Spotlight on Astronomy

What is our place in the Universe?

We live on a rocky planet that orbits a luminous star, the Sun. In addition to the Earth and the Sun, what else is out there? What other planets, stars, and galaxies populate space? And how did all this come to be? What is the origin of planets and stars? Can we explain the birth of the Universe itself?

People have pondered these matters as long as they have looked up at the night sky. But today’s astronomers are going far beyond idle speculation. Using powerful telescopes, they can see stars destroying themselves in titanic explosions. These events are so distant that the light we now detect left the dying star long before the Earth was born. Much closer to home, they see new stars being formed out of dusty gas clouds. They even see planets like those in our Solar System orbiting alien stars.

Thus, the census of the Universe continues, and indeed accelerates. At the same time, theorists are hard at work explaining, through the laws of physics, what the telescopes find. They understand why distant galaxies appear to race away from us, and how the galaxies themselves were created. They have learned how a gas cloud collapses on itself to form not only a star, but also a disk that orbits that star. And they are beginning to see how that disk congeals into planets.

Astronomy asks the biggest questions of all. Those who practice it are finding answers, as well.

Meet Cal Scientists

Why do these Cal astronomers study the Universe? How does their research relate to our everyday lives? Just click on each picture to find out!

Steven W. Stahler Research Astronomer Dept. of Astronomy Steve Croft Astronomer Dept. of Astronomy