Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's Up? Telescope Giants of the Future

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month, the new Herschel space telescope "fingerprinted" the largest known star, VY Canis Majoris. VY Canis Majoris is so huge that if it was placed in the solar system, the surface of the star would be beyond Saturn's orbit!

Spectral fingerprinting is what astronomers use to tell what something is made of. To do this, light is split up into its different colours, creating a rainbow. In the rainbow are thin dark gaps of certain colours. These gaps are very specific to certain atoms or molecules.

In the case of VY Canis Majoris, astronomers noted something startling. The different atoms and molecules detected coming from the star indicate that the star is ready to explode at any moment. This could be minutes from now, or thousands of years from now, nobody knows. 

This discovery comes only months after launching the Herschel telescope into space. It is an infrared (a type of light that you can feel as heat) telescope with a mirror width of 3.5 meters (11 feet) and is the largest telescope of its kind.

Many enormous new telescopes are currently being designed, but are very costly so only a few will be built. Some of these will be much larger than a tennis court! Why on Earth, would anyone want to make such a big telescope?

With your eyes, which are about half a centimetre in diameter (a quarter of an inch), you collect only a small amount of light particles (photons) when it's dark. With a large telescope you can collect a much larger number of photons. Think about it as the difference between collecting rain with a spoon and a bucket. The larger the light bucket - the telescope - the more photons you can collect and the fainter the objects you can see.

The largest optical telescope (observes light our eyes can see) is just over 10 meters in diameter (34 feet) and is situated on a mountain in the Canary Islands.

Even larger and more powerful telescopes are already in the works.

The Hubble space telescope has served astronomers well over the last two decades but is wearing out. Scheduled to "replace" the Hubble is the James Webb space telescope.

The James Webb space telescope is a massive infrared observatory. It is so big that its main mirror can't fit into the biggest rockets, so it will be cut into smaller pieces. Its mirror will be 6.5 meters in diameter (20 feet) and will be made of 18 segments that will unfold in space.

The James Webb will observe the formation of the first stars and galaxies billions of years ago, as well as being able to image large planets orbiting other stars.

The reason for sending telescopes into space is to get away from the atmosphere, which blurs and distorts the images.

A new technology to help Earth-based telescopes see clearly, called adaptive optics, changes the shape of the mirror thousands of times per second to correct for the Earth's annoying atmosphere.

At the moment, there are a few very large telescopes being designed, which could be many tens of meters in diameter. One of these is already in the final planning stages and is expected to be finished by 2018.

This telescope is creatively named the Extremely Large Telescope. Its mirror will span 42 meters (140 feet) and is expected to be 100 times as powerful as the Hubble telescope.

With this mirror it will be able to image the the closest extrasolar planets and resolve stars in many other galaxies. Using the spectral fingerprinting technique, it will be able to see how shifted to the red the colours in other galaxies are to tell us how fast those galaxies are moving away from us. It will even be able to see the redshift change over time as the expansion of the universe slowly accelerates!

There was another very large telescope planned, called the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, but was scrapped because it was too expensive and too difficult to build. It would have been 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter and would have been able to regularly observe objects 1500 times dimmer than the faintest objects the Hubble telescope has seen.

It would even be able to get the spectral fingerprint of Earth-sized planets that could be around the 40 nearest sun-like stars! The spectral fingerprinting could be used to look for certain molecules that can only be created by life.

Maybe someday the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope will gaze upon the skies, but for now, let's see what's up this month.

On Dec. 2 the Moon was full and will become a New Moon again by Dec. 16. There is a second full moon this month, the "blue moon," on Dec. 31.

The Geminid meteor shower will be best later on the night of Dec. 13 or very early (about 3 a.m.) on Dec. 14. You can expect to see up to 60 multi-coloured meteors (shooting stars) per hour.

On Dec. 21 will be the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year (or the longest night if you want to look on the bright side). This is also considered the first day of winter, the season with the clearest and darkest skies.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will be having its Christmas party on Sunday, Dec. 13 from 7pm to 9pm at the YMCA on Green's street.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Last month, new findings of the possibility of bacteria in a meteorite from Mars was published. The meteorite in question, is a large hunk of rock that was blasted off Mars during a big impact millions of years ago. In 1996 some scientists saw what looked like fossilized bacteria, almost like tiny fossilized worms. With new scientific instruments some interesting features were discovered. The material that the fossils are made out of is magnetite, a type of magnetic rock that is created by some kinds of bacteria. The way the magnetite was formed also looks like the way bacteria would leave it behind. Who knows, maybe it is the remains of life from Mars?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Debunking 2012 Nonsense

In this video I debunk some 2012 doomsday theories: Mayan Calendar, galactic alignment, crossing the galactic plane, Eris, and Nibiru.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's Up? No 2012 Doomsday

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month, on October 7, the much hyped LCROSS mission slammed into the Moon. Some reported that it would split the Moon in half and that NASA was going to blow up the Moon! In reality the spacecraft that crashed into the Moon at breakneck speeds was only the size of a SUV. NASA scientists are currently examining all of the data collected from the impact and are looking for signs of water.

NASA's attempt to blow up the Moon isn't the only conspiracy idea that has been circulating recently. The idea that the world will end in 2012 has been spreading around the internet for a years and is now being promoted in the movie, 2012, which is due to come out on November 13.

One of the main reasons that the 2012 doomsday "theory" was made up is because of the ancient Mayan's longest running calendar. This calendar is set to end on December 21, 2012. The Mayans were an ancient civilization that lived for a few thousand years in what is now Mexico. They were highly advanced for their time and had many great mathematicians and astronomers. They devised many different calendars, the longest of which is a 5,126 year cycle.

Many are now fearing the end of the world when the calendar ends, but that's not the way a calendar works. The Mayans don't even mention the concept! Just because our calendar ends on December 31, doesn't mean that world is going to end! Once the Mayan calendar ends it starts over again, just like our calendar does.

Another explanation for the world ending on December 21, 2012 is that the Milky Way's centre, the Sun, and the Earth will line up in a row. The extra gravitational forces from this line up are supposed to knock Earth off of its axis and it will be the end of the world as we know it.

