Friday, July 31, 2009

Hey Boo-boo, look where they hid the picnic basket!

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I came across this NY Times article about a small black bear named Yellow-Yellow that was able to defeat a well designed bear resistant food storage container.

The article includes some interesting lessons:
  • The method usually recommended for protecting food by placing it in a bag hung from a tree is routinely being defeated by bears that have figured out that an easily cut/bitten rope is usually not far away from their goal.
  • Never underestimate the power of perseverance, patience, and practice. Intelligent defenders can often be outwitted by the less brainy with an excess of spare time and focus. Or put another way, multi-taskers don't always win.
  • The folks at Bear Vault clearly get it (vis-a-vis their adversary) whereas, sadly, the folks at software companies often do not.
  • And a great quote attributed to a Yellowstone Park Ranger on bear-proof garbage cans was "Turns out there is considerable overlap between the stupidest human and the smartest bear."
  • Never, ever, market anything as being [something]-proof.
Interestingly I didn't find this on a camping or scouting site but through an information security site Emergent Chaos under the topic "Penetration Testing Your Products."

BTW. If you don't know about penetration testing, basically it is the practice of testing the security of something (such as a computer or network) by breaking into it. While this sounds all very exciting, the key thing to remember above all is that any testing of this kind requires formal permission (i.e. contracts). Any testing without permission (and I mean the kind of permission that can hold up in a court of law) could find you charged with a felony, indictable offense, or similar serious criminal charge in many countries. For more information see Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Carnival of Space #113 takes a hit @ The Dynamics of Cats

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Image from
The Carnival has landed over at The Dynamics of Cats which hosts the Extraterrestrial Impacts edition.

Among the articles are more on Apollo and the science of Apollo, things we've sent to the moon, supernova footprints in Antarctica, and Jupiter's latest black eye.

Now does anyone know where to find a steak the size of a small planet?


Friday, July 24, 2009

UK Astronomy Badge

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A few weeks back I received my second exchange in the The Great Astronomers Badge Swap.

The Astronomer's Badge from the 12th Winchester Cubs in the UK (Winchester District).

This is a great example of how to make earning a badge fun and shows a creative way to overcome the challenges of the UK's famously cloudy skies. We face similar challenges here in Toronto during the fall and winter.

The requirements for this badge are:
  1. Make a model or draw a simple diagram of the solar system.
  2. Explain the difference between a planet and a star.
  3. Identify three constellations.
  4. Find out about and present some information on the two of the following: Planets, Comets, the Northern Lights, The Sun, Eclipses,Meteorites, Black holes, The Moon, Light years, Space exploration or any other space related subject.
  5. Observe the moon, if possible using binoculars or a telescope. Describe some of its features.
  6. Know how to locate and identify the Pole star or Southern Star. Know how explorers used it to navigate and plot courses.
Their approach:
  1. They played a simple relay game where the cubs had to put the planets in the correct order from the sun. Then we made 3D models of the planets to hang up in their scout hut. They discussed how far apart to hang them to maintain scale. They thought Jupiter would have ended up about 100km away from the hut!
  2. Each of the cubs explained the difference between stars and planets and gave an example. It was interesting to see how many different correct answers they could give!
  3. With lots of cloudy nights their opportunities to actually observe the night sky were limited. They ended up constructing representations of constellations using candles and tin cans with holes. The Cubs were challenged to identify the constellations shown. They talked about some of the meanings behind the names for constellations.
  4. Each cub came up with different information about objects in space. They also played a true/false game with some facts.
  5. The Cubs did this at home. Drawing a picture or writing about what they saw. One even wrote a rather good poem!
  6. The Cubs practised finding north. Everyone drew a diagram at home to illustrate it. They also visited a local hands-on science centre, and saw some of the shows in the planetarium which the everyone really enjoyed.Badges were presented the day of the outing.
Thanks to Scouter Emma (Riki-Tiki-Tava)!

