News Briefs

Chevron donates $1 million to UAA

Chevron has donated $1 million to support the University of Alaska’s Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), and the Process Technology, Instrumentation, and Computer Electronics programs located at UAA’s Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) Kenai River Campus in Soldotna. This gift is the largest single corporate gift that KPC has ever received in its 44-year history.

Chevron, a company with more than 59,000 employees and subsidiaries in 180 countries, has operated in Alaska for over 50 years, and has recently increased its activity within the state. Currently, Chevron has over 400 employees in Alaska and produces 34,000 barrels of oil equivalent daily. With this increase comes the need for a larger workforce, particularly in the fields of engineering, process technology and instrumentation. “Chevron is committed to support the communities where we work,” said John Zager, Chevron Alaska manager. “We believe in recruiting and training locally, and we want to be an active contributor in helping to grow Alaska’s workforce for the future.”

Process technology is one of the fastest growing programs at the University of Alaska. KPC enrolls about 2,000 students each semester, and as of fall 2007, had more than 300 Process Technology and/or Instrumentation declared majors. “Chevron’s generous commitment to our programs will make have an incredible impact on our current and future students,” said Gary Turner, director of KPC. “We will be good stewards of this gift. We plan to use the funds to upgrade teaching labs, to purchase industry-standard training equipment, and to establish a scholarship program in these areas of study.”

Statehood Celebration Commission

The University of Alaska is working hand-in-glove with the Alaska Statehood Celebration Commission to host and promote several important anniversary events. One of the largest events in which UAA is deeply involved is the three-day Alaska Historical Society Conference, “Alaska Visionaries: Seekers, Leaders and Dreamers.” The conference, at the Z.J. Loussac Library (Oct. 16) and on the campus (Oct. 17-18), features a civic conversation about “Alaska 2058: The Next 50 Years”; the annual Alaska Day Lecture, which is part of the Polaris Lecture Series; and many unique paper and panel presentations highlighting 50 years of ordinary Alaskans accomplishing the extraordinary.

Scientists find new member of the solar system

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A minor planet. An asteroid. A comet without a tail. Whatever you call the celestial object officially known as 2006 SQ372, it’s already won itself a distinction: Of all known objects orbiting our Sun and bound to it by gravity, the orbit of the blandly named 2006 SQ372 takes it farthest from the Sun than any of the others.

At its aphelion – its greatest distance from the Sun – the object is 150 billion miles away, or almost 1,600 times the distance from the Sun to Earth. It takes an astounding 22,500 years to complete one orbit.

News of the discovery of 2006 SQ372 was reported Monday at an international sky-survey symposium in Chicago. Its discovery team included Dr. Andy Puckett, a post-doc researcher in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Leader of the research team was University of Washington astronomer Andrew Becker.

Discovery of 2006 SQ372 was the by-product of a search for supernova explosions in the distant corners of the universe. The SDSS-II Supernova Survey was conducted in the fall of 2005, 2006 and 2007. Images collected by a telescope over several weeks’ time in 2006 indicated a much closer object, within range of our Solar System, which was noticeably changing position night to night.

Andy Puckett went back and examined the Supernova Survey’s data wondering if the object had been observed in fall 2005, and indeed it had been detected then as well. That, as the scientists said, secured the discovery. Additional detections were found in 2006 and again the following fall. Puckett, incidentally, had performed a similar review of sky-survey data last December and came up with observations that resulted in a recalculation of the odds that a particular asteroid (2007 WD5) would strike Mars. The asteroid eventually missed the Red Planet, but for a brief spell in December-January, astronomers were excited by the suddenly improved prospects of a collision.

Almost all known objects revolving around our sun do so in more or less circular orbits. 2006 SQ372, on the other hand, takes a strongly elliptical path four times longer than it is wide. Another solar system object traveling an elliptical orbit is Sedna, which is a distant, Pluto-like dwarf planet discovered five years ago. But 2006 SQ372 travels 1.5 times farther from the Sun than Sedna, and its time to complete an orbit is almost twice as long.