Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Animated views of the next generation.

I'm sure I'll be posting a lot of things over the next years in regards to the Constellation program that will replace the shuttle after it's retirement in 2010. Personally, I still feel this is kind of a step backwards to old recycled technology, but at least it's proven to work for Apollo and nobody was ever killed by a Saturn V or lost in space - although Apollo 13 came close.
Anyway, plenty of time for argument on this later. Not very technical, but here is web page that has some clever animated diagrams of the upcoming rockets.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New report from NASA on the Columbia disaster

A report was just released from NASA with more details on the Columbia accident. It's 400 pages long and can be downloaded as a .pdf file. I've only skimmed through it so far, but it looks quite interesting. There are a lot of photos of cockpit debris as well as some photos of parts of the astronauts suits. Nothing gory or anything (at least not that I saw yet), but just be aware that it could be kind of disturbing to read some of the details of the accident. It seems that the astronauts did realize that something was wrong and were troubleshooting the problems. The cabin broke up so fast that they didn't have a chance to close their visors either. Not that it would matter, what could they have done anyway?

FREE astronomy software and OS

Ok, got your attention with the FREE software title. In my web surfing I recently came across a neat little Linux CD that is full of over 2 dozen fun, educational, and useful astronomy software programs. Yeah, it's the dreaded Linux, but don't be afraid, this is an easy disk to use and you don't need to be a Linux guru. If you can use Windows this is just as easy. Much to the annoyance of friends and family, I've become a hard-core Linux user and keep trying to push them to at least dual-boot and try it. Being the "family computer guy" I end up fixing all the Windows problems and know that this works very well. I'll stop here before I write what I think of Vista....
Anyway, this is a boot CD and will install into your computer's memory so you don't have to install a new OS on your computer to use it. Windows will not be harmed. Simply put it in your drive and reboot. Wait a few minutes and all the nifty astro stuff will appear on the desktop to play with. When you are done, just remove the disk, reboot and your usual operating system will return.
The download is an ".iso" image, so just use your CD burning software to burn the image onto a blank CD.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shadows of Venus

I just saw this photo an animation on that I though was really kinda nifty. I've never seen Venus cast a shadow or even thought of trying. But it really is bright enough to do such a thing.
Here is a photo of the shadow of the camera on a tripod casting the Venus shadow on a white surface. Pretty impressive! The photo is taken by French photographer, Laurent Laveder, who has had some pretty amazing photos published on the site before. Check out his site.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturn on edge

Usually, I can judge a night of good seeing if I can easily make out the Cassini Division in Saturn's ring. Even better if I can get a clear shot of it. For the next few months, we'll be seeing the rings nearly edge-on. So now the standard of a good stable night might be if we can even see the rings at all. The true ring crossing won't be until September, but it will be on the other side of the sun at that time and we'll miss it.
The rings are 200,000 km across, but only a few meters think. Thinner than paper, so you'd better be careful, they could leave a nasty cut!
The next ring plane crossing will be in March of 2025. Get out and check it out, again if you live in Seattle, forget it - unless we get lucky. Grrrr....

Friday, December 26, 2008

Less rules and regulations on the blog comment entries.

Just wondering if anyone is even reading this blog site. I do hope so! I poked around in the settings and found how to set the comments so you don't need to be a member, need a password or secret handshake to leave a comment on the entries. You can be anonymous, or simply put your name and URL of your home site (or other favorite), but that is optional.
So feel free to post comments, suggestions, corrections or just say hello! Simply click on the comment link under the blog entries.
--Blogmaster Tom

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Relive Apollo 8 - Christmas 1968.

NASA this week has some interesting programs on NASA TV for Christmas about the Apollo 8 flight that happened 40 years ago this week. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders put on a live Christmas show on TV that is replayed on NASA TV today and tomorrow.

Dust storm on Mars.

Another really cool image from the MRO over Mars. Here is a photo taken over Mars showing a dust storm in action. The dust is rising out of canyons and getting blown high up into the air. You can also see some clouds (white) floating nearby.

| MRO |
| HiRISE |

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Volcanoes and snow....

