Thursday Throughput for July 18, 2019
[ThTh1] This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that first landed humans on the moon. There are an extraordinary number of commemorations going on, including a live tweet of communications between the mission and the ground, record model rocket launches and a re-release of the Apollo 11 documentary.
The moon landing, needless to say, was one of the most extraordinary achievements in human history, the crowning technological gem of the second millennium. But for the all the celebration, we have not delivered on the promise of Apollo. We lost our national nerve, most notably after the Challenger disaster. Our dreams have become mundane, pedestrian, risk-averse. I don’t know how that turns around. I don’t know if it ever does. But … at some point … it will have to. Because we can’t just stay confined to one planet.
[ThTh2] On the other hand, there are still some things our space program does right. One of those is space astrophysics. Every three years, NASA reviews its portfolio of space telescopes. Each mission, including my own, has to put forward a proposal for funding the next 3-5 years, detailing what they’ve accomplished since the last review and what they hope to accomplish in the next period. NASA announced the results of that review this week, recommending that all mission be continued and noting the extraordinary capabilities available through our combined fleet of space telescopes (Chanda, Fermi, Hubble, NICER, NuSTAr, Swift, TESS and XMM).
People talk about American Greatness. Well, astrophysics, if I do say so myself, is one the places where America is truly great. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the wonders of the modern world and NASA runs the majority of operational space telescopes. The United States awards more astronomy PhDs than any other country (not to mention the number of engineering and physics degrees). Almost all astronomers will pass through the United States at some point and there is no branch of astrophysics where the US not have a significant presence.
Here’s to the next decade of great space science.
[ThTh3] And continuing with space telescopes, here’s an animation of the 4000 planets we have discovered beyond our solar system, most of them with space telescopes.
More explanation and insight from Phil Plait.
[ThTh4] And still on space telescopes: there has been a growing tension in the measurement of the Hubble constant — the parameter that measures the expansion rate of the universe. Estimates from the cosmic microwave background differed with estimates from the nearby universe to an increasing degree of significance. This could hint at unknown physics affecting cosmology. Or it could be an indication of systematic bias in the measurements. Well a new measurement splits the difference down the middle.
[ThTh5] A new study claims that the Volkswagen diesel cars, which faked their emissions results, belched out so much pollution it had a measurable effect on the health of children. I’m somewhat dubious; I wouldn’t expect an effect that dramatic. But if it’s true, the scandal just got even worse.
[ThTh6] Somewhat politically relevant this week: “Europeans” are turning out to be a mix of various ethnicities.
[ThTh7] I’ve mentioned this before but it seems to be gaining a little more steam: an interstellar probe — one that travels to another star — may be within our reach.
[ThTh8] Isn’t this how horror movies start?