Exploration: From the Old Year to the New

2016 Exploration


When we look out at the cosmos, we’re exploring not only new objects and events, but our very history.

It’s been a hell of a year, this 2016. We’ve gained new knowledge, lost heroes, confronted uncomfortable change, and are now pondering the new year ahead. It’s been a ride.

Yesterday I was in the Weekly Space Hangout with Fraser Cain and his friends, and we talked over the big space stories of the year. The show featured Nancy Atkinson, talking about her new book Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos, which looks like a good read!

During the hangout, we shared the stories we thought were important this past year. One participant talked about the matter/antimatter ‘problem’.  Another focused on SpaceX and its accomplishments and troubles in 2016. I focused on the planetary missions I’ve been following at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the outer solar system. For each of us, the theme was exploration. Whether it was delving into the distant reaches of the cosmos to figure out early matter-antimatter annihilations or space mission accomplishments right here in the solar system, the idea was “exploration”.

Exploration in 2017

The new year continues our studies in the cosmos, ranging from the continued exploration of our own planet out to the limits of the observable universe.  Some missions will get started, others — such as the Cassini mission — will come to an end in 2017. Others, such as the New Horizons and various Mars missions, will keep on keepin’ on. Science will make giant leaps forward to improve not just our understanding of the universe, but also our knowledge about our planet, our lives, our bodies, and the life around us. That’s what science does. It explores. It explains. And, if we’re smart, we listen to it. And, we learn. That’s the way forward, not just in 2017, but in any age.

I wish everyone reading this a glorious new year and hope that you will come along with me and all the others who bring science to life as we continue to explore the cosmos, one story at a time.  Keep looking up!


Losing our Heroes

Heroes Pass their Torches

The deaths of Dr. Vera Rubin on Christmas Day and that of Carrie Fisher on Dec. 27th, both heroes in different walks of life, gave me pause to think about the people we each look up to in our lives. Those two women couldn’t be more different in their career paths, yet they shared a vision of getting ahead. They stuck their jobs and made huge contributions throughout their very active lives.

As a science writer specializing in astronomy and space activity, I looked up to both of them in different ways.  Each supplied inspiration for the work they did and the attitudes they held in life. They both did good things. These ladies were both human and never acted larger than life.  I’m sure they had their foibles, as we all do. Ms. Fisher’s were very public, given the nature of her work.  But, each of these woman stood up and did what had to be done.  And, both are being remembered fondly by many people.

A colleague of mine commented to me privately that reaching an age where one’s heroes and admirees are dying is a tough time.  Of course, people pass on all the time. However, for those of us who grew up piqued by astronomy and space travel and being inspired by space movies as well, it’s rare to have two people who were connected (even tenuously) by these realms go in such short order.  Sure, not every astronomer admired both. But, many astronomers I know were inspired by Star Wars and Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey and other movies in the realm where Carrie Fisher first grew famous.

Strong Women

Strength characterized both women. Despite adversity, they kept on going. They had positive goals. They achieved things that were greater than themselves. Neither one did it at the cost of others; in fact, they both sought to help others going through the same things they did. That’s a charitable donation to society that can’t even begin to have a price tag. And, it’s something to be admired in an age when self-aggrandizing jerks grab the attention of the world. Such strength moves societies and realms of study forward, not backwards.

So, as the year winds down, find or think about someone to admire in your profession (or even outside of it). I would bet that they’d be people who have achieved monumental things by working hard at them. Who you admire says a lot about you and your goals. Make it good, whoever you admire. The jerks in the world will always have sycophants who suck up to them. Truly good people who accomplish good things despite the obstacles that get in their way, will have admirers who want to continue good in the world. Stay strong. Do good works. And, keep looking up!