# Recently in Astronomy Category

## NAC Committee Is Against NASA EPO Changes

Issue: Removal of EPO Functions from SMD: "Finding: The result of this long-term dedication to education and public outreach is an extremely efficient process where scientists and educators routinely collaborate on developing high-impact content for education and public engagement. In contrast, the proposed realignment shifts all education and outreach efforts far from the actual science being communicated. The end result may appear to improve the process by removal of functional redundancies, but actually separates the content providers at NASA from the agencies tasked with providing EPO programs. This will likely necessitate new layers of personnel to interface between NASA scientists and educational professionals in the Department of Education, NSF, and the Smithsonian. Furthermore, the new implementation effectively counteracts the astrophysics community's long-standing dedication to outreach and education, by clearly making these activities "somebody else's job."

## Hearing: Exoplanet Discoveries: Have We Found Other Earths?

"The purpose of the hearing is to review the recent discovery of three super-Earth sized planets by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Kepler space telescope. The hearing will also assess the state of exoplanet surveying, characterization, and research; NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program; National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Astronomical Science; as well as coordination within the government and with external partners. NASA and NSF both contribute to the search for exoplanets."

Prepared Statements

- John Grunsfeld, NASA
- Laurance Doyle, SETI Institute
- Rep. Steven Palazzo
- Rep. Larry Bucshon
- Rep. Lamar Smith

## Huntsville Times Thinks Voyager Is Leaving the Milky Way - Soon

Voyager 1 achievements not unlike Magellan travels, moon landing, Huntsville Times

"The science is dazzling enough: the discoveries made and the measurements gauged by Voyager 1 as it hurtles toward the outer reaches of the Milky Way. But to Gary Zank, this is more than mere science."

"... What makes Voyager 1 unique, however, is that it is approaching the edge of the Milky Way. It's possible it could leave the solar system and travel into what Zank described as the "pristine" interstellar medium. In other words, to be completely free of the Milky Way and the sun's influence."

"... As for the future of Voyager 1, there is no consensus. Some scientists believe the tiny spacecraft is on the brink of breaking through the heliosphere where Voyager is currently traveling. Once clear of the heliosphere, Voyager 1 will be clear of the Milky Way."

"... Zank, however, said he believes that achievement is still five or six years away. Then a hydrogen wall barrier that has built up on the edge of the Milky Way must be cleared - something that, Zank estimates, won't happen until at least 2022 and possibly not until 2027."

"... Oh, definitely, I'll be very happy to be wrong," Zank said of the opportunity to get that pristine view beyond the Milky Way. "It will also mean I've got a lot of thinking to do about why I went wrong. But that's another good project to work on at that point."

Keith's note: Huh? The Huntsville Times thinks Voyager is approaching the edge of the Milky Way? They say this 5 times so they must think it is true.

Keith's update: The article has been fixed. This is what it originally said.

## NASA Discovers Millions of Black Holes

"Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found. These powerful galaxies that burn brightly with infrared light are nicknamed hot DOGs. "WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects," said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

## Multiple Planets Circling a Binary Star

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. The system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Coming less than a year after the announcement of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, this discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star."

## Component of Life Found Near Sun-like Star

"The astronomers found molecules of glycolaldehyde -- a simple form of sugar -- in the gas surrounding a young binary star, with similar mass to the Sun, called IRAS 16293-2422. Glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before, but this is the first time it has been found so near to a Sun-like star, at distances comparable to the distance of Uranus from the Sun in the Solar System. This discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation."

## NSF Wants To Get Rid of Multiple Major Telescopes

"In 2011 NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) commenced a Portfolio Review process in order to review the entire portfolio of AST-supported facilities, programs and other activities. The goal of the review was to recommend to AST how support for existing facilities, programs, and activities should be prioritized and interleaved with new initiatives recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal surveys, within the limitations of realistic future budgets."

"AUI and NRAO have made a preliminary examination of the report released today from the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee (PRC). Among the recommendations of that report are that the NSF's Green Bank Telescope and Very Long Baseline Array be fully divested from the NSF Astronomy Division's portfolio of research facilities in the next five years, with no further funding from the Astronomy Division. AUI and NRAO recognize and acknowledge the need to retire obsolete facilities to make way for the state-of-the-art. However, both the GBT and the VLBA are the state-of-the-art, and have crucial capabilities that cannot be provided by other facilities. Separately the two telescopes provide unparalleled scientific access to the universe. When their information is combined, the instruments provide the highest sensitivity and resolution available for any astronomical instrument in the world."

## Dark Galaxies Discovered

"For the first time, dark galaxies -- an early phase of galaxy formation, predicted by theory but unobserved until now -- may have been spotted. These objects are essentially gas-rich galaxies without stars. Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, an international team thinks they have detected these elusive objects by observing them glowing as they are illuminated by a quasar."

## Private Asteroid Telescope To Be Launched

"Announcement: On June 28, 2012, the B612 Foundation will announce its plans to build, operate and launch the world's first privately funded deep space mission-a space telescope to be placed in orbit around the Sun. We will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system showing the current and future locations and trajectories of Earth-crossing asteroids, paving the way to protect the Earth from future impacts and opening up the Solar System to future exploration."

"Moore said that the hardware had been "declassified" so that NASA could use it. So, I asked, since it was "declassified", what the names of these telescopes were and if we could have photos of the hardware. Moore declined to provide the names of the telescopes - or of anything NRO was providing, said that we could not have photos (because things were classified), and that we should go talk to the NRO's public relations office. For starters, telling someone to talk to the NRO public affairs office is like suggesting that I find the nearest brick wall to talk to. What had me a bit baffled was why NASA could not provide photos of declassified hardware - suggesting that it was not really declassified at all. So which is it - declassified or not?"

Keith's note: But wait. This image was posted on MSNBC captioned "A redacted photo shows one of the telescopes transferred from the National Reconnaissance Office to NASA." and the source is "A. Dressler via National Academies". NASA refuses to issue images to the media but they give the same imagery to the NAS and they release it to the media? But NASA can't?

Keith's update: J.D. Harrington at NASA PAO tells me "I'm told that this is an old picture of the Hubble Space Telescope in its ground handling fixture being moved in the clean room during integrated testing and is not related toany classified hardware. It was included by the author of the CAA presentation yesterday to provide some levity to his somewhat dry science discussion." Dressler was on the media telecon yesterday when NASA refused to provide photos. So.... a senior representative of the National Academies of Science (Dressler) is issuing photos that they either claim are authentic and/or know are not authentic - and do so after hearing that NASA cannot/will not release them.

NASA is holding a semi-stealth media telecon - but only for selected media - and I got 13 minutes advanced notice. Alas, NASA claims that they are not holding "media telecons" about the NRO telescopes and they tell this to media during a "media telecon". Goofy.

## NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!)

NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy, Washington Post

"The U.S. government's secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens. They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics."

