Tuesday, March 31, 2009

STS-119 has ended, but Brian the space-bat lives on.

The other day I was looking for more silly things on Brian, the space bat and his incredible, but short, journey. I can across a great site at www.space-bat.com. It looks like another blog site, but there are some great graphics, drawings, and a few t-shirts to commemorate the flight of space bat.
I think I need a t-shirt, nobody but a very few people would understand the humor of it!
The never before published official crew photo

If a rock falls on Mars and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a noise?

I hope nobody minds that I often find blog topics from other blogs, that come from someone else's blog! I found this neat thing on Universe Today, but then it was tied in with Cumbrian Sky which is Stuart Atkinson's blog.
So I guess as long as I pass credit I should be following proper blogger ettiquite?
Anyway, I would assume tht a rolling boulder on Mars would make some kind of sound. There was a microphone on the Phoenix lander, but I thing time ran out before it could take a listen to the sound of Martian winds blowing. I read somewhere that sound would travel in the thin atmosphere, but would have a different tone to it. I won't say more since I'm not sure and foreget the details of that. I'll have to Google that.
Stuart is one of those clever guys that takes raw data from the Mars orbiter and uses the data to create really amazing images. He had this rolling rock on his site today. The image shows that Mars does have movement an things happen. Not just a dead rock with dust blowing around.
Bounce, bounce, bounce.....

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A very brief peek at the ISS.....and the curse continues

Finally, we had a day today that almost looked like spring, but still a little cool. I spent a few hours out in the observatory cleaning up unused cables, vacuuming the carpet (yes, we do have a carpet in there), and even spent about an hour cleaning up the corrector plate on the scope. The corrector had a couple years worth of pollen, dead bugs, and other gunk stuck on it.
The moon was out as a thin crescent and was a tempting target, and a good focusing object for the upcoming ISS pass at 8:20. It was going to be a perfect photo pass at about 60 degrees up, and slightly to the south. I was excited about the promising skies and finally a chance to get some good images of the station with the new panels completed.
I played with the moon a while then looked up, uh oh....no, no, NO, not again!! Maybe I should just start assuming this will always happen? Yes, clouds moving in at just the time of the ISS pass. I wasn't going to waste it, so I tried anyway. Got a couple little peeks through some holes, but that was all. It should have been a full pass, clear skies, and possibly a whole bunch of good images. Nope.
15 minutes later after cussing,swearing, and shaking fist at the sky, and restraining mysef from kicking the computer (I updated Windows and my imaging software refused to run now - thanks again Microsoft), skies cleared again.
Ok, I did get one somewhat decent image but I forgot to remove the 6.3 focal reducer since I was using it on the moon, so it should have been a little bigger. The cloud photo is an actual photo taken after the pass to share my pain.
I got one fairly good shot, so I should stop complaining. No forget it, I have a good reason to complain. Grrr!
(click for full size image)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Details of a near shuttle disaster released.

Details were released yesterday of a very close call with Atlantis during the STS-27 mission with 5 time shuttle astronaut Hoot Gibson. This was a secret military flight, so not much has been said about it until now. It was also only the second flight after the Challenger disaster in 1986.
During launch, a chunk of debris came off the top of the right booster and bounced all the way down the right wing of the shuttle damaging about 700 tiles including blasting away tiles down to the bare aluminum. Astronauts looked at the damage with the camera using the robot arm. Seeing how bad it was, Hoot Gibson pretty much figured "we are all dead". During reentry, Gibson monitored control surfaces for any indication of failure of the wing and figured if he saw some deflection, he had about 60 seconds left to live and would use that time to tell mission control how he really felt about their diagnosis of he problem. Ground engineers basically blew it off and said "things will be fine, don't worry about it". (See the white spots on the shuttle wing in the photo)
Mike Mullane wrote a chapter in his book "Riding Rockets" which was quite scary to read. Read the book if you haven't it's one of my favorites up there with Mike Collins' "Carrying the Fire" - which is probably the finest books written by an astronaut.

Cross your eyes and you'll be on the shuttle.

