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Astronomy Students Take Their Planetarium On The Road

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Mobile-Planetarium-39

Part circus sideshow, part educational tool, the astronomy department of the University of Washington in Seattle has put together a low-cost travelling planetarium. Assembled by a team of students and researchers comprised of John Wisniewski, Phil Rosenfield, Oliver Fraser, Justin Gailey, and Nell Byler, the apparatus is intended to travel to area schools for presentations.

At 10 feet tall and 20 feet across, the fabric dome is large enough to accommodate an entire classroom’s worth of budding astronomers. The whole contraption, built by GoDome, is held up by an industrial-strength fan, and looks suspiciously like a bouncy castle that you’d find at a carnival or county fair.

The fully functional, highly interactive planetarium is powered by a single laptop and uses Microsoft’s readily available Worldwide Telescope software. It will reveal “the cosmos in multiple wavelengths and frequencies and over time, with three-dimensional simulations of the movement of planets, stars and galaxies.” While previous similar digital planetariums required a variety of expensive equipment, in total the whole shebang cost less than $20,000 to put together. It does seem like this would be a pretty damn cool way to see images like these projected on an inflatable dome.

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Crowdfund A Space Exploration Trailer To Play Before Star Trek Into Darkness

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After the insane success of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, the concept of crowdfunding has leapt back into the public eye. Most of the stories these past few weeks have been centered around which other beloved but cancelled TV shows could be resurrected, but crowdfunding isn’t limited only to entertainment. It can just as easily be used for more important things, such as attempting to inspire a whole new generation to become passionate about space exploration.

That’s the goal of the “We Are the Explorers” project at IndieGoGo. The goal is to raise enough money to air an edited version of the following NASA trailer in movie theaters across the country, beginning with the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness. Utilizing the voice talents of the legendary Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime from Transformers), the video is designed to call out to the adventurous spirits of kids who may one day shape the path of our continued expansion into and exploration of space. I’ll admit it: this old space junkie got a little choked up. Here’s the full version of the trailer, which would be edited down to a 30-second spot for theaters.

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How Astronauts Wash Their Hands And Make A Sandwich In Space

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There are a thousand little things that we all take for granted on a daily basis that suddenly become a whole different challenge once you decide to relocate to a microgravity environment. Say, for instance, on the International Space Station. Even if you’re a space junkie like us, I’m betting there are still lots of stories astronauts could share that would make you go, “Well of course that would be tricky in zero-g!” Most of us won’t ever be lucky enough to make it into space, but thankfully we’ve got ISS Commander Chris Hadfield up there for us, answering submitted questions and beaming back one fascinating video after another. For instance, how the hell do you make a sandwich up there?

Well, first thing’s first. You need to wash those filthy hands of yours, you disgusting pig. Didn’t your mother teach you anything? So go over there and flip on that faucet and — Ack! Water everywhere! Things with blinky lights are shorting out! You’re having flashbacks to The Abyss! I hope you’re happy, because now the ISS is filled with runaway water balls and everybody has wet socks. Wet socks are the worst.

Fear not: Commander Hadfield is here to show you how it’s done.

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Amazing Video Of Nearby Stars With Planets Will Humble You

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Did you ever have one of those days when everything was going just perfectly? Woke up after a perfect night’s rest, had an exquisite breakfast — mostly just bacon wrapped bacon — and had nothing but good news fall into your lap as you jubilantly frolicked through your day? These days are rare, but are indeed the ones that we should cherish the most. Because for some people, their best days consist of creating amazing videos that just suck the personalized optimism right out of the room.

“Reconnaissance of the HR 8799 Exosolar System: A Digital Universe Journey” doesn’t come rolling off of the tongue very easily, but this awe-inspiring video will probably leave your tongue hanging out of your mouth. Directed by Brian P. Abbott, in cooperation with the American Museum of Natural History, the short film will complement a study that AMNH astrophysicist Ben R. Oppenheimer and colleagues will publish in Astrophysical Journal.

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Mars Curiosity Rover’s Panoramic View is Beautiful And Creature-Free

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Curiosity

You open the mailbox and beneath the small stack of bills, and you find a postcard from a traveling family member who’s stopping in Branson, MO to see the Mel Tillis Theater. Then you spend the rest of the day envying all of the relatives of the Mars Curiosity rover, because they probably don’t have to put up with that shit.

Curiosity has been giving us gorgeous views of the Red Planet since it touched soil in August 2012, but these interactive panoramic photo compilations, hosted by 360Cities, are some of the most beautiful and important pictures ever taken, giving us a vivid gallery of a place I’ll never get to travel to. This panorama is a composite of 130 images taken using both the Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and the 34mm Mastcam, all shot from the Yellowknife Bay region of the massive Gale Crater. It’s where Curiosity recently took its first drilling sample and very recently processed the rock’s dust into its onboard laboratory for testing. But that’s the technical news. This is all about the pretty shit.

Take a small but expansive tour of the Martian grounds, either zooming out to take in the mountainous horizon beneath a more distant sun, or zoom into the cracked ground and try and convince yourself you saw a lizard right before you moved the mouse and changed the image completely.

Though I’m slightly disappointed there aren’t any symbols that look like crop circles lying about, Curiosity is still young, and there will be more images to come, giving me more time to craft a design of Curiosity on my ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars.

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Pluto’s Unnamed Moon May Indeed Become Vulcan

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Vulcan

The people have spoken! And by “people,” I mean “William Shatner’s people.” Last week we told you about how the SETI Institute was allowing the public to vote on the official names for two of Pluto’s recently discovered, so-far-unnamed moons. As often happens whenever someone posts a poll online, a group of fans decided to team up to try and overwhelm the vote for their option of choice. In this case, William Shatner used Twitter to call upon his legions, suggesting they write in “Vulcan.” And while Vulcan wasn’t an official option on the list, it should surprise no one that it handily took first place in the voting, with 174,062 votes.

In spite of the sizable lead for Vulcan, it’s unclear at this point if one of Pluto’s moons will actually be saddled with the name of Spock’s homeworld. As we mentioned in our original story, the name still has to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, and Vulcan could theoretically be disqualified for not following the rules. The IAU’s naming conventions for moons of Pluto is that “those that share Pluto’s orbital rhythm take the name of underworld deities.” Hence the official suggestions included names like Orpheus, Styx, and the one that came in second, Cerberus. Hopefully Vulcan won’t be disqualified on a technicality, but you never know.

It could take between one and two months before the IAU officially declares whether Pluto’s P4 and P5 will become Vulcan and Cerberus. Hopefully they’ll have a sense of humor about the whole thing and let the departure from protocol pass. Just do us all a favor and don’t bring any Red Matter anywhere near the place.

So what does everyone’s favorite Vulcan think of the possibility of a new Vulcan in our neck of the woods? Actor Leonard Nimoy says, “If my people were emotional they would say they are pleased.”