Sunday, 24 January 2010

Irony - or how not to detect other planets

Possible fossils of bacteria-like lifeforms in the Martian meteorite Alan Hills 84001

The BBC news website currently has on its front page an article called "Astronomers hopeful of detecting extra-terrestrial life". The article quotes the the president of the UK's Royal Society and Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees. I quote from the article:

"Lord Rees, the president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal, said such a discovery would be a moment which would change humanity."

[...]

He said: "Technology has advanced so that for the very first time we can actually have the realistic hope of detecting planets no bigger than the earth orbiting other stars.

"(We'll be able to learn) whether they have continents and oceans, learning what type of atmosphere they have.

"Although it is a long shot to be able to learn more about any life of them, then it's tremendous progress to be able to get some sort of image of another planet, rather like the earth orbiting another star."

If it wasn't so depressing I would be laughing. The UK's STFC has decided not to fund the UKIRT Planet Finder (UPF) and as a consequence withdraw funding from UKIRT. The UPF would have allowed the UK to detect these earth-sized planets and allow the country a chance to lead the world in this research. All good words from Lord Rees but I wonder whether he knows his own government and the council set up to fund this type of research aren't interested? Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds...

PS. For those interested in news of Pam, she had surgery on Friday 22nd and is currently in the critical care ward in Cedars-Sinai, LA. I spoke to her this evening (and have been in touch with her family and friends) and she is doing well. She has been particularly appreciative of the support from friends and colleagues of mine. You know who you are and I also want to add my thanks because it has meant a lot to both of us.

3 comments:

navychappy said...

Tom,
I really feel for you right now. I know how it feels to be working in a field that has un-secure funding and to have the purse strings pulled tight, leaving programs flapping in the breeze. I worked in social services grant programs for 20 years and had 4 different programs cancelled.

This situation with Lord Rees making these comments with STFC pulling funding sounds like the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Much like the US Government operates most of the time.

I am praying that your situation resolves in a manner that is best suited for you. Keep in touch.

Aloha

Terry

Tom said...

Thanks, Terry. I added a bit to the post since you read it, news about Pam (she is doing well given the circumstances!).

I'll drop you a line sometime this week - been a bit distracted recently!

Tom

navychappy said...

Tom,
I am glad to hear about Pam, I have been praying for her too! Look forward to hearing from you soon, but do not stress yourself out...We will talk when you can.

Mahalo

Terry