Forget About Dog Years — What About Planetary Years?

Pluto discovered 1930 still not completed one full orbit

A planetary year is defined as the time it takes for that planet to make one complete orbit around the sun. Neptune was discovered on September 23, 1846. In terms of planetary years, it turned one year old on July 12, 2011, when it completed its first full orbit since its discovery. Continue reading

How Long to Walk the Planck?

Measurements of time Planck Time
One of the smallest units of measurement of time is the Planck time (tP). It is the time required for light to travel, in a vacuum, a distance of one Planck length, approximately 5.39 × 10−44 s.

To give you an idea of how small this is, in one second there are more Planck times than there have been seconds since the Big Bang, which occurred 14 billion years ago.

Houston, We Have a Turd

Apollo 10 floating turd
The crew of Apollo 10, from the left, Eugene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford at the Kennedy Space Center. In the background is the Apollo 10 space vehicle on Launch Pad 39 B. Photo Credit: NASA
Fans of television’s The Big Bang Theory are familiar with the memorable episode where Howard’s space toilet, the Wolowitz Space Disposal System, went horribly wrong and threatened to turn into a waste distribution system. As it turns out, such a scenario was more closely grounded in fact, rather than comedic fiction.  Continue reading

Was Tycho a Psycho? Weird Facts About One of History’s Greatest Astronomers

Tycho Brahe fun facts death nose drunk moose elk

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was one of the greatest astronomers to ever live. He was also probably at least a little bit off his gourd, if history is to judge. The Danish astronomer who brought a new level of exactitude to astronomical observations and applied that specificity to the theories and observations of Copernicus and Ptolemy, guaranteed his place in history as one of the last “naked eye” astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations. Perhaps his genius as a man of science has helped him be remembered for something other than the following quirks: Continue reading

Like Sand Through the Hourglass, So Go the Galaxies

patch of sky covered by grain of sand contains 10,000 galaxies

If you want to obscure your view of something, a grain of sand is probably not the first thing that you would choose. It is so small that it is hard to think of too many things it could cover.

Would you believe that a single grain of sand is sufficient to block out your view of 10,000 galaxies? The Hubble Space Telescope has proven there are over 100 billion galaxies. Even though you can’t see them, the sky is simply lousy with galaxies — each containing about 1,000,000,000,000 stars.

Next time you might feel tempted to dismiss a grain of sand of insignificant, hold it out at arm’s length and contemplate what might be behind it. The patch of sky it covers contains more stars than you could count in your lifetime.


Humor — It Really Is Rocket Science

NASA computer source code humor

A lot of brains are needed to get a man to the moon and back, but a little bit of humor doesn’t hurt, either.

The computer program used to guide the first astronauts to the moon was massive. Perhaps that ‘s why it took nearly fifty years for the public to begin to discover the

NASA Apollo 11 source code
Margaret Hamilton stands next to the source code she wrote for the Apollo 11 moon landing.

lighter side of NASA rocket scientists. When the entire source code was published online, reviewers began to discover “Easter eggs” throughout the programming.
Computer programmers frequently leave comments within the program to explain the purpose of particular portions of the commands. Occasionally these comments are laced with irony, and sometimes they appear to have no purpose whatsoever. Consider these gems from Apollo 11’s source code:

A few hundred lines into the program, a programmer included the line, “HELLO THERE”, followed a few lines later with “GOODBYE AGAIN SOON.”
NASA source code Apollo 11
A “temporary” couple of lines ended up becoming permanent


NASA computer program easter eggs
A quotation from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” appears for reasons that seem to be known only to the programmer who added it.
NASA Apollo 11 source code
Programmers include a provision to instruct the Apollo 11 astronauts to “PLEASE CRANK THE SILLY THING AROUND” and “SEE IF HE’S LYING” before going “OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD.”
NASA source code Burn Baby Burn
One of the source code files is entitled “Burn_Baby_Burn–Master_Ignition_Routine.” The opening comments in the program explain why.