Not quite, but I can see that a couple frames from the fly-around video of the ISS taken from the shuttle could give a whole bunch of cross-eyed chances to make a 3d image. Patrick Vantuyne of Belgium put this one together. Stare at it with both eyes and kind of cross them a little bit until you see a third image in the middle. Soon it will jump out at you in 3d. As usual, click the photo to see a full size.
This is easy, it's not like those photos where you stare at a bunch of static until you see a clown riding a dinosaur jump out at you!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Complete (at least in area) ISS

This week the International space station has reached it's full size - at least in the area it covers by the solar panel "wings" and the truss. The rest of the construction is in the modules including the possible node named "Colbert" or maybe even the "Colbert" toilet!
The station looks pretty much like most of the old concept drawings. I looked around for the most goofy looking concept and found this one. So compare the "then and now" images of the station. Impressive sight, even from ground telescopes.
At this time (Friday) there are 13 people in space. Three on the ISS, three (including our friend Charles Simonyi) on board the Soyuz, and 7 in the shuttle which will land sometime Saturday. I'd have t look it up, but I'm not sure if this is a record amount of humanity in orbit.
(be sure to click on the images for full size, the new ISS is quite impressive!)

Mt. Redoubt eruptions.

The other day Mt. Redoubt decided to quit shaking and do something exiting. It blew up and sent an ash cloud to 65,000 feet in one of the several eruptions. Today it did another one and sent a cloud to about 32,000 feet.
I was looking at the Alaska Volcano Observatory web site and found this image. It's from a geostationary weather satellite which is parked in an orbit 23,000 miles above the equator over Asia.
(Click image to see clearer full size)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Picture of the Century restored

November 24, 1966 Lunar Orbiter 2 took this photo of Copernicus (the crater not the guy) from an altitude of 28 miles over the lunar surface. The crater is 150 miles north of where this was taken.
Most of the photos taken at that time were straight down, since NASA was trying to find good landing sites for the Apollo spacecraft. This was the first image that really showed some of he roughness of the moon's topography.
According to Wikipedia: "In 1966 the crater was photographed from an oblique angle by Lunar Orbiter 2 as one of 12 "housekeeping" pictures that were taken to advance the roll of film between possible astronaut landing sites being surveyed. At the time this detailed image of the lunar surface was termed by NASA Scientist Martin Swetnick and subsequently quoted by Time magazine as "one of the great pictures of the century."
This is just the latest of the old re-processed images that the The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) has released. The resolution of the photos is about 1 meter per pixel. If you have enough memory in your computer to qualify for at least "Vista Capable" sticker, plus more, and about 2.2 gigs open hard drive, you can download the full .tiff image. I tired it at work on my Mac and it kind of choked, but what would I do with a 2 gig image file anyway? Try if you dare!
(Click to enlarge image)

| The full sized 2.2 Gig .tiff |
| A much more reasonable sized image (you want this one!) |
| All the details from Moonviews.com |

Monday, March 23, 2009

Equinox at Saturn, balance those eggs (or moons?)

Here on Earth we celebrate the equinox by the fact that the long winter nights are now the same length as the days, the controversial practice of balance eggs on the pointy ends is performed, and here in Seattle we know that maybe someday in the next two months it might be spring.
So way out in the Saturn system, the rings are nearly edge on with the sun. When that happens the moons in the ring plane can leave some pretty long shadows on the rings themselves. Cassini has sent back a few spring photos from way out there.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A peek at Saturn last night

I missed a really good ISS pass last night at 7:30, due to clouds. Then again, if it was clear, it was so close to after sunset that I don't know where I would find a star to focus on anyway. I did watch it go over and could see it through the clouds fairly well.
Later, skies cleared up and despite lousy transparency, the sky was pretty stable for a change. Saturn looked very sharp, so I had to hook up my $30 Ebay webcam and try a few shots of it. I still have some processing to play with, but here is an early photo. I'm using the new Registax 5 that was just officially released yesterday. I'll have to read some tutorials so I can use it well and get some decent images.
This shot is with the rarely used 3x barlow. So this was taken at f/30. I forget how many frames are stacked, but I'll play with it some more to see if I can improve it some more.

More info:
Telescope - Meade 12" LX200
Camera - Vesta Pro
Frames/Sec - 10
Capture software - K3CCDTools
Stacked with - Registax 5 (just got the latest and need to learn more!)

Kids with balloons at 30,000 meters.

It was pretty cool when I was in Jr. High School that there was an actual rocketry class that I took. Yes, I did get an A+ in the class. Duh!
Mr .Balfour also had a competition to design a rocket that would stay aloft for the longest time with a wimpy little "A" sized motor. All the other guys in the class were building boost gliders, multi-staged monstrosities and other fancy things. I mad a simple rocket, big fins, no paint, an 18" chute lubed up with talcum powder to open fast. I won the $10 credit toward any Estes model (I paid an extra $2 and got the Mars Lander with the fancy shock absorbing landing gear) when my wee little rocket stayed up for a whole 24 seconds.