Here is another interesting view from space. This is also from my basement satellite station. Today we are again between snowstorms, another storm expected early tomorrow morning, which should change to rain to make a soggy, wet mess. At least tomorrow is Christmas eve, so I don't have trudge to work. But I should get somewhat motivated to do some kind of Christmas shopping.
Anyway, look closely at this image. You can see a large area of snow on the ground from Montana north, with a single large cloud in the middle. If you look at Washington, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams are sticking way up above the clouds. Must be a sunny day up there since you can see a shadow of the mountains on the cloud tops.

Even more photos from STS-126.

Can't go wrong with the photo essays. Here is a nice set of photos from the recently completed STS-126 flight of Endeavour. From rescue ship for the delayed Hubble mission, to STS-126, landing at Edwards, and finally return to it's nest in Florida. The next flight of Endeavour will be in May 2009. Next time we see this shuttle on a 747 might be when NASA delivers it to Seattle to the Museum of Flight! (Thinking positive thoughts that we get it)

Monday, December 22, 2008

...and now for something completely different.

Totally off topic of the blog, but who cares?
As a result of the stormy winter weather, Alex finally got a chance to use his new sled. We didn't want him going outside without his jacket on, so he put on his holiday finest.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowstorm seen from 500 miles up from NOAA 18

Snowing again today, cold, all day, another day going crazy in the house....
Here is the best shot from today from my basement satellite station. This was taken from the NOAA-18 weather satellite when it made a pass at about 1pm this afternoon. The satellite is in a polar orbit approximately 500 miles up, and a full pass from one horizon to the other is about 12 minutes. You can see that the top and bottom of the image are noisy, that's because the satellite is very low on the horizon so reception is more difficult.
Not sure what is happening with tomorrow, buses are pretty screwed up, so it may be another snow day.

First flight of White Knight Two

The next generation of Rutan's Scaled Composites aircraft made it's first flight. This is the "booster" or carrier aircraft for the SpaceShipTwo which will carry passengers - rich passsngers - to space and back. I'm always amazed how fast Burt Rutan can come up with these intersting designs and get them flying. Now if I can find enough spare change around, I'll start saving for my ride!

NASA animated comic of Apollo 8

I just found this on the site. There are a few short animated comics of the Apollo missions. The one for Apollo 8 just came out since it's the 40th anniversary of the first manned flight to the moon. There are also animation for Apollo VII, more to be released over time as each mission hit's it's 40th year.
40 years! That's way too long...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Top 10 Astronomy photos for 2008 - Phil Plait

I have been following Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog for quite a while now. He always comes up with a lot of good stuff every day. He just posted an entry with his choice of the Top 10 Astronomy photos of the year.
I had to see what his #1 photo was and had to totally agree with him on that pick. Not only is it one of the best photos of the year, but I think this one is one of best ever! This one should be up there with Apollo 8's Earthrise, and the photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon. I won't show the whole photo, you have to click on the link for that. Here is a little hint...

Calm before the storm...

Still zero chance of opening the observatory roof anytime soon. The news TV stations are freaking out and boosting their viewer ratings with the "Dangerous Storm" headlines. Although, this one is starting to really look kind of mean and grumpy. Low temperature was -3 degrees at Arlington airport this morning. Yikes! We had 15 here in Renton.
Here is a photo from this morning from my basement weather satellite station. The storm on the coast, and should give us a big spanking here in Seattle between 4 and 7pm. Should be interesting!
Gotta go out and tie down the cover tighter on my boat....

This Afternoon: Cloudy, with a temperature falling to around 25 by 5pm. East southeast wind between 8 and 15 mph.

Tonight: Snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 23. Windy, with a east southeast wind 36 to 39 mph increasing to between 44 and 47 mph. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Sunday: Snow, freezing rain, and sleet before 10am, then rain, freezing rain, and sleet likely. High near 35. Windy, with a south southeast wind 31 to 34 mph decreasing to between 10 and 13 mph. Winds could gust as high as 45 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Little or no ice accumulation expected. New snow and sleet accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Friday, December 19, 2008

December '08 winter hurricane coming soon....

