Tag Archives: STEM

Women in Science – Sandra Faber

Dr Sandra Faber is a Professor at the University of Califonia, Santa Cruz. She studies the formation of galaxies and the structure of the universe. Given that, I thought it would be a good idea to start with a short video on the size of the universe.

I started by reading the Wikipedia article on her. That led me off onto a journey though many pages. Some I had heard of but never actually read about or understood, the rest I had no idea about. She is the co-discoverer of the Faber-Jackson relationship that links the luminosity of elliptical galaxies to the velocity of the stars within. This leads to being able to estimate the distance to the galaxy.

Sandra Faber with Hubble Deep Field, courtesy R. R. Jones, Hubble Deep field Team, NASA:
Sandra Faber with Hubble Deep Field, courtesy R. R. Jones, Hubble Deep field Team, NASA:

She was also the head of the team that discovered the “Great Attractor”, a gravity anomaly. We now know that it is the central gravitational point for the Laniakea Supercluster that contains 100,000 galaxies.

The first video I found talks about the repairs to Hubble and her role in it. She diagnosed the problem and worked on coming up with a fix. They also talk about the look back effect of telescopes and Hubble specifically. The look back effect is that light takes time to travel and thus the light we see has spent years travelling. In the case of Hubble it can look at things where the light has been travelling 13 billion years and thus we are looking back at our early universe. I particularly liked the bit where she mentions liking that being a professor allows her to mentor others.

Time 6:12

The next video is a TED talk that she did. She starts with a simulation of the formation of our galaxy. It is a chaotic formation but it is also beautiful. The coolest thing is the pictures of infant solar systems in the stellar nursery of Orion. It shows brand new starts surrounded by a dark disk of dust. She also shows us a picture of Earth taken from behind Saturn. I spotted the Earth right away but that was because I had seen the photo before and had a rough remembrance of where to look.

The growth problem that she talks about is a bit of a downer but something that we do need to deal with. Global warming is really the tip of that iceberg. We do have the technology to get past that one but there is a limit and we will hit it eventually unless we come up with solutions. In Larry Niven’s Ringworld the problem of growth is seen in a number of the races and dealt with in a variety of ways.

I have to say that I do believe in miracles however explaining my beliefs is its own post and probably will never be written.

Time 17:28

The final article is an interview that she gave PBS. In it she explains how galaxies allowed the formation of planets. The gravity of the galaxy gathered up the heavier elements ejected from supernova. Without supernovas there would be no heavier elements and therefore no planets.

She also talks about spectrum and how they can use that to tell what elements a galaxy is made of. There is also a link to a website where you can try your hand at deciphering some spectrum.

PBS – Galaxies

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