Seeing stars

Astrophysicist and trainee astronaut Dr. Suzanna Randall observes stars, galaxies and planets with the world’s largest telescopes. Her aim: to research the unimaginable.

Dr. Suzanna Randall Dr. Suzanna Randall is a researcher at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Dr. Suzanna Randall is a researcher at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Dr. Suzanna Randall has always been fascinated by outer space. Today, she is an astrophysicist working as a researcher at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), where she focuses on the evolution of stars – particularly the development of pulsating, blue, subdwarf stars.

But what she really appreciates about her job is the variety. She observes stars, galaxies and planets, analyzes data from the world’s largest telescopes and tells the public all about her fascination with outer space. And she faces one of the biggest challenges here: finding out how it all fits together.

Researching the unimaginable

An interview with Dr. Suzanna Randall

Seeking adventure

Two things that motivate Dr. Suzanna Randall in her work and spark her fascination for outer space: the desire for adventure and her inner curiosity. After all, the scientist has always loved adventure. “As a child, I wanted to be a pirate. I wanted to sail the seas, I wanted to explore the jungle, the desert and, of course, outer space. And I believe I have managed to achieve this as an adult. I really love discovering new things, and space really is the final frontier,” the astrophysicist enthuses.

Between adventure and science

For Dr. Suzanna Randall, astrophysics is more than just an adventure. She believes researching the universe is an important mission for humanity because she is convinced that “what surrounds us humans is ultimately what makes us what we are.” It is fundamentally important to Dr. Randall that people understand what surrounds them, how it all began and how they even came to Earth.

  • Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.
  • Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.
  • Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.
    Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.

    Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.

    Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.

  • Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.
    Astrophysicist Dr. Suzanna Randall researches outer space and focuses on the evolution of stars.

    Stars, galaxies and planets – Dr. Suzanna Randall wants to find out how it all fits together.

    Stars, galaxies and planets – Dr. Suzanna Randall wants to find out how it all fits together.

The researcher explains: “I often get asked why we think about space when we have enough problems on Earth. And of course, we have to solve them. But looking outside the box and trying to understand what is around us in the wider context is, at the end of the day, what makes us human.”

As a researcher and astrophysicist, she feels a sense of responsibility toward future generations. It is important to her that science is understandable. She believes people should have the opportunity to interpret scientific results. In order to live up to this responsibility, she speaks with the public and tries to translate complicated scientific findings into simple terms to interest and inspire everyone.

Role model

As a female astrophysicist, Dr. Suzanna Randall acts as a role model, not least for young people – girls and women in particular. And she takes this responsibility very seriously. The scientist wants future generations to be able to look up to her and know that they can accomplish anything. And that they don’t need to be scared of scientific topics.

Dr. Suzanna Randall

I hope I can encourage young girls and women in particular to trust themselves more and to reach for the stars. When you really put your mind to something, you often surprise yourself at the things you are able to achieve.

Dr. Suzanna Randall

Researcher at the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Dr. Suzanna Randall regularly observes the night sky through the world’s largest telescopes.

Dr. Suzanna Randall regularly observes the night sky through the world’s largest telescopes.

A part of the bigger picture

It goes without saying that the stars and the universe are the focus of her public speaking. Although the astrophysicist does admit that what people can learn about the stars is slightly abstract. Stars have a kind of life cycle. Not in a biological sense, but similar. They are created, they grow, they live their lives, and in the end, they die. Humans are therefore just a small part of this massive cosmic cycle. They are made of stellar end-products that were hurtled into outer space and produced new stars, planets and also life. Stars can therefore show people that they are a part of the bigger picture.

 

Projecting the night sky

Understanding the bigger picture and comprehending the magic of the cosmos is a challenge facing humanity. “When we talk about outer space, it really is a case of things, distances and time lines that we cannot even conceive with our brain. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. That is something we simply cannot imagine. We can’t even imagine how far away the sun is from us. Not to mention the stars or other galaxies,” says Dr. Randall.

One way we can approach all this is to view outer space in a planetarium. 100 years ago – in 1923 – the first artificial stars shone in a planetarium that ZEISS constructed for the Deutsches Museum in Munich. To this day, planetariums enable us to visualize the unimaginable. They offer the chance for people to picture outer space, the incredible distances and the idiosyncrasies of the universe in a very special way.

  • 100 years ago – in 1923 – the first artificial stars shone in a planetarium that ZEISS constructed for the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

    100 years ago – in 1923 – the first artificial stars shone in a planetarium that ZEISS constructed for the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

  • 100 years ago – in 1923 – the first artificial stars shone in a planetarium that ZEISS constructed for the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

    Planetariums enable us to visualize the unimaginable.

Both scientists and non-scientists can experience a journey into outer space at the planetarium. The astrophysicist reflects: “I have the privilege of working on the world’s largest telescopes and knowing what a really dark, clear night sky looks like, for example the view from the desert in northern Chile. Often, the general public hasn't experienced this. Not only can you experience a night sky like this in the planetarium, but you can also see the lights in the sky that are not visible to our eyes, such as infrared light, ultraviolet light, gamma rays and so on. I find this truly fascinating.”

Looking to Earth

Visitors to the Deutsches Museum in Munich can view an exhibition on outer space.

Visitors to the Deutsches Museum in Munich can view an exhibition on outer space.

Randall’s dream: to switch perspectives for once and look to Earth from space. And this wish could be granted. The scientist is a finalist in the “Die Astronautin” initiative, which aims to send the first female German astronaut into space.

Not only would a flight into outer space make her personal dream come true, but it would also open up a variety of research opportunities. The trainee astronaut is inspired by the notion of using her own body for experiments. She wants to explore the effects of weightlessness on the human body. The aim of this research: to enable longer space missions and, one day, a flight to Mars.

An eerie concept

Dr. Suzanna Randall is not taking outer space and the journey there for granted. When it comes to the flight into space, the astrophysicist respects the launch and landing most of all. And even she cannot comprehend certain aspects of outer space: “The whole concept of the universe is eerie. I still remember lying awake at night as a child and thinking: ‘How can it be possible that the universe was created from nothing? How is it possible that our Earth and everything I know will cease to exist in a few billion years?’ It simply doesn’t make sense to the human brain.”

And yet the researcher’s curiosity prevails. If she gets the opportunity to travel to outer space, she will be most excited about the change in perspective. As an astrophysicist, she looks from the Earth to the sky. A flight into space would enable her to look from the sky back to Earth – the famous overview effect.

Dr. Suzanna Randall

I think the awesome thing about looking from outer space back to Earth is the famous overview effect. You suddenly realize that the borders between countries are not really important. That the minor issues and quarrels we have on Earth are not really important.

Dr. Suzanna Randall

Researcher at the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

A flight into space gives astronauts the famous overview effect.

A flight into space gives astronauts the famous overview effect.