Please click on the BadgeSwap label below to see other related badges and entries.

FREE - Apollo Talk and Star Party @ OSC - Tonight July 24th 8-11pm

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Just in!

Space historian, Randy Atwood will be giving a fascinating presentationon the Apollo 11 Landing and how it narly failed. Following thatStaff from Khan Scope Centre will be running a beginners telescopeworkshop presentation.

This event is at the Ontario Science Centre located at 770 Don Mills Road (at the corner of Eglinton Avenue East) Toronto, Ontario.

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing and the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s astronomical use of the telescope! This free festival of events includes:
  • A special presentation, The Apollo 11 landing - and how it nearly failed
  • A model of the Saturn V rocket
  • Telescope observing of Saturn and other night sky objects with members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  • Live Apollo-themed electronic music and movies
  • Telescope workshops for beginners
  • Astronomy displays and demonstrations.
8:00 pm ~ Special Presentation ~ The Apollo 11 landing - and how it nearly failed

Imperial Oil Auditorium ~ Speaker: Randy Attwood, Space Historian

Forty years ago this July 20,the first men landed on the Moon. How close did Armstrong and Aldrincome to failing to make this first landing? Closer than you may think.

A long list of human mistakes, poor design and just the unknowns oflanding in the lunar environment made the 12 minute descent a hairraising adventure which more than once nearly forced the lunarexplorers to call off the landing attempt and return home as footnotesto history.

9:30 pm ~ Stargazing 101 - Learn How to Use your Telescope

Do you have or are you planning on getting a telescope? Experts from KhanScope Centre will explain how to get the most out of your telescope!Learn some of the tips and tricks that make using an astronomicaltelescope easy.

Weather Permitting, Telescopes will also be set up for Astronomical Viewing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Carnival of Space #112 - The Big Moon Day Show @ Out of the Cradle

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Ken the Lunar librarian hosts his 5th Carnival and being the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing,  it is full of articles on the Moon and Apollo.  There are also lots of other spacey articles.

Check out The 112th Carnival of Space - The Big Moon Day Show at Out of the Cradle.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Nostradamus 2012: Not fit for the KYBO

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I enjoy many of the shows that air on The Discovery and a History channels. Mythbusters, Doing DaVinci, and MayDay to name a few. But there have been a few specials that weren't so special. "The Crystal Skulls" and "Nostrodamus 2012" are examples of real stinkers.

(Image courtesy

The History Channel recently aired the 2012 piece and it was chock full of the kind of high quality fertilizer best left inside a KYBO (for non-scouts a KYBO is an outhouse). Nostrodamus 2012 claimed catastrophes attributed to the Hopi Indian "Blue Star", Galactic Super waves, and Galactic and Planetary Alignments. Complete hogwash.

I won't even try to debunk all of these because others have done a fine job already. I'd recommend Ian O'Neill's articles on 2012 over at Astroengine as a good place to start. One of his best "2012 Doomsday Fabrication: Abusing Science and Making Money" with its follow the money common sense should foster some critical thinking.

There are two easy ways to debunk the 2012 Planetary Alignment hoax. The idea of this hoax is that all of the planets will line up in a nice line with the Sun and with (or without) a line to the center of the galaxy and something bad will happen. The problem with this so called theory is that they don't and won't line up that way. How do I know this, two ways:

  • Firstly, if all the planets line up with the Sun then Mercury and Venus will be directly between Earth and the Sun. When this happens we can see the planets pass across the face of the Sun as black dots. So if the planets align in 2012 then both Mercury and Venus should transit the Sun as seen from Earth. And while the next transit of Venus is in June 2012, the next transit of Mercury is in 2016. QED - no alignment.

  • Secondly, if you're still doubting, the planets don't align. Not even close. How do I know? Simply by charting the positions of the planets and looking at the result. Below you'll see the inner and outer planets charted using the JPL Orbit Simulator. The date is December 21st, 2012. The planets aren't even close to being aligned. Again, QED - no alignment.
Exhibit A: The inner planets at 1, 1, 5, and 9 o'clock ...

