Being an Astronomer: A Testimony

Part of the Integrated Science & Technology Program book series (ISTP, volume 1)


In this short essay, I examine how and why I became an astronomer and what finally this job has brought to my life. I believe that an irresistible compulsion to better understand the sky has driven my observational work. After my beginnings in solar astronomy, I bet on the rise of solid state technology and, in this way, I was among the first to observe the deep Universe with CCD detectors on a large telescope. This path led me almost naturally to observations of strong and weak lensing of faint distant galaxies by foreground structures. With a short overview of the story of gravitational arcs, I illustrate how astronomy might develop through the opening of new observational windows. To increase our knowledge of the Universe astronomers must be “big builders” and have also a profound expertise in many fields of physics. With large telescopes astounding discoveries have been made, but at the same time these findings have come close to the limits of human logic in trying to understand the true essence of the world and its origin. Thus satisfying a compulsive search for meaning was both for me a source of satisfaction and some disappointment. If being an astronomer brought me moments of happiness it was not always where I initially expected to find them, but rather in friendships created in the collective adventure in search of knowledge. My essay concludes with a personal and probably naive remark concerning how employment in astronomy might change as well as with a few worries if we do not succeed in gaining a better understanding of the role our minds play in constructing our collective human beliefs.


History and philosophy of astronomy Gravitational lensing Instrumentation: detectors 



Bernard Fort thanks Observatoire de Paris, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées in Toulouse and Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris for a strong support and a warm hospitality during his career. Many thanks to Henry McCracken, to Hervé Chamley and to the editor for a careful reading of the manuscript which makes this paper more understandable to English speakers, to Jean-Francois Sygnet for comments and technical support and to Jean-Paul Kneib for the use of a recent but spectacular image of the cluster A370.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Astrophysique de ParisParisFrance

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