infrared data

Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds: Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

When an image from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISEs infrared data. What do you see?

NASAs Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandras science and flight operations.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech


How Quickly Are The Pillars Of Creation Being Destroyed?

“The new image includes infrared data, which penetrates the dust, revealing stars and showcasing where the gas (in blue, above) is evaporating. Changes between the images indicate that the pillars are still intact today, even though the light we’re seeing came from 7,000 years ago. The best evidence for changes comes at the base of the pillars, indicating an evaporation time of approximately 100,000 years.”

Are the beautiful and iconic Pillars of Creation, located deep within the Eagle Nebula, still around today? At a distant of 7,000 light years, the Pillars could have been destroyed at any point from about 5,000 B.C. to the present, and we’d have no way of knowing. When they were first imaged in 1995, many speculated that the nebula, containing new stars and many supernova candidates, may have already destroyed these dusty structures by now. In 2007, a study by the Spitzer Space Telescope showed off some hot, glowing dust, perhaps indicating a supernova that took place some 8000-9000 years ago. But the most recent data from Hubble, in both the visible and infrared combined, not only teaches us that the supernova was an unlikely explanation for the dust, but allowed us to measure the true rate of evaporation of the Pillars themselves.

It looks like they’re not only still here today, but will likely be around for 100,000 years or more! Come find out the latest on the Pillars of Creation on today’s Mostly Mute Monday.

New Hubble mosaic of the Orion Nebula

In the search for rogue planets and failed stars astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have created a new mosaic image of the Orion Nebula. During their survey of the famous star formation region, they found what may be the missing piece of a cosmic puzzle; the third, long-lost member of a star system that had broken apart.

The Orion Nebula is the closest star formation region to Earth, only 1400 light-years away. It is a turbulent place – stars are being born, planetary systems are forming and the radiation unleashed by young massive stars is carving cavities in the nebula and disrupting the growth of smaller, nearby stars.

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Astrophysicists map out the light energy contained within the Milky Way

For the first time, a team of scientists have calculated the distribution of all light energy contained within the Milky Way, which will provide new insight into the make-up of our galaxy and how stars in spiral galaxies such as ours form. The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

This research, conducted by astrophysicists at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in collaboration with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany and from the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy, also shows how the stellar photons, or stellar light, within the Milky Way control the production of the highest energy photons in the Universe, the gamma-rays. This was made possible using a novel method involving computer calculations that track the destiny of all photons in the galaxy, including the photons that are emitted by interstellar dust, as heat radiation.

Previous attempts to derive the distribution of all light in the Milky Way based on star counts have failed to account for the all-sky images of the Milky Way, including recent images provided by the European Space Agency’s Planck Space Observatory, which map out heat radiation or infrared light.

Lead author Prof Cristina Popescu from the University of Central Lancashire, said: “We have not only determined the distribution of light energy in the Milky Way, but also made predictions for the stellar and interstellar dust content of the Milky Way.”

By tracking all stellar photons and making predictions for how the Milky Way should appear in ultraviolet, visual and heat radiation, scientists have been able to calculate a complete picture of how stellar light is distributed throughout our Galaxy. An understanding of these processes is a crucial step towards gaining a complete picture of our Galaxy and its history.

The modelling of the distribution of light in the Milky Way follows on from previous research that Prof Popescu and Dr Richard Tuffs from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics conducted on modelling the stellar light from other galaxies, where the observer has an outside view.

Commenting on the research, Dr Tuffs, one of the co-authors of the paper, said: “It has to be noted that looking at galaxies from outside is a much easier task than looking from inside, as in the case of our Galaxy.”

Scientists have also been able to show how the stellar light within our Galaxy affects the production of gamma-ray photons through interactions with cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy electrons and protons that control star and planet formation and the processes governing galactic evolution. They promote chemical reactions in interstellar space, leading to the formation of complex and ultimately life-critical molecules.

Dr Tuffs added: “Working backwards through the chain of interactions and propagations, one can work out the original source of the cosmic rays.”

