Vol 7 N° 1 [January–March 2009]



2 The new faces of the universe

10 Forum urges new approach to health research
11 Reform of tanzanian science system gets under way
12 Corrosive seas may prove costly for fisheries
13 SESAME team takes up residence
14 Towards a law of transboundary aquifers
14 Inequities in Latin America affect schoolwork
15 40 winners for photo contest

16 Giovanni Valsecchi on preparing for a cosmic disaster

18 Ageing youthfully
21 Ulugh Beg: the scholar on the throne

24 Diary
24 New releases

Quick link to Vol. 7 N° 1 (PDF document);
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The sky's the limit

On 3 November, NASA and the European Space Agency announced that the Hubble Space Telescope had captured the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. This provides us with the first real image of a planet situated 25 light years from Earth. Not that Fomalhaut b, as the new planet is known, seems much more than a speck in the sky. Yet scientists are already speculating that this planet may be of a similar size to Jupiter and have its own ring system. Above all, this prowess may help us to understand a little more about the Universe in which we live and of which we are such a tiny part. Our own galaxy, which seems so immense, is just one among 100 billion galaxies. No wonder we ask ourselves: are we alone? A discovery like Fomalhaut b only serves to revive our curiosity. If Fomalhaut b bears similarities to Jupiter in our own Solar System, we muse, could that mean that Jupiter is not unique? And if Jupiter is not unique, what about Earth? In these pages, we put this question to exobiologist André Brack, one of the speakers at the launch of the International Year of Astronomy on 15 January.

Like André Brack, the other authors of the story overleaf on The new faces of the Universe are members of the International Astronomical Union, UNESCO’s partner in the Year. In these pages, Roland Lehoucq and Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud remind us that, even as our gaze turns heavenwards, our feet remain firmly planted on a celestial body. Which is why scientists have decided to look no farther than the Earth itself for elusive particles which are thought to be as old as the Universe and endowed with the ability to traverse solid matter: neutrinos.

Which is why, after a comet struck Jupiter in 1994, NASA decided to launch a research programme into Near-Earth Objects. After all, if it could happen to Jupiter, it could happen to us. In these pages, astronomer Giovanni Valsecchi explains why it is so important to patrol the skies for cosmic hazards, particularly now that we have the technology to do something about it, should an asteroid ever start on a collision course with Earth. The question is, how do we co-ordinate an asteroid early warning system at the global level?

The theme of the International Year of Astronomy is The Universe: Yours to Discover. We hope you will enjoy this 12-month journey into the unknown – and little known. Information on forthcoming events will be conveyed throughout the year via this journal. The adventure begins on 15 January at UNESCO here in Paris, with presentations on different aspects of astronomy, followed by a concert the next day by the Kronos string Quartet; it will be performing Sun Rings, a movement based on radio waves gathered from the far reaches of the Solar System by various spacecraft, including the two Voyagers, Galileo and Cassini. Collected over 40 years by American physicist Don Gurnett, these sounds have recently been arranged by composer Terry Riley into what may be the very first space concerto.

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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