Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘photos’

Optics in the Apollo Program

I can’t believe I let more than half the month of June go by without mentioning my article, “Optics in the Apollo Program,” in the June issue of OPN! I guess I was born without the gene for relentless marketing and self-promotion.

If you’ve been wondering how to read my article — because it’s not the featured “open access” article this months — then fear not: I have added it to my online clip file. Eventually I’m going to get around to uploading more of my work, but I thought it would be obviously better to start with the most recent work first.

If you’re ever at the National Air & Space Museum, you can see some of the Apollo-era optical equipment, or at least replicas of it. (Remember, the Apollo astronauts ditched quite a bit of gear on the lunar surface or just before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.) Back in January I visited the main Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and took a few photos.

Replica of Apollo 11 TV camera

Here’s a replica of the black-and-white television camera that Armstrong and Aldrin used to show us their Apollo 11 moonwalk.

Apollo spotmeter

The Apollo 11 astronauts used a spotmeter to judge the exposures for their film camera. Looks as if Minolta made this for NASA.

Apollo 7 camera

The Apollo 7 crew used this camera to make the first live telecast from space. This one’s the real McCoy.

Film magazine

Armstrong’s Hasselblad film magazine from Apollo 11. He had to bring this back because it contained all the unexposed film.

Command module camera

This camera flew in the Apollo 11 command module. And, yes, you can see the reflection of me and my digital camera.

Stereo camera

The stereo camera that Apollo 11 astronauts used to get closeups of rocks without bending over. This is probably a replica, because I don’t see any moon dust on it.


Replica of the Alignment Optical Telescope mentioned in the article. Apologies for the flash artifact.


Finally, a friend and I are reflected in a spacesuit’s visor.

Looking for some cool images?

Hi, I’m Pat and I’m a social-media addict. I really enjoy Pinterest. If you haven’t already done so, please check out my “Science Photos and Images” board on that site:

I add to the collection when I remember to do so (which isn’t every day … but I’m trying to get better at it). Of course, some of the images link back to my own writing, but others are just fascinating and beautiful in their own right.

Today I even added an image from the BICEP2 collaboration — you know, the so-called “smoking gun” of cosmological inflation theory. Polarization diagrams may not mean much to the average person, but that figure might be really famous someday. Heck, I even “pinned” the video showing Andrei Linde getting the news. It’s just so sweet.


Cool Photo #4: Lena and 204,500 Other Cool Images

OSA, my primary freelance customer these days, has debuted the Optics ImageBank, a handy-dandy place to look up graphs, photos and computer-rendered images that have appeared in OSA’s peer-reviewed journals in the not-so-distant past (from 2006 onward). The society put out a press release that listed this and other upgrades to Optics InfoBase.

Every time you go to the Optics ImageBank home page, you see a random collection of the 204,500-plus images in the database. One time I did this and caught a glimpse of the famous — if a bit faded with age — portrait of Lena!

Who’s Lena? As I blogged in 2008, she was a comely young Playboy model who since November 1972 has been the pictorial standard against which image-processing algorithms are measured. Yes, it’s sexist, but it’s at least a more memorable image than a plain old test pattern, and she’s not really showing anything X-rated in the cropped portrait that has been making the rounds of the optical industry for nearly 40 years.

In this case, Lena’s picture came out of a 2009 Optics Express article. You can read the full article on tomographic scanning imaging here.

OSA says that the images will be free of charge through 2012 and available on a subscription basis starting in 2013. The images are all copyrighted by OSA and may be used for non-commercial purposes — read the details before downloading or exporting anything.

Just by random clicking around, I found some interesting things to look at:

  • Variously colored images of a mask acquired by a color CCD camera and its RGB components;
  • This neat swirly thing, which is the phase distribution of a diffraction pattern;
  • Decomposition of the Mona Lisa into its Fourier components (I believe I wrote about that for OPN last year); and
  • This all-too-cute depiction of “ghost imaging” of entangled photons.

So, if you are giving an educational talk on optical science and you need some pictures to liven up your PowerPoint presentation, you have a new source.

Cool Photo #3: Spirit (of Discovery) in the Sky

The community where I currently live is known primarily for two things: a cluster of buildings constructed 75 years ago as a New Deal project and a NASA research center. Having the latter in town is definitely a perk at times like today, when the space shuttle Discovery took a valedictory tour of the skies over Our Nation’s Capital Region. Although it wasn’t publicized in advance, Discovery and the Boeing 747 that ferried it up from Florida passed over NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, home base for many of the components of the Hubble Space Telescope, which this shuttle launched once and serviced twice.

I stood outside the Goddard main gate to take photos. I don’t have the best camera, and I don’t claim to be the best photographer, but at least I was there!

Here you can see the shuttle approaching NASA Goddard.

Here you can clearly see the shape of the orbiter, as well as the aerodynamic engine cover and the extra stabilizers on the aft end of the 747.

A fighter jet escorted the shuttle/747 around Greater Washington.

Seeing Discovery flying overhead, albeit with its “space wings” clipped, brought back bittersweet memories of the only shuttle launch I was privileged to witness in person from the Kennedy Space Center media site: the successful launch of Challenger in April 1985. I also recalled watching the first post-Challenger launch of Discovery with a classroom of fifth-graders and their teacher, who was one of the 100 or so semifinalists of the teacher-in-space program that had put Christa McAuliffe aboard the Challenger. I think I shook more for that televised image of a launch than when I felt the full force of the shuttle blastoff in person. But Discovery flew straight and true. And now we say: Well done, good and faithful servant.

