dr. sarah pearson

Interview With Dr. Sarah Pearson – Danish Astrophysicist

2nd Confab With CosmosNow

Dr. Sarah Pearson is a Danish astrophysicist with a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University. She currently holds a Flatiron Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Center for Computational Astrophysics. Sarah’s two passions in life are astrophysics and communicating astrophysics.

CosmosNow – Hello Dr. Sarah! Welcome! We are honored to have you on the second Confab with CosmosNow. We are really excited to get some amazing answers from you.

Dr. Sarah Pearson – Thank you CosmosNow! I’m more than happy to answer your questions.

CosmosNow – When did the passion for Astronomy and Astrophysics start?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I remember one moment when I was around 9 years old when my dad was telling me how shooting stars are not actual stars, but dust grains burning up in the atmosphere. When he told me how much farther away actual stars were, I remember being baffled. He said the Universe might be infinitely big, and I remember getting stuck on this… What is infinity? After many years of studies, my mind still can’t fully grasp the concept of infinity.

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CosmosNow – What fascinates you the most about space?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – It fascinates me how much humanity has been able to figure out about our universe by studying light alone (now also gravitational waves). That there is simply so much information encoded in the photons that reach us here on Earth is astounding, and I continue to be amazed by the distant objects we get to decipher and understand. The symmetry, structure, and beauty of space also fascinate me – i.e. that there is an order, pattern and that we can make sense of any of it. As I normally say: “I love math in space!”.

CosmosNow – What mystery are you most interested in unfolding by science?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I want to know what dark matter *actually* is. We’ve seen indirect hints of its existence in so many different ways (movement of gas in galaxies, movement of galaxies in galaxy groups, through gravitational lensing, the clustering of matter, etc. etc.) but we still don’t have a good handle of *what* it is made up of. 

CosmosNow – What is the one thing you want to impart on people as a Space Communicator?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – Empathy and patience. I think often people can get a bit intimidated by astrophysics, and my goal as a science communicator has been to tell a story where each component is broken down into comprehensible steps. The challenge is how you do that while still being factual and telling a good narrative, and I am constantly learning.

CosmosNow – Your experience as Computational Astrophysicist and Space Communicator.

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I’ve overall had a great experience launching my YouTube Channel (Space with Sarah) and social media outlets (@spacewsarah) where I document my life as a scientist. I was actually most nervous about what my peers and professors/colleagues would think (e.g. “why aren’t you spending all your time on research”, “what do you have to say that hasn’t been said already” etc.), but I actually received none of that type of negativity and discouragement. I’ve been very positively surprised by people’s reactions to my work. For me, selfishly, it has helped me to take a step back and recall the bigger picture of why I do what I do. In times where research has been a bit tedious, outreach has always helped me regain inspiration and excitement for my field.

CosmosNow – What exactly do you think happens in the black hole near the singularity?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Have you watched “Interstellar” :)? 

CosmosNow – If you would go somewhere else in the universe other than Earth to experience and explore where would you go?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I’d love to visit an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting another star than our own Sun (note this is not really possible due to the vast distances). If I could choose without limitations, I might pick a planet in another galaxy and look down at our own Milky Way. I’d love a clean look at the disk of the Milky Way, which we cannot get from Earth. But as a galactic astrophysicist, I should probably pick a whole other environment than our Local Group so I could do “near-field” cosmology somewhere other than in our own local vicinity.

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CosmosNow – What do you believe or hope will be the most scientific advancement in the next few decades?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I think that finding Earth’s twin in another solar system might actually be feasible and will be tremendously exciting! Imagine finding an Earth-like planet, around a Sun-like star at the exact same distance from the star as the Earth is from the Sun while having the exact same atmospheric properties. That’s a world-wide headline! And, of course, I hope to discover what dark matter actually is!   

CosmosNow – Are you fond of sci-fi? Which is your favorite?

Dr. Sarah Pearson –  Actually don’t watch that much sci-fi but I did love “Contact” and I am also a big fan of “Gattaca”. Recently, I watched an indie-space-movie “Prospect” which I found quite intriguing also.

CosmosNow – Your view on humanity’s future beyond Earth.

Dr. Sarah Pearson – I think we should be a bit cautious when discussing humanity’s future beyond Earth, the truth is that nowhere in our vicinity is anywhere remotely close to being able to sustain humanity. Because of the vast distances in our Galaxy alone, we have very little hope of traveling to a place as nice as Earth anytime soon (or ever) – so we should take better care of it! That being said, I am fascinated with humanity’s sense of exploration, and I am curious to see what expeditions we’ll venture on during my lifetime.

CosmosNow – What would be your message to all the young curious minds out there?

Dr. Sarah Pearson – Keep wondering! If a subject excites you: explore it, study it, discuss it, read about it! If you ever sense that particular feeling of joy, drive or excitement when you encounter a specific topic, tap into that. I feel extremely lucky to have a job where I get to exercise my passion.  Also, being kind to yourself is key. Learning can be uncomfortable, and, in my experience, that slight discomfort occurs just before or when you’re actively pushing yourself further. Going through lows in your level of motivation is normal.  Some weeks will be slower than others. In my experience, being forgiving and not beating yourself up too much in that process is key to getting back on track. Even as a postdoc, I am still learning this, however.

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Next Interview: Interview With Dr. Karan Jani

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