Tag Archives: Linux

Distro Astro 3.0 Is Out – Just In Time For CNY’s Hibernating Observers

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Wintertime CNY amateur astronomy is not for the faint of heart, and certainly no good for those with bad circulation. While many of the very best objects grace the nighttime skies from roughly November to March (I’m talking the primo sights for the Northern hemisphere, including the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades, and the Orion Nebula), bouts of precipitation mix with often bone-chilling temperatures to keep even the most dedicated observes indoors. I’ve found myself pondering on more than one occasion the price of an atomically-flat all-diamond window that would let me scan the heavens from the comfort of my own living room. An important take-home from Bob Piekiel’s wintertime Baltimore Woods sessions is that, after sunset, the thing heating Marcellus is YOU – if you’re not dressed for an ascent of Mt. Everest, chances are good you’re going to leave early with the knowledge that standing still at night requires a few additional layers of insulation. And even the pros forget – Ryan and I can recall at least one especially frosty session at Baltimore Woods that had us both moving slowly for 3 days after.

That said, you don’t have to spend the Winter months just cleaning your eyepiece case, replacing all your batteries, arguing in a cloudynights.com thread with someone named “Myopic from Minnesota,” and googling for interesting astronomical events in the upcoming year. Instead, you could be learning a bit about computer operating systems, updating your GOTO scope’s database with the absolute latest in near-Earth objects and exoplanets, greatly advancing your astrophotography skills, and making your own darned star charts.

2014nov17_astrodistrowelcomeDistro Astro (www.distroastro.org) is a Linux distribution specifically designed for astronomers of all abilities – and I do mean all abilities. Astronomy is one of those fields where someone needs a program to do A, they write a program for A, and they often make it freely available for anyone else to do A or test B. These developers might be hobbyists wanting to turn Newton’s equations of motion into a learning tool, or might be serious programmers and professional astronomers wanting to process the latest Keck and Hubble data for analysis. The Distro Astro Team has collected some of the best free software across all areas of amateur astronomy and wrapped it up into a Linux distribution that you can install on your “outdoors” computer, giving you a suite of tools that will keep your astro-gears spinning all winter until you step outside for the next Messier Marathon.

Version 3.0 of Distro Astro just came out (November 9th, to be exact) and is available for free download from the distroastro.org website. Instead of re-listing all of the features here, I refer you to the official item list on the distroastro.org website, then a few good intro reviews describing the operating system and suite of programs. If we’ve enough local interest in a walkthrough of Distro Astro, a full *indoors* demonstration might make for a chance to introduce some of the CNY amateur astronomy community to some of the Linux gurus in the Syracuse Innovators Guild (full disclosure – I’m a member of SIG as well and suspect the facilities would be perfect for such a lecture).

And speaking of Distro Astro presentations, CNYO’s own Christopher Schuck just happened to take over one of Stellafane’s lecture spots this past August in order to introduce Distro Astro to just the kind of audience it was developed for. For a quick tour of some of the pick-hits in Distro Astro, I invite you to check out the youtube video of his presentation above.

For another discussion of Astro Distro, check out this video from a Linux group in Perth, Western Australia: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvC5vj74lGE.

If you’ve any questions about getting it all up-and-running, I direct you to either the Distro Astro Facebook Page or to CNYO’s own Facebook Page (the collective know-how on our Facebook Page is probably enough to get new users over any initial humps).

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

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.


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/