Astrophysics for People in a Hurry was written by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  I think the best place to start is with a brief bio of Dr. Tyson.

NEIL de GRASSE TYSON was borne October 5, 1968 in New York City. When he was nine years old, his interest in astronomy was sparked by a trip to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Tyson followed that passion and received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1980 and a master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983. He began writing a question-and-answer column for the University of Texas’s popular astronomy magazine StarDate, and material from that column later appeared in his books Merlin’s Tour of the Universe (1989) and Just Visiting This Planet (1998).

Tyson then earned a master’s (1989) and a doctorate in astrophysics (1991) from Columbia University, New York City. He was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University from 1991 to 1994, when he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist. His research dealt with problems relating to galactic structure and evolution. He became acting director of the Hayden Planetarium in 1995 and director in 1996. From 1995 to 2005 he wrote monthly essays for Natural History magazine, some of which were collected in Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), and in 2000 he wrote an autobiography, The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist. His later books include Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017).

You can see from his biography Dr. Tyson is a “heavy hitter” and knows his subject in and out.  His newest book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” treats his readers with respect relative to their time.  During the summer of 2017, it was on the New York Times best seller list at number one for four (4) consecutive months and has never been unlisted from that list since its publication. The book is small and contains only two hundred and nine (209) pages, but please do not let this short book fool you.  It is extremely well written and “loaded” with facts relevant to the subject matter. Very concise and to the point.   I would like now to give you some idea as to the content by coping several passages from the book.  Short passages that will indicate what you will be dealing with as a reader.

  • In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the knows universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.
  • As the universe aged through 10^-55 seconds, it continued to expand, diluting all concentrations of energy, and what remained of the unified forces split into the “electroweak” and the “strong nuclear” forces.
  • As the cosmos continued to expand and cool, growing larger that the size of our solar system, the temperature dropped rapidly below a trillion degrees Kelvin.
  • After cooling, one electron for every proton has been “frozen” into existence. As the cosmos continues to cool-dropping below a hundred million degrees-protons fuse with other protons as well as with neutrons, forming atomic nuclei and hatching a universe in which ninety percent of these nuclei are hydrogen and ten percent are helium, along with trace amounts of deuterium (heavy hydrogen), tritium (even heavier than hydrogen), and lithium.
  • For the first billion years, the universe continued to expand and cool as matter gravitated into the massive concentrations we call galaxies. Nearly a hundred billion of them formed, each containing hundreds of billions of stars that undergo thermonuclear fusion in their cores.

Dr. Tyson also discusses, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Invisible Light, the Exoplanet Earth and many other fascinating subjects that can be absorbed in “quick time”.  It is a GREAT read and one I can definitely recommend to you.



July 21, 2016

The following information was taken from the NASA web site and the Machine Design Magazine.


After an almost five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit during a thirty-five (35) minute engine burn. Confirmation the burn was successful was received on Earth at 8:53 p.m. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT) Monday, July 4. A message from NASA is as follows:

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”

Confirmation of a successful orbit insertion was received from Juno tracking data monitored at the navigation facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, as well as at the Lockheed Martin Juno operations center in Littleton, Colorado. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone, California, and Canberra, Australia.

“This is the one time I don’t mind being stuck in a windowless room on the night of the 4th of July,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The mission team did great. The spacecraft did great. We are looking great. It’s a great day.”

Preplanned events leading up to the orbital insertion engine burn included changing the spacecraft’s attitude to point the main engine in the desired direction and then increasing the spacecraft’s rotation rate from 2 to 5 revolutions per minute (RPM) to help stabilize it..

The burn of Juno’s 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on time at 8:18 p.m. PDT (11:18 p.m. EDT), decreasing the spacecraft’s velocity by 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter. Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the sun’s rays could once again reach the 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL. “Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team the mission they are looking for.”

Can you imagine a 1.7 billion (yes that’s with a “B”) mile journey AND the ability to monitor the process?  This is truly an engineering feat that should make history.   (Too bad our politicians are busy getting themselves elected and reelected.)