## NASA Finds A New Way To Use Old Spacecraft

"NASA is lending the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, where the spacecraft will continue its exploration of the cosmos. In a first-of-a-kind move for NASA, a Space Act Agreement was signed May 14 so the university soon can resume spacecraft operations and data management for the mission using private funds."

Keith's note: Wow. Is NASA going to adopt this approach for the reuse of other spacecraft? This could be very interesting.

## Wanted: Meteor Imagery

"NASA and the SETI Institute are asking the public for more information to help find amateur photos and video footage of the daylight meteor that illuminated the sky over the Sierra Nevada mountains and created sonic booms that were heard over a wide area at 7:51 a.m. PDT Sunday, April 22, 2012."

"Fifteen members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are traveling to Washington, DC, April 24-25 to thank Congress for recent appropriations in the fiscal year 2013 spending bill and to express the need for continued federal funding of research and development (R&D) programs, which are critically important to American economic growth."

## Extending Missions, Operating Hubble Means Cuts Elsewhere

NASA Astrophysics Urged To Slim Down, Aviation Week

"The SRC strongly urges the HST to consider all possible avenues, vigorously pursuing ways to accelerate cost reductions without compromising mission safety even if some science is not enabled," the panel cautioned the Hubble team in the April 4 report that included the Kepler extension recommendation. "To keep HST operating while maintaining the overall balance of NASA's astrophysics program, it will be necessary to seek further cost reductions, even at the expense of some observing efficiency."

NASA Extends Kepler, Spitzer, Planck Missions

"NASA is extending three missions affiliated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. -- Kepler, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the U.S. portion of the European Space Agency's Planck mission -- as a result of the 2012 Senior Review of Astrophysics Missions. The 2012 NASA Senior Review report, which includes these three missions and six others also being extended, is available at: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2012-senior-review."

## Shameless Kissing Up To Congress at STScI

"One of the world's largest astronomy archives, containing a treasure trove of information about myriad stars, planets, and galaxies, has been named in honor of the United States Senator from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski. ... In addition, an exploding star that the Hubble Space Telescope spotted on Jan. 25, 2012, has been named Supernova Mikulski by Nobel Laureate Adam Riess and the supernova search team with which he is currently working. The supernova, which lies 7.4 billion light-years away, is the titanic detonation of a star more than eight times our Sun's mass."

Keith's note: This has to be one of the most shameless acts of kissing up to a congressional benefactor in recent years. Anything that Sen. Mikuski did in her job involved taxpayer dollars and she often favored projects in her own state at the expense of equally meritorious projects located in other states. I wonder if the STScI folks bothered to tell Sen. Mikulski that they can't actually name stars after anyone. Under the archaic way that astronomers name objects and features, only the IAU can name things. Also, it would seem, according to IAU's rules, that there is no process for naming a supernova after a person i.e. "Supernovae are named for their year of occurrance and an uppercase letter, e.g., "SN 1987A". If the alphabet is exhausted, double lower case naming is used: [Year] aa .. az, ba .. bz, etc; e.g., "SN 1997bs"." And if IAU does allow this name to become official they too become a party to this blatant act of political payback and simply undermine what the credibility that their naming rules have.

NASA Science Chief Statement on Naming of Space Telescope Science Institute's Astronomical Database for Senator Mikulski

"The Space Telescope Science Institute's decision to name its database for Senator Mikulski is an honor very much deserved. She is a tremendous advocate and supporter for science, NASA and the astrophysics community."

Keith's update: (Sigh) now NASA itself has gotten in on the official political pandering as well. Maybe we should name JSC's Mission Control Center the "Kay Bailey Hutchison Mission Control Center" and the VAB the "Bill Nelson Big Rocket Barn". I wonder how many hours were charged at NASA and STScI to concocting and celebrating this whole activity. I guess there is a side benefit to this. The next time JWST goes over budget Sen. Mikulski is certain to support another infusion of cash.

## News Embargo Inconsistencies

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun."

First Earth-sized Planets Found, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The paper describing the finding will be published in the journal Nature."

Keith's 20 Dec note: How cool. Yet NASA PAO only offers less than 24 hours advanced notice about this announcement and the event is scheduled while people are on vacation or holiday shopping? Yes, I know all about Nature magazine's archaic and self-imposed rules regarding publication, etc. NASA is apparently powerless to challenge the way that external publications release news of its own discoveries. Why NASA cannot simply dictate TO these publications how NASA wishes announce its own taxpayer-funded discoveries simply baffles me. These journals ought to be competing with one another to publish astonishing news like this - not telling NASA if/when it can. These "first" announcements only happen once. I simply do not understand why NASA rushes to put out half-baked news and then misses a chance to fully promote and explain astonishing gems such as this news.

"The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans. The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health."

Keith's 21 Dec update: Hmm, the government asks Science and Nature to restrict the publishing of certain information and they object. Yet they refuse to allow NASA to discuss its own research in advance of a publication embargo. These journals want to have it both ways.

Of course, the odd thing about this Kepler story is that Nature story embargoes do not normally lift several days in advance of publication - this week's issue comes out on 22 December. If NASA and Nature stuck to their usual process the press conference would have been held after 1:00 pm EST today. What's up with that?

Word has it that NASA got wind of a paper - in the same edition of Nature "A compact system of small planets around a former red-giant star" which says "Here we report the presence of two nearly Earth-sized bodies orbiting the post-red-giant, hot B subdwarf star KIC 05807616 ... KIC 05807616 (also known as KPD 194314058) is a seemingly isolated pulsating hot B subdwarf (sdB) star that has been monitored by the Kepler satellite primarily for the study of its oscillations". They used Kepler archival data and it would seem that NASA did not want to have someone else scoop them on finding the first Earth-sized planets without NASA making the announcement.

So, Kepler has found two more Earth-sized extrasolar planets. But not a peep from NASA.

Discovery of two Earth-size planets raises questions about the evolution of stars, University of Montreal

"While analyzing the data obtained with the NASA Kepler mission ..."

"Kawaler said NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is a tremendous tool for studying stars and planets. So much so, astronomers are working to extend the Kepler mission another four years, from 2012 into 2016."

Astronomers Discover Deep-Fried Planets, University of Arizona

"... the team used data obtained from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope for this study."

## Webb Space Telescope Events on Capitol Hill Today

"Featuring: Eric Smith, NASA Headquarters, Dr. John Grunsfeld, Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Dr. Meg Urry, Yale University, and Pam Whitney, House Committee on Science & Technology (invited)."

House Science, Space & Tech Committee Hearing - Assessing the James Webb Space Telescope

"Witnesses:
- [Statement] Rick Howard, Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, NASA,
- [Statement] Roger Blandford, Professor of Physics, Stanford University,
- [Statement] Garth Illingworth, Professor & Astronomer, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz,
- [Statement] Jeffrey D. Grant, Sector Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Division, Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems"

## Kepler Finds Planet in Habitable Zone of Sunlike Star (With Video)

"NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets."

