Looking Ahead: Total Solar Eclipse
Mark your calendar for the total solar eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017. Plans are in the works for an eclipse watch event on campus; but if you can’t be in Davidson on Aug. 21, just look up from wherever you are.
For centuries humans have indulged their cosmic curiosity, looking to the heavens for explanations and inspiration–from early human ancestors to Aristotle to astronauts to private space flight pioneers. While scientific discovery, economic benefit and national security are among the many reasons humans continue to explore "the final frontier," astronomer Kristen Thompson points to other worthy considerations–beauty and perspective.
With Space Day, a multifaceted community outreach event on Saturday, April 8, Thompson hopes to remind people to appreciate the universe. The event is sponsored by the Physics Department.
"Many dreams, and careers, have begun by looking at the stars and wondering how they were made, why they shine so brightly and what else may be up there," Thompson said. "I see countless people every day looking down at their phones while they walk, but I very rarely see anyone looking up at the sky as dusk arrives and the stars become visible."
Space Day will feature an interactive astronomy fair from 3-6 p.m. on Chambers Lawn, followed by a lecture from 7-8 p.m. by NASA Solar System Ambassador Jack Howard, who will discuss the recent TRAPPIST-1 system discovery and where it fits into the search for Earth-like planets. The night will end with stargazing through telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on Chambers Lawn.
"The Universe puts on a show for us every night, and it is free!," Thompson said. "All you have to do is take the time to look up and wonder."
View the full Space Day schedule. All activities are free and open to the public.
Are we alone in the universe? The Kepler space observatory was launched by NASA in 2009 to discover Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars. It has identified more than 1,000 "exoplanets" in or near habitable zones, or zones potentially hospitable for life. The James Webb Space Telescope will launch in 2018 and replace Kepler as the premiere observatory in the hunt for worlds beyond our own.
Pale Blue Dot
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering... The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand." -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The Hubble Space Telescope has been circling Earth for more than 25 years. In that time, it has revolutionized our knowledge of astronomy–from imaging the most stunning phenomena in the cosmos, to the study of the invisible parts of the universe, to observing the most distant objects ever seen. Scientists expect the Hubble to keep operating through 2020, thanks to five servicing missions performed by astronauts.
The United States, the Soviet Union and China signed an international agreement in 1967 that prevents any claims of sovereignty upon a portion of outer space and prohibits the placing of nuclear arms in the Earth's orbit, on the moon or on other celestial bodies.
Many positive collaborations between nations emerge from space exploration, from the subdivision of costs to the sharing of technological resources that guarantee the safety of astronauts. Despite geopolitical turbulence, the spirit on board the International Space Station remains one of friendship and cooperation.
From improved artificial limbs, to memory foam, to thermal space blankets used today by marathon runners at the end of races, to portable vacuum cleaners, space research has led to a plethora of innovations non-astronauts use every day.