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Nobel laureate Giacconi: Astronomical discoveries require new physics

October 15, 2009

In 1609 Galileo turned the eyes of science to the frontier of space. Now, 400 years after the discovery of the telescope, Nobel laureate Riccardo Giacconi of Johns Hopkins University looks to detail a new period of heroic astronomical discoveries, comparable in impact on human understanding of the universe to those made by the "father of modern science" himself.

Giacconi shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 for his pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources. He will deliver a public lecture titled "A New Revolution in Astronomy 400 years after Galileo" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Arizona State University. The lecture is a part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series presented by ASU's Physics Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It will be held in the Bateman Physical Sciences F Wing, Room 173, on ASU's Tempe campus. A reception precedes the lecture at 7 p.m.

"We live in a new heroic period of astronomical discoveries comparable for its impact on human understanding of the universe to that which occurred from Copernicus to Newton," said Giacconi. "New observatories in space and on the ground have opened up the study of the entire range of wavelengths emitted by celestial bodies reaching Earth from the farthest reaches of the cosmos.

"These studies have revealed the crucial role played by explosive events in the formation and development of the structures we now see. They also reveal the prevalence of unknown forms of matter and energy in our universe, where normal matter made of nucleons provides only 3 percent of the total," he said.

"These discoveries require new physics, just as it happened 400 years ago."

This Distinguished Lecture Series has brought internationally recognized scientists to the university campus to engage with students, faculty and community in many of the most exciting advances in science, according to Professor Robert Nemanich, chair of the ASU Physics Department.

"In the last few years, our perspective on the nature of the universe has been turned upside down as observations from new telescopes have forced a complete rethinking of the form of matter and energy in the universe. Professor and Nobel laureate Riccardo Giacconi has led many of the most significant observational research programs that have challenged and ultimately drastically changed our understanding," Nemanich said.

Giacconi is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Astronomical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He started a group to do space science, proposed the first X-ray telescopes, and designed and built X-ray instruments for rocket flights to search for X-ray stars. In 1962, his group flew a rocket that discovered the first X-ray emitting star (Sco X-1). This discovery dawned a new age in X-ray astronomy, and led to the X-ray satellites UHURU, "Einstein" and Chandra.

Giacconi received a doctorate in physics from the University of Milan, Italy. In 1982 he became the founding director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. There he applied the techniques developed for the Einstein satellite to create the data reduction and archiving systems for the Hubble Telescope.

In 2008 Giacconi received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Inventors Hall of Fame in recognition for half a century's worth of unmatched contributions to observational capabilities in the modern world.

In addition to the public lecture, Giacconi will deliver a colloquium at 3:15 p.m. Oct. 29 in the Bateman Physical Sciences F Wing, Room 101. The title of his talk is "X-Ray Astronomy 2009."

The lecture and the colloquium are free and open to the public; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information call 480-965-3561 or visit the department's Web site, For online maps of the Tempe campus and parking facilities visit

Written by Dan Moore ( for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Carol Hughes,