Daily Digest: NASA’s eye in the sky, UND loses Fighting Sioux nickname, Budget cuts could hollow out national defense

by Nickalas Tabbert

NASA has X-ray eye in sky

NASA launched its latest X-ray telescope into orbit Wednesday, beginning a two-year mission to search for black holes and other hard-to-see outer space objects.

The telescope was launched by a rocket released from a carrier aircraft near a remote Pacific island, The Associated Press said.  NASA chose not to use a launch pad for the $170 million mission because it’s cheaper.

After climbing roughly 350 miles above the Earth, the refrigerator-sized telescope separated from the rocket and began its orbit.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuStar for short, focuses high-energy X-rays to peer through gas and dust in search of remains of exploded stars and other objects in addition to black holes.

Though black holes are invisible, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays.  NuStar will observe previously known black holes and map hidden ones, the AP said.  Scientists hope to better understand how galaxies form and evolve as a result of exploring never-before-seen parts of the universe.

“We can view black holes and galaxies even if they’re enshrouded with dust and gas,” said Fiona Harrison, chief scientist of the California Institute of Technology.  “If you had high-energy X-ray eyes and you stared up at the galaxy, what you would see is the glow of all the massive black holes sprinkled throughout the cosmos.”


UND to lose Fighting Sioux nickname

Our neighbors to the northwest voted to let go of their flagship university’s nickname Tuesday.

The decision to drop the University of North Dakota’s controversial Fighting Sioux nickname from the school temporarily ended a dispute simmering for decades that divided sports fans, alumni and even tribes, The Associated Press said.

Tension rose seven years ago when UND was placed on a list of schools with American Indian nicknames the NCAA saw as hostile and abusive.  The colleges were told to get rid of the names or face penalties against their athletic teams.

So when voters went to the polls for the state’s primary Tuesday, they were asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname and American Indian head logo.  After the results showed that many voters are in favor of removing the name, the state’s Board of Higher Education is expected to retire the moniker and logo, the AP said.

UND President Robert Kelley said the vote will allow the college to focus on its students.

“We are appreciative that voters took the time to listen and to understand the issues and the importance of allowing the university to move forward,” Kelley said in a statement.  “We also understand how deeply this has affected all of us.”

Tim O’Keefe, executive vice president and CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation said the issue is not about preference but that the cost of keeping the name is too high.

Officials said the inability to host playoff series could cost the city of Grand Forks millions of dollars in hospitality and retail sales dollars, the Bismark Tribune said.  Athletic coaches said NCAA sanctions could hurt recruiting efforts and erode the overall quality of their programs.

The group that collected petitions for the ballot measure will try to make Fighting Sioux part of the state constitution this fall however.

A spokesman for the nickname group said they plan to continue gathering petitions for a constitutional amendment.

“We don’t have the option of forfeiting,” he said.  “There are more things at stake than some unfounded concerns about the athletic program.”


Defense Secretary: Cuts could be a disaster

A range of problems could arise from across-the-board defense cuts, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.

Widespread jobs losses and problems for the Pentagon as it tries to pay for health care for military personnel are just some of the potential trouble, The Associated Press said.

Cuts to defense and domestic programs kick in Jan. 2.  The Pentagon chief and Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appealed to members of both political parties on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee to come up with a solution.

Dempsey said the billions for fighters in Afghanistan would be subject to the cuts.  To avoid that result, the Pentagon would look to offset the cuts with reductions in other accounts, he said. 

Defense comptroller Robert Hale said the president could exempt military personnel from the cuts, but the reductions would affect the department’s ability to pay for health care.

Last year, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on a $492 billion reduction in projected defense spending over 10 years.  The budget agreement established a special bipartisan congressional committee to come up with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, the AP said.  That committee failed, however, and automatic cuts known as sequestration were set in motion to cut domestic and defense by $1.2 trillion over a decade.

Panetta said versions of the defense budget that have emerged from the House and Senate Armed Services Committee would force him to find money to  maintain old weapons, aircraft and ships, resulting in what he said would be a hollowing out of the force.