Over the next few months, Juno’s mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, final calibration of science instruments and some science collection.

“Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we’ve figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that,” said Bolton. “Which when you’re talking about the single biggest planetary body in the solar system is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here.”

Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras. The mission also will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter also can provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. JPL manages the Juno mission for NASA. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.


Before we list the systems, let’s take a look at the physical “machine”.

Juno Configuration

As you can see, the design is truly remarkable and includes the following modules:

  • SOLAR PANELS—Juno requires 18,000 solar cells to gather enough energy for it’s journey, 508 million miles from our sun.  In January, Juno broke the record as the first solar-powered spacecraft to fly further than 493 million miles from the sun.
  • RADIATION VAULT—During its polar orbit, Juno will repeatedly pass through the intense radiation belt that surrounds Jupiter’s equator, charged by ions and particles from Jupiter’s atmosphere and moons suspended in Juno’s colossal magnetic field. The magnetic belt, which measures 1,000 times the human toxicity level, has a radio frequency that can be detected from Earth and extends into earth’s orbit.
  • GRAVITY SCIENCE EXPERIMENT—Using advanced gravity science tools; Juno will create a detailed map of Jupiter’s gravitational field to infer Jupiter’s mass distribution and internal structure.
  • VECTOR MAGNETOMETER (MAG)—Juno’s next mission is to map Jupiter’s massive magnetic field, which extends approximately two (2) million miles toward the sun, shielding Jupiter from solar flares.  It also tails out for more than six hundred (600) million miles in solar orbit.  The dynamo is more than 20,000 times greater than that of the Earth.
  • MICROWAVE RADIOMETERS–Microwave radiomometers (MWR) will detect six (6) microwave and radio frequencies generated by the atmosphere’s thermal emissions.  This will aid in determining the depths of various cloud forms.
  • DETAILED MAPPING OF AURORA BOREALIS AND PLASMA CONTENT—As Juno passes Jupiter’s poles, cameral will capture high-resolution images of aurora borealis, and particle detectors will analyze the plasmas responsible for them.  Not only are Jupiter’s auroras much larger than those of Earth, they are also much more frequent because they are created by atmospheric plasma rather than solar flares.
  • JEDI MEASURES HIGH-ENERGY PARTICLES–Three Jupiter energetic particle detector instruments (JEDIs) will measure the angular distribution of high-energy particles as they interact with Jupiter’s upper atmospheres and inner magnetospheres to contribute to Jupiter’s northern and southern lights.
  • JADE MEASURE OF LOW-ENERGY PARTICLES—JADE, the Jovian Aurora Distributions Experiment, works in conjunction with DEDI to measure the angular distribution of lower-energy electrons and ions ranging from zero (0) to thirty (30) electron volts.
  • WAVES MEASURES PLASMA MOVEMENT—The radio/plasma wave experiment, called WAVES, will be used to measure radio frequencies  (50 Hz to 40 MHz) generated by the plasma in the magnetospheres.
  • UVS,JIRAM CAPTURE NORTHERN/SOUTHERN LIGHTS—By capturing wavelength of seventy (70) to two hundred and five (205) nm, an ultraviolet imager/spectrometer (UVS) will generate images of the auroras UV spectrum to view the auroras during the Jovian day.
  • HIGH-RESOLUTION CAMERA—JunoCam, a high-resolution color camera, will capture red, green and blue wavelengths photos of Jupiter’s atmosphere and aurora.  The NASA team expects the camera to last about seven orbits before being destroyed by radiation.


This technology is truly amazing to me.  Think of the planning, the engineering design, the testing, the computer programming needed to bring this program to fruition.  Amazing!



February 6, 2015

In John 18:38 we read the following from the King James Version of the Bible: “Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.”  Pilate did not stay for an answer.

One of my favorite television programs was the “X”-Files.  It’s been off the air for some years now but we are told will return as a “mini-series” sometime in the very near future.  The original cast; i.e. Fox Mulder and Dana Skully will again remind us—THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.  The truth is definitely out there as indicated by the men and women comprising the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope team.  They are definitely staying for answers.  The team members posed for a group photograph as seen below.



