Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is the romance of the heavens that awakens the blogger

This amazing story in the Science Times about using the solar wind to traverse interplanetary space caught my fancy today.

From the article (as is the Rick Sternbach computer image of the sail) by Dennis Overbye:

About a year from now, if all goes well, a box about the size of a loaf of bread will pop out of a rocket some 500 miles above the
Earth. There in the vacuum it will unfurl four triangular sails as shiny as moonlight and only barely more substantial. Then it will slowly rise on a sunbeam and move across the stars.

LightSail-1, as it is dubbed, will not make it to Neverland. At best the device will sail a few hours and gain a few miles in altitude. But those hours will mark a milestone for a dream that is almost as old as the rocket age itself, and as romantic: to navigate the cosmos on winds of starlight the way sailors for thousands of years have navigated the ocean on the winds of the Earth.

Save for newspapers, particularly the NYTimes, which commits a whole day to a science section, where else could our general population read a story like this and get exposed to not just the technological advances of science, but perhaps more importantly the romantic notions of exploration that have fueled the scientist for millennia?

Though I am a word person by education and profession, I've always harboured a deep love for science and in adulthood even mathematics, which throughout my educational career I professed to detest. It was ironic because my aptitude scores in math were always in the mid90s percentile compared to 80s for verbal. I don't see them as exclusive at all, for the best reporters are just another form of scientist. A person in search for evidence of why things happen and who is always prepared to adapt a hypothesis in the face of countrary evidence and who is most content to allow others to reach the conclusions.

Sadly, mathematics and science seem not to be taught this way in school. Math is manipluation of numbers while science is the recitation of equations, principles named after dead men and memorization of obscure multi-syllabic words.

The student I actually tutored in math many years ago was literally amazed when I told her that math is NOT numbers. It is a way of thinking about the universe in terms of a search for certainty. It's a method that will allow you double check your work every time and approach any new situation with the ability to see it clearly through learning some mastery of logic. Sadly, she just thought math was numbers and she hated numbers.

I hope that people read this article about the solar sail and perhaps have their own version of Einstein's dream of traveling on a beam of light. And I hope that people remember WHERE they read it, as well. For if newspapers cease to exist who shall teach us of our world?


And speaking of great journalism, listen to this public radio piece about why parents need to talk to their children about money management done by one of the L.A. Youth alums.

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