What they don't mention about this special line up is that it happens every single year! If you could get rid of the bright blue daytime sky for a minute, you would be able to see that the Sun is right in front of the Milky Way's centre on December 21, 2012, as it is every year. The extra gravitational force on Earth from this alignment is much less than the gravitational force of a person on the other side of the Earth.

If it's not the Earth, Sun, and galactic centre lining up that will cause the doomsday, maybe it will be from some other galactic phenomenon. As the solar system orbits the centre of the Milky Way it bobs above and below the disk of the galaxy. It has been proposed that when we pass through the disk of the galaxy the gravitational disturbances cause tons of comets to get knocked out of their orbits and fly in towards the inner solar system. These comets will then impact the Earth, ending life as we know it.

Yet again, a real situation is blown out of proportion. The solar system does bob up and down through the Milky Way's disk, but takes about 50 million years to do so. The solar system will actually take a few millions years just to pass through the Milky Way's disk!

Returning to doomsday caused by our solar system, is the idea that there is a giant object, called Planet X or Niburu. Planet X is given to any planet that we think is there but hasn't been discovered yet. In fact, Pluto was referred to as Planet X for a short period of time. Conspiracy theorists suggest that NASA is covering up information of a giant brown dwarf that is flying in towards the inner solar system and may possibly be the dwarf planet Eris.

A brown dwarf is a planet type object many times bigger than Jupiter. If there was a dwarf planet flying towards Earth, at least one of the hundreds of thousands of people in the world with a telescope or binoculars would have noticed it. Dwarf planet Eris is actually the size of Pluto and doesn't come any closer than 4 billion miles to the Earth.

Thousands of videos on video sharing websites, such as YouTube, show a bright object next to the Sun. This bright object is an internal reflection off of the lenses inside a camera, not a giant undiscovered planet near the Sun!

Back in reality, let's see what's up.

The Moon will be full on November 2 and will dwindle down to a new moon by November 16.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off for mission STS-129 on November 16. It will install new sensors and bring other equipment to the International Space Station.

Jupiter will be in the South after sunset with Mars rising in the East a few hours later.

Just before sunrise, Venus and Saturn will be in the Eastern sky. Venus will be the brightest object visible in the sky (other than the Moon).

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
NASA's new Moon orbiter sent back some really neat pictures last month. These new pictures show what was left on the Moon during the last Moon landing, Apollo 17, that took place almost 40 years ago. In one of the images, you can clearly see the foot tracks from the astronauts walking and driving around. A few of the instruments that were left there can be seen as well. You can even see where the American flag was placed! Check it out at: . Maybe someday you will see the first boot print on the Moon and make a few new ones!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Astronomy Night At The White House

Obama talking about astronomy and science at the White House. He even looks through a telescope at a double-double star in the constellation Lyrae. It's great to see a president who understands how important science really is to society.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Phil Plait Commentary on "Death from the Skies"

Phil Plait talks about his latest book, "Death from the Skies" and some of the really cool ways that space could kill us.

What's Up? The Outer Solar System's Frigid, Yet Fierce Weather

Welcome back to What's Up?

Now that Summer has come to an end, the Athena Community Astronomy Club has wrapped up their weekly boardwalk viewings. Thanks to club members who made this possible and to everyone who dropped by to take a peek through one of the telescopes.

Although the weather wasn't great throughout the Summer, it doesn't even compare to the weather on other planets. Let's continue last month's tour of the weather on other planets in our solar system.

Last month we looked at the inner solar system, the rocky planets, and this month we'll continue to move outwards into the outer solar system.

Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, is the largest planet in the solar system. If you were to take all of the planets, comets, and asteroids, and put them together, they would easily fit within Jupiter.

Jupiter's massive size also comes with intense weather. A normal wind-speed that you could expect "on" Jupiter (it is made of gas and has no solid surface) is about 360 km/h (225 mph). The fastest wind speed ever recorded on Jupiter was an astounding 620 km/h (390 mph). Combined with Jupiter's -150°C (-238°F) "surface" temperature, there would be one nasty windchill!

Category five hurricanes are dwarfed by all of Jupiter's storms. It's biggest storm is currently twice the volume of the Earth and has been going non-stop for at least 400 years! This storm has sustained wind-speeds of 430 km/h (270 mph)! Another thing to watch out for: lightning, and lots of it. From Jupiter's night side, space probes have watched some of the largest lightning storms ever seen.

Moving on to Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun, and the second largest, is a planet with some of the fastest winds in the solar system. In many regions there are sustained winds of up to 1760 km/h (1100 mph)! Combined with it being a gas giant like Jupiter (no solid surface), intense lightning, and a frigid average temperature of -184°C (-300°F), Saturn is not a good place to plan this year's vacation!

The next planet from the Sun, Uranus, another gas giant, is the third largest planet and doesn't have much better weather than Saturn. Even though it is the second coldest planet, at -210°C (-350°F), it still boasts impressive wind-speeds of up to 825 km/h (515 mph).

Last but not least, Neptune, the eighth and final planet from the Sun, is also the coldest, with an average temperature of -220°C (-370°F)! For some reason that has eluded scientists so far, the coldest planet in the solar system also has the fastest winds. These winds blow around the planet at a break-neck speed of up to 2100km/h (1300 mph), almost 600 meters (1800 feet) per second!

Pluto, now a dwarf planet, is so small it barely holds on to an "atmosphere" that is 700,000 times thinner than the Earth's atmosphere. It is so cold here, -235°C (-390°F), that its atmosphere (mainly Nitrogen), literally freezes out of the sky and snows to the ground!

Before Pluto reminds us of our upcoming winter, let's check out what's up.

The Moon will be full October 4 and will diminish to a new Moon by October 18.

Jupiter will be in the South in the early evening sky, it will be the brightest "star-like" object in the sky.

In the morning sky, half an hour or so before sunrise, will be Venus, Saturn, and Mercury. Venus will be by far the brightest object in the sky (other than the Moon and the Sun). Saturn and Mercury will be fairly dim and hard to pick out, Mercury will be only staying around during early October. All three can be seen in the East.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club's monthly meeting will be held on the last Sunday of the month, October 25, at the Wilmot Community Centre in Summerside. It starts at 7pm and runs to 9pm. All guests are welcome.

