From making a map of the universe to exploring it firsthand, Longhorns have a history of uncovering the mysteries of our solar system. Here’s a look at some out-of-this-world ideas to come from the research, alumni and programs of the Forty Acres:
1.Longest-running Apollo experiment
In 1969, about a month after the first moon landing, astronomers at UT’s McDonald Observatory measured the Earth-Moon distance by beaming a laser from a telescope to reflectors placed on the Moon by Apollo astronauts. Still underway today, the lunar laser ranging experiment is the longest-running experiment from the Apollo program.
2.Finding Earth’s older bigger cousin
University of Texas at Austin astronomers working with NASA’s Kepler mission have helped to discover the first near-Earth-sized planet around a Sun-like star in the “habitable zone,” the range of distances where liquid water could pool on a planet’s surface. They used the university’s McDonald Observatory to help confirm the finding, which has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal. “We are pushing toward Earth 2.0,” McDonald Observatory astronomer Michael Endl said. “This planet is probably the most similar to Earth yet found.”
3. Recording proof of Gravitational Waves
The recent proof of gravitational waves has been called one of the greatest discoveries in physics. A team of scientists, including UT Austin Alumnus David Reitze, recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away. LIGO group is credited with the first direct evidence of gravitational waves and confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
4.Leading the fastest spacecraft ever launched
The fastest spacecraft ever launched, the New Horizons mission has already helped scientists determine Pluto is larger than many prior estimates and will ultimately help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system. Alan Stern, the mission’s leader, holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and planetary atmospheres from UT.
5.Designing equipment for space life search
When a NASA spacecraft sets off to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, equipment designed by a UT team will help search for the ingredients of life. Radar equipment designed to pierce the ice of Antarctica developed by the Institute for Geophysics in the Jackson School of Geosciences, will let researchers see the subsurface landscape of Europa’s ice shell all the way to the ocean below when the spacecraft launches in the 2020s.
6. Prepping for space
Before astronauts can study other planets, they take time to learn about the geology on Earth. NASA has trained astronauts in earth sciences since the final Apollo missions of the early 1970s, and Jackson School of Geoscience faculty members have played a leading role. Today, UT geologists help train astronauts for trips to the International Space Station by exploring unique geological basins like the Rio Grande rift.
7. Educating next-gen of space entrepreneurs
Students can now earn a master’s degree in space entrepreneurship focusing on combining space exploration and business management. The program is part of the Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization at the McCombs School of Business. Students will work on a variety of space technologies including satellites, launch providers, space components, in-space services, software and robotics – from small startups to organizations such as Space X.
8.Launching student built satellite
A team of undergraduate and graduate students have worked collaboratively to build a satellite so small it can be held in your hand, yet so powerful it was deployed into space. The Bevo-2 Satellite is the result of countless hours engineering in the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL). “This whole experience is very exciting,” says Professor Glenn Lightsey, director of the Texas Spacecraft Lab. “It’s great to have a research program where our students can build satellites that fly in space.”
9. Looking the furthest back in time
UT scientists and a team of international partners are helping to build the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is poised to be the largest optical telescope in the world. Addressing some of the most important issues in astronomy today, the Giant Magellan Telescope will let astronomers look deeper into space and further back in time than ever before.
10. Mapping the universe
Scientists at McDonald Observatory are installing and testing instruments for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. The project is searching for the mysterious “dark energy” that seems to pervade all of space. The first major experiment of its kind, the project could eventually help create the first map of the universe, understand how the universe was born and tell us if the laws of gravity are correct.