Astrobiology Stellar Web Site Award
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Awards for Websites of Distinction
Websites which inform, entertain, and inspire
Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org. These websites are reviewed by
Keith Cowing, editor and webmaster of the Astrobiology Web.
I look for sites that get my attention, teach me something, inspire my curiosity, and
make me want to return, knowing that I will learn something new each time I visit. While
nicely presented (graphics) websites are important, content is the most important thing
to me - i.e. getting to the information in the most efficient, and pleasurable way
possible. If you operate - or know of a site which you think merits some additional
attention, by all means let me know.
Ad Astra! (eventually)
- 2 May 1998: The
Columbus Optical SETI Observatory, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
(SETI) in the Optical Spectrum, by Stuart A. Kingsley.
We've all formed a clear mental
image by now of what it means to listen for evidence of signals from an extraterrestrial
civilization: big dish-shaped radio antennas. Well, radio may not be the only way
that someone might chose to convey information across interstellar distances.
This website opens by saying "Here you will find a different approach to The
Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The Optical Search For Extraterrestrial
Intelligence, otherwise known as Optical SETI (OSETI), seeks to detect pulsed and
continuous wave laser beacons signals in the visible and infrared spectrum".
Within this website you'll find a variety of ways to navigate through the information,
all of which is nicely organized and easy to find. There is a glossary to help you get acquainted with the
terminology and a comprehensive introduction
to the topic.
Since, as I mentioned, the optical approach to searching for signals is somewhat of a
challenge to SETI orthodoxy, the OSETI site also includes a page entitled "Arguments in support of
the Optical approach to SETI".
Last year I wrote an article about my travels across West Virginia to see some of the
SETI Institute folks doing a search at Greenbank Observatory. At one point in my visit, I
found myself drifting off in thought:
"I began to think back in time to one night at
summer camp as an 11 year old when I pointed a flashlight at the sky and watched the beam
seemingly converge upon some point far, far away. I had been thinking of a TV show I had
seen where the host suggested that one or more of the photons leaving my flashlight could
make their way to fall upon the surface of a planet orbiting another star - perhaps to the
eye of a boy like me who was also looking up at the sky."
Th Optical SETI approach certainly seemed obvious to me 30 years ago!
On a serious note, just because one mode of communication seems perfectly obvious to
bipedal sentient mammals on Earth does not mean that it is the method of choice for an
alien civilization. The OSETI website is an excellent introduction to one, of what I am
certain will be many, approaches to searching for someone out there to talk to.
- 27 March 1998: GHCC
Geostationary Weather Satellite Data, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
or so ago Vice President Al Gore surprised a lot of people
by proposing that NASA launch a new satellite in 2000 named "Triana" (after the
lookout on Columbus' lead ship). At a cost of $50 million, Triana would have one purpose:
to provide a live image of Earth spinning in space. Had not such a capability already
existed, I would eagerly support such a mission. However, live global satellite data is so
easily available these days, sending another satellite up to do what others do so well
seems to be a waste of money to me - especially when NASA's budget is being cut.
The resourceful folks at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center have put together a
simple, yet powerful web page which allows you to control the imagery from a swarm of
geostationary weather satellites. You can pick views of this planet from a variety of
vantage points, in various wavelengths, zoom in to 1 km resolution, animate ....
everything that Triana is supposed to do - but you don't have to wait until 2000 to
take advantage of it.
This is cheaper- better- faster in action!
Instead of launching a new satellite to perform a task, a couple of NASA webmasters
obtained the same results using existing satellites. This neat little website just
saved the taxpayers $50 million!
- 18 March 1998: From Mir to
Mars, Scientific American Frontiers.
According to their press release, "Web
surfers and space buffs alike should circle Monday, March 23, on their calendars!
"FROM MIR TO MARS," a live Webcast from the Russian Space Station Mir, will take
place in the late morning (exact time to be announced). Alan Alda, host of the PBS series
Scientific American Frontiers, will conduct a live interview with NASA astronaut Andrew
Thomas, who is currently about halfway through his stay on Mir."
This website is constructed so as to prepare visitors for the actual webcast and then
to serve as an archive of the event for future visitors. This nicely designed and easy to
navigate website includes further information on the interview itself (and the software
needed to view it), Space Station Mir, various NASA missions, the exploration of Mars, and
other related facts, resources, and classroom activities. We are pleased to find our Space
Station Mir and Whole Mars Catalog web pages among their collection of online resources.
