Sunday, October 31, 2010

Of M&M's, Gravitational Lenses, the Hubble and the Last Space Shuttle Mission.

In The Accidental Astrophysicists, Dick Lipton reminded us how a result found in math put an end to a conjecture devised in astrophysics. It is a very compelling story that involves non other than a serendipitous Math department's copier. The result bears on gravitational lenses which happened to be discovered using the WFPC2 Camera on-board the Hubble telescope (before WFPC2 was installed, we had many blurred images of the sky). It so happens that this camera was installed by the crew of the Servicing Mission 1 on STS-61 in 1993 which included Tom Akers and Katy Thornton. Both were flying with us on the KC-135 a few months before that flight, and I believe we shared M&Ms on that flight..

During breaks, we would throw M&Ms at each other for fun. In restrospect,  I can only imagine if one of those M&Ms had flown right into the eye ball of one of these two; the mission would have been delayed and then....we never know. So yes, I feel connected to gravitational lenses in a unique way that involves M&Ms. More seriously, in two days, barring any additional funding, the space Shuttle will fly for the last time. The last servicing mission for the Hubble took place a year ago. The Hubble will never be re-serviced again and will eventually crash in the ocean.
Credit: NASA, HST, ESA

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