Profs and Pints Nashville presents: “The Webb Telescope’s Big Quests,” a look at the powerful new instrument’s search for the origins of the universe and evidence of extraterrestrial life, with Robert Scherrer, professor in Vanderbilt University’s physics and astronomy department and author of science fiction.
The astonishing images being beamed back to us by the James Webb Space Telescope, the culmination of 400 years of astronomy, represent a mere preview of all it might reveal. Come learn in depth about this scientific venture and the big questions it hopes to answer from Dr. Robert Scherrer, a Vanderbilt University cosmologist who has extensively studied dark energy, dark matter, the “big bang,” and the structure of the universe.
This event marks the Nashville revival of Profs and Pints, which stages public talks by professors to democratize access to higher learning and had built a substantial following in town before the pandemic hit in 2020. Its new venue for talks, the Fait La Force taproom in the city’s historic Chestnut Hill neighborhood, offers excellent beers and access to delicious food from nearby Il Forno pizzeria. You’ll love to learn there.
In a talk accompanied by stunning images, Dr. Scherrer will discuss how and why we launched the Webb Telescope, an instrument so enormous that it needed to be folded up into its launch vehicle and then unfolded while on its million-mile journey into deep space. You’ll learn in depth about the telescope’s design and how it, unlike the Hubble telescope and nearly all telescopes on earth, can see infrared light which can’t penetrate the earth’s atmosphere.
Then we’ll get to the mind-blowing part. You’ll learn why the Webb telescope’s ability to see infrared light enables it to peer back in time and see galaxies as they existed billions of years ago. In essence, it acts like a time machine, enabling us to see the galaxies at the dawn of the universe. It will allow us to better understand how the first galaxies formed and how the cosmological “dark ages” ended.
Its ability to see infrared light also enables the Webb telescope to search for extraterrestrial life by looking for the chemical signatures of life in the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars. Will these other planets be home to great beer and excellent events like Profs and Pints? Their inhabitants should be so lucky. (Advance tickets: $12 plus sales tax. Doors: $15, or $13 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later. Please allow yourself time to place any orders and get seated and settled in.)
Image: Part of the Carina Nebula as captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration photo.)