The astronomy club's website, although a work in progress, is up and running. Check it out at:

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Last month, NASA scientists announced the discovery of water on the Moon. The Moon rocks brought back in the 1960's contained no water but now the scientists have found water all over the Moon. It's not much, but it will be enough to allow future colonies on the Moon to mine water from the soil. People living on the Moon may seem pretty far off, but NASA is planning on returning people to the Moon by 2020. Living on the Moon may not be science fiction for much longer!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Importance of Space Exploration to the World

Space exploration is extremely important to the world. One of the main reasons why it is so important is because it fulfills human curiosity and increases our understanding of how the universe works. Space exploration has helped discover how the dinosaurs went extinct, how the moon formed, and how nuclear reactions work, just to name a few.

A second major reason why space exploration is so important is because it provides every person with a sense of where they stand in the universe. It is very humbling to know the Earth is a tiny speck orbiting a mediocre yellow-dwarf star nowhere near the centre of our galaxy, let alone the universe!

A third reason why space exploration is so important is the spinoffs created from new technologies that are developed. From space exploration technology thousands of products have been developed such as digital cameras, cordless power-tools, memory foam, and UV-proof sunglasses. These three reasons are just a few of the reasons why space exploration is so important to the world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What's Up? Be Grateful for Earth's Forgiving Weather

Welcome back to What's Up?

The summer has finally provided us with some needed sunshine and clear nights allowing the Athena Community Astronomy Club to get in some boardwalk viewings. We go out to show the public the skies every clear Wednesday evening starting at 9pm.

During a recent viewing, August 26, the moon was starting to set in the western horizon. As it started sinking below the horizon it became a magnificent deep red. It looked very much like descriptions of the legendary burning ship reported to be seen occasionally over the Northumberland Strait.

As the crescent moon was dipping below the horizon it even resembled a curved sail, not too hard to imagine why someone would think of it as a burning ship.

Get out to take a look at the skies while you can, because winter will soon be rolling in and there's nothing more uncomfortable than standing out in the cold while trying to enjoy the beauty of night sky.

Weather in Canada can seem very harsh at times, with rain, heat waves in the Summer, frigid temperatures in the Winter, with sometimes ridiculous amounts of snow falling, and even the odd hurricane thrown in!

Earth's weather can seem pretty intense and hard to deal with, but it is nothing compared to the intense weather on the other planets in our solar system.

Let's take a quick tour of the weather conditions on other planets throughout the inner solar system.

On Earth, temperatures have reached 57º C ( 134º F) in Death Valley, California and have plummeted to a frigid -89º C (-130º F) in Antarctica. The fastest wind speed ever recorded on Earth was - hold onto your umbrella - a blistering 508 km/h (318 mph)!

The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, is the second hottest planet in the solar system. It is a scorched and cratered planet with little or no atmosphere. The temperature during its day can reach 420º C (788º F) while at night the Mercury in a thermometer will plunge to as cold as -220º C (-364º F).

Venus is even more hostile, with a nearly constant temperature of 460º C (860º F), so hot that lead runs like water. It is so hot because of the runaway greenhouse effect, which is a reminder of what extreme global warming can look like.

The atmosphere is as dense as 92 Earth atmospheres with a pressure at the planet's surface similar to being under 1 km of ocean water here on Earth. If the heat and pressure weren't bad enough, it rains sulfuric acid!

After Venus, we fly by Earth and head out farther from the sun to check out the Martian weather.

Since Mars is farther from the Sun than the Earth and is much smaller it is very cold. Winter temperatures can dip as low as -140º C (-220º F) but throughout the year Mars has an average planet-wide temperature of a toasty -55ºC (-67º F).

Mars isn't always cold. In some regions near the equator temperatures have climbed up to 32º C (89.6º F) for short periods. These warm temperatures help spawn large dust storms and even cyclones that are similar to our hurricanes.

Let's hope our hurricanes stay away so we can have some clear skies for the remainder of the International Year of Astronomy.

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy and Galileo first discovering the moons of Jupiter 400 years ago, come by the Summerside baywalk any clear Wednesday this month sometime around 9pm. Some members from the Athena Community Astronomy Club will be there to show Jupiter and its moons, Earth's moon, and other celestial objects through a telescope, to anyone interested.

The Moon was full on September 4 and will dwindle to a new moon by September 18.

Jupiter will be the brightest object in the South-East after sunset.

Finally, to finish off this month, is the monthly meeting of the Athena Community Astronomy Club. It will be held 7pm to 9pm on September 27 at the International Children's Memorial Place (Scales Pond, near Kinkora). There will be a sky viewing afterwards if weather permits.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...

Astronomers have just discovered what they call a suicidal planet around a distant star in our galaxy. It's a gas giant planet ten times the size of Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. This enormous planet orbits its star in slightly less than one Earth day. It is slowly spiraling inwards and will finally fall into its star within a million years. Astronomers have discovered 370 planets around other stars so far, who knows what they will discover next!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

NASA Funding is Spread too Thin

I've always known that NASA has been underfunded since the end of the Apollo program but that has been brought to extremes lately as NASA's budget has shrunk and inflation has reduced it further.

Early in Obama's first term as United States' president, he set out a group of people to do a review of NASA and in particular, the Constellation program.

The Constellation program was created in 2005 and initiated by the Bush administration to move humankind back to the moon, Mars, and beyond. It consists of the Ares I which launches the Orion crew capsule into space, the Ares V heavy cargo lifter, the Altair moon lander, and a whole new set of space suits, rovers, and other gear. The first moon landing is currently planned for 2020.

The budget required to develop the new Ares I and Ares V rockets was 108 billion dollars over 10 years. This budget has been hacked at and cut down by 30 billion dollars!

Obama's panel found that the Ares V won't be completed until 2028 on the current budget and moon landings won't be possible until early 2030s at the earliest. NASA was hoping on launching manned missions to Mars by the late 2030s.

