SpaceProf.xyz || Nibbles in Space: 000016

What’s a Nibble in Space?

August 2020 || 000016

2 - 3 minute read

Title image is Fulton's Orrery at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow showing the layout of the Solar system with its planets and moons. Image credit: Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

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What is a Nibble in Space? It’s the same as a nibble on Earth. A nibble is half a byte. But, more on that later. In Nibbles in Space I’ll attempt to make space more accessible. I’m not going to help you get into space, but I’ll do what I can to help bust some jargon, or at least explain what is meant and make it less impenetrable. Helping you understand a bit of the basics about space.

I’ll try do this using basic information, and build each nibble on the previous, like building blocks. And, perhaps in this way you might learn things you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

In these first nibbles I’ll explore the basics of space: Where is space? What’s a spacecraft? What’s an orbit? And so on.

A key technology for space exploration and exploitation has been the computer. Rocketry has been pretty-critical as well, but I couldn’t think of a clever name for these based on rocketry. And so, it’s from computing that the name, Nibbles in Space, comes.

The basic unit of information is a bit. It has two possible values, “0” (zero) or “1” (one), these are referred to as binary numbers. So that’s a number expressed in the base-2 numeral system – base-2 because there are two options; “0” or “1”. The numbers we use day-to-day, the decimal system, that is 0, 1, 2, 3, up to 7, 8, & 9, are base-ten, there are ten options.

Eight bits make up a byte. Historically, this is because it’s the minimum number of bits required to represent a single letter, and so it’s the smallest useful unit of memory in a computer.

But, bits and bytes are not very human-friendly, and so, instead, hexadecimal numerals are widely used. Hexadecimal being a base-16 numeral system, meaning there are 16 options ranging from 0, 1, 2, 3, up to 7, 8, & 9, and then A, B, C, D, E, & F; a subscript is typically used to specify the base, so this is nibble 00002, 010 or 016. It's the first one. And, each hexadecimal digit represents four binary digits, termed a nibble.

And, so a nibble is half a byte. A nibble is 4 bits of information, and that is what you can expect from each Nibble in Space. Four key bits of information per nibble, whether you listen to it as a podcast, or if you want a little more of a Nibble by reading it here at SpaceProf.xyz

Finally, to complete the analogy, in computing a word is a unit of data of a defined bit length. Typically, this is a multiple of eight, though it need not be, and generally speaking the longer the word the more a computer can do. Not something that can always be said to be true of people. A 64-bit word size is common in modern computing, that’s 16 nibbles, and so each 16 nibbles will have a different theme. And, as I’ve said, in these first nibbles I’ll explore the basics of space.

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