Five years in space for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

In honor of SDO’s fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. Watch the movie to see giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun’s surface.

The imagery is an example of the kind of data that SDO provides to scientists. By watching the sun in different wavelengths – and therefore different temperatures – scientists can watch how material courses through the corona, which holds clues to what causes eruptions on the sun, what heats the sun’s atmosphere up to 1,000 times hotter than its surface, and why the sun’s magnetic fields are constantly on the move.

Five years into its mission, SDO continues to send back tantalizing imagery to incite scientists’ curiosity. For example, in late 2014, SDO captured imagery of the largest sun spots seen since 1995 as well as a torrent of intense solar flares. Solar flares are bursts of light, energy and X-rays. They can occur by themselves or can be accompanied by what’s called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, in which a giant cloud of solar material erupts off the sun, achieves escape velocity and heads off into space. In this case, the sun produced only flares and no CMEs, which, while not unheard of, is somewhat unusual for flares of that size. Scientists are looking at that data now to see if they can determine what circumstances might have led to flares eruptions alone.

Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program’s goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

Time Lapse Sky Shows Earth Rotating Instead of Stars

The time-lapse starfield has been edited to show the rotation of the Earth from the point of view of the stars.

Here is a minor edit to the excellent video by Stephane Guisard and Jose Francisco Salgado, posted at Nicolas Bustos channel. Visit for more about the European Southern Observatory.

Credits for original video:
ESO/José Francisco Salgado (
ESO/S. Guisard (

At is the original video by Guisard and Salgado.

At and are more pictures from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) located in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Music: “Arcadia” available at, copyright by Kevin Macleod.

If you like this, you may like at some intriguing and well-executed art.


The Future of Cryptography – quantum random number generation (QRNG)




Quantum random number generation on a mobile phone Bruno Sanguinetti,∗ Anthony Martin, Hugo Zbinden, and Nicolas Gisin Group of Applied Physics, University of Geneva, Switzerland Quantum random number generators (QRNGs) can significantly improve the security of cryptographic protocols, by ensuring that generated keys cannot be predicted. However, the cost, size, and power requirements of current QRNGs has prevented them from becoming widespread. In the meantime, the quality of the cameras integrated in mobile telephones has improved significantly, so that now they are sensitive to light at the few-photon level. We demonstrate how these can be used to generate random numbers of a quantum origin. INTRODUCTION The security of cryptographic protocols, both classical and quantum, relies on the generation of high quality random numbers. For example, classical asymmetric key protocols such as DSA [1], RSA [2, 3] and DiffieHellman [4], use random numbers, tested for primality, to generate their keys. Another example is the unconditionally secure one-time pad protocol, which needs a string of perfectly random numbers of a length equal to that of the data to be encrypted. The main limitation of this protocol is the requirement for key exchange. Quantum key distribution offer a way to generate two secure keys at distant locations, but its implementation also requires a vast quantity of random numbers [5]. Famously, Kerckhoffs’s principle [6] states that the security of a cypher must reside entirely in the key. It is therefore of particular importance that the key is secure, which in practice requires it to be chosen at random. In the past, weaknesses in random number generation [7] have resulted in the breaking of a number of systems and protocols, such as operating system security [8], communication protocols [9], digital rights management [10] and financial systems [11]. High quality random numbers are hard to produce, in particular they cannot be generated by a deterministic algorithm such as a computer program. To ensure the randomness, and importantly, the uniqueness of the generated bit string, a physical random number generator is required [12, 13]. Of particular interest are quantum random number generators (QRNGs)[14], which by their nature produce a string which cannot be predicted, even if an attacker has complete information on the device. QRNGs have typically been based on specialised hardware, such as single photon sources and detectors [15–17] or homodyne detection [18, 19]. Image sensors have been used to generate random numbers of classical origin by extracting information from a moving scene, e.g. a lava lamp, or using sensor readout noise [20] but their performance both in terms of randomness and throughput has been low. Here we show how random numbers of a quantum origin can be extracted from an illuminated image sensor. Nowadays, cameras are integrated in many common devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptops.

In the first part of this paper we describe the concept of our system, including its various entropy sources and how the entropy of quantum origin can be extracted. In the second part, we characterise two different cameras for random number generation. Finally we present our results and test the generated random numbers.

Media References;

Physicists create cryptographically-secure random numbers using only a discontinued Nokia phone and the physical properties of light.

“It’s actually impossible for a computer, following a predefined algorithm, to generate a truly random number,” says Bruno Sanguinetti, as physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. And any technique to try to get a machine to spit out a random number is duplicable, leaving room for someone to crack the code to the random number generator and get to your data.

