• NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LAUNCH (satellite positioning for EU)
  • PEERING INTO THE CRADLE (early universe sighting)


Galileo the 1st broke taboos by suggesting the sun didn’t turn around the
earth while a later Galileo, the proposed European satellite positioning
system, broke some more when it suggested that more than one GPS could turn
around the earth. Presumed dead after some hefty sessions of transatlantic
arm wrestling, not to mention arm twisting, the Galileo project has staged a
startling springtime resurrection as European transportation ministers
gathered in Brussels voted Monday to fund this major undertaking. European
concern as frequently expressed by the European Commission in pressing for
the ratification of Galileo, centered around the fragility of Europe’s
position if it continued to be a tributary of the US Army controlled GPS.

Galileo’s proponents point out that not only is it conceived essentially for
civilian purposes but that its planned commercial viability takes away one
of the US’ main selling points for continued reliance on the GPS, which is
offered free of charge. EU members will plunk down a little more than $3
billion (“100 miles of autoroute” EC officials pointed out) for a
30-satellite system to be operational by 2008, but which by 2015 is expected
to be furnishing location data to a nearly $20 billion annual market.

Designed to work at the same frequencies, Galileo and GPS will be able to
function in complementarity, ensuring more universal gap-free coverage.
Employing atomic clocks, the system as planned permits very precise
comparisons of distance from a point on earth to three satellites, yielding
the coordinates of that point to within a few centimeters of accuracy. The
Commission is relieved that member states were finally ready to take a close
hard look at this particular gift horse, and choose Made-in-Europe for the
same reasons it chose to develop Ariane instead of continuing to accept free
launches by NASA, back in the 60’s. (LibŽration, March 26, p2, Jean


850 million may seem like a lot of birthday candles, but assuming a
15-billion year old universe, anything that young is very exciting–and very
rare–for cosmologists. The furthest and therefore likely the youngest
object ever sighted has been recorded by an international research group
working at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, with the particular help of a
French astrophysicist from the CNRS’ Midi-Pyrénées Observatory. What’s more
the object sighted is not the common early object, a quasar, or flash of
matter streaking towards a black hole, but an honest-to-goodness galaxy,
stars and all.

The project began with the intuition of tracking a very
specific type of ultraviolet light commonly emitted by a galaxy’s hydrogen
by calculating exactly what longer, infrared signal this ultraviolet
emission would have become billions of years of universe expansion later.
Building detectors designed for exactly and only that infrared length
(“older” than the previous “oldest” length recorded) and fitting them to the
Keck 10m telescope, the project began pointing toward likely dark patches of
the sky. Fortunately an astrophysicist from Toulouse happened by and offered
his rare expertise in the mathematics of gravitational lenses, the use of a
phenomenon predicted by Einstein whereby large galaxy clusters have
sufficient mass to curve space around them causing it to act a bit like a
magnifying glass.

Picking a likely cluster, Abell 370-3.8 billion light
years away, he went to work calculating the gravitational effects of what
amounts to a lens with a lot of lumps and holes, making for some rugged
equations. The result however is a precise lens or direction in which to
point a telescope, and at first go the team located the glow of the youngest
starlight ever seen. (Libération, March 27, p22, Sylvestre Huet)