Nobel Prize Astronomer Explains Cosmos at Chichen Itza

February 12th, 2012 by ejalbright

The ancient Maya were great astronomers, so what better place to present a lecture on modern astronomy that at the foot of El Castillo, the great pyramid at Chichen Itza.

George Smoot, the Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist, spoke for almost an hour under the stars at Chichen Itza last month, coming to praise the astronomical accomplishments of the ancient Maya civilization who made all their observations with the naked eye. Dr. Smoot also shared with a small crowd the advances made in astrophysics today.

Using computer simulations, he whisked the audience to the very edges of the known universe and brought them back again to earth.

The Mayan view of the heavens were limited, based only on the sun and moon and Venus, as well as other planets and no more than a couple thousand stars; today, with orbital telescopes and other technology, we can “see” billions of not just stars, but galaxies. The universe, Dr. Smoot explains, is a very, very big place.

Smoot also participated in the creation of “Tales of Maya Skies,” a planetarium show about the Maya and Chichen Itza. Researchers came to the ancient city and scanned the monuments with lasers to recreate digital models accurate within two millimeters. From those models they produced a short film.

Smoot’s talk was part of the fourth annual winter school for young physicists on “Essential Cosmology for the Next Generation,” organized by the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics and Mexico’s Advanced Institute for Cosmology.

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