Category Archives: Education

“Dark Was the Night” – New book about Blind Willie Johnson and his music on Voyager I

An announcement from Gary Golio:

Black Blues Legend Blind WiIlie Johnson Blasts into Outer Space
in New Picture Book about His Soul-Stirring Song

 Ask Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Lucinda Williams and Jack White to name the slide-guitar player they most admire, and they’ll all say Blind Willie Johnson. What those musicians may not know is that one of his songs found its way to the depths of outer space. In Dark Was the Night – Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars, NY Times-bestselling author Gary Golio and Caldecott Honoree E. B. Lewis weave a magical tale of how the healing power of music can turn darkness into light.

Born in 1897, young Willie shone as he sang and played a cigar box guitar made by his father. But his bright childhood fell dark when he lost both his mother and his sight. Fortunately, his love of music led him back into the light. He began singing in churches and later brought his unique blend of gospel-blues to street corners all over Texas. Willie’s powerful voice, joined to the wail of his slide guitar, moved even more people when he cut some records and his songs were played on the radio. Yet by the time he died, he and his music were largely forgotten.

Then, in 1977, Willie’s haunting song, “Dark Was the Night“, was launched into space on the Voyager I space probe’s famous Golden Record. There, along with the many sounds and sights of planet Earth, is the soul-stirring song of a blind man, telling us not to be afraid of the dark, and reminding us that we are never really alone.

“An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent.”
Kirkus, *starred review*

“An inspiring story of one man’s commitment to lifting up himself and those around him with his music.
An American treasure who shouldn’t go unsung.”

“Lewis’s expressive watercolors depict the subject’s humble country beginnings as well as the joy that he felt when he sang and played”
“A beautiful, timely tribute to a little-known musician and space venture.”
School Library Journal, *starred review*

Gary Golio is the author of the NY Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

E.B. Lewis is a fine artist and the acclaimed illustrator of over 70 books, among them Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson (Caldecott Honor Award), Talkin’ About Bessie by Nikki Grimes (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award), and The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (Orbis Pictus Award). He is also the recipient of the NY Times Best Illustrated Book Award, Kirkus’ Best Illustrated Book Award, and four additional Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards. Lewis teaches at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, and lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars[Amazon commission link]
Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Published by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books
August 2020 • Ages 5-8 • 32 pages • $17.99 hardcover/$10.99 Ebook • ISBN: 978-1524738884


Here is a short video about Johnson and his music on the Voyager spacecraft: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space | Aeon Videos

Johnson’s recording of Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground:

Here is a nicely played cover of Dark was the Night (hat tip Behind the Black):

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Dark Was the Night:
Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

ESO: Very early galaxy looks surprisingly like our Milky Way

A new report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ALMA sees most distant Milky Way look-alike

Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light. The research team reconstructed the distant galaxy’s true shape, shown here, and the motion of its gas from the ALMA data using a new computer modelling technique.

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant and therefore very young galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy is so far away its light has taken more than 12 billion years to reach us: we see it as it was when the Universe was just 1.4 billion years old. It is also surprisingly unchaotic, contradicting theories that all galaxies in the early Universe were turbulent and unstable. This unexpected discovery challenges our understanding of how galaxies form, giving new insights into the past of our Universe.

“This result represents a breakthrough in the field of galaxy formation, showing that the structures that we observe in nearby spiral galaxies and in our Milky Way were already in place 12 billion years ago,”

says Francesca Rizzo, PhD student from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, who led the research published today in Nature. While the galaxy the astronomers studied, called SPT0418-47, doesn’t appear to have spiral arms, it has at least two features typical of our Milky Way: a rotating disc and a bulge, the large group of stars packed tightly around the galactic centre.

This is the first time a bulge has been seen this early in the history of the Universe, making SPT0418-47 the most distant Milky Way look-alike.

