08 August 2011


Last Friday the Juno spacecraft, our first solar-powered unmanned explorer, was launched on a mission to study the composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere of the planet Jupiter. The 1.74 billion mile journey will take five years before Juno (image above) can enter orbit around our solar system's largest planet. Jupiter is so massive, with a diameter equal to approximately 11 Earth diameters, that Juno will be able to complete only 33 orbits of the planet during a single Earth year. It's nice to know that with the demise of the Space Shuttle program, we have some measure of token exploration to look forward to.

More good news. Remember Cosmos, the PBS series hosted by Carl Sagan? It was first broadcast in 1980, and remains the most widely watched PBS series in the world. Episodes in the series revealed our then-current knowledge on everything from physics to astronomy, the solar system to the origin of the universe, all in the clear and friendly style that was Sagan's trademark.

Well, years have passed, our knowledge has expanded, and now plans are afoot to present a 13-part sequal hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (image below), an equally fluent and enthusiastic popularizer of science who has hosted PBS' Nova scienceNOW for the past five years. Like Sagan, Tyson has appeared on numerous television shows, spreading the word that science is not only understandable, it is exciting. I'm very much looking forward to the new series.

Speaking of NdGT's guest appearances, here's an unusual sample from one of Bill Maher's shows ~ unusual in that Tyson steps outside his usually-amiable self to object to the preponderance of lawyers, lawyers, lawyers populating the U.S. Congress. "There are no scientists? Where are the engineers? Where is the rest of life represented here?" Indeed. In China, 7 of 9 government officials are trained in science and engineering. By contrast, we are led by lawyers and businessmen, with a profoundly narrow. profit-ruled view of the world. Small wonder that our economy is in a shambles, that opportunistic wars rule our foreign policy, or that attention to science and the arts is non-existent. Capitalism has evolved into something very ugly and self-destructive.

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