Monday, July 31, 2006

ET Phones Home

I had a change of heart and decided to once again to participate in the SETI@home project. I now participate in three grid computing projects: Einstein@home, which aims to search for pulsars using data from the LIGO and GEO facilities, Rosetta@home, which investigates protein folding, and SETI@home, which looks for signals from little green men. SETI@home analyzes signals recorded by the Arcecibo radio telescope.

As of this moment, I have done 1,553 work units for Einstein@home and 149 work units for Rosetta@home, for a world ranking of 415,948th. I'm also ranked 189th for all participants from the Philippines.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Japan has fastest supercomputer?

It seems that Japan is again poised to take over the numero uno position in the supercomputing list once again. It was reported here that the MDGrape-3 supercomputer of RIKEN in Yokohama, managed to achieve a speed of one quadrillion floating-point operations per second - the first to reach petaFLOP speed. It is about three times faster than the current champ, the IBM-built Blue Gene/L. Blue Gene/L deposed the previous record holder from Japan, the Earth Simulator.

Supercomputers have applications in astrophysics, cryptography, nuclear physics and climate simulation, among others. For the comprehensive list of top supercomuters, go here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Over the Hedge cartoon

I find this Over the Hedge cartoon very funny.

Note: This is copyrighted material.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is SETI Worth It?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week about how SETI@Home has been an exercise of futility. SETI@Home is the online grid computing project that harvests idle CPU cycles from thousands of volunteers around the world and uses the computing power to search for that elusive "WOW" signal from aliens.

According to the author, Lee Gomes, SETI@Home has crowded out other grid computing projects that are more feasible and useful to humanity, projects such as Climate Prediction and Protein Folding Project that aims to find cures for diseases such as HIV and cancer.

There have been plenty of debate regarding Gomes' article. For me, I am now volunteering my CPU cycles to the Einstein@Home project - I think that illustrates fairly my views on the matter. While I won't discourage anyone from joining SETI@Home - as I also see it as a notable scientific exercise - I'd say that there are also plenty of other worthwhile projects around waiting for your idle CPU cycles.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gallivant in Space for $35M

Space Adventures, the space tourism firm that put the first space tourist in orbit, is now offering space walks for $35 million a pop. The space walk, to be done outside the International Space Station, will last for one and a half hours.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rocket Failure Cause by $5 Nut

This one could be funny if it weren't so tragic - yet another case of careless engineering? DARPA has announced that the cause of the March 24 crash of Falcon 1 rocket was a busted aluminum nut that cost only $5.

Falcon 1 was a rocket built by private company called Space Exploration (SpaceX). The rocket blew up shortly after launch due to a fuel leak caused by a corroded nut.

SpaceX plans to launch another Falcon 1 rocket in November.

Wishlist: Astronomer's Versatool

I saw this while browsing on the Net, a sort of Swiss knife for astronomers - the Astronomers Versatool. It's a multifunction tool with 21 attachments useful for a night out with the stars, including an optics brush, hex keys for collimation, a red LED flashlight, wrenches and even a pen. It's priced something like $25.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Discovery is back

The Space Shuttle Discovery landed safety at the Kennedy Space Center after a 13-day mission. The shuttle, with a complement of six crews, carried supplies to the International Space Station and perform some maintenance and experiments during the mission.

After the successful mission NASA scheduled 16 shuttle flights up to 2010, of which the shuttles will then be retired. The next shuttle flight will be on August 28, this time with Atlantis. Discovery will also fly again in December.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I just signed up to the Einstein@Home project, which aims to find pulsars using data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and GEO 600 gravity wave detectors. Einstein@Home will use my computer's idle CPU cycles to process some of the data collected by the detectors. Previously I donated my CPU cycles to the SETI@Home project.

If you are interested to join the project, please go to this site. You also need to download a BOINC client here.

LIGO's site can be found here. GEO 600's website can be accessed at this link.

Picture: The GEO 600 gravity wave interferometer, located in Hannover, Germany

Friday, July 07, 2006

St. Ignatius Stargazing

This is a painting of a Jesuit friend of mine, Fr. Jason Dy. Entitled Inigo, nakahangad sa mga bitoon, ug namalandong (IƱigo, stargazing and meditating), it depicts St. Ignatius looking at the stars. Aside from its religious undertones, I think the painting should be a fitting tribute to the Jesuit penchant for astronomy. It was the Society of Jesus which founded the Manila Observatory in 1865 in the Philippines, which became the forerunner of the Weather Bureau and later the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

"Inigo: Nakatingla sa mga Tala"
oil paster on paper
Jason Dy, SJ

Fr. Jason's blog is here

Lunar Hits

China's Moon Probe will broadcast music

China announced that its lunar orbiter, Chang'e, will broadcast Chinese music while it is orbiting the moon. The spacecraft, planned for 2007 launch, will take 3D pictures of the lunar surface and analyze the lunar soil. The $170-million probe will also broadcast music - ranging from Chinese folk songs to Hong Kong pop - to increase public awareness to the Sino space program.

The lunar craft was named after the legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is Pluto a Planet?

There was an ongoing discussion on the UP Astronomical Society e-group about the upcoming vote on the classification of Pluto as a planet by the International Astronomical Union. Apparently, according to Bamm, one of the members, the Philippine representative to the IAU, Dr. Cynthia Celebre, has been consulting the local astro community regarding the issue. IAU will vote on the issue in August, and the Philippines will have a vote in the General Assembly.

The problem with this issue is that there is no clear definition of what a planet is . Originally planets include the seven bodies visible to the naked eye, including the moon. The standard definition now is: a planet is an accreted body orbiting a star (and small enough to not trigger a thermonuclear fusion reaction on itself), but almost all of the bodies orbiting the sun could fall into this definition. For a long time now the designation of a planet has been somewhat arbitrary.

For me what Dr. Celebre should consider and ask the Filipino astro community is: What should be the scientific definition of a planet. If the IAU can settle this (as it promised to release a ruling on this one in September), then the issue on Pluto (and the classification of all other subsequent bodies discovered or to be discovered in the future, like Sedna and Xena) will be settled as well.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Discovery Launched

The aging Space Shuttle Discovery was launched yesterday, July 4. On a 12-day mission, the shuttle safely reached orbit but is still plague with falling-foam problems that spelled doom to Columbia in 2003. Pieces of the insulating foam were seem falling from the fuel tank of the shuttle moments after launch.

The shuttles are slated to be retired in 2010.