The research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was strongly interdisciplinary, bringing together optical and infrared astrophysics and astro-particle physics. Prof Popescu notes: “We had developed some of our computational programs before this research started, in the context of modelling spiral galaxies, and we need to thank the UK’s Science and Technology Facility Council (STFC) for their support in the development of these codes. This research would also not have been possible without the support of the Leverhulme Trust, which is greatly acknowledged

IMAGE….An all-sky image of the Milky Way, as observed by the Planck Space Observatory in infrared. The data contained in this image were used in this research and were essential in calculating the distribution of the light energy of our galaxy.
Credit: ESA / HFI / LFI consortia.

Studying the Sun's atmosphere with the total solar eclipse of 2017

A total solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth about once every 18 months. But because Earth’s surface is mostly ocean, most eclipses are visible over land for only a short time, if at all. The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, is different – its path stretches over land for nearly 90 minutes, giving scientists an unprecedented opportunity to make scientific measurements from the ground.

When the Moon moves in front of the Sun on Aug. 21, it will completely obscure the Sun’s bright face. This happens because of a celestial coincidence – though the Sun is about 400 times wider than the Moon, the Moon on Aug. 21 will be about 400 times closer to us, making their apparent size in the sky almost equal. In fact, the Moon will appear slightly larger than the Sun to us, allowing it to totally obscure the Sun for more than two and a half minutes in some locations. If they had the exact same apparent size, the total eclipse would only last for an instant.

The eclipse will reveal the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, which is otherwise too dim to see next to the bright Sun. Though we study the corona from space with instruments called coronagraphs – which create artificial eclipses by using a metal disk to block out the Sun’s face – there are still some lower regions of the Sun’s atmosphere that are only visible during total solar eclipses. Because of a property of light called diffraction, the disk of a coronagraph must block out both the Sun’s surface and a large part of the corona in order to get crisp pictures. But because the Moon is so far away from Earth – about 230,000 miles away during the eclipse – diffraction isn’t an issue, and scientists are able to measure the lower corona in fine detail.

NASA is taking advantage of the Aug. 21, 2017, eclipse by funding 11 ground-based science investigations across the United States. Six of these focus on the Sun’s corona.

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** Synopsis: UMD-led team uses data from multiple telescopes to address long-standing questions about the universe’s most powerful explosions. **

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic and explosive events in the universe. They are also short-lived, lasting from a few milliseconds to about a minute. This has made it tough for astronomers to observe a gamma-ray burst in detail.

Using a wide array of ground- and space-based telescope observations, an international team led by University of Maryland astronomers constructed one of the most detailed descriptions of a gamma-ray burst to date. The event, named GRB 160625B, revealed key details about the initial “prompt” phase of gamma-ray bursts and the evolution of the large jets of matter and energy that form as a result of the burst. The group’s findings are published in the July 27, 2017, issue of the journal Nature.

“Gamma-ray bursts are catastrophic events, related to the explosion of massive stars 50 times the size of our Sun. If you ranked all the explosions in the universe based on their power, gamma-ray bursts would be right behind the Big Bang,” said Eleonora Troja, an assistant research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and lead author of the research paper. “In a matter of seconds, the process can emit as much energy as a star the size of our Sun would in its entire lifetime. We are very interested to learn how this is possible.”

The group’s observations provide the first answers to some long-standing questions about how a gamma-ray burst evolves as the dying star collapses to become a black hole. First, the data suggest that the black hole produces a strong magnetic field that initially dominates the energy emission jets. Then, as the magnetic field breaks down, matter takes over and begins to dominate the jets. Most gamma-ray burst researchers thought that the jets were dominated by either matter or the magnetic field, but not both. The current results suggest that both factors play key roles.

“There has been a dichotomy in the community. We find evidence for both models, suggesting that gamma-ray burst jets have a dual, hybrid nature,” said Troja, who is also a visiting research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “The jets start off magnetic, but as the jets grow, the magnetic field degrades and loses dominance. Matter takes over and dominates the jets, although sometimes a weaker vestige of the magnetic field might survive.”

The data also suggest that synchrotron radiation – which results when electrons are accelerated in a curved or spiral pathway – powers the initial, extremely bright phase of the burst, known as the “prompt” phase. Astronomers long considered two other main candidates in addition to synchrotron radiation: blackbody radiation, which results from the emission of heat from an object, and inverse Compton radiation, which results when an accelerated particle transfers energy to a photon.

