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President's Message: November
As I write this, the 53rd Head of the Charles Regatta is getting underway. The 53rd! As a junior at UMass Amherst, I rowed in the 3rd HOC. That was 1967 - 50 years ago. A half century! I’ve changed a lot since then. Less hair, a bigger waistline, creakier knees. Back then, a pretty coed would send my heart fluttering; now a pacemaker does the job.
The universe has changed a lot, too. Well, it hasn’t changed – our perception of it has. In 1967, Jupiter had 12 moons, Saturn 10. Nowadays, thanks to space probes like Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini, as well as CCD and adaptive optics technology to improve the capabilities of earthbound telescopes, each planet has over 60. The moons we once thought were barren cratered bodies like our own are unique worlds - some with active volcanoes and geysers, even subsurface oceans of liquid water! In 1967, there were 9 planets in the universe. We lost one when Pluto was demoted, but gained thousands of extrasolar planets (over 3500 confirmed to date, according to a NASA website), in a large part due to transits detected by the Kepler satellite. The 1967 universe was expanding, but at some time in the future, gravity would pull in the reins and everything would come crashing together in the Big Crunch. We didn’t know about dark energy and the role it would play in expanding the universe forever. Dark energy was theoretical and almost never discussed in astronomy textbooks. Now we know that it comprises over 80% of the mass of the universe. Textbooks can no longer ignore it.
What will the universe look like in 2067? If scientific and technological progress continues to improve exponentially, we won’t just have pretty pictures of the moons in our solar system. We’ll have manned bases on some of them. We’ll have close-up images of some of the exoplanets - analysis of their atmospheres indicating that some harbor life. Star Trek may still be a thing of the future, but we could be sending unmanned probes to the nearest stars. Gravity wave astronomy will have an equal role to optical and radio astronomy, rendering discoveries we can’t even imagine. And when rowers compete in the 103rd Head of the Charles, science may have made the greatest discovery of all – that we are not alone in the universe.
Glenn Chaple, President