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Airdate: Apr 30, 1998
Scientist: Neil DeGrasse Tyson

GAMMA RAYS: The Quest

GAMMA RAYS: The Quest
The quest to find the origins of Gamma Ray bursts takes us to the frontier of scientific inquiry.

Transcript:
Astronomers believe that Gamma Rays may be the source of the highest known levels of energy in the universe. Although Gamma Ray bursts have been detected since the 1960's, coming from points well beyond our galaxy, we know very little about the origins of these phenomena. The quest to find their origin takes us to the frontier of scientific inquiry. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

"If we don't understand objects that produce Gamma Rays, we can't claim a true understanding of all the energy that's moving around in the universe."

Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson is Frederick P. Rose director of New York's Hayden Planetarium.

"We think we understand how stars work. We think we understand how galaxies work. There are a lot of things that we believe we have a handle on. Now here we are at Gamma Rays, at this high energy limits of our known spectrum and there are objects giving us Gamma Rays about which we're clueless. All you have to do is dangle in front of a scientist a mystery and people will run to it. You never know in science whether an understanding of Gamma Ray bursts will give us deeper insight into the structure of the universe in ways we might not have ever imagined. So that's one of the beauties in science. The uncertainty in whether tomorrow's discovery will impact something I already have running in my household today. Or impact some understanding that I was carrying with me about in my everyday life about the universe and then have to modify that. And that makes scientific inquiry quite a remarkable enterprise. Our legacy to the following generations flows through our ability to leave them with a universe that we understand better than we did yesterday. And that richness of thought in the end contributes to our sense of who we are, where we're going, where we came from. And I'm waiting for someone to describe to me a nobler quest than that."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.