Space & Planetary Science: September 2006 Archives

SOFIA's New Paint Job

Editor's note: Despite attempts by Mike Griffin and Mary Cleave to kill it earlier this year (attempts that failed), SOFIA is clearly moving ahead. Indeed, it recently got a new paint job. Here are some photos from [1][2][3][4][5]

Job Openings at SMD

Positions Available at NASA Headquarters, LPI/USRA

"As Dr. Cleave prepares to take her leave of SMD, NASA begins to accept applications for her position and a number of others in the Science Mission Directorate important to the future of the planetary community. As an organization focused on science, it is crucial for the community to continue to identify strong scientific voices that can guide SMD during this dynamic time in NASA history.Qualified members of the scientific community who are looking for an opportunity to have a voice in the policy-making process are encouraged to take on this challenge and apply for these positions:"

Dwarf Planet Family Update

Editor's note: This t-shirt concept has been making the rounds in the planetary science community. Click on image to enlarge.

IAU names dwarf planet Eris

"The International Astronomical Union announces the names (136199) Eris for the dwarf planet provisionally named 2003 UB313 and Dysnomia for its moon."

IAU Numbers Pluto as an Asteroid, Renames Xena and Gabrielle

"Following the Aug. 24 resolution by the IAU to the effect that the solar system contains eight "planets" (Mercury- Neptune), with (1) Ceres, Pluto (cf. IAUC 255), and 2003 UB313 (cf. IAUC 8577) to be considered representative "dwarf planets"..."

Extrasolar Planet Announcements

Strange New Planet Baffles Astronomers

"Using a network of small automated telescopes, astronomers have discovered a planet unlike any other known world. This new planet, designated HAT-P-1, orbits one member of a pair of distant stars 450 light-years away in the constellation Lacerta."

Astronomers Reveal First Alien I.D. Chart

"It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already?"

Editor's note: This is pretty amazing stuff - yet NASA doesn't seem to want to tell anyone. Indeed, according to these two press reelases "Major funding for HATnet was provided by NASA" and "This research was funded by NASA." Yet these is nothing on SMD's home page or this "Breaking News" page at SMD or, for that matter, on NASA's general Breaking News page as of 11:09 am EDT. And the press event was held several blocks down the street from NASA HQ.

Editor's 15 Sep update: 24 hours after the news was released, SMD finally posted a link on its "Breaking News" page to a story on ARC's Astrobiology Magazine website which is based on only one of the press releases issued yesterday - but not the other. How odd. Why not just link to the original press releases, or, since the research was funded by NASA, simply reissue the press releases - as has been done in the past? It certainly seems like SMD is not very motivated ot tell people what it is doing.

IAU Numbers Pluto as an Asteroid, Renames Xena and Gabrielle

"Following the Aug. 24 resolution by the IAU to the effect that the solar system contains eight "planets" .. the Minor Planet Center included Pluto and 2003 UB313 (along with two other new potential dwarf-planet candidates) in the standard catalogue of numbered objects with well-determined orbits as (134340) and (136199), respectively (see MPC 57525). Following near-unanimous acceptance by both the Committee on Small-Body Nomenclature and the Working Group on Planetary-System Nomenclature (in consultation with the discovery team), the IAU Executive Committee has now approved the names Eris for (136199) and Dysnomia for its satellite (136199) Eris I [formerly S/2005 (2003 UB313) 1; cf. IAUC 8610]."

Zero-G gives rise to a "teachable moment", MSNBC

"Over the weekend, about 40 teachers (and a few journalists) from throughout the country converged on Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport for two zero-gravity parabolic flights, with the serious purpose of inspiring kids to study math and science. But I have to admit, we didn't look very serious while we were doing it. In fact, a lot of the teachers (and a few journalists) seemed more like kids bouncing off the walls of a flying playground."

Editor's note: This story includes a video where Alan Boyle bench presses me over his head in lunar gravity. I expect to have my story online in a day or so.

