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Solar Eclipse 08 March 2016 March 8, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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Tonights solar eclipse might not be visible in the US, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss it!

Watch on NASA TV, and learn more about the research astronomers and planetary scientists can do:

Messenger comes to an end April 29, 2015

Posted by aquillam in MichiganAstro.
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I am nowhere near as talented as Bill Dunford, who created this beautiful tribute video, but here are my two cents on the end of the messenger mission.

Some 20 years ago, a small group of students from the recently formed Student Astronomical Society hopped on a bus and went up to the University of Michigan north campus to see a piece of a spacecraft. It was a mass spectrometer built by some of our fellow students (I think few faculty and staff members were involved too.) We joined probably 200 other people to see the instrument off. It was a little surreal, this tiny thing sitting under a clear cover with steam from the liquid nitrogen pouring out all over the stage. We were all very excited. A little piece of Michigan was going off to the planet Mercury.

At that time, Mercury was a very mysterious world. We didn’t even know what most of it surfaced looked like. It had an oddly strong magnetic field, and jumbled terrain unlike anything else we’d seen in the solar system.  If you had told me then that there were volcanoes on this tiny planet, I wouldn’t have believed you.

We’ve learned a lot in the past 20 years. Personally, I’ve certainly learned that 20 years is a very short time indeed, but it appears to go by so slowly that sometimes you need an event like this to put into perspective.

And now, at around 3:26 pm ET on April 30, a little piece of Michigan will be part of the planet Mercury.


Letters of Note: Why Explore Space? August 6, 2012

Posted by aquillam in Science.
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Letters of Note: Why Explore Space?.

This is a letter from Ernst Stuhlinger, Marshall Space Flight Center’s Associate Director for Science in 1970. It is in response to a nun, who asked why we should spend billions of dollars toward space exploration when there a children starving here on Earth. It’s an appropriate post for the day after Curiosity landed of Mars.

40 years latter, I find the letter to be highly relevant.

Big, broad, goals lead to big, broad, results, which usually lead to many other deeply beneficial results that seem completely unrelated to the original goals.

THIS is why we invest in science. This. | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine March 21, 2012

Posted by aquillam in Science.
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THIS is why we invest in science. This. | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine.

When I was in college, I told a fellow student that I was an astronomy major. He said he liked astronomy and all, but he wanted to do something that actually mattered.

This actually struck me as really stupid, because astronomers generally get started because they are asking the Really Big Questions about Life, the Universe and Everything. People white whole books about those questions (not all of them humor or fiction.) Other people actually buy those books, sometimes centuries or even milenia latter. Those questions obviously matter on some level.

But I knew what he meant. “Where did the Earth come from” doesn’t really matter much if your house is on fire. He wanted to do work that would (for example) make it easier and safer to put out a fire.

The trouble is, when you’re working on better ways to put out a house fire, that’s all you do. You usually start from the current techniques, and see what modifications will make it better.The people paying you are probably going to frown on it if you say you’d like to start by building a rocket engine.
And that would be too bad, ’cause that rocket engine is amazing.