Monday, August 26, 2013

Streetlight Astronomy

On a clear and smokeless night, if you look outside from a high building it is easy to find the beautiful network of minuscule lights forming various constellation amidst the darkness.

I'm not referring to the stars twinkling in the night sky but rather on the street lamps lining up the highways, alleyways and city streets.

I have a useless hobby, only good if you have plenty of time on your hands and if you happened to be living on some high building with a nice unobstructed view of the cityscape. Like a good astronomer, I map constellations formed by the street lights and give names based on the patterns they formed.

It's easy to find a pattern, as most street lights line up a straight road, successive lamps would more or less form a straight line of small lights. What is a little tougher is finding patterns from lights from different streets maybe those a hundred or so meters away from each other.

It's nice to find a particular pattern and name them with what you want as if you are discovering some new star or celestial object. But since you discovered them you can give something cool, something you want for their names.

Below is an image what the Downtown hemisphere, the top left area is the Skway (not included in the image) and on the right side  is the Osmena highway as seen on a vantage point on a building near the corner of Buendia Avenue and Osmena higway. This is sort of a star chart of the street,  a Streetlight Chart if you wish ( and I am a streetlight astronomer).

I have labeled some of the constellations that I discovered (I'm not planning on labeling them all). The image is a crappy capture, low res. The actual view much more radiant, the lights are much more visible. Some of the constellations I found in real view can't be found in the image because some lights are displayed very faintly to distinguish.

And below are the enlarged versions of the labelled constellations.

It is interesting to realise that the lamps form a very different pattern aside from their geographical location. Though seemingly unrelated, a lamp on the corner of Batangas St. for example is actually connected to a streetlight somewhere in Libertad by an arbitrary pattern created by an observer above, just as the stars Betelgeuse and Aldebaran are actually connected by a pattern perceived by an observer millions of light years away them. Extreme pattern finding on its highest level.

Yeah, it's sort of a useless hobby as there is no real-life application of the streetlight chart whatsoever. Although similar to a star chart, the streetlight chart can serve as an alternative map, a location pointer only applicable if viewed on the exact place where the map is created. It can serve as a coded map, one only need to give names to the individual streetlights forming the constellations to be usable.

I'll meet you at the Daenerys star in the Laser Sword constellation. 3'oclock sharp.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Commercialization and Entertainmentization of Space

Doing science for the sake of gaining knowledge itself is a mantra every scientist cannot deny. And the pursuit of knowledge is an end itself. Does this imply that any means to achieve this end is a valid means? The end justifies the means, that is the common saying.

I began thinking about this after reading some articles about some space exploration/missions with added twists. Some major projects actually incorporate entertainment and commercialization to achieve the actual goal.

Welcome to the Big Brother Planet

Consider the MARS One Project. 

The project aims to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. The organization will be taking applications, who will undergo selection, training and finally will be sent to Mars at around year 2022.

Their website says:
Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an on-going, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from lift-off to landing, to provide primary funding for this next giant leap for mankind.

Norbert Kraft, former Sr. Research Associate at NASA and Chief Medical Director for Mars One states, “In my former work with NASA we established strict criteria for the selection and training of astronauts on long duration space flights. Gone are the days when bravery and the number of hours flying a supersonic jet were the top criteria. Now, we are more concerned with how well each astronaut works and lives with the others, in the long journey from Earth to Mars and for a lifetime of challenges ahead. Psychological stability, the ability to be at your best when things are at their worst is what Mars One is looking for. If you are the kind of person that everyone chooses to have on their island, then we want you to apply too.”

It's actually like Big Brother Mars edition. The global reality-TV media event is actually expected to be the major source of the funding for the entire project, which definitely costs a lot. Which means we will be seeing official Mars cereals, official Mars pajamas, official Mars beer etc on our TV not very long now.

Astronauts should have nice-smelling underarms

Another project  is the Axe Apollo Space Academy.

One can sign up for the AXE Apollo Space Academy in their website . Users will be voting for the candidates online. The people with the most votes will advance to their National Challenge where the top-voted candidates will compete with other qualifiers in their country. The top recruits will advance to Global Space Camp, where the qualifiers will again compete for a chance to join the international crew and be sent to space.

This campaign was launched in January 2013 to promote the Axe Apollo deodorant brand. It came with a slew of TV commercials depicting an astronaut's awesome status, higher than firemen or lifeguards with their catch phrase 'Nothing beats an astronaut'.

Round trip tickets to space

Other companies offer a more direct approach to space travel.
Virgin Galactic direct sells reservation for a seat in their spaceship bound to lower outer space.

Tickets are priced at US$250,000 (deposits are refundable).
Many celebrities have already signed up, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, X-en director Bryan Singer, Paris Hilton among others.

The company Space XC is offering something similar. Their program also includes undergoing astronaut training prior to the actual space flight. The ticket prices range from 95,000 to 100,000 US Dollars. Their flight will reach 60 to 100 km altitude in space.


Of course these endeavors would gather a lot of criticisms, all great endeavors do. Space Tourism, in particular, were cited to speed up global warming and other environmental effects. There were also legal issue raised, like licensing et cetera.

Others say the very steep price of tickets is very impractical and will only be attainable by the wealthy. Some criticise that funding through sponsorship and advertisements is a very risky proposition.

These are all valid criticisms and are matters that should be discussed.

What I'm particularly thinking about is the one question  I posited in the beginning of this article. Does the end justify the means? Space Exploration and experimentation is the end itself, so is it okay if it is funded by a deodorant company, or by cereal ads etc?

Personally, it gives a bad taste in my mouth if I am a scientist doing science and funded by Axe for example. Note that I don't think it is about company interests/conflicts since a deodorant company clearly has no interest on whatever findings you might find in your space experiments (or is there? hmmm...)

Having said that, as a scientist, I think it may just feel wrong or awkward in the beginning but when you are already out there doing your experiments or walking in space, all those hesitations will disappear. You are in space! That's all that should matter. And if it is your dream, the ultimate vision of your end realized, then everything else will just feel trivial.


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