Editor's note: Meg Urry is the Israel Munson professor of physics and astronomy and chairwoman of the department of physics at Yale University. She is also the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. She previously worked as a senior astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which runs the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA. This piece was written in association with The Op-Ed Project, an organization seeking to expand the range of opinion voices to include more women.
Nearly everyone I meet has heard of the Hubble Space Telescope. Many have seen its beautiful images of the birthplace of new stars and planetary systems, or of the "gravitational lenses" that reveal a mysterious "dark matter" that dwarfs the amount of matter bound up in stars or galaxies.
This year's Nobel Prize in physics went to three scientists who used Hubble to detect the mysterious dark energy - a sort of fifth fundamental force, previously unknown - that we now think is causing the accelerated expansion of the universe.
Hubble pictures and the knowledge the HST generates have changed our view of the cosmos and reached nearly every schoolchild in America.
Have just gotten back to the Compound from a wneeekd in Dallas during which Sarge The Younger engaged in the act of getting himself hitched. He's been married up right good and tight now. The ceremony was pleasant and enjoyable, as was the bride's family and the firends of the young couple.I had begun the trip with some trepidation, however. My Mother came in from Florida to attend. She flew into Houston a bit early to see my Brother's new grandchild. She also wanted to spend some time with my Brother and I. A road trip to and from Dallas was arranged to that end, thus the trepidation.My Brother, you see, is a frothing at the mouth dyed in the wool, true believer, ACLU Card carrying Liberal. I mean a for reals Liberal. Not just the buttwipe at the watercooler kind of Liberal, or the kind that makes snarky posts on blogs. Nope. He's the kind that works on the campaigns of Liberal politicians and gets elected as a delegate to the State Democrat Convention. Allow me to be as precise as I possibly can be as to where his sympathies lie: he worked for both the Ralph Nader and Howard Dean campaigns. Obama is a dissappointment to him, but not for the reasons we have.However, promises were made to both God and my Mother not to engage or indulge in political discussions, and such promises were kept, even when buttons were pushed. Like most Liberals, he also tends to be an Instant Expert on damnear eveything under the sun and I, in the interest of familial harmony and my mother's well being, even left most of those stand without comment.Did you know that the town of Groesbeck is populated almost entirely of 60 s and 70 s hippies who dropped out to form a craft colony there?Did you know that the name of Gessner Road changes into Voss at Westheimer because in the old days there were black people living on Gessner south of Westheimer and the white people living north of there didn't want to live on a street of the same name that black people lived on? Did you know that happens all over Houston for the very same reason? Housing prices have skyrocketed recently. The new rest areas on I45 were built with Stimulus Money.I strayed a bit when he announced that we were about to cross the Overland Stage Route. I did inform him that OSR stands for Old Spanish Road and is the original highway in Texas that went from Nacidoches to San Antonio, also known as the Camino Real, and that the Overland Stage came out of St. Louis and thus traveld a bit further north.Also: yacht is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled, and people who take business risks are known as enterpreeners .There does, however, come a point (as I explained to my mother afterwards in my apology) when there are enough shovel fulls of horse shizzle into the room to require someone to sand up and say HEY! There's horse shizzle in the room! Having gotten away with damnear eveything the whole wneeekd long, he became much more blatantly politial when embarked on a subject that is apparently going to be very popular withLiberals in the next few months: education and Student Loans. The problem, you see, is that we are not educating enough programmers and engineers in this country. In fact, most of the students in this country graduate with business degrees that they use to move pieces of paper back and forth for profit without atually producing or inventing anything which is why our economy is in such bad shape, and the only way to solve the problem is to make college free. We should instead follow the lead of Germany where the Unions and the Government get together and that's why the Germans are kicking our azz. Its why the Germans export more than the Chinese. Its why India graduates three times as many Engineers and programmers as we do in this country.Apparently the fact that there are three times as many people in India than are in this country should not be considered as a factor in the comparison between the graduation numbers. Suggesting that we only give Student Loans to students who are going to get jobs that will actually given the kind of income that will allow then to pay thier loans back rather than giving them to kids who will graduate with Art History and Gender Studies degrees is merely a talking point without merit, and you can just google the numbers on Germany's exports versus the Chinese, he's not going to do your homework for you.Get ready for this guys, its going to be one of thier big pushes. The good news is, this is what they are going to be pushing, so it should be fairly easy to shoot down. Apparently, the theory is that giving College Eduations away for free will solve all of our problems.Just like giving Health Insurance away for free did.