‘Gamification’ – Stellar Evolver

An example of gamification in one of my recent projects called Stellar Evolver (with audio voiceover). This is a fully VR ready experience and will enable players to interact with and watch the evolution of star systems using the visceral mechanics and feedback of a 3D based shooter.

Stellar systems can evolve from simple proto-planets up to red dwarfs and larger giant stars, eventually culminating in the formation of neutron stars and black holes.

Clearly the overall dynamics, scale and time is being exaggerated here for playability. I hope to demonstrate a working multiplayer prototype at the 2021 Hebridean Dark Sky Festival.

Developed by Mackintosh Modelling & Data Simulations
modulouniverse.com

Comet Swan

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Image of Comet Swan, now a naked eye object at magnitude 5.1. Unfortunately views will be challenging this far north due to sky brightness and low viewing altitudes. Friends further south might have some luck especially near the end of May, but best views will be in the southern hemisphere.  I’ll post more observing details later this month.  Stay tuned to my FB site meanwhile.

Covid-19 Analytics

coronavirus-4833754_960_720.jpgI’ve been busy developing a Covid-19 predictive model using R Studio’s Shiny development environment. This project started as a way of informing myself of what might be happening locally but subsequently grew wings.

It’s using UK and Scottish gov. data on infection rates to make predictions of likely infection levels within various health service regions. The concept of recovery is built into the model as a way of measuring residual levels of infectivity within a population. A user can supply the geographic region as well as change model parameters and assumptions about how the virus is impacting a health system

It’s still at a fairly basic stage and more is being added weekly. National metrics on testing rates have recently been implemented, for example.

If you’d like to sample the app please get in touch and I’ll send you a link. With the help of colleagues I’m in the process of securing a permanent server to deploy the app onto so I can share the work more widely.

Developed by Mackintosh Modelling & Data Simulations.

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2020 Lyrids Meteor Shower

 

The annual Lyrids meteor shower is underway with peak activity on the evening of April 21st.  With no Moon to spoil the party conditions will be ideal for observing them this year assuming those pesky clouds stay away.  The best times to view the shower are as late as possible, close to midnight or in pre-dawn skies when the Lyra radiant is at its greatest elevation.  However, you don’t need to look at the radiant to see shooting stars as they’ll appear to come from all directions.

What Causes a Meteor Shower

Meteors are the fine dust and particulates left over from comets and large asteroids which stray into our solar system.  Some of these are on predictable orbits and as they whizz around the Sun they melt and shed some of their material into space.  The Earth then travels through these large dust trails as it orbits the Sun, producing predictable meteor showers.  The Lyrids are generated by Comet Thatcher, which has a 415 year orbit.

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Observing the Lyrids

You don’t need any special equipment to view a meteor shower, in fact binoculars or telescopes will just narrow your field of view. Grab a deck chair or camping mat and (if it’s cold) a warm blanket, prepare a hot drink and lay out under the darkest conditions you can find. It’s an excellent activity to do alone, with family and friends, or if you have children they’ll love an excuse to get outside for some after dark play.

Put away any lights or bright mobile phone screens and simply look up and wait. Remember it takes up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt and any exposure to bright lights will start the process all over again. If you need a light, red LEDs or touches are best for preserving you night vision.

For optimal viewing, head out late at night or in the darkness of the pre dawn sky., when the radiant is highest in the sky.

Don’t Expect Too Much

You need to be patient with meteor showers.  Sometimes you’ll see many and other times very few or none at all.  Think of it as a great excuse to get out under the stars and breath in some fresh air.  Even if you don’t see much you probably won’t regret heading out and looking up.  Very rarely meteor showers can erupt into storms, like the Leonids in 1833 when over 100,000 shooting stars criss crossed the night sky.

Photographing the Lyrids

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If your have a DSLR camera and tripod, or a suitable phone app like NightCap, you could try capturing some meteors with this rough guide.

  1. Firmly attach your camera or phone to the tripod.
  2. Disable autofocus and manually focus on some bright stars (make them as small and pin point as possible in your viewing screen)
  3. Set an ISO range somewhere between 1000-3000 depending on the capabilities of the sensor.  Mid 1000s is a good middle road.
  4. Turn off noise reduction or you’ll get big delays between each shot.
  5. Point your camera at a high and clear part of the sky.
  6. Shoot long exposures ranging from 10s to 30s, or simply use a remote shutter to take long manual exposures.  Note:  don’t go crazy with very long exposures or you’ll get amp glow from the sensor.
  7. Take lots and lots of shots and be patient!

If your camera has a time-lapse feature you can automate the shooting process and tell the camera to continually shoot 30 second exposures over a long interval.  Just watch out for dew forming on the lens if conditions are cold.  Some hand warmers stuffed into a sock wrapped around the lens will solve this particular issue.

Good luck and clear skies!

Ursa Major Video Guide

 

My video stargazing guide to the constellation Ursa Major, known to stargazers and astronomers in the northern hemisphere by its famous asterism of the Plough or Big Dipper.

Many thanks to Rising Galaxy of Cosmicleaf Records for gifting the background music to this piece. If you like drone ambient or cosmic chill out music please check out their web stores for more of the same.

Clear skies.

The Astronomy of Ancient Places (Livestream talk)

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In view of recent developments my contribution to this years Inverness Science Festival will be a free live streamed talk.  Please visit my Highland Astronomy facebook page for more details:

Astronomer Stephen Mackintosh will take you back in time to discover how our distant ancestors used the Sun, Moon and stars to track the progress of time and the seasons. Looking at ancient monuments connected to the night sky, we’ll go on a tour of Egypt, Central America, southern England and back home to Scotland where some of the finest concentrations of neolithic structures exist anywhere in Europe, not least the wonderful Clava Cairns. Plus advice on sky watching and naked eye observing you can put into practice yourself.

Note: this event is free and will be live streamed online as part of the Inverness Science Festival’s adjusted programme.

Stephen Mackintosh’s blog: modulouniverse.com
Image by Callanish Digital Design: callanishdigitaldesign.com