A Zome Torus, Before and After Adding Dodecahedra, As a Model for a Pulsar’s Accretion Disk and Radiation Jets

zome torus

I’ve been using Zometools, available at http://www.zometool.com, to build interesting geometrical shapes since long before I started this blog. I recently found this: a 2011 photograph of myself, holding a twisting Zome torus. While I don’t remember who was holding the camera, I do remember that the torus is made of adjacent parallelopipeds.

After building this torus, I imagined it as an accretion disk surrounding a neutron star — and now I am imagining it as a neutron star on the verge of gaining enough mass, from the accretion disk, to become a black hole. Such an object would emit intense jets of high-energy radiation in opposite directions, along the rotational axis of this neutron star. These jets of radiation are perpendicular to the plane in which the rotation takes place, and these two opposite directions are made visible in this manner, below, as two dodecahedra pointing out, on opposite sides of the torus — at least if my model is held at just the right angle, relative to the direction the camera is pointing, as shown below, to create an illusion of perpendicularity. The two photographs were taken on the same day. 

zome torus with dodecahedra 2011

In reality, of course, these jets of radiation would be much narrower than this photograph suggests, and the accretion disk would be flatter and wider. When one of the radiation jets from such neutron stars just happens to periodically point at us, often at thousands of times per second, we call such rapidly-rotating objects pulsars. Fortunately for us, there are no pulsars near Earth.

It would take an extremely long time for a black hole to form, from a neutron star, in this manner. This is because most of the incoming mass and energy (mostly mass, from the accretion disk) leaves this thermodynamic system as outgoing mass and energy (mostly energy, in the radiation jets), mass and energy being equivalent via the most famous formula in all of science: E = mc².

When We Build Our Dyson Sphere, Let’s Not Use Enneagonal Antiprisms

Before an undertaking as great as building a Dyson Sphere, it’s a good idea to plan ahead first. This rotating image shows what my plan for an enneagonal-antiprism-based Dyson Sphere looked like, at the hemisphere stage. At this point, the best I could hope for is was three-fold dihedral symmetry.

Augmented 9- Antiprism

I didn’t get what I was hoping for, but only ended up with plain old three-fold polar symmetry, once my Dyson Sphere plan got at far as it could go without the unit enneagonal antiprisms running into each other. Polyhedra-obsessives tend to also be symmetry-obsessives, and this just isn’t good enough for me.

Augmented 9- Antiprism complete

If we filled in the gaps by creating the convex hull of the above complex of enneagonal antiprisms, in order to capture all the sun’s energy (and make our Dyson Sphere harder to see from outside it), here’s what this would look like, in false color (the real thing would be black) — and the convex hull of this Dyson Sphere design, in my opinion, especially when colored by number of sides per face, really reveals how bad an idea it would be to build our Dyson sphere in this way.

Dyson Sphere Convex hull

We could find ourselves laughed out of the Galactic Alliance if we built such a low-order-of-symmetry Dyson Sphere — so, please, don’t do it. On the other hand, please also stay away from geodesic spheres or their duals, the polyhedra which resemble fullerenes, for we certainly don’t want our Dyson Sphere looking like all the rest of them. We need to find something better, before construction begins. Perhaps a snub dodecahedron? But, if we use a chiral polyhedron, how do we decide which enantiomer to use?

[All three images of my not-good-enough Dyson Sphere plan were created using Stella 4d, which you can get for yourself at this website.]

On Binary Planets, and Binary Polyhedra

Faceted Augmented Icosa

This image of binary polyhedra of unequal size was, obviously, inspired by the double dwarf planet at the center of the Pluto / Charon system. The outer satellites also orbit Pluto and Charon’s common center of mass, or barycenter, which lies above Pluto’s surface. In the similar case of the Earth / Moon system, the barycenter stays within the interior of the larger body, the Earth.

I know of one other quasi-binary system in this solar system which involves a barycenter outside the larger body, but it isn’t one many would expect: it’s the Sun / Jupiter system. Both orbit their barycenter (or that of the whole solar system, more properly, but they are pretty much in the same place), Jupiter doing so at an average orbital radius of 5.2 AU — and the Sun doing so, staying opposite Jupiter, with an orbital radius which is slightly larger than the visible Sun itself. The Sun, therefore, orbits a point outside itself which is the gravitational center of the entire solar system.

