Since September 2017, Vietnam has literally begun eyeing the stars. That is to say, the country's first astronomical observatory just opened on the Eastern coastline city of Nha Trang in the Khanh Hoa Province.

Nha Trang is mostly popular for fishery and tourism, thanks to large sand beaches, surf waves, and tropical climate. As a consequence, 30- or 40-story high buildings are rising and multiplying in a frenetic and vertiginous growth.

Next year, however, tourists and their children will have a chance to learn something about space science and astronomy after their day in the sunshine at playing in the waves. In fact, an exhibition center and a planetarium has been designed just for them. They will even have a chance to tame a professional telescope and observe the brightest objects of the sky. Firmly anchored to the rocky area called Hon Chong (Husband Islet), perched at 20 m above the ground, the 9-meter diameter dome hosts a 0.5-meter telescope from the Italian firm MARCON that is primarily used by students and staff scientists. This observatory is only a fraction of the Vietnam National Satellite Center, the largest scientific project developed by the Vietnam National Space Center since 2014, but it is the first one to see the light.

After spending two days in Nha Trang, and after the pleasant experience of approaching a brand new observatory, I can say that it somewhat fascinating to witness one aspect of the early development in scientific astronomy of an entire country.

Is Vietnam itself becoming a rising star? I will have more insight at the end of this week, because I am about to attend the first International Conference in Vietnam on Space Science and Technology...


Walking in Galileo's Path

Posted by admin on November 15, 2017


One aspect of the job of a research scientist is to attend team meetings related to space missions, which may happen in many places around the world. Some of these places are remarkable, especially when they are directly related to Planetary Sciences.

On the 26 and 27 of October, 2017, team members of the Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) of the Rosetta spacecraft reunited in Villa Il Gioiello, the house of Galileo, in Arcetri, Italy.  

Planetologists from Italy, Germany, France and the USA presented their on-going projects and their most recent results about the chemical composition and physical properties of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As they presented to their peers, they were also experiencing the emotional feelings of being literally in the footsteps of one of the greatest astronomers in History, and one of the pioneers of the scientific method.

Villa_Il_Gioiello_House_of_Galileo_study_room_small.jpgThe experience was certainly inspiring for many people. It was also a reminder that the logical process of Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Results, Interpretation and Conclusion (OHERIC is the mnemonics term) was not always accepted as rational thinking. Galileo learned that lesson the hard way. He was prisoner in his own house in Arcetri for the last eight years of his life, following his written defense of heliocentrism, the understanding that the sun is at the center of the solar system. The concept of heliocentrism was corroborated by his own observations of the planets, as opposed to geocentrism, the belief that Earth was at the center of the universe, that was supported by the religious and political Catholic power at the time.

In court, Galileo publicly abjured some of his observations and scientific reasoning, only to whisper in his beard "E pur si muove!" (And yet, it turns!) - meaning the Earth turns around the sun, not the other way around.

Thanks to the path Galieo broke through, the scientific method has become the norm, leading to immense progress in knowledge about everything. The best recognition that today's researchers can give to Galileo's memory is to keep and preserve their own moral integrity by trusting their results instead of being influenced by external pressure.

In conclusion, working in Villa Il Gioiello in Arcetri was a good reminder that science studies are part of the freedom of all human beings, and that this freedom never has to be taken for granted.

- Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe







CASSINI End of Mission Media Guide

Posted by admin on September 22, 2017

Below is a list of some of the videos and photos from the Cassini plunge.  The following list is not meant to be comprehensive, as there has been a lot of Cassini coverage. These links will connect you to NASA’s videos and some of the stand-out news stories written for the end of the spacecraft’s journey.


Archived press briefings & end-of-mission commentary

360-degree video from inside mission control

JPL's Cassini playlist on YouTube

Additional videos


NASA HQ Photo albums on Flickr

Associated Press

JPL Photolab photos (works on the JPL network only)


NOVA Cassini special is available at:

BBC Horizon/Science Channel Cassini special

Airs Tue. Sept. 19 at 9pm on the Science Channel

Discovery Canada/NatGeo Cassini special

BBC Sky at Night

Bear Fight Institute at Trails End Bookstore

Posted by admin on August 12, 2017

Trails End Bookstore.jpg

Scientists from the Bear Fight Institute gave a public lecture at the Trails End Bookstore on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

  • Dr. Tom McCord began with an introduction about the Bear Fight Institute and the research conducted with NASA and ESA missions. He continued with a short overview of the eclipse, what scientists hoped to learn, and interesting facts. 
  • Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe took up the thread with a description of the different eclipse types, and what makes this one so special. 
  • Kate Johnson concluded the lecture by speaking about what we know about the solar corona, and what scientists will be studying about the corona during the eclipse. 
  • Intern Katie Taylor demonstrated how to make a solar eclipse viewer at the activities table.






Liberty Bell High School Career Fair

Posted by admin on May 11, 2017


Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe and Dr. Sandeep Singh shared their experiences in science during Liberty Bell High School's 2017 Career Fair.

BFI at LPSC 2017

Posted by admin on April 3, 2017

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Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Sandeep Singh at LPSC 2017

BFI participated in LPSC 2017 with several presentations and posters.


