Welcome to the Mastrianni Web Site

Welcome to our web site. Here you'll find information on who we are and what we do. Use the links on the left side of the page to navigate the site.

Debra Mastrianni is an award-winning quilter and designer who specializes in unique, one-of-a-kind quilt designs and specialty items such as Hebrew wimples. With a background in computer graphics programming and fashion design, she is able to leverage the capabilities of various graphics software to help create unique qulting designs. You can browse through a gallery of her quilts and contact her if you're interested in having some quilting done.

I'm a computer scientist, researcher, instructor, and programmer with many years of experience designing and writing software for mobile devices, enterprise systems, cloud systems and services, realtime data acquisition, device drivers, graphics, embedded systems, database technologies, medical imaging systems, and airborne flight controls.

crab nebula

I'm hooked on astrophysics, thanks to a professor who showed me the stars (Thank you, Bob!). I wrote a tiny little paper on cosmic inflation and I've been lost in the cosmos since. I read everything I can from the likes of Brian Greene, Andrei Linde, Paul Steinhardt, Ed Whitten, and Stephen Hawking. I would love to really understand dark matter, string theory, and parallel universes. My biggest disappointment in life is that I was born several thousands of years too early.

The Crab Nebula (courtesy NASA)

Humans are essentially insignificant. Many of us go to work each day fighting traffic, struggling to acheive financial and social success. We think of ourselves as the center of our universe, the masters of our planet. Yet the Earth is so small that explorers from another planet or solar system would likely miss our planet entirely. Even the galaxy which we are part of - the Milky Way, which is some 120,000 light years in diameter - is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. The closest galaxy to us, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years from Earth. It's so far away that a radio signal sent from the Andromeda galaxy 2.5 million years ago would just be reaching us today. If there were beings there able to observe the Earth today, they would see it as it was 2.5 million years ago. It is estimated that the Andromeda galaxy contains over one trillion (1012) stars. Edwin Hubble showed us that the universe is continuing to expand. How fast? Using Hubble's constant, the inverse appears to be expanding at a rate of approximately 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec.

What does that mean to us on Earth? The Earth has only been around for some 4.5 billion years, formed out of stellar dust and gas that accumulated after the Sun was formed. It will likely sustain life for another 4 billion years or so until the Sun eventually uses up all its hydrogen and becomes a red giant. I probably won't be around to see the end, but it is fascinating to think about. Compared to other celestial objects, the Earth is just a pesky speck of dust. The red supergiant star Betelgeuse, part of the constellation Orion, with a diameter of approximately .05 arcseconds is almost as large as the entire Milky Way. Yet Betelgeuse is only one of the billions of stars in the observable universe. The Earth, with its 6,371km diameter, is 109 times smaller than the Sun and 11 times smaller than Jupiter. While our Milky Way is 120,000 light years in diameter, it is only one of the trillions of galaxies in the observable universe, some of which are 325,000 light years in diameter and separated from each other by trillions of light years. There are likely over 200 million stars in the Milky Way. Many of these stars have planets orbiting them. While many of these planets don't lie in the so-called Goldilocks zone, there are probably millions of them that do. The search for the 'Goldilocks' planets continues. Without a way to travel faster than the speed of light, however, it is unlikely that we'll be ever able to look outside our own galaxy.

It is remarkable that all of the ingredients necessary for life as we know it have come together on this tiny planet and have allowed us to evolve. In our solar system, we are indeed special. We have not found life in any of the other planets. Yet despite our good fortune, we continue to demonstrate our ignorance and stupidity. We butcher our own species to possess what they have. We pursue wealth and power insterad of knowledge and understanding. Our history is filled with wars. So many have died for the sake of religious or political differences. We glorify soldiers and military leaders, and elevate them to lofty positions of power while our poor go hungry and remain homeless. We strip the planet of its natural resources, and polute it with our garbage.

It's no wonder aliens have not stopped by to say 'hello' on their quest to find intelligent life. One look at the people of Earth and they would determine it isn't worth the effort. There's no intelligent life down here. Carl Sagan, who unfortunately died way too young. Carl summed it up perfectly when he said

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emporers so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."

--Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Eintsein captured our folly in his statement.

"Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former."

For thousands of years we have been fed the absurd doctrine of religion by those who would seek to profit from the power and wealth associated with a following of 'believers'. We've been shoveled so much myth and fantasy that it is difficult for most folks to ignore the salient facts. The notion that humans are special; that we've been created in the image of some sort of divine creature or god, that this god created the world (presumably the Earth, the sun, the planets, the solar system, and the galaxy) in six days is so absurd that it borders on complete and utter nonsense. When the Church indicted Galileo, they declared:

"The doctrine that the earth is neither the center of the universe nor immovable, but moves even with a daily rotation, is absurd, and both psychologically and theologically false, and at the least an error of faith".

