Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Build a TDRS Satellite

Here’s a good project for the younger set.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) project is dedicated to providing science, technology, engineering, art and math curricula and activities to teachers and students worldwide. In this video, learn how to build your own paper TDRS.

VSS Unity Glide Flight 03

As you probably know Richard Branson offered Stephen Hawking a seat aboard a Virgin Galactic flight to space. Hawking told “Good Morning Britian” he immediately said yes.

Hats off to Richard Branson. I think it would be excellent; there is no date set of course. The video above is from one of the latest tests by Virgin Galactic, from just a couple weeks ago and things from all outward appearances look quite good.

Hey, getting into space is one thing, getting back home is quite another ball of wax.

Let’s all hope things go well for Virgin Galactic and Hawking gets to go, I cannot think of a better passenger.

Happy PI Day!

Almost missed it being  in the middle of a snow storm, right now  and all.  The snow is  coming down about 5 or so cm per hour (2 inches).  Been snowing at that rate for some time and it will continue until we finish up with a forecasted 60 cm / 24 inches.  I’m figuring we will make that number easy enough.

The snow is pretty dry so far, about a 15:1 ratio, snow to water.  That’s good for moving the stuff, light weight and not sticky.  What the wind will do is a whole other story and that chapter is supposed to be written later on.  No, I’m not doing either of my two driveways completely.  I am just doing the interfaces with the highway so the plow doesn’t put a huge snowbank in the way.  Been there and done that. . . didn’t like it at all.

So back to PI Day.  I memorized PI to 3.141592653589793238462643383279502 once and still can get almost that many digits now.  Funny what you can remember.

So want to see PI to a million digits?  I know you do (LOL), check out this site:




Black hole Temperature Swings


Artist concept: ESA

From NASA:

For the first time, scientists have measured rapidly varying temperatures in hot gas emanating from around a black hole. These ultrafast “winds” are created by disks of matter surrounding black holes.

The winds, according to new measurements of a nearby supermassive black hole obtained with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) telescope, can heat up and cool down in the span of just a few hours. The black hole is located in the active galaxy IRAS 13224-3809 in the constellation Centaurus. Scientists report these findings, using data from NuSTAR and European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescope, in the journal Nature.

“We know that supermassive black holes affect the environment of their host galaxies, and powerful winds arising from near the black hole may be one means for them to do so,” says NuSTAR Principal Investigator Fiona Harrison, professor at Caltech in Pasadena. “The rapid variability, observed for the first time, is providing clues as to how these winds form and how much energy they may carry out into the galaxy.”

Full story from Caltech:…

AG Carinae


Dazzling isn’t it? If the name AG Carinae rings a bell, it could be because of this famous star: Eta Carinae.

Thanks to: ESA/Hubble & NASA

ESA’s caption:

This luminous star, AG Carinae, is losing mass at a phenomenal rate. Its powerful winds reach up to seven million km/hour, and exert enormous pressure on the clouds of material already expelled by the star.

These incredible winds have already cleared a region immediately around the star, and sculpted the material further away into the pattern observed in this Hubble Space Telescope image.

AG Carinae is a rare breed of Luminous Blue Variable star that evolved from a star around 50 times the mass of our Sun. They show variable and unpredictable behaviour, experiencing periods of quiescence and outbursts alike. They are also some of the most luminous stars known: tens of thousands to several million times as luminous as the Sun.

It is worth noting that the bright glare at the centre of the image is not the star itself, which is tiny at this scale and hidden within the saturated region. The white cross is also not an astronomical phenomenon but rather an effect of the telescope.

AG Carinae lies 20 000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. The image was taken with the Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, and was first released in September 2014.

Hubble Used to Update Hubble Constant

Pretty cool.  The Hubble  Space Telescope have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is very consistent with earlier findings.

Credits: NASA, ESA, Suyu (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics), Auger (University of Cambridge)

Did I say there was cosmic (gravitational) lensing involved?  Here’s what NASA  has to say:

This research was presented in a series of papers to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The new measurement is completely independent of — but in excellent agreement with — other measurements of the Hubble constant in the local Universe that used Cepheid variable stars and supernovae as points of reference [heic1611].

However, the value measured by Suyu and her team, as well as those measured using Cepheids and supernovae, are different from the measurement made by the ESA Planck satellite. But there is an important distinction — Planck measured the Hubble constant for the early Universe by observing the cosmic microwave background.

While the value for the Hubble constant determined by Planck fits with our current understanding of the cosmos, the values obtained by the different groups of astronomers for the local Universe are in disagreement with our accepted theoretical model of the Universe. “The expansion rate of the Universe is now starting to be measured in different ways with such high precision that actual discrepancies may possibly point towards new physics beyond our current knowledge of the Universe,” elaborates Suyu.

The targets of the study were massive galaxies positioned between Earth and very distant quasars — incredibly luminous galaxy cores. The light from the more distant quasars is bent around the huge masses of the galaxies as a result of strong gravitational lensing. This creates multiple images of the background quasar, some smeared into extended arcs.

Because galaxies do not create perfectly spherical distortions in the fabric of space and the lensing galaxies and quasars are not perfectly aligned, the light from the different images of the background quasar follows paths which have slightly different lengths. Since the brightness of quasars changes over time, astronomers can see the different images flicker at different times, the delays between them depending on the lengths of the paths the light has taken. These delays are directly related to the value of the Hubble constant. “Our method is the most simple and direct way to measure the Hubble constant as it only uses geometry and General Relativity, no other assumptions,” explains co-lead Frédéric Courbin from the Laboratory of Astrophysics, Lastro (EPFL), Switzerland.

Using the accurate measurements of the time delays between the multiple images, as well as computer models, has allowed the team to determine the Hubble constant to an impressively high precision: 3.8 percent. “An accurate measurement of the Hubble constant is one of the most sought-after prizes in cosmological research today,” highlights team member Vivien Bonvin, from EPFL, Switzerland. And Suyu adds: “The Hubble constant is crucial for modern astronomy as it can help to confirm or refute whether our picture of the Universe — composed of dark energy, dark matter and normal matter — is actually correct, or if we are missing something fundamental.”

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


This view of the Earth and Moon comes from the American weather satellite GOES-16. This image comes from the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument, built by Harris Corporation and can provide an image every 15 minutes.

The (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite will have company soon as the GOES-17 is in the works.

The NOAA press release – with more images, is located here.

Credit: NOAA