Anyway, I came across this photo essay from about some high school teens in Spain that built a helium balloon with a camera payload. The balloon reached an altitude of 30,000 meters (about 19 miles!) before dropping the payload back to the ground 38 km away after just over 2 hours. What fun! Where do I sign up for this class?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shuttle reusable spare parts.

When STS-119 launched on Sunday it flew on the 100th set of SRB rockets flown since Challenger was taken out by one of them. Here is some interesting trivia on the flights that each of the segments has flown on:

  • STS-1, the first shuttle mission (right uppermost cylinder)
  • STS-5, the first operational mission (left uppermost cylinder)
  • STS-41D, the first flight of Discovery (right cylinder)
  • STS-31, Hubble Space Telescope deploy (right aft dome)
  • STS-61, first Hubble Space Telescope repair mission (right cylinder)
  • STS-88, first shuttle to the International Space Station (left cylinder)
  • STS-95, John Glenn's shuttle flight (left and right cylinders)
  • STS-114, return to flight after Columbia (left and right cylinders)
(Thanks to Robert Perlman of Collectspace.com for sharing the info)
(Photo: Ben Cooper Launchphotography.com)

Sad fate of a deflated Atlas

It's hopefully well known that the old Atlas rockets (such as the one that John Glenn rode on) were basically big balloons. Let the fuel pressure out, and the thing would deflate. The rocket basically got it strength and rigidity from the pressure of the fuel inside.
I saw this video on The Space Review web site email I get every week and liked it since I've never seen it before. You know those really scary 15 foot tall snowmen that people buy at Lowes to haunt their front lawns during the holidays? If you let the air out of one of those you would get the same effect as this rocket deflating. It kind of flops over into it's own lap.
Although, this rocket seems to flop over like an overcooked piece of asparagus!
They didn't always explode in a huge ball of fire.

Saturn and 4 moon transit.

I've see this on a few other blog sites, but it's such a nice photo I have to add it to mine also. Titan, Dione, Mimas and Enceladus crossing the face of Saturn seen from the Hubble. Be sure to view the full size image and the video, definately worth a bit of bandwidth for the download.

First bat in space - or maybe partway.

Seems that Sunday's launch of STS-119 had one extra crew member. Since seating was full on board, the extra crew member now known as "bat-ronaut" rode outside on the external tank. He must have been a later addition to the crew since he doesn't appear to be wearing an official mission patch on his sleeve.
You can see him clinging to the tank earlier in the day awaiting his trip to space. It's always a long wait for launch and relaxed astronauts have been known to fall asleep while waiting. He was one of those pretending to be a veteran astronaut so nervousness wouldn't give him away as a stowaway.
Around sunset he got his wish and headed into space!
It's not known if he reached his goal of being the first bat in space, but if he was lucky maybe he made it past throttle up? Closer examination of photos would be needed to see of he reached space to obtain his "bat-ronaut" wings. I have a feeling he may have failed in his attempt.
Godspeed bat-ronaut!

(click photos to enlarge)

UPDATE: Seems that bat-ronaut died in the 1400 degree C exhaust from the SRBs, but he possibly did clear the tower. Probably let go before max-Q for sure. Still, this is pretty darn cool for a bat! (See update on Universe Today)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Twittering the shuttle launch from all over Florida

I haven't used Twitter, but it has been kind of useful for passing quick info and photos around. Recently, passengers used it while landing in the Hudson with Captain Sully at the controls of the Airbus glider. Now there is an almost instant view of yesterday's shuttle launch from many different locations in and above Florida.
Fun stuff!
(Photo from fmckinnon)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Google Earth - another Mars feature added.

I'm amazed how cool this thing keeps getting all the time and it's still totally FREE! Google just added another feature to the Google Earth software (that Mars part of it actually). Now you can see almost live images from the orbiters just hours after they are downloaded and processed. It also has a feature where you can see the orbital paths of the spacecraft, targets they are going to photograph, and a "ride along" view from orbit.
There are 3D models of the landers (check out the Viking landers for example) sitting on the surface as well as photos of them from orbit. Beagle-2 crash site still hasn't been tracked down yet though.
As a bonus feature, there are also historical maps of Mars including Percival Lowell's view with all the canals and "Martian cities" that can be seen.
To see the Mars features, you need Google Earth 5.0 and then simply click the planet icon and pick Mars.

