75th Anniversary Astronomical Debate

The Distance Scale to Gamma Ray Bursts

Baird Auditorium
Natural History Museum, The Smithsonian Institution

22 April 1995

Debate Program: 1 - 4:15 pm; Reception: 4:15 - 5:30 pm

Debate Program Sponsors:
NASA, The Smithsonian Institution, George Mason University

Reception Sponsors: The Smithsonian Institution, George Mason University, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA)

The following organizations have assisted in the planning of this event: NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory's Science Support Center, Laboratory for Astrophysics and the Department of Space History of the National Air and Space Museum, Computational Sciences and Informatics Institute of George Mason University, NASA's Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics, Publications for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Nature, National Academy of Sciences, American Astronomical Society, District of Columbia, Jorge Scientific Corporation

Program organizers: Robert J. Nemiroff, Jerry T. Bonnell, Jeffrey J. Goldstein, Sandra Barnes, Jay P. Norris, Carlo Graziani, Sandra Johnson, and Carolyn Weissbach

Welcome to the 75th Anniversary Astronomical Debate

The Shapley - Curtis `Great Debate' of 1920 will never be forgotten. Humanity will always want to know about the discovery of the true extent of our Universe and our place within it. History will always record how two of the greatest astronomers of the first half of the 20th Century, champions of opposing viewpoints, argued convincingly over the Scale of the Universe. Curtis and Shapley used not only conjecture - their arguments were also founded on new and detailed measurements from the largest and most sophisticated telescopes of their time. The 75th Anniversary Astronomical Debate is a tribute to this pivotal moment in human understanding.

Today's debate, however, is more than a commemoration. In attendance today are some of the foremost astronomers of the later half of the 20th century, including two champions of opposing viewpoints, poised to argue over one of the greatest astronomical controversies of our time. Lamb and Paczynski will use not only conjecture - their arguments are also founded on new and detailed measurements from the largest and most sophisticated telescopes of our time. This time the disagreement is over some of the most powerful explosions ever discovered: Gamma Ray Bursts.

How important is today's debate? Our hope is to have the best discussion to date of the differences between the paradigms that underlie this great controversy. However, the importance of this event might turn out to be even deeper: we might obtain here a better understanding of the nature of scientific disagreement itself. Although technology has changed, the nature of scientific disagreement has not.

I feel fortunate that this "crazy" idea of mine has come to have some substance. I thank everyone in the program for taking me seriously, for accepting my invitations, and for allowing me latitude in the planning. The invaluable assistance of Jerry T. Bonnell, Jeffrey J. Goldstein and Jay P. Norris cannot be measured. I hope you find this event enjoyable and educational.

Robert Nemiroff
Assistant Research Professor, George Mason University
Visiting Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


1:00 pm
Introductory Lectures

Opening: Robert Nemiroff (2 minutes)
Lecture: The 1920 Shapley - Curtis Discussion: Background, Issues, and Outcome; Virginia Trimble (40 minutes)
Lecture: Gamma-Ray Bursts: A Brief Introduction; Gerald Fishman (40 minutes)


2:30 pm

Moderator: Sir Martin Rees

Opening Argument: Bohdan Paczynski (Cosmological viewpoint, 20 minutes)
Opening Argument: Donald Lamb (Galactic viewpoint, 20 minutes)

Rebuttal: Bohdan Paczy ski (15 minutes)
Rebuttal: Donald Lamb (15 minutes)

Martin Rees Question to Donald Lamb (5 minutes)
Martin Rees Question to Bohdan Paczynski (5 minutes)

Closing Statement: Donald Lamb (10 minutes)
Closing Statement: Bohdan Paczynski (10 minutes)
Questions and Comments from the Open Floor (time remaining)

4:10 pm
Closing: Martin Rees
Announcements: Robert Nemiroff

Who's Who

Virginia Trimble: Dr. Trimble is Professor of Astronomy at the University of California at Irvine and Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. She has over 250 publications with concentrations in observational astronomy and theoretical astrophysics. She received the 1986 National Academy of Sciences Award for scientific reviewing and currently serves as Editor for Comments on Astrophysics and Associate Editor for The Astrophysical Journal.

Gerald Fishman: Dr. Fishman is an astrophysicist in the Space Sciences Laboratory of the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center and the head of the gamma-ray astronomy research group there. He is the Principal Investigator of the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE). He received the NASA Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award in 1982, 1991, and 1993, and the American Astronomical Society's Bruno Rossi Prize in 1994 for significant contributions to high energy astrophysics.

Martin Rees: Dr. Rees is Astronomer Royal of England. He is a Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University and a Fellow of King's College. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He is currently President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Donald Q. Lamb: Dr. Lamb is Professor in the Enrico Fermi Institute and Chairman of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. He was a Guggenheim Memorial Fellow in 1979, serves on the Advisory Board of the Aspen Center for Physics, and recently chaired the Executive Committee of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

Bohdan Paczynski: Dr. Paczynski is Lyman Spitzer Jr. Professor of Astrophysics in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences of Princeton University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Astronomical Society. He was awarded the American Astronomical Society's Dannie Heineman Prize in Astrophysics in 1992 for outstanding work in astrophysics.

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