Not really astronomical in nature, but definitely interesting if you are a weather geek and into this kind of scientific stuff!
Here we sit just hours away from the Blizzard of 2008, which is supposed to start smacking us tomorrow afternoon. Will it really happen or just fizzle out like most snowstorm forecasts which get everyone all excited, reporters "LIVE" at the scene with continuing coverage and kids hoping for a snow day? We'll see, but confidence seems high that hurricane force winds will blow down from the passes of the Cascades with 90mph gust.
Anyway, I found a weather blog site that I've started checking often. Cliff Mass' Weather Blog. Cliff wrote a book on NW weather (which I just ordered today) and really seems to know his stuff from what is on his blog. I'm sure he could out-forecast Jeff Renner!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We're going to the moon for Christmas!

I came across this kind of fun little catchy Christmas video. We did go to the moon for Christmas, but it was 40 years ago. When will we go back? 2020? We need a president to do a "We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things..." speech. Yeah, that won't happen anytime soon - unless the Chinese get more competitive.

Smithsonian gets Discovery...for $42 million

Just read that the Smithsonian has first dibs on the Shuttle Discovery when they retire those spacecraft. Other museums have to try and get approval for the last 2 shuttles, but they will have to pay $43 million to get the old bird in their collection. No, NASA isn't selling them, but it will cost that much for "shipping and handling". It will be expensive to "safe" the orbiters for display, remove the dangerous parts, install replica engines (optional), and ship it out on the 747. I guess I could upgrade my Museum of Flight membership to a higher level if that means we can get Atlantis in Seattle!

Ganymede eclipsed by Jupiter.

Newly released photo from the Hubble. This time it shows it's moon, Ganymede, just before it went around the back side of the planet.
I didn't even get a good view of Jupiter at all this time from home. It was so low in the sky it had too much atmosphere for a clear view (looked like a water balloon that was tossed roughly up in the air - wiggle, wiggle). To make this even more annying, the neighbor hasn't trimmed his apple tree so there are a bunch of sticks in the way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NASA Solicits Ideas for Displaying Retired Space Shuttles and Main Engines

I got this in my email from NASA today. Is it really so hard to simply put Seattle Museum of Flight on the list for one of those birds? I sure hope Dr. Dunbar can pull in one of these for the new area across the street next to the #1 747 and Concorde!

NASA today issued a Request for Information seeking ideas from educational institutions, science museums and other appropriate organizations about the community’s ability to acquire and publicly display the space shuttle orbiters and space shuttle main engines after the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program.

Sponsored by NASA's Office of Infrastructure, the RFI seeks input from appropriate officials and decision-makers from museums, science centers, institutions and other organizations dedicated to education or educational outreach with experience in public display of space hardware and nationally recognized historic artifacts. NASA will use information gained from this RFI to develop strategies for eventual placement of two space shuttle orbiters and a minimum of six unassembled space shuttle main engine display “kits.”

The primary goal of this effort is to collect a wide variety of perspectives on whether eligible recipient organizations are capable of appropriately displaying the shuttle orbiters and main engines and bearing the full cost of preparing the hardware for display and transportation to its final destination. The RFI also seeks ideas on how these assets can best be used in the broad national interest to inspire the American public and students in particular. Organizations interested in responding to the RFI must provide their input to NASA by March 17, 2009.

For additional information and to view the RFI, visit

For additional information about the shuttle program, visit

Yes, just another Shuttle/747 shot.

I guess whenever the shuttle rides on the 747, it's always such an amazing sight to see that the photos just keep coming! Endeavour is safely home, but like the recent newly released images from the Phoenix lander, the photos just keep showing up!
Here is another fine shot of the piggyback shuttle from an unusual angle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I've never seen the Dumbbells look like this!

Amazing what you can do if you have the right filters to capture different parts of the spectrum in an image. Here are some really different views of M27 and M76 (Dumbbell and Little Dumbbell). Taken in hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen wavelengths. I wonder if they have a little bit of normal visible light stirred in there too?

Rainier Lenticulars

Although, not related to astronomy, they do look like flying saucers over Rainier. My friend Long Nguyen who is a flight instructor, corporate pilot, and sometimes a search and rescue pilot, took these amazing photos of the lenticular clouds over Mt. Rainier last week. Be sure to check out his other photos on this page. He is really an amazing photographer also!

Monday, December 15, 2008

New color images from Phoenix.

Phoenix is dead and it's corpse is forever sitting quietly, cold, and motionless on the arctic plains of Mars. Despite it being dead, there was still a release of some newly processed images from the lander that came out today. The vertical shots looking down on itself are pretty interesting. Looks like the panels did get a bit of dust on them from the dust storm. Now where can I find a large piece of round paper for a circular poster?

