Wired: The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar

Kip Thorne is an theoretical physicist who helped developed the concept for the movie Interstellar.

“The story is now essentially all Chris and Jonah’s,” Thorne says. “But the spirit of it, the goal of having a movie in which science is embedded in the fabric from the beginning—and it’s great science—that was preserved.”

The film put so much effort into the appearance of the black holes that they actually made some legitimate scientific findings…

Black Hole

“We found that warping space around the black hole also warps the accretion disk,” [Double Negative senior supervisor, Paul] Franklin says. “So rather than looking like Saturn’s rings around a black sphere, the light creates this extraordinary halo.” That’s what led Thorne to his “why, of course” moment when he first saw the final effect. The Double Negative team thought it must be a bug in the renderer. But Thorne realized that they had correctly modeled a phenomenon inherent in the math he’d supplied.

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Building a black hole

‘Some individual frames took up to 100 hours to render, the computation overtaxed by the bendy bits of distortion caused by an Einsteinian effect called gravitational lensing. In the end the movie brushed up against 800 terabytes of data. “I thought we might cross the petabyte threshold on this one,” [CG supervisor at Double Negative, Eugénie] von Tunzelmann says.’ — Wired


IXS Enterprise

Of course, it’s called the IXS Enterprise. And the Star Trek connection doesn’t end there: Mike Okuda designed the ship’s insignia.

The IXS Enterprise is a theory fitting concept for a Faster Than Light ship. It’s designed for/with NASA scientist Dr. Harold White and used in his presentations as an extra.

Excellent renderings by Mark Rademaker who has put in excess of 1600 hours into the project.

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Shape of things to come

NASA’s design for a warp drive ship!

NASA physicist Dr. Harold White collaborated with CGI artist Mark Rademaker to create a new, more realistic design of what a faster-than-light ship ship might actually look like.

Shape of things to come

The X-37B space plane has been in orbit for 500 days, and we don’t know why

The X-37B is a kind of robotic space plane, built by the US. It’s been in Earth’s orbit for more than 500 days. And its real purpose is a complete mystery.

The X-37 started life way back in 1999 when NASA asked Boeing’s Phantom Works division to develop an orbital test vehicle. This was a civilian project, and the X-37 was originally spec’d as an unmanned, robotic spacecraft that would rendezvous with satellites to refuel, repair them, or crash them back to Earth once their lifecycle was complete. But, in 2004, the project was transferred to DARPA and since then, it has been highly classified.

The amateur skywatching community that documents satellites say it’s orbiting between 43.5 degrees north latitude to 43.5 degrees south latitude. That’s a band around the middle of Earth that takes in much of the US, Middle East, and Asia, but is away from Russia, and Europe. Spotters suggest that at the altitude of 350km, it is ideal altitude for spying, but too low to refuel or fix other satellites.

A plane has been in space for 500 days, and no one knows why – Techly

X37BOrbital Spaceplane Diagram

So the question is, what is X-37B actually doing up in space? The USAF’s official fact sheet says that “The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” This is probably only partially true (but Boeing is on the books to create the X-37C, which will at least 65% larger and have the ability to carry up to six astronauts). More realistically, X-37B is probably carrying prototype reconnaissance gear, for spying on the Middle East and other sensitive geopolitical regions.

US military’s mysterious X-37B space plane passes 500 days in orbit, but we still have no clue what it’s actually doing up there – ExtremeTech

Photos: Air Force’s 2nd Secretive X-37B Space Plane Flight – Space.com


Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day, 6 May 2014

By amateur astro-photographer Alan Friedman.

(via @BadAstronomer)

(Watch two videos about Alan’s astro-photography →)

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Our Sun

‘Currently at Solar Maximum — the most active phase in its 11-year magnetic cycle, the Sun’s twisted magnetic field is creating numerous solar “sparks” which include eruptive solar prominences, coronal mass ejections, and flares which emit clouds of particles that may impact the Earth and cause auroras. One flare two years ago released such a torrent of charged particles into the Solar System that it might have disrupted satellites and compromised power grids had it struck planet Earth.’


