Academy Forum – Astronomy – A Fascinating Tour of the Universe

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by Mary Doucette

The Forum on October 31 treated us to a visual extravaganza of pictures from space, thanks to Tom Vassos, University of Toronto and Member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Tom, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable presenter, says he is inspired by Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Carl Sagan, among others, and quotes Sagan who said:

”Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Tom took us on a voyage on the International Space Station, showing us what astronauts see in space. His pictures of black holes, the Andromeda and Milky Way Galaxies, solar systems with two and three suns, shooting stars, and much more were incredible, and as one Academy member suggested, it seemed as though we were watching a fantastic art show.

Tom showered us with huge numbers: he talked about the billions of possibilities for life in space, and described distances in terms of billions of light years, a light year being a speed of 300 000 km per second.

Of special interest were recent developments in astronomy: the Japanese asteroid-sampling probe (JAXA Hayabusa 2), probes on Saturn’s moon Titan which show flowing liquid (a necessity for life), and the Parker Solar Probe which will, after a seven-year journey, do a fly-by of the sun.

Tom’s interaction with the audience made the presentation especially entertaining.