Earth Hour - Seattle is actually participaiting this year

This is kind of exiting news. I found out that Seattle is actually on the list of participating cities for Earth Hour this year. Earth Hour is where you turn off all your lights and electric appliances for one hour on March 28 between 8:30 and 9:30pm. If you turn off your power, you are voting for Earth, leave the power on, you are voting for Global Warming (no comments on our Seattle winter!). Earth Hour started in 2007 with Sydney Australia when 2.2 million homes switched off. 2008 it grew to 50 million homes. This year the goal is for 1 billion people to pull the switch.
See the photo of the Sydney bridge. Notice that you can't see the sky when the lights are on, but when the lights turned off, the sky is visible - cloudy, but visible.
If enough turn off, and skies are clear maybe the Milky Way will be seen for the first time in decades from around Seattle, I think that would be an awesome goal for Seattle if we could darken the skies long enough to see what was lost many years ago. Yeah....skies need to be clear for that to happen, but maybe we'll get lucky this time?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ISS second brightest thing in the sky - after STS-119 gets there.

Another launch scrub for Discovery STS-119. Seems there was a hydrogen leak at a seal where it attaches to the tank which was discovered during fueling. The next launch day is no earlier than Sunday now.
When it does get up there, the main task of this flight is to complete the solar panel "wings" of the space station. Once the 4th set of panels are installed, the ISS will become the second brightest object in the night sky. Venus will be bumped into third place by the ISS. The moon takes first place, not counting the sun since that is a daytime object (actually creates the daylight so that's cheating to count the sun).
Must be frustrating to be an astronaut, all excited the night before and unable to sleep - almost like waiting for Santa on Christmas when you were a kid (but later found out that it was just mom and dad).
At least I'd be pretty excited about flying on the shuttle!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When are the skies always clear in Seattle??

During the full moon.
This must have something to do with gravitational pull, the tides, dim comets in the sky, magnitude of the moon, or the amount of frustration of Seattle deep sky observers?
Again, the theory comes true.

Clear skies (Seattle) = [Sky] - [Clouds] + [Full moon] + [maximum natural light pollution]

Clear Sky Chart:

Moon Phase:

Full: March 10
Time: 4:09pm



Yep. Just another night indoors watching Netflix movies....

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dr. Charles Simonyi's next vacation.

Our neighbor in Bellevue, is once again about to depart on his second trip to the ISS. Dr. Charles Simonyi will leaving for the ISS on March 26th at 6:49 am CDT (4:49am Pacific time). Dr. Simonyi is going to be the final space tourist since later this summer the ISS crew will finally grow to 6 astronauts (currently 3) and there just won't be enough room for visitors now matter how much money they pay to go up there.
Our club had Dr. Simonyi as a guest speaker last October where he gave a great slideshow of his trip and was just a lot of fun to talk to. Easy to see he was very exicted about getting the chance to go up again.
This time he'll be part of the crew of the TMA-14 spacecraft along with Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt. Dr. Simonyi will return to Earth on April 7 with Expedition 18 Commander Michael Fincke and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov.

After several delays, STS-119 is finally going to launch to the ISS this coming Wed. March 11. More on that later....

Friday, March 6, 2009

Backwards astronomy - looking down from the sky at ship contrails

Quite often off the West coast of the US when the conditions are just right, these long worm-like clouds can be seen out in the Pacific. I see it quite often from the images from my basement satellite station. The last couple days have been good for these to form. So what is this stuff?
Answer: ship contrails.
Yes, ships will leave contrails as they sail along just like a plane will do when it flies through the sky high enough for the water vapor from the engine exhaust leaving the nice white trail. The image on the right was taken yesterday (March 5) from the new NOAA-19 satellite that was recently launched. (Click for full size)
Here is a good description I clipped from the NASA Visible Earth web site:
In recent years, scientists have turned their attention to the ways in which human-produced aerosol pollution modifies clouds. One area that has drawn scientists. attention is "ship tracks," or clouds that form from the sulfate aerosols released by large ships. Although ships are not significant sources of pollution themselves, they do release enough sulfur dioxide in the exhaust from their smokestacks to modify overlying clouds. Specifically, the aerosol particles formed by the ship exhaust in the atmosphere cause the clouds to be more reflective, carry more water, and possibly inhibit them from precipitating. This is one example of how humans have been creating and modifying clouds for generations through the burning of fossil fuels.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mars dune buggy - Opportunity

With guidance from above with the MRO watching it's progress, Opportunity is crossing the dunes to Endeavor crater. It still has about 17km to go, and expected to take about two years to get there.
Here is the latest image of the rover crossing the dunes like a dune buggy. The MRO is also being used to pick out a path for the rover to travel to avoid getting stuck in the soft ground. That's happened, but the tough little rover has always became-unstuck by basically "gunning the engine" backwards for a long time.
The latest photo was taken on sol 1783 (remember, 1 sol is about 39 minutes longer than an Earth day).

