Preserving Dark Skies for Astronomy

Flyer for Dark Skies talk

Happy April! International Dark Sky Week is coming up later this month. We are delighted to invite you to attend a special two-part event in celebration of dark skies!

  • 4/15/22 @ 7pm ET – Dark Skies Presentation: Join us on Friday, April 15th at 7pm in room 361 of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy (Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus). Dr. Sarah Marie Bruno (JHU), cosmologist, will discuss the impact of satellite constellations on ground-based astronomy, and the importance of preserving dark skies for astronomy and beyond. Light refreshments will be served directly following the talk.

    Preserving Dark Skies for Astronomy: The starry night sky has inspired humanity from the dawn of our history. However, the night sky we can see from Baltimore in 2022 looks vastly different from the skies that Galileo Galilei observed with his telescope or the skies that inspired the star stories of indigenous peoples in North America. Artificial lighting from ground-based sources and reflections off satellites can impact astronomy and impede our ability to witness the natural beauty of the skies. The Milky Way, once a fixture of human experience, is now hidden from view for over two thirds of the world’s population. Sadly, light pollution is only getting worse with the increasing number of commercial satellites flooding low-Earth orbits. While satellite constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink will likely boost the global economy and increase internet accessibility worldwide, they will introduce additional light pollution and foreground contamination which may greatly impede astronomical observations from the ground. Specifically, solar reflections, radio frequency transmission, and thermal emission will impact ground-based astronomy in the optical, radio, and microwave frequencies, respectively. Bruno wilI (1) discuss the projected impact of the growing space industry on the field of astronomy, (2) present proposed strategies for mitigating these effects, and (3) reflect on the importance of preserving the dark sky environment not only for astronomy, but for human health and wellbeing. 
  • 4/15/22 @ 8:30pm ET – Observatory Open House: After Dr. Bruno’s talk, we will migrate up to the roof of the Bloomberg building for an observatory open house. We expect that observing will be possible beginning around 8:30pm. We will use the telescope in the observatory to view the stars and planets and an additional smaller telescope on the roof to observe the Moon. Join us in celebrating the beautiful dark skies above Johns Hopkins campus! 

Please note that due to space limitations on the Bloomberg roof, this event is restricted to the first 50 registrants. Please sign up here to attend.

The event is free to attend and free parking will be available on the Upper Muller Lot (located next to the Bloomberg building and accessible off of San Martin Drive.)

 Note: This event (both talk and observatory night) is subject to rescheduling depending on the weather. The following Friday (4/22) is a backup day. Registered attendees will receive an email by the evening of April 14th confirming whether the event will take place April 15th or be postponed to April 22nd. 

2021 Student Research Symposium

Banner for August 4 2021 student research symposium

The 2021 MDSGC Student Research Symposium was held via Zoom on Wednesday, August 4, beginning at 9 a.m. EDT.

This year’s symposium showcased presentations by student interns and researchers working at sites across Maryland. The cohort of presenters represented diverse institutions, including: Capitol Technology University, Hagerstown Community College, Morgan State University, NASA Wallops and NASA Ames, Towson University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and West Virginia University. We congratulate our students on a successful summer, under trying circumstances, and look forward to seeing more of their work in the future!

The full program follows.

2021 MDSGC (Virtual) Student Research Symposium Program

8:45 a.m.
Zoom meeting opens.

Session 1

9:00 a.m.
Introductory Remarks — Dr. Matt Collinge, MDSGC Deputy Director

9:10 a.m.
Radiative Cooling — Ms. Grace Cunningham (WVU / UMES)

The earth is cooled through a process known as radiative cooling. Radiative cooling is seen in many substances and allows a substrate to cool itself below ambient temperatures. Finding substances that use radiative cooling will allow us to cool surfaces without the use of energy.

9:20 a.m.
Science in Space — Ms. Taliyah Jones (UMES / USNA)

This presentation highlights the various activities done to understand science applications in space. It also follows the journey to create a homemade piston launch system that can operate pneumatically and hydraulically.

9:30 a.m.
Space and Technology Internship at the USNA STEM Center — Mr. David Paton (UMBC / USNA)

Throughout this 10-week internship, I was tasked with researching space related physics topics such as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, rotational motion, and gyroscopic motion to make a module that could help educate others about how they impact engineering design in space. I began by looking into rockets, but specifically rocket stability, and how the balancing of the aerodynamic forces is essential for the rocket to achieve stable flight. This involved extensive research into the effect of both the center of gravity (CG) and the center of pressure (CP), and their location along the body of a rocket. I ended up developing a one-page module that allows the STEM center to teach students and educators how to approximate the CP on a rocket and verify that it would be able to achieve stable flight before launching it. Ultimately, I was able to teach this module to 60+ teachers at the SET Sail event in July and provide them with a better understanding about engineering design and rocket stability.

