Wednesday, April 29, 2009

View from the ISS.

There is a new NASA page that is kind of interesting that just appeared on the internet. If you watch the ISS orbit on one of the many tracking web pages or software, you'll see what part of the planet it is currently over. This site will match up the view looking down from the ISS with a small catalog of photos of the area that it's currently flying over. No, they aren't live images, but images taken from the past. Not just one but several different shots.
So go to the site as it flies over your house and see images of your home city (or just cheat and find them elsewhere too searching the NASA pages).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Everything in one web page.

Here is a new site that I just heard about on "Portal to the Universe", basically it has all cool sites in one place, APOD, Heavens-Above, NASA image of the day, Lunar picture of the day....etc.
Basically, all the time wasting web pages all linked together in one place. How do they expect me to get anything done when I turn on my computer?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the topic of very large model rockets....

If you like that Saturn V, you must check out this site. This model was made from a Gi-Joe toy Mercury capsule (you can still find these on Ebay - we have 2 in our living room!). They built a rocket to fit the model and launched it with cameras all over the rocket. My favorite view was the spacecraft view showing Joe bravely commanding his ship during the launch.

First Saturn V to fly in over 36 years.

Not quite, but 1/10 the scale. Steve Eves' launched his 1600-lb, 36 foot tall monster yesterday. Looks like it all went very well, but we would hope so with $13,000 worth of engines!

Friday, April 24, 2009

When pigs fly....

You'll have to click on this image to see it in full size since it's very tall. In the United States, NASA shot chimps into space before sending a human up. I guess in Russia pigs took the seat before Yuri. They were more nervous than their human comrades since the ground crew had to load them up with some kind of wine or vodka to relax them for their flight.
From the looks of the photos, I think it was a short ballistic flight for Porky and probably didn't get his astronaut wings. But Brian the bat didn't either...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two shuttles on two pads - one last time.

Last year this was supposed to be the last time this happened, but the launch to the Hubble was delayed until May. So one more (and probably last time ever) there are two shuttles on the pads. No, this isn't going to be a Bruce Willis "Armageddon" launch, but just a second shuttle in case there is trouble.
Atlantis will make a final flight to the Hubble telescope for upgrades, and since there isn't a way out (like at the ISS) Endeavour is parked on the other pad ready to go rescue the crew with a few day's notice. STS-400 is the mission - and one that hopefully won't fly. If Endeavour flies, it's going up to rescue the crew of STS-125, and that is probably an early end to the shuttle program since the disabled shuttle will be dropped into the ocean.
(Click the image of the shuttles for a nice wallpaper sized image for your computer)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saturn V to fly on Saturday April 25.

Not the real thing, but probably the largest model rocket to ever fly. This beast was built by Steve Eves starting in May 2007. The rocket is 36 feet long (the real thing is 363 feet, so it's a perfect 1:10 scale) and weighs about 1,600 lbs. It will be powered by a cluster of 9 engines which will put out 8,000 lbs of thrust and cost $13,000 alone. A center P size surrounded b 8 N motors for a total weight of 210 lbs for the propellant alone.
We are all familiar with the Estes model engines - A through D engines, so imagine what a P engine is.
The rocket will do one of three things at noon on Saturday. Blow up, break up into many pieces or just fly perfectly. Any of those results would be pretty exciting I think. Imagine the noise this would make too. I'm sure this will be on the evening news and all over the internet. Good luck to Steve on the launch!

First decent shot with realigned scope

A few nights back I did some realignment of the telescope. Monday night I stayed out late on a work night and played past my bedtime. When is bedtime for a Seattle astronomer on a rare clear night anyway?
Another shot of one of my favorite "easy" targets. I had to make a choice between this and M51, so I picked this one. If I didn't have work the next day I could have easily stayed out much later to test out the alignment more.
Notice the stars this time, they are round - not oval like a lot of stars have looked in the past. This is a good thing. The wait continues again for the next clear night....

(click image for full size)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

....and some more from Cassini at Saturn.

Seems that the images from Saturn come in lumps. Here is a bunch from the photo essay from today. I try to keep up on these images, but a lot of these I've never seen before.
I think this is my favorite of the group. Very "sci-fi" movieish, I almost expect an alien to burst out of my gut when I see this one!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nice Saturn pic.

