NASA Space Place – Your Daily Dose of Astonishment

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in March, 2013.

Poster’s Note 2:The featured image for this article is that of the Antikythera mechanism, an object that almost defies technological explanation for its age. Its history and operation is worth your considered read! More on this object can be found in its wikipedia article: Antikythera mechanism.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplace
As a person vitally interested in astronomy, you probably have the Astronomy Picture of the Day website at apod.nasa.gov set as favorite link. APOD has been around since practically the beginning of the web. The first APOD appeared unannounced on June 16, 1995. It got 15 hits. The next picture appeared June 20, 1995, and the site has not taken a day off since. Now daily traffic is more like one million hits.

Obviously, someone is responsible for picking, posting, and writing the detailed descriptions for these images. Is it a whole team of people? No. Surprisingly, it is only two men, the same ones who started it and have been doing it ever since.

Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell shared an office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the early-90s, when the term “World Wide Web” was unknown, but a software program called Mosaic could connect to and display specially coded content on other computers. The office mates thought “we should do something with this.”

Thus was conceived the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Now, in addition to the wildly popular English version, over 25 mirror websites in other languages are maintained independently by volunteers. (See apod.nasa.gov/apod/lib/about_apod.html for links). An archive of every APOD ever published is at pod.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html. Dr. Nemiroff also maintains a discussion website at asterisk.apod.com/.

But how does it get done? Do these guys even have day jobs?

Dr. Nemiroff has since moved to Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, where he is professor of astrophysics, both teaching and doing research. Dr. Bonnell is still with NASA, an astrophysicist with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Science Support Center at Goddard. APOD is only a very small part of their responsibilities. They do not collaborate, but rather divide up the calendar, and each picks the image, writes the description, and includes the links for the days on his own list. The files are queued up for posting by a “robot” each day.

They use the same tools they used at the beginning: Raw HTML code written using the vi text editor in Linux. This simple format has now become such a part of the brand that they would upset all the people and websites and mobile apps that link to their feed if they were to change anything at this point.

Where do they find the images? Candidates are volunteered from large and small observatories, space telescopes (like the Hubble and Spitzer), and independent astronomers and astro-photographers. The good doctors receive ten images for every one they publish on APOD. But, as Dr. Nemiroff emphasizes, being picked or not picked is no reflection on the value of the image. Some of the selections are picked for their quirkiness. Some are videos instead of images. Some have nothing to do with astronomy at all, like the astonishing August 21, 2012, video of a replicating DNA molecule.

Among the many mobile apps taking advantage of the APOD feed is Space Place Prime, a NASA magazine that updates daily with the best of NASA. It’s available free (in iOS only at this time) at the Apple Store.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

2013march15_antikythera

Caption: The January 20, 2013, Astronomy Picture of the Day is one that might fall into the “quirky” category. The object was found at the bottom of the sea aboard a Greek ship that sank in 80 BCE. It is an Antikythera mechanism, a mechanical computer of an accuracy thought impossible for that era. Its wheels and gears create a portable orrery of the sky that predicts star and planet locations as well as lunar and solar eclipses.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

TACNY Listserve: SUNYIT Announcements Of Upcoming Events And Lectures

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

From the TACNY listserve, two emails announcing science- and technology-related lectures in the coming two months (plenty of advanced notice). The first is sent from Marv Meissner, Associate Director of Professional Development at the SUNY Institute of Technology:

1. Planning for a Net Zero Energy Footprint – Energy Symposium – April 12, 2013 – Syracuse

One of the most important Energy Conferences in the Northeast! Opportunity to look at successful models of renewable energy both from other countries and the U.S. Learn what can be done for more sustainability nationally and locally. This year we will be looking at a future: Striving toward a net zero Energy Footprint.  For more information an to register go online to www.energy21symposium.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3 Or Contact: Rhea Jezer: rjezer@gmail.com.

The second is an announcement from Holly Jones (MS, RHIA, CTR) also from the SUNYIT:

SUNYIT Provost’s Lecture Series

Dr. Andrea Dzuibek will present “‘Modern’ computational mathematical modeling in teaching and research” as a part of SUNYIT’s Provost’s Lecture Series from noon until 2 pm on 04/12/13.

Pre-registration a week prior to the free event is necessary. Please register at www.sunyit.edu/provost_lectures.

Please park in the visitor spaces in parking lot A or B. The event will be held in Donovan Hall Room G152.

First Announcement: NASA Climate Day At The MOST – 2 April 2013

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

I’m pleased to announce that The MOST is hosting a NASA-sponsored Climate Day on Tuesday, April 2nd. The combined indoor/outdoor (hopefully outdoor, if the skies hold) event includes demos and lectures on NASA’s Global View of Climate Change, understanding the differences between Weather & Climate, mini-Green House demonstrations, and Ocean Salinity.

Four notable presentations will also be made during the event, including:

Dave Eichorn: “Climate Impact” (6:30 – 7:15)

Anne Saltman, CNY Regional Planning and Development Board: “Regional Climate Impact – Responding To Climate Change in Central New York”

Todd Rodgers, National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project: “NEED & The SCSD Green Team”

Emily Alexander: “Nano And How It Relates To Climate Change – Reducing The Carbon Footprint Through Nanotechnology”

And, while everyone else considers our changing climate indoors, a few CNYO members will be hosting a solar observing session on the Creekwalk just North of The MOST (at the same location that the Syracuse Astronomical Society hosted the Venus Transit session on 6 June 2012). A google map of the proposed location (centered in the map between West Fayette and Walton) is provided below (The MOST is located just below the bottom of the map).


View Larger Map

There will be more information to follow (esp. for CNYO organization) as the event draws near, but we’ll be looking for a head count of available solar scopes (and solar scope operators). The first flyer from the MOST is reproduced below.

2013march12_climateday_V2

We hope you can join us!

Banner image at top: Snow Cover and Sea Surface Temperatures – With an albedo of up to 80 percent or more, snow-covered terrain reflects most of the earth’s incoming solar radiation back into space, cooling the lower atmosphere. When snow cover melts, the albedo drops suddenly to less than about 30 percent, allowing the ground to absorb more solar radiation, heating the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere. Credit: NASA. Read more at www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/earthandsun/climate_change.html.