Kepler-22b: A 2.4 Earth-radius Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Sun-like Star

"A search of the time-series photometry from NASA's Kepler spacecraft reveals a transiting planet candidate orbiting the 11th magnitude G5 dwarf KIC 10593626 with a period of 290 days. The characteristics of the host star are well constrained by high-resolution spectroscopy combined with an asteroseismic analysis of the Kepler photometry, leading to an estimated mass and radius of 0.970 +/- 0.060 MSun and 0.979 +/- 0.020 RSun. The depth of 492 +/- 10ppm for the three observed transits yields a radius of 2.38 +/- 0.13 REarth for the planet."

## NASA Budget: What to Cut, What To Save?

Budget pressures squeeze the dreams of Mars explorers, Washington Post

"At a White House meeting during the last week of October, administration officials "were clearly not very keen on signing up" for unmanned Mars missions in 2016 and 2018, said Daniel Britt, who attended the meeting as head of the planetary science division of the American Astronomical Society. ... White House officials said no decision to kill the Mars program has been made. The administration is deliberating how to mete out NASA's uncertain budget, said Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."

NASA Funding Added to Must-pass Minibus, Space News

"NASA funding is among the differences House and Senate conferees must resolve before the two chambers can give final approval to the so-called minibus the week of Nov. 14. House appropriators voted this summer to fund NASA at $16.8 billion -- about$1.6 billion below this year's level -- and recommended canceling the overbudget James Webb Space Telescope. The Senate bill, in contrast, would fund NASA at $17.9 billion and include additional money for Webb." ## Bolden's Plan for Webb "Bolden said Friday he does not intend to cut any single program to make sure that Webb proceeds as planned. Instead, NASA is working with the White House to provide Wolf and his subcommittee with a list of cuts across the agency, he said. "We didn't want to reward Webb by killing a program that was doing well," said Bolden, who became the head the agency about two years ago. The cuts would be proposed from both the institutional and science sectors of NASA, he said." ## NASA Money Sponge Update Editorial: Identify JWST's Bill Payers, editorial, Space News "... the Space Launch System, which per the House and Senate spending bills is slated to receive nearly$2 billion next year, is an appropriate bill payer for JWST. Given that NASA has no established exploration destination requiring the heavy-lift rocket on the schedule mandated by Congress, stretching out its development to help fund an observatory of undeniable scientific merit -- its substantial problems notwithstanding -- is a fair trade."

JWST and SLS: Dueling Giant Money Sponges, earlier post

"So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs. It will also pit these money sponges' ever-growing chronic need for dollars against the other's similar insatiable appetite. And all of this will happen while the Federal budget is almost certainly going to be constrained - regardless of who wins the 2012 election. So, will someone explain to me how NASA is going to build and launch both JWST and SLS and have money left over to do all of the other things that it is both chartered to do - and directed to do - by Congress?"

## NASA Funded Astronomer Wins Nobel Prize

"Three U.S.-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for overturning a fundamental assumption in their field by showing that the expansion of the universe is constantly accelerating. ... Riess, 41, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland."

Keith's note: Nothing from NASA PAO. NASA funds the Space Telescope Science Institute. All three have used Hubble and other NASA resources.

## Found Tatooine, We Have

From Star Wars to Science Fact: Tatooine-like Planet Discovered, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"Although cold and gaseous rather than a desert world, the newfound planet Kepler-16b is still the closest astronomers have come to discovering Luke Skywalker's home world of Tatooine. Like Tatooine, Kepler-16b enjoys a double sunset as it circles a pair of stars approximately 200 light-years from Earth. It's not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy."

Tatooine-Like Planet Discovered, Carnegie Institution for Science

"A planet with two suns may be a familiar sight to fans of the "Star Wars" film series, but not, until now, to scientists. A team of researchers, including Carnegie's Alan Boss, has discovered a planet that orbits around a pair of stars. Their remarkable findings will be published Sept. 16 in Science."

NASA's Kepler Discovery Confirms First Planet Orbiting Two Stars

"Unlike Star Wars' Tatooine, the planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Previous research has hinted at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Kepler detected such a planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it."

## Senate Approps Cuts NASA Budget, Boosts Webb

* The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $17.9 billion, a reduction of$509 million or 2.8 percent from the FY2011 enacted level.

* The bill preserves NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments, including the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the heavy lift Space Launch System, and commercial crew development.

* The bill provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

## Webb Cost Overruns Concern AAS Members (Update)

"The AAS should continue to be a strong advocate of the JWST, while being mindful of the concerns of all its divisions. I know from your activities in support of the various decadal surveys that all of the divisions are well represented by the society. However, the cost of the JWST threatens to swamp us all and the AAS should be careful, as a multi-disciplinary organization, to balance the various concerns of each of its constituents and to work towards a solution that does not promote one division's interests at the expense of another's. The SPD is anxious to work together with all of our AAS colleagues to find an effective and equitable way forward."

Earlier posts about James Webb Space Telescope Issues

Keith's update: Acccording to Kevin Marvel at the AAS "I think that is an irresponsible position to take and believe that you should reveal the source of the letter, who is likely conflicted due to financial ties to future heliophysics missions. The source is not AAS." I don't get it. The letter is on AAS SPD letterhead from the head of a AAS division. See for yourself: Download the original letter on AAS SPD letterhead. And this is not from an individual, Kevin - it is from a committee whose membership was elected by the AAS SPD membership. As for this Marvel's absurd suggestion that there is a conflict of interest with regard to the author of this letter, this is a classic case of pot-kettle-black. Gee, as if there are no members of the AAS who have a vested interest in seeing JWST funded. This is just blatant, transparent hypocrisy.

Keith's further update: Kevin Marvel just sent this statement:

"The American Astronomical Society represents more than 7500 astronomers, planetary scientists, heliophysicists and others connected to the research endeavor broadly labeled as 'astronomy'. To best represent the interests of these specialized fields, the Society grants its Divisions the ability to print their own letterhead. SpaceRef earlier today (September 8, 2011) posted a letter, which was a communication from the leadership of the Solar Physics Division to the leadership of the Society. SpaceRef claims the source of the letter is the Society in its online posting. It is correct that the Society's name is printed on the letterhead, but it is also true that the letter was not forwarded to SpaceRef from any member of the AAS leadership who were the recipients of the letter. It is difficult to understand how the 'source' of a letter could be the organization listed as the recipient of the letter. The authorship of the letter rests firmly with the Solar Physics Division of the organization. The source who provided the letter to SpaceRef remains unidentified. The Society and its Divisions will continue to work actively to support the Decadal Priorities for all of our Divisions and all of our members."

This gets goofier by the minute. It matters not whether AAS sent this to NASA Watch/SpaceRef formally or not, the source is the AAS. It would seem that AAS allows people to use its letterhead who (apparently) do not represent the AAS (at least when they say things that diverge from the official AAS position that is). But wait - this is from the chair of the AAS SPD - part of the AAS. I am confused. So is the AAS.

