Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quote of the Month

"The day we stop exploring
is the day we commit ourselves to live in a stagnant world,
devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams."

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Friday, December 20, 2013

Carl Sagan Died 17 Years Ago

Exactly seventeen years ago today, the world has lost one its most cherished science educators, a role model for many scientists today, dr. Carl Sagan. If you do not know him, please research it and discover the life work of a truly remarkable man!

In remembering him, allow me to include here the video version of one his most famous speeches, the Pale Blue Dot. It is an excerpt from his book of the same name, inspired by the image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft (currently in interstellar space) from about 6 billion kilometers (3,8 billion miles).

Also, do not forget to watch the re-imaging of his iconic television series "Cosmos," starring Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. The new Cosmos will air on March 9, 2014 on Fox.

"Somewhere, something incredible
is waiting to be known."

- Carl Sagan

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Round for the CAT started!

A few months ago, the CAT Thruster--a very promising water-propelled micro satellite--failed to achieve its Kickstarter goal (despite the incredible support I might add). The project then went on a hiatus, a period of re-thinking what went wrong with the campaign (on Kickstarter, of course, as the actual development in the engineering department at the University of Michigan never actually stopped.) Now, however, the hiatus is over, and the team has returned with a much more thought-out (and realistic) Kickstarter page! For more information on the project and why you should support it click here! And, if I managed to convince you, click on the link below to pledge your support:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quote of the Month

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science,
the one that heralds new discoveries,
is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

- Isaac Asimov

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Leonid Meteor Shower Will Peak Soon!

The 2013 Leonid meteor shower will peak on the morning of November 18th. It will be visible around the world, with 15 to 20 meteors per hour streaking across the night sky in average. Unfortunately, this shower will occur just one day after a full moon, so it may be difficult to observe the fainter Leonids. As in previous years, I recommend visiting Spacedex for tips, tricks, and to find out about optimum viewing conditions in your area.

Image courtesy of Spacedex.com

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quote of the Month

"I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined,
and that we can do nothing to change it,
look before they cross the road."

- Stephen Hawking

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

This weekend, the Orionid Meteor Shower will peak. Although it is not the most spectacular of the annual meteor showers, the Orionids can still produce around 15 to 20 "falling stars" per hour. Appear to be radiating from the constellation Orion, this meteor shower occurs annually when the Earth moves into the debris left behind by Halley's Comet. It is a wonderful show that is visible from both hemispheres; so, I urge anyone to look up at the night sky weekend. As in previous years, I recommend visiting Spacedex for tips, tricks, and to find out about optimum viewing conditions in your area.

Image courtesy of Spacedex.com

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hearthstone Beta Key Winner!

All right people, the Hearthstone beta key giveaway has come to an end, and it is time to announce the winner. I numbered all entries on Facebook and put them through a random number generator. So, without further ado, here is the winner:

Douglas Toms

Congratulations Douglas! I sent you the code via private message on Facebook (check your inbox)! I'd also like to thank everyone who played; it was fun to see so many people professing interest in the game. Unfortunately, there could have been only one winner, but for all those who did not win: the open beta is just around the corner. Keep your chin up!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hearthstone Beta Key Giveaway!

After waiting for months to get into the beta of Blizzard newest game, Hearthstone, I recently received not one but two beta keys. Since I only need one, I decided to give away the other. To win it, all you need to do is like this website on Facebook and leave a comment on this post, but please make sure you include your real name (or whatever name you use on Facebook) somewhere in the comment, so I can identify you among the Facebook likes.

I will select a winner between the eligible commenters via a random number generator tomorrow at 2:00 PM Eastern Time and send the code on Facebook via private message. The key is for the North American region, so please do not play if you know you won't be able to use it.

Please don't leave your e-mail addresses in the comments! I do the giveaway via Facebook because I don't want anyone to fall pray to spammers!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Quote of the Month

"Somewhere, something incredible
is waiting to be known."

- Carl Sagan

Thursday, September 26, 2013

CAT Thruster - Alive and Well!

Even though the University of Michigan Kickstarter for the CAT engine—a revolutionary idea for cubesat propulsion—had failed to reach its funding goal, the project did not die. Yesterday, the team had posted an update on their Kickstarter page, detailing future plans for the project:

We hope you are well and wanted to let you know that we have an announcement coming in early October about a new CAT Engine Kickstarter campaign. We are hard at work on this and appreciate the tremendous support and encouragement to date.