“Synchrotron radiation is the only emission mechanism that can create the same degree of polarization and the same spectrum we observed early in the burst,” Troja said. “Our study provides convincing evidence that the prompt gamma-ray burst emission is driven by synchrotron radiation. This is an important achievement because, despite decades of investigation, the physical mechanism that drives gamma-ray bursts had not yet been unambiguously identified.”

Comprehensive coverage of GRB 160625B from a wide variety of telescopes that gathered data in multiple spectra made these conclusions possible, the researchers said.

“Gamma-ray bursts occur at cosmological distances, with some dating back to the birth of the universe,” said Alexander Kutyrev, an associate research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and a co-author of the research paper. “The events are unpredictable and once the burst occurs, it’s gone. We are very fortunate to have observations from a wide variety of sources, especially during the prompt phase, which is very difficult to capture.”

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope first detected the gamma-ray emission from GRB 160625B. Soon afterward, the ground-based MASTER-IAC telescope, a part of Russia’s MASTER robotic telescope network located at the Teide Observatory in Spain’s Canary Islands, followed up with optical light observations while the prompt phase was still active.

MASTER-IAC gathered critical data on the proportion of polarized optical light relative to the total light produced by the prompt phase. Because synchrotron radiation is one of only a limited number of phenomena that can create polarized light, these data provided the crucial link between synchrotron radiation and the prompt phase of GRB 160625B.

A magnetic field can also influence how much polarized light is emitted as time passes and the burst evolves. Because the researchers were able to analyze polarization data that spanned nearly the entire time-frame of the burst – a rare achievement – they were able to discern the presence of a magnetic field and track how it changed as GRB 160625B progressed.

“There is very little data on polarized emission from gamma-ray bursts,” said Kutyrev, who is also an associate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This burst was unique because we caught the polarization state at an early stage. This is hard to do because it requires a very fast reaction time and there are relatively few telescopes with this capability. This paper shows how much can be done, but to get results like this consistently, we will need new rapid-response facilities for observing gamma-ray bursts.”

In addition to the gamma-ray and optical light observations, NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Mission spacecraft captured X-ray and ultraviolet data. The Reionization and Transient InfraRed/Optical Project camera – a collaboration between NASA, the University of California system and the National Autonomous University of Mexico installed at Mexico’s Observatorio Astrónomico Nacional in Baja California – captured infrared data. The group also gathered radio observations from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Australia Telescope Compact Array, located north of Sydney in rural New South Wales, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array outside of Socorro, New Mexico.

IMAGE….This image shows the most common type of gamma-ray burst, thought to occur when a massive star collapses, forms a black hole, and blasts particle jets outward at nearly the speed of light. An international team led by University of Maryland astronomers has constructed a detailed description of a similar gamma-ray burst event, named GRB 160625B. Their analysis has revealed key details about the initial “prompt” phase of gamma-ray bursts and the evolution of the large jets of matter and energy that form as a result. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


This composite NASA image of the spiral galaxy M81, located about 12 million light years away, includes X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (green), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink) and ultraviolet data from GALEX (purple). The inset shows a close-up of the Chandra image. At the center of M81 is a supermassive black hole that is about 70 million times more massive than the Sun.

A new study using data from Chandra and ground-based telescopes, combined with detailed theoretical models, shows that the supermassive black hole in M81 feeds just like stellar mass black holes, with masses of only about ten times that of the Sun. This discovery supports the implication of Einstein’s relativity theory that black holes of all sizes have similar properties, and will be useful for predicting the properties of a conjectured new class of black holes.

In addition to Chandra, three radio arrays (the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope, the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array), two millimeter telescopes (the Plateau de Bure Interferometer and the Submillimeter Array), and Lick Observatory in the optical were used to monitor M81. These observations were made simultaneously to ensure that brightness variations because of changes in feeding rates did not confuse the results. Chandra is the only X-ray satellite able to isolate the faint X-rays of the black hole from the emission of the rest of the galaxy.

