Mangus stops at Beaty to speak with students

When NASA scientist and consultant John Mangus spoke to eighth-graders at Beaty-Warren Middle School, he covered a lot of ground — quantum theory, relativity, missions to Mars, even social media.

But, most of his presentation was about light, optics, and the James Webb Space Telescope.

After all, Mangus started the optics division at NASA and has been working in that field for more than 50 years.

“We have a lot in common,” Mangus said to students in Carolyn Yurick’s eighth grade science classes. “I was born in Warren, at Warren General Hospital. I was raised at 11 Melrose Place.”

He attended East Street Elementary School, Beaty, and the old Warren High School.

Mangus went on to study mathematics at Gannon. He encouraged the students to pay attention to their math studies. “You have to learn one more language, and that’s mathematics,” he said. “It’s the universal language of the sciences.”

After he graduated from Gannon, Mangus was drafted.

“The U.S. Army sent me to Fort Detrick, Maryland, working in chemical warfare,” he said.

Then, he went to graduate school at Penn State, receiving a masters degree in physics.

“At that time, NASA was starting and was fortunate enough to get a job at NASA,” Mangus said.

He retired as a senior scientist in the Space Science Directorate at Goddard Space Flight Center after 32 years at NASA. He was ready to return to his roots. “I retired back here,” he said, but he was still in demand.

“They still wanted me as a consultant,” he said. He’s been working in that capacity since 1994.

Although he retired 10 years before the students were born, he explained to them that they are time travelers.

“Your eyes are time machines,” Mangus explained. “When you look at the stars, you’re looking at light that started out toward your eyeballs anywhere from 10 to 100 years ago.”

Because light travels very fast, but not infinitely so, everything we see is in the past.

In fact, he said the students were seeing him “picoseconds” in the past.

He showed the classes images taken of celestial bodies by the Hubble Space Telescope. One was from an object 2,000 light years away. “This light started out when Caesar, Cleopatra, or Jesus Christ was walking the face of the earth,” he said.

An image from 9,000 light years distant coincided with the time when humans were coming together in the first villages, he said.

Webb is even more sensitive to light and is expected to be able to see objects as they were about 13.5 billion years ago. The universe is only a little older than that.

“Can we see back to the beginning of time?” he asked. “The answer is yes.”