“The big surprise was to find that this galaxy is actually quite similar to nearby galaxies, contrary to all expectations from the models and previous, less detailed, observations,”

says co-author Filippo Fraternali, from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen in the Netherlands. In the early Universe, young galaxies were still in the process of forming, so researchers expected them to be chaotic and lacking the distinct structures typical of more mature galaxies like the Milky Way.

Studying distant galaxies like SPT0418-47 is fundamental to our understanding of how galaxies formed and evolved. This galaxy is so far away we see it when the Universe was just 10% of its current age because its light took 12 billion years to reach Earth. By studying it, we are going back to a time when these baby galaxies were just beginning to develop.

Because these galaxies are so far away, detailed observations with even the most powerful telescopes are almost impossible as the galaxies appear small and faint. The team overcame this obstacle by using a nearby galaxy as a powerful magnifying glass — an effect known as gravitational lensing — allowing ALMA to see into the distant past in unprecedented detail. In this effect, the gravitational pull from the nearby galaxy distorts and bends the light from the distant galaxy, causing it to appear misshapen and magnified.

The gravitationally lensed, distant galaxy appears as a near-perfect ring of light around the nearby galaxy, thanks to their almost exact alignment. The research team reconstructed the distant galaxy’s true shape and the motion of its gas from the ALMA data using a new computer modelling technique. “When I first saw the reconstructed image of SPT0418-47 I could not believe it: a treasure chest was opening,” says Rizzo.

“What we found was quite puzzling; despite forming stars at a high rate, and therefore being the site of highly energetic processes, SPT0418-47 is the most well-ordered galaxy disc ever observed in the early Universe,”

stated co-author Simona Vegetti, also from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics.

“This result is quite unexpected and has important implications for how we think galaxies evolve.”

The astronomers note, however, that even though SPT0418-47 has a disc and other features similar to those of spiral galaxies we see today, they expect it to evolve into a galaxy very different from the Milky Way, and join the class of elliptical galaxies, another type of galaxies that, alongside the spirals, inhabit the Universe today.

Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light.

This unexpected discovery suggests the early Universe may not be as chaotic as once believed and raises many questions on how a well-ordered galaxy could have formed so soon after the Big Bang. This ALMA finding follows the earlier discovery announced in May of a massive rotating disc seen at a similar distance. SPT0418-47 is seen in finer detail, thanks to the lensing effect, and has a bulge in addition to a disc, making it even more similar to our present-day Milky Way than the one studied previously.

Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light (left). The research team reconstructed the distant galaxy’s true shape and the motion of its gas (right) from the ALMA data using a new computer modelling technique. The observations indicate that SPT0418-47 is a disc galaxy with a central bulge and the material in it rotates around the centre. Gas moving away from us is shown in red, while gas moving in the direction of the observer is shown in blue.

Future studies, including with ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, will seek to uncover how typical these ‘baby’ disc galaxies really are and whether they are commonly less chaotic than predicted, opening up new avenues for astronomers to discover how galaxies evolved.


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Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – Aug.11.2020

A sampling of recent articles, press releases, etc. related to student and amateur CubeSat / SmallSat projects and programs (find previous smallsat roundups here):

** Univ. Southern California students to build CubeSats in partnership with Lockheed Martin and Momentus. For the La Jument project, students in  USC’s SERC (Space Engineering Research Center) nanosatellite program will assemble four spacecraft using payloads with the LM’s  SmartSat technology.  This technology uses a

software-defined satellite architecture on both their payload and bus. SmartSat lets satellite operators quickly change missions while in orbit with the simplicity of starting, stopping or uploading new applications.

The system is powered by the NVIDIA® Jetson™ platform built on the CUDA-X™ capable software stack and supported by the NVIDIA JetPack™ software development kit (SDK), delivering powerful AI at the edge computing capabilities to unlock advanced image and digital signal processing.

