I would first of all like to express my gratitude to the organizers of this meeting for inviting me to give this summary talk. I am assured by my colleagues that such an invitation is one of the key prerequisites for becoming recognized as an "Old Fart"—so, "Thank you, Mario." To reinforce this point, I shall be the first speaker to demonstrate that the overhead projector is still working, thus blocking the view of those who like to sit in the middle of the front row. Although I am not (yet) one of those who feels it necessary to demonstrate status by only attending a part of a meeting, I must admit that this is the first meeting I have been to in which I have attended every talk—I use the word "attended" deliberately, since initially the effects of jet lag had not quite worn off.
I take, however, neither credit nor responsibility, for the slightly pretentious title, The Quest for New Worlds. As I am sure you are all aware, this was the title of the grant proposal to the Spanish authorities from a certain 15th century Italian. He set out to find India, but instead discovered the local bete noire, Cuba. For this, he is celebrated here each year in October, though one must admit a certain admiration for someone who has the ability to keep getting grant proposals funded, despite a complete failure to achieve the stated goals and objectives.
Before taking a closer look at what we have learned over the last few days—and what we didn't—it is instructive to step back and take a broader look at the field as a whole. To do so let me share with you a couple of quotes.
The first is from a colleague, who is an inveterate and assiduous attender of conferences, who was being questioned about latest set of general conferences (Texas Symposium, AAS Meeting, ...) he had just come back from. When asked what was new in planets, the response was to the effect that it is not a field in which much seems to be happening, and that the field itself is rather slow moving. Thus, Steve Beckwith's comments in his introductory talk that we are dealing with the fundamental question "Are we alone?" — that this area serves as one of the drivers of the Philosophy of Science, and that we find ourselves in the borderline between Science and Religion—do not appear to have reached all of our colleagues. Mind you, our cosmological colleagues, with their "fingers of God," and the COBE results showing us the face of God, already seem to be developing their own theological terminology. In this context, it is worth recalling that Immanuel Kant, who we now recognize in his treatise Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels as having been a pioneer in the theory of the formation of planetary systems, devoted much care and tact to reassuring his sponsors, as well as the powers that be, that he was not casting doubt on Who created the Heavens, but was, rather, humbly considering how He might have set about it.
The second is from a colleague in the field of a theoretical bent. The colleague had just some back from some recent meetings in the field and was being asked to report.
The general tone of the response was that the field is "getting a bit boring—there are far too many observations." As Steve Beckwith remarked in his introduction, this field is predominantly an empirical one, and much of what has been found has defied ready predictability. From my notes I see that he also said something about "idle speculation," which is probably a reference to the efforts of we theorists. In any case, it is certainly one of those areas of astrophysics in which one hears the merry scampering of theorists trying to keep up. From a theorist's perspective, as the observations pile in, a field can move from one of excitement, in which one receives continual stimulation and feels that one has a chance of explaining something, to one of despair, in which one starts to wonder if one can ever explain anything. I think we would all agree that this field is just building up to the excitement stage.
Indeed a more objective test of the vitality of a field is to ask: Would you recommend a new graduate student to go into it? I started my PhD just after the launch of the UHURU X-ray Telescope. There was a wealth of new observational data, which led to a certain buzz about the field. Some 35 years later that field is still booming, led predominantly by continuing advances in instrumental capabilities. I get that same feeling here—this is an exciting field, still growing in its observational capabilities, and the best is yet to come. Like the early days of x-ray astronomy, it is a young person's field. It is definitely a good one to start a career in. Indeed, for myself it has been sobering to see that the launch dates for the spacecraft being discussed at this meeting are close to, and some beyond, my retirement date at the University of Cambridge.
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