There are deep and growing divisions within the AAS - and the space/planetary science community - with regard to JWST and Kevin Marvel is obviously afraid to admit this. I'll bet that this letter - written by the Chair of the AAS SPD to the AAS will never make it onto the AAS website with all the glowing pro-Webb commentary.

## NASA Money Sponge Update

NASA's smaller programs could be at risk, Orlando Sentinel

"The trend has alarmed astronomers and others, who are concerned that less-visible projects -- such as robotic Mars missions and various space probes -- will be sacrificed. "So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs," wrote Keith Cowing in a recent post on his influential blog NASA Watch."

JWST and SLS: Dueling Giant Money Sponges, earlier post

## Robbing Human Space Flight To Bail Out Webb

NASA to share telescope cost, Nature

## Save Webb Campaign Begins (Update)

"The American Astronomical Society calls upon all members of Congress to support JWST to its completion and to provide strong oversight on the path to this goal. Too many taxpayer dollars have already been spent to cancel the mission now; its benefits far outweigh the remaining costs. We must see the mission through. We are a great nation and we do great things. JWST represents our highest aspirations and will be one of our most significant accomplishments."

AURA Reaction to Proposed Cancellation of JWST, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

"In commenting on the proposed cancellation, Dr. William S. Smith, President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said "Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA's science program. JWST is NASA's premier science facility, unsurpassed by any other telescope now or in the future."

Keith's note: Hmm ... no mention of the large JWST contract that AURA has with Space Telescope Science Institute is made in this AURA statement ...

## AAS Reaction to House Approps Action on JWST

"The proposal released on July 6 by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope would waste more taxpayer dollars than it saves while simultaneously undercutting the critical effort to utilize American engineering and ingenuity to expand human knowledge. Such a proposal threatens American leadership in the fields of astrophysics and advanced space technology while likely eliminating hundreds, if not thousands, of high-tech jobs. Additionally, this proposal comes before the completion of a revised construction plan and budget for a launch of JWST by 2018. The United States position as the leader in astronomy, space science, and spaceflight is directly threatened by this proposal."

## Congressional Move to Cancel Webb

Keith's note: According to a tweet by Brian Berger at Space News: "House CJS mark also "terminates funding for [JWST] , which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management".

## Scolese: Webb Launch Could Slip to 2022-2024 (Updated)

Keith's 19 May note: Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024. The cost of JWST has grown from an initial$1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to$4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks$6 billion out of NASA's budget - money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.

If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise in the work force in academia, the private sector - and at NASA.

NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: "The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST's launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities."

## Kepler Spacecraft Enters Safe Mode

"On Dec. 22, 2010, Kepler experienced a safe mode event. A safe mode is a self-protective measure that the spacecraft takes when something unexpected occurs. During safe mode, the spacecraft points the solar panels directly at the sun and begins to slowly rotate about a sun-aligned axis. This safe mode orientation provides the vehicle with the maximum power, and limits the buildup of momentum from the solar wind."

## Lunar Eclipse Photo

"A total lunar eclipse is seen as the full moon is shadowed by the Earth on the arrival of the winter solstice, Tuesday, December 21, 2010 in Arlington, VA. The eclipse lasted about three hours and twenty-eight minutes. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into the Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red."

## Kepler Team Moves Up Next Data Release Date

"The Kepler project wishes to inform the community that it is moving the next data release date (originally planned for June 2011) forward to 1 February 2011. This data set (Quarter 2) is the first consisting of a complete 3 months of observations. It will contain light curves for approximately 165,000 stars (most of which are late-type Main Sequence stars) brighter than 16th magnitude in the Cygnus & Lyra constellations sampled at a 30-minute cadence. Three subsets of one-month each of [up to 512] stars were sampled at 1 min cadence. The shorter cadence data will be released on the same schedule."

## Webb Fixes Need To Start On The 9th Floor

Keith's note: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project started under NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Associate Administrator Ed Weiler. Virtually all of its chronic and unabated cost increases and schedule slips have occured under Weiler's watch either at NASA HQ or at NASA GSFC. When former SMD AA Alan Stern tried to bring the escalating costs of programs such as JWST and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) under control, in 2008, multiple NASA sources note that Chris Scoelese and Ed Weiler maneuvered to force Stern's resignation, in a classic NASA "shoot the messenger" move, with Weiler taking Stern's place within barely a week.

Meanwhile in a statement prepared for Bolden, it is evident that the agency is in complete denial when it comes to the severity of its escalating costs for government projects. Didn't the recent election sent a rather clear message from the electorate with regard to their dissatisfaction with out of control government spending? Add in the soaring overruns on MSL (another Weiler managerial fiasco) and National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) - a project managed for the agency by Chris Scolese, and you see three large fiscal black holes sucking away at all the other things the agency is supposed to be doing for science, and exploration.

Bolden's response? He wants Weiler and Scoelese to spend more time watching JWST. These two have presided over years of cost growth and schedule delays that have damaged multiple projects within SMD, and which now threaten to damage the Agency's reputation as a whole. Perhaps it is Weiler and Scoelese that need to be changed out ...

This latest cost increase/schedule delay happened throughout Charlie Bolden's entire tenure with both Scolese and Weiler overseeing this program at NASA HQ under Bolden's direct, daily management. Perhaps Gen. Bolden doesn't realize his connection to the collective mismanagement of these projects is itself becoming as clear as the vacuum of space ...

Keith's update: Word has it that there will be a press conference on Monday where some heads will roll as this mess is reorganized under Chris Scolese. Stay tuned.

NASA GSFC Internal Email: Center Director Announces Organizational Changes - JWST

"For the past 8 years, the JWST team has been led by Phil Sabelhaus, and in my view, no one could have been more effective leading this government, industry, and international team, especially in light of the enormous challenges and constraints. That said, there are times in the life-cycle of a project when change is beneficial, not only to the undertaking but also to the individuals involved. On JWST, that time is now. Effective today, I have named Bill Ochs to be the JWST Project Manager, and Phil will replace Bill as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission Project Manager."

Keith's update: No press conference - instead, just a quiet internal email to everyone at GSFC instead.

NASA GSFC Internal Email: Center Director Announces Organizational Changes - JWST

## Kepler Observes Starquakes

"An international cadre of scientists that used data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft announced Tuesday the detection of stellar oscillations, or "starquakes," that yield new insights about the size, age and evolution of stars. The results were presented at a news conference at Aarhus University in Denmark by scientists representing the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC). The team studied thousands of stars observed by Kepler, releasing what amounts to a roster of some of humanity's most well-characterized stars."

## Possibly Habitable Planet Found

"A team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone."

