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Augmented reality planetarium experience in Sutton, Que., opens up the sky to campers – CBC.ca

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Nestled deep in the forest in the Eastern Townships, perched on the side of a mountain, there’s a 184-seat Roman-style amphitheatre, where dozens of people have waited for the sun to set and for total darkness to arrive, to don specially-made augmented reality headsets, and stare into the night sky. 

Au Diable Vert, an outdoor recreation outfitter in the Sutton mountain range, has developed the world’s first augmented reality planetarium experience, called Observétoiles. 

The headsets — made of cardboard, with straps to keep them secure, and outfitted with a smartphone and special app — allow people to look up at the sky and identify the stars, planets and constellations. 

Observétoiles’s hour-long presentation by an astronomer takes participants on a tour of the solar system, before identifying the dozens of constellations and talking about their Indigenous, Asian, and Greco-Roman histories.  

The app and headset superimpose faint images, the original 17th century illustrations of 88 constellations, over the real stars in the sky, depending on where you face.  

And the amphitheatre has heated seats. 

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Au Diable Vert owner Jeremy Fontana, whose idea it was to capitalize on the near-total darkness on the mountain, where he says stargazing has always been spectacular.

Au Diable Vert owner Jeremy Fontana stands atop the amphitheatre’s round stage ahead of the Observétoiles presentation. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

“You know one of the best things about being at Au Diable Vert is the location,” he said, pointing across the valley at Jay Peak, just a few kilometres away as the crow flies, in Vermont. 

“You’ll see as the sun goes down, there is not one single light, there’s not even one light bulb, which is not so unusual in Quebec, but it’s very unusual an hour and a half from Montreal, and an hour from Sherbrooke,” he said. “That’s one of the most compelling things about the site.” 

Years of research, a dozen ideas 

Before there was Observétoiles, Fontana said he bounced around several ideas for how to get the best outdoor planetarium experience. 

He said when he bought the place 15 years ago, visitors would tell him about the shooting stars and satellites they’d seen, not to mention Jupiter and Saturn.

Fontana decided to try using a telescope.  

“There are some things you can see with a small telescope,” he said, but it had its challenges, since guests would often bump the telescopes, which would then have to be reset.

“The moon looks cool, you can often see the rings around Saturn, you can see quasars, which just kind of look like dust on the lens, so I said to my wife that there has to be a better way.” 

Observétoiles participant Daniel Kramer tests his augmented reality headset before the sun sets and the presentation starts. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Fontana imagined creating heated boxes for people to sit and stargaze during the winter, or a massive glamping dome big enough for everyone to sit inside and look up, or even projecting the images of the constellations onto the sky using a giant laser. But none of the ideas were perfect. 

The business owner then thought of augmented reality. 

He travelled to a conference to find the perfect headset, and purchased 10,000 of them from a kickstarter in the Netherlands that adapted the product to Fontana’s needs — namely being able to use it at night.

“As you look at the sky, the image of the constellation appears where it should be right over those real stars, and as you move around, the constellations change,” he explained. 

“And if you look down at the ground, you actually see the constellations that are in Australia, which is super weird and super fun,” he said. “The phone doesn’t really know, it just knows that if you look that way, those are the stars and the constellations.” 

A screenshot of the Eagle constellation, showing the stars in the sky, and the 17th century illustration, captured from the Star Chart AR app used in the Observétoiles augmented reality headsets. (Screenshot from Star Chart AR)

Fontana later contacted National Geographic, which got on board with the project, and he worked with the municipality of Sutton to use narrower beam LED lights in town to reduce light pollution, and Au Diable Vert became a dark sky preservation zone.

“It’s been a big adventure,” Fontana said. 

From the amphitheatre, people can see dozens of satellites, and on most nights, the Milky Way shines bright and looks almost 3D.

“It really is an astoundingly dark sky, which is amazing,” Fontana said. 

Participants Eric Fournier and Andreane Asselin said they heard about Observétoiles online and decided to stay at Au Diable Vert for a few nights. 

“The stars showed up,” Fournier said.

“It was better [than expected],” he said. “It was really the presentation that made a big difference.” 

Finding the right staff

Fournier said an unexpected hurdle was finding astronomers who would be willing to give the presentations. 

“I posted it, and I thought I was going to be flooded, but I was having a very hard time,” he said, explaining he tried to recruit staff at university space programs. 

