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Award-winning MIT astronomer to speak Tuesday evening

MIT astronomer Jane Luu
MIT astronomer Jane Luu

An award-winning astronomer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will provide the address for the annual Mylar Giri Lecture in the Natural Sciences at Penn State Hazleton. Dr. Jane Luu, a technical staff member in the Active Optical Systems Group at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory will discuss “The New Solar System” at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 22 in 115 Evelyn Graham Academic Building.

Sponsored by the Faculty Lecture Committee, the event honors the late campus physics professor Mylar Giri and is free and open to the public.

According to Luu, by the early 1990s astronomers thought they knew everything that was in the solar system - the nine planets and their satellites, the comets and asteroids, etc. They also thought they had a good idea how the solar system formed and why it looked the way it did. But discoveries in the last two decades turned this view upside down, starting with the discovery of the Kuiper Belt in 1992. She added, “We do not know what our planetary system looked like in its early days, nor are we sure what our solar system currently contains. This talk is about our new view of the solar system.”

Born in South Vietnam, Luu and her family fled when North Vietnam invaded Saigon in 1975 . During the Vietnam War, Luu’s father had served as an interpreter. The family arrived in the United States as refugees, living for a year in Kentucky and before moving to California where her father was training for a job.

Luu excelled in high school and began studying mechanical engineering at Stanford University, but later switched to physics and graduated in 1984. She spent that summer at the University of California, Berkeley, working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Inspired by the pictures of planets on the walls taken by the Voyager probes, she resolved to study planetary astronomy.

She then began graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and while there, she teamed up with Dr. David Jewitt on the Slow-Moving Objects survey of the outer solar system. Luu earned her doctorate in 1990 and then moved on to a job at Harvard University's Center for Astrophysics, and later to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. On returning to the United States, Luu took a break from observational astronomy and now works on instrumentation at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, which seeks technological solutions to problems of national security.

In 1991 the American Astronomical Society awarded Luu the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy. Asteroid 5430 Luu is named in her honor. In 2012, Luu and Jewitt were co-recipients of the 2012 Shaw Prize in Astronomy and the 2012 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics. The Shaw Foundation recognized Luu for the discovery and characterization of objects in the Kuiper Belt, a region beyond Neptune's orbit. The Kavli Prize recognized not only Luu and Jewitt, but Michael E. Brown of the California Institute of Technology, for Kuiper Belt discoveries. Prof. Brown built on Luu and Jewitt's work to extend understanding of the outer solar system.

For more information on this event, contact the Office of University Relations at 570-450-3180.

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