Top 10 Space Videos

I came across this page that was kind of interesting. I really like the Falcon 1 video and the full launch from the shuttle cockpit is pretty interesting too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More shuttle/747 photos - Endeavour back home in Florida

Endeavour is back home after its several day trip across the country. Probably the last time it will have a ride on the 747 until it's retired and takes it's last ride to a museum. The 747 did a low pass over the runway at KSC before landing. I would have sure liked to have seen that!
Photo taken by my lucky friend, Ben Cooper, who is always at KSC for every launch and landing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shuttle over Johnson Space Center

NASA took Endeavour over Houston and the Johnson Space Center (Mission Control) today for a few flybys.
This might be the last time that the shuttle is flown back home on the 747, unless there are more landing detours due to weather at KSC. I'm waiting for the day that one comes into Boeing Field here in Seattle - to be left permanently at the Museum of Flight! (Still hoping that Dr. Dubar can manage this).

Free ISS calandar for 2009

You can wait until January to get your 2009 calendars for 1/2 price. Or if you want a nice one, there is a free one from NASA with ISS image that are pretty nice. Be sure to print this out on your fancy color printer at work. If you do it at home, you may run out of black, wear out your colors, and need more expensive ink sooner than you want. Shhh! I didn't give that advice....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Delays, delays.....finally flying home.

Shuttle Endeavour again is suffering from weather delays getting back home to Florida. Finally, this morning the pair took off from California and made it to Ft. Worth Texas as it's first overnight stop. Why delays? The shuttle is a delicate bird covered with fragile tiles. Fly this through rain, or clouds, the tiles will chip, crack, break, or shatter depending on what it passes through. So despite it's ability to fly millions of miles, it's stricktly a fair-weather flier.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big, bright and annoying? (Depending on what you like)

The full moon on Dec. 12 is the biggest, brightest, and closest of the year. The moon is at perigee this time (closest to Earth) and will be 357,448 km away - apogee, it's at 405,363 km. The Geminid meteor shower is also at about this time (Dec, 13-14) so you might as well forget about that, not much will be seen due to the moon.
Let's see if we get clear skies for the full moon here in Seattle, it never fails. I think more clear nights happen on the full moon than a non-moon night. Frustrating for us deep-sky observers!

Beer in space....sort of.

The Japanese Sapporo beer company has recently brewed up 100 liters of space beer. No, it wasn't brewed in space, but on Earth from barley that was grown on board the ISS. It's not available for purchase either. Imagine how much it would cost if it was?
Of course this isn't space friendly also so the crew won't be enjoying the beer. One major problem with carbonated drinks is space is that the fizz remains suspended in the drink. Normally, the liquid would settle in your stomach, and the fizz rises to the top for a satisfying burp! In space, the same thing would come out as a "wet burp" - use your imagination for that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Problems and possible fixes - the lurching scope.

The other night I tried using our telescope and found that it has an annoying 'lurch' when tracking. The motor sounds funny, makes a scary noise when slewing to the right, and even worse when slewing left. I figured it was a need for lubrication in the gears since with our crappy skies over the last months (or maybe I should say 1.5 years now!!) the scope hasn't been used as much as normal. I posted a message and a video on the LX200 YahooGroup, and came back to find a bunch of responses the next day. Seems that this is a very common problem with this telescope and not too hard to fix.

I'll have to plug in the heater out there, drag out my tools and oscilloscope and get busy. No rush, no clear skies in the forecast until July 5th.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The sky is falling again.....

Put on your aluminum foil hats, the sky is falling once again. Recently it was over Canada, last night there was a fireball over Colorado. A meteor searching camera caught it on video from the Cloudbait observatory in Guffey, CO.
No idea if pieces of this hit the ground, more information is needed on location.
This one was reported to be magnitude -18, or about 100 times brighter than the full moon.

Will the lion roar in 2009??

