Posts Tagged ‘science’

Lunacy — Robots In Space

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

San Diego Sports Arena — The FIRST Robotics regional competition is being held at the San Diego Sports Arena. High school teams from across the country came to Southern California to compete in one of the challenges leading up to the national championships in Atlanta, GA.

We Kick Bot!

We Kick Bot!

It was unusual for the Ambler, PA Wissahickon team to make the trip to the Western Regional. But, there were also teams from Indiana, Colorado and even Brazil. That is just one of the things that makes a FIRST competition so much fun — the flixability to let kids try something different.

This year’s competitive season is based on robots competing in conditions that mimic the moon. Every year on New Years Day weekend, the FIRST orginization releases that season’s rules and regulations. NASA helps design, orginize and officiate. For this season, the floor surface and robot parts are designed to simulate 1/6 the gravity of Earth. Cleverly, the competition is called Lunacy. Normally the robots are not allowed to smash into each other. Not this year. For this season, that rule had to be relaxed due to the lack of friction. It is inevitable that the robots will collide in a crash-up-derby fashion.

The object of the game is scoop up “moon” balls and shoot them into a goal. The goal is actually a trailer being hauled behind the oppositions robot. During the preliminaries, three high schools are randomly paired to form an alliance against three opposing schools.

The schools were given a six week build season. Then, their robots are crated and shipped to the competition location. The students do not get to see their robots until they arrive at the regionals. On the first day, teams are allowed to unpack their robots and conduct practice rounds.

video: robot up-close

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Moon Balls

Moon Balls

NASA Spots Huge Gamma-ray Blast

Friday, February 20th, 2009

from NASA

Astronomers using NASA’s Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope are seeing frequent blasts from a stellar remnant 30,000 light-years away. The high-energy fireworks arise from a rare type of neutron star known as a soft-gamma-ray repeater. Such objects unpredictably send out a series of X-ray and gamma-ray flares.

“At times, this remarkable object has erupted with more than a hundred flares in as little as 20 minutes,” said Loredana Vetere, who is coordinating the Swift observations at Pennsylvania State University. “The most intense flares emitted more total energy than the sun does in 20 years.”

The object, which has long been known as an X-ray source, lies in the southern constellation Norma. During the past two years, astronomers have identified pulsing radio and X-ray signals from it. The object began a series of modest eruptions on Oct. 3, 2008, then settled down. It roared back to life Jan. 22 with an intense episode.

Because of the recent outbursts, astronomers will classify the object as a soft-gamma-ray repeater — only the sixth known. In 2004, a giant flare from another soft-gamma-ray repeater was so intense it measurably affected Earth’s upper atmosphere from 50,000 light-years away.

Scientists think the source is a spinning neutron star, which is the superdense, city-sized remains of an exploded star. Although only about 12 miles across, a neutron star contains more mass than the sun. The object has been cataloged as SGR J1550-5418.

While neutron stars typically possess intense magnetic fields, a subgroup displays fields 1,000 times stronger. These so-called magnetars have the strongest magnetic fields of any known object in the universe. SGR J1550-5418, which rotates once every 2.07 seconds, holds the record for the fastest-spinning magnetar. Astronomers think magnetars power their flares by tapping into the tremendous energy of their magnetic fields.

“The ability of Fermi’s gamma-ray burst monitor to resolve the fine structure within these events will help us better understand how magnetars unleash their energy,” said Chryssa Kouveliotou, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The object has triggered the instrument more than 95 times since Jan. 22.

Using data from Swift’s X-ray telescope, a team led by Andrea Tiengo of INAF-IASF (Milan, Italy) captured a series of “light echoes” from the object. Images acquired when the latest flaring episode began show what appear to be expanding halos around the source. Multiple rings form as X-rays interact with dust clouds at different distances, with closer clouds producing larger rings. Both the rings and their apparent expansion are an illusion caused by the finite speed of light and the longer path the scattered light must travel.

“X-rays from the brightest bursts scatter off of dust clouds between us and the star,” said Jules Halpern at Columbia University. “As a result, we don’t really know the distance to this object as well as we would like. These images will help us make a more precise measurement and also determine the distance to the dust clouds.”

The Russian KONUS instrument on NASA’s Wind satellite, the joint NASA-Japan Suzaku mission, and the European Space Agency’s INTEGRAL satellite also have detected flares from SGR J1550-5418.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Swift satellite. It is being operated in collaboration with partners in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Japan. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics observatory developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the U.S.

To see the related images, visit:

For more information about the Swift satellite, visit:

For more information about the Fermi mission, visit: