Great Debates in Astronomy

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The Scale of the Universe (1920); Curtis, Shapley

The Distance Scale to Gamma-ray Bursts (1995); Paczynski, Lamb

The Scale of the Universe (1996); Tammann, van den Bergh

The Nature of the Universe (1998); Peebles, Turner

Life in the Universe (2020) Many contributors

Following in the footsteps of the famous April 1920 'Great Debate' between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, this series of debates among leaders in the astronomical community highlight major quests in astronomy and astrophysics in an open forum at the turn of the millennium.

Each of the 20th century debates were held in April in the Baird auditorium of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, the site of the original 1920 Shapley - Curtis debate. This delightful auditorium's general appearance has remained remarkably constant since the 1920s. Its large, central ceiling electrolier is the debate series logo used above.

In a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Shapley - Curtis debate, the 2020 Life in the Universe debate was held online (and non-live) with text and video contributions from many. The debate question was "How will humanity first discover extraterrestrial life?"

These pages feature background information, educational material, and published proceedings for each debate.

Organizers: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)