## NASA-Funded Apologist Blames Media for Kepler's Botched PR

Did Kepler Astronomer Realy Jump The Gun?, Ray Villard, Discovery News

"Science reporters were primed for this "shoot-ready-aim" response because they are growing impatient with one of NASA's most exciting and inspiring space observatory missions."

Keith's note: Gee Ray, I suppose you have data to back up this wacky claim. Could it be that the media reacted to what Sasselov actually said?

"The semantics over "Earth-like" and "Earth-sized" got confused in stories. Let's set the record straight. Kepler will never find an Earth-like planet. All Kepler is seeing is the shadows of planets as they pass in front of their star (transits). .... Once on the Internet, Sasselov's lecture was translated by reporters. Important ideas got misinterpreted in the translation. This was due in part to the fact that no press conference or substantive press release accompanied the June publication of some of the data."

Keith's note: These are after the fact attempts at spinning things on your part, Ray. Sasselov said "Earth-like". Its on his charts as well. So if these worlds are not "Earth-like" then it is the fault of the media and the general public for not knowing that "Earth-like" does not really mean "Earth-like"? If so, then why did Sasselov say "Earth-like" in the first place? As for your suggestion that media "translated" his comments (anyone can watch the video by the way) - they didn't translate them at all. Sasselov used the words "Earth-like" - and so did the media.

At no point in this article (or at the link to his other articles) does Ray Villard bother to mention that he works at the Space Telescope Science Institute as News Chief (villard@stsci.edu). STSCI operates NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and funds for Villard's salary come from ... NASA.

## Kepler Mess: We Could Certainly Use Carl Sagan Right Now

Kepler Mission - Errare HumanumEst, Natalie Batalha Kepler Co-Investigator, Beyond The Cradle

"Should NASA screen everything that the team plans to say in public? Should we, the Kepler team, screen everything our colleagues plan to say in public? I think that the best we can do is ask our colleagues for advice to make sure that we are understood. Perhaps that would have helped Dimitar. There are articles out there that say he shouldn't be allowed to speak in public. Yes, you heard me correctly -- that he shouldn't be allowed to speak. Rubbish. I can only say that I will take this PR blunder any day of the week over a work environment that does not give me academic freedom to speak within the reasonable agreements that I have with my colleagues. Any day."

Keith's note: Let me be clear, does Ditimar Sasselov have the right to speak his mind in public about his research? Of course he does. Does Sasselov have a professional responsibility as the Co-Investigator on an enormously expensive, taxpayer-funded NASA mission to get his facts straight before he speaks? Of course he does. Does he (and the rest of his team) need to be internally and externally consistent when it comes to the rationale for what they do or do not want to release, how they release it, and where they release it? Of course they do.

Perhaps most importantly, do the people who are chosen to speak publicly (and those who decide to speak publicly on their own) about these enormously important research projects need to understand how to communicate their jargon-filled, complex ideas to the public at large? Of course they do. Bad communication is often worse than no communication at all.

Millions of people stopped what they were doing to read these stories about "Earth-like planets" circling other suns. Such words have meaning. 99.999% of humans don't dwell on the nature of planetary cores and the other excuses offered in support of the use of the term "Earth-like" in this lecture. We live on Earth. This guy said there are worlds out there "like Earth". Lots of them. When most people hear the words "Earth-like" they look out the window at Earth. They don't run to grab a textbook or Google some planetary geology website.

This is paradigm shifting stuff. Its about confirmation of centuries of speculation and dreaming as to the nature of our world's uniqueness and/or commonness with regard to the universe around us. Now the Kepler team is fumbling its way through clarification of what was said and was not said, implied and miscommunicated.

Instead of channeling the eventual (and apparently inevitable if the statistics are to be believed) incredible news in a way that could really show the world what is waiting out there for us, back peddling and PR spinning is now what we hear. We should be cheering in the streets. As far as small little rocky worlds go, we are not alone. How profound is that !? Alas, when the news is eventually released, as everyone seems to think it will be, there will be a caveat tossed in - people will wonder if this is the real thing or yet another false alarm. Leave it to NASA scientists to screw up a good thing like this.

If you are going to go out and talk about things with such an epochal potential for all humans to think about, you owe it to everyone involved (in other words everyone, everywhere) to make damn sure you know how to convey this information. If not, then find someone who can do it.

We could certainly use Carl Sagan right now.

## Webb Team Has CR Worries

Keith's note: Word has it that there are big worries at NASA and Northrop Grumman with regard to Webb Space Telescope. If NASA ends up operating under a Continuing Resolution - one that does not provide the increased funds that Webb requires - there is a fear that large layoffs may be in the near-term forecast. Stay tuned.

## Kepler Withholds Data While NASA Struggles To Be Relevant

Exoplanets: Show me the data!, Nature

"And according to NASA Watch, the NASA astrophysics division is prohibiting discussion of the new 306 candidate planets until they are confirmed, even though they are now out in the public; the NASA press release associated with the data dump makes no mention of the 306 new candidates."

Kepler Craft Reports Apparent Planetary Bonanza, Science News

"The newly reported findings don't include details about the most interesting 400 of the 706 candidate planets, which orbit the brightest stars Kepler has surveyed. These cases may offer the most promise for finding planets with masses close to Earth's own. Information on these 400 planets won't be made public until next February."

Kepler space telescope finds possible planets, SF Chronicle

"It was only 15 years ago that Swiss astronomers discovered the first "exoplanet" orbiting another star beyond our solar system. Yet in only the first 43 days of its mission, Kepler discovered the 706 strange objects that astronomers are listing as candidates for planetary status."

Kepler Exoplanet Controversy Erupts, Discovery News

"Proprietary periods are nothing new, and provide a balance the helps observers out while preserving the openness of science in the long run. The complaints from the community stem from an extension of the proprietary period for the Kepler team that was granted in April. All of the data were set to be released this month, but the extension is until February 2011."

Keith's note: According to Nature "There are 306 planet candidates in the dataset, many of them Neptune sized, though as many as 50% could turn out to be false positives.". So ... why is NASA willing to release one set of data with such a potential high false positive rate - but not release the rest of the data - the data that seems to be the most provocative in its implications? If Ed Weiler and Jon Morse are really that worried about people running off with data that may not be flawless and jumping to erroneous conclusions, then why release anything in the first place? Anyone on Earth with an Internet connection can look at what was released and the papers submitted for review. This makes no sense.

NASA is struggling to be seen as being more relevant to people - in their daily lives and the future their children will inherit. As such, dangling this tantalizing stuff just out of reach for incompletely explained and outmoded reasons does little to help the agency appear to be relevant - and worth the investment.

Oh yes, a movie about life on an extrasolar planet - discovered by a search project such as Kepler - has grossed over $2.7 billion so far ($750 million in the U.S. alone) ... does anyone at NASA pay attention to things like this?