Sally Ride, a former astronaut and one of the panel members concluded, “We can't do this program in this budget. This budget is simply not friendly to exploration.”

The panel's final review is due out by the end of August.

NASA has already put nine billion dollars into the Constellation program and is ready to test launch a mock-up of the Ares I crew launcher by October 2009.

Personally, I think that NASA should continue to develop the Ares I and use it until SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy Launcher is ready for crew. Then, NASA should scrap Ares I and continue development on the Ares V heavy cargo launcher. The Falcon 9 will cost around 50 million dollars per launch (the regular Falcon 9 costs only 27 million dollars per launch) while the Ares I will cost many hundreds of millions of dollars per launch.

The reason NASA needs to continue development of the Ares I if they want to launch the Ares V is because the Ares V requires many of the technologies that are being developed for the Ares I.

Another area where NASA's budget is stretched far too thin is the search for potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA has been mandated by Congress to find 90% of all Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that are 140 metres wide or larger by 2020.

Congress hasn't even approved any extra funding for NASA to do this, not one cent! This has lead to NASA taking money from other programs within NASA to help cover searched costs. Even with the NEO search program “stealing” money from other programs, NASA will finish the search by 2030, ten years late!

To give some perspective on how powerful an asteroid impact can be, think of Beringer Crater in Arizona. It is believed that the asteroid that impacted there was only 20 metres across, but hit so hard and so fast that the impact had the force of at least 150 times that of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. That single atomic bomb released more energy than ALL of World War I and World War II COMBINED.

These two extremely important programs aren't even close to being adequately funded yet Congress acts as if it's business as usual. More money is spent every year on pizza ($27 billion) or underage drinking ($23 billion) than the entire American space program!

It all comes down to this: stop cutting NASA's budget and instead cut or restrict spending (just a little bit) on something such as the defense program (the Americans' defense budget is more than half of the world's defense spending).

Start spending on science, new technology, and exploration and move humankind off of this tiny blue dot!

The Ares I-X test rocket shortly after completion in August 2009.

Check out to follow the Ares I-X test launch and to keep up to date with the Constellation program.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Up? 40 Years After the "Giant Leap for Mankind"

Welcome back to What's Up?

It was last month, on July 20, 40 years ago, that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on another world.

The Apollo program was the greatest burst of technological development since human civilization began, yet it took only five percent of the yearly federal budget to accomplish this great feat. NASA's current budget stands at less than 17 billion dollars, half of a percent of the entire federal budget.

Other than beating the Soviets to the moon, the Apollo program produced much more than pretty pictures and a few hundred kilograms of moon rocks.

At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 workers and used 20,000 businesses and universities. The Apollo program provided a great economic boost for the United States and provided many technological benefits. Spin-offs from Apollo include improved kidney dialysis (basically a blood filter), fire resistant materials used in firefighters' suits, hazardous gas detectors, insulation used in oil pipelines, and the first flight guidance system, just to name a few.

The Moon landings inspired the next generation of scientists and engineers who have allowed for the many scientific discoveries and technological innovations made in the last few decades.

About 380 kilograms (840 pounds) of soil and rocks were returned from the Moon. What were they made of and what could that possibly tell us about the Moon?

While there was no mozzarella or cheddar, there were many similarities to Earth's composition. The amount of oxygen and iron in the rocks strongly supports the idea that the moon was formed when the Earth was hit with an object the size of Mars. The impact splashed material into orbit around the Earth. The material eventually cooled and clumped together to form the Moon.

The idea of going to the Moon has been around for hundreds of years, if not thousands, but actual plans to visit the moon weren't finalized until the early 1960s. John F. Kennedy set a goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the decade. Meeting this goal was one of the greatest challenges that a single nation has ever faced.

The rocket required for the mission, the Saturn V, was not even finished on paper yet, let alone a working model. The parts for the computers that were needed to guide the astronauts to the Moon were not even invented yet, the engineers just had to hope they would be invented in the next few years. The United States had barely even placed an astronaut into space before Kennedy backed Apollo in 1961.

Apollo spurred many great innovations in technology, inspired millions around the world, and did some great science along the way. Who knows what the next generation of Moon landings and maybe even Mars landings will bring.

Looking up at the Moon this month we will remember when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon 40 years ago.

While we're looking up at the Moon, it will be full on August 5 and then become a New Moon by August 20.

The Perseid meteor shower, the best meteor shower of the year with up to 100 meteors visible per hour, will be best seen on the night of August 11 and the very early morning of August 12.

Jupiter will be fairly low in the South-East during most of the month after sunset. It will appear brighter to the naked-eye and larger through a telescope than it has been since October 1999.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will continue to be on the Summerside boardwalk every clear Wednesday evening showing anyone interested views through telescopes and answering any questions that may be asked.

To finish off the month is the astronomy club's monthly meeting on the last Sunday of the month, August 30, at the Wilmot Community Center.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
On July 15 Jupiter got smacked with a large asteroid or comet. No one actually saw it before or when it hit. What astronomers did see was a big darkened patch in Jupiter's clouds after it hit. Something like this happened only fifteen years ago when a comet came in, broke up into little pieces, and one after another, smashed into Jupiter. If one heads our way hopefully we will have a bit of warning so we can get rid of it, scientists will just have to be sure to keep their eye on the "ball!"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What's Up? Quick and Easy Viewing

Welcome back to What's Up?

NASA returned to the moon last month with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the first mission to the moon in almost 40 years. This robotic mission will orbit the moon, map it in great detail, image the Apollo landing sites, and look for pockets of water ice hidden in deep craters. It will also look for good landing sites for the manned moon missions that will take place a decade from now.

There are many exciting spacecraft missions going on right now as well as giant telescopes taking beautiful images of distant planets, stars, nebula, and galaxies. Although reading about all of the great observations and discoveries of distant worlds is fascinating, sometimes seeing is believing.

What can be seen with just your eyes or maybe through a small pair of binoculars?

With only your eyes, you can check out the constellations, see the five brightest planets, and even spot a few of the brighter nebulae (plural of nebula) and star clusters. The nebulae and star clusters will look like dim smudges but being able to see these objects that are so far away (it takes thousands of years for their light to travel here) is quite remarkable.