Why don’t we notice this “wobble” in the Sun’s motion? Well, orbiting binary objects orbit their barycenters with equal orbital periods, as seen in the image above, where the orbital period of both the large, tightly-orbiting rhombicosidodecahedron, and the small, large-orbit icosahedron, is precisely eight seconds. In the case of the Sun / Jupiter system, the sun completes one complete Jupiter-induced wobble, in a tight ellipse, with their barycenter at one focus, but with an orbital period of one jovian year, which is just under twelve Earth years. If the Jovian-induced solar wobble were faster, it would be much more noticeable.

[Image credit: the picture of the orbiting polyhedra above was made with software called Stella 4d, available at this website.]

The First High-Resolution Images from Pluto Have Arrived, and They Bring a Major Mystery: Where Are the Impact Craters?


As new pics from the Pluto/Charon system become available, you can’t beat the image gallery at the New Horizons portion of NASA’s website to keep up with them, which is where I found this .gif file showing images of Pluto itself throughout the years. It culminates in the latest, and most detailed, image of any part of Pluto — a small portion of its surface. To see more of the latest pics, as they are released, I refer you to that web-page. NASA plans to keep it updated with the latest from the Pluto/Charon system, for months to come, as new images are transmitted, received, and processed.

The big surprise today is not the “heart of Pluto” that’s gotten so much press this week, but something newly discovered (and completely unexpected) with the latest small batch of new pics: on both Pluto and Charon, they can’t find a single impact crater. Not one. And that is just flat-out weird. Here, see for yourself (same image source): unexpected ice mountains, check; unexpectedly-smooth plains, check; craters — hey, the craters are missing!


According to everything we know, impact craters should be there. The ice mountains and numerous plains are mysteries, also, but it is the lack of craters which really has scientists puzzled this morning. Everyone expected to see lots of impact craters, myself included. Small worlds, so far from the sun, should have frozen internally long ago, based on present models, making them geologically dead, and therefore unable to “erase” impact craters (seen on dozens of other planets, dwarf planets, satellites, and asteroids) with surface-altering geological activity. This mass-erasure-of-craters happens on a only a few other solid bodies in the solar system, such as Earth, and Jupiter’s moon Io — both larger, and much warmer, than anything in the Pluto/Charon system. Some scientists are already going public with conjectures for the energy source needed to keep Pluto and Charon crater-free. However, I have yet to read any such conjecture which I find convincing, which is why I am not including them in this post. (Such guesswork is easy to find, though, here, among other places.)

On the other hand, the scientific community has had very little time, yet, to explain this new puzzle; there might be a convincing explanation out there by this time next week — or this could persist, as one of many mysteries in astronomy, for decades. At this point, it is too early to even venture a guess regarding when, if ever, this mystery will be solved.

Orcus and Vanth

There’s a binary dwarf-planet-candidate / large satellite pair, way out in the outer solar system, called Orcus and Vanth. Much like the “double dwarf planet” Pluto/Charon, and the other satellites in that system, Orcus and Vanth orbit the sun in a 3:2 resonance with Neptune, and this orbit crosses that of Neptune, as well. The Orcus/Vanth binary system is sometimes referred to as the “anti-Pluto,” because, unlike most “plutinos” (as such distant objects, in orbital resonance with Neptune, are called), Orcus and Vanth have a strange — and, so far, unexplained — relationship with the Pluto/Charon system. When Pluto and Charon are closest to the sun (perihelion), Orcus and Vanth are at their furthest from the sun (aphelion), and vice-versa. So far as I have been able to determine, this is not true for any other known plutinos. For more on the real Orcus and Vanth, please check this Wikipedia page.

Those are the scientific facts, as we know them . . . and now, it’s time for some silliness. On Facebook, recently, I mentioned that “Orcus” and “Vanth” really would make good names for comic book characters, but that I couldn’t decide what they should look like, nor what powers they should have. A discussion with some of my friends followed, and, together, we decided that Orcus should be a tough fighter-type, while “Vanth” sounded like a name for some sort of spell-caster. It didn’t take long before I decided I should visit one of the numerous create-your-own-comic-book-character websites, and go ahead and make quasi-anthropomorphized images of Orcus and Vanth — the characters, not the outer solar-system objects.