Since finishing the rocket module in mid-July, I have moved on to magnetism and started to work on creating a maglev that would be used within a 1-hour magnetic principles module. I have not completed it yet, but I still have 2 remaining weeks to complete it, and I have made substantial improvements to its design. Working alongside the tool shop on campus, I submitted engineering drawings and had three versions manufactured out of wood, and I am waiting to test the final version. Although this wood version is incomplete, I have been able to utilize Legos to make a modular maglev model that can be customized to one’s preferences and allows for manipulation of both the train tracks and the car to test different designs. It has been very successful thus far and I plan on using both the wooden and Lego maglev in the development of a module.

9:40 a.m.
CMFX Hardware and Design — Mx. Leah Dorsey (CTU / UMBC)

This presentation will cover the hardware selection and design process for subassemblies on the Centrifugal Mirror Fusion Experiment (CMFX). The gas puff valve system and capacitor rack redesign will be discussed in detail.

9:50 a.m.
Interaction Between Emergent Behaviors — Mr. Charles Demery (MSU / UMCP)

Using kilobots, two emergent behaviors will be put in the same environment to see how they interact with each other. The first emergent behavior is based off potential cell repair with kilobots using gradient to find and surround damaged cells. The second is based off typical herding behavior of animals. The two emergent behaviors have a similar end result using two different parameters. When put in the same environment it seems the behaviors don’t interact as the herding kilo bots form separately from the gradient kilobots who focus only on one kilobot to surround.

10:00 a.m.
Getting from Point A to Point B in Five-Dimensions — Mr. Ozzy Weinreb (TU)

The standard line element in general relativity contains 4-dimensions (3 spatial and one temporal). It seems plausible that adding mass as a 5th coordinate will more accurately describe the physical world. This talk will motivate the use of this 5-dimensional line element. A particular form of 5-dimensional metric will also be presented along with some attempts at testing this metric physically.

10:10 a.m.
Physics of the Alternate Tooniverse — Mr. Victor Terranova (TU)

In physics, there is an idea that multiple universes may exist. One of these possible universes is the cartoon universe. The differences between our universe to that of the Looney Tooniverse will be observed in this presentation. .

10:20 a.m.

We will pause for questions to the first group of presenters. Questions may be entered in Zoom chat or online Q&A tool — be sure to specify to which presenter your question is addressed. If time permits additional questions will be taken from the audience — use “Raise Hand” function to be called on by moderators.

10:30 a.m.
Poster Flash Talks

      • Documentation and Improvements to a NASA Flight Safety Risk Tool — Mr. Brandon Gardner (UMES / NASA WFF)
      • Balloon Flight Data Analysis — Mr. Kijjiketchme Southern-Fox (UMES / NASA WFF)
      • Interference to NASA GPS Applications: Lunar Missions & Climatology — Ms. Emma Griffith (UMD / NASA HQ)
      • Optimizing a Mathematical Model for the Intensity of the Extragalactic Background Light — Ms. Maegan Jennings (TU)
      • Rolling Railgun: A Lab Activity for Introductory Electromagnetism — Ms. Taylor Pettaway (TU)
      • Redesign of the 2020 Morgan State Mining Robot Scooper Mechanism — Ms. Emma Brown (UMCP / MSU)
      • Flywheels as Batteries — Mr. Colin Choudhary (TU)
      • Feasibility of using Wifi for high-speed communications with High-Altitude Balloons, drones, and other platforms — Mr. Ethan Hart (UMES / CTU)
      • Discovering the Beyond: Design and Analysis of Morgan State University Liquid Propellant Rocket — Ms. Margaret Ajuwon (MSU)
      • Participation in RockOn 2021 Sounding Rocket Program Launch by NASA — Mr. Marc Caballes and Mr. Sam Alamu (MSU)

Virtual Poster Session

10:45 a.m. — 11:20 a.m.
Poster Session / Break. Stand up and stretch! Then sit down again and peruse our virtual poster session. Click images for full size versions. At 11:20 a.m. we will reconvene for poster Q&A. Enter questions in the online Q&A tool. If possible, remain connected to the Zoom meeting (muted) during the break to reduce time required to restart after the break.

