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University of Virginia astronomer Kelsey Johnson recently delivered a talk titled "How were the most ancient objects in the universe formed?" as part of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Distinguished Lectures series. NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate supports Johnson's work investigating the conditions that gave rise to star-forming regions. After her lecture, we sat down with Johnson to talk about everything from globular clusters to societal fears of science and why we shouldn't feel so small in a vast and expanding universe.
Globular clusters are the most ancient found objects in the universe but we only have 150 to 200 of them that live in the halo of our galaxy. For every 100 formed, probably fewer than 10 have survived to the current day.
Shakespeare got it wrong. Stars are born, and they die.
I think about trying to raise a scientifically literate generation of children capable of critical thinking. I remember a day when I was walking home from school as a kid. I had learned fire needs air to burn. I also had learned there was no air in space. After I got home, I remember asking my mom, "Then how do stars burn?" This was a major mystery to me -- and my mom! I had these two facts that didn't agree. It was the first hint of my interest in astronomy. I was probably 10 years old./.../