Electronic supplement to Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo, Series Tertia, No. 10 – 24 August 2006

Pan-STARRS about to open: “paradigm change” looms for much of astronomy

Daniel Fischer

Picture this: four 1.8-meter telescopes scanning the whole sky over Hawaii several times every month with 1.4 billion pixel detectors each, delivering 10 Terabytes of data every clear night, automatically catching every variable star and millions of moving objects for which orbits are calculated on the fly. What sounds like science fiction is actually becoming a reality at this very moment as Pan-STARRS, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, is becoming operational this summer. So far there is only one telescope, on Haleakea, but it will begin its 3-year sience program in 2007. And at the same time the other three telescopes will be built, probably on Mauna Kea, so that all four can embark in a 10-year mission in 2010. The four of them are fully funded (by the U.S. Air Force which is just interested in the technology, not actually using the telescopes), principal investigator Nick Kaiser explained at a news conference here at the GA on 17 August. Only the funding for the operation still has to be secured. Pan-STARRS is expected to find most Near Earth Asteroids down to 300 meters (current surveys have found 80% of those larger than 1 km already) – and to increase the discovery rate of asteroids in general by orders of magnitude, plus provide crucial follow-up observations to secure their orbits. This will revolutionize the whole asteroid cataloging business, as Tim Spahr from the Minor Planet Center explained in a dramatic talk in Symposium 236 on 16 August: There are currently 350,000 small solar system bodies in the database, with 39 million individual observations, but many of those are of questionable quality which in turn can lead to bad orbits. “A paradigm change” will be brought about by the arrival of Pan-STARRS and later perhaps also the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, Spahr believes, with 5- to 20-times better astrometry, far fewer bad observations and excellent orbits. Others in the community are still skeptical about these bold promises, but the era of the high-cadence all-sky surveys is about to arrive, and the minor planet (or whatever they are called in the future :-) community will have to cope – while many other field will profit as well.

Two Years in Ondřejov

Shinsuke Abe

I had spent in Ondřejov observatory for 2 years since 2003 as a postdoctoral fellow. After the launching of Japanese asteroidal explorer ‘Hayabusa’, I was also launched from ISAS/JAXA. Fortunately, Ondřejov observatory, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Jiří Borovička(Head of Meteor Physics), Pavel Spurný(Head of Department of Interplanetary Matter) and Jan Palouš(Director at that moment), kindly accepted my proposal to stay in Ondřejov for my research work of meteoroids supported by JSPS(Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) funding.

Before the arrival, my knowledge about Czech was very limited, ‘Prague Spring (only in historical books)’, ‘Beer (about 80% Japanese beers are using Czech hopes)’, ‘Bohemian glasses (famous prize of winner of Japanese Sumo wrestling)’. Not only the language but also the culture and foods were completely different from Japan. Moreover, the population of the village Ondřejov was less than 1000, located 35 km southeast of Prague, where only 1 food shop and 2 pubs were existed. The observatory is surrounded by typical Bohemian peaceful scenery together with lots of birds, deer, rabbits, squares and hedgehogs. Though we have light pollution in the direction of Prague, the Milky Way can be visible during the night. On 20 November 2003, unusual aurora occurred above Europe that fantastic burst was also seen from Ondřejov observatory.

Every weekend, I enjoyed beers and music(classic and jazz), in Prague. My first Japanese friend in Czech was a Japanese ambassador of Czech, Mr. Koichiro Takahashi, who was sitting next in my seat at a concert hall. I got an invitation to VIP room of Rudolfinum after the music concert. Later on, I invited the ambassador, his wife and Japanese embassy staffs to Ondřejov and the director of the observatory gave us a hearty welcome. Since then, I have frequently organized a public observational tour with giving an astronomical lecture for Japanese people who were living in Czech. After 2 years, more than 150 people participated in the public event and Ondřejov observatory became a well-known place in Czech for Japanese.

At last, last summer, I left Ondřejov for Japan, Kobe University as my next position. I was involved to ‘Hayabusa mission’ to explore the asteroid Itokawa and ‘Stardust re-entry capsule observing mission’ to observe re-entry emission as an artificial meteor, both missions were performed with great success. It was quite precious time to stay in Ondřejov for 2 years, collaborating with meteor researchers in Czech and Slovakia, and solar system researchers in Europe. IAU General Assembly in Prague is a good opportunity to return to Ondřejov again. We would like to possible opportunities for further collaboration and friendship between Czech and Japan. Finally, I wish to express my deep appreciation for the lovely memories which Czech Republic gave us.