The supermassive black hole in M81 generates energy and radiation as it pulls gas in the central region of the galaxy inwards at high speed. Therefore, the model that Markoff and her colleagues used to study the black holes includes a faint disk of material spinning around the black hole. This structure would mainly produce X-rays and optical light. A region of hot gas around the black hole would be seen largely in ultraviolet and X-ray light. A large contribution to both the radio and X-ray light comes from jets generated by the black hole. Multiwavelength data is needed to disentangle these overlapping sources of light.



Massive landslides, similar to those found on Earth, are occurring on the asteroid Ceres. That’s according to a new study led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, adding to the growing evidence that Ceres retains a significant amount of water ice.

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience. It used data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to identify three different types of landslides, or flow features, on the Texas-sized asteroid.

Type I are relatively round, large and have thick “toes” at their ends. They look similar to rock glaciers and icy landslides in Earth’s arctic. Type I landslides are mostly found at high latitudes, which is also where the most ice is thought to reside near Ceres’ surface.

Type II features are the most common of Ceres’ landslides and look similar to deposits left by avalanches on Earth. They are thinner and longer than Type I and found at mid-latitudes. The authors affectionately call one such Type II landslide “Bart” because of its resemblance to the elongated head of Bart Simpson from TV’s “The Simpsons.”

Ceres’ Type III features appear to form when some of the ice is melted during impact events. These landslides at low latitudes are always found coming from large-impact craters.

Georgia Tech Assistant Professor and Dawn Science Team Associate Britney Schmidt led the study. She believes it provides more proof that the asteroid’s shallow subsurface is a mixture of rock and ice.

“Landslides cover more area in the poles than at the equator, but most surface processes generally don’t care about latitude,” said Schmidt, a faculty member in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “That’s one reason why we think it’s ice affecting the flow processes. There’s no other good way to explain why the poles have huge, thick landslides; mid-latitudes have a mixture of sheeted and thick landslides; and low latitudes have just a few.”

The study’s researchers were surprised at just how many landslides Ceres has in general. About 20 percent to 30 percent of craters greater than 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide have some type of landslide associated with them. Such widespread features formed by “ground ice” processes, made possible because of a mixture of rock and ice, have only been observed before on Earth and Mars.

Based on the shape and distribution of landslides on Ceres, the authors estimate that the upper layers of Ceres may range from 10 percent to 50 percent ice by volume.

“These landslides offer us the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the upper few kilometers of Ceres,” said Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Heather Chilton, a co-author on the paper. “That’s a sweet spot between information about the upper meter or so provided by the GRaND (Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) and VIR (Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) instrument data, and the tens-of-kilometers-deep structure elucidated by crater studies.”

“It’s just kind of fun that we see features on this small planet that remind us of those on the big planets, like Earth and Mars,” Schmidt said. “It seems more and more that Ceres is our innermost icy world.”

TOP IMAGE….Type II features are the most common of Ceres’ landslides and look similar to deposits left by avalanches on Earth. This one also looks similar to TV’s Bart Simpson. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, taken by Dawn Framing Camera

CENTRE IMAGE….Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, taken by Dawn Framing Camera

LOWER IMAGE….Type I landslides on Ceres are relatively round, large and have thick “toes” at their ends. They look similar to rock glaciers and icy landslides in Earth’s arctic. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, taken by Dawn Framing Camera

BOTTOM IMAGE….Ceres’ Type III features appear to form when some of the ice is melted during impact events. These landslides at low latitudes are always found coming from large-impact craters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, taken by Dawn Framing Camera

Androbot and Axlon

Androbot and Axlon were tech companies formed by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell through his startup firm, Catalyst Technologies Venture Capital Group.

Bushnell helped form Androbot in 1982, a company that introduced personal robots for education and entertainment purposes. The company stopped production in 1984. After Androbot closed its doors, Bushnell launched Axlon and successfully sold a number of consumer electronic toys and products. Some Androbot designs were repurposed or simplified and sold as Axlon products. They operated into the late 80’s and even released some of the last games for the Atari 2600.

The following is not meant to serve as a complete company history; rather two robots of note have been selected from each company to give a sense of what robots in the early to mid 80’s were capable of. 

TOPO – Androbot (1983)

TOPO-I sold for $795 USD in April 1983 ($1860 approx. today) and stands 36 ½" tall. All of the TOPO robots had a vacuum-formed ABS plastic body and a steel base. TOPO-I had no processors and rather used a one-way RF control from an Apple II+ to provide the brains and memory. Despite the robots imposing form factor, it was essentially a giant remote controlled toy. TOPO-I sold for six months and sold around 1000 units.

