On July 14th, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Pluto during its unprecedented mission to the outer Solar System. In addition to the data gathered by New Horizons and its suite of instruments, other telescopes – including the Chandra X-ray Observatory – will be pitching in to help astronomers learn more about this distant and icy world.
There have been so many excellent images and messages being tied to the hashtag #girlswithtoys on Twitter over the past several days. We would love to be able to take some selfies with some of the many female scientists, engineers, and other professionals who use and run the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (Of course, the Director of Chandra is Belinda Wilkes, the first woman to lead one of NASA’s Great Observatories) Unfortunately, Chandra is currently in its highly elliptical orbit that takes it a third of the way to the Moon, so the spacecraft is unavailable for a snapshot.
If you are at all interested in astronomy, chances are you’ve heard that the Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. What some people may not know is that Hubble is one of four siblings, so to speak. Back in the 1980s, NASA commissioned the"Great Observatories," each designed and built to study different wavelengths of light.
The four Great Observatories, in order of their launches that took place between 1990 and 2003, are Hubble, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. You can learn a little more about each of these telescopes here: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/features/F_NASA_G...
Steve Hawley was the flight engineer on the STS-93 Columbia mission that carried Chandra into space in 1999. Before that he was on four previous shuttle flights, one in 1990 to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope, and one in 1997 to assist in making major upgrades and repairs to Hubble. His role in the deployment of two of the most productive telescopes ever has secured him an important place in the history of astronomy.
At a recent symposium celebrating 15 years of Chandra Science, Steve sat down over breakfast to talk about his illustrious career so far, and plans for the future.
When did you first think you wanted to be an astronaut?
SH: I wanted to be astronomer since I was very young. My grandfather taught physics at a small college in Kansas. He used to say, "In physics, you learn how to think." In astronomy you can learn how the universe works just by looking. And I was drawn to become an astronaut NASA, because NASA is a great organization because they try to do things that have never been done before.
At the Chandra X-ray Center, we take pride in promoting and supporting women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) whenever we can. (Did you know that Belinda Wilkes is the first woman to be the director of a Great Observatory?) There are so many women who have been crucial to the Chandra project that we have put together a series of profiles called “Women in the High-Energy Universe.”
Unfortunately, many girls and women still feel marginalized or excluded from STEM fields. We noticed a new project by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls that is trying to change that called #ScienceWoman. By teaming up with PBS Digital Studios and the “It’s Okay to be Smart” web series, they are asking for people to submit videos of the women in science who have inspired them: http://amysmartgirls.com/2015/02/sciencewoman/
The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining together for this yearlong celebration to help spread the word about the wonders of light.
In many ways, astronomy uses the science of light. By building telescopes that can detect light in its many forms, from radio waves on one end of the "electromagnetic spectrum" to gamma rays on the other, scientists can get a better understanding of the processes at work in the Universe.
For many, it might be hard to imagine living a life without computers and technology. In fact, it’s become so much a part of our society that we may not realize how dependent we are on technology.
But who does the work that enables these computers to fit into our daily lives? Who gets to learn how to code? A project called “Hour of Code” as well as Computer Science Education Week is seeking to address that question by increasing access to coding opportunities for elementary, middle and high school students, and particularly girls and underrepresented students of color.
Here at the Chandra X-ray Center we strongly believe in this goal as well. We’ve joined forces with other members of the astronomical community, including an astronomer at the American Astronomical Society, others at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, as well as partners at Google's CS First and Pencil Code, to create a project for the “Hour of Code” that combines color, astronomy, and coding: http://event.pencilcode.net/home/hoc2014/
Dr. Harvey Tananbaum at the Smithsonian's Castle Library in May 2006. (Credit: Jim Moran)
On April 20, 2014, Harvey Tananbaum stepped down after 23 years as director of the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC). This event was duly noted in various press releases, but its significance may not have been widely appreciated.
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