On a clear night, a dark sky site (anywhere on PEI a few kilometers away from a large town) will show you the Milky Way as a faint band of light stretching across the sky, thousands of stars, and a few smudges of light that are the nebulae and star clusters.

A personal favourite dark site of mine is at the International Children's Memorial Place (in Scales Pond provincial park). The skies there are extremely dark, the trees don't block too much of the sky, and the air is very still. Frost and dew can be an issue but the darkness and stillness allow for some of the best viewing I've ever had.

Recently at the International Children's Memorial Place the dam overflowed and finally burst, creating a large hole in the dam wall. What used to be a beautiful pond is now nothing but a trickle of water through a silt-laden mess. The silt is a lot like quicksand and poses a serious hazard. Hopefully the government will fix the dam as soon as possible and return the pond to its natural state.

Once you've found a nice spot to view the sky you can start to find many things in the sky. At the moment Saturn is low in the Western sky right after sunset.

If you have a pair of binoculars, now is the time to get them out. All binoculars have two numbers, such as 7x35, for example. The 7 stands for how many times bigger the object will look and 35 is the diameter of the lens. 8x50 or 10x50 binoculars are preferred by most amateur astronomers.

Saturn through 10x50 binoculars may yield a hint of the rings around Saturn, but a small telescope will show them as a little donut around the planet. Through a larger telescope you may even be able to see a gap in the rings. This gap is called the Cassini division.

Later in the month, you'll be able to spot Jupiter rising in the West around 10:30. It will be the brightest object in the sky at the time, except for the moon. Jupiter displays very little color to the unaided eye, but may appear yellowish.

Through 8x50 binoculars, Jupiter will appear as a small white-yellow disk. What is really neat about viewing Jupiter is its four moons. These moons, called the Galilean moons, are named after the man who discovered them 400 years ago, and appear as four tiny stars in a line nearby Jupiter. The position of the moons can be seen to change noticeably night by night.

Carefully looking through a small telescope, some detail on Jupiter's disk may be apparent. There will likely be two stripes going across the planet. These are giant bands in Jupiter's upper atmosphere.

You may also see the Great Red Spot (a storm three times the size of the Earth that is at least 400 years old). Although the Great Red Spot used to be easily visible, it has faded in recent years and is very hard to spot.

If you do see the Great Red Spot you'll be able to see spot run across Jupiter's disk through the night because Jupiter rotates in only 8 hours.

Earth's moon is full on July 7th and will diminish to a New Moon by July 21st.

Space Shuttle mission STS-127 with Canadian astronaut Julie Payette onboard is scheduled to launch on July 11th.

July 20th marks the 40 anniversary of the first man walking on the moon. It was the first of six successful moon landings from 1969 to 1972.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will continue its weekly viewing sessions. We'll be set up every clear Wednesday evening on the Summerside boardwalk by the shipyard market building.

To finish off the month is the Athena Community Astronomy Club's monthly meeting. As usual, it will be held the last Sunday of the month on July 26th.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
July 20th marks the 40th anniversary of humankind first stepping on the moon. Did you know that the astronauts were put in a small chamber for three weeks when they got back to Earth? They were isolated like this because there were fears that the astronauts could be carrying deadly germs from the moon. We now know that there is no life on the moon and that the moon is definitely not made of cheese!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We're Finally Going Back to the Moon

With the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America began. Each tried to do something new in space before the other. In the beginning the Soviets were well ahead. They even got the first person into space, but this didn’t deter the Americans.

Before America put a single person into orbit they had created the Apollo program to send people to the Moon. This wasn’t just for science or for exploration; it was to show America's superiority over Russia and the world.

Later, when the United States’ Space Shuttle program started, the Soviets tried to keep up, but the Soviet Union crumbled and all plans were abandoned. This effectively ended the space race. After that, the United States and Russia have cooperated in low Earth orbit with the Russian Mir space station and more recently the International Space Station.

There hasn’t been any political motivation to reach farther, go back to the Moon, visit the asteroids, or go to Mars. NASA is currently planned to return to the Moon in 2020 and to go to Mars by the late 2030’s. It won’t be a space race, but it will still be exciting as the first person leaves Earth, crosses millions of miles of empty space, and sets foot on another planet for the very first time.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the first NASA spacecraft sent to the moon in many years, is expected to launch June 17, 2009. It will spend its time orbiting the Moon, mapping its surface in high detail and searching for water hidden in the dark lunar craters near the southern and northern poles. It carries with it a probe which will impact the moon. The dust plume that will result from the impact will be examined for water and other compounds.

NASA's Constellation program is making fairly good progress with the first test launch of the Ares I-X rocket planned for this summer. The rocket will test the main rockets and will have weight added to the top to simulate the crew and a payload. It will fly on a ballistic trajectory and land in the Atlantic Ocean. The first manned flight of the Ares-I will occur no earlier than 2014 and the first test flight of the Ares-V heavy lift rocket will happen no earlier than 2018.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Immensity of the Universe is Staggering

This video puts the size of the planets, stars, and the universe in perspective for anyone who believes that they live at the center of the universe.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Up? What Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?

Welcome back to What's Up?

Last month, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched, carrying Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk along with two other astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This brings the ISS crew up to six for the first time ever. Another first was having a member from all five contributing space agencies in space at the same time. They are NASA (United States), the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japanese space agency (JAXA), and the Russian space agency (RKA).

Astronauts are routinely seen on the news floating around, smiling, and generally having a good time. It sometimes looks like it would be rather easy to become an astronaut. This brings up the question, what does it actually take to become an astronaut?

In order to apply to be a Canadian astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) you must be in great physical condition. To meet the minimum physical and medical requirements you must be between five feet and six feet three inches tall, have 20/20 vision (glasses are allowed), great hearing, and you must have a healthy blood pressure (and preferably not prone to panic attacks).

On the intellectual side you must either have a license to practice medicine, a bachelor's degree in science or engineering, or preferably, a PhD (highest degree possible) in a scientific field. Having a pilot license or being a fighter pilot can really help.