The subsequent TOPO-II and TOPO-III models were released shortly thereafter complete with Bushnell Signature nameplate, bi-directional IF-transmitters, additional sensors, text to speech capabilities, and the ability to control several TOPO’s at once. The TOPO-II was released at a cost of $1590 ($3720 today).  These later robots could be guided throughout a home using BASIC commands or a modified version of LOGO. They could also memorize prerecorded paths for simple English command line playback. The main difference between the TOPO-II and TOPO-III models was the TOPO-III fold-out “arms” were removed from case design to reduce production costs. Very few TOPO-III’s a known to exist.

B.O.B. (Brains on Board) was going to include an on-board XT motherboard and sell for $2500.00 in April of 1984 ($5850 today) but Androbot closed its doors before this could be realized.

The last robot in the series, the TOPO-IV was meant to borrow heavily from B.O.B.’s features but due to Androbot’s sudden closure, never made it past the design stage.


“He teaches you about computers. He entertains. Socializes. He’s one of the family. Your friend and guide to the incredibly sophisticated Age of Androbotics™. He’s TOPO.

You’ll wonder how you ever got along without him.
You Command: TOPO performs.

Once you’ve acquainted TOPO to his new home, a simple computer command or joystick movement will start him off and running. For instance, while you’re in the kitchen, the keyboard command “TOPO TO PATIO” will send him over a previously-memorized route to serve drinks to guests from optional Androwagon™($95). A wireless infrared communication link relays information between TOPO and your computer throughout your house.”

ANDROMAN – Androbot (1984)

ANDROMAN stood 12.6” tall and had a January 1984 release date but was never sold. Only one prototype is know to exist and there are very few photos of the unit publicly available.

ANDROMAN was meant as a Robot game companion/augmented reality control accessory for the Atari line of home consoles, similar to Nintendo’s R.O.B. released the following year. The first ANDROMAN-related game involved controlling a virtual ANDROMAN from an on-screen play field and as well guide the actual robot on a 4-foot wide gaming mat using special “target cards” and “dimensional pieces” that mirrored the on-screen action. The robot also featured speech synthesis, meaning the robot could encourage the player to do well and “heckle” poor performance.

Additional game cartridges complete with new target cards and dimensional pieces were planned but no other screen shots have been made available.

ANDROMAN was to be sold to Atari for $1 million but due to bad blood between Atari and Androbot investors the deal fell apart. There is some speculation that this may have lead to the eventual downfall of Androbot. I suspect any commercial game concept that asks for an additional 4 square feet of living room space will have complications. Like most of Bushnell’s early robot designs, this may have simply been too ambitious for its time.


From Androbot: Makers of B.O.B. and TOPO ­– the world’s first personal robots.

Introducing ANDROMAN. He’s a real-life gaming robot.

What could be more exciting that today’s most challenging video game? A video game robot that comes to life right on your living room floor!

ANDROMAN is a sophisticated mini robot. And he’s a real-life video game set designed specifically for your Atari VCS 2600 now (and other compatible VCS systems later).

The ANDROMAN game set include ANDROMAN  himself along with special accessories to create the kind of realistic game environments you’ve never seen on a video screen. A video game cartridge supplies action on your TV screen and an adapter lets you control ANDROMAN with a joystick using an advanced two-way infrared data link.

ANDY – Axlon (1985)

ANDY cost $119 US in 1985, ($258 approx. today) and stands 13.5” tall. The robot was named after the robot’s designer Andrew Filo. FRED ($295 US) was a robot designed at Androbot in 1983 and included an additional stylus and was marketed as a drawing robot but was never sold. All known ANDY’s were created from unused FRED components but no longer included the stylus to reduce production costs.

ANDY was sold for use with ATARI 800 (48K). Axlon provided wiring schematics making it possible to modify Andy’s interface to work with Apple II. At least 2300 ANDYs were produced but according to Antic Editor, Nat Freidland there may have been enough parts for 10,000 units.

“Meet ANDY, he won’t bring you breakfast in bed but he will give you food for thought.”

