most intense source of polarized gamma rays, located at our very own Duke University. Watch Mohammad’s talk here.

Dr. Rachel Smith of North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences highlighted her experience as an observational astronomer in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. With the use of the Keck telescope 14,000 feet high in the air, Rachel and other scientists are able to see carbon and other molecules that provide clues on how planets are formed. This information can help us understand early life-giving chemistry, and support the search of other planets that could support life. Earth is the only known planet with life as of today, but could there be more? Watch Rachel’s talk here.

Dr. Amy Sayle of North Carolina Science Festival is behind the biggest public sky event in the (local) universe: the North Carolina Statewide Star Party! She takes great pride in this event because it connects North Carolinians not only to nature, but to each other. Amy’s hope is for people to connect with the universe intellectually and emotionally. Other than scientific observation, there are many constellation stories and myths to learn from. She encouraged everyone in the room to share their personal memories of the sky as well. Watch Amy’s talk here.

Michael Neece of Morehead Planetarium gave us the inside scoop on astronaut training that took place in Chapel Hill! Tony Jenzano’s star machine was the most advanced of its time, which attracted NASA’s attention. Together with Chapel Hill’s small location and university resources, Morehead became the ideal training spot for astronauts. A total of 62 early astronauts, or star sailors as they were previously called, were trained extensively in celestial navigation to prepare for the event of equipment failure. Watch Michael’s talk here.

Ready for more #RTP180? Our next topic is Population—be sure to reserve your tickets for the March 21 event!

Thanks to presenting sponsor RTI International for enabling us to provide a platform for our community to share their knowledge. A big congratulations to them as well on their 60th Anniversary! We’re also glad to have UNC-TV as our producer—if you can’t make it to any RTP180 event, you can catch the live stream beginning at 6:00PM EST the day of the show at ncchannel.org, and be sure to follow along with us on Twitter using #RTP180.