(click to enlarge the image to see the rover [red arrow])

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Registax 5 beta is out.

If you do any planetary imaging, you probably know about a free program called Registax. If not, you better download it and try it.
Version 5 is out although still beta, I'm sure it works well. I've used it for years for stacking planet and lunar images. What is this 'stacking' thing? It is when you take a few hundred short exposures of a planet or lunar surface, save it as an .avi video file. When you play the file in a media player you see a video of the view you see through the scope. Unless you are very lucky to have stable skies, your image of Saturn may be bouncing around looking like a tossed water balloon jiggling. You'll see some brief peeks where it looks very sharp, but then the atmosphere distorts it again. Registax will go through the file, sort out the best images, line them up and stack them on top of each other forming a very sharp image.
Compare amateur stacked images with an 8 inch scope with the old Mt. Palomar 200 inch images. Ours our much better!

Great balls 'O fire - if the Saturn V blew up on the pad.

Here is some possibly kind of dry documents that I came across on the CollectSpace forums. There is a bit of Calculus and scary graphs, but still a bit of easy to understand English in there also. So of the Saturn V blew up on the ground there would be a fireball which would last about 33 seconds (20 seconds for the smaller Saturn 1B) and a temperature of up to 2500 degrees F.
The other document has some estimates on how fast the crew could escape from the mess if they pulled the abort handle to fire the escape rocket. Unlike the shuttle, failure did have an option.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sucker hole astronomy - more Comet Lulin.

I was flat on my back last night watching a few commercial zapped shows recorded on my MythTV (I'll have to post an entry on this system sometime, it's awesome) last night. Almost to the point of being a bit too cozy next to the fire and falling asleep. I got up to grab a glass of chocolate milk and did a peek outside out of habit. CLEAR!
I grabbed my Canon camera, and headed out back to boot up the observatory and open the roof. I managed about 45 minutes before the sky slammed shut again on me at about 11:20pm. I got 11 good images of Lulin and tried a different method of flat frames. This time I didn't twist the camera and screw up everything. My flat field with the dust images, fit exactly on my light images, subtracted the annoying blobs, and I got some shots that I'm happy with finally. No international processing effort needed this time. The comet was about 6.4 magnitude and is fading about .2 magnitude each night now as it speeds away from Earth.
Another thing I'll add about the weather here, I'll sometimes look out in the early evening and see it's totally clouded over. I'll spend the evening watching a movie then look out again just before going to bed only to see it totally clear. Frustrating!
Here is what a good day in Seattle looks like. This is the view from my office window in Seattle. This is usually followed by clouds after sunset....
(click on the images for full sized view)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Asteroid just passed us last night.

Last night it was possible (not in Seattle - clouds!) to see an asteroid pass the Earth at just 0.000482 AU (or 46,478.5 miles). That is well inside the moon's orbit which is approximately 250,000 miles, and about twice the distance of a Geostationary satellite (23,000 miles). So there was no chance it would knock out a DirecTV satellite and cancel the last few episodes of "ER".
But, if this did hit the Earth it is about he size of the thing that hit Tunguska back in 1908 - so it had the potential to cause a mess. Estimated size is 30-40 meters. It was about 11th magnitude so it was a pretty dim target to find, but with a telescope pointed in the right area taking a series of photos it would be possible to see it moving against the stars in the background.
This video was taken by Robert McNaught - yeah the same guy that got the bright comet named after him.
APOD also had this familiar photo from 1972 published in the site today. This is one that skipped off the atmosphere and went back out into space. But performed a nice little airshow on it's brief visit.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A good comet site I just came across - and another weather rant.

I came across a good web site by Gary Kronk who has a really good article about comet Lulin. A bunch of stuff about the discovery, early photos as well as current images.
Sad how the biggest astro event so far this year has been going on for a couple months, and we just can't even get any good nights to see anything here in Seattle. Yes, I'm still really upset about the weather change on Friday (see previous blog entry). But look at this satellite image from this morning, nobody on the west coast is spared today.

Oh, also on Friday there was a nice conjunction of Venus and the moon. My girlfriend is down in California this weekend and called me "Tom! The moon and Venus look so beautiful tonight. Did you see them?" I answered with a sharp "NO!" followed by a spew of profanities.
(Photo by Paul Kinzer)

Only about 20 more days until spring.