The spacecraft will launch over the next two years:

The first of the four La Jument nanosatellites is a student-designed and built 1.5U CubeSat that will be launched with a SmartSat payload to test the complete system from ground to space, including ground station communications links and commanding SmartSat infrastructure while in-orbit. The second is a 3U nanosat, the size of three small milk cartons stacked on top of each other, with optical payloads connected to SmartSat that will allow AI/ML in-orbit testing. Finally, two 6U CubeSats are being designed jointly with USC that will be launched mid-2022. The pair will launch together and incorporate future research from USC and Lockheed Martin, including new SmartSat apps, sensors and bus technologies.

Momentus has arranged for the first CubeSat to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission scheduled for Feb. 2021. A Momentus space tug will take it to a 550 km high sun synchronous orbit.

More about the project:

La Jument nanosatellite rendering. Courtesy: University of Southern California & LM

** TechEdSat-10 deployed “exo-brake” de-orbit sail: TechEdSat-10 Deploys from the Space Station | NASA. Discussed here earlier, the TechEdSat-10 cubesat was developed by NASA Ames in collaboration with student teams at San Jose State University and the University of Idaho. The 10th in a series of technology demo spacecraft, the 6U CubeSat tested several devices including the Exo-Brake,

a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-parachute that deploys from the rear of a satellite to increase the drag. It is a de-orbit device that replaces the more complicated rocket-based systems that would normally be employed during the de-orbit phase of re-entry.

Here are four photos showing the deployment of the chute:

“TechEdSat-10’s exo-brake precision de-orbit technology demonstration deploying in orbit around Earth.” Credits: NASA

** Successful demonstration of HARP earth imaging on a CubeSat. Cubesat demonstrates Earth science instrument – SpaceNews.  The HyperAngular Rainbow Polarimeter (HARP) device,  discussed here last year, was developed by Utah State and Univ. Maryland at Baltimore County teams. The goal was to measure the microphysical properties of cloud water and ice particles. Since its deployment from the ISS last February, the HARP has proven this capability.

The three-unit cubesat is managed by the Space Dynamics Lab (SDL) of Utah State University, which built the spacecraft, while the payload was developed and is operated by the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). The payload achieved “first light” in April and took its first images in May.

Tim Neilsen, program manager for HARP at SDL, said the spacecraft demonstrates that cubesats can provide useful data in the Earth sciences. “The application of space-based Earth observation technology has historically been the domain of large satellites,” he said in a statement. “HARP helps to confirm that miniaturized sensors on small satellites can provide a high degree of fidelity at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to build larger satellites.”

The instrument’s utility comes from its ability to measure the size distribution of cloud droplets, which can provide information on the properties of ice and water clouds. That can, in turn, improve modeling of aerosol processes and help reduce uncertainties in climate modeling.

A larger system called HARP2 is to be mounted on NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystems (PACE) spacecraft to launch in 2022.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-222 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • German Satellite Demonstrates Orbit Control on 1U CubeSat
  • AMSAT CubeSat Simulator Now Transmits SSTV
  • AMSAT-UK OSCAR Satellite QSO Party Ongoing
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires, and Other Events
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Satellite Shorts from All Over

See also: Radio Amateur Takes Part in Successful Commercial Spaceflight to ISS – ARRL

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

** Launch industry panel + SmallSat preview – Space News

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust talks with executives of several launch companies about the state of the smallsat launch sector. Panelists include:

Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab
Brad Schneider, chief revenue officer of Firefly Aerospace
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit

The webinar begins with a brief interview with SmallSat conference organizer Marianne Sidwell about how to get the most out of this year’s virtual Small Satellite Conference.

The session concludes with a SpaceNews reporter roundtable about what to expect in the week ahead.

** SN @ SmallSat: Smallsat builders panel + show wrap-up – Space News

SpaceNews Staff Writer Caleb Henry and Silicon Valley correspondent Debra Werner lead a panel discussion with a cross section of smallsat builders. Panelists include:

– Marco Villa, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems COO
– Brian Rider, LeoStella CTO
– F. Brent Abbott, NanoAvionics US CEO
– Craig Clark, AAC Clyde Space founder and chief strategy officer
– Tim Lynch, L3Harris Technologies Space and Airborne Systems Multi-Domain Architecture Group executive director
– Chester Gillmore, Planet vice president of spacecraft development and manufacturing

The webinar concludes with a 15-minute SpaceNews reporters roundtable on key takeaways from this year’s Small Satellite Conference.

