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.

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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:

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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.

Stretching a Teaspoonful

 

Molecules in a teaspoon of water stretched in single file would be ten times the width of the solar system

A teaspoon of water may not seem like much, but if you take the 167,300,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules and lay them out in single file, you will have a very skinny line of water that stretches to 31,368,750,000 miles (50 billion km).

For comparison’s sake, that’s ten times the width of the solar system.

For those who want to check the math, you can see the calculations here.

What Date is Easter? It’s Complicated….

 earliest and latests dates for Easter 
Independence Day in the United States is July 4, year after year. In the West Christmas is always on December 25. New Year’s Day is January 1. So why is Easter never on the same date?

The answer isn’t all that cut and dry. 

Easter is a Christian holy day honoring the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover feast, so Easter is closely linked with that date. So when is Passover? The date for Passover corresponds with the first full moon after the vernal equinox (first day of spring). The vernal equinox can occur on March 19-21. 

The Council of Nicea in 325 established Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox. Easter is delayed one week if the full moon is on Sunday, which decreases the chances of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover. The council’s ruling is contrary to the Quartodecimans, a group of Christians who celebrated Easter on the day of the full moon, 14 days into the month. This means that they earliest date for Easter could be March 22, and the latest could be April 25. 

Complicated enough yet? Well, this all assumes you are using the Gregorian calendar. Some churches calculate the date of Easter using the Julian calendar.  The whole reason the Gregorian calendar was created was to address inaccuracies in the calculation of the vernal equinox, so if you base your calculations of Easter on that system, as do the Orthodox churches, Easter drifts further and further away from Passover. 

According to the Julian calendar Easter also falls on a Sunday from March 22 to April 25 but that equates in the Gregorian calendar to being from April 3 to May 10.

In 1818 the full moon occurred on March 21 (the equinox). Therefore, the following day, March 22, was Easter. It will not fall as early again until 2285. In 2008 Easter came almost as early — March 23. It had last occurred that early in 1913, and it will be 2160 before it happens that early again. 

The latest Easter can occur — April 25 — happened last in 1943, when the full moon fell on March 20 — the day before the equinox. The next time it will happen that late will be in 2038. In 2011 Easter occurred at the next-latest date of April 24. That will not happen again until 2095. 

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