Astronomy: September 2011 Archives

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."

FY2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Mark - NASA Excerpt

* 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 telescope gets rescued in the Senate, Nature

"At the subcommittee meeting today, the Senator said the beleaguered mission would get $530 million in 2012 -- much more than the $374 million that had been asked for in the president's budget request. But the agency as a whole would get $17.9 billion -- half a billion less than it received in 2011.'"

Hope, With 'Stringent' Orders, for NASA's Webb Telescope

"In remarks delivered at the markup today, Mikulski noted that although her panel wanted to continue funding for the telescope, it also wanted NASA to be more accountable in executing the project. "We have added stringent language, limiting development costs" and insisted on "a report from NASA senior management, ensuring that the NASA has gotten its act together in managing the telescope," she said."

Keith's note: I have to wonder why yet another report from the same people who have botched JWST managment is going to be any more accurate or reliable than what they have reported or said thus far. Oh yes - adding $156 million to one project (JWST) while cutting NASA's top line by $500 million is just going to exacerbate trench warfare between NASA's space and planetary science community. Do the math: NASA overall gets $500 million less than 2011 and yet JWST gets more than the President asked for. NASA has to deal with that $500 million cut plus the additional $156 million that JWST has sucked up out of NASA's reduced budget i.e. NASA has $656 million less to work with - according to the Senate - so far. Stay tuned.

Supernova Homer?

New Supernova Remnant Lights Up

"Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers are witnessing the unprecedented transition of a supernova to a supernova remnant, where light from an exploding star in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, reached Earth in February 1987."

Keith's note: Is it just me? Didn't the Simpsons become uber popular around the same time?

AAS Members Decadal Priorities and Fiscal Realities Informational Email 2011-10

"NASA and NSF receive input from many formal agency, interagency, and National Academies advisory committees about how to allocate their budgets and how to adjust to changing circumstances while trying to meet survey recommendations as best they can. The AAS does not support any one Division or astronomical discipline above others, or to the detriment of others. The decadal reports represent a community consensus of the most compelling questions, priorities, missions, projects, and activities in each discipline. It is not the purview of the AAS to second-guess the surveys or to re-order priorities or to select from among them. Our role is to support all of our disciplines. As we face the new economic climate, it might be worth recalling Abraham Lincoln's words: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

James Webb Space Telescope Threatens Planetary Science (with signatures), Planetary Exploration Newsletter

"JWST has, however, been a priority in the NRC Astrophysics Decadal Surveys. When JWST was ranked as the top major initiative for NASA astrophysics in the 2001 NRC Astronomy Decadal Survey, it was estimated to cost $1B and launch by 2011. NASA has now spent $3.5B on JWST and it is now projected to cost a minimum of $8.7B for a launch no earlier than late 2018. As a result, JWST's cost increases have outstripped the resources of the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Astrophysics Division, and NASA leadership has now declared JWST an "agency priority." Resources of other NASA programs, including the Agency's Planetary Sciences Division within the Science Mission Directorate, are now threatened to cover current and future JWST cost overruns."

Letter From American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Regarding NASA James Webb Space Telescope Costs

"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.



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This page is an archive of entries in the Astronomy category from September 2011.

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