** Preparing CySat 1: A Look at Iowa State University’s First CubeSat

** A Methodology for Successful University Graduate CubeSat Programs

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PongSat Flight Program to fly a million student projects to edge of space

An announcement from JP Aerospace:

PongSat Flight Program Aims to Fly
1 Million Student Experiments to the Edge of Space

Rancho Cordova, CA August 4, 2020 – An organization in California is planning to fly a million ping pong balls to the edge of space. Over 18,000 have already flown.

A view of the PongSat flight on October 6th, 2019. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

All the world’s space programs combined have not flown as many student experiments as a little-known California aerospace company, JP Aerospace. Now, after 18 years, the program called the PongSat Flight Program has become its own nonprofit, setting its sights on flying a million student projects to the edge of space, all inside ping pong balls.

What is a PongSat?

A PongSat is an experiment that fits inside of a ping pong ball. These ping pong ball “satellites” are carried to the edge of space by high altitude balloon. There the PongSats experience the space environment: cosmic rays, vacuum, extreme cold and even zero gravity on the descent.

The PongSats stay with the balloon platform. After landing, they are returned to the students. Students get excited about science and engineering by actually doing it.

“We have 7th graders with more mission experience than adult researchers in the field,”

says John Powell, President of the PongSat Flight Program.

PongSat is a completely free program, open to anyone.

A PongSat with electronics. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

PongSats give students the chance to thrive during COVID. With science classrooms closed, PongSat is more important than ever. We have been able to conduct safe flights with a minimum team all masked up and social distancing. PongSats made at home can be the inspiration to keep science education alive and to even thrive.

PongSats can be as simple or as complex as the student wants. Whether carrying a marshmallow to see if it puffs up in the vacuum of near space or an entire sophisticated satellite in miniature, PongSats create motivation, drive and passion in their creators. There are endless possibilities for experiments that can fit inside a ping pong ball. PongSat have carried seeds to see if exposure to cosmic rays affect their growth (it does!). They have also carried cameras, sensors, GPS’s and even LEGO mini-figures.

Over 80,000 students have participated in PongSat, flying over 18,000 unique experiments.

For more background on PongSats, here’s a link to “The PongSat Story”.

JP Aerospace, a volunteer-based space program, created the PongSat program in 2002. It started out with 14 students. Excitement about the program exploded. Every month tens of thousands of requests to fly are received. With new PongSat nonprofit organization we aim to fly them all.

July 12, 2020 Away 130 mission was the first PongSat flight of the year. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

PongSat as its own nonprofit entity has a stronger foundation. It means we can fly more PongSats , do outreach to more students and continue to hurl humanity toward space, one ping pong ball at a time.

“I’m convinced that the first person to walk on Mars is out there and they will already have flown a PongSat”,

declares Powell.

PongSat Flight Program ( is a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

The millionth PongSat may go far. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

Videos: Night sky highlights for August 2020

** What’s Up: August 2020 Skywatching Tips from NASA

What are some skywatching highlights in August 2020? See the Moon posing with various planets throughout the month, plus catch the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at….

** Tonight’s Sky: AugustSpace Telescope Science Institute

In August, a flock of star-studded figures soars overhead. Look for the Vega and Lyra constellations, which point to Epsilon Lyrae and the Ring Nebula. You can also spot three bright summer stars: Vega, Deneb, and Altair, which form the Summer Triangle. Keep watching for space-based views of these and other stars and nebulas.

** What’s in the Night Sky August 2020 #WITNS Comet NEOWISE | Perseid Meteor Shower – Alyn Wallace

** What to see in the night sky, August 2020

What can you see in the night sky? Astronomers Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel reveal their stargazing tips for August 2020. In 2020 we’re celebrating 15 years of our Virtual Planetarium. Discover more here:

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