Thumbnail of intern Brandon Gardner's poster
Documentation and Improvements to a NASA Flight Safety Risk Tool — Mr. Brandon Gardner (UMES / NASA WFF)
Thumbnail of intern Kijjiketchme Southern-Fox's poster
Balloon Flight Data Analysis — Mr. Kijjiketchme Southern-Fox (UMES / NASA WFF)
Thumbnail of intern Emma Griffith's poster
Interference to NASA GPS Applications: Lunar Missions & Climatology — Ms. Emma Griffith (UMD / NASA HQ)
Thumbnail of Noam Kaplan's poster
Portable UAV Design for Wildfire Safety Efforts — Mr. Noam Kaplan (UMD / NASA Ames)
Thumbnail of Maegan Jennings' poster
Optimizing a Mathematical Model for the Intensity of the Extragalactic Background Light — Ms. Maegan Jennings (TU)
Thumbnail of Taylor Pettaway's poster
Rolling Railgun: A Lab Activity for Introductory Electromagnetism — Ms. Taylor Pettaway (TU)
Thumbnail of Emma Brown's poster
Redesign of the 2020 Morgan State Mining Robot Scooper Mechanism — Ms. Emma Brown (UMCP / MSU)
Thumbnail of Colin Choudhary's poster
Flywheels as Batteries — Mr. Colin Choudhary (TU)
Thumbnail of intern Ethan Hart's Poster
Feasibility of using Wifi for high-speed communications with High-Altitude Balloons, drones, and other platforms
— Mr. Ethan Hart (UMES / CTU)
Thumbnail of Margaret Ajuwon's poster
Discovering the Beyond: Design and Analysis of Morgan State University Liquid Propellant Rocket — Ms. Margaret Ajuwon (MSU)
Thumbnail of poster by Marc Caballes and Sam Oludayo Alamu
Participation in RockOn 2021 Sounding Rocket Program Launch by NASA — Mr. Marc Caballes and Mr. Sam Alamu (MSU)

11:20 a.m.
Q&A for Posters

We will reconvene for questions related to poster presentations and any remaining questions for earlier presenters. Questions may be entered in Zoom chat or online Q&A tool — be sure to specify to which presenter your question is addressed. If time permits additional questions will be taken from the audience — use “Raise Hand” function to be called on by moderators.

Session 2

11:30 a.m.
Robotics and Embedded Systems Applications with Arduino UNO and Raspberry Pi — Mr. Arya Das (UMBC / UMES)

Sensing, actuation, and control are integral to smart devices with embedded microcontrollers. Arduino and Raspberry Pi microcontrollers and single-board computers can be interfaced with various sensors and actuators and incorporated in mechanical devices to perform a variety of intelligent functions using appropriate software programming. In this presentation use of C++(Sketch), Scratch, Bloxter, and Python programs compiled and executed on Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards interfaced with various sensors and actuators will be elaborated. A novel application using a soft gripper mounted on a mobile robotic device embedded with a Raspberry Pi board will be outlined. Path following application using a light sensor will also be demonstrated on the mobile device using three different methods including proportional, integral, and, derivative (PID) control. The different methods will be compared using path following error data collected and plotted using MATLAB software. With appropriate trials well-tuned PID gains have been identified that ensure accurate path following at different speeds of the mobile robotic platform. A Python program has been developed that allows the user to input any desired speed and the device accurately tracks the path using PID control using interpolated gain values autonomously. The internship also provided an opportunity to get exposure to other activities in the Robotics and Manufacturing Automation Lab at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore(UMES) including industrial robotic arms, soft robotics, and digital agriculture applications using FarmBots, drones, robotic boats, and ground robots. 

11:40 a.m.
Impact of COVID-19 on air quality — Mr. Will Klein (HCC / UMES)

Air pollution is a global health concern and has led to millions of premature deaths. In overpopulated cities, pollutants such as PM2.5, ozone, and NO2 have disastrous effects on human health and exacerbate respiratory illnesses. COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions have played a major role in air quality and human health. The cities observed in this study are Milan, Kolkata, São Paulo, Los Angeles, and Sydney. The biggest contributors to air pollution in Los Angeles and Sydney were natural wildfires that increased concentrations of PM2.5. In Kolkata trash burning, diesel engines, and coal combustion led PM2.5 and NO2 to increase during the winter months. Milan’s topography promoted PM2.5 concentrations by casting a thick and protective fog over the area during the winter months. The deforestation of the rainforests in Brazil promoted PM2.5 by causing droughts in Sao Paulo, which made the city very dusty, and worsened the air quality. By analyzing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemics on air quality, the scope for environmental restoration is seen as people and governments learn what contributes to air quality, and how humans can manipulate it. The findings from this study, and other contemporary ones, could aid in efforts towards combating climate change, and sustaining human life.