Saw this photo this morning and just thought it was pretty nice!
If you want to keep up on all the lastest images coming back from the swarm of spacecraft out in the solar system and beyond, the link below is the on that you want to add to your bookmarks or better yet - your browser starting page if you need your daily fix of space pictures.

| JPL Photojournal - where the new goodies are posted |
| More details on the image above |

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I've been doing it wrong for years! (Telescope alignment)

We had some clearing last night, but it wasn't anything too exciting, so I took the chance and spend a few hours trying to tweak the scope mount for better polar alignment. I found some software that makes drift alignment almost painless to do - once you figure out how the software works. Drift alignment is what you do with a polar aligned scope to align it when you don't have a clear shot of Polaris. It's a pain (although people say it's easy) since you have to watch a star in the east and south to see if it drifts up or down in the view. That will tell you if you need to twist the RA left/right and move the DEC up/down. It's confusing to do - at least for me!
So, I found this "WCS - WebCamScheinern" software that makes it fairly simple. There is a 30 day trail, and I have 15 days left. I'll just say it works, and I'll send Wolfgang my 21 EUR for registration.
Before, I would slew across the sky, and totally miss my object. After a few hours of tweaking (not as much cussing as usual) I find that now I can slew across the sky and the next object is still inside the view of a 26mm eyepiece. HUGE improvment! Also, did some testing of the autguiding and my errors are now much smaller. I've been putting up with a mis-aligned mess for about 4 years now?
Here are some quick samples I took last night to test out the autoguiding. M27 The Dumbbell nebula - focus isn't great, but the stars are only slightly "Twinkie" shaped. M57 Ring nebula - I've always had guiding problems in this par of the sky for some reason, stars would always trail. Now it looks better than ever.
I now wait again for a clear night to test this out more....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Moon eats Venus during a meteor shower on Wed. morning.

This could be something worth getting up early for. Early Wednesday morning, there is the Lyrid meteor shower which we know is usually best after around 3am for those things. About 5am if you are still awake, the moon will cross in front of Venus hiding the planet for 60-90 minutes, then it will pop out the other side again. That could make for a fine photograph or video.
If in Seattle, stay in bed wake up for work at the usual time and check out the photos others have taken. This IS Seattle remember?

Diagram showing the event, notice Seattle is smack in the middle of the moon!...and what we'll see on Wednesday.

| More from the NASA site |

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some great time-lapse sky shots and a bit of Floyd

Download this this in HD, turn off the lights watch and listen. Imagine you are someplace where skies actually get dark!

Timescapes Timelapse: Learning to Fly from Tom @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Star Vistas" new astronomy photo book.

I was going nuts at work today, and had to get outside for some air. I did one of my favorite "get some air" walks and went over to Barnes & Noble to look around a bit. I came across a book called "Star Vistas" that looked great. The book is by Noel Carboni and Greg Parker. I'm familiar with Noel since I bought is Photoshop Astro Tools plugin a while back and use it all the time for processing my images.
Forewards written by Sir Arthur C Clarke, Sir Patrick Moore and Dr. Brian May. You gotta admit that Dr. Brian May is quite an amazing guy, he was the guitar player for Queen for 30 years then finally went back and finished his doctorate in Astrophysics.
The book looked so good that I went back and found a copy for $30 after shipping from an on-line dealer ($39 at the store - I'm cheap, I avoid tax and save what I can online!)
Look for a review later once I get the book and have a chance to read through it.

Disasters, accidents and incidents...

I came across this chart on one of my favorite space geek sites - - which was pretty fascinating and a bit scary too. The chart shows all the major space disasters resulting in crew deaths, injuries, aborts and a lot of other things that were probably not known about.
The gray boxes are Russian, white are United States, yellow is very bad since that resulted in the loss of the entire crew, gray stripes is some kind of bad thermal issue...and so on (there is a key to the colors on the chart).
Some interesting ones - Soyuz 18-1 had an abort during a second stage problem, Apollo 11 nearly got stuck on the moon with a broken circuit breaker (I read about this once and Buzz stuck a pen cap in the breaker to allow the engine to light), and look at all the stuff dropped on EVAs during shuttle missions!
Click on the chart to download and view it. Pretty interesting, and frightening. Hopefully, this won't be updated with more yellow.

(Click to view full chart 2.5 meg .jpg)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The mysterious "Rubber Rooms" under complex 39 launch pads.

