Andrea Ghez Hearts NPR

Jul 1, 2013

As you probably know, we get a lot of stars here at NPR West. Sometimes they're stars who study stars. Our Science Correspondent Joe Palca says UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez is "a real hotshot scientist," a status confirmed by her many honors including a MacArthur "genius grant" Fellowship and the Crafoord Prize, which in LA terms is astronomy's equivalent to an Oscar.

As part of his series Joe's Big Ideas, Palca spoke with Ghez about a new technology called adaptive optics, which enables astronomers to learn more about planets and stars beyond our solar system. With this new technology, objects that could only be seen clearly from space can now be viewed from the ground for a fraction of what a traditional telescope would cost. Ghez studies black holes and talked about how this advancement has facilitated her own research.

"You can actually see the stars that reside right around the black hole," she told Palca in an interview on Morning Edition. "We can see matter falling onto the black hole thanks to this technology."

Ghez says that from earth, stars appear to twinkle or blur due to temperature changes between their surface and earth. Adaptive optics uses mirrors to compensate for changes in the atmosphere and brings the image into focus.

On her way out, Ghez said to me, "Joe says, 'Make 'em take a picture.'" And around these parts, we do what Joe Palca says. So, for those of you who focus on a different kind of star than the ones I normally post about, I give you the brilliant Andrea Ghez.

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