As a Physics undergraduate student (in my almost middle age) with great interest in Astronomy, Linux and Open source software, I cannot give enough thanks to team behind the Distro Astro – Linux for astronomers.
The Distro Astro is a Debian based distribution, you can test run it in full from the live DVD version without the need to install it first. Their latest version (2.0) is called Pallas and contains various software packages used by professional and amateur astronomers. It comes loaded with camera drivers, imaging software, tools for astrophotgraphy, planetariums, sky maps and charts, data analysis tools and much more.
A unique feature of Distro Astro is support for Nightvision Mode. This allows you to toggle between normal and red nightvision colors to preserve dark adaptation (of your eyes) while using the computer at night, especially during observations.
In the spirit of true open source, the developers have asked for contribution from other developers and non-developers in packaging existing software, creating new tools and features, mirror hosting, bug testing, promoting the distro, hardware support and financial sponsoring.
The UK’s nano satellite STRaND-1 has taken an Android smart-phone (Nexus One) where no other smart-phone has gone before, space! The satellite also contains a small computer running Linux in its payload.
During the summer of 2011, the STRaND team ran a competition to find apps to be loaded onto the phone. There selected winners were:
iTesa – will record the magnitude of the magnetic field around the phone during orbit.
The STRAND Data app – will show satellite telemetry on the smartphone’s display which can be imaged by an additional camera on-board.
The 360 app – will take images using the smartphone’s camera and use the technology onboard the spacecraft to establish STRaND-1’s position.
The Scream in Space app – will make full use of the smartphone’s speakers. Testing the theory ‘in space no-one can hear you scream, made popular in the 1979 film ‘Alien’.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars.
The descent stage used rocket engines to reduce its speed and finally at about 35 meters (115 feet) above the surface, the Sky Crane system lowered Curiosity, wheels-down, toward the ground. It landed at the gentle speed of 0.6mph. Soon after landing the rover sent its first set of images of the red planet.
You can see the excitement of NASA engineers as Curiosity’s landing was confirmed.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL) is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of Mars.
The Curiosity rover, which was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms and to determine the planet’s “habitability”, will land on the red planet on the 5th of August 2012.
Weighing in at 1 ton, Curiosity much heavier than NASA’s previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and cannot land with the assistance of cushioning airbags. Instead, parachutes will slow the MSL descent stage toward Mars at first. Then, the descent stage will use rocket engines to reduce its speed further. Finally, at about 35 meters (115 feet) above the surface, the Sky Crane system will lower Curiosity, wheels-down, toward the ground, attached to nylon tethers. The rover is designed to be gently settled on the surface, after which the Sky Crane will detach and fly off to land a distance away.
The UK is celebrating 50 years in space. Ariel 1 was the first satellite to be designed and operated by the UK. It was launched on 26 April 1962 Ariel-1 in cooperation with NASA. The Ariel programme which lasted for several years, with the subsequent launch of Ariel 2 through 6, set the field for several areas of space exploration, like X-ray astronomy, space dust research, space based radio astronomy, solar radiation detection and much more. You can read more about the history of UK in Space here…