Modern technology has allowed us to observe the rotation of the planets around the sun and the position of our own solar system in the Milky Way galaxy. Images from the Hubbell telescope have revealed the existence of other stars, planets, and galaxies. We know that the Milky Way is only one of perhaps 400 billion galaxies in the visible universe, and that within these galaxies are millions of stars similar to our sun with planets that orbit them. How, then, can anyone buy into the silly notion that some divine being created the Earth, and humans in the Creator's image?


NASA Releases Images of Earth Taken By Distant Spacecraft (Courtesy NASA)

WASHINGTON -- Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space. NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet. In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots -- Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn's rings. It was the first time Cassini's highest- resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects. It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet's portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated. "We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth." Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun. A camera's sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same. Cassini was able to take this image because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft's point of view and most of the light was blocked. A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn's rings, which scientists are assembling. This image is not expect to be available for several weeks because of the time-consuming challenges involved in blending images taken in changing geometry and at vastly different light levels, with faint and extraordinarily bright targets side by side. "It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "The whole event underscores for me our 'coming of age' as planetary explorers." In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel, but appear very large because they are overexposed. Long exposures are required to capture as much light as possible from potentially dim objects. Consequently, bright objects in the field of view become saturated and appear artificially large. "That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation's stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration," said MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There's no place like home."

To view the Earth images visit: http://go.nasa.gov/1383AHq

NASA Rover Gets Movie as a Mars Moon Passes Another (Courtesy NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. -- The larger of the two moons of Mars, Phobos, passes directly in front of the other, Deimos, in a new series of sky-watching images from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. A video clip assembled from the images is at


Large craters on Phobos are clearly visible in these images from the surface of Mars. No previous images from missions on the surface caught one moon eclipsing the other. The telephoto-lens camera of Curiosity's two-camera Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument recorded the images on Aug. 1. Some of the full-resolution frames were not downlinked until more than a week later, in the data-transmission queue behind higher-priority images being used for planning the rover's drives. These observations of Phobos and Deimos help researchers make knowledge of the moons' orbits even more precise. "The ultimate goal is to improve orbit knowledge enough that we can improve the measurement of the tides Phobos raises on the Martian solid surface, giving knowledge of the Martian interior," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. He is a co-investigator for use of Curiosity's Mastcam. "We may also get data good enough to detect density variations within Phobos and to determine if Deimos' orbit is systematically changing." The orbit of Phobos is very slowly getting closer to Mars. The orbit of Deimos may be slowly getting farther from the planet. Lemmon and colleagues determined that the two moons would be visible crossing paths at a time shortly after Curiosity would be awake for transmitting data to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for relay to Earth. That made the moon observations feasible with minimal impact on the rover's energy budget. Although Phobos has a diameter less than one percent the diameter of Earth's moon, Phobos also orbits much closer to Mars than our moon's distance from Earth. As seen from the surface of Mars, Phobos looks about half as wide as what Earth's moon looks like to viewers on Earth. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project is using Curiosity and the rover's 10 science instruments to investigate the environmental history within Gale Crater, a location where the project has found that conditions were long ago favorable for microbial life. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Curiosity's Mastcam. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington and built the Navigation Camera and the rover.

Hubble Finds 'Smoking Gun' After Gamma-Ray Blast (Courtesy NASA)

Hubble spotted the outburst while looking at the aftermath of a short- duration gamma-ray burst, a mysterious flash of intense high-energy radiation that appears from random directions in space. Short-duration blasts last at most a few seconds. They sometimes, however, produce faint afterglows in visible and near-infrared light that continue for several hours or days and help astronomers pinpoint the exact location of the burst. In the image at left, the galaxy in the center produced the gamma-ray burst, designated GRB 130603B. The galaxy, cataloged as SDS J112848.22+170418.5, resides almost 4 billion light-years away. A probe of the galaxy with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 13, 2013, revealed a glow in near-infrared light at the source of the gamma-ray burst, shown in the image at top, right. When Hubble observed the same location on July 3, the source had faded, shown in the image at below, right. The fading glow provided key evidence that it was the decaying fireball of a new type of stellar blast called a kilonova. Kilonovas are about 1,000 times brighter than a nova, which is caused by the eruption of a white dwarf. But they are 1/10th to 1/100th the brightness of a typical supernova, the self-detonation of a massive star.