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  • feedwordpress 05:23:02 on 2015/10/19 Permalink
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    Aerial Mapping Jefferson School 

    Wearing my hat as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, I gave a presentation on space exploration and robots to Jefferson Elementary School in Carlsbad, Ca. I also visited and listened to a presentation from their “Space Junkies” team from First Robotics.

    I came early to do an aerial mapping of the school, with an enthusiastic group of kids and parents, including their First Robotics team.  Clearing the area to keep a safe distance from my DJI Phantom 3 PRO, I brought up Map Pilot on an iPad. I simply touched the 4 corners of the area I wanted to map, and the program produced a flight plan, calculating the time, number of images, and battery requirements for the run. Here is the flight plan it generated:

    Map Pilot flight plan to map the Jefferson elementary school in Carlsbad, CA.

    Map Pilot flight plan to map the Jefferson elementary school in Carlsbad, CA.

    Since the school was 4 miles from the Carlsbad Palomar Airport, I followed the FAA rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems and called the Airport’s control tower, reassuring them that I would be flying less than 200 feet above the ground.  I explained the many safety and privacy considerations about drones, then lifted off about 20 feet.   I pressed the Map Pilot Upload button, then pressed the Start button and my Phantom climbed to altitude, then zipped off to follow the flight plan exactly.  It took 79 photos, then returned to land automatically within a foot of its takeoff place.  Quite an amazing sight.

    Then I uploaded the images to Maps Made Easy, which stitched the 79 images together to make a single view:

    full school from above

    This is a composite of 79 images captured by the Phantom 3 flying at 180 feet above the school.

    Maps Made Easy also produced a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the school.  Because Map Pilot programmed the appropriate overlap of image, the software was able to see each point of the school from multiple angles.  It then calculated the elevation of each point in the image, and added colors to make them visible with about a 4″ resolution.


    Digital Elevation Model (DEM) calculated from analyzing the overlapping images.

    Digital Elevation Model (DEM) calculated from analyzing the overlapping images.

    And finally, Maps Made Easy also produced a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index by subtracting the red from the blue color channels.  (A full infrared camera is coming Real Soon Now :)

    This is a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index view of the school, which can be used to study the growth of plants at the school. It was made with only visual spectrum (instead of near infrared), but it shows the basic principle.

    This is a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index view of the school, which can be used to study the growth of plants at the school. It was made with only visual spectrum (instead of near infrared), but it shows the basic principle.



  • feedwordpress 05:38:11 on 2015/07/19 Permalink
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    What does Pluto look like from Earth? 

    When I host star parties, one of the most enjoyable experiences is to introduce people to Saturn for the first time.  “Saturn Virgins” they are called.  People oooh! and ahhh! and walk around to the front of the telescope to see if I’m fooling them.  The can’t believe that the solar system appears with such 3 dimensional depth and reality.

    This is inevitably followed up with “let’s look at the other planets.”   Jupiter is pretty cool, and occasionally shows moon shadows moving across it.  Mars and Venus can be very bright, but Neptune and Uranus are just small dots, barely discernable as disks instead of single dots (as stars look).

    But Pluto is a different story.  Besides its demotion from planet to minor planet (a topic which generates immense debate, but which I’m firmly an agnostic), it is really far away.  It is only visible with light reflected from the sun.  The light from sun diminishes according to the inverse square law.  If a planet is 10 times as far from the sun as another, then it gets 1/100th the light.  But that is just the light falling on Pluto.  That light has to reflect and come back to Earth, which is another inverse square law relationship, which makes it an “inverse power of 4″ law.  Moving a planet twice as far away makes it 1/16th as bright.   Pluto is very far away, as far as solar system metrics go.  It takes light about 4.5 hrs to go from Pluto to earth.

    I have a scale model of the solar system in my back yard.  I shrunk the sun to the size of a golf ball. To scale, Earth is then 12 feet away.  Pluto is 330 feet away.  This is seriously Far Away with Not Much In Between.   And the light we see from Pluto is Magnitude -14 – requiring a serious telescope to see.  Pluto is about 1 million times dimmer than Saturn.

    Just before the New Horizons encounter with Pluto, I took some time lapse images of Pluto moving across the sky.  It was impossible for me to see the spacecraft, and even detecting Pluto was a challenge.  I set used my backyard observatory, the Cosmos Research Center, to photograph the sky around Pluto.  This is what I saw:



    This image is about 1 degree wide, about as wide as your index finger held at arm’s length.  For those of you who can’t see Pluto yet, here is a close up, showing a zoom area around Pluto:


    And for those of you who are still missing Pluto, here is a closeup showing the motion of Pluto over 4.5 hours – the same time that it takes for New Horizons to send information back to Earth.  Pluto’s motion is shown as a sequence of dots, making a thin line across the middle of the frame.  This shows were Pluto was when New Horizons sends a message (on the left), and where it is when we receive it (on the right).


    And here is an animated image, showing the motion of Pluto over 4.5 hours.  Look in the center for the dot moving across the image.





  • feedwordpress 06:13:47 on 2015/03/25 Permalink
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    here is my presentation (temp entry)Ashley Falls 2015 03 25


  • feedwordpress 00:50:43 on 2014/09/14 Permalink
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    Cosmos Research Center is now an official Minor Planet Observatory 

    My backyard observatory, the Cosmos Research Center, has been officially certified by the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomy Union.  I am now observatory U79.

    I have a modest telescope set up on homemade concrete pier in my back yard, and use an Orion Atlas EQ-G mount controlling a Williams Optics 110mm F7 APO Refractor telescope.  I use an SBIG SFT 8300C camera, with a Starlight Express Lodestar guider.  The mount is controlled by EQMOD and Maxim DL, and I do my astronomic analysis using Pinpoint.


  • feedwordpress 22:30:21 on 2014/07/09 Permalink
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    Underground Railroad and Indian Tomahawk Express Cards from Clayton Curtis 


    Clayton Curtis Card

    I got these photos of some of the original membership cards issued to Clayton Curtis, MD, who is currently with the VA’s Health Informatics’ Knowledge Based Systems as well as the VHA-Indian Health Service Interagency Liaison for Health IT Sharing.

    Long story to be told here, but the bottom line is that the VA and the Indian Health Service have been collaborating for 30 years now, while DoD worked really hard to make its systems incompatible.  I was an informal consultant to the IHS while I was at the VA, and found them to be a very dedicated, but underfunded, agency.  So, the cooperation made a lot of sense.

    When I went to work on the DoD version of the software (called Composite Health Care System), things were completely different.  They stripped out the communication capabilities I wanted to use to coordinate systems, and made other changes that would make the DoD version incompatible with the VA.

    I wish this could be written off as ancient history, but I don’t think so.  DoD is continuing to do its thing with an $11B “rip and replace” waterfall effort, while VA seeks to take an evolutionary approach.

    There has to be a better way.  For starters, the folks in Washington should recognize the power of informal organizations active in their formal organization charts.


  • feedwordpress 03:33:39 on 2013/07/10 Permalink
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    Gone Sailing… 

    In case anyone is trying to reach me, I will be off the grid until July 20. If any one wants to reach me, ask NSA for their PRISM data about me.


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