Science and NASA - Speech by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

"So now lets move on to "respect". Once the Vision for Space Exploration was announced, the science community immediately said, as if with once voice, "Robotic science is exploration too!" Besides, 'exploration without science is tourism'! No more 'flags and footprints'!" ... I'm sure you've heard all of this and more. Since the science community had never previously characterized their work in terms of "exploration", many observers concluded that the theme underlying these view was, more cynically, "Don't cut our budget to pay for human spaceflight!"

Exploring the Possibilities: Earth and Space Science Missions in the Context of Exploration, IEEE

"According to Dr. Edward J. Weiler, Director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, 'Exploration without science is tourism".

Editor's note: Mike, it is curious how you use one of your Center Director's long standing favorite quotes in a way that makes that Center Director look like he is now part of the problem...

Reader note: "Robotic science isn't exploration? It seems to me that one of the most successful lines of robotic missions being squeezed by the current budget situation is the EXPLORER line. And oh, by the way, wasn't it EXPLORER 1 which provided the US it's first venture into space?"

Reader note: "Hi Keith: Checking the National Academy of Sciences website, the word "exploration" was first used in the title of a Space Science Board Report in [wait for it...] 1964:

"Biology and the Exploration of Mars Summary and Conclusions of a Study by the Space Science Board"

At least 3 SSB reports in the 1960's used "Exploration" in their title. So much for the Administrator's assertion that "Since the science community had never previously characterized their work in terms of "exploration"..."

From Petition for IMMEDIATE REVERSAL of decision to demote Pluto to "Dwarf Planet" by the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

"Some things are immutable and we thought that there will always be four seasons, seven Dwarfs, four Beatles, three Stooges and nine planets .... We, the signatories herein, comprising of concerned citizens of the world strongly object to the decision and seek the IMMEDIATE REVERSAL of the Result of the IAU Resolution votes to demote Pluto from a planet to a "dwarf planet".

Big Changes Ahead at SMD

Editor's 11 Sep 2006 update: I just got a call from NASA PAO relaying a message from Colleen Hartman to the effect that she is "not leaving NASA". Given the broad range and location of people who have been circulating the news (from within SMD among other places) that she is leaving (please note my phrasing below i.e. "multiple sources report") beginning the middle of last week, I might suggest that a means other than NASA Watch be used to let SMD employees know what is going on within the Division - before things make their way onto NASA Watch.

Editor's 11 Sep 2006 note: Multiple sources report that Colleen Hartman, Mary Cleave's Deputy will be leaving NASA - most likely to return to NOAA where she used to work. As such, the search will be on for new top management for SMD.

Editor's 5 Sep 2006 note: SMD AA Mary Cleave told her staff in an SMD-wide email today that she will be leaving NASA next Spring. Her (short) note said:

"Dear colleagues in SMD

I just wanted to let you know that I am planning on retiring this Spring. We want to ensure that there is adequate time to find a replacement and have a good hand over period. It has been an honor and privilege to work in the federal service with you, mary"

Pluto Rocks: Canadian Indie Band Records Song to Save Pluto

"SubPlot A decided to misdirect their end-of-summer angst into recording a protest song in four days which, if traveling at the speed of sound from a car stereo, will reach Pluto in 411 years. ...

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the song will go toward the cause."

  • Visit and click on "songs" to play.
  • City of Madison, Wisconsin: Proclaiming Pluto as Madison's ninth planet

    "WHEREAS, while UB313 has been nicknamed Xena after a noted television character very popular with the lesbian and gay community, the IAU has resisted making this name official, again suggesting a level of intolerance; and

    WHEREAS, "plutocracy" means the reign of wealth or the wealthy; and

    WHEREAS, the Mayor has expressed concerns that, should this resolution pass, Madison might be perceived as a plutocracy; ..."

