Friday, July 8, 2011

American Astronomical Society statement on James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

This is the new statement by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) 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.

The JWST is the highest-ranked mission in the National Academy of Science's Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey released in 2000 and remains a high priority for the Nation's astronomers in this decade as well, as the revolutionary successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. This survey, conducted once every 10 years by hundreds of the Nation's leading scientists, prioritizes -- based on scientific merit and impact -- projects proposed by the scientific community that require significant government support for completion. These reports represent a community consensus on the efforts necessary to advance our knowledge of the universe. The potential of JWST to transform astronomy underlies many of the activities recommended in the 2010 decadal report released last August. JWST is designed to observe well beyond Hubble's capabilities. It is expected to serve thousands of astronomers in the coming decades to revolutionize our understanding of our place in the Universe, just as Hubble has done since its completion and launch just over two decades ago.

The JWST's completion, launch, and operation will unveil new knowledge about the earliest formation of stars and planets and on a wide range of additional advanced scientific questions, including many not yet formulated. As was true with the Hubble Space Telescope, recognized as a tremendous success by the public, scientists, and policy-makers, building the most advanced telescopes comes with the risk of unexpected costs and delays. However, the whole Nation can rightly take pride in the engineering and scientific accomplishment that the completion and launch of such instruments represents. With the help of important international partners, we are the only nation that could lead such an effort; we should not shirk from completing the project when the most difficult engineering challenges have already been overcome. As stated in the Casani report, an independent review of project readiness completed late last year, "The JWST Project has made excellent progress in developing the difficult technologies required for its successful operation, and no technical constraints to successful completion have been identified." The mirrors stand ready and waiting for integration into the spacecraft. The telescope has passed both preliminary design review and critical design review. It is time to complete construction and look ahead to JWST's launch and science operations.

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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

President Obama visits another Science Fair

That's our President visiting the New York City Science Fair:

During his trip to New York City yesterday, and between interviews with three network news anchors and a speech dedicating a new building to late-Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, President Obama made an unexpected detour. The President dropped in on the New York City Science Fair—a venue that pretty much sums up the meaning of “win the future." And the reason why? “Whenever I get a chance to go to a science fair, I go," the President said.

Incidentally, there's an upcoming Delaware science fair that I would have liked to volunteer for, but it conflicted with an astronomy panel I'm serving on. Yes, scientists end up spending their time judging each other's proposals. It's the best way to allocate scarce resources like grant money and telescope time. So Science Fairs may be pretty realistic.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LSST simulation

I like this video showing what the LSST would look like, with a beautiful night sky:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Astronomy News: Joint Statement by President Barack Obama and President Sebastian PiƱera

Today's statement by the Presidents of Chile and the USA mentioned astronomy:

Both Heads of State highlighted the effective collaboration in the fields of astronomy and astro-engineering which will allow the operation of the LSST and ALMA telescopes in the northern Chile, involving an investment of 1.5 billion dollars, with a close collaboration between public and private academic and research institutions in both countries.

I am very excited about LSST right now.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In memory of astronomer James Elliott

When asked, I often say Carl Sagan (COSMOS) and Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) influenced me most to become an astronomer. However, my first astronomy memory is cutting out the New York Times article describing the discovery of the rings of Uranus to bring to school. (I think I was in 1st or 2nd grade.) Today I see that astronomer James Elliott, who made that discovery, has died:

In 1977, using a telescope in an airplane, Dr. Elliot led a team of Cornell University scientists to observe the planet Uranus when it passed between Earth and a star. Flying at night over a patch of the Indian Ocean where Uranus’s shadow was to be cast, he had the foresight to turn on his equipment more than a half-hour early. This allowed him to record a series of slight dimmings that provided the first evidence of Uranus’s rings.

I never met him nor could I have told you his name before tonight, but his work was inspirational to me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"First Blast" at LSST

An exciting time for a new telescope is "first light," when the first images are taken. This picture is "first blast" for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope LSST at Cerro Pachon. They've begun leveling the ground for the telescope's base. I joined the "LSST Science Collaboration" and have been working on astrometry issues.

There's even an LSST webcam so you can watch the leveling.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My favorite jazz of 2010

This is my annual list of the new jazz albums I picked up and really liked. It's not representative, but if I didn't happen to buy it, it can't make my list!

Jacky Terrason, Push. I based on Nate Chinen's review and loved it. This was my favorite of the year. I need to go see him when he comes to Wilmington, Delaware's Piano Jazz Summit.

Gregory Porter, Water: This is a great vocal album. My wife would put it first without a doubt.

Keith Jarrett and Charlie Hayden, Jasmine. I love Keith Jarrett and he didn't let me done. Incidentally, I finally saw his trio live last June. Wow.

Those top three are way ahead.

Bobby Watson and the UMKC Concert Jazz Orchestra, The Gate's BBQ Suite. One reviewer said it's "smokin'." That's exactly right.

Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society. Not exactly my thing, but it was just $5 at and I enjoyed it enough to play it repeatedly. Nice to see her win at the Grammys too.

Jason Moran, Ten. I never know why I don't listen to Moran's albums more because they really are good as the critics say, yet I don't.

The Bad Plus, Never Stop. It's good, but I still like Give better.

The only other new album I bought was Joey DeFrancesco's Michael Jackson tribute album. I hate the tracks with singing, but picking up just Billie Jean would have been worthwhile.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Speaking at Chester County Astronomical Society

I'm looking forward to giving a talk at the Chester County Astronomical Society on "Brown Dwarf Stars."
  • Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - CCAS Monthly Meeting, Room 113, Merion Science Center (former Boucher Building), West Chester University. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Guest Speaker: Dr. John Gizis: “Brown Dwarf Stars.”
The mission of the CCAS of Pennsylvania:
The Chester County Astronomical Society was formed as a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and enjoyment of astronomy for the general public. The Society holds meetings (with member or guest speakers) and observing sessions once a month. Anyone who is interested in astronomy is welcome to attend meetings and become a member of the Society. In addition to the monthly meetings and observing sessions, the Society also provides a variety of services to the public, including astronomy classes as well as telescopes and expertise for "star parties" for school, scout, and other civic groups.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Time to move on Python

I've been starting some new projects and the unholy mix of IDL, Perl and Fortran I use to look at data and solve problems can't be efficient. So I've resolved to follow the smart people and move over to Python. It's free and there are lots of astronomy routines available, plus our undergrads at University of Delaware will all learn it in CISC 106, so I'll be able to use it for teaching too. Last year I said the same thing but only got as far as installing everything. Starting today, I'm going to get through the Astronomy Python Tutorial.