The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) structure is a revolutionary facility which will produce an unprecedented wide-field astronomical survey of our universe using an 8.4-meter ground-based telescope. The LSST leverages innovative technology in all subsystems: 1.) the camera (3200 Megapixels, the world’s largest digital camera), 2.) telescope (simultaneous casting of the primary and tertiary mirrors; 3.) two aspherical optical surfaces on one substrate), and 4.)  data management (30 Terabytes of data nightly.)  There will be almost instant alerts issued for objects that change in position or brightness.

The known forms of matter and types of energy experienced here on Earth account for only four percent (4%) of the universe. The remaining ninety-six percent ( 96 % ), though central to the history and future of the cosmos, remains shrouded in mystery. Two tremendous unknowns present one of the most tantalizing and essential questions in physics: What are dark energy and dark matter? LSST aims to expose both.


Something is driving the universe apart, accelerating the expansion begun by the Big Bang. This force accounts for seventy percent (70%) of the cosmos, yet is invisible and can only be “seen” by its effects on space. Because LSST is able to track cosmic movements over time, its images will provide some of the most precise measurements ever of our universe’s inflation. Light appears to stretch at the distant edges of space, a phenomenon known as red shift, and LSST may offer the key to understanding the cosmic anti-gravity behind it.


Einstein deduced that massive objects in the universe bend the path of light passing nearby, proving the curvature of space. One way of observing the invisible presence of dark matter is examining the way its heavy mass bends the light from distant stars. This technique is known as gravitational lensing. The extreme sensitivity of the LSST, as well as its wide field of view, will help assemble comprehensive data on these gravitational lenses, offering key clues to the presence of dark matter. The dense and mysterious substance acts as a kind of galactic glue, and it accounts for twenty-five percent (25 %) of the universe.

From its mountaintop site, LSST will image the entire visible sky every few nights, capturing changes over time from seconds to years. Ultimately, after 10 years of observation, a stunning time-lapse movie of the universe will be created.

As the LSST stitches together thousands of images of billions of galaxies, it will process and upload that information for applications beyond pure research. Frequent and real time updates – 100 thousand a night – announcing the drift of a planet or the flicker of a dying star will be made available to both research institutions and interested astronomers.

In conjunction with platforms such as Google Earth, LSST will build a 3D virtual map of the cosmos, allowing the public to fly through space from the comfort of home.  ALLOWING THE PUBLIC is the operative phrase.. For the very first time, the public will have access to information, as it is presented, relative to the cosmos.  LSST educational materials will clearly specify National and State science, math and technology standards that are met by the activity. Our materials will enhance 21st century workforce skills, incorporate inquiry and problem solving, and ensure continual assessment embedded in instruction.


The decision to place LSST on Cerro Pachón in Chile was made by an international site selection committee based on a competitive process.  In short, modern telescopes are located in sparsely populated areas (to avoid light pollution), at high altitudes and in dry climates (to avoid cloud cover). In addition to those physical concerns, there are infrastructure issues. The ten best candidate sites in both hemispheres were studied by the site selection committee. Cerro Pachón was the overall winner in terms of quality of the site for astronomical imaging and available infrastructure. The result will be superb deep images from the ultraviolet to near infrared over the vast panorama of the entire southern sky.

The location is shown by the following digital:

Construction Site

The actual site location, as you can see below, is a very rugged outcropping of rock now used by farmers needing food for their sheep.

The Mountain Location

The Observatory will be located about 500km (310.6856  miles )north of Santiago, Chile, about 52km (32.3113 miles) or 80km (49.7097  miles) by road from La Serena, at an altitude of 2200 meters (7217.848 feet).  It lies on a 34,491Ha (85,227 acres.) site known as “Estancia El Tortoral” which was purchased by AURA on the open market in 1967 for use as an astronomical observatory.

When purchased, the land supported a number of subsistence farmers and goat herders. They were allowed to continue to live on the reserve after it was purchased by AURA and have gradually been leaving voluntarily for more lucrative jobs in the nearby towns.