McCord T. B. * Castillo-Rogez J. C. Russell C. T. Raymond C. A.

Title: Ceres Evolution: The Picture Before and After Dawn [#1098]

Summary: Ceres is shown by Dawn to be a highly physically and chemically evolved water-rich body probably active today, consistent with pre-Dawn findings.

Combe J.-Ph. * Raponi A. Tosi F. De Sanctis M.-C. Ammannito E. et al.

Title: Exposed H2O-Rich Areas on Ceres Detected by Dawn [#2568]

Summary: - H2O-rich materials exposed at the surface of Ceres have been detected by the Visible and InfraRed mapping spectrometer (VIR) of the Dawn mission.

  • Spectral modeling indicates that H2O ice is the most likely component, as opposed to hydrated minerals.
  • To date, nine H2O-rich areas have been identified, at latitudes higher than 30 .
  • The distribution is comparable with the latitudinal trend observed in the Hydrogen abdundance of the subsurface measured by the Gramma-Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND).
  • These findings are consistent with H2O-ice in the subsurface that may be locally exposed by mechanical processes such as impact crater or landslides.


 Johnson K. E. * Singh S. McCord T.

Title: Study of the 2.7 Micron Absorption Band Found on Comet 67P/CG [#2954]

Summary: - The Visible Infrared and Thermal imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) has revealed diversity in the shape of the 2.7 microns detected at the surface of comet nucleus 67P/CG, .

  • One has a double peak characteristic of CO2 (previoulsy identified), and one has a single peak that is probably due to OH (new identification in our study).
  • Hydroxylated phyllosilicates are candidate materials, similar to the composition of the surface of Ceres.




BFI at Methow Elementary School

Posted by admin on January 17, 2017


Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe presents the inner workings of our solar system to fifth graders at Methow Valley Elementary School.


BFI at LPSC 2016

Posted by admin on July 13, 2016

Singh Acetylene Presentation LPSC 2016.JPG

Dr. Singh presents the discovery of acetylene on the surface of Titan

2016 Dawn Team Meeting

Posted by admin on June 21, 2016

Members of NASA's Dawn Space Mission Team gathered in Winthrop for their annual meeting May 31 - June 3, 2016

Throughout the day, presentations and ideas were shared among team members in collaborative workshops.

Thursday evening, June 2nd, Dr. Tom McCord, director of the Bear Fight Institute, and Dr. Marc Rayman of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab hosted a public lecture at Sun Mountain Lodge. Nearly 100 members of the local community gathered to hear about Dawn spacecraft development, flight mission operations, and discoveries from orbits about Vesta and Ceres.


On the final night of the team meeting, team members were invited to the home of Dr. Tom and Carol McCord for a relaxing evening of food and fun. Team members started impromptu boat races and BS Bar-B-Que brought all the food.


NASA Europa Mission Announced

Posted by admin on May 27, 2015

The Bear Fight Institute, and director Dr. Thomas McCord, are excited to announce their selection for participation in NASA’s planned mission to Europa.

The Bear Fight Institute, located near Winthrop WA, works with NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory to analyze the surface composition of planetary bodies in our solar system and determine what this tells us about their origin and evolution. BFI uses spacecraft to bring infrared spectrometers close to planets, satellites, asteroids and comets to determine the minerals and molecules composing them.

NASA’s planned Europa mission will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter’s most intriguing moon. The mission is directed at investigating the liquid water ocean below Europa’s thin icy crust and whether it might be habitable for some forms of life. The mission would be launched in the 2020s, and will reach the Jupiter system several years later.

The Bear Fight Institute is part of a small team of nine scientists from JPL, MIT, USGS, and several universities on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) investigation. MISE will probe the composition of Europa, identifying and mapping the distributions of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases, and other materials to determine the nature of Europa’s ocean.

The Bear Fight Institute will aid in designing MISE, planning its operation and measurements, and in analyzing returned data, both at JPL, where the instrument will be constructed, and at BFI, where data and other information will be processed and analyzed.  This new effort will build on BFI’s participation in four other currently active space missions.

Last year, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. Thirty-three proposals were reviewed. Only nine were selected for the mission. The principal and deputy leaders for the MISE team are Drs. Diana Blaney of JPL and Charles Hibbitts of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, both former graduate students of Dr. McCord, as also is one of the other team members.

Dr. McCord has worked with NASA and JPL for nearly 20 years to plan this mission after his role in producing the first results from the Galileo Mission to Jupiter discovering the ocean beneath Europa’s thin icy crust. Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe, also of BFI, also participated in the mission planning over the past several years to help specify and justify the instrument’s characteristics.

More information can be found here:

Astronomy Day at Pacific Science Center

Posted by admin on May 9, 2015

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Dr. Thomas McCord presented NASA's Dawn Mission to a group of future scientists at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle on Astronomy day.

BFI at LPSC 2015

Posted by admin on March 20, 2015


Dr. Thomas McCord points out details of his poster, The Composition of Vesta from all Dawn Data and Analysis, featured at LPSC 2015, Woodlands, Texas


Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe and Dr. Christoph Gross of Freie Universität Berlin discuss Dr. Combe's poster, Dawn at Vesta: Composition of the Northern Regions, featured at LPSC 2015, Woodlands, Texas