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Irrationally useful: A celebration of Pi

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Team Pete celebrates Pi day, Macr 14, 2017.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Team Pete celebrates Pi day, Macr 14, 2017.

Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. -- Space operators across the Wing will be celebrating circles, orbits and ellipses by eating pie on March 14 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Pie at first glance may not have much in common with an orbit, the use of Pi in calculations for circular things is critically important to our mission.

“Pi is a constant used in various calculations primarily related to circles,” said Lt. Col. John Thien, 21st Operations Group deputy commander. “Pi Day is celebrated because the digits in the date March 14 or 3-14 represent the first 3 digits of Pi, 3.14. It is also a convenient excuse to eat lots of pie.”

The 21st Space Wing operates sensors around the globe to detect and track over 23,000 objects. As those objects circle the globe, Pi is used to calculate where the object will travel.

“The constant Pi is used throughout the Operations Group for calculations involving orbital specifications,” said Thien. “Included, but not limited to: calculating the altitude of the Earth's surface, calculating the distance to a satellite and distance the satellite travels in its orbit.”

The celebration of Pi day started in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium when physicist Larry Shaw organized a party there, according to the Exploratorium’s website. Participants walked around circular areas of the building and ate pie.

Our space operators will be doing the same.

Space operators rely on Pi to do their jobs. Orbital mechanics, the volume of a round satellite, or finding the volume of an empty coffee pot for shift workers is all made possible with the infinite number that starts with 3.141592.

The real question of the day though, is, what kind of pie is the best?

For Thien, the answer would be pumpkin pie. “It's hard to beat a good pumpkin pie in the fall.”

As for comedian John Evans he would agree, “What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o’-lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin Pi!”


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