As a result of departure of most of its human inhabitants and a policy combining environmental protection with “benign neglect” on the part of the Observatory, the property sees little human activity except for the roads and relatively small areas on the tops of Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachon. As a result, much of the reserve is gradually returning to its natural state. Many native species of plants and animals, long thought in danger of extinction, are now returning. The last half of the trip to Tololo is an excellent opportunity to see a reasonably intact Chilean desert ecosystem.


LSST construction is underway, with the NSF funding authorized as of 1 August 2014.

Early development was funded by a number of small grants, with major contributions in January 2008 by software billionaire Charles Simonyi and Bill Gates of $20 and $10 million respectively.  $7.5 million is included in the U.S. President’s FY2013 NSF budget request. The Department of Energy is expected to fund construction of the digital camera component by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, as part of its mission to understand dark energy.

Construction of the primary mirror at the University of Arizona‘s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, the most critical and time-consuming part of a large telescope’s construction, is almost complete. Construction of the mold began in November 2007, mirror casting was begun in March 2008, and the mirror blank was declared “perfect” at the beginning of September 2008.  In January 2011, both M1 and M3 figures had completed generation and fine grinding, and polishing had begun on M3.

As of December 2014, the primary mirror is completed awaiting final approval, and the mirror transport box is ready to receive it for storage until it is shipped to Chile.

The secondary mirror was manufactured by Corning of ultra low expansion glass and coarse-ground to within 40 μm of the desired shape. In November 2009, the blank was shipped to Harvard University for storage until funding to complete it was available. On October 21, 2014, the secondary mirror blank was delivered from Harvard to Exelis for fine grinding.

Site excavation began in earnest March 8, 2011, and the site had been leveled by the end of 2011. Also during that time, the design continued to evolve, with significant improvements to the mirror support system, stray-light baffles, wind screen, and calibration screen.

In November 2014, the LSST camera project, which is separately funded by the United States Department of Energy , passed its “critical decision 2” design review and is progressing toward full funding.

When completed, the facility will look as follows with the mirror mounted as given by the second JPEG:

Artist Rendition of Building(2)


Telescope Relative to Building


The assembled mirror structure is given below.


In the LSST optical design, the primary (M1) and tertiary (M3) mirrors form a continuous surface without any vertical discontinuities. Because the two surfaces have different radii of curvature, a slight cusp is formed where the two surfaces meet, as seen in the figure below. This design makes it possible to fabricate both the primary and tertiary mirrors from a single monolithic substrate. We refer to this option as the M1-M3 monolith.


After a feasibility review was held on 23 June 2005, the LSST project team adopted the monolithic approach to fabricating the M1 and M3 surfaces as its baseline. In collaboration with the University of Arizona and Steward Observatory Mirror Lab (SOML) construction has begun with detailed engineering of the mirror blank and the testing procedures for the M1-M3 monolith. The M1-M3 monolith blank will be formed from Ohara E6 low expansion glass using the spin casting process developed at SOML.

At 3.42 meters in diameter the LSST secondary mirror will be the largest convex mirror ever made. The mirror is aspheric with approximately 17 microns of departure from the best-fit sphere. The design uses a 100 mm thick solid meniscus blank made of a low expansion glass (e.g. ULE or Zerodur) similar to the glasses used by the SOAR and Discovery Chanel telescopes. The mirror is actively supported by 102 axial and 6 tangent actuators. The alignment of the secondary to the M1-M3 monolith is accomplished by the 6 hexapod actuators between the mirror cell and support structure. The large conical baffle is necessary to prevent the direct reflection of star light from the tertiary mirror into the science camera.


The truth is out there and projects such as the one described in this post AND the Large Hadron Collider at CERN certainly prove some people and institutions are not at all reluctant to search for that truth, the ultimate purpose being to discover where we come from.  Are we truly made from “star stuff”?


“Two men look out of the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.”

For centuries and centuries men have looked up—seen the stars, wondered about their creation and pondered traveling to distant planets and star systems.    The action of the two prisoners above indicates interest by one and no interest from the other in “all things celestial”.  The real truth is, just about everyone in every country is fascinated with the cosmos.    Events leading up to the creation lie in the stars.  No doubt about it.

