Happy 2022 to all!
What an unbelievable year 2021 was for astronomy, capped off with the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.
A little over 100 years ago, the Wright Brothers mastered flight on December 17, 1903. Within the last 120 years, humans have flown the first airplanes, we have landed on the moon and now operate a space lab in constant orbit around our planet. We have launched satellites, robotic landers and telescopes that are exploring the cosmos. And now we have Webb, ready to peer back in time, to the beginnings of our universe. If that’s not progress, then I don’t know what is.
And yet the media, in the United States in particular, focuses on negativity and frivolity. But that is why AAA exists, and why my singular goal as president is to make as many people as possible aware of who we are and what there is to appreciate in the skies above.
Speaking of ‘information of consequence’, I came across an article a few days ago concerning NASA, and that the agency is meeting with different social scientists in order to be prepared to explain to the people of Earth what it means to have found life elsewhere in the universe. You read that correctly: when Webb becomes fully operational, combined with other space-based telescopes, and the plethora of scopes in Chile, Hawaii and elsewhere on Earth, it is entirely likely that life will be found out there. Sooner rather than later.
This all reminds me of a AAA lecture that I attended at the American Museum of Natural History (where we have always held our lectures, before Covid halted in-person meetings) many years ago, where I asked the speaker if NASA was taking preparatory steps to deal with how humans will react to life being discovered elsewhere. The lecturer laughed and dismissed my question. Now, this is not at all an attack on the speaker, but rather a word of caution. Even scientists sometimes fall prey to their own emotions and biases.
Just as the search for life in the universe had previously focused on ‘goldilocks zones’ (planets with conditions similar to those of Earth), even though we know tardigrades can survive living in space (panspermia, anyone?) and gastropods live on hydrothermal vents in the seas that would be deadly to almost all other life on Earth, science requires an open mind, the willingness to say ‘I was wrong’, and perhaps most importantly to not think of the universe in a sapien-centric manner.
This is why AAA offers classes, podcasts, lectures, observing, and a community to share ideas. Learn, challenge and be challenged, and make the sky’s the limit.
Welcome to 2022.
Brian Berg, President