Mir represents humankind's longest operating space station and has provided a home
above our planet to its crews for more than a decade - a feat which will not be repeated
until the second decade of the next century. Much has been learned about the effects of
long term spaceflight upon the humans who have lived on Mir. Much more will need to be
learned on the International Space Station before we can safely send humans to explore
other planets - and Mars is one the most likely places where we will go next.
This website is a trailblazer for what learning will be like in the 21st century. No
longer will information simply be thrown one way at an audience with a "one size fits
all" approach. Instead, this website integrates preparatory material with a live
experience in a way in which can be individually tailored and experienced. People can
participate (and learn) as little or as much as they like, wherever they happen to be - even
if they don't happen to be on the same planet.
Be certain to go to this website and get on the
alert list so that you can know exactly when to surf in for the webcast.
A very successful live Webcast interview was held on
Monday, 23 March between Alan Alda and NASA HQ's Gretchen McClain (on Earth) and NASA
Astronaut Andy Thomas (on Mir). We are pleased to have had our Space Station Mir and Whole
Mars Catalog web pages included as featured web resources for this unique event. Click
here for a larger example of these screen images from the webcast.
- 1 March 1998: Science Friday,
National Public Radio
National Public Radio (NPR) system has come up with a number of classics - "All
Things Considered" , "Morning Edition", and "A Prairie Home
Companion" being the most notable examples. There is one more gem that a number of
people often miss because, alas, it airs midday (02:00-04:00 PM EST; 19:00 - 21:00 GMT) on
Fridays: NPR's Science Friday. Well, you no longer have an excuse for missing this
show (or have to worry about explaining to your boss why you don't get any work done when
you listen to it) thanks to the web and RealAudio.
This always-informative show, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is
entertainingly orchestrated by its host, the ever-curious and always well-prepared Ira
During the past year, they've done stories on lots of things pertaining to
Astrobiology: New Explorations of
the Solar System; Astronomical
"frame dragging"; Sputnik's 40th
Anniversary; radio astronomy,
and the recent triple
eclipse TRIPLE ECLIPSE? See-- you would have known about this rare
configuration of Jupiter and its satellites had you tuned in for Science Friday's 2nd
There's much more to come: Be certain to tune in or surf over on 21 May 1998 when NPR's
Susan Stamberg and Ira Flatow, as part of CyberSpace Day, host an
eight-hour "Intergalactic Teach-In" which will be broadcast over the Web. The
project, according to a Space Day press release, is "aimed at providing
students of all ages with the unique opportunity to meet some of the most fascinating
people in the universe: the men and women whose vision, talent and dedication have helped
us reach for the stars and beyond."
Science Friday is mandatory
continuing education for the science novice and practitioner alike. Listen in: both
your back yard and the universe will become a bit less mysterious and a lot more fun.
- 13 February 1997: STS-90 Neurolab
I have always felt that the best websites are built by people
who know a topic inside and yet still have much more to learn. Good websites are also
built when their authors invest a bit of their own passions and personality into their
construction. The crew of the upcoming STS-90 Space Shuttle mission have done just that.
While NASA's website budgets are vast in comparison with whole staffs devoted to the task,
NASA's websites have always lacked a human face. They also seem genetically incapable of
linking to anything that is not wholly and utterly official.
Indeed, NASA's official STS-90 website won't even link to
this crew website! The only NASA website that does link to the crew's site is the Neurolab page
at NASA Johnson Space Center. However, this page is also banned form having a link from
NASA's official STS-90 site. They must be afraid that visitors will actually learn
something from these two sites I suppose.
As was the case with the STS-86 crew's unofficial website (also a Stellar website), the
STS-90 crew has assembled a first-class summary of what they are going to do and how they
are going to do it once they get into space. Detailed descriptions of their training,
their scheudule, their science, and all of the technology are to be found on this site.
If you really want to know what a
space scientist does in space, from the unique perspective of the scientists who actually go
into space, then this is the website to visit.
Contact: The Movie, CNN, NPR's Science Friday,
Dr. Matrix, National Space Society, San Francisco's Exploratorium, West to Mars, San
Jose's Tech Museum, SpaceViews, New Scientist, Omni Magazine, Gannett News, The SciFi
Channel, Scientific American, Excite, Government Executive Magazine, PBS' News Hour with
Jim Lehrer, NASA's Center for Mars Exploration....
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1998 Reston Communications ® All Rights Reserved
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