Kepler Data Dump - And NASA Ignores it (Update), Earlier post

## A Narrow View of NASA's Broader Vision

What's next for NASA?, Mario Livio, Baltimore Sun

"In recent days, some of those criticizing NASA's proposed budget have tried to paint a picture of an agency without a vision. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. NASA's far-reaching ambitions in space science have been, and will continue to be, truly inspiring"

Keith's note: While Livio does make a number of cogent points about space science, I find it a little odd that he can make statements about the agency's overall "vision" while making zero mention of human spaceflight. If some members of Congress have their way, NASA will need to find more money somewhere - and that somewhere may well be space science. Perhaps then he'll take the time to look at the other things that NASA does. I am rather certain that Livio was in the audience last night at the Air and Space Museum for the premiere of Hubble IMAX 3D - a movie that was equally balanced between human and robotic spaceflight. I guess he missed all of those space suited astronauts working on the gem of his institute's research - one of whom works down the hall from him at STScI ...

## Kepler Delivers

"NASA's Kepler space telescope, designed to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, has discovered its first five new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.
Kepler's high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. The discoveries were announced Monday, Jan. 4, by members of the Kepler science team during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington."

Initial (long) list of Kepler publications below:

## Running The Gauntlet at AAS

Obama set to launch vision for NASA, USA Today

"President Obama will chart a course for NASA within weeks, based on the advice of a handful of key advisers in the administration and Congress. Obama, who met Dec. 16 with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, hasn't said when or how he'll announce his new policy. The announcement likely will come by the time the president releases his fiscal 2011 budget in early February, because he must decide how much money the space agency should get."

Charles Bolden Speaks at AAS
NASA Town Hall at AAS (with Ed Weiler and Lori Garver)

Keith's 4 Jan update: According to NASA HQ PAO: "Weiler and Garver are not scheduled to speak at this event. As usual for this AAS event, the NASA Town Hall is hosted by SMD Astrophysics director Jon Morse with SMD Chief Scientist Paul Hertz in attendance."

Keith's 23 Dec note: The audience at the AAS meeting will be composed of several thousand scientists with a large number of journalists and bloggers. The questions that the audience asks of Mr. Bolden (assuming that he takes questions) and other NASA officials should be interesting. Mars Science Lab overruns continue to drain funds from other things that SMD should be doing - with more to be announced. Webb Space Telescope overruns continue - leading to an additional drain. The inside scoop is that the NASA space science budget is flat lined in the FY 2011 budget. Also, SMD will likely be carved (back) into two entities - Earth Science and Space Science thus diminishing Ed Weiler's resources. ESMD will likely be downscoped into an exploration technology R&D group with launch vehicle development shifted to SOMD. Stay tuned.

## Saudi Arabia To Collaborate With Lunar Science Institute

"NASA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) have signed a joint statement that allows for collaboration in lunar and asteroid science research. The partnership recognizes the Saudi Lunar and Near-Earth Object Science Center as an affiliate partner with the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif."

## Video: Meteor Lights Up Night Sky Above Utah

Submitted to YouTube by logolou: "A large ball of fire streaking across the night time skies just after midnight had many Utahn's wondering what they saw early Wednesday morning."

## An Interesting Extrasolar Planet Announcement Next Week

"On Monday 19 October 2009, astronomers will report at the international ESO/CAUP exoplanet conference in Porto, Portugal, on a significant discovery in the field of exoplanets, obtained with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS, the spectrograph for ESO's 3.6-meter telescope."

From the same authors, using the same instrument: arXiv:0906.2780: The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets XVIII. An Earth-mass planet in the GJ 581 planetary system

"We report here the detection of an additional planet - GJ 581e - with a minimum mass of 1.9 M_earth With a period of 3.15 days, it is the innermost planet of the system and has a 5% transit probability."

## Space & Astronomy Live From The White House Lawn

President Obama kicked off Astronomy Night on the South Lawn of the White House. Some 150 middle school students from the Washington area got to learn more about their universe using more than 20 telescopes provided by NASA and other organizations. They observed Jupiter, the moon and selected stars. Other activities included science presentations with samples of meteorites and moon rocks. NASA's Museum Alliance, a consortium of museums, science centers and planetariums conducted activities worldwide to coincide with the White House event. Astronomy Night helped note the International Year of Astronomy, a global celebration of contributions to society and culture in the 400 years since Galileo first used a telescope.

## High School Astronomy and Giant Telescopes

"A West Virginia high-school student analyzing data from a giant radio telescope has discovered a new astronomical object -- a strange type of neutron star called a rotating radio transient. Lucas Bolyard, a sophomore at South Harrison High School in Clarksburg, WV, made the discovery while participating in a project in which students are trained to scrutinize data from the National Science Foundation's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope(GBT). The project, called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), is a joint project of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and West Virginia University (WVU), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Bolyard made the discovery in March, after he already had studied more than 2,000 data plots from the GBT and found nothing."

## The Value (and Cost) of Good Education and Public Outreach

"In astronomy as in other scientific or societal fields, communication is an important aspect that no single organisation can overlook. Especially public research organisations should be accountable to the public for the tax money they use. This is only possible if the public is well informed. But this is even more crucial in order to secure additional funding for new projects.

As one scientist said, perhaps a little bit too provocatively, "the one percent spent on outreach allows one to get the 99 percent to have the project done". This is most likely too strong a statement but the general idea is there. Communication is also important to entertain the necessary excellent relations with the local communities - some of the large astronomical observatories know a lot about this.

Communication is also essential for astronomy to fulfil a fundamental role in modern society: attracting bright youngsters to scientific careers. Although girls and boys are more and more moving away from science, there is a great need for future scientists. And even if the young people won't become scientists, it is important that they are sensitive to science as a whole: as grown-ups, they won't be able to avoid relying on science in their daily life, and they will have to take decisions with a scientific dimension."

## Heads Up Space Scientists: You Need to Be Relevant Too

"Our ancestors observed the heavens for religious and secular reasons, with astronomy and astrology largely indistinguishable. Observations of stars, planets and constellations were used to create calendars that provided agricultural societies with valuable information for the seasonal planting and harvesting of crops, as well as to predict future events or to discern divine messages from the cosmos. Given the importance of such activities to the cultural identity and even physical survival of ancient people, it is not surprising that sky watchers had prominent roles in their societies. An abundance of archaeological evidence from around the world attests to the importance of the ancient astronomer. In modern times, however, public perception of astronomers began to change as astronomy evolved from an applied to a pure science. With less prominent roles in their societies, astronomers were forced to seek new forms of financial support for their scholarly activities from governments or wealthy benefactors and to justify their continued value to their fellow citizens. Although we live today in a time of remarkable astronomical discoveries, as many politicians and businesses know the public's collective memory can be short, and hence astronomers cannot afford to be complacent about our public image."

