Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

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Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

By: 
Ali H. Sayed
The title of this editorial is borrowed from a popular children’s lullaby from the 1800s, which reads “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are!” It reminds me of the vast expanse of unexplored space (and science) that lie before us.
 
The human race has always been fascinated by space—and who would not be? Its shining stars continually challenge us to get closer and unravel their mysteries. Civilizations old and new have been defined by their relationship with space and by their contribution to astronomy.
 
This past August, NASA launched its first mission to explore a star. It will travel for six long years and explore the atmosphere of the sun at a safe distance of almost 4 million miles. Another Japanese spacecraft, with rovers built in cooperation with German and French space centers, will be exploring the surface of a 1-km-wide asteroid after traveling for more than three years. Earlier, in 2003 and 2011, NASA launched the rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity to explore areas on the surface of the planet Mars. These efforts are fantastic examples of creative feats of engineering. Imagine flying robotic machines into far-away planets or asteroids in dark space, landing them on predetermined spots, and controlling them remotely. Significant ingenuity drives these accomplishments.
 
Our scientific community should be proud of these achievements. It is not a secret that signal processing theory and methods have been deeply entren - ched in space exploration since its early days, providing powerful tools for collecting, transmitting, and processing data. The least-squares method itself, and its famous recursive version, are the outcome of a data fitting exercise by Gauss in 1795 while trying to predict the location of the comet Ceres from past rudimentary telescope measurements. More recently, in a lecture given by the French mathematician Yves Meyer (of wavelets fame) at EPFL in Switzerland in September 2017, the speaker’s opening statement was to show how “signal processing has played a role in the detection of gravitational waves!”

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