Press Release

Wolszczan Featured on Millennium Stamp Set with Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and Nicolaus Copernicus

By SpaceRef Editor
February 18, 2002
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Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and
Astrophysics at Penn State and discoverer of the first planets found
outside our solar system, has been honored by the country of Poland
in having his likeness featured on a special set of 16 postage stamps
celebrating the past millennium. Also featured on the stamp with
Wolszczan are Nicolaus Copernicus, considered by many to be the
founder of modern astronomy, and the Arecibo radiotelescope, which
Wolszczan used in his discovery of the planets.

“I have been told that the design of the stamp is intended to
celebrate a continuation of a good tradition in astronomy in my
homeland,” Wolszczan said. “Copernicus moved us from the center of
the universe to where we are now. Since then, many important steps
have been taken to understand our position in the universe. My
discovery is just one of many steps that have been taken.”

Wolszczan’s pairing with Copernicus is particularly apt, considering
both lived in Torun, Poland, both are pioneers in astronomy and
Wolszczan earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Nicolaus
Copernicus University in Torun. Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to
1543, developed the Copernican system, which placed the sun at the
center of planetary orbits. Wolszczan became the first person to
discover planets outside our solar sechnm in 1992, when he used the
1,000-foot Arecibo radiotelescope to detect three planets orbiting a
rapidly spinning neutron star. His discovery, which suggested that
planets might be plentiful throughout the universe, opened the door
to the current intense era of planet hunting.

Wolszczan said his honor can inspire future scientists all over the
world. “Certainly it immediately tells you that if you work hard
enough, make good progress, and have a little bit of good luck, you
can go pretty far in science just as you can in other domains,” he
said. “In countries such as my homeland where it is more difficult to
achieve something, such encouragement is especially inspiring to
young people.”

The Polish 16-stamp set, titled “Polish Millennium,” summarizes the
last 1,000 years of history, culture, and science in Poland. Each
stamp represents a different field of life, including: Christianity;
parliamentarism; history of political publications; theater;
independence; internationalist traditions of the polish military
forces; astronomy; education; traditions of the Polish army; the
struggle for independence; art; music; Poland in the European system;
Polish symbols; Polish sport; and, language, letters, and literature.

Other prominent figures featured on individual stamps in the set
include Pope John Paul II and popular labor leader Lech Walesa, who
was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and elected his country’s
president in 1990.

“I’m very pleased to be on the stamp and it also feels a little bit
strange because I never expected it would go that far,” Wolszczan
said. “I feel happy and a little bit embarrassed.”

Among Wolszczan’s previous honors are the Marian Smoluchowski Medal –
the highest prize awarded by the Polish Physical Society. Previously,
he was presented with the Gold Medal Award of the American Institute
of Polish Culture in 2000, the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit
Award from the president of Poland in 1997, the Casimir Funk Natural
Sciences Award from the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in
America, and the Beatrice M. Tinsley Award from the American
Astronomical Society in 1996. He also received the Penn State Faculty
Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 1994, the Popular
Science Award for “Best of What’s New” in 1994, the Alfred
Jurzykowski Foundation award in 1993, and the Annual Award of the
Foundation for Polish Science in 1992. Wolszczan was named an Evan
Pugh Professor in 1998, the highest distinction Penn State can bestow
upon a faculty member.

Images of the 16-stamp set and the individual stamp featuring
Wolszczan are available on the internet at

Information on obtaining the Polish Millennium stamp set is available
from Hank Bieniecki at

CONTACT: Barbara K. Kennedy

phone: 814-863-4682 *

SpaceRef staff editor.