As his marketing would suggest, ANDY was probably not the most useful robot in the world. At its most simple, ANDY can be controlled with a joystick in port 1 and pushing the fire button will make him whistle, although the included software needs to be running. A joystick in port 2 allows operators access to interface with the computer allowing more ambitious hobby robotics enthusiasts to try their hand at creating simple “personality” routines in BASIC, or the included simple “English command” software known as the PERSONALITY EDITOR.

“Mercurial, Angry, Sad, Noisy, Friendly, Musical, Rakish, Flirtatious, Laid-Back, Whimsical, Unpredictable

  • ANDY is a unique electronics accessory that brings a new dimension of fun and learning to your Atari 800 (48K) or commodore 64.
  • Comes complete with the PERSONALITY EDITOR and a sample BASIC program on disk. Control Andy with the PERSONALITY EDITOR or from BASIC, LOGO, ACTION, FORTH, etc.
  • Comes complete with built-in Sound Generator and Light, Sound and Bump Sensors, Compose different moods and tasks for Andy.

ANDY’s PERSONALITY EDITOR allows you and your family to explore the robotics world using simple English words. Once you get used to piloting Andy around one command at a time, you can group words together for more sophistication.

ANDY can perform on virtually any surface – word, vinyl, even the living room carpet. His 4 “D” cell batteries will keep him alive in excess of 7 hours.

Meet ANDY, he won’t bring you breakfast in bed but he will give you food for thought.”

COMPUROBOT-I – Axlon (1985)

COMPUROBOT-I sold for $30 ($65 approx. today) and stands 6.5” tall. A 4-bit microprocessor on board runs programs that are entered by pressing a sequence of keys via a 25-key keypad located on top of COMPUROBOT’s head. The robots memory can hold up to 48 Commands.  COMPUROBOT can be programed to move forward, backward and in circles in any direction. Users can set sequences that are as short as 2 seconds up to an hour. A one-minute demo-mode is included, highlighting all of COMPUROBOT’s features.

COMPUROBOT-I is the first in a series of COMPUROBOTs though their form factor varies greatly from version to version. COMPUROBOT-I takes a number of styling cues from Disney’s “VINCENT” robot from the movie, The Black Hole. Also, this design was later produced by UK’s GCL, as GEORGE. Along with the same basic design, all of GEORGE’s features are identical to COMPUROBOT-1.

The COMPUROBOT line was very successful due to its low entry point and allowed children and those curious a first-hand experience in programming with this educational toy.

March of Robots Conclusion

Thank you to @ChocolateSoop for organizing this event, @NolanBushnell for making such a great series of robots, @astutegraphics for creating the best drawing tools in existence, and of course @wacom for their involvement in the contest. An extra special thanks goes out to my followers and supporters, you guys make it possible for me to continue creating cool new things!

As a final observation I present the following: George Opperman was responsible for designing the original Atari logo was quoted, “In six months I went through 150 designs. Anyway, I kept trying to stylize the ‘A,’” I suspect that stylized ‘A’ in both Androbot and Axlon logos may have been born from Opperman’s work on the Atari logo back in the day.

March of Robots was a lot of fun everyone and I hope to participate next year. Keep on roboting everyone!

I may continue working on new robots during March but I need to clear my plate for some exciting new projects. :D

New research uses satellites to predict end of volcanic eruptions

esearchers from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) recently discovered that infrared satellite data could be used to predict when lava flow-forming eruptions will end.

Using NASA satellite data, Estelle Bonny, a graduate student in the SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics, and her mentor, Hawai'i Institute for Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) researcher Robert Wright, tested a hypothesis first published in 1981 that detailed how lava flow rate changes during a typical effusive volcanic eruption.

The model predicted that once a lava flow-forming eruption begins, the rate at which lava exits the vent quickly rises to a peak and then reduces to zero over a much longer period of time–when the rate reaches zero, the eruption has ended.

HIGP faculty developed a system that uses infrared measurements made by NASA’s MODIS sensors to detect and measure the heat emissions from erupting volcanoes–heat is used to retrieve the rate of lava flow.

