[FPSPACE] happy 4 July "by the rockets' red glare" to all US members

Keith Gottschalk kgottschalk at uwc.ac.za
Sat Jul 4 13:57:42 EDT 2015


Well,

    one of us must wish a happy 4 July with lots of roast turkey & cranberry sauce, & even more "by the rockets' red glare" to our US members, who form a majority of FPSPACE!

    It was sad to read in my latest Sky & Telescope about so many US telescopes having their NSF funding chopped. In fact, the current director of the South African Astronomical Observatory (ie optical & IR astronomy) is a US citizen. When he was interviewed for the job, one question was why an American would choose to emigrate to South Africa. His sobering reply was that in the USA astronomical budgets were being cut, while in South Africa they were growing.

    That is relative of course - the optical astronomy budget is flat with South Africa's own budgetary squeeze; it is really only the radio astronomy budget that is growing due to signed commitments to the global SKA partners.

    To end on a happier note, what a US & NASA celebration it will be within a fortnight if all continues to go well with New Horizons. I was privileged during my Fulbright year (2010) to be invited as a speaker, even if only as a stand-in, to John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. They firmly warned me they wanted engineering, not policy chatter, so I focused on the 3 major technical problems in debugging the South African Large Telescope (effective 8m). Currently jhuapl dot edu website I turn to twice per week.  For sixty-nine yrs of my life, Pluto was the tiniest fleck or speck on pre-pixel photos. Now we will hopefully be able to feast on a string of close-up images, with IR images filling in the topography of parts of the globes that are in shade.

    One intriguing puzzle are the announcements of Pluto having an atmosphere. Even at a Pluto & Charon summery -218 C, only H2 & He could be gases; everything else frozen solid. So I wonder if the tenuous atmosphere is made possible by some molecules absorbing the faint UV from sunshine & thus being warmer than the surface?

Keith.

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