Spaceapps challenge at York

An email from the University which may be of interest:


Hi there,

On the weekend of 20th and 21st April 2013, the Department of
Computer Science, University of York will be hosting the International
Space Apps Challenge, a free 2-day event on developing apps as
solutions that address real-world critical challenges set by NASA.

Participants compete against teams globally to win prizes, with the
winning team receiving special attention from NASA including a support
package to further develop the winning app.

No programming experience is necessary, just an enthusiasm for solving
problems. However, if you are a programmer and want to develop an app
that’s great, you are also very welcome to sign up.

The International Space Apps Challenge is a unique codeathon event,
which is happening in 50 locations worldwide simultaneously across the
weekend. It is your chance to develop solutions to real world problems
set by NASA, and your solution could have an immediate impact.

At the event, you will form a team with others taking part in the
codeathon, and you and your team will be focused on solving a particular
challenge. You will compete with other teams from around the world and
you will be able to use publicly available data to create your own solution
to NASA’s global challenges.

If you’d like more details on the event, visit our website at

or visit the official NASA Space Apps Challenge website at

You can keep in touch via Facebook at

and follow us on twitter

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us on

Best wishes

SpaceAppsChallenge-York Team

Death of Sir Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore (Photo credit: aesop)

Patrick Moore‘s death should surely be marked globally, because it is the passing of a man who as an amateur had a greater impact in his field – specifically planetary astronomy – than many professionals. Are there any others left in pure science who can claim that?

Patrick Moore is most likely to be remembered in Britain as an eccentric populariser of astronomy, and as the presenter of the world’s longest running television programme, the monthly “The Sky at Night”. And he certainly achieved greatness as a populariser.

But his contributions to science should not be forgotten. His earlier claim to be the discoverer of Mare Orientale was mistaken – as Moore himself appeared to recognise later in life – but his contribution to the mapping and understanding of the Moon in the pre-space flight age was a real one. Indeed NASA are reported to have used his charts.

Anyone who has ever viewed the Moon through a telescope will understand the fascination for astronomers – especially in the days before space travel. It is surely the most beautiful thing that can be seen except for Earth from the the air or space itself. My only photos from this summer don’t really do it justice, but the deep valleys and wide basalt plains are still enticing.

Many of Moore’s ideas on the Moon – such as the idea that the craters were the result of vulcanism (discussed at length in V. A. Firsoff’s 1969 classic The Old Moon And The New) have now been decisively refuted by the scientific results of the Apollo programme, but they retained their credibility even after Neil Armstrong‘s giant leap because they were based on serious observation and thought (I saw Moore defend them as late as 1979 even though by then he was isolated in his view).

Moore was a prolific writer and while many recent works bearing his name appear to be attempts to cash-in on his recognition (for which we should bear him no ill-will), books such as Guide to the Planetsrepresented the pinnacle of accessible writing at the very moment long-range space travel was to transform our view of the Solar System permanently. (This has been subsequently been republished as New Guide to the Planetswhich, presumably, includes much of the new information that came from the Voyager and other probes.

His death is a sad moment.

  • I met Moore several times in 1979 when John Shutler, Finchley Catholic High School‘s legend of the physics lab, took a small group of us to several lectures he delivered at Queen Mary College at Mile End. Moore was charm himself and on our second meeting gave each of us a copy of his map of the Moon – then the amateur’s standard chart – and delivered some brilliant lectures. Mr Shutler’s embarrassment on having greasy hands (we’d all just been eating chips) at the first meeting was a source of much amusement, but did not trouble Moore. 

Into the void

Voyager 1 is currently within the heliosheath ...
Voyager 1 is currently within the heliosheath and approaching interstellar space. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977 and is now on the verge of truly entering interstellar space. Expect an announcement any time that this has indeed happened.

The fact that the satellite is still functioning and returning useful scientific data to Earth is a truly magnificent engineering achievement. Indeed there are good grounds for suggesting that the Voyager missions (Voyager 2 is also still functioning) are the most cost effective parts of the whole history of human space exploration.

Maybe it is time to think about building vehicles specifically with the aim of exploring the interstellar medium? Out there we could possibly find out a lot about the galaxy’s physics and that could help with other questions about the nature and formation of the universe.

Roy Spencer – a thought

Roy Spencer – the former NASA employee who wrote the paper that has now led to the resignation of the editor of Remote Sensing also obviously fancies himself as an economist and has a book out: FUNDANOMICS: The Free Market, Simplified

Of it, he says (his emphasis):

Best-selling author Roy W. Spencer looks at the fundamental driving force that propels a society to ever higher levels of prosperity, generation after generation: People having the freedom to provide as much stuff as possible to each other that is needed and wanted…no matter what that stuff happens to be. Everything else in economics is details.

Speaking entirely personally, I don’t think giving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a big lump of fissionable uranium – even though I know they want it very much and are likely to pay top dollar – is going to propel me or anybody else to “ever higher levels of prosperity”.

For a book that purports to tell one of the “fundamentals” of economics that looks to me like a fundamental flaw.

Maybe my kids should worry about 2009 BD – but I won’t

A color photograph of the Earth and Moon on De...
Image via Wikipedia

Today is my eldest daughter’s 16th birthday. That means in April 2078 she will be a sprightly 82. I will, though, I am sure, be long gone at 112.

And, maybe she should be worried about 2009 BD, the 10 metre lump of rock that passes inside the Moon’s orbit this week – because on 29 April 2078 it is predicted to come very much closer – a mere 6000km or so.

And, then, in August 2087, when Eibhlin will be  92, it will come much closer still – about 2000km.

Of course these predictions are difficult to call accurate – as 2009 BD is so small and so close to both the Earth and Moon that its orbit is bound to be unstable. Eventually it is likely to collide with one of the two or be flung into a new orbit.

But perhaps that collision will come towards the end of this century. If it does it would not be a good idea to be under the rock – but on the other hand while the 7 kT (NASA’s JPL seems to have revised down its estimate from an earlier 18 kT) equivalent of TNT does bear comparison with a nuclear weapon it is a small one and one that would be “exploding” in the upper atmosphere most likely over an ocean.

The end of the world is nigh: 2 June 2011

This is a photograph of the control room in th...
Image via Wikipedia

Actually, its unlikely, at least in the short term.

I discovered today that the Jet Propulsion Library run an easy to use website on objects that come close to Earth – and then went on to discover that it was predicting an object, travelling at 2000 metres per second relative to the Earth was due to come inside the Moon’s orbit on 2 June.

A quick, back of the envelope, calculation led me to conclude this thing could smash into us with the force of 55 kiloton airbust (later I saw that NASA estimate it’s more like 8 kT) – so even if they have got the calculation wrong it is unlikely to result in the end of humanity unless some idiot launches-on-warning. (Though it would not be nice if it came down over a city as opposed to an ocean).

But what really interested me is that surely we should be describing 2009 BD not as an asteroid but as a satellite of Earth? It orbits the earth with a period of one year as the java applet on the JPL website clearly shows.

I wonder how long it has been there?