Winter Scenery from Ondřejov observatory. Click for large version (10176 × 2023 px, JPEG). Credit: S. Abe

Aurora from Ondřejov observatory on 20 November, 2005. (S. Abe)

Towards a long-term vision for Europe's astronomy

Daniel Fischer

The golden age of astronomy we are currently experiencing has a sobering downside: With more than one new telescope facility being built every year in the $10 to 200 million range, in three years from now even the telescopes that exist cannot be operated anymore, as this typically costs another 5 to 10 percent of their contruction budget annually. With this calculation Gerry Gilmore of the University of Cambridge (UK) began a news conference here at the IAU GA on August 17, only to present the solution right away, at least for this continent: Europe's astronomers have to sort their priorities and come up with a long-term plan covering the next few decades and tens of billions of Euros. The answer is ASTRONET, an initiative by the most important European funding agencies to come up with at first a “Science Vision” for Europe's astronomical ambitions and later a detailled Roadmap with a 25-year horizon. This approach not only copies but expands on the famous Decadal Reviews that have been guiding astronomy funding in the U.S. ASTRONET aims to involve each and every astronomer in Europe in the process, not just “the rich club” of countries that already have strong astronomy programs. Arriving at a document that everyone believes in will be tough and calls for a different 'sociology' among astronomers, many of which won't like it at first. And the whole process must also be highly interactive between the science and the policy community, especially in Germany, France and the UK which together will provide about 60% of the funding. The ASTRONET consortium, which is intended to widen, has nine participants at the moment (CNRS/INSU, coordinator, for France, BMBF and PT-DESY for Germany, ESO, INAF for Italy, MEC for Spain, NOTSA, NWO for the Netherlands, and PPARC for the United Kingdom), and two associates, ESA and MPG: find out more about your funding future at www.astronet-eu.org!

SpS2: Innovation in Teaching/Learning Astronomy

Rosa María Ros

On August 17th and 18th, Commission 46 on Education and Development sponsored Special Session 2, entitled Innovation in Teaching/Learning Astronomy. About 400 participants registered. In total, the session presented 43 oral contributions (16 of them were invited speakers) and 60 posters. Rosa Maria Ros of Spain and Jay Pasachoff of the United States organized the event.

Astronomy attracts many young people to education in important fields in science and technology. But in many countries, astronomy is not part of the standard curriculum, and teachers do not receive adequate education and support. Still, many scientific and educational societies and government agencies have produced materials and educational resources in astronomy for all educational levels. Technology is used in astronomy both for obtaining observations and for teaching. For two full days, the participants in the SpS2 studied how to introduce innovative points of view regarding methods of teaching and learning. Astronomers from all countries—developed or developing—were equally interested. IAU members who participated represented 5 continents. The topics discussed were distributed into 4 themes:

The SpS2 Proceedings will be published by Cambridge University, which recently published the proceedings and discussions from the 2003 Sydney Special Session on Teaching and Learning Astronomy: Effective Strategies for Educators Worldwide, edited by Jay Pasachoff and John Percy. The session were chaired by Rosa M. Ros and Jay M. Pasachoff and Supported by Commissions 46 (Education and Development), Commission 41 (History of Astronomy) and Division XII (Union-wide activities).

Scientific Organizing Committee: Rosa M. Ros (Spain, co-chair), Jay M. Pasachoff (USA, co-chair), Michael Bennett (USA), Julieta Fierro (Mexico), Michele Gerbaldi (France), Petr Heinzel (Czech Republic), Bambang Hidayat (Indonesia), Syuzo Isobe (Japan), Edward Kononovich (Russia), Margarita Metaxa (Greece), John R. Percy (Canada), Magda Stavinschi (Romania), Richard West (Germany) and Lars Lindberg Christensen (ESO).

Very happy meeting

Jiří Vašek

IAU general secretaries Jean-Claude Pecker (1964–1967) and Luboš Perek (1967–1970) are jumping to joy they meet again at the 26th General Assembly in 2006 (video taken by Jiří Vašek at L. Perek's summer cottage on 19 August 2006, WMV, 6.6 MB).