As beautiful and hospitable as China was, it is wonderful to be back in the United States, back home. After the longest Friday of my life – an extra 12 hours of time change added, all of it spent in an airplane traveling up to and over the north coast of Alaska – we returned to Latrobe at midnight. On Sunday, the Fred Forward Conference began at the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarshipsed M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. The conference brought over one hundred researchers, educators, and developers together to carry Fred Rogers’ vision of putting children first into the development of a framework for quality in digital media. Our Rogers Scholars – eleven students, five first-year students and six rising-juniors, working with the Fred Rogers Center – participated in a number of ways. Fred Forward began with a brief rain shower followed by a brilliant double rainbow over the ridge. Mrs. Rogers graciously posed for pictures with the rainbows in the background. Later that evening Professor Tom Octave and the Saint Vincent Singers sang a few of Fred’s treasured songs from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarships to four outstanding recipients. The conference utilized Twitter for back channel discussions, take a look using #fredforward.
No other science, with the possible exception of meteorology, is impacted by the weather more than observational astronomy – at least ground-based, optical astronomy. Tuesday’s historic transit of Venus occurred above a thick layer of clouds and occasional cool June drizzle here in Latrobe. About 40 people came to the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion plaza where we had a few telescopes set up waiting for a break in the clouds. While that break did not occur before sunset, we were able to simulate the transit in the Planetarium and watch it live via the NASA webcast from Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Click here to see a nice time lapse movie of the transit.
On Tuesday, the news media was abuzz when the National Reconnaissance Office declassified and gave NASA two “spare” telescopes that were in storage in Rochester, New York. Originally designed to point down at the Earth and roughly the size of Hubble Space Telescope, these two “repurposed” spy satellites, turned in the opposite direction to peer outward, are serendipitously optimized to survey large sections of the celestial sphere with resolution that cannot be matched by ground-based telescopes. Astronomers recently recommended building just such an instrument to continue progress on two of the most intriguing scientific investigations: 1) the study of the mysterious Dark Energy that is causing the universe to accelerate; and 2) the search for planets around other stars. This gift has the potential of answering some fundamental questions and insuring that the United State continues to lead in these areas. Today, NASA’s Kepler satellite is discovering several planets each month and, with a mission extended to 2016, promises to find on order of a dozen Earth-like planets. The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three Americans who discovered the acceleration of the universe by studying distant supernova. Despite these successes, budget constraints threatened even the highest priorities of the astronomical community’s plan for the next decade. Thus, continuing our leadership in these areas beyond 2020 was in doubt. In these difficult economic times, saving the cost of building this space telescope and only having to fund its launch and support will help to assure a vibrant astrophysical research agenda and that some of the big questions of our generation may be answered.