2001 was amazing (and damn lucky for us here in Seattle!) with the Leonid Meteor shower - or I guess I should say meteor STORM. Next hear is predicted to be pretty good, but more of a minor storm level than the 2001 outburst. Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle is the chunk of dirty snow that is shedding lumps of crud for the Earth to pass through causing the showers. Due to orbital mechanics, physics and comet/sun/Earth paths (that I won't get into) we will be passing through a cloud that was shed by the comet back in 1466. Predictions are for possibly up to 500 meteors per hour.
Nice! But will it be clear in Seattle in November??

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hubble fixing mission - May 12, 2009

Lots 'o space news today, one more....
I think if I was all trained up and ready to fly a few months back to fix the Hubble I'd be pretty bummed. At least there is a date set now for the last mission to upgrade the Hubble. The "data handling unit" failed just before the launch was to go in September, but NASA did get the backup running. A replacement will fly next year as an additional upgrade. It will still be Atlantis to fly and again there will be full pads at KSC when Endeavour is standing by for a rescue if needed.

No Mars trip next year.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL for short) was supposed to launch in the fall of 2009, but has been delayed until the next time Mars is in the best position for launching - 2011. Basically, the rover isn't quite ready yet, and it's expensive. Better to have more time to get it ready, then have a failure on Mars or even worse - a new crater with the Cooper Mini sized rover in a heap at the bottom. Kind of a bummer, but I guess it's better this way. Maybe Spirit and Opportunity will still be wandering around until the next launch?

Bears in space.

...or at least to the edge of space. On Dec. 1st a set of 4 astro-bears were launched on a helium balloon which reached the edge of space at 30,085 meters over England. Translated to feet, that's 98,704 feet above the Earth. The bears were an experiment by a student organization at Cambridge University in England, along with a science club and community college. The student's ages were between 14-18 years old.
I did take a rocketry class when I was in Jr. High, but my rockets only went up a few hundred feet. Damn kids these days, I want to go play with balloons like that!

M13 seen from Hubble.

Wow! Another fine image from the Hubble scope. This time it's the center of M13 Globular cluster in Hercules. The image is of the central part of the cluster which is roughly 4.9 arcminutes (36 light-years or 11 parsecs) wide. For some more techie geek numbers a parsec is 3.261633 light years. This is just another unit to make some very large numbers easier to write.
As usual, a picture is worth many words, so just look at the photo to the right to make
sense of numbers.
We all know that Han Solo claims to have "made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs" in the Millenium Falcon with his Wookie co-pilot. Remember, this is a distance, not a measure of time. So we know that Solo had to know some shortcut through the star systems to support his claim!

Anyway, click below to see the Hubble image.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Venus/Jupiter/Moon....

I found that Flickr has a nice collection of photos of the conjunction if you do a search. Save a step and just click on my link here....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Astro advent calandar.

To count the 25 days until the end of Christmas shopping frenzy, we often open a little panel on a cardboard Christmas picture every day. We find a little chunk of fattening chocolate (not even DARK chocolate!) to chew on and stare at the little door that opened in the middle of Santa's left eye. If you are a guy, you are still relieved to see many doors left until Christmas Eve afternoon, which is when the quick "hunt and kill" shopping starts - usually just ending up with a handful of gift cards since our female companions have already been grazing in the stores and cleaned them out (but more likely we just aren't as creative).
Anyway, that's how I feel about shopping....bleah.
So, here is a nice way to count those days from the always fantastic photo essay site A Hubble shot every day until Christmas.

Planetary grouping

In the west after sunset, there has been a nice grouping of solar system objects over the last few nights. Last night (Dec. 1st) should have been the best with the moon, Jupiter and Venus all fairly close together. In Europe, they had a bonus Lunar Occulation of Venus. See some photos on since it's been cloudy here in Seattle, and we missed the good stuff as usual. Grrrr...
Probably the coolest photo I've seen of this is above the tail of Endeavour last night from NASA. Zoom in on the photo too see them clearer.
Full size image of above |

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shuttle down.....Progress up.

Endeavour landed yesterday in California instead of Florida due to bad weather on the other side of the country. The shuttle can't fly in rain, or the tiles wold be damaged.
The latest Progress cargo ship docked at the ISS, with a little excitement. There was a problem with the auto-docking system so Yuri Lonchakov had to hand fly (remotely) the spacecraft and do a manual docking. The cargo ship delivered water, supplies, Christmas gifts and probably a bunch of fresh fruit.

|See the landing here|