For this first week of the year, the news has been a mix of good and bad.
In the first category was the announcement Saturday that Alex Halliday is to receive a knighthood from the Queen of England, as part of what the British call the 2019 New Year Honours (https://www.mpls.ox.ac.uk/news/new-years-honours-2019). Sir Alex is in interesting company (https://metro.co.uk/2018/12/29/full-new-years-honours-list-2019-new-mbes-obes-knights-dames-8290688/).
In the category of bad news, large portions of the federal government, including most federal science agencies, remain shut down (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/us/politics/new-congress.html). The new Congress opened yesterday, and the newly Democratic-majority House passed appropriations bills that had previously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee or the full Senate and would fund the remainder of federal departments and agencies through the end of the current fiscal year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded via a continuing resolution through February 8 to allow more time for discussions of border security issues. The Senate is not expected to act on those bills, however, as long as the President insists that he will not sign them. The stalemate will likely continue until the damaging effects of the shutdown force one or both sides to show some flexibility in their positions.
Notwithstanding that NASA remains one of the shuttered federal agencies, this week was an active one for solar system exploration. On Monday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completed a propulsive burn that placed it into orbit about the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft, near-Earth asteroid Bennu (https://www.space.com/42863-nasa-osiris-rex-orbit-asteroid-bennu.html). On Tuesday, NASA’S New Horizons probe flew by the most distant body from the Sun ever viewed at close range by a spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, informally called Ultima Thule (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/02/science/ultima-thule-pictures-new-horizons.html). Yesterday, China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed in the Von Kármán crater on the far side of the Moon, and within hours the lander deployed a rover to explore the vicinity of the landing site (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/world/asia/china-change-4-moon.html).
On Wednesday night, in one of the final actions of the last Congress, the Senate confirmed President Trump’s nomination of meteorologist Kevin Droegemeier to serve as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (https://eos.org/articles/white-house-science-adviser-seat-filled-after-2-years?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_content=white-house-science-adviser-seat-filled-after-2-years). Now that this administration finally has a science advisor, the question on the minds of many is whether the White House will be open to scientific advice.
The January issue of Lamont’s electronic newsletter was released today (https://ldeo.createsend.com/campaigns/reports/viewCampaign.aspx?d=d&c=47928DC812BA87CB&ID=25C445E4A30F8D622540EF23F30FEDED&temp=False&tx=0). Under the heading “Carbon Capture,” the issue features six articles on Lamont science, a short education story on Lamont’s partnership with Uncommon Schools to provide opportunities for students to engage in hands-on scientific research, and 17 media stories focused on Lamont research findings or containing commentary by Lamont scientists.
Yesterday, Earth was at perihelion, meaning that the Sun will seem ever so slightly smaller in the sky each day. At the same time, the hours of daylight will steadily increase each day, until the next solstice. Experience tells us that the latter effect will be the more perceptible, and we can all hope that it will help us weather the remaining two and a half months of winter.