“I spoke to someone who told me astronomers don’t know anything about stars and constellations,” he said.

“They study quasars, and black holes and the time continuum, and they study them in super detail, and just because they’re working in the sky all the time doesn’t mean they know the history of the constellations and the First Nations and the stories.” 

Once the technology was up and running, Fontana said he was lucky to find amateur astronomers who knew all about the planets and the constellations, and they were able to put a presentation together. 

The dark skies in Sutton are perfect for stargazing. (Submitted by Sophie Chagnon)

Edu-tainment

“Once you do something a couple times even as a guest, once you use the headset a few times, you know when you’re in your backyard at 9 or 10 o’clock, you’ll be able to see those constellations without the headset, so it’s really a learning activity, edu-tainment, if you will,” Fontana said. 

“It’s been satisfying to see it come together, and it’s fun to have something local be recognized in so many other places,” he added. 

Sophie Chagnon has been working at Au Diable Vert for the better part of a decade, first as a summer student, and then full time during the summers. 

“It’s been really exciting and quite interesting to learn about the stars I’ve seen my whole life,” she said. 

Chagnon said every year there’s a new fact she learns that sticks with her, such as the days of the week being named after the planets in our solar system. 

Fontana said the team’s been fortunate that Observétoiles is in many ways a post-COVID-19 idea, where participants can be distanced and outside in the fresh air.

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NASA spots double crater on Moon caused by mystery rocket crash – ZDNet

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A rocket body impacted the Moon on March 4, 2022, creating a double crater.

Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Astronomers have finally identified the impact site of a mystery rocket that curiously created two craters on the dark side of the Moon. 

The rocket part hit the Moon on March 4, but astronomers only reported the discovery of the impact site last week. There’s now an eastern crater on the Moon about 18 meters in diameter (19.5 yards) that’s superimposed on a western crater measuring 16 meters in diameter (17.5 yards). 

Innovation

According to NASA, the double crater may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end. So far, no other rocket crashes on the Moon have created double craters, even though Apollo SIV-B craters were larger. 

SEE: NASA’s Mars helicopter has a problem. This clever software trick could fix it

Neither NASA nor any other astronomers have been able to confirm which nation or company’s rocket it was. 

“Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank,” said Mark Robinson, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, in a NASA press release. 

“Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity.” 

Robinson is also the principal investigator for the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and a new NASA lunar-imaging experiment called ShadowCam. 

Per the New York Times, there was speculation in January that the rocket part was the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 that was launched in 2015 on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for its “DSCOVR” Deep Space Climate Observatory project. But that was later ruled out.  

Bill Gray, the developer of Project Pluto astronomical software, first spotted the rocket in January and was tracking it as it approached the Moon. 

SEE: NASA delays its Psyche asteroid mission

He’d posited in January, as reported by Ars Technica, that it was the Falcon 9 part, but a NASA engineer said the launch trajectory didn’t fit with the orbit of the rocket. 

Gray later concluded the likely candidate was a Long March 3C rocket launched from China in 2014. 

But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a statement on February 21 that “the upper stage of the rocket related to the Chang’e-5 mission entered into Earth’s atmosphere and completely burned up”. 

Gray disagrees with China’s assessment and thinks it got “two different, but similarly named, lunar missions mixed up”.  

He also argues some official agency like the US Space Force, or potentially some international agency, should be tracking space junk in far-away space, not just objects like astroids in lower orbit.  

“Many more spacecraft are now going into high orbits, and some of them will be taking crews to the moon. Such junk will no longer be merely an annoyance to a small group of astronomers,” wrote Gray on his Project Pluto blog.

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G2V Optics soars on aerospace opportunities – Taproot Edmonton

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G2V Optics has sent solar simulators to NASA to help test a spacecraft that aims to solve Earth’s growing space-junk problem. It’s the latest success in the Edmonton-based company’s evolution toward using its “Engineered Sunlight” technology to help aerospace organizations know what to expect from the sun once they get their devices into orbit.

“It’s a huge project, and … a fantastic feather in the cap of everybody in our team who worked on it,” G2V Optics CEO Ryan Tucker told Taproot. “And I think an awesome thing for Edmonton and our technology.”