Exhibit B: The outer planets and Pluto at 4, 1, 7, 9, and 10 o'clock ...

In case you're curious the reference to Sedna was because I needed to give the orbit simulator an object that was not a planet. So I picked the farthest one I knew of and zoomed in.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ribs! Ribs! Ribs! .... BBQ

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Pork ribs, beef ribs, wet ribs, dry ribs, pulled pork, chicken, corn-on the cob, corn bread (it's really cake not bread), and much more.

If you like BBQ, you may want to check out one of the many Ribfests being put on all over Southern Ontario this summer. Ribfests are like mini fairs. Some of these have been running for 20 years.

These events are organized by local groups such as the Rotary, Kinsmen, Big Brothers, and more. Typically entry is based on a small donation that goes towards local service projects.

My only regret is that it's not easy to sample the many different ribs unless you can bring a small army of people to keep down the waiting and spread the cost.

The main attraction are the Ribbers, who vary from event to event. I've listed a sampling below. Not all of them have web sites.

Most of the ribbers have trailers and tall banners proclaiming their victories with their many trophies on display.

There are also entertainment, shops, giveaways, and small rides for kids.

All great fun. Enjoy!

BTW. For students thinking of summer employment next year, some of ribbers hire local help for the summer. A few have even relocated from the deep south to southern Ontario.

Mosquitos, Camping, and Astronomy, oh my

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One thing that astronomers and Scouts share is being outside at night during the summer. That also means one other thing - Mosquitoes and other biting insects.

While bug repellant works well in most cases, it causes problems for astronomers. In particular DEET can damage plastic and the expensive optical coatings on lenses.

If you're an astronomer or camper looking for a new edge in the battle of the bug, there is a piece of kit you should consider.  The Thermacell - a small appliance that requires butane cartridges and pads.  I have one and it works remarkably well.  I've field tested it in fields southern and central Ontario as well as on the beaches of southern Maine.

Here's a detailed review of the Thermacell over at the One Minute Astronomer.  I had seen the same review in Sky News  last summer and thought it was worth trying.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Carnival of Space #111 @ 21st Century Waves

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The Carnival is up and running again over at 21st Century Waves. The 111th edition celebrates the Apollo 11 launch.

There are lots of interesting articles on the Moon, Mars, Sun, Apollo and one on project Icarus which was a plan to hijack the Apollo program and solve a hypothetical asteroid deflection problem.

Good reading.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

International Space Station ISS - Watch it Build

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Ever wonder about just how big the International Space Station is?   USA Today published a nice animation from NASA showing all the flights and modules added to it over the years.

The ISS is now the brightest object in the night sky next to the Moon.   If you want to see it, check out the Heavens Above web site and enter your location.

If you're going to a Scout Camp, you may be able to find use on of my Combined Sky Forecast Charts.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Carnival of Space #110 @ Kentucky Space

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Check out the weird and wonderful Phobos Grunt, Liberty, and Pants on fire edition of the Carnival here at Kentucky Space.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pet Rocks? Naming things in Space

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Have you ever wanted to get something in space named after someone? Well it turns out you can but it's not as easy as filling out a web form or paying some money.
  • Lot's of people are interested in naming stars after someone (I regularly see queries from search engines for this). But, the truth is you can't really do it. There are lots of people who will take your money for a piece of paper. It will be for a star you'll likely never see and no one will recognize. If you really want to, use one of the free services mentioned in a related article and treat it as entertainment.
  • If you discover a comet, they'll name it after you. And if you're a co-discoverer then you'll be hyphenated. In today's world there is a very good chance the other side of the hyphen is a robot telescope like LINEAR, Catalina, SOHO, or NEAT. With all the robots looking for stray rocks, the chances of double hyphenation (ouch) are pretty good.
  • If you're good enough to discover a planet, dwarf planet, or moon then you get to submit the name. But to do this you're going to be a professional planet hunter. And if you do, the name will probably fit the current theme such as underworld deities. (And no, Kate Beckinsale does not count.)
  • If you have a talk show you might be able to hijack a poll and get some space equipment, like a treadmill, named after you.
But it turns out that there is at least one other way you might get to name something out there. And it's within reach of amateur astronomers. Mind you these are well equipped and skilled ones, but amateurs nonetheless. So if you what to name something in space go and discover an asteroid!