After the applicants are narrowed down to a few hundred, many psychological tests are done to see who is fit to spend long durations of time in a confined space with other people.

Once that is done, more psychological tests are done, as well as physical tests, such as swimming, running, strength, endurance, etc. Mental tests as well as emergency training drills dealing with fire, being trapped underwater, and survival tests are conducted.

The CSA then narrows the choices down to 16 highly skilled people. They get to go through parts of astronaut training. More physical and mental tests are conducted, until finally, after months of testing, two astronauts are chosen.

The CSA just selected two new astronauts on May 13 from a list of over 5000 applicants. It was the first Canadian astronaut recruitment in 16 years. The two selected Canadians are extremely intelligent, physically fit, and are already highly accomplished people.

The two new astronauts are Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques.

Jeremy Hanson, from London, Ontario, has a Bachelor of Science in Space Science and is an award-winning fighter pilot and is currently working as a combat operations officer in Cold Lake, Alberta.

The other astronaut chosen, David Saint-Jacques has a PhD in astrophysics and is currently a medical doctor working in Quebec.

Half of the 16 candidates are military pilots, some have a medical degree, and nearly all have a degree in science or engineering.

Any person who wishes to become an astronaut must be highly intelligent, physically fit, a great team worker, and a very skilled problem solver.

These are the people who are risking their lives to move humankind from this speck of dust we call Earth, to the final frontier.

There is nothing stopping those of us who wish to look upward, so let's see what's up this month.

The Space Shuttle will launch this month, on June 13 and will head up to the International Space Station.

NASA is also set to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 17. It is the first probe that NASA has sent to the Moon in many years. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will map the moon in detail and look for water ice that may be lurking in deep craters near the north and south poles of the moon.

The moon will start off the month as a full moon on June 7. This will change to a new moon by June 22.

Saturn will spend the month in the south-western sky after sunset. It has been dimming and will continue to dim for the next few months. If you have access to a telescope this month, check out the rings, they are very close to being edge on and appear much thinner than usual.

Jupiter will be rising shortly after midnight and will be the brightest object in the sky (except for the moon) at the time.

Venus and Mars will spend the month next to each other in the east just before sunrise. Venus will be a brilliant white or yellow while Mars will be a dim orange.

Starting June 17, the Athena Community Astronomy Club will be spending every Wednesday evening this summer on the Summerside boardwalk near the shipyard market. Come by for a peek through a telescope at Saturn, the Moon, or whatever else may be up in the sky that night.

Finally, the monthly club meeting will be held on June 28 at the Wilmot Community Center.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
One of the Mars rovers, named Spirit, a remote controlled vehicle with cameras, is stuck in very slippery sand. They used the robotic arm with a camera at the end to take a look at how far the wheels have sunken into the sand. As well as being stuck, the solar panels that Spirit uses to get energy from the sun were covered in dust. Recently a gentle gust of wind blew them clean. It appears that Spirit has a good chance of getting unstuck. Just remember, when traveling to Mars, make sure you bring your winter tires.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What's Up? Is it Astronomy or Astrology?

Welcome back to What's Up?

Every amateur astronomer has been asked at some point, "Is it astronomy or astrology?" and "What's the difference between astronomy and astrology?"

Astronomy is a science, it uses facts, evidence, and mathematics to come to conclusions about the universe around us. Astrology is the unfounded belief that the position of the planets relative to the stars in the sky affect everyday life in some way.

Although very different today, astronomy and astrology share common roots. Over 2000 years ago, astrology was created by the ancient Babylonians. They believed that the position of the planets in the sky could be used to predict the future. They also believed that the constellation the sun rose in the day of a person's birth would determine their personality and fate.

Since the sun rises in the same general area of the sky all year and the stars and constellations slowly rotate overhead, the sun will rise in one constellation to the next spending on average a month in each.

According to astrologers, the sun rises in Gemini from May 21 to June 21, but not all constellations are the same size, so the sun can spend different amounts of time in each one.

There's also another major flaw in astrology: since astrology was created, the positions of the constellations have shifted. If you take someone born on June 16, they are considered a Gemini, but when it comes to checking where the sun rises, it actually rises in Taurus!

Astronomy started to diverge from astrology in the early 1600's when it was discovered that the planets are actual worlds of their own and not just tiny points of light, Earth is not the centre of the universe, and math began to be used to predict the path of planets through space (math can't be used to predict someone's personality or the next time someone will stub their toe).

Astronomy is now a diverse and extremely interesting scientific field. Using it, humans have landed on the moon, robotic spacecraft have been sent to the planets, there are planets around other stars, we now know stars don't live forever and often die dramatic deaths, and that the universe is so enormous that light takes billions upon billions of years to cross just a portion of it.

Astronomy has also provided great benefits to our everyday lives. Things like cell phones, satellite TV, weather forecasts, GPS, and accurate maps of the Earth all owe their existence to the science of astronomy.

Look at all the benefits astronomy has provided, what has astrology done for anybody other than being a little fun to read in a newspaper?

Astrology has done a great deal of harm to many people in the past. Many civilizations of the past had their own appointed astrologer and didn't allow anyone else to make observations of the sky, hindering any way for astronomy to develop.

Astrologers that got predictions wrong were often executed, as their job was to predict the future of the empire to which they belong. Those astrologers made sure to keep their predictions vague or change the details of their predictions to match what later happened.

Although not very common today, many people still fall victim to fraud artists who scam people out of money with astrology.

In 1998, for example, an astrologer in Alang, India, predicted that there would be a disastrous cyclone. Over 60,000 workers were evacuated from the town's shipyard. The cyclone never came. As much as 60 million dollars of profit were lost. This is just one example of many in recent history.

As Carl Sagan, a great astronomer who popularized science, once said about astronomy and astrology, "There are two ways to view the stars, as they really are, and as we might wish them to be."

To read further into the nonsense of astrology go to "".

* * *

Forgetting astrology, let's check out what the planets are really up to this month.

Mercury will be low in the west right after sunset while Saturn will be high in the south. Jupiter will be rising much later in the evening and will be fairly high in the southeast by twilight.

