Seeing stars and beyond

Did you know that 2009 is modern astronomy’s quadricentennial?

Jul 1st, 2009
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Did you know that 2009 is modern astronomy’s quadricentennial? Dubbed the “International Year of Astronomy” by the United Nations, 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope to study the skies, as well as Kepler’s publication of Astronomia Nova.

So it seems fitting that in May 2009, after five spacewalks and with a lot of patience, NASA astronauts were able to reinvigorate the Hubble Space Telescope with a successful repair and upgrade. Hubble’s final repair mission involved the installation of two new instruments and the repair of two others, together with new gyroscopes, batteries, and thermal insulation panels. The result is six working, complementary science instruments—with overall capabilities extended beyond that of the original observatory—that should remain operational until at least 2014.

Despite Hubble’s impressive performance and the gorgeous images it returns to Earth, its cost (currently more than $10 billion) has undoubtedly helped sustain interest in extending the capabilities of less-costly ground-based telescopes. A shuttle flight and spacewalks will not be required to repair the next generation of super-giant Earth-bound telescopes. And with adaptive optics and huge mirrors (from 24 to 42 m diameter) these planned super-giants should beat Hubble’s resolution by a factor of 10 or more.

Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy.” One can’t help but wonder what he would make of his latest “children.”

“It’s all about wavelength and power,” explains senior editor Gail Overton in her article describing the use of structured light to aid in wound healing and other therapies. Slow to gain a foothold in the USA because of the need for regulatory approval, low-level light therapy has nonetheless progressed elsewhere and its use is now common on animals as well as humans.

Wavelength and power are also important criteria in the field of materials processing. More energy per pulse, higher repetition rates, and other developments in commercial laser systems are enabling a range of applications from surface patterning (of solar cells, for instance) to micromachining.

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Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief

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