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Orbiter 2005 Has Been Released

Martin Schweiger has just released a new version of Orbiter, the well-known space simulator.

The new version features a new help system, new 3D cockpits, increased physics realism and new, smoother graphics.

Be sure to check it out at

Did I Tell You I Once Flew To Mars?

I did. I flew to Mars and beyond.

It all happened with Martin Schweiger's excellent Orbiter simulator. It is a simulator that quite accurately simulates space travel, exactly as it should be according to Newtonian physics. Which means that if you want to travel to the moon, you can't just aim for it and blast away, you have to set up a Hohmann transfer orbit and carefully plan ahead. For more information, see the excellent Basics Of Space Flight at JPL.

But I decided to go to Mars. This is a little complicated, because you have two gravitational sources pulling at your ship; the Earth and the Sun. But I got out about halfway to the moon, so the pull from Earth wasn't that severe, aligned the orbital planes to Mars, calculated the correct burn time and angles; and then... I took off.

It must have taken about half an hour (even at 10000x speed) to get there. In real life, it takes about six months. And then I made some course corrections on the way; kept track of the orbit; slowly, slowly watched Mars creeping ever closer; and then when the time was right I made a heck of a retrograde burn. And then, I slowly descended towards Mars, adjusting the orbit as I went. And finally, I touched ground.

I cannot describe the feelings I felt at that moment. I stood on Mars, and watched up against the starry sky, and saw that little blue dot in the sky that was home; and I knew I had never been further away. The distance was enormous, and I felt so homesick that it amazed me. The earth was so far away.

Finding another spacecraft with a bit of more punch to it (experimental simulation engines), I also traveled to Jupiter and Saturn. I still remember standing on one of the moons and looking up towards Saturn and it's thin, frail rings covering the entire sky above me. Breathtaking is too weak a word to describe the enormous beauty of the scene.

I never went to Uranus, Neptune or Pluto. They are simply too far away to be reached in reasonable time, even with the simulator. And beyond that is emptiness... Space, with no words to describe or comprehend the vastness of its dimensions. The nearest star 4.3 light years away; the entire galaxy is about 100.000 light years across; and then comes the next galaxy a million light years away from us, and the next, and the next... Then there's the Local Group of galaxy clusters we belong to, and then we have the whole wide band of galaxies and galaxy clusters laid out before us along the central portions of the recognizable - or understandable - universe; glittering like a million billion bright pearls strewn across the dark canvas of night.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Eccl 3:11, NIV)

These Are Big Stars, Duh

BBC News reports that scientists have identified the three single largest stars known to mankind.

The largest is somewhere around 1.5 billion kilometers across. This means that if our sun was this size, it would extend beyond Jupiter.

This is exactly why I like astronomy and astrophysics. A ball of hydrogen, set on fire in the single largest fusion explosion known to the universe, of such enormous size that it swallows the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter... I think it's safe to say that's impossible.

Simply impossible.

And yet... it's out there...

In The Highways And The Byways

I had a funny adventure last night. We drove up from headquarters, which is about 100 miles away, yesterday evening; I was going with two colleagues who live nearby. Having once gotten back to Falköping, where they live, I switched cars to my own and drove home.

In the car, I started fiddling around with my MP3 player to listen to music, and it was all dark outside, so I pretty much drove without thinking. I made a left when I was supposed to make a left, and went on driving home. It's about 15 miles so I sang along with the music and yelled at the driver in front of me who did only 50 mph on the highway.

I noticed along the way that the surroundings were a bit different, but I thought "okay, it's probably because it's dark". But I started going into a suburb of some sort that I thought I recognized, so I knew everything was fine.

It was when I saw the sign "SKARA 7" that I started wondering where the heck I was. It didn't take long before I figured out that I was driving to the wrong city. After being momentarily and totally disoriented that I figured out I must have missed a turn. And then I remembered that leaving Falköping you make a right, then left.

My error had taken me 90 degrees in the wrong direction. :)

It wasn't a long extra drive, though, just 10 minutes or something because the cities are that close to each other. But I laughed so hard inside my little car when I found out what I had done.

And then, going over the mountain (which is on the way home from Skara), I started listening to a fugue by Bach on the stereo. Now, the thing is that my left side speakers in the car have never worked; nor have I really bothered to fix it. But as the stereo started playing those amazingly low and powerful tones that only an organ can produce, suddenly the car started hissing and screeching. I thought it was about to break in pieces. And suddenly ... lo and behold! The left side speakers sputter to life! Suddenly my car echoes with crystal clear, crisp music!

Those low tones must have unjammed some part of the speaker system. Totally unbelievable - it's a miracle!

The moral of the story is that Bach is good for many things.


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