In the meantime, we've had some nice progress on the hardware development for CAT and will reveal that during the launch. Additionally, we have listened to your suggestions and are working on exciting new rewards and a revised social media presence for the upcoming campaign.

Thank you, we look forward to your continued support.

-The CAT Team

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Confirmed: Voyager 1 left the Solar System!

About a year ago, the twin Voyager spacecrafts possibly reaching the boundaries of our solar system had begun to surface. But scientists needed time to confirm the data. Well, today NASA has announced that Voyager 1 has indeed left the solar system and is now in interstellar space. The following is an excerpt from the official announcement from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is mankind's historic leap into interstellar space," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we've all been asking -- 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are."

At about 12 billion miles (19.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, well beyond the orbit of Pluto, the 36 year old spacecraft is our farthest ambassador, a truly remarkable accomplishment of all of humanity. What is most remarkable, however, is that Voyager 1 still has power estimated to last until 2025, relaying back data about the conditions of interstellar space, further advancing our knowledge and understanding of the universe. After that, it will orbit the center of our galaxy until the end of times. Just imagine: when we are long gone, Voyager 1 will still be out there, crossing the great void, with messages from a long forgotten civilization, on a tiny golden record.

Science is amazing!

* Illustration and video are from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Monday, September 9, 2013

Curiosity Rover Tracker

Ever wondered what Curiosity had done on a specific day? Did you ever wanted to see the entire timeline of the largest Mars rover? Well, if you answered 'yes' to any of these question, you are in luck. The folks over at The New York Times created an interactive timeline for Curiosity, encompassing the entirety of the mission, from Sol 0 to present day. You can check out nearly every day the rover had spent on the Red Planet and see what it did during a specific time period, as well as, look at related images. It is an awesome tool that should make every space geek smile! If you are at all interested, follow the link below:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is the Deal with Water on Mars?!

Every once in awhile, news about water on Mars pops up on science blogs and news outlets. In fact, the topic has been in the spotlight so much in recent years that many people just shrug when they read about it. What is the big deal; didn’t we find water on a half a dozen celestial bodies already? It is supposed to be a pretty common substance. We found traces of water on the Moon, on asteroids and comets, heck the entirety of Europa’s surface, Saturn’s largest moon, is comprised of mostly water—under a thick layer of ice. So why is Martian water so important? Well, the answer is quite interesting.

Everyone knows that water is an integral part of human life; in its liquid form, we need it for our everyday survival. We can also split water into oxygen and hydrogen and use the resulting elements as rocket fuel, to generate electricity or to produce breathable air. The role water plays in long-term manned space missions is fundamental, making this seemingly simple substance a crucial part of any future Mars initiative. But it is also a heavy substance! Carrying all the water astronauts will need on a years-long mission to Mars is expensive, even if we assume that most of it can be recycled. But what if much of the water needed would be readily available at the destination, therefore alleviating the need to ship it from millions of miles away? Such a case would significantly decrease the launch costs of manned Mars missions. Luckily, this precisely what seems to be the case as NASA has repeatedly demonstrated the existence of subsurface water ice. We also know that both polar caps consist of mostly said material, as well as the thin Martian clouds. To put it simply: Mars’ demonstrable water reserves bring us to the dream of a—at least partially—self-sustainable Martian outpost that much closer. But water has not only practical but tremendous scientific implications as well!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Quote of the Month

"From now on, we live in a world
where man has walked on the Moon.
It's not a miracle;
we just decided to go."

- Tom Hanks

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Much Does NASA Cost?

A study done a few years ago revealed that the average American believe that NASA's annual budget is around 20% of the total U.S. expenditure. That, of course, is ridiculous. NASA's 2011 budget was somewhere around 0.6%, a number that went even further down in recent years. To illustrate how small that amount really is, compare put it next to the military, which was over 900 billion (with a B!) dollars in in the same year! In fact, if you put together every penny the U.S. government has ever spent on NASA over the agency's little over 50 years of operation (which includes all the satellites, the Hubble Space telescope, the mars probes, the Apollo program, and every mission that gave pride to millions of Americans) it would still add up to less than what the U.S. spends on its military in a single year! Another interesting tidbit: the American government had spent more on the 2008 bank bailout than on NASA's in the last 50 years! So next time, when someone tells you that the United States spends too much money on NASA, you will know better. The chart below puts the points discussed in a nice, visual form (special thanks to Steve Heroz for allowing me to re-post his image here).

