Saturday, March 31, 2012

The inspirational Dr Rosaly Lopes-Gautier

We went to a presentation by Dr Rosaly Lopes-Gautier about her work as a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientist in PJ Live Art Theatre in Jaya 1 last Thursday. 
Luqman and Hajar were surprisingly punctual after school. So we scooted off from school about 4pm. And traffic was kind to us. So we managed to reach the place on time. Early enough to have a quick meal before the presentation started.

I have to admit, I have never heard of her. That shows how much I know about space and star and astronomy. According to wikipedia, she is a prominent planetary geologist, volcanologist, the author of  numerous scientific papers and several books, as well as a great proponent of education. She has strings of awards and achievements. 
She talked about her work with Galileo mission. 
How they had so many problems with Galileo that they were so close to calling it off and send the spacecraft to the museum. Launch delays, the 1986 Challenger disaster, and the movement of the planets put it on a much slower path to Jupiter.  Apparently, Galileo doesn't have enough energy to go to Jupiter. Finally, an engineer in NASA came out with a genius idea to solve the problem. Think slingshot.

Instead of going straight from Earth to Jupiter, the engineer proposed they get the spacecraft to Venus. Then skim past the Earth twice. It took longer time but the spacecraft eventually gained enough energy to reach Jupiter.
It was during the Galileo mission that Dr Rosaly discovered a total of 71 active volcanoes on Io, one of the largest of Jupiter's 60 known moons. Other people discovered volcanoes too. But she discovered the most. An achievement awesome enough to get her name in the Guinness Book of Records for discovering more active volcanoes than anyone else in history.

She also talked about the Cassini-Huygen mission. A collaboration between USA and 16 European countries. According to her, for a spacecraft, Cassini is big.
As big as a London double decker.
Can u imagine a spacecraft as big as this floating on the Saturn ring?? Due to its size and weight, the Cassini-Huygens probe took a very long and indirect path to reach Saturn. To reach Jupiter, they applied the knowledge they gained from Galileo. Four gravity assists were required to hurl the spacecraft to Saturn. Cassini used an interplanetary trajectory that took it by Venus twice, then past Earth and Jupiter. And finally reached Saturn.

The mission is still ongoing. Due to the success, the mission has been extended and is expected to be completed by 2017. So she joked, that means I still have a job until 2017 ;-) 

She shared some of the findings from Cassini mission. Have u ever wondered about the Saturn's ring?
The rings are huge. About the size of space between the Earth and moon. Each ring is composed of many ringlets of ice particles, which vary from dust-sized to 3m or more in diameter. Some are as big as a house. From a distance the rings look ordered and tidy. But up close, Cassini finds Saturn’s rings to be a complex place where small moons and ring particles jostle and collide. Which makes it more tricky for Cassini to be floating on the ring. There are moons in the ring too. Saturn's small moons keep the rings in place and are known as shepherd moons.

Have u ever wondered about the "gap" between the ring? She shared with us how NASA used to think the gap was empty. They even have plan to put spacecraft in the gap. From Cassini mission, they now know that the dark area between the ring is not an empty gap. The particle density drop sharply in this area but it definitely is not empty.

The Q&A session was very interesting too. Medina asked her a question.

M; Is there alien on those planet?
RL: We don't know....and she nicely went on and answer the question in a very scientific manner (regardless of the one asking the question was a little 4yo).
Finally she said to M:
RL: When u grow up, u will go to college and u will find out for me.

To a 4yo, that sounds like a prophecy......hahaha. So since last Thursday, she think she's going to be a scientist. But she insists she will be a chef and a scientist. So the ambition to be a zoo keeper is being shelved for a while ;-)

But seriously I loved how she took Medina seriously. Little Missy was beaming with pride. Especially when Mr O complimented her for being so brave to ask question. And u can guess which big sister almost want to puke....hahahaha.

I asked Dr Rosaly, has she always been interested in space as a kid. And what is her advice to the kids. She shared with us her story. She has always been interested in space as a kid. It has always been her dream. But nobody in her family is a scientist. And growing up in Brazil, 30,40 years ago...nobody will take u seriously when u tell people u want to be an astronomer. But she pursued her dream. And finally she's in NASA. Galileo was her first job in NASA. She's an epitome of chasing your dream and sky is the limit. So inspiring. Humanity is touching the space due to the passion of these scientists. Her advice to kids...pursue your dream!!

Honestly, I never understand why we need to spend billions of dollars studying space. Especially after the brouhahaha of our own space tourist. And the joke that went around the academicians about the experiment our space tourist conducted while he was in space. I always wonder what's the impact on human being?? Is it really necessary?? A few people asked her questions parallel to this issue.

She answered brilliantly. And made me understand for the first time EVER why it's necessary for us to study the space. Earth is just a small speck in the universe. Learning things in other planets help us understand things on earth better. Do u know that the greenhouse theory was first propounded by Rupert Wildt in the 1940s to explain the unexpectedly high temperatures of Venus?  Restricting our research to earth will not give us the full understanding of how things work in the universe. The big picture.

OK. I am glad we went. She definitely shared more stuffs. But there's a limit to how much my brain can take ;-)

What are u doing tonight? We are off to National Planetarium to celebrate Earth Hour.
 Pic is from here.

Come and join us. Happy Earth Hour!! Let's do our bit to save mother earth ;-)