NASA astrophysicist to speak at MU about astronomy's past, present

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 | 5:37 p.m. CDT; updated 6:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 25, 2012

COLUMBIA — Although NASA recently canceled two missions to Mars, Gerald Fishman believes the agency's financial difficulties have been publicly overblown.

After all, the rover Curiosity landed on Mars in August, and the James Webb Space Telescope is still in the works.

Fishman, senior astrophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said it's still important for young people to study space. Fishman will give a presentation on the history and current state of astronomy at 4 p.m. Thursday at Jesse Wrench Auditorium at MU. 

Fishman studies high-energy astrophysics, or objects beyond the solar system such as gamma-ray bursts, neutron stars and black holes, all of which will be discussed Thursday. 

Fishman said technological developments have allowed scientists to see those objects differently.

"Through optical telescopes, they seem fairly bland," he said. "But with X-ray telescopes, they are extremely bright, even brighter than the sun."

Fishman earned his bachelor's degree in physics at MU in 1965. He continued his education at Rice University, where he received his master's and doctorate in space science. 

Though he thinks education is important, Fishman said it's harder now to get a job in his field.

"That doesn't mean you can't major in it and go in a related technical field," Fishman said. "It's still good training. I think once you graduate, you'd have to settle for a temporary situation until something more permanent comes along."

Exploration and curiosity will always be inherent qualities in humans, he said.

"We explored new lands on Earth," Fishman said. "We are beyond that now and exploring beyond the solar system to see what's out there."

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.

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