• Category Archives astronomy
  • [Article 6824]Astronomers Without Borders


    Bring Astronomy Education to Kids in Tanzania

    Last fall I had the great privilege of meeting and traveling with Mike Simmons, the President and Founder of Astronomers without Borders. This organization fosters and follows through on the idea that the stars belong to all of us, and that astronomy is a worldwide cultural and scientific heritage. We happened to be in Poland for a meeting called “Communicating Astronomy with the Public” and as part of our after-meeting trip, we traveled to Torun (the home of Nicolas Copernicus) and visited two “Astrobazas” — observatories built and run by students at their respective schools. It was a great trip and I was really impressed with the level of interest and expertise of the students involved.

    One of the projects that AWB is doing is called Telescopes to Tanzania, and it’s the subject of an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. The group has a goal of raising $38,000 to improve science education Tanzania, and as of this writing, they’ve raised $6,549 with 39 days to go. AWB has been actively working with and supporting Tanzania’s schools since 2011, trying to bring textbooks and other materials to students who don’t have access to even the basic materials that kids in the U.S. and other countries take for granted. The group is using their crowdsourcing campaign to build the The Center for Science Education and Observatory in the country, which will  help students and teachers in the country with astronomy  and science training. By integrating astronomy into the national teaching curriculum, the center will be able to develop and circulate hands-on science and astronomy teaching resources to schools around the Tanzania.  In addition, the center will provide hands-on laboratories, and an astronomical observatory with a portable planetarium, and internet connectivity so that students and teachers can connect one-on-one with science centers and students and educators worldwide.

    Do you have some spare cash lying around?  It only takes $5.00 to make just the minimum contribution to the AWB’s effort. Of course, you can (and should, if you’re able) give more. You could even fund the construction of the observatory for $15,000.  Of course, you get cool perks, plus you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping one of the world’s premier astronomy outreach organizations bring science awareness and education to the students in Tanzania. Your money will go a long way. Here’s a breakdown of what the $38,000 will cover.

    Budget breakdown for the IndieGoGo funds raised by Astronomers Without Borders. Courtesy AWB.

    If you can give, please do so. If you’re interested in other projects and accomplishments of AWB, check out their Web page. And, if you want to learn first-hand about AWB and their current project, visit them during their August 6th G+ Hangout. The topic is focused on the development of STEM education in developing world. Anousheh Ansari, astronaut and social entrepreneur Ron Garan, and people from Africa will be joining Mike and the gang. Check it out at the AWB Google+ page and learn more about this remarkable organization.



  • [Article 6806]Some Thoughts about Apollo 11 and Beyond…


    History Was Made, Will it Be Made Again?

    Buzz Aldrin on the spacewalk during Apollo 11 in 1969.
    Buzz Aldrin on the spacewalk during Apollo 11 in 1969.

    We watched the whole Moon walk sequence last night and it’s amazing what I remembered from the first time and what made a WHOLE lot more sense now. The thing that really surprised me was how much work the guys had to do in their 2+ hours on the surface. Amazed they got it all done!

    Those first men who set foot on the Moon achieved something great, standing on the shoulders of the rest of us who guided them on the way, supported the space effort, and clamored for the images and sounds. They set fire to people’s imaginations, and spurred a great many of us who go on and seek careers in science.  I got hooked on astronomy and space science. Other people I know became doctors and physicists and planetary scientists and science teachers and planetarium directors, based on what they saw that night in 1969 and on subsequent missions to the Moon. We all were inspired to dream big.

    There’s no way we can replicate the exact conditions of political will and courage that it took for 1960s politicians and corporations to get behind space exploration. But, we need to know that it was a golden age of technological development and science education. Those are things we CAN and DO need to kickstart in my country again (the U.S.). It won’t be easy. The political will needs to be there, and the best way to make that political will happen is to make science research, technology and a serious space program a priority.

    What we CAN do is elect people who have more than venal self-interest at heart, who aren’t bought and paid for by oligarchs who only see their profits and can’t see that people with good jobs are an important part of a successful country. We need people who CAN see that space exploration and the technology that flows from it, is at humanity’s best interests. At the very least, it beats the crap out of funding wars and giving tax cuts to people who don’t need them. We don’t get ahead by sitting on our hands and letting some people slide (and get corporate welfare) while others do the work (but don’t get the rewards).



  • [Article 6798]Rosetta’s Comet Target is a Rotating Two-body Comet


    What do You Do When Your Target Looks like a Rubber Ducky in Space?

    A sequence of 36 interpolated images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko each separated by approximately 20 minutes. The images were obtained by OSIRIS on July 14th, 2014 from a distance of approximately 12,000 kilometers (Courtesy: SA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

    Imagine designing a mission to land a probe on a comet. You have to make some assumptions about the comet nucleus, such as its shape, rotation rate, velocity, and what kind of ice it’s made of.  That’s what the planners for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission had to do, and this week, they’re getting the first up-close images of the target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. When the first views came from the spacecraft, I’m sure the scientists were probably incredibly excited to find out that this comet is not just your run-of-the-mill dented-in icy nucleus with a few jets. No way.  Instead, they’ve drawn the cosmic equivalent of a winning lottery ticket: a sort of double-lobed shaped nucleus that someone described as a rotating “rubber ducky” in space.

    Check it out for yourself.

    Yes, this is not like any other comet astronomers have seen.  And, it’s spurring a LOT of speculation. I used to study comets in grad school, and several questions came to mind immediately. For starters, how did it get to be this shape? Was this nucleus once two chunks of ice that somehow slammed together in the past and are now orbiting wildly in orbit? That would make it the first “contact binary” comet discovered.  Or, was it one huge chunk of ice that somehow got eroded or broken apart, leaving behind this rotating ducky-shaped object?

    To answer the question the mission scientists will use the Rosetta spacecraft’s instruments and cameras to study the surface characteristics of the comet. The data they gather will tell them the ice and mineral makeup. If the nucleus came from one body, then the whole thing should show the same mineralogical makeup. If it came from two different bodies, then the studies will show slight (or perhaps not-so-slight) differences in the ices and dust grains on the surface.

    When Rosetta gets to the comet (and the scientists decide to deploy it), it will send a small lander called Philae to settle down to the surface to give us some views from the comet, and also give some first-hand information about the surface materials it will be sitting on. Of course, with a two-body comet, now the big question is, WHERE do you land it?  In particular, if this comet turns out to be made of two different chunks of ice and dust, which side do you pick to study?

    Stay tuned because Rosetta is supposed to be at its closest approach to the comet on the morning of August 6th, 2014. It will be an exciting morning for another solar system “first”!