Right before the sun rises in the morning will be brilliant Venus in the east. It will be the brightest starlike object in the sky and will slowly rise higher in the sky as the month progresses. Reddish-orange Mars will be to the lower left of Venus for much of the month.

The moon will be full on May 9 and will shrink to a new moon by May 24.

On May 11, the space shuttle is planned head up to the Hubble Space Telescope for a repair mission.

* * *

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will be having boardwalk astronomy viewing sessions by the Shipyard Market building during the weekend if skies are clear. Come by for a peek through a telescope at Saturn, the Moon, or whatever else is visible in the sky at that time. Club members will typically be there from 9pm to 11pm.

To end this month, is the monthly Athena Community Astronomy Club meeting in the Wilmot community centre. Visitors are always welcome. It runs from 7pm to 9pm on Sunday, May 31.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
On April 25, the "world's largest model rocket" was launched. It was a model of the Saturn V rocket that brought people to the moon in the 1970's. It's about ten times shorter than the Saturn V and was only expected to fly up about one mile high. It set the Guinness world record for heaviest model rocket. It weighed over 1600 pounds. It may have been a beast but it was sure beautiful when it launched!

Monday, April 6, 2009

What's Up? A New Age of Manned Space Exploration

Welcome back to What's Up?

On Sunday, March 15, the space shuttle docked with the International Space Station. During the mission the astronauts installed a final set of solar panels to bring space station up to full power and allow for a crew of up to six people. The solar arrays now have a total collecting area of over one acre and an electrical production capacity of 100 kW, or about enough electricity to power 52 average households.

The US space shuttle is very expensive, is limited to low Earth orbit and has been scheduled to retire in 2010. In 2004, George Bush signed the Vision For Space Exploration, which is designed to start a new age of human space exploration for NASA. NASA will accomplish this through the Constellation program.

The Constellation program will consist of the Ares rocket, Orion crew module, and the Altair lander. Constellation is what Michael Griffin, NASA's previous head administrator, calls "Apollo on Steroids."

The Ares rocket will come in two sizes, the Ares I, which will carry the Orion crew module into space and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle, which will launch heavy cargo and/or the Altair Lander with the Earth Departure Stage (EDS). The Altair lander will be used to land on the Moon.

Once the Orion crew module and the Altair lander/EDS are launched they will meet and head on their way to the Moon or Mars using the EDS' main rockets. Once they arrive, the lander will detach from the crew module and will land while leaving the Orion module in orbit. When the astronauts finish their work they will use the Altair lander to blast off into space to meet up with the Orion crew module. They will then head back to Earth to land.

The first test flight will occur in the Summer of 2009 while the first manned flight is scheduled for 2014. The long awaited return of humans to the moon is then planned for 2019, the first manned moon landing since 1972!

The US returning to the moon may seem like old news to most people, but the interesting thing is this time we are going settle on the moon, creating permanent colonies.

At the moment NASA is the space agency with the most concrete plans for returning to the moon by the 2020's. Among the other countries that have announced that they have plans to go to the moon are Europe (18 countries are currently working together in one large collective space agency), Russia, Japan, China, and India.

Russia recently announced that they plan on landing on the moon before NASA does, reigniting memories of the space race back in the 1960's. Russia is still having problems switching to democracy, is going through very tough times, and has its space agency running on little more than 10% of NASA's budget, and has a very uncertain future in space exploration.

Countries all over the world are about embark humanity on its greatest manned exploration effort ever, by humanity finally entering the final frontier. Most first world countries are going to be involved in this, as well as a few developing nations, so where is Canada's place in all of this?

The Canadian Space Agency has provided the robotic space arm to the International Space Station and has also supplied Dextre, a robotic "hand" that allows external space station repairs without putting astronauts at risk.

Although the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has had some great achievements in the past, its future is somewhat uncertain. Its budget has not been increasing to keep up with inflation and is actually going to drop over the next few years.

Even though there are budgetary concerns, the agency continues to work with NASA and other agencies to keep involved. The CSA is conducting underwater robotic experiments with a robotic "surgeon," and early designs for a lunar rover have been made. Canada's part in settling the Moon and Mars will clearly be robotics, as it has excelled with past robotic components designed and made for NASA.

While the world has its sights set for outer space, let's set our gaze upwards and see what's up this month.

On Saturday, April 4, is the wrap up event for 100 Hours of Astronomy. 100 Hours of Astronomy is a worldwide event in celebration of this year being declared the International Year of Astronomy. The goal of 100 Hours of Astronomy is to get as many people as possible to get a look through a telescope just like Galileo did 400 years ago when he discovered the craters on the moon and Saturn's rings.

Charlottetown's astronomy club will have a display set up at the Charlottetown Mall Atrium during the day and have a viewing at the North Shore Dark Sky Site in the parking lot across from the Dalvay hotel in participation of the 100 Hours of Astronomy. All are welcome to come.

Summerside's club, the Athena Community Astronomy Club will be having a public viewing session at the waterfront boardwalk in Summerside that evening if the weather agrees. If you're on your way by, or around town and you have a few minutes to spare, stop by for a peek through a telescope.

The full moon will be a few days later on April 9. It is called the egg moon because it occurs right before Easter. It will become a new moon again by April 25.

Saturn will be fairly high in the southeast in the evening sky while Jupiter, Mars, and Venus will be hiding in the morning sky.

Finally, to finish off the month is the monthly meeting of the Athena Community Astronomy Club at the Wilmot Center. The meeting is from 7pm to 9pm on Sunday, April 26. Guests are always welcome.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Last month the record for most people in space at once was tied for the third time. On March 26, there were 13 people floating around in space, including one space tourist. The space tourist, Charles Simonyi, payed $35 million dollars for his ticket to space. No space tourist has ever been to space twice. So if any of you out there win the lottery or have a few extra bucks to spend, a space flight would be a great way to spend it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Image of galaxy triplet taken for 100 Hours of Astronomy

For 100 Hours of Astronomy, an event of the IYA2009, the Hubble Space Telescope took an image of a galaxy triplet (Arp 274).

Read the news release on the HubbleSite NewsCenter.