“The system has been monitoring every square kilometer of Earth’s surface up to four times per day, every day, since 2000,” said Bonny. “During that time, we have detected eruptions at more than 100 different volcanoes around the globe. The database for this project contains 104 lava flow-forming eruptions from 34 volcanoes with which we could test this hypothesis.”

Once peak flow was reached, the researchers determined where the volcano was along the predicted curve of decreasing flow and therefore predict when the eruption will end. While the model has been around for decades, this is the first time satellite data was used with it to test how useful this approach is for predicting the end of an effusive eruption. The test was successful.

“Being able to predict the end of a lava flow-forming eruption is really important because it will greatly reduce the disturbance caused to those affected by the eruption, for example, those who live close to the volcano and have been evacuated.”

“This study is potentially relevant for the Hawai'i island and its active volcanoes,” said Wright. “A future eruption of Mauna Loa may be expected to display the kind of pattern of lava discharge rate that would allow us to use this method to try to predict the end of eruption from space.”

In the future, the researchers plan to use this approach during an ongoing eruption as a near-real time predictive tool.

This dramatic image peers within M42, the Orion Nebula, the closest large star-forming region. Using data at infrared wavelengths from the Herschel Space Observatory, the false-color composite explores the natal cosmic cloud a mere 1,500 light-years distant. Cold, dense filaments of dust that would otherwise be dark at visible wavelengths are shown in reddish hues. Light-years long, the filaments weave together bright spots that correspond to regions of collapsing protostars. The brightest bluish area near the top of the frame is warmer dust heated by the hot Trapezium cluster stars that also power the nebula’s visible glow. Herschel data has recently indicated ultraviolet starlight from the hot newborn stars likely contributes to the creation of carbon-hydrogen molecules, basic building blocks of life. This Herschel image spans about 3 degrees on the sky. That’s about 80 light-years at the distance of the Orion Nebula.

Object Names: M42, Orion Nebula

Credit: ESA/ Herschel/ PACS/ SPIRE

Time And Space

Astronomy Night at the White House

NASA took over the White House Instagram today in honor of Astronomy Night to share some incredible views of the universe and the world around us. Check out more updates from the astronauts, scientists, and students on South Lawn.

Here’s a nighttime view of Washington, D.C. from the astronauts on the International Space Station on October 17. Can you spot the White House? 

Check out this look at our sun taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The SDO watches the sun constantly, and it captured this image of the sun emitting a mid-level solar flare on June 25. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare can’t pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. But when they’re intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

Next up is this incredible view of Saturn’s rings, seen in ultraviolet by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Hinting at the origin of the rings and their evolution, this ultraviolet view indicates that there’s more ice toward the outer part of the rings than in the inner part.

Take a look at the millions of galaxies that populate the patch of sky known as the COSMOS field, short for Cosmic Evolution Survey. A portion of the COSMOS field is seen here by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Even the smallest dots in this image are galaxies, some up to 12 billion light-years away.

The picture is a combination of infrared data from Spitzer (red) and visible-light data (blue and green) from Japan’s Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The brightest objects in the field are more than ten thousand times fainter than what you can see with the naked eye.

This incredible look at the Cat’s Eye nebula was taken from a composite of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. This famous object is a so-called planetary nebula that represents a phase of stellar evolution that the Sun should experience several billion years from now.

When a star like the Sun begins to run out of fuel, it becomes what is known as a red giant. In this phase, a star sheds some of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that collapses to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes.

This view of the International Space Station is a composite of nine frames that captured the ISS transiting the moon at roughly five miles per second on August 2. The International Space Station is a unique place—a convergence of science, technology, and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As the third brightest object in the sky, the International Space Station is easy to see if you know when to look up. You can sign up for alerts and get information on when the International Space Station flies over you at

Thanks for following along today as NASA shared the view from astronomy night at the White House. Remember to look up and stay curious!

Illusions in the cosmic clouds

Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

When an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 – a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles –was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISE’s infrared data. What do you see?

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Eyes in the Sky

These shape-shifting galaxies have taken on the form of a giant mask. The icy blue eyes are actually the cores of two merging galaxies, called NGC 2207 and IC 2163, and the mask is their spiral arms. The false-colored image consists of infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (red) and visible data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green).