Lastly, here is a short video from Neil deGrasse Tyson where he addresses the issue in a way I could never dream of (special thanks to youtuber, Evan Schurr, who edited it). Watch it, listen to it, share it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks in a Few Days

We are only a few days away from the peaking of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the largest annual meteor shower on the planet. The Perseids can produce up to 80 "falling stars" per hour; a spectacular show that is visible from the northern hemisphere and in some southern countries closer to the equator. As in previous years, I urge you to visit Spacedex for tips, tricks, and to find out about optimum viewing conditions in your area.

Image courtesy of Spacedex.com

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Future of the CAT Thruster

With a heavy heart I inform you that the CAT thruster for cubesats had failed to reach its goal of 200.000 dollars on Kickstarter. Fortunately it was not a total loss! First of all, considering how small the project was--a university campaign with very limited media access--the nearly $68.000 they did manage to collect I think is remarkable. To me, it shows that people do care about space exploration, similarly to the Arkyd space telescope even though not quite on the same scale. Secondly, and most importantly, the unsuccessful campaign does not mean the end of the project! After the deadline, Benjamin Longmier (project and science lead) published the below open letter, discussing the various possibilities for the future:

Dear Team,

We didn't make it to our funding goal of $200k with kickstarter in this first university funding experiment, though it's been a fun ride. Our team at the University of Michigan has been making great progress on the CAT engine, even since we first launched the kickstarter campaign, and we attracted a lot of attention from a few government and commercial partners. Some of these groups intend to fund this research and we are looking into these options. We are also considering re-listing the kickstarter campaign with a few tweaks, a lower funding goal, and some revised rewards. Please stay tuned as we heard the CATs, and we will keep you posted on the CAT engine research progress as things unfold in our lab. We remain excited about creating the next generation engine for deploying CubeSats around the Earth and sending them off into deep space, and we are quite grateful for your continued interest and participation in this journey.

Best regards,

Monday, August 5, 2013

One Year on Mars!

Exactly one year ago today, Curiosity has landed on Mars. Followed by the unblinking eyes of millions of people around the world, the rover began its career with a daring, never before seen maneuver: lowered onto the surface from a hovering rocket-powered skycrane. Although the landing was an incredible feat of engineering, it was only the beginning, the first step in an incredible journey to unravel the mysteries of the red planet. For all the science nerds out there, here are a few quick facts about Curiosity's first year on Mars:

Curiosity has...
... sent home over 71,000 images.
... traveled a little over a mile.
... fired more than 75,000 shots from its laser spectrometer.
... drilled into and analyzed 2 martian rocks.
... discovered ancient river beds.
... found evidence of PH-neutral water.

In the coming year, the rover will began its journey to Mount Sharp where layers of sedimentary rock promise a treasure trove of scientific data, a window back to a Mars very different from the one today. Although its destination lies about 5 miles from its current position, engineers at JPL hope to cover the distance in just under a year thanks to Curiosity's newly updated driving software. They will, of course, stop several times to do what they are the best at: science.

Lastly, here are two videos from the JPL team commemorating the landing and the 12 months that followed afterwords:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quote of the Month

"Equipped with his five senses,
man explores the universe around him
and calls the adventure Science."

- Edwin Powell Hubble

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Legend Reborn in 2014

About a year ago, the news of Seth MacFarlane’s (Family Guy, American Dad) intention to recreate the late Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos series, the show that inspired so many of today’s scientists, came as a huge surprise. Some were skeptical, of course, but I think I can say with certainty that the majority of people welcomed the idea, perhaps hoping that the 2014 remake would have similar, far-reaching impacts as the original. The possibility is certainly there! Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s wife and co-writer of the original show, is actively involved with the remake, while the host will be none other than everyone’s favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson. Cosmos is quickly shaping to be one of the most anticipated TV shows of 2014 (well, at least among the scientifically inclined), and yesterday Fox released the first trailer:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Yet Another Promising Kickstarter!