One significant effort to unwrap the truth was undertaken by the ESA (European Space Agency) in launching the Herschel Space Observatory on May 14, 2009.  The Herschel Space Observatory is named after Sir William Herschel and is the fourth Cornerstone mission in the European Space Agency’s Horizon 2000 program.  Ten countries, including the United States, participated in its design and implementation.  Sir William and his sister, Caroline collaborated in discovering the infrared spectrum in 1800 and the planet Uranus.   That spectrum extends beyond visible light into the region that we today call “infrared.”   The far-infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths at which Herschel observations are made are considerably longer than the familiar rainbow of colors that the human eye can perceive. Yet, this is a critically important portion of the spectrum to scientists because it is the frequency range at which a large part of the universe radiates.  Much of the universe consists of gas and dust far too cold to radiate in visible light or at shorter wavelengths such as x-rays. However, even at temperatures well below the most frigid spot on earth, they do radiate at far-infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths.

Stars and other cosmic objects not hot enough to shine at optical wavelengths are often hidden behind vast dust clouds that absorb visible light and reradiate that light in the far-infrared and sub-millimeter.

There is a great deal to see at these wavelengths, and much of it has been virtually unexplored. Earthbound telescopes are largely unable to observe this portion of the spectrum because most of this light is absorbed by moisture in the atmosphere before it can reach the ground. Previous space-based infrared telescopes have had neither the sensitivity of Herschel’s large mirror, nor the ability of Herschel’s three detectors to do such a comprehensive job of sensing this important part of the spectrum.

Two-thirds of Herschel’s observation time has been made available to the world scientific community, with the remainder reserved for the spacecraft’s science and instrument teams.   The flood of data from Herschel makes it impractical for multiple websites to provide up-to-date or reasonably complete information about all of the observations that have been carried out and published in scientific journals.

Well—we knew it was coming but, it is still sad to see the end of a mission. Controllers for the Herschel space telescope sent final commands today to put the observatory into a heliocentric parking orbit. Commands were sent at 12:25 GMT on June 17, 2013, marking the official end of operations for Herschel.   But expect more news from this spacecraft’s observations, as there is still a treasure trove of data that that will keep astronomers busy for many years to come.  Additionally, maneuvers done by the spacecraft allowed engineers to test control techniques that can’t normally be tested in-flight.   Herschel’s science mission had already ended in April when the liquid helium that cooled the observatory’s instruments ran out.

Herschel will now be parked indefinitely in a heliocentric orbit, as a way of “disposing” of the spacecraft. It should be stable for hundreds of years, but perhaps scientists will figure out another use for it in the future. One original idea for disposing of the spacecraft was to have it impact the moon, a la the LCROSS mission that slammed into the Moon in 2009, and it would kick up volatiles at one of the lunar poles for observation by another spacecraft, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. But that idea has been nixed in favor of the parking orbit.

Some of the maneuvers that were tested before the spacecraft was put into its final orbit were some in-orbit validations and analysis of hardware and software.

On May 13-14, engineers commanded Herschel to fire its thrusters for a record 7-hours and 45-minutes. This ensured the satellite was boosted away from its operational orbit around the L2 Sun–Earth Lagrange Point and into a heliocentric orbit, further out and slower than earth’s orbit. This depleted most of the fuel, and the final thruster command today used up all of the remaining fuel. Today’s final command was the last step in a complex series of flight control activities and thruster maneuvers designed to take Herschel into a safe disposal orbit around the sun; additionally all its systems were turned off.

“Herschel has not only been an immensely successful scientific mission, it has also served as a valuable flight operations test platform in its final weeks of flight. This will help us increase the robustness and flexibility of future missions operations,” said Paolo Ferri, ESA’s Head of Mission Operations. “Europe really received excellent value from this magnificent satellite.”

Let’s now take a look at the results from the years of observation.  Hope you enjoy just a very few of the pictures beamed back to Earth.  I welcome your comments.











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