PW-2013-05-13-Randall-supernovae

Celestial Reprieve

This has been a tough semester for me. I am commuting from home in South Jersey, so I have a pretty long commute up to campus every day. My courses have all been rather challenging, particularly writing my thesis, which has been an almost continuous source of stress. However, once a week this semester, I got to go with my class, “Frontiers in Astronomy,” to a planetarium in Dresher, Pa., to learn about the wonders of the universe.

When choosing a course to fulfill my lab science requirements, I was a bit distressed. I really feared having to take a biology class and dissect animals or something along those lines. So, when I discovered that there was an astronomy course that could fulfill this requirement, I jumped at the opportunity.

The class has been the saving grace of my schedule this semester—a weekly reprieve where I can relax and learn about something that has always interested me but that I never found time to study. I have learned so much about our planet as well as the rest of the solar system and universe. One of the coolest moments of the semester took place one night a few weeks ago when I found out that humankind had witnessed the birth of a black star for the first time. A month earlier we had an entire lesson devoted to black holes. Our professor told us how no one had ever witnessed the birth of a black hole, and how little we really knew about their creation. Now, we know! The discovery has been called the Rosetta Stone moment of astronomy. It’s pretty neat to think that I was in one of the last astronomy classes before such a watershed moment in history.

The illustration is an artist’s impression showing a large stellar-mass black hole pulling gas away from a companion star. Image courtesy: NASA Education & Public Outreach, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet.

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