Cosmos: science propoganda

I’m not a big fan of science shows like the new Cosmos, and while listening to the most recent episode of the podcast Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project Norm captured my feelings perfectly. He explained that it feels a lot like science propaganda and that if there was a creationist version of Cosmos that just stated things as if they were fact that he would be totally unsatisfied with it. Cosmos suffers from the same failings.

(That’s my highly paraphrased version of Norm’s words, but you can hear the Cosmos discussion right at the start of the episode. The nub is about 4 minutes in.)

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

The Neil deGrasse Tyson quote above (often simplified as “facts are true whether you believe them or not”) exhibits the same problem. It sounds compelling if you’re pro-science (as I very much am) but it’s a needlessly hostile statement to science skeptics, for whom the counterargument could just as easily be that the good thing about Christianity is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

It also seems to grossly misrepresent the ‘truth’ of science, which isn’t that it has all the answers but that it’s a working method for being able to discover all the answers. Religion is a fixed truth and only changes (when it does) by looking backwards and reinterpreting itself. By contrast science looks forwards to learn whatever it can, updating the facts as it goes.


Hubble's modern art

A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show?

It is suspected that in this case, Hubble had locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in this remarkable picture of brightly coloured stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. It seems that even when Hubble makes a mistake, it can still kick-start our imagination.

(via Explore)

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Hubble’s modern art

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.


From the Northern to the Southern Cross by Nicholas Buer

Astronomy Picture of the Day

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From the Northern to the Southern Cross

There is a road that connects the Northern to the Southern Cross but you have to be at the right place and time to see it. The road, as pictured above, is actually the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy.


Crank the volume. This is what going into space and falling back to Earth sounds like.

A movie from the point of view of the Solid Rocket Booster with sound mixing and enhancement done by the folks at Skywalker Sound. The sound is all from the camera microphones and not fake or replaced with foley artist sound. The Skywalker sound folks just helped bring it out and make it more audible.

(via io9)

Official Trailer from Comic Con for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

More spaceporn. Laughably dramatic in places, but I’m eager to see it. Personally I find Neil deGrasse Tyson to be a poor man’s Carl Sagan though.

The animated sequences look very cool too. I’m curious to find out how this shot fits in:


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Gravity: A Space Oddity

Or: How the future became the past

The first thing that struck me about the trailer for Gravity was how beautiful and terrifying it was.

My second thought was how sad it was to see the space shuttle.

In 1968 Stanley Kubrick and some very talented designers imagined a realistic space plane for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Pan Am Orion Space Plane

In 1981 NASA made the dream a reality with the first space shuttle launch. 30 years later, in 2011, the shuttle made its last flight.

Space Shuttle

Now in 2013 the space shuttle appears in Gravity. Science fiction has become historical fiction.


I’ve often wanted to download the source files for these images and make my own interpretation. Just for fun.

One of the primary tools for measurement and observation is imaging using cameras connected to powerful telescopes on Earth and in space. And although it’s not the primary motivation for photographing space, beauty is one of the most intriguing byproducts.

See also: /r/spaceporn


Our solar system turns out to be a bit of a freak

I’ve always assumed that the characteristics of our solar system would prove to be typical of most solar systems we would find throughout the galaxy.

Typical solar system?

However, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all: As of this month, we’ve discovered 884 planets, 692 planetary systems, 132 of them with more than one planet and, strange to tell, almost none of them look like us.

“So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up.”
Steve Vogt, astronomer, University of California

The newest explanation is that new planets don’t stay put. They move. A gassy planet will form on the far side of the frost line, orbit for a while, and then gradually move inward, pulled in closer by the star. It stops only when the sun pushes back

“It really is something that I find deeply weird. What does it all mean? I don’t know. I am certain that this single-minded emphasis on planets-in-habitable-zones is making people forget that there is still a lot of weird stuff happening out there and that we still don’t even understand the basics of how we ourselves got here.”
Mike Brown, astronomer, Caltech

Our Very Normal Solar System Isn’t Normal Anymore – npr.org


Half a penny

NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

NASA is making excellent use of Tumblr (pennyfournasa.tumblr.com) to promote its Penny4NASA campaign.


More things your penny can get you →

Shape of things to come

Penny for NASA

NASA is making excellent use of Tumblr to promote its #Penny4NASA campaign.