Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

A possible picture of Lincoln at the Gettysburg cemetery ceremonies
Image Credit: Alexander Gardner / Center for Civil War Photography / Library of Congress

Monday is Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day when we remember those dead who served in the armed forces. I grew up not too far from Gettysburg, and a visit to the National Cemetery there was always a stark reminder of the price that was paid and continues to be paid by others so that I and others may have the opportunity to live free and safe. I owe a debt deeper than I can repay to those soldiers.

In spite of the big holiday, many exciting astronomy things are afoot. On Sunday, the Phoenix Mars Lander will try and touch down safely on Mars, after which it will look for signs of life in the water ice near Mars' polar ice cap. Only about half of Mars lander missions have succeeded; the landing sequence is tough and has to be fully automated, and human errors seem to be quite common. I'm optimistic, though. I know some of the people involved from my time at Arizona, and they are being exceptionally careful with this spacecraft. Best wishes to the Phoenix team for a safe landing!

In just 1 1/2 weeks, NASA's newest space observatory, GLAST, will be launched. GLAST stands for "Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope," and will be the most powerful gamma ray telescope ever. Gamma rays come from very energetic events (like supernovae and black holes), as well as from nuclear reactions, so GLAST will be able to shed some light on some of the most extreme physics in the Universe.

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