For several years, Prof. Alaa Ibrahim (Observatory Director at the Zewail City of Science and Technology) has been taking his students out of the teeming metropolis of Giza and into the deep desert. Their destination, Wadi Al-Hitan National Park, is best known for its amazing fossils of ancient whales that roamed this area some 40 million years ago, when much of Egypt was completely under water. The remoteness of this site also endows the place with night skies that are essentially free of light pollution. For many of Prof. Ibrahim’s students, this venture into the desert was their first opportunity to view planets, constellations, and the Milky Way in a pristine dark sky. With the aid of large portable telescopes that were deployed on-site, they also got to view star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. These combined experiences were in many ways transformative to the students. I hope that you will find their personal reflections (below) as heartwarming and inspiring as I do. – William H. Waller
Water has been identified in the most uncanny of places – as vapors in the nebulae that roam our Milky Way Galaxy, as ices in the protoplanetary disks that surround many protostars, and as liquids below the icy crusts of the Jovian moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft imaged geysers of liquid water erupting from the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The liquid form of water is especially important to biotic processes, as it provides an essential solvent for making the sundry hookups and energy transfers that are necessary to life.