NGC 2207 and IC 2163 met and began a sort of gravitational tango about 40 million years ago. The two galaxies are tugging at each other, stimulating new stars to form. Eventually, this cosmic ball will come to an end, when the galaxies meld into one. The dancing duo is located 140 million light-years away in the Canis Major constellation.

The infrared data from Spitzer highlight the galaxies’ dusty regions, while the visible data from Hubble indicates starlight. In the Hubble-only image (not pictured here), the dusty regions appear as dark lanes.

The Hubble data correspond to light with wavelengths of .44 and .55 microns (blue and green, respectively). The Spitzer data represent light of 8 microns.



Although there are no seasons in space, this cosmic vista invokes thoughts of a frosty winter landscape. It is, in fact, a region called NGC 6357 where radiation from hot, young stars is energizing the cooler gas in the cloud that surrounds them.

This composite image contains X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the ROSAT telescope (purple), infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (orange), and optical data from the SuperCosmos Sky Survey (blue) made by the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope.

Located in our galaxy about 5,500 light-years from Earth, NGC 6357 is actually a “cluster of clusters,” containing at least three clusters of young stars, including many hot, massive, luminous stars. The X-rays from Chandra and ROSAT reveal hundreds of point sources, which are the young stars in NGC 6357, as well as diffuse X-ray emission from hot gas. There are bubbles, or cavities, that have been created by radiation and material blowing away from the surfaces of massive stars, plus supernova explosions.

Astronomers call NGC 6357 and other objects like it “HII” (pronounced “H-two”) regions. An HII region is created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms in the surrounding gas to form clouds of ionized hydrogen, which is denoted scientifically as “HII.”

Researchers use Chandra to study NGC 6357 and similar objects because young stars are bright in X-rays. Also, X-rays can penetrate the shrouds of gas and dust surrounding these infant stars, allowing astronomers to see details of star birth that would be otherwise missed.





The Flame Nebula stands out in this optical image of the dusty, crowded star forming regions toward Orion’s belt, a mere 1,400 light-years away. X-ray data from the Chandra Observatory and infrared images from the Spitzer Space Telescope can take you inside the glowing gas and obscuring dust clouds though. Swiping your cursor (or clicking the image) will reveal many stars of the recently formed, embedded cluster NGC 2024, ranging in age from 200,000 years to 1.5 million years young. The X-ray/infrared composite image overlay spans about 15 light-years across the Flame’s center. The X-ray/infrared data also indicate that the youngest stars are concentrated near the middle of the cluster. That’s the opposite of the simplest models of star formation for the stellar nursery. They predict star formation to begin first in the denser center and progressively move outward toward the edges leaving the older stars, not the younger ones, in the center of the Flame Nebula.

Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/ K.Getman, E.Feigelson, M.Kuhn & the MYStIX team

Oldest recorded supernova

This image combines data from four space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of RCW 86, the oldest documented example of a supernova. Chinese astronomers witnessed the event in 185 A.D., documenting a mysterious “guest star” that remained in the sky for eight months. X-ray images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory were combined to form the blue and green colors in the image. The X-rays show the interstellar gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the passage of the shock wave from the supernova.

Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE, Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, shown in yellow and red, reveal dust radiating at a temperature of several hundred degrees below zero, warm by comparison to normal dust in our Milky Way galaxy.

By studying the X-ray and infrared data, astronomers were able to determine that the cause of the explosion was a Type Ia supernova, in which an otherwise-stable white dwarf, or dead star, was pushed beyond the brink of stability when a companion star dumped material onto it. Furthermore, scientists used the data to solve another mystery surrounding the remnant - how it got to be so large in such a short amount of time. By blowing away wind prior to exploding, the white dwarf was able to clear out a huge “cavity,” a region of very low-density surrounding the system. The explosion into this cavity was able to expand much faster than it otherwise would have.

This is the first time that this type of cavity has been seen around a white dwarf system prior to explosion. Scientists say the results may have significant implications for theories of white-dwarf binary systems and Type Ia supernovae.

RCW 86 is approximately 8,000 light-years away. At about 85 light-years in diameter, it occupies a region of the sky in the southern constellation of Circinus that is slightly larger than the full moon. This image was compiled in October 2011.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO & ESA; Infared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams (NCSU)