Ariel Waldman recently visited the New Relic Portland offices to present a FutureTalk on the fascinating topic of “hacking space.” Ariel is the founder of Spacehack.org, an online directory of programs and opportunities for hackers, developers, and even people without a formal science background to participate firsthand in space exploration.
Ariel opened her talk with some highlights of early 20th-century space exploration. She told the audience how in 1924 astronomer Edwin Hubble determined that a “blob” he saw in the sky was in fact another galaxy (known today as the Andromeda Galaxy). Hubble’s discovery was the first time human beings understood that our own Milky Way galaxy was but one of the billions of galaxies that make up the universe.
Black holes, the hackers of space matter
Ariel said that among all the “unknowns” in the universe, those she finds most fascinating are black holes. Despite their sinister reputation, black holes are actually creative forces of nature, and there are as many as 100 million within our galaxy alone.
Because even light cannot escape from its powerful gravitational pull, we can’t see a black hole itself, but we can detect a black hole’s “vomit”—the space dust and space gas it spews that will later form new planets, new stars, and even entire new galaxies. Because of this, Ariel considers black holes to be the “hackers” of space: they sample things around them, mash them up, and then spit them back out to create sparks for future things.
To NASA—and beyond
Ariel’s journey into outer space was an unconventional one. She left school with a degree not in astrophysics but in graphic design. In 2008 she watched the documentary When We Left Earth, about the early days of NASA. For her, one key takeaway from the film was that, back then, a lot of people working on the space program were merely figuring things out as they went along. In a sense they were more “space hackers” than rocket scientists.
Ariel was so inspired by this film that she contacted NASA and volunteered to help in any capacity that she could. Amazingly, this actually led to a job with the space agency. She said, “One of the most important things I ended up learning while I was at NASA was that I didn’t need to work at NASA to explore space.” So she left the agency to start Spacehack.org, dedicated to democratizing the exploration of space for anyone who wants to contribute.
Some of the exciting projects Ariel highlighted include:
- PolAres Program / Austrian Space Forum—An open source project to develop as much research as possible to help eventual Martian colonists. This group is looking for help from a wide variety of people—everyone from lawyers to Web developers.
- The Milky Way Project—Review images captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope to help classify different types of stars and participate in research about how they form.
- Galaxy Zoo Radio—Help discover black holes in the galaxy by looking for accretion disks or black hole “vomit.”
To learn more about these and other exciting space research projects that you can be a part of, listen to Ariel’s full FutureTalk presentation below:
For more information about our FutureTalks series, make sure to join our Meetup group, New Relic FutureTalks PDX, and follow us on Twitter @newrelic for the latest developments and updates on upcoming events. We’re especially excited about our Networking Night/Women Who Code partnership event on June 8 as well as a talk by Michele Titolo on July 13.
See you in Portland!