11:50 a.m.
Hot Intern Summer: Data Acquisition System Design, Assembly, and Integration for the Liquid Propellant Rocket — Ms. P. Wilson (CTU / MSU)

The summer internship and exchange program hosted by Maryland Space Grant Consortium (MDSGC) consists of a 10-weeks internship program in the five participating universities in Maryland. The goal of this internship study is to design, build, and test the Data Acquisition (DAQ) system to be integrated into the liquid propellant rocket (LPR) design at Morgan State University. The study involved programming both Arduino and Raspberry Pi to measure the pressure and temperature readings of the propellant tanks and combustion chamber, in order to make a comparison between the two microcontrollers. Arduino boards (UNO and Nano), along with temperature and pressure sensors, were used to build the DAQ system. Arduino codes were written in the sketch files and uploaded to measure the temperature and pressure readings from the MAX6675 and barometric pressure sensor respectively. These collected results from the DAQ system were compared with results from the several temperature and pressure meters under different conditions (e.g., cold water, hot water) for the Arduino-based temperature sensor and air compressor for the pressure transducer. Results indicated that the developed DAQ system is capable of measuring temperature and pressure with minor errors. The results of this study may benefit the ongoing liquid rocket design at Morgan State University with the aim of reaching 13,000 ft altitude.

12:00 p.m.
3D Modeling, Design Analysis of the Rocket’s Fins using SolidWorks and OpenRocket Simulator and GPS Systems Testing of a Liquid Propellant Rocket — Mr. Justyn Bunkley (UMBC / MSU)

The Morgan State University, ARROW Rocketry Team, is developing a single-stage liquid-propellant rocket (LPR) with a targeted apogee of 13,000 feet. Due to the complexity of the LPR, each component of the rocket must be studied and investigated thoroughly. The ARROW Rocketry Team has decided to use a Featherweight GPS System to track the position of the liquid propellant rocket. During Morgan State’s previous launching of their solid-propellant rocket, an unexpected error occurred in which the Featherweight GPS recorded incorrect data. One of the leading hypotheses of this error is the location of the tracking device inside the rocket that causes system interference with other devices. A reliable GPS system is needed to accurately record the apogee and location of the liquid propellant rocket. To conduct an experimental analysis of the reliability of the Featherweight GPS system, the MSU Rocketry Team isolated the tracking device and placed it inside the nose cone rather than in the altimeter bay. During the rocket launched on the second day of July 2021, the data collected from the Featherweight GPS system was 98.74% similar to the result of the simulated data. Thus, the MSU Rocketry Team decided to use the Featherweight GPS system on their liquid-propellant rocket. Moreover, a wide variety of research and peer-reviewed journals that deal with the rocket’s nose cone and the characteristics of its airframe are already publicly accessible. However, there are only a few in-depth studies that deal specifically with the rocket’s fin. Thus, this research not only focuses on studying the property of the GPS system, but as well as how different factors, such as the types of fins – clipped delta and trapezoidal; the number of fins – 3 and 4; fin materials – carbon fiber, aluminum, and fiberglass; and its geometric dimensions – root chord, sweep angle, and chord height, affect the rocket’s overall performance. Through the usage of the OpenRocket Simulator, a wide variety of data was collected that shows possible outcomes on both the rocket’s apogee and stability. Additionally, a factorial design – Design of Experiments (DOE), was created using the data collected through the Minitab Statistical software to perform statistical analysis in finding the significant factors and creating both surface and contour plots. Results indicated that the best design to reach the maximum apogee is a three (3) clipped delta-shaped tail fin design made of fiberglass material. The fiberglass material is desirable for a rocket fin because of its chemical and physical properties. It has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It has a similar strength to materials with much greater densities and much greater strength than most materials of similar density. It is very durable and resistant to most forms of moisture and corrosion.

12:10 p.m.
HelicitySpace Internship — Ms. Grace Warznak (UMCP / UMBC)

From mid-May to the end of July, Grace Warznak had an internship with the HelicitySpace Corporation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County through Maryland Space Grant Consortium. The internship involved writing code and machining parts for the assembly of the first iteration of the Helicity Drive, a fusion space propulsion system using peristaltic magnet compression.