“Rather, if you want to generate proper random numbers, you must rely on some randomness that originates from the outside world,” Sanguinetti says.

The gold standard for this are methods that rely on the bizarre, probabilistic world of quantum mechanics, the counterintuitive physics of tiny things. Unfortunately, all of today’s methods that perform quantum random number generation (QRNG) are expensive and require bulky lab equipment.

However, Sanguinetti and his colleagues have just developed a simple, inexpensive QRNG method which relies on little more than an obsolete Nokia cellphone and a light. Yes. You read that correctly.

Paperweight, or Cryptographic Tool?

In an upcoming article in the journal Physical Review X, Sanguinetti and his colleges outlined their method to produce 1 megabit of random numbers per second, and they do it by exploiting the randomness inherent in light itself. According to quantum mechanics, it’s impossible to predict exactly when an atom will emit a particle of light. And over a given amount of time, the exact number of light particles any light source will produce is also inherently random.

With that in mind, the physicists took a Nokia N9 and shined a laser on its 8-megapixel camera lens. Like any modern camera phones, the discontinued N9 is sensitive enough to detect excruciatingly small changes in light. And because of the natural quantum variation we just mentioned, each pixel of the camera’s lens gets smacked a different number of photons at any given time. Using the N9’s open source software, the physicists converted the varying pixel data into a digital output. Ta-da: a steady stream of random numbers.

To check their work, the physicists tested this setup on a much better camera: an ATIK 383L, which also has 8 megapixels but is designed for astronomical use. They also pushed their data set past several of the best mathematical assays to see how random their numbers really were.

One line from the upcoming paper says it all: “If everybody on earth used such a device constantly at 1 Gbps, it would take 1060 times the age of the universe for one to notice a deviation from a perfectly random bit string.”

How Random Is Random?

“This really shows the potential feasibility for QRNG on a chip,” says Feihu Xu, a physicist who specializes in QRNG at the University of Toronto and was not involved in this work. Xu says that all the requisite parts of this technology should be able shrink down to the micro scale (without the need of a bulky Nokia phone). This could lead to a method of easily creating cryptographically-secure random numbers on phones or other mobile devices.

Yet a couple of big questions about this technique linger. For one thing, Xu says, while he does not doubt the robustness of the random number dataset produced by the Swiss team’s technique, it may be premature to claim that the technology’s randomness is due to quantum behavior. “This is just because no test or method currently exists that can verify how much of randomness can actually be attributed to quantum effects, and not other physical interactions,” he says. There’s just no way to know for sure.

Secondly, he says, scientists must refine the data extraction method (the step the Swiss team took when they converted the pixel data from the phone into a digital output) before anyone can claim this technology to be purely, truly random—and not just, you know, really, really, 1060 times the age of the universe random.

There is a difference.


There’s No Up or Down in Space? Not So Fast; The Evidence from Planetary Nebulae

Bipolar Planetary Nebula PN Hb 12


Planetary nebulae, the gorgeous clouds of gas puffed by stars in their last, gasping moments of life, seem to be mysteriously aligned with the plane of the Milky Way—something that Bryan Rees, an astronomer at the University of Manchester in England, and lead author of a paper in an upcoming issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society calls “quite unexpected.”


Alignment of the Angular Momentum Vectors of Planetary
Nebulae in the Galactic Bulge
B. Rees and A. A. Zijlstra

We use high-resolution H α images of 130 planetary nebulae (PNe) to investigate whether there is a preferred orientation for PNe within the Galactic Bulge. The orientations of the full sample have an uniform distribution. However, at a significance level of 0.01, there is evidence for a non-uniform distribution for those planetary nebulae with evident bipolar morphology. If we assume that the bipolar PNe have an unimodal distribution of the polar axis in Galactic coordinates, the mean Galactic position angle is consistent with 90◦, i.e. along the Galactic plane, and the significance level is better
than 0.001 (the equivalent of a 3.7σ significance level for a Gaussian distribution).
The shapes of PNe are related to angular momentum of the original star or stellar system, where the long axis of the nebula measures the angular momentum vector.
In old, low-mass stars, the angular momentum is largely in binary orbital motion.
Consequently, the alignment of bipolar nebulae that we have found indicates that the orbital planes of the binary systems are oriented perpendicular to the Galactic plane.
We propose that strong magnetic fields aligned along the Galactic plane acted during the original star formation process to slow the contraction of the star forming cloud in the direction perpendicular to the plane. This would have produced a propensity for wider binaries with higher angular momentum with orbital axes parallel to the Galactic plane. Our findings provide the first indication of a strong, organized magnetic field along the Galactic plane that impacted on the angular momentum vectors of the resulting stellar population.