Outer Space and
We often feel as if all the great discoveries have been made. The earth
has been explored and mapped, and it’s now possible to know exactly
where you are at any moment.
On a trip to Monterey this summer, my daughter Kathy’s electronic
friend and guide Siri recognized each intersection we crossed in Salinas,
telling us exactly where we were, what the next intersection was and
what we should do when we got there to arrive at our destination. It
was something I’d never experienced and never expected to.
Yet there still are worlds to be discovered. We constantly hear of
discoveries in outer space, made with the aid of the Hubble telescope,
the Keck observatory, or the Kepler telescope. Other discoveries are
being made in the vast hidden depths of the ocean.
When I was a child in the Panhandle of Texas, we used to lie out on a
quilt in the front yard at night and just look up in wonder at the sky. The
land was flat and there were no trees, so the sky was huge and
magnificent. In such a small town, there was no ambient light to interfere
with the view, and we could see the Milky Way galaxy spill across the
sky and watch the constantly changing parade of constellations and the
fireworks displays of shooting stars.
Now we've seen the same sights from much closer up. The Hubble
Space Telescope was carried into orbit by a space shuttle in 1990 and
remains in operation. The original telescope's main mirror was serviced
in 1993 to bring its optics to the quality that was initially desired, and
truly remarkable discoveries have followed.
The Keck Observatory is made up of two 10-meter telescopes in the
state of Hawaii. They are used to confirm findings, to advance the
frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.
The Kepler Telescope was sent into space in 1997 to locate earth-sized
planets circling other stars. So far, 136 new planets have been
These and other telescopes map the far reaches of space and shed light
on the origin and structure of our universe.
Other explorers have mapped the bottom of the sea, making discoveries
about yet another unknown world. This is done in two basic ways--
using submersibles and making sonar soundings of the ocean floor.
The first maps of the ocean floor came from soundings using weighted
lines near the shore to identify hazards to shipping.
Sonar was first used in World War I. In the 20s, the Coast and
Geodetic Survey, a precursor of NOAA's National Ocean Service,
During World War II, sonar was improved to show greater depths, and
the first maps were produced using this improved information to show
features like trenches and ridges.
In 1957, Heezer and Tharp produced their physiographic map, and in
the 1960s, automation was used to plot data. Multibeam sonar showed
the ocean floor, not just along the track of a ship. In the 1970s,
automated contouring was introduced.
Living near the coast, I see the ocean often. In fact, sometimes I see it
so often that I forget to be amazed by it. But in another sense, I never
really see it. I only see the surface, which stretches so far it's easy to
forget how deep it is and how many incredible living treasures are hidden