12:20 p.m.
SS. John W. Brown Steam Engine — Ms. Jennifer Scheiderer and Ms. Katie Shaw (TU)

We are modernizing the method of measuring horsepower and efficiency on one of the last two surviving liberty ships. We faced many challenges getting a functioning set up and still have future challenges for the main engine.

12:30 p.m.
Transiting Exoplanets  — Mr. Christopher Pamah (TU)

A slightly in depth look at the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission and how we plan to aid the confirmation of exoplanet candidates. I will also discuss how to select candidates for follow up observations, calibrating images, and the application of photometry to obtain the desired light curve. 

12:40 p.m.
The Scourge of Online Solutions and an Academic Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram — Mr. Jacob Buchman (TU)

We report on preliminary results of a statistical study of student performance in more than a decade of calculus-based introductory physics courses. Treating average homework and test grades as proxies for student effort and comprehension respectively, we plot comprehension versus effort in an academic version of the astronomical Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (which plots stellar luminosity versus temperature). We study the evolution of this diagram with time, finding that the “academic main sequence” has begun to break down in recent years as student achievement on tests has become decoupled from their homework grades. We present evidence that this breakdown is likely related to the emergence of easily accessible online solutions to most textbook problems, and discuss possible responses and strategies for maintaining and enhancing student learning in the online era.

12:50 p.m.
Final Q&A

We will take questions for the final group of presenters and any remaining questions for earlier presenters. Questions may be entered in Zoom chat or online Q&A tool — be sure to specify to which presenter your question is addressed. If time permits additional questions will be taken from the audience — use “Raise Hand” function to be called on by moderators.

1:00 p.m.
Concluding Remarks — Dr. Matt Collinge

MDSGC offers our sincere congratulations to our student presenters, a huge thanks to our internship mentors, collaborators, and supporting staff, and our hope that all attendees have enjoyed and learned from these presentations!

Interactive Astrophysics Stories

At the MDSGC Observatory, we’re always looking to share our enthusiasm about the Universe and its many fascinating phenomena. Therefore, we’re pleased to present this short series of interactive online astrophysics stories!

#4: Detecting Exoplanets via Transits

Snapshot of a simulated planetary transit across the face of its host star.

Since the first discoveries starting in the 1990s (see post below), the continued search for new exoplanets and the study of their properties has grown into a major area of astronomical research. As additional effort has been invested and new technologies have been developed, the primary techniques for finding and characterizing new exoplanets have also evolved. Follow this link over to our Exoplanet Transits story at ObservableHQ to learn about how astronomers have discovered most of the exoplanets we now know — and where we’re still looking to improve our knowledge!

#3: Hot Jupiter Systems

Still frame of an animation of a Hot Jupiter planet orbiting its host star.

Until the 1990s, the only planets known to science were the nine* of our own solar system. As technology progressed and astronomers began to focus their efforts on looking for planets around other stars, they received several great surprises in the form of just how different the first discovered “exoplanet” systems were, compared to ours. In the decades since, intense efforts have revealed a more detailed picture, and we now understand planetary systems to be a widespread if not universal phenomenon — as astronomers had hoped all along. But the earliest discovered systems continue to play an important role in our new understanding. Follow this link over to our Hot Jupiter story at ObservableHQ to learn more!

(*Those were the days, eh, Pluto?)

#2: Imaging a Star Cluster

Image of stars in Messier 67 taken from the Maryland Space Grant Observatory.

When it comes to practical astronomy, whether we’re idly admiring the night sky or concentrating closely on a telescopic view, star clusters are some of the most interesting things up there. The image above shows a portion of the star cluster Messier 67 obtained from our Observatory. (Another prime example of a star cluster is also one of the Fall sky’s highlights: the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.) So what, apart from simple visual appeal, makes star clusters interesting for astronomers?

Follow this link over to our interactive Star Cluster Image story at ObservableHQ to learn more!

#1: The Earth-Moon System

Still frame from animation of the Earth-Moon system at the epoch of the dinosaurs, showing Earth's tidal bulge.

It was Fall as we wrote this, and in Earth’s northern hemisphere the days were getting shorter. DayLIGHT, that is! But did you know that actually, the length of Earth’s day is increasing as time goes on? What’s that all about, and what in the Universe could be responsible?

Follow this link over to our interactive Earth-Moon System story at ObservableHQ to find out!

After reading, send us your questions and let us know what you think at!