    Earth-like Planets May Be More Common Than Once Thought, University of Colorado at Boulder

    "More than one-third of the giant planet systems recently detected outside Earth's solar system may harbor Earth-like planets, many covered in deep oceans with potential for life, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University. ... The new research effort may allow planet hunters to determine "rough limits" indicating where to search for habitable planets in known systems of giant planets, according to the team, whose research was funded by NASA's Astrobiology Institute headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Center."

    Editor's note: And NASA's response to exciting astrobiology discoveries such as this? Why, they continue to cut astrobiology funding, of course.

    Reader note: "Maybe we can do earth science in NASA as long as its not on our own Earth..."

    California Assembly Bill HR 36 Relative to Pluto's planetary status

    "WHEREAS, Recent astronomical discoveries, including Pluto's oblong orbit and the sighting of a slightly larger Kuiper Belt object, have led astronomers to question the planetary status of Pluto; and ...

    WHEREAS, The mean-spirited International Astronomical Union decided on August 24, 2006, to disrespect Pluto by stripping Pluto of its planetary status and reclassifying it as a lowly dwarf planet; and ...

    WHEREAS, Pluto, named after the Roman God of the underworld and affectionately sharing the name of California's most famous animated dog, has a special connection to California history and culture; and ...

    WHEREAS, Downgrading Pluto's status will cause psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants; and ..."

    Pluto Demotion Update

    NASA New Horizons Mission: The PI's Perspective: Unabashedly Onward to the Ninth Planet

    "So on this Web site and in documents, discussions and other aspects of the New Horizons mission, we will continue to refer to Pluto as the ninth planet. I think most of you will agree with that decision and cheer us on."

    Pluto Demotion Update

    Statement from NMSU Astronomy Department head regarding reclassification of Pluto, New Mexico State University

    Pluto supporters to IAU: The debate's not over, New Mexico State University

    "Friends and colleagues of the late Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, had this to say Friday about the International Astronomical Union's decision to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet": Don't rewrite the textbooks yet."

    Space Science Cut Update

    Tumult Among NASA Advisers, opinion, NY Times

    "What the public needs from all this is some assurance that once the passions have subsided, Mr. Griffin will look closely at whether he is losing anything valuable through his streamlining of the advisory structure. And the scientific community will scout around for alternate means to make its voice heard if it feels cut out at NASA."

    SMART-1 Crashes Into The Moon

    Impact landing ends SMART-1 mission to the Moon

    "Early this morning, a small flash illuminated the surface of the Moon as the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft impacted onto the lunar soil, in the 'Lake of Excellence' region."

    SMART-1 impact update

    "Scientists have received and are analysing the final data gathered by SMART-1 on 2 September, prior to today's Moon impact. This update presents several of the images received, as well as additional images and information from the worldwide ground observation campaign."

  • Observation of the Impact of Smart-1 (impace images), Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / 2006
  • More Moon News at MoonToday
  • Planetary Scientists and Astronomers Oppose New Planet Definition, Planetary Science Institute

    "This petition gives substantial weight to argument that the IAU definition of planet does not meet fundamental scientific standards and should be set aside," states petition organizer Dr. Mark Sykes, Director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. "A more open process, involving a broader cross section of the community engaged in planetary studies of our own solar system and others should be undertaken."

    Pluto: Underworld Character Kicked Out of Planetary Family, Science

    "The decision, made here at the closing session of the IAU's triennial meeting,* reclassifies Pluto as a "dwarf planet"--but not a planet. That is "patently incorrect," says astronomer and Pluto buff Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who heads the New Horizons mission that set off last January to explore the tiny ex-planet in 2015. "If the IAU wants to proclaim that the sky is green, that doesn't make it so."

    DPS Statement on the adoption of the definition of a planet by the International Astronomical Union

    "Ultimately, the definition of a planet will come through common usage and scientific utility. There is no need to throw away current school texts; Pluto has not gone away. We will continue to explore Pluto and the other objects orbiting beyond Neptune with telescopic observations and spacecraft missions to obtain a fundamental understanding of their place in our solar system."



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    This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from September 2006.

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