The crowd gathered on NASA Goddard's "front lawn" to witness Discovery's final trip.

News notes

I haven’t updated this blog in a few weeks, so here are a few things of note.

Past and Future OSA Presidents

A couple of weeks ago, at Frontiers in Optics 2011, OSA announced that Philip Bucksbaum of Stanford University was elected the 2012 vice president of the society. This means that he will serve as OSA president in 2014. Bucksbaum won in a two-way race; OSA vice-presidential elections usually have three candidates, but this year a third candidate, a Japanese scientist, decided to withdraw in favor of supporting his country’s scientific community in the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami. One can hardly fault him for that.

One of the three incoming OSA board members elected this year is Jun Ye, an OSA Fellow known for his research in ultraprecise atomic clocks.

Last month, however, was also a sad month for former OSA presidents, as both Aden Meinel (1972) and Tony Siegman (1999) passed away. Meinel was best known in the astronomy community as the founder of Kitt Peak National Observatory and the architect of a number of large telescopes. However, the University of Arizona remembers him for starting its optical sciences program. While I worked at OSA, I had the opportunity to interact with Siegman several times, and I really enjoyed his talk on the 50th anniversary of the laser.

Finally, Duncan Moore of the University of Rochester, who served as OSA president in 1996, has become the fourth American to serve as president of the International Commission for Optics (ICO). This organization was founded in 1947 to help rebuild the devastated optics communities in Europe and Japan after World War II, but it has since turned its focus to developing countries, and Moore would like to expand the ICO’s reach in Africa. Moore has significant experience in government and business entrepreneurship besides optics; he chaired the independent panel that investigated the aberration in the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror and found the right prescription to fix it. A few years ago, I took an Institute of Optics Summer School course that included his lecture on geometrical optics, so I can also say he’s an excellent teacher.

Other News Notes

Got an iPhone? You may be able to convert it into a medical imaging device for a few bucks. As I reported within the last month, a team based at the University of California-Davis figured out how to build cellphone camera attachments for medical imaging and spectroscopy out in the field. The results aren’t quite as good as those from a dedicated instrument, of course, but they’re good enough for a physician in the developing world to look at a blood sample and figure out whether the patient has sickle-cell disease or not.

Meanwhile, my colleague Yvonne Carts-Powell reported on the natural nanostructures that give birds their color, and how they’re inspiring new laser designs.

Both of the above stories, incidentally, came out of the Frontiers in Optics conference.

Small World Photos Hit the Big Time

With this stunning online gallery, the Washington Post took note of the results of the most recent Nikon Small World Competition for photographs of the microscopic world. Check out these images for a beautiful confluence of sciences and aesthetics.

Cool Photo #2: A Satisfying Blend of Natural and Artificial Light

(Part of an ongoing, occasional series of posts.)

Apparently a German observatory was testing out a new laser guide star system, to be installed at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, when a thunderstorm blew in. A photographer captured the laser beam appearing to melt into the lightning bolt — it almost looks as if humans are attacking nature and nature is striking back.

I’m not sure if I would have permission to reprint this photo, so I’ll just point you to the relevant post on the New Scientist website. It’s worth seeing.

The laser-and-lightning combo also reminds me of an upside-down “beam tree.” What’s a beam tree, you ask? I promise it will be the subject of a “Cool Photo” post in the future!

Roundup of science news

The weather’s hot out there, I’m working on a couple of articles under deadline, and I have a cat purring next to my desk. Nevertheless, I realize that I haven’t updated this blog in a while, so I will go ahead and post a few things.

First of all, July 18 was not only Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday, but also John Glenn’s 90th birthday. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Glenn may be the oldest surviving U.S. astronaut. Certainly he and Scott Carpenter are the only two of the Mercury Seven left alive, and Carpenter is about four years younger. Most of the astronauts who joined NASA in the years between 1962 and 1966 were born in the first half of the 1930s.

Last week, I happened to see a CNN video segment about a British scientist who is making “bionic glasses” to help visually challenged people see. The glasses use LEDs and a couple of small cameras — really, the type of technology used in today’s smartphones. The scientist is Stephen L. Hicks of Oxford University; I found his home page and this science blog post from the Oxford press office.

News from the particle physics community: Scientists could be tantalizingly close to finding the Higgs boson, if it exists, according to Symmetry magazine’s blog.

The quest for the invisibility cloak continues to be a hot topic in optical physics. As my colleague Yvonne Carts-Powell reported, Columbia University scientists have devised a structure with an average refractive index of zero in the near-infrared. Also — no doubt tying in with the recent release of the last of the Harry Potter movies — several media outlets reported (see, for example, here, here and here) about the “time cloak” created at Cornell University. As the last of those three links states, the new cloak is reminiscent of the “spacetime editor” described earlier this year; I wrote about it for the March 2011 issue of Optics & Photonics News. The Cornell paper has only been submitted to Nature and not yet published there; however, you can check out the preprint.

Finally, I’m posting a link to this gorgeous image, taken from the International Space Station, of the space shuttle Atlantis heading home.