It has only been two weeks since the successful Kickstarter campaign of the ARKYD space telescope, and I have already come across another promising proposal. And let me say this right at the beginning: I have donated the largest sum of money to this project among all the ones I have supported, and by a huge margin. I have two reasons for it. First and foremost, I think this idea is worth our attention and support, and I will explain why shortly. Secondly, unlike ARKYD where you had a campaign backed by considerable media attention—most likely due to the group of influential people in the board of Planetary Resources—this project is really down to earth; just a few university professors who want to make their dream a reality. And since I tend to sympathise with that dream, I am willing to risk my money in hope it will one day become a reality, and I hope that after explaining this idea, at least some of you will follow suit.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Where Are the Space Shuttles Now?

With the recent opening of the Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, all the retired space shuttles had found their final resting place. Although I am not a particularly huge fan of the space shuttles (for some of reasons read this article), they do represent a huge part of space history, and that is undeniable. Therefore, I thought it would be a worthwhile effort to collect where they are now.


Explorer is somewhat of a cuckoo in the nest because It is not a flight capable shuttle but a high-fidelity replica. It was built for the Kennedy Space Center as an exhibition item, based on real NASA blueprints, and later moved to Houston when the KSC received its real space shuttle. It is currently sitting in an outdoor display area in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, but plans to move it indoors as part of a larger space shuttle exhibit are under consideration. Interestingly, the JSC recently launched a contest to rename the shuttle. Apparently they did not like the name Explorer...

Monday, July 1, 2013

The ARKYD-100 Is Funded!

pledged of $1,000,000 goal

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Arkyd 100 Space Telescope

About a month ago, Planetary Resources—the company that caused quite a stir a while back when announced its intention to mine asteroids—created a Kickstarter campaign. Their intent with it was not to make money—looking at the investors at the company’s website, they probably do okay in that area—but to offer the public access to one of their small space telescopes expected to launch in 2015, called the Arkyd-100. Since the telescope is intended for the public, the company is asking for one million dollars to crowd fund it.

While this idea seems a little far fetched at first—after all, what can one million dollars buy in an industry that already operates on billions—but if anyone has a chance to pull this off, it is Planetary Resources. Since the company does not need to design the telescope from the ground up, “simply” re-purpose one of their already existing designs, they can send it up with their own fleet of asteroid hunting space telescopes. So, in essence, the team at Planetary Resources offered us the opportunity to hitch a ride with them to space. This, I think, is pretty cool, and apparently I am not the only want thinking that. Twenty days into the Kickstarter campaign, the Arkyd-100 space telescope had surpassed the one million dollars mark, not only giving the project a clear, green light but also marking a significant milestone in citizen science.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Build an Organizer for Arkham Horror

If someone asked me what my favorite board game was, I would probably have to say Arkham Horror from Fantasy Flight Games. Among its many great qualities, the one I like the most about the game is its complexity. With intricate rules and an army of bits and pieces, Arkham Horror provides a fun and long-lasting experience—extra fun if you happen to be a devotee of H. P. Lovecraft. Complexity, however, often comes with a price, and, in the case of Arkham Horror, this price is difficult storage. The large number of components can be tricky to properly store and organize—especially if someone invested in one or more of the game’s many expansions. Of course, you can always use tackle boxes and be done with it, but there are those of us who would like to use something a little more fitting to this great game; preferably, without spending too much money on it. That is where I come in.

In this article, I will guide you through the process of building the above pictured wooden organizer to replace the plastic insert that comes in the game’s original box. My goal is to present you with something that is relatively simple to construct—without any previous woodworking knowledge—yet still looks professional and elegant. Furthermore, this organizer is not only good looking but also highly functional, able to hold the core game and an extra expansion comfortably in one, tidy box.

Although this was my first attempt to work with many of the tools and material I used in this project, I feel confident that I learned enough from my own experience to write this guide in such detail that you do not have to suffer through my mistakes again. So, if you feel up for the task, read on and start building!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Is This the End of Console Gaming?

It has been quite some time since I last posted anything here, and I apologize. This new Xbox One craze, however, kind of forcing me to get back into the writing game as I care deeply about this issue

First of all, if you haven’t heard what is going on, here is a quick recap: the new Xbox, called the Xbox One, has features that basically cripples the used game market, has a mandatory DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) system, mandatory installs, a Kinect sensor that is forced on you whether you want it or not, and a crap-load of other restrictions. But the most important thing is basically the killing game ownership. In the next generation, you will no longer buy games, you will lease them, and if you don’t check in with the company over the internet after a certain amount of time, you cannot play! That is right! You cannot play a single player game without checking in with Microsoft first and then after every 24 hours! And if the company goes under or decides it wants out of the console business, there goes your game collection with it.