Astronomy All-Star

As a boy in his hometown of Belgrade in Serbia, Professor Miroslav Filipovic was a stargazer.

I was a small child when man landed on the Moon. It was my dream. It was up there and I wanted that, explains Professor Filipovic. Eventually you realise it’s not simple and you want to contribute, to decipher, to try to answer these questions.

It was this sense of exploring the unknown that led Professor Filipovic to move to the other side of the world to further his studies at the age of 25. The choice of country was simple.

The southern sky is by far more interesting to study, he explains. Australia is the best place for an astronomer. We have the second highest number of astronomers per capita in the world.

These days, having received a Doctor of Philosophy (Physics) from Western in 1996, Professor Filipovic is with the University’s School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics and Director of Penrith Observatory; a respected astronomer who has not only been published in Nature, the prestigious scientific journal, but also realised his childhood dream of travelling into space.

Last year, the Professor became only the second Australian to travel in NASA is flying laboratory, SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). The adventure involved a 10-hour trip beyond the edge of the stratosphere in a special purpose Boeing 747 SP. But although Professor Filipovic insists it’s one for the bucket list and the coolest thing you can do, he stops short of calling it fun.

It’s dry, you have to drink a lot of water, he explains. Because they open the tailgate for the telescope, it’s well below zero.

Still, one gets the impression Professor Filipovic wouldn’t change what he does for the world, or the rest of the universe, for that matter. He just needs time to fit everything in ñ one of the bigger questions he hopes to find an answer to, following his experience on SOFIA.

One of the very important parts about the evolution of stars is what is happening when one dies, explains Professor Filipovic. It releases a gigantic amount of energy and it is (in most cases) very violent. The Earth is atmosphere protects us, but the cosmic rays penetrate and kill us slowly, slowly. No matter how healthy we are, we will die. So how can I prevent that?

I want to extend the experience of our lives. I want to cherish and enjoy life as long as I can. Is 120-years-old enough?