G2V Optics has received US$822,100 in contracts from NASA since 2021. This project, the culmination of a two-year procurement process, is for the testing of OSAM-1, a spacecraft that is scheduled to be launched in 2026 to service Landsat 7, a satellite that is past its prime. If OSAM-1 can successfully dock with Landsat 7 and refuel it, then NASA will be a step closer to increasing the life expectancy of satellites, even those that were not designed to be serviced in orbit, and decrease the number of out-of-commission craft at risk of smashing into each other around our planet.

This is not the first foray into the space business for G2V Optics. In addition to a previous contract with NASA laboratories, the company has been working with the Centre nationale d’études spatiales (CNES) in France to enable the testing of technology involved in the 2024 Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, in which a rover will land on Phobos and fly by Deimos.

“We don’t put anything into space. But we’re creating all the photons to make sure that everything works when they send it there,” Tucker said, noting that it’s fun to have a preview of the space research going on. “We kind of get to peek behind the curtain of these really interesting and exciting space exploration missions before they become public.”

Space is not where G2V Optics started when it was founded in 2015. After founder and CTO Michael Taschuk first developed the company’s light-emitting diode technology at the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta, its first applications tended to be in food production, specifically to maximize the efficacy of vertical farming.

“From a technical perspective, (we) did remarkable things,” Tucker said. “We were able to grow 30% more biomass with the same amount of energy and improve what was possible by using the complexity of our technology. But we realized that we were too early for that market … it’s such a nascent industry that’s dealing with its own challenges around scaling.”

At the same time, solar cell researchers and aerospace companies were ready for what G2V makes.

“We all of a sudden started working in this sector, with this more complex requirement, that was a perfect fit for what we had developed,” Tucker said. “That’s the traction that you’re looking for, right? Your job as a startup is to find that fit. And it wasn’t exactly where we thought it was. But we were, I like to think, smart enough to listen to it and to chase it when we found it.”

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NASA rocket launches to test new orbit for moon missions – CBC News

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NASA wants to experiment with a new orbit around the moon that it hopes to use in the coming years to once again land astronauts on the lunar surface.

So it is sending up a test satellite from New Zealand. The initial stages of the launch went according to plan late Tuesday, with the rocket carrying the satellite reaching space.

If the rest of the mission is successful, the CAPSTONE CubeSat satellite — only about the size of a microwave oven — will be the first to take the new path around the moon and will send back vital information for at least six months.

Technically, the new orbit is called a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It’s a stretched-out egg shape with one end passing close to the moon and the other far from it.

Imagine stretching a rubber band back from your thumb. Your thumb would represent the moon and the rubber band the flight path.

“It will have equilibrium. Poise. Balance,” NASA wrote on its website. “This pathfinding CubeSat will practically be able to kick back and rest in a gravitational sweet spot in space — where the pull of gravity from Earth and the Moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit.”

Eventually, NASA plans to put a space station called Gateway into the orbital path, from which astronauts can descend to the moon’s surface as part of its Artemis program.

Group effort

For the satellite mission, NASA teamed up with two commercial companies. California-based Rocket Lab launched the rocket carrying the satellite, which in turn is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space.

The mission came together relatively quickly and cheaply for NASA, with the total mission cost put at $32.7 million.

Getting the 25-kilogram satellite into orbit will take more than four months and be done in three stages.

First, Rocket Lab’s small Electron rocket launched from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Just nine minutes later, the second stage called Photon separated and went into orbit around Earth. Over the next five days, Photon’s engines are scheduled to fire periodically to raise its orbit further and further from Earth.

Six days after the launch, Photon’s engines will fire a final time, allowing it to escape Earth’s orbit and head for the moon.

Photon will then release the satellite, which has its own small propulsion system but which won’t use much energy as it cruises toward the moon over four months, with a few planned trajectory course corrections along the way.

“Perfect Electron launch!” Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck tweeted Tuesday. “Lunar photon is in Low Earth Orbit.”

Rocket Lab spokesperson Morgan Bailey said it was the most ambitious and complex mission it has undertaken so far and comes after more than two years of work with NASA and Advanced Space. She said it will be the first time Rocket Lab has tested its HyperCurie engine that will be used to power Photon.

“Certainly lots of hard problems to solve along the way, but we’ve ticked them off one by one, and made it to launch day,” Bailey said.

Bailey said one of the advantages of the orbit is that, theoretically, a space station should be able to maintain continuous communication with Earth because it will avoid being eclipsed by the moon.

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