Stellar Observations

Listening to Humberto Campins talk about asteroids and space travel makes me wish I had chosen a career in astronomy instead of journalism.

Okay, there—I said it. After eavesdropping on a 45-minute interview that my colleague Answer Man had with the UCF professor of physics and astronomy (page 28), I suddenly felt the urge to drive to a very dark spot and gaze at the stars all night. Or travel in my dreams to an asteroid. Or better yet, reserve a seat on a journey to Mars (on Orbitz no doubt). Hmm, maybe I can get press credentials for that trip—so my journalism background could pay off after all.

Campins talks about how we should not be worried about an asteroid striking Earth any time soon—“This is not something that should keep us awake at night.’’ But as a civilization, we have a responsibility to keep track of these big rocks for the sake of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Which is why he is on a team that’s sending a spacecraft to the very asteroid that could be a threat come 2182. Scope it out, analyze the half-block-sized “rubble pile’’ and maybe we can divert it if the need arises. Although it probably won’t.

Campins mostly sees asteroids not as threats but as steppingstones to exploration of space, specifically Mars. The red planet’s moons, Phobos and Deimos, are former asteroids. Humans might be able to land on them one day and process an unearthly fuel that would power a descent to Mars, he says. Asteroids, after all, hold the very building blocks of life on Earth, as do comets.

I’ll stop there, but you should consider a trip to UCF on February 15, when Campins and other experts will offer commentary on an asteroid flyby occurring that day. Looking for something a bit sexier than asteroids? Well, two of the brightest comets in centuries will be visible from Earth in March and around Thanksgiving.

It’s not the end of the world. Just otherworldly.

This issue marks the debut of Greg Dawson’s “Extra Pulp’’ column. Many of you know Greg from his years at the Orlando Sentinel, where he was TV critic,

metro columnist, consumer columnist and workplace writer. He also is the author of two books on the Holocaust, including Hiding in the Spotlight, a fascinating account of how his mother used her musical talents to survive during World War II.

So what will his column be about? Let’s just say it will be unpredictable but with a decidedly Orlando flavor. For certain, you’re in for some juicy reading, full of the mischievous wit—and wisdom—that Greg is known for.

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