Yes, that is just one of the many good quotes of Sir Martin Rees from the UK, in response to a question from the audience about the methane lake on Titan.  

 Yesterday, on May 24, I was fortunate to be able to attend an event at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium where Universe Awareness, the program I am here working with at the University of Leiden, was being publicly acknowledged of receiving a 1.9 million euro grant to be implemented over three years in six different countries.  At the event, I was definitely honored to be among such prestigious speakers and audience members.  Before the event, amateur astronomers were outside in the mall allowing any passerby to take a look and observe the Sun.  During the event, there were speakers that spanned expertise in multiple topics from radio telescopes, ESA (European Space Agency), and the ESO (European Southern Observatory) and the E-ELT (European - Extremely Large Telescope).  

Sir Martin Rees was quite the character and had many quick responses and ideas.  One of the greatest points I thought he had was pointing out the simplicity that, "We are on a very special planet and on it at a very special time."  I couldn't agree more.  In the past century, so many things have been discovered or realized.  We can even launch projectiles out into space for goodness sake!  With this though, I will be honest and say that I was a little disappointed with his future outlook of space travel to be better as a private venture - a 'spectator sport'.  With public there must be no risk as with private, there can be high risk.  I do understand that point, but really, what would we be without NASA?  Please refer to 'stuff for you' page and watch the video of why NASA is awesome so I won't need to explain further.  For my dear friends in quantum mechanics, he responded to an audience question that, "If you say you understand a hydrogen atom, we should be skeptical."  (If that makes you feel better :) )

For my friends from optics, Roberto Gilmozzi, from the ESO talked about the E-ELT (European-Extremely Large Telescope).  The "driver" for the telescope and the images it can capture are for the following points:
  • planets in other stellar systems  
    • imaging and spectroscopy
    • quest for Earth-like exo-planets
  • stellar populations 
    •  across the history of universe
  • cosmology
    • stars/galaxies, black holes, evolution of cosmic parameters 
  •  unknown 
To get an idea of the "extremely" large size of it (scientists are such creative namers), the primary mirror is 42 meters and the secondary mirror is 6 meters!  At Kitt Peak, we observed with a 0.9 meter and that was large.  Roberto put it into even greater perspective when we think of how amazing and great of a view capability we have come to today when the naked eye only has an 8 mm observing range.  The VLT (Very Large Telescope) has a viewing area of ~50 square meters.  The E-ELT will have a viewing area of ~1200 square meters.  It's insane to think about!  Very cool nonetheless.

George Miley, the Vice President of the IAU (International Astronomical Union) who is also a faculty member at the University of Leiden talked about "astronomy for the developing world," as is the stated strategic plan of the IAU.  He had helped lead UNAWE as well.  He discussed the three sort of branches of the importance of astronomy: science and research, technology and skill, and culture - as astronomers are like "super historians" (never thought of it like that, but a good concept if I don't say so myself).  As for UNAWE, it is about perspective, inspiration and fun and broadening children's minds.  UNAWE facilitates and creates a network for teachers and development professionals worldwide to exchange ideas, experiences, and materials.  It also provides development of fun material and teacher training.  To conclude the discussion of what the program is doing, we were able to have a video conference with a classroom in Africa.  It was really neat to see how on all parts of the world we are connected and how the kids are so excited about learning about their world and universe.  

During the course of the talks, brought up a few times was the difference of spending in Europe and the US in terms of space science.  One speaker said that the proportion of the US space budget is ~4 times higher than the European, if expressed per capita.  I find this really disappointing (and I slightly question that when less than half a cent of every dollar actually goes to NASA), when you go back to watch the video of how NASA is so awesome.  It truly is; I know that I am a little skewed in my opinion, but NASA has done great things over the course of a relatively short amount of time for humanity.  On that note, I can just say that we are very fortunate as SPS (Society of Physics Students) and attendees of a Space Grant affiliated school - and the fact that NASA does insist that a portion be spent on education ventures, as I have been among such student recipients to have the opportunities to do amazing things.