Observe the Moon

First quarter moon over Earth's limb; photo taken from ISS.
Image of the Moon over Earth’s limb, taken from the International Space Station in 2019.

While most of our attention may understandably be consumed by events taking place here on planet Earth, it’s a good practice to pause occasionally and take in a larger perspective. A fine occasion for such activity presents itself whenever clear skies align with favorable Moon phases.

Each year, International Observe the Moon Night, marked in 2020 on Saturday, September 26th, encourages Earthlings to point our gazes skyward and appreciate our closest celestial neighbor. (NASA organizes a list of events that might allow for an in person experience, as well as ways to participate from home.)

The first quarter lunar phase each month is widely considered to be best for viewing because of its evening visibility and the oblique angle of sunlight that throws its surface details into sharp relief. When looking at the Moon from Earth, we definitely recommend grabbing a pair of binoculars, if available, as any amount of magnification greatly enhances the visibility of surface features such as craters.

And while you’re thinking about gazing skyward, don’t forget to think about other ways to get your astronomy fix, and be sure to check out Sky & Telescope’s Sky at a Glance for more detail about what’s on the celestial menu these days.

Astronomy during the pandemic

NASA SOFIA image of the Milky Way.

While the MDSGC Observatory remains closed for the time being, with a little inspiration and effort we can still admire the night sky above us — and certainly now, as much as ever, we can all benefit from a cosmic perspective!

Here is a recent article by University of Arizona astronomer professor Chris Impey on ways to enjoy astronomy during the pandemic. It’s a must read for would be backyard astronomers. Of special note is the “Sky at a Glance” from Sky & Telescope, a highly useful guide to tracking the Moon, planets, and other noteworthy celestial events.

Another recommended activity that may be appealing is to construct a planisphere: a device that shows the locations of the stars in the sky each night. You can buy one, of course, or use free astronomy software such as Stellarium, but if you happen to live at a latitude not too different from Baltimore, MD (39.29 degrees North) and have access to a printer, you can also make your own using these files: planisphere instructions and planisphere cutouts. The second file has two pages, which need to be printed on separate sheets of paper. You’ll also need a paperclip.

Until we can once again welcome you to visit our Observatory, happy star-gazing!

NASA and ISS Videos

Aurora over Scandinavia at night from the International Space Station.

Watching live coverage of the successful NASA Mars Insight landing yesterday reminded us of some other excellent space videos we’ve seen lately.

Here’s one to mark NASA’s 60th anniversary. Like science fiction, but real:

Also celebrating an anniversary recently, in this case its 20th, was the International Space Station (ISS). A long sequence of Earth from orbit, with some landmarks identified:

As long as we’re on the topic, here’s one more from ISS. An inbound rocket launch:

Hope you enjoy them as much as we did. If you’re curious about the image at the top, click on it to learn more!

Quaternions Turn 175

Plaque on Broom (Brougham) Bridge in Ireland commemorating Hamilton's discovery of quaternions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018, is the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the discovery of quaternions, one of the most difficult discoveries ever in the history of mathematical physics.  The discovery was made — in a sudden moment of inspiration following 11 years of studious toil — by Sir William Rowan Hamilton as he was crossing Brougham Bridge, in Ireland, with his wife.  On the spot, or so it is said, he carved his famous equations on the bridge.

Some years later, Hamilton recalled:

They started into life, or light, full grown, on the 16th of October, 1843, as I was walking with Lady Hamilton to Dublin, and came up to Brougham Bridge.  That is to say, I then and there felt the galvanic circuit of thought closed, and the sparks which fell from it were the fundamental equations between I, J, K; exactly such as I have used them ever since.  I pulled out, on the spot, a notebook, which still exists, and made an entry….

Although Hamilton’s original inscription does not survive, the plaque shown above hangs on the bridge to this day in commemoration both of Hamilton’s discovery and of his sudden inspiration. The plaque reads:

Here as he walked by
on the 16th of October 1843
Sir William Rowan Hamilton
in a flash of genius discovered
the fundamental formula
for quaternion multiplication
i2 = j2 = k2 = i j k = -1
& cut it on a stone of this bridge

Here’s to Hamilton, to quaternions, to bridges, and to inspiration!

NASA Express and Science WOW!

Attention, STEM educators, students, and space enthusiasts! Did you know NASA has a weekly service providing information about student and educator opportunities — workshops, scholarships, internships, and more — as well as inspirations for the latest and greatest ideas for science education? If you’re not already registered, head over to the NASA signup page now!

NASA Express Logo

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