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Director describes latest discoveries of space telescope

STANFORD -- Dr. Robert Williams, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, will deliver the 14th annual Bunyan Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, in the Physics Tank's Bloch Lecture Hall at Stanford University.

The free, public talk, "The Universe as Seen by the Hubble Space Telescope," is sponsored by Stanford's astronomy program.

Williams will describe some of the dramatic new discoveries made by the space telescope since its flawed optics were repaired by astronauts slightly more than a year ago. Among these are:

  • Observations of distant galaxies that indicate that they evolved while the universe was still very young, about one-tenth of its current age.
  • The strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.
  • A survey of small dim stars, called red dwarfs, that has virtually eliminated them as a major source of dark matter, the invisible material that scientists believe may make up as much as 90 percent of the mass of the universe.
  • The most precise measurement ever made of the distance to another galaxy, which may suggest that the universe is much younger than scientists had thought.

The astronomer also will give a technical seminar on his research - "Novae: Outbursts and Ejecta" - at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Physics Conference Room. The seminar is geared toward an academic audience.

Williams has been director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore since 1993. The institute, together with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, operates the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Before assuming his present position, Williams spent eight years in Chile as director of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, a national U.S. observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. Before that he was an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson for 18 years. His research specialties are novae, or exploding stars, and spectroscopy, the analysis of light from distant objects.

An active research astronomer all his professional life, Williams is a strong champion of public outreach and education in science, and he has lectured widely on astronomy and the recent scientific results that are coming out of the space telescope. He comes originally from Southern California and received his bachelor's degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1962 and his doctorate in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1965.

Williams was a Senior Fulbright Professor at the University of London from 1971 to 1972 and was granted an Alexander von Humboldt Award by the German government for research and study in Heidelberg in 1991-92. He has written more than 100 professional research papers in the astronomical literature on a variety of topics.



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