Click here to view available sizes of the above image.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's Up? The Solar Cycle and the Danger of Solar Flares

As the end of winter approaches (hopefully!), the warmth of the sun will be well appreciated. To most people the sun looks like a simple, unchanging orb of light. But in reality, the sun is a wild, dangerous, and somewhat unpredictable broiling ball of hot gases. It is the gases blasted off the sun that cause the aurora borealis (northern lights).

The sun's surface is constantly bubbling and is frequently covered in small dark spots called sunspots. Sunspots appear when the sun's magnetic field is tangled up. If you ever get the opportunity to see the image of the sun projected from a telescope you could see a few of these "solar pimples."

The sun also, on occasion, emits highly energetic flares of material. Solar flares tend to occur around sunspots and are the sun's way of getting rid of built up magnetic energy.

The sun goes through cycles where it is really quiet for a while, has periods with a large amount of solar activity, and then quietens back down again. This cycle is referred to as the solar cycle and lasts roughly eleven years.

During 2009, the sun will be very inactive and will have only a few sunspots throughout the year. The number of spots will increase until 2012 when the solar cycle reaches its peak number of sunspots. Near the peak and for a while after the peak, solar flares occur very frequently. Occasionally one of these flares are aimed towards the Earth.

Just a few years ago a large flare was shot straight at Earth. On PEI the entire sky turned red when the energetic particles caused Earth's upper atmosphere to glow.

Solar flares may create beautiful auroras but can also cause serious damage.

In 1859 a massive solar flare hit Earth, causing charged particles to move in Earth's upper atmosphere, creating odd magnetic fields. That in turn caused electric currents to flow through long telegraph wires which sparked a few house fires.

A similar event occurred in 1989 which caused Quebec's power grid to go down for 9 hours, resulting in a loss of millions of dollars.

Since 1989, the power grids have had little upgrades and are overloaded. A solar flare like the one in 1989 would cause more widespread power outages.

Other than causing power outages, solar flares can cause large amounts of damage to satellites. Satellites carry satellite television service, cell phone and some internet signals, allow GPS to work, and monitor weather around the Earth. Since a majority of these satellites are unprotected they are vulnerable to being knocked out by a large flare. That kind of damage would cost millions or potentially billions if it were to be of a similar magnitude as the 1859 solar flare.

NASA currently has multiple observatories monitoring the sun, but the sun can change so quickly and flares travel so fast that they may hit Earth only a few hours after being detected. To keep an eye on what the sun is up to with the SOHO (SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) spacecraft go to:

And while you're checking out what the sun is doing, let's check out what's up in the sky this month.

Starting off, the moon will be full on Mar. 11, and will still be very full looking (and eerie) for Friday the 13th. The full moon will diminish to a new moon by Mar. 26.

The Vernal Equinox, or first day of Spring, will occur on Mar. 20.

If you're an early riser, check out Venus around Mar. 25. For a few days around Mar. 25 you will be able to see Venus set in the evening sky and rise in the morning sky in the same night! This rare event only happens once every eight years. At dusk, Venus will be setting in the western sky and at dawn Venus will be rising in the eastern sky. It will appear as the brightest "star" in the sky. Check it out about 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise. If you have binoculars or a telescope look for Venus' neat crescent shape.

NASA's Kepler mission launched Mar. 6 will be the first mission to look for Earth-like planets. It will look towards the constellation Cygnus, monitoring the brightness of a few hundred thousand stars, looking changes in the stars' brightness. If there is a periodic drop in a star's brightness, that means there is a planet crossing in front of the star, blocking some of its light. NASA scientists hope to discover a few Earth sized planets and help provide an estimate for how common Earth-like planets are in our galaxy.

Finally, on Sunday, Mar. 29 will be the monthly meeting of the Athena Community Astronomy Club at the Wilmot Community Centre in Summerside. Visitors are always very welcome to come.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
Did you know that Venus glows in the dark? If the sun were turned off, a dim, deep red light could be seen coming from Venus. It glows like that because of chemical interactions happening in Venus' upper atmosphere. Check out Venus in the night sky for yourself by looking in the western sky (the sun sets in the western sky) at sunset. It won't be glowing red, but will be a brilliant bright yellow, brighter than any other star in the sky. If you have access to binoculars or a telescope, point them at Venus and you will see a crescent shape. See if you can notice the changes in Venus' phase night to night. Good luck in your celestial hunting!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Obama's 2010 budget - NASA and NSF funding increased!

President Barack Obama released his 2010 budget outline. The whole document is 140 pages long. Let's digitally flip to close to the end.... ah here we are! NASA's budget. And look! Budget increases!

From the document:

"Funding Highlights:

Provides $18.7 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Combined with

the $1 billion provided to the agency in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,

this represents a total increase of more than $2.4 billion over the 2008 level.

Funds a program of space-based research that supports the Administration’s commitment to

deploy a global climate change research and monitoring system.

Funds a robust program of space exploration involving humans and robots. The National

Aeronautics and Space Administration will return humans to the Moon while also supporting a

vigorous program of robotic exploration of the solar system and universe.

Funds the safe flight of the Space Shuttle through the vehicle’s retirement at the end of 2010.

An additional flight will be conducted if it can be completed safely before the end of 2010.

Funds the development of new space flight systems for carrying American crews and supplies

to space.

Funds continued use of the International Space Station to support the agency and other Federal,

commercial, and academic research and technology testing needs.

Funds aeronautics research to address aviation safety, air traffic control, noise and emissions

reduction, and fuel efficiency."

The NSF is also getting budget increases:

"Funding Highlights:

•Provides $7 billion for the National Science Foundation, a 16-percent increase over the 2008

level, as part of the President’s Plan for Science and Innovation.

•Increases support for graduate research fellowships and for early-career researchers.

•Increases support for the education of technicians in the high-technology fields that drive the

Nation’s economy.

Encourages more novel high-risk, high-reward research proposals.

•Increases support for critical research priorities in global climate change."

It looks like congress is taking science a little more seriously than George Bush did. Let's just hope they spend this money more wisely, otherwise it is just wasted tax-payer dollars.