Anthony Brown gives prestigious lecture series in Princeton
Leiden astronomer Anthony Brown had the honour to give the prestigious Spitzer Lectures at Princeton University. In five lectures spread over the beginning of May, he gave an insight into the Gaia Mission. ‘One of the intellectual highlights of the year.’
‘A great honour’
The yearly Spitzer Lectures are a highly regarded lecture series. According to the opening speech at Brown’s first lecture, it is ‘one of the intellectual highlights of the year’. Each year, a distinguished scientist gives the lecture series, about exciting developments or projects which are a hot topic in astrophysics. For instance, exactly ten years ago Professor of Molecular astrophysics and Kavli prize winner Ewine van Dishoeck gave the lecture series. ‘That I was invited was a very pleasant surprise and a great honour’, says Brown. ‘Above all, I consider it a great recognition of the impact of the Gaia mission (see box) and of the excellence of the work by my many colleagues in the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC).’
'I consider it a great recognition of the impact of the Gaia mission'
‘Delivering the lectures was of course the main purpose of the visit’, says Brown about his trip to Princeton. ‘But interactions with the astronomers there were an equally important aspect. I talked to a good number of the academic staff – including professors, postdocs and PhD students – to advise them on the science they are doing or planning to do with Gaia data. I also visited the Institute for Advanced Study to interact with the academic staff there’, he says.
Gaia’s data set is highly popular
As the chair of the DPAC Executive, Brown is in charge of the overall coordination of the activities of some 430 astronomers, IT specialists, and project engineers spread over institutes throughout Europe. ‘They are tasked with turning the raw measurements, collected by the Gaia spacecraft, into data which can be scientifically exploited by astronomers around the world’, he says. Researchers around the world are eager to dive into the data, released on 25 April last year. Gaia's data set has already been cited in more than 1300 research papers.
After the Spitzer Lectures, Brown also gave the Ångström Lecture 2019 at Uppsala University in Sweden. In this lecture, Brown told about the Gaia mission as well.
What is Gaia?
Gaia is a European Space Agency mission which was launched in 2013. It has as goal to produce the most accurate inventory ever of our Milky Way, from asteroids in the solar system to stars throughout our galaxy and beyond, reaching also the nearest neighbour galaxies and the very distant quasars. Gaia measures very accurately the distances and motions of the stars, as well as their astrophysical properties through detailed measurements of their colours. The resulting data are fundamental to all fields of astronomy, where one of the primary goals is to map the structure and unravel the formation history of the Milky Way. In the course of these investigations, astronomers also hope to obtain new insights into the nature of dark matter. The measurement of the orbits and reflectance properties of the asteroids will provide many new insights into the evolution of the solar system.