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Distinguished Cal-Tech astronomer to present public talk

James Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wallace L.W. Sargent, the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, will present the fourth talk in the department of astronomy’s Icko Iben Jr. Distinguished Lectureship at 4 p.m. April 24 in Foellinger Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The talk, "Large Optical Telescopes: The Next Generation," is free and open to the public.

"Wallace Sargent is an excellent speaker and an outstanding astronomer," said Richard Crutcher, the chair of the astronomy department. "He is also an expert on large telescopes and the many important discoveries they have made possible. His talk should be of interest to faculty, students and the general public."

Each year the Iben lectureship brings a noted astronomer to campus to highlight some of the latest developments in astronomy, Crutcher said. In addition to giving a public lecture, the invited speaker also will give a technical colloquium and meet informally with faculty members and students.

From the discovery of planets circling other stars to finding faint galaxies forming at the edge of the visible Universe, large telescopes stand at the forefront of modern astronomy. In his public talk, Sargent will describe how the development of large optical telescopes has driven our understanding of the Universe, and how the next generation of even larger instruments will continue that tradition.

From 1997-2000, Sargent was the director of Palomar Observatory, home of the 5-meter Hale Telescope – the world’s largest when dedicated in 1948. In the last 10 years, a number of bigger instruments have been built, including the twin 10-meter reflectors at Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Sargent is a member of the steering committee for the California Extremely Large Telescope – a proposed instrument with a mirror 30 meters in diameter.

"Our ability to study the early Universe is limited by our ability to see very faint objects," Crutcher said. "An instrument such as the California Extremely Large Telescope would enable the investigation of phenomena at the very dawn of the Universe, including its early structure and expansion rate. This information would help us better understand the origin of the Universe, its history and its ultimate fate."

Among his many honors, Sargent has received the Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Dannie Heineman Prize of the American Astronomical Society and American Institute of Physics, and the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

His research interests include quasar absorption lines, active galactic nuclei, superclusters of galaxies, and large-scale structures of the Universe.