To solve the unsolved mysteries of the universe
"See everything that can be seen"pursuing observational astronomy
I specialize in observational astronomy and am primarily engaged in observation and research of galaxies and cataclysmic variable stars. I call myself the "observational astronomer" and with the motto of "see everything that can be seen," I observe everything meticulously and investigate the unsolved mysteries of the universe.
My current research theme is Time-Domain Astronomy, which studies astronomical phenomena such as supernova explosions that change with time. This research enables us to know the physical mechanisms in a celestial object by studying the changes occurring in the object over a period of time.
In conventional astronomy, for example, if you're trying to study about galaxies, you mostly used to look at still pictures. Dynamic observation as to how an object changes with the passage of time was rarely carried out because of the time and cost involved. However, as the number of telescopes that can be used increased in recent years, such observations and studies based on time have become possible.
I studied physics in ICU but over time I became interested in astronomy, and after graduation I went for my post-graduate study at New Mexico State University in the U.S. There I completed my doctoral degree in research using ultraviolet satellite data from NASA. I didn't do the observations myself, but did my research by fully utilizing the observational data that already existed. Nowadays, research using data archive is popular, but more than 30 years ago such a concept was not there and I pride myself as a pioneer in that field.
After I got my Ph.D., I started research works at the South African Astronomical Observatory in 1987. On the very day I started my observations, a supernova explosion occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud (SN1987A) fortuitously. This was the catalyst that helped me find the theme of observation and research of supernova and cataclysmic variable stars, which I pursue even now. From then on, it was observations almost every day. It won't be too much to say that I did a lifetime's worth of observations in South Africa.
Perhaps in recognition of my work in South Africa, I was invited to join the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and worked on the project which building the 8.2 m diameter Subaru telescope, one of the largest in the world then. There I was involved as the Principal Investigator of an observation instrument called Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS) and as the manager of Hawaii Observatory. I joined the team before the construction completed and my association with the Subaru telescope was more than 10 years from the start of the observatory to its fine-tuning and observations. It was the first time for the NAOJ to build an observatory overseas at that time and we struggled a lot, but from year 2000 on we started sharing the facility with researchers from around the world (we call it "Open use") and I feel pride in the fact that many important researches those close in on new mysteries of the universe are being done there.
After that, I helped out the ALMA project, which is jointly run by Japan, North America and Europe at Atacama in Chile, and currently I'm involved with the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project in the Island of Hawaii. This is a large telescope with a primary mirror of 30 m diameter made of 492 hexagonal segment mirrors, enabling 10 times the resolution of the Hubble space telescope. Once completed, it will enable the monitoring of the atmospheres of numerous planets outside the Solar system that have been discovered recently, and it is expected to throw light on signs of life by analyzing their composition. It is expected to be completed in 2027 and will probably be ready for use by the time the current high school and college students start out in the real world.
Recently, it has become possible for a satellite to go to planets and collect samples like Hayabusa* does, but astronomy is basically a passive subject where you collect and analyze, mainly, the electromagnetic waves that reaches here from outer space. The core of astronomy is how to gain new knowledge by analyzing in detail the information that reaches here from outside. By using large telescopes, you can observe in much more detail. Anyway, the universe is so wide, and there are almost always new discoveries to be made out there. I switched from physics to astronomy because I found the enjoyment in finding unknown things one after another.
*The interview with Hajime Yano, an alumni of ICU, who was the project member of Hayabusa is available on ICU Alumni Association's website.
URL: https://www.icualumni.com/interview/guest028.html (Japanese version only)
ALMA telescope in Chile Observatory
Liberal arts is important
In my high school days, I was interested in physics as well as in cultural anthropology, and I could not decide which major I should take. So I thought that I would join a college first and then decide, and joined the Division of Science of ICU.
ICU continues to focus on liberal arts education and I feel liberal arts is very important from my experience of studying at a graduate school in the U.S. My actual feeling is that you can seldom build something from nothing. In majority of cases, a new thought is born by combining existing ideas. In other words, having wide-ranging knowledge in various fields means more combinations and more possibilities.
In my research also, for example, may be a type of image analysis method is the mainstream in astronomy but there are cases where the algorisms of biological and/or medical image analysis can be utilized. Liberal arts education is necessary also for students to gain more flexible thinking and wider vision.
At ICU I studied physics under the late Professor Emeritus Donald C. Worth. My marks were not top class, nor was I good at English, but when I told him that I wanted to study astronomy at a graduate school in the U.S., he asked me in which region of the U.S. I wanted to go and study. I was totally expecting him to be worried and ask me if I would be able to survive, but Prof. Worth talked to me already on the premise that I was going to the U.S., telling me that I should first decide the region where I wanted to go, as the U.S. is large and I would be able to find a good graduate school in whichever region I went. The professor's attitude gave me a supportive push. There are ICU graduates around the world and going abroad was not something special even back then. If I did not join ICU, I wouldn't have thought of studying at an American graduate school.
Astronomy community that goes beyond race and nationality
The TMT Project, in which I am currently involved, is being pursued jointly by the five countries of Japan, the U.S., Canada, China and India. Astronomy from now on will grow as researchers from around the world gather under a large astronomy community and various countries cooperate there. To begin with, it deals with the universe, which itself is of large scale, and I don't really feel the boundaries of nationality or race. Nevertheless, ways of thinking, etc. can be different depending on the country. It is very important to be flexible when working with people from different countries around the world. Fortunately, I am not the kind of person who thinks something has to be a certain way, and I would like young people who will make the world their stage to acquire flexible thinking. And then acquire a proactive attitude to be assertive when necessary. Japanese people are still way quiet compared with the youth around the world.
When you do research works, there are times when you suffer setbacks and feel frustrated. What is important is that you stop and think from time to time whether the direction you are heading is right or not. When you bump into a wall, if you have the capability to overcome the wall, you can go on and keep moving forward, but it is okay to turn away if you don't have it. When you are making a detour, you may find something that is unexpectedly interesting. In fact, in research, you often come across such situations.
Looking back at my life so far, I feel that I reached where I am now before I knew it, while getting involved in whatever I was interested in at various points of time. In that sense, I feel I have been lucky, but to have luck you have to grab it. To this end, you need to determine whether what you have in front of you is an opportunity or not, but a chance most of the time is associated with risks. In my case, going to a graduate school abroad and going to an astronomical observatory abroad to make a new telescope were the opportunities. Once you identified your opportunity and grabbed it, you also need the ability to succeed in it. There will be several opportunities coming your way in your life time. Please grab your opportunity and gain good fortune.
Professor of Division of Optical and Infrared Astronomy and Executive Advisor to the Director General, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
Graduated from ICU's College of Liberal Arts, then Division of Science, in 1981.
Born in Osaka City. In 1986, Sekiguchi received Ph.D. in Astronomy & Physics from the Department of Astronomy, New Mexico State University. Senior Researcher at the South African Astronomical Observatory from 1987. From 1994, assistant professor in Japan National Large Telescope (JNLT) Project at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). From 1997, assistant professor at the Subaru Telescope of the NAOJ. Subsequently, since 2007, Sekiguchi has been a professor of Optical and Infrared Astronomy Division of the NAOJ and got involved in the construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array as the Director of the Office of International Relations. He became Executive Advisor to the Director General in 2011 and currently oversees the TMT Project underway in the Island of Hawaii. His area of specialization is observational astronomy.