You’ve heard the saying “thank your lucky stars.” Well, in the January 1st issue of Science, astronomer Kenneth Lang of Tufts University says it’s not the stars that are lucky, but the folks who study them. Because some of the biggest discoveries about our universe were stumbled on.
Four hundred years ago, Galileo raised his homemade spyglass to the sky and spotted four of Jupiter’s moons, revealing that other planets could have their own lunar companions. Later, the planet Uranus and the first asteroid, Ceres, were happened on by scientists looking for other things. Again, improved instrumentation led to the finds. Which Lang says is a common occurrence in the world of skygazing.
Gamma ray bursts—those energetic explosions that are thought to herald the death of massive, far-flung stars—were first seen by satellites looking for covert use of nuclear weapons.
And Wilson and Penzias discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation, physical evidence for the Big Bang, while fiddling with an antenna designed to catch radio waves bouncing off satellites. For realizing what they were actually measuring, they got a Nobel Prize. As Yogi Berra, a star himself, once noted, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]