"Public Perception of Astronomers: Revered, Reviled and Ridiculed", by Michael J. West, European Southern Observatory, Invited review to appear in The Role of Astronomy in Society and Culture: Proceedings of IAU Symposium No. 260, 2009. [Full paper] [More information at astro-ph]

## NASA OIG: SOFIA has Cost Control Issues

"SOFIA Program management had made significant progress in identifying and addressing past problems associated with management structure, schedule, and quality assurance. Program management had established adequate risk assessment and quality assurance processes to oversee contractor performance with respect to the accomplishment of near-term goals. However, we found that Program management had not yet completed actions required to address the long-term servicing needs of the aircraft, had not requested an independent cost estimate (ICE), and lacked an effective cost control process to evaluate the Program's cost efficiency in meeting schedule milestones. As a result, Program management cannot accurately assess the effects of long-term aircraft servicing and maintenance on the Program's life-cycle costs, demonstrate cost efficiencies, or provide earned value for completed contractor work."

## Kepler Is On Its Way

"The Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft lifted off on time at 10:49 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spectacular nighttime launch followed a smooth countdown free of technical issues or weather concerns. The Kepler spacecraft will watch a patch of space for 3.5 years or more for signs of Earth-sized planets moving around stars similar to the sun. The patch that Kepler will watch contains about 100,000 stars like the sun. Using special detectors similar to those used in digital cameras, Kepler will look for a slight dimming in the stars as planets pass between the stars and Kepler."

## Look Up At The Sky At Sunset

Step Out Tonight, Free Space

"What are you doing this evening, right around sunset? Have a minute to step outside? Should be more than worth your time. Face south and look up. No matter where you live, no matter how bright your cities' lights. As long as it's not cloudy, you will see a beautiful and inspiring sight: two bright planets and the crescent moon. That'd be Venus and Jupiter, for those of you who like to name names."

Send Us Your Jupiter and Venus Pics!, Discovery.com

"Alan Dyer and Irene Klotz have astutely pointed out that Venus and Jupiter are set to glorify the night sky around sunset tonight (Monday, December 1st)."

## Just Say No To Overhead Projectors

Reader note: "I hope you will write a post on this tidbit of ludditery from McCain at tonight's Presidential debate. Senator McCain said Sen. Obama supported a congressional earmark of "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" The Adler Planetarium to which Sen. McCain refers is one of our key education and public outreach partners for many NASA projects. Sen. McCain's criticism of the heart of the Adler Planetarium is anti-science, threatening to kill off one of the best ways we have to communicate the scientific results of a NASA mission to the public. The suggestion that this is somehow just an overpriced tranparency projector is disengenous at best." Obama Announces FY08 Federal Funding Requests "Adler Planetarium, to support replacement of its projector and related equipment,$3,000,000 - One of its most popular attractions and teaching tools at the Adler Planetarium is the Sky Theater. The projection equipment in this theater is 40 years old, and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience."

## The Battle for Planet Pluto

"A debate today between astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson and planetary scientist Mark Sykes, moderated by NPR's Ira Flatow, addressed the issue of Pluto's planetary status. There was lots of arm-waving and finger-pointing, endless interruptions, disagreements on details big and small, and battling one-liners. The two scientists sat at a table with the moderator between them and Flatow was often obscured by Tyson and Sykes getting in each other's faces in eye-to-eye confrontation. At one point, Flatow was hit by Tyson's ebullient arm motions. Yes, it was heated. But it was fun, too."

## Today's Video: Earth As Alien World

"NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has created a video of the moon transiting (passing in front of) Earth as seen from the spacecraft's point of view 31 million miles away. Scientists are using the video to develop techniques to study alien worlds. "Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the Universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earth-like alien world would appear to us," said University of Maryland astronomer Michael A'Hearn, principal investigator for the Deep Impact extended mission, called EPOXI."

Video below

## My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants

"Those having trouble remembering the newly assigned 11 planets, including three dwarfs, are getting help from a fourth-grader. Maryn Smith, the winner of the National Geographic planetary mnemonic contest, has created a handy way to remember the planets and their order in distance from the sun."

## Griffin At AAS

"My relationship with the scientific community during my time at NASA has been frustrating at times, despite the fact that I think there has not been an Administrator who understands and appreciates, at a relatively deep level, the richness of what you do - not just the astronomers, but all of science. But from my first days at NASA, as with one voice, there has been a single concern - the budget is not what once was promised - and little further discussion has been possible."

## Palomar Observatory Threatened by Fire?

Volunteer firefighters save mountaintop, SIgn On San Diego

"The top of Palomar Mountain hasn't burned in recorded history. Today, largely because of tireless volunteer firefighters and relentless air attacks, that still holds true."

## Cosmology@Home

Home Computers to Help Researchers Better Undestand Universe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"Want to help unravel the mysteries of the universe? A new distributed computing project designed by a University of Illinois researcher allows people around the world to participate in cutting-edge cosmology research by donating their unused computing cycles. The project is called Cosmology@Home, and is similar to SETI@Home, a popular program that searches radio telescope data for evidence of extraterrestrial transmissions."

## Today's Video: NASA Ares V 8 Meter Telescope Mission

Animation depicting an Ares V launch and the deployment of a very large telescope.

Video below.

## Saving Arecibo

"(3) Arecibo Observatory's planetary radar has unique abilities worldwide for research on our solar system, including near-Earth asteroids. Besides their scientific importance, near-Earth asteroids may be both a significant hazard to Earth and a potential source of future resources."

Hearing: Near-Earth Objects - Status of the Survey Program and Review of NASA's Report to Congress

Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee Meeting

NSF Dear Colleague on the Senior Review: Arecibo

Radio Telescope And Its Budget Hang in the Balance, Washington Post

"Driving beneath the giant dish in a rickety Jeep, [Arecibo Director Robert] Kerr is not counting on Congress. So he continues to brainstorm. Don't laugh, he said, but lately he has been thinking about naming rights. "Imagine the word 'Google' painted across that 19-acre dish," Kerr said. "What do you think that would be worth?""

## NRC Report on NASA's Astrophysics Program

A Performance Assessment of NASA's Astrophysics Program, National Research Council

"In early 2006, NASA asked the NRC to conduct such an assessment for the agency's Astrophysics Division. This report presents an assessment of how well NASA s current program addresses the strategies, goals, and priorities outlined in previous Academy reports. The report provides an analysis of progress toward realizing these strategies, goals, and priorities; and a discussion of actions that could be taken to optimize the scientific value of the program in the context of current and forecasted resources."

## SOFIA Takes To The Air

"L-3 Communications announced today that NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), completed its first test flight following extensive aircraft modification and telescope integration at the company's L-3 Integrated Systems (L-3 IS) Waco, Texas facility. SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP extensively modified to carry a 45,000-pound (20 metric ton), 98.4-inch (2.5-meter) diameter infrared telescope assembly provided by the German Aerospace Center, DLR."

## First Habitable Extrasolar Planet Discovered

"Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses."

