Well, it’s not your parent’s Solar System any more. Nor, is it the only Solar System (see Exo-Planets). Locally, a few years ago, Pluto was demoted from planetary status to be called a “minor” or “dwarf” planet. Part of the reason for this was that in the last few years, we’ve discovered a LOT of Pluto-like bodies in our solar system. And we've discovered hundreds of thousands of minor planets.

The Inner Solar System


We have discovered that Jupiter and Saturn have their own ecological systems, that each has more than 60 moons, some of which excrete material that is where some or all of it’s rings come from. Some of the rings have moonlets, that may be growing into larger moons. WE have only glimpsed the eco-systems of Uranus and Neptune, and they both hold tantalizing possibilities.

We’ve flown 20 miles over Iapetus, and 15 miles above Enceledus - two of Saturn’s intriguing moons, and we’ve landed spacecraft on Titan, it’s largest moon.

We’ve also landed on Asteroids, brought back material from close to the sun, sailed 3 billion miles and flew 6 miles above a comet, and brought back material that is now being analyzed.

Some of The Outer Planets

I’m willing to bet that most of you didn’t know these things. We only hear a minute filter of what’s going on, and part of this site is dedicated to correcting that. This is by no means the only web site with a focus on who we are and where we are, but I want to add my voice, show you links and get you curious. For adults, I want to encourage your support. For students, I desperately want to understand your place in the larger scheme of things. And maybe get involved.

We’ve built a large Space Station - now as big as a football field or soccer stadium, so we can learn about long-duration space flight, and now we have high-definition movies of all of this.

I’ll try to keep the site up to date with new discoveries about our own planet, and our (galactically speaking), neighbors.

As
Douglas Adams wrote in “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”: “The universe is big, I mean really, really big”. Honestly, it’s bigger than we can comprehend. Even our own Solar System is big, and it takes time to comprehend distances on a cosmic scale, so don’t expect to understand everything right away. As the modern greeks say “Slowly Slowly”.

And we’re just at the beginning of exploring it, and as we find out more about it, we find out more about ourselves.

NASA/ESA Plans

I tell kids in schools that they are sorely needed. By the time they are in college, we will have many more missions to many different places. New Horizons - one of the fastest spacecraft ever built, wont arrive at Pluto until 2013, there are more spacecraft being built to go back to Jupiter (the Juno mission), and we have a spacecraft (Dawn) that will orbit two asteroids, the first for two years, and then go on to another where is will orbit for another two, at least. It arrives at Vesta, it’s first port of call, in 2011. The Messenger spacecraft will reach Mercury around the same time (although it just completed two flybys on it’s way and has sent back some amazing photographs.

While getting there is half the fun (and most of the worry), being there with amazing instruments will shed new light on these heavenly bodies (not as heavenly as my wife’s), but that’s not bad for a specie that is cosmologically, very young.

We don’t yet have the technology (nor know how to maintain our physiology) to go to these places ourselves - maybe some of our children and grandchildren will figure a way.

Meanwhile, humankind has more than 70 robotic missions in flight, not counting Earth Science, telecommunications and weather forecasting, etc. Some of these may last for decades and can be reused to travel to other places in our local neighborhood, and in fact, that is happening now.

Next, about 10 years ago, we came across a technique to identify whether there are planets orbiting other stars. We found one. Since then, we have found well over 300, and are discovering more every week. So far, these have been more like Jupiter than Earth (Jupiter is like me, a gas giant). As our techniques improve, we may find a planet that is Earth like.

When people think of Space Telescopes, they think of Hubble. Rightly so, the images sent to us are astounding. However, we have 5 other space telescopes in orbit now, and the James Webb Telescope will look farther out in space - and therefore back in time, than ever before.

The James Webb Space Telescope


A great place for a telescope would be the far side of the moon. It will not be affected by the Earth’s atmosphere, could be built (to some extent) with material from the moon itself, and would be relatively easy to service. The moon is a great place to launch from - you don’t need the massive boosters that are required to leave Earth’s orbit.



The Crescent Moon and the Crescent Venus

A CRESCENT MOON AND CRESCENT VENUS -- FEB 2009

There is a growing global network of amateur astronomers with small scopes -- one of whom took the image on the left. If you do not have a telescope, you can link through the internet to central sites and observe from home instead of watching TV. I hope to amaze you and excite you. Maybe you’ll start to look up at the night sky and help fight light pollution so our kids can see the stars once again.

Let’s get going.