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Günther Hasinger


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From the Director

The year started out with a bang, literally, when an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded above Chelyabinsk on February 15. The misfortune of this Russian city turned out to be a boon for the IfA and the Pan-STARRS project in particular, as it was one of the factors that spurred NASA to fund the completion and operation of the PS2 telescope, which will soon be hunting for near-Earth asteroids along with PS1.

In March we saw Comet Pan-STARRS, but the unpredictable Comet ISON was not the spectacular show some had anticipated seeing this fall. As David H. Levy, the discoverer of many other comets, aptly said, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” Observations of ISON, many performed and coordinated by IfA, should, however, yield a wealth of scientific information.

In June, two members of the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI), James Stephenson, an evolutionary biologist, and Lydia Hallis, a cosmochemist, announced that Martian clay contains boron, a chemical that facilitates the formation of RNA, one of the building blocks of life. This was just the kind of synergistic result that the multidisciplinary UHNAI is designed to produce.

Another exciting result of the Institute’s work was a detailed video map of motions of the nearby Universe. It premiered at the conference “Cosmic Flows: Observations and Simulations” in Marseille, France, that honored the career and 70th birthday of IfA’s Brent Tully, who was part of the international team that created the video.

There were discoveries galore about exoplanets, some related to the Kepler Space Telescope, and others resulting from ground-based observations. It is looking more and more probable that there are habitable Earth-like planets relatively close to our solar system. See the two articles about exoplanets in this issue.

Six of our graduate students completed their PhD dissertations in 2013. Two of them won excellence awards from the University Research Council. Recently, former IfA Director Donald Hall was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. On a sadder note, George Herbig, an internationally renowned leader in the field of star formation, died in October at the age of 93.

Please accept my best wishes for a happy and productive 2014.

 

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