## NRC Astrophysics Report To Be Released

Editor's note: A National Research Council Assessment of NASA's Astrophysics Program will be released on Wednesday, 7 Feb. at 4:00 pm EST. This congressionally mandated report assesses the strategies, goals, and priorities of NASA's program to study celestial objects and the physical laws that govern the universe. The report identifies ways NASA can reduce mission costs and boost the diversity of its missions.

## Well Worth A Look

Crescent Venus and Moon Astronomy Picture of the Day, NASA GSFC

"There's something behind these clouds. Those faint graceful arcs, upon inspection, are actually far, far in the distance. They are the Earth's Moon and the planet Venus. Both the Moon and Venus are bright enough to be seen during the day, and both are quite capable of showing a crescent phase."

## Backyard Extrasolar Planet Tracking

Volunteer Observatory WASP-1b Observations, Fleenor Astronomy Webpage

"I am pleased to report my successful observation of WASP-1b, on 2006.10.02 UT from my backyard observatory in Knoxville, TN (USA). This is a newly discovered exoplanet in the constellation Andromeda orbiting the star GSC 2265: 0107."

## Ignoring The Next Generation of Scientists and Engineers

Nation's Astronomers Continue Dialog with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, American Astronomical Society

"We do not have a looming problem or a workforce crisis. 25% of the NASA workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five years, though of course not all will do so. I regard this as an opportunity to bring in the next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars"

Students advised to seek experience in the private aeronautics sector, Salt Lake Tribune

"It simply is not among the top priorities I have at NASA to fund student experiments," Griffin said during a question-and-answer session."

Editor's note: Mike: If you are not going to step up and help generate the "next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars", who is?

## Earth and Jupiter Join Pluto as Non-Planets?

"The draft "Planet Definition" Resolution will be discussed and refined during the General Assembly and then it (plus four other Resolutions) will be presented for voting at the 2nd session of the GA 24 August between 14:00 and 17:30 CEST."

Reader (Renowned Planetary Scientist) note: IAU's definition 5A just passed - the one that excludes Pluto as a planet. Look at the murky wording, it also excludes Earth and Jupiter because their zones are not cleared (NEOs, Trojans, respectively).

The Final IAU Resolution on the definition of "planet" ready for voting

"RESOLUTION 5A ... (1) A planet1 is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit."

## USRA on Senate Budget Amendment

Letter From USRA President David Black Regarding Senate Amendment on NASA FY 2007 Budget

"As a result of these unforeseen expenses, NASA was forced to dramatically reduce long-planned funding to science, aeronautics, and exploration programs. Though the Agency has worked earnestly to mitigate the budgetary impact to other NASA programs of returning the shuttle to flight, the costs have been greater than the Agency can absorb. In some areas, the cuts have been so drastic that the continued existence of the associated research communities is threatened."

## GAO Issues Report on Webb Space Telescope

GAO: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Still Faces "Considerable Challenges", House Science Committee, Democratic Membership

GAO: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Still Faces "Considerable Challenges"

"Although the JWST program recently revised its acquisition strategy to conform to NASAs acquisition policies, the program still faces considerable challenges because it has not fully implemented a knowledge-based approach, which our past work has shown is often a key factor in program success."

## AAS Supports Budget Augmentation

American Astronomical Society Supports Senators' Efforts to Secure Emergency Appropriations for NASA

"The AAS commends Senators Mikulski and Hutchison for their leadership in proposing an emergency supplement to NASA's FY07 appropriations that will help to compensate for the unexpected expenses associated with the Shuttle Columbia accident and damage to NASA facilities caused by Hurricane Katrina. This emergency funding request will alleviate severe cuts to NASA's space science program that are being taken to fully fund the Space Shuttle and the ISS -- costs for which there was never an adequate budget."

## Big Black Hole Announcement

"Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory will hold a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, April 24, to announce a fundamental discovery about black holes."

The relation between accretion rate and jet power in X-ray luminous elliptical galaxies, arXiv.org e-Print archive

"Our results show that the black hole engines at the hearts of large elliptical galaxies and groups feed back sufficient energy to stem cooling and star formation, leading naturally to the observed exponential cut off at the bright end of the galaxy luminosity function."

## Small, Rocky Planet Discovered Circling Another Star

"Researchers speaking today at the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of the smallest extrasolar planet yet found - one that resembles our own planet much more than any other yet discovered. The planet is between 6 to 9 times the mass of Earth and orbits its host star once every 1.9 days at a distance of 2 million miles."

## Extrasolar Planet Photo "Exclusive"?

Evidence for a co-moving sub-stellar companion of GQ Lup, arXiv.org e-Print archive

"We present a companion of the \le 2 Myr young classical T Tauri star GQ Lup in the Lupus star forming region at 140 \pm 50 pc from imaging, astrometry, and spectroscopy. With direct K-band imaging using VLT/NACO, we detected an object 6 mag fainter than GQ Lup located 0.7 arc sec west of it."

Editor's note: In this space.com article: "EXCLUSIVE: First Confirmed Picture of a Planet Beyond the Solar System", posted on 1 April 2004 at 09:04 am ET, a claim of exclusivity is made - at least in the title. This was hardly an "exclusive" for space.com. The entire article (including a picture) space.com was referring to was published the previous day, 31 March, at 11:33:27 GMT on the arXiv.org e-Print archive for anyone in the world to download and see.

## Astronomy 101 for the Post

Distant Object Could Hold Secrets to Earth's Past, Washington Post

"All the planets in the solar system orbit the sun in a circle. Not Sedna. All the planets orbit in the same plane. Sedna's orbit is canted 12 degrees."

Editor's note:I have a few problems with this paragraph -as it appears in the Washington Post.

## Planets Forming Around a Sun-like Star?

2 December 2004: A Resolved Debris Disk around the G2V star HD 107146

"We present resolved scattered-light images of the debris disk around HD 107146, a G2 star 28.5 pc from the Sun. This is the first debris disk to be resolved in scattered light around a solar-type star. We observed it with the HST/ACS coronagraph."

6 December 2004: NASA Announces Media Briefing about New Look at Planet Forming

"Astronomers will present new findings from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope at a listen-and- logon news briefing, Thursday at 1 p.m. EST."

## A True Celestial Wonder

9 September 2004: Dying star creates sculpture of gas and dust, STScI

"The Cat's Eye Nebula is seen here in this detailed view from the Hubble Space Telescope. A planetary nebula forms when Sun-like stars gently eject their outer gaseous layers to form bright nebulae with amazing twisted shapes."

Editor's note: You simply must start your day by looking at this picture.

## Smallest Extrasolar Planets yet Discovered

31 August 2004:Scientists Discover First of a New Class of Extrasolar Planets, NASA

"Astronomers announced today the first discovery of a new class of planets beyond our solar system about 10 to 20 times the size of Earth - far smaller than any previously detected. The planets make up a new class of Neptune-sized extrasolar planets. In addition, one of the new planets joins three others around the nearby star 55 Cancri to form the first known four-planet system."