I used a website called Hero Machine for this diversionwhich you can find here. First, I created an image for a character named Orcus.


Unfortunately, I didn’t discover (until it was too late) that this website allows the user to change the background . . . and I didn’t want to re-make Orcus, so I went ahead and created an image of his companion, Vanth, instead.


I don’t have the time, nor the artistic talent, to write and illustrate actual comic book stories featuring this pair of characters . . . but perhaps someone will read this, and decide they want to take on such a project. That’s fine with me . . . but I want credit (in writing, each issue) for creating them, and, if the endeavor makes any money, I want at least 20% of the profits, and that’s if I have nothing more to do with creating Orcus and Vanth stories, beyond what is posted here. If I do have additional involvement, of course, we’ll need to carefully negotiate the terms of a contractual agreement. I consider 20% fair for simply creating images of this pair of characters, but actually co-creating stories would be something else altogether.

By the way, although Orcus certainly looks scarier, Vanth is actually the more formidable of the pair. She just pretends to play the “side-kick” role, in order to preserve the element of surprise, for situations when, during their adventures, Orcus finds himself in over his head, and Vanth then needs to really cut loose with the full extent of her abilities.

A Table of Known Masses for Numerous Objects in the Solar System, in Kilograms, Solar Masses, Jovian Masses, Terran Masses, and Lunar Masses

solar system object masses

The source of the information in the first two columns is this Wikipedia page. I calculated the numbers in the other columns, so any errors there are my own.

There are many other objects of known mass in the solar system, but I tried not to skip any, as I worked from larger-mass objects down toward those of smaller mass. Skipping some was necessary, though, for there are many objects (the likely dwarf planet Sedna is but one example) for which the mass is simply unknown. The next one I encountered after the asteroid Pallas did not have a name, but merely an alphanumerical designation, so I decided to stop there.

Star and Protostar

First, Protostar:

2012 protostar ic

In nature, protostars collapse under their own gravity until enough heat is generated to ignite nuclear fusion, at which point they become stars. The image above is my interpretation of a protostar, just before the moment it becomes a star. As for Star, my post-ignition interpretation, here it is:

2012 star ic

While I did just make these images, they are simply inverted-color versions of images I made back in 2012, using Geometer’s Sketchpad. Here are the original-color versions (which I don’t like as much, myself), presented in a smaller size. You may enlarge either or both with clicks, if you wish.

2012 protostar2012 star

A Dozen Triangula


This dodecahedron is adorned with images of the Triangulum Galaxy. The plural of “Triangulum” is “Triangula,” is it not?

Software credit:  this rotating image was created using Stella 4d: Polyhedron Navigator, which is available at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.

How to Distinguish Between the Waxing and Waning Moon, At a Glance


This is a waxing moon, meaning the sunlit portion we can see is growing. The outer curve also makes this view of the moon shaped more like the letter “D,” compared to the letter “C.” For the useful mnemonic here, remember that “D” stands for “developing.” D-shaped moons are in the waxing part of their cycle of phases, growing larger for about two weeks.

DGLater in the waxing portion of the moon’s cycle of phases, it becomes a gibbous moon — but retains its “D-like” shape. It is still slowly getting larger, approaching the full moon state.


Here is another gibbous moon, but it is shaped more like the letter “C” than the letter “D,” and, in this mnemonic, “C” stands for “concluding.” This moon’s sunlit portion is shrinking, moving away from fullness, towards the new moon state — in other words, it is a waning moon. All “C-shaped” moons, as viewed from Earth’s Northern hemisphere, are waning moons.


This crescent moon more closely resembles a “C” than a “D,” which is how I know, at a glance, that its phase cycle is concluding, and it is a waning crescent, soon to become invisible as a new moon.


This last picture shows the most difficult configuration to figure out:  the points of the crescent near the moon’s North and South poles both point up. Having them both point down would pose the same problem. Here’s the solution, though:  check to see which crescent-tip appears higher in the sky. In this case, it is the one on the left. That shifts the curve at the bottom of the moon (the one that is an actual moon-edge, rather than the terminator) slightly left-of-center, making the visible moon-edge more closely resemble a “C” than a “D.” This crescent moon, therefore, is a waning crescent.