Once you've found it you can pick almost anything your heart desires. There are a few naming rules (non-offensive, 16 or fewer characters, and reasonably distinct). You get your very own pet rock in space!

So ever wonder who asteroid discoverers are thinking about? If you are you can checkout this list at the Harvard University Minor Planet Centre. Here are a few examples of the kinds of people, places, and things honored by asteroid hunters:

Science-fiction and other authors:
  • Douglasadams (25924)
  • Bradbury (9766)
  • Clarke (4923 )
  • Heinlein (6371)
  • Hemingway (3656)
  • Shakespeare (2985)
  • Tolkien (2675)
Famous scientists, doctors, thinkers, patrons
  • Jacquescousteau (6542)
  • Einstein (2001)
  • Fermat (12007)
  • Fermi (8103)
  • Hawking (7672)
  • Heimlich (10637)
  • Oppenheimer (67085)
  • Szilard: (38442)
  • Turing (10204)
Actors, athletes, directors, comedians, and other celebrities
  • Johncleese (9618) - silly orbit no doubt
  • Cronkite (6318)
  • Bobbyfisher (19577)
  • Flynn (2994)
  • Gehrig (5891)
  • Carygrant (9342)
  • Hitchcock (7032)
  • (Howard) Shem (30444) - of the 3 Stooges
  • Kubrick (10221)
  • Monroe (3768) - Marilyn
  • Jesseowens (6758)
  • Spassky (11268)
  • Warhol (6701)
Musicians and groups
  • Beatles (8749)
  • Beethoven (1815)
  • Enricocaruso(37573)
  • Enya (6433)
  • Pink Floyd (19367)
  • Rolling Stones (19383)
Historical figures and places and events
  • (Neil) Armstrong (6469)
  • Annefrank (5535)
  • Gagarin (1772)
  • Grant (3154)
  • Lee (3155)
  • Lincoln (3153)
  • Evita (1569)
  • Tunguska (5471)
  • Vesuvius (13897)
People, places and things from fiction
  • Beowulf (38086)
  • Enterprise (9777)
  • Excalibur (9499)
  • Nautilus (9769)
  • Nemo (1640)
  • Paris (3317) - of Troy
  • Sherlock (5049)
  • Mr. Spock (2309)

Computers and Software
  • ASCII (3568)
  • APL (132524)
  • Fortran (9548)
  • GNU (9965)
  • Edmonton (96193)

Satellites and things astronomical
  • Alouette (9995)
  • Davidunlap (70207)
Update: A list of objects named after people associated with University of Toronto can be found here. (h/t Gordo).  These include:
  • (Helen) Sawyer Hogg (2917)
  • (Ian) Shelton (5953) -who ran the DDO outreach program
  • Toronto (2104)

Of future names

Because the pace of asteroid discovery has picked up in recent years there are so many now that many will never receive names. Discoverers may take the lead of Mike Brown who discovered Vanth (moon of Orcus) by opening up for suggestions.

Here are a few modest suggestion:
  • Baden-Powell
  • MarvintheMartian
  • FlinFlon or Tarzana
  • Timbuktu or TristanDaCunha
  • TomLerher
  • Kipling

And if your confused there is a source for the meanings of asteroid names.

Finally, once you've named it or found one with a name that interests you, you can look up its orbit with the JPL Orbit Simulator.  Just look up the name or number and go. 

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