imaginations of astronomers and the general public and that stimulate young people to study mathematics, science, and engineering.

Discoveries of the 1980s

Observations with underground, ground-based, airborne, and orbiting telescopes during the 1980s produced important discoveries that advanced our knowledge in many areas of astronomy. The following is a selection of some of the more important advances and consolidations.

  • The theory of the origin of the elements in the “Big Bang” received support from both astronomical observations of stars and sensitive experiments in particle physics.

  • An orbiting satellite launched in 1989 began observing the relict radiation from the earliest years of the universe. Preliminary results indicate the need to revise existing theories of the formation of galaxies and clusters of galaxies.

  • Evidence gathered shows that the radiation from as much as 90 percent of the matter of the universe has so far gone undetected.

  • Quasars were found at extremely large distances and must have been formed when the universe was less than 10 percent of its present age.

  • Einstein's prediction that the gravitation of matter could bend rays of light found application in the discovery that galaxies can act as lenses, refracting the light from more distant quasars.

  • Surveys of large numbers of galaxies revealed that the universe is organized on larger scales than predicted by many cosmological theories.

  • Increasing evidence suggested the possibility of giant black holes in the centers of some galaxies and quasars.

  • An orbiting satellite surveyed the sky at infrared wavelengths and discovered disks of solid material, possibly the remnants of planet formation, orbiting nearby stars. It also found ultraluminous galaxies emitting 100 times as much energy in the infrared as at visible wavelengths.

  • Supernova 1987A burst into prominence in our closest neighbor galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Subatomic particles called neutrinos from the supernova were detected in underground observatories, confirming theories about the death of stars and the production of the heavy elements crucial to life on the earth.

  • Neutron stars spinning at nearly 1,000 revolutions per second were discovered by their regular pulses of radio radiation. Signals from these objects may constitute the most stable clocks in the universe, more accurate than any made by humans, and can be used to search for gravitational waves and as probes of the dynamics of star clusters.

  • A deep probe of the interior of a star—our own sun—was achieved through a technique analogous to terrestrial seismology, measuring pressure



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