Later addition:  as a commenter pointed out, below, this method does not work from Earth’s Southern hemisphere — in fact, in that half of the world, the “D”/”C” rule must be completely reversed, in order to work. To accomplish this, “D” could stand for “diminishing,” and “C” could stand for “commencing,” instead.

[Image/copyright note:  I did not take these photographs of the moon. They were found with a Google-search, and I chose images with no apparent signs of copyright. I am assuming, on that basis, that these images are not copyrighted — but, if I am wrong, I will replace them with other images, upon request.]

On the Direction of Motion of Spinning Polyhedra, the Rotating Earth, and Both the Rotation and Orbital Revolution of Other Objects in the Solar System

twistedIn which direction is the polyhedron above rotating? If you say “to the left,” you’re describing the direction faces are going when they pass right in front of you, on the side of the polyhedron which faces you. However, “to the left” won’t really do . . . for, if you consider the faces hidden on the side facing away from you, they’re going to the right. What’s more, both of these statements reverse themselves if you either turn your computer over, or stand upside-down and look at the screen. Also, if you do both these things, the situation re-reverses itself, which means it reverts to its original appearance.

Rotating objects are more often, however, described at rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. Even that, though, requires a frame of reference to be made clear. If one describes this polyhedron as rotating clockwise, what is actually meant is “rotating clockwise as viewed from above.” If you view this spinning polyhedron from below, however, it is spinning counterclockwise.

Since I live on a large, spinning ball of rock — of all solid objects in the solar system, Earth has the greatest mass and volume, both — I tend to classify rotating objects as having Earthlike or counter-Earthlike rotation, as well. Most objects in the Solar system rotate, and revolve, in the same direction as Earth, and this is consistent with current theoretical models of the formation of the Solar system from a large, rotating, gravitationally-contracting disk of dust and gas. The original proto-Solar system rotated in a certain direction, and the conservation of angular momentum has caused it to keep that same direction of spin for billions of years. Today, it shows up in the direction that planets orbit the sun, the direction that most moons orbit planets, and the direction that almost everything in the Solar system rotates on its own axis. Because one direction dominates, astronomers call it the “prograde” direction, with the small number of objects with rotation (or revolution, in the case of orbital motion) in the opposite direction designated as moving in the “retrograde” direction.

So which is which? Which non-astronomical directional terms, as used above when describing the spinning polyhedron there, should be used to describe the prograde rotation of Earth, its prograde orbital revolution around the sun, and the numerous other examples of prograde circular or elliptical motion of solar system objects? And, for the few “oddballs,” such as Neptune’s moon Triton, which non-astronomical terms should be used to describe retrogade motion? To find out, let’s take a look at Earth’s revolution around the Sun, and the Moon’s around the Earth, for those are prograde is well. This diagram is not to scale, and the view is from above the Solar, Terran, and Lunar North poles.


[Image found reblogged on Tumblr, creator unknown.]

Prograde (Earthlike) motion, then, means “counterclockwise, as viewed from above the North pole.” To describe retrograde (counter-Earthlike) motion, simply substitute “clockwise” for “counterclockwise,” or “South pole” for “North pole,” but not both. Here’s the spinning Earth, as viewed from the side:


[Image source: http://brianin3d.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/animated-gif-of-rotating-earth-via-povray/ ]

If you’ll go back and check the polyhedron at the top of this page, you’ll see that its spin is opposite that of this view of the Earth, and it was described as moving clockwise, viewed from above. That polyhedron, and the image of Earth above, would have the same direction of rotation, though, if either of them, but not both, were simply viewed upside-down, relative to the orientation shown.

Stella 4d, the software I use to make rotating polyhedral .gifs (such as the one that opened this post), then, has them spin, by default, in the same direction as the Earth — if the earth’s Southern hemisphere is on top! As I live in the Northern hemisphere, I wondered if that was deliberate, for the person who wrote Stella 4d, available at www.software3d.com/Stella.php, lives in Australia. Not being shy, I simply asked him if this were the case, and he answered that it was a 50/50 shot, and simply a coincidence that it came out the way it did, for he had not checked. He also told me how to make polyhedral .gifs which rotate as the Earth does, at least with the Northern hemisphere viewed at the top:  set the setting of Stella 4d to make .gifs with a negative number of rotations per .gif-loop. Sure enough, it works. Here’s an example of such a “prograde” polyhedron:

negative spin