Back in the Apollo days of the mighty Saturn V launches, a special room was built under the launch complex 39 pads. They called this the "rubber room", no it wasn't built to subdue or hide crazy astronauts from the public, but was actually a kind of bomb shelter. If the Saturn blew up, it would have gone off like a small atomic bomb (see my earlier post).
The plan was, if the rocket misbehaved before firing the engines, astronauts would quickly exit the spacecraft, run across the arm, take a speedy elevator down the tower, and dive down a hole to slide into the depths of the launch pad. Once they stop sliding they would get up and dive into a vault type room built on rubber pads. They strap into some seats and let the Saturn above blow itself into tiny bits. They could stay down in the hole for 24 hours while rescuers dug them out of the rubble.
Today, if the shuttle blows up on the pad (assuming there is time to run), the crew slides down baskets, dives into a bunker, then they get into tanks and drive quickly away.
These rooms are still under the pad, but locked shut. I guess they aren't forgotten, but still one of the less known trivia items about the space program.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ultimate Lego space shuttle.

When I was a kid, I used to pull out my huge box of Lego (I still have it, and it's about 50 lbs now) and spend a rainy afternoon on the floor of my room building an airport. I was pretty sloppy with colors and just put together buildings, planes, and terminals so they looked like a failed Rubik's cube attempt. This was real Lego too, not that stuff with all the special parts that they have nowadays, we had to use our imaginations. Not a single Jar Jar Binks in my box - and still none. Lego purist all the way!
Anyway, here is a Space Shuttle made by a couple of Japanese master Lego builders who spent 1,590 man hours and about 65,000 Lego bricks to build this. Pretty darn awesome! I wonder how they had the time to build this? No jobs? Or was this their job? Hopefully, they picked up the spare parts on the carpet, we know how much that hurts to step on in the middle of the night with bare feet....
(Thanks to Phil Plait's blog for the info on this)

Yes....more Redoubt.

Ok, I like volcanoes. Got a problem with that?
Big Picture had a cool photo essay today with some photos from Alaska....

More volcanic stuff seen from above.

I'm on an RSS feed from NASA's Earth Observatory Site which has new images of the Earth from space every day. There is always some volcano blowing up someplace leaving a mess around it.
There is a section of images from Mt. Redoubt that are pretty amazing. They are taken from directly above the volcano with fancier stuff than I have access to.
I think this is one of my favorites so far (right).
Just look at that big, black, nasty cloud of ash headed directly toward Homer.
Here is the results of the volcano downstream from the mountain. The oil terminal looks like it took a pretty good hit from the lahar. This is the reason that if you live in Orting, Enumclaw, maybe the lower parts of Puyallup or even the Kent valley, you better be aware that you are living on top of an old lahar from Rainier!
Renton Highlands might not be the fanciest place to live, but I'm on a hill, out of the lahar zone - and I have a great view of he volcano if/when it explodes. Grab the camera, lawn chair and binoculars and head up the street to the school field!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Redoubt eruption Saturday seen from space - in Renton, WA basement.

After watching for a while, I finally found that I captured some images of one of Mt. Redoubt's eruptions from my basement station. Yesterday, (Saturday 4/4/09 5:55 ADT) the volcano blew off a nice big ash cloud to 50,000 feet. The NOAA-17 satellite made a pass (click right photo) over the area about 4 hours later where you can see that the mountain was still busy spewing. The next image (left photo) was about 7 hours later NOAA-18 passed, Redoubt had calmed down, but the big ash cloud can be still seen extending to the south.
Homer, Alaska was right in the path of the plume and for a while it totally blocked out daylight while the ash fell on the snow. Probably familiar if you rememberber St. Helens and Eastern Washington back in 1980.
The skies were sunny over Seattle for a change, with high hazy stuff, but we'll take it over the snow we have had this week! Also, look closely at the ocean near San Francisco, airplane contrails can be seen over the water.
The NOAA satellites that are active are NOAA 15,16,17,18, and 19. I don't get anything from NOAA-16 since it's APT transmitter screwed up shortly after the satellite went active, and NOAA-19 was just launched a few months ago and will be the last of this series of spacecraft. The satellites are in a polar orbit where they orbit over the poles and cover the whole Earth. If the satellite is above the horizon, I can pick it up and it will send down images of what it is directly flying over at the time at about 500 miles above the Earth. The signals can easily be heard on a Radio Shack police scanner (or similar) around 137 Mhz.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brian Bat Foundation

Yeah....more stuff on Brian the Space Bat.