Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Look behind you!! -Soyuz TMA-16 launch

TMA-16 flight to the ISS just launched last night after midnight Seattle time. Always on time, no delays, scrubs or problems with the 40 year old technology. The flight is carrying Cirque du Soleil billionaire Guy Laliberte as the space tourist this time.
Ok, the part that really confuses me is this video. The reporter is so close to the launch pad (she would be killed dead if that thing blew up), but she never turns around to watch the rocket launch!? Wha?? If I was offered the chance, I'd risk getting blown to tiny bits if I could stand there and see a launch. That would be so totally freaking awesome! What is wrong with her? WHY doesn't she turn around, stop talking and say "Ooooohhh!" like most normal people?
Total waste of a good VIP launch pass.

Messenger went into Safe Mode - better then a blue screen!

Yesterday's Messenger flyby of Mercury didn't go quite as planned. Just as it passed the planet the spacecraft kicked into safe mode and there were no images from after the flyby. Kind if a bummer, but the pass was more of a 'gravitational steering' pass to get the spacecraft aimed toward orbiting the planet in 2010 - and that part was a complete success. At least a CTRL-ALT-DEL isn't needed.
There were some very cool photos that came back before the computer barfed. The pass was 142 miles over the surface at a speed of 12,000 mph.

Another old spacecraft found on the moon.

This time Surveyor 1 is the latest spacecraft that has been re-discovered on the moon by the LRO. Surveyor 1 was the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon on June 2, 1966. So here it is seen again finally after sitting there for 43 years!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Transition from Summer to Fall skies...M31

Fall and winter seem to be the best times to view M31 since it's getting higher in the sky after sunset and gets better as the night goes on. The last few days of our long summer gave a few more clear nights and still warm temperatures, but that seems to have come to an end now with cold weather, rain, clouds, and snow possible above 4,000 feet now. Bleah.
This image of M31 Andromeda was taken over two nights. I think I'm finally happy with a shot of this thing now. My plans for a long time were to get an image good enough to make into a nice, big 16x20 print that I can put on the wall. I still have a way to go on this one, hopefully getting more images to stack over the next few months for the ultimate M31 from a light polluted location! This one is a combination of 24 frames stacked over 2 nights. Each exposure was 5 minutes at 800 ISO and I carefully went through Jerry Lodriguss' CD book to as a processing guide. More to come....
(click on image for full size)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

M-33 from my backyard.

I took this shot last night from the backyard "Astro-Shack". It's the M-33 galaxy which is about 3 million light years away from us. Looking back in time again, this is what the galaxy looked like 3 million years ago. Does the little photon that traveled through space like the fact that it spent 3 million years to get here, only to be sucked up in the telescope and saved to a hard drive? Who knows!
But at least it was a photon that wasn't wasted. I'm writing this from out back in the observatory again, tonight's target is M31 Andromeda. Looking ok so far, but I'll know if I have anything good after stacking and processing. Could be fantastic, or just another light polluted waste of time. Never know with this hobby, just gotta keep trying, the good images show up now and then!
(Click image for full size)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Texas to expel Armstrong from history?

Disturbing, annoying, frightening, and just plain stupid. There is talk that the Texas Board of Education wants to remove Neil Armstrong from the school social studies books. Their reasoning? Armstrong is not a scientist! Ok, we all know that the state of math and science education in this country is lacking, but limiting historical figures that are not scientists is not going to make more kids want to study math and science more.
I do have high respect for scientists and kind of consider myself an "amateur scientist" but if I was riding along in the LM plunging toward a boulder field with 30 seconds of fuel left, the guy on my left hand flying the ship, and 1201 alarms going off - I'd rather have an experienced test pilot there than a scientist flying the ship. No offense to Dr. Harrison Schmitt of course, even though he was the only true scientist to walk on the moon, he was more of a button pusher, altitude reader, gauge watcher for Gene Cernan when they landed Apollo 17 on the moon. Texas he could end up being the only person mentioned to walk the moon if the Education Board has their way. This could lead to exposure of the other 11 guys though, since wouldn't some kid have a question about them if there was mention that Schmitt was on the last mission? Who were the others that came before them? Who was the first? Some guy name Lance or Louie Armstrong wasn't it?
The decision won't be made until January, but let's hope Neil doesn't get "Plutoed" out of the history books even if the earth is only 5,000 years old and was created rather than evolved! *Ugh!*

Monday, September 21, 2009

PIggyback return home.

Discovery made it back home to Florida this morning. This may be the last time that we ever see a shuttle come home on the back of the 747 from California...maybe. We have 6 more flights until these old bird's wings are clipped forever, so we never know yet if another landing will happen in California. The shuttles will all get at least one more ride on the 747 - when they are delivered to museums around the country. Of course we'll get one of them here in Seattle! (At least I'm sure hoping Dr. Dunbar can pull this off and get us one).

More images from Saturn Equinox.

There was a big release of new images today from JPL with the newest shots from the Cassini spacecraft at the Saturn Equinox. The rings are hidden from Earth since they are edge-on to us, and just look like a thin line, but Saturn is going behind the sun right now so we can't see it anyway. Cassini sent back more amazing images, and a video showing how the rings cool down with the lack of sunlight.
I think I have a new favorite Saturn image. Kind of a dark and spooky looking view of the planet from above, but really nice if you ask me!

NASA - ESA Equinox at Saturn, cassini 2009.09.21

Friday, September 18, 2009

NASA budget chart

I'm not very good at politics, government spending and all that stuff, so I don't talk about it much. (I barely passed US Government in high school - now you know!) I was looking for info on how much money goes where, and this chart made it easy to visualize. Kind of like playing "Where's Waldo" when you first look for the NASA logo in this chart. (click for full size)

The end is in sight - STS-133 crew named.

Space shuttle Discovery will be the ship chosen to bring the shuttle program to an end with the STS-133 mission. The final flight will be September 16, 2010 - we know that date will change like it always does though. But for now, that is it.
Flaps - up, transponder - standby, avionics switch - off, mixture - cutoff, master switch - off, secure aircraft. ....well not quite, but you get the point.
The final crew has been named as, Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe, Al Drew, Mike Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott as the last crew of the space shuttle. Interesting that Nicole Stott and Mike Barratt are currently on board the ISS at this time. I wonder if this is the first time a crew has been assigned to another flight while currently on a mission? Lucky them, at least they know they will get one more trip to space.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the shuttle cancellation. It mostly really bugs me that we don't have a replacement in place for possibly another 5 years after the shuttles are tucked away in museums. Even more frightening is the fact that there isn't enough money for the ambitious plans NASA has for the future with manned trips to the moon, and who knows if the Ares 1, Orion, and Ares V will even become a reality? The drive and ambition is there, but nothing can be done, rockets don't fly, moon landings don't happen, space stations get scrapped, if there isn't money.
As for recycling technology into a hybrid "Apollo on steroids" mix of shuttle and Apollo technology, I feel it's a step backwards. We go from flying the most complex machine ever built in history, to flying bottle rockets again. Sure, the shuttle has had it's problems, delays, near disasters, full blown disasters killing 14 people, and never lived up to it's plans of the "routine" flying UPS truck to orbit. I feel that NASA has been on a fairly smooth highway to the stars (with some potholes and detours). Now the pavement is ending, and there is a very muddy dirt road ahead that isn't even included in the Garmin GPS database. Anyway....I could ramble on for a while about my thoughts on this, good, bad and very undecided at this point.

So what I need to do now is get up early on the NASA ticket sales day and be ready to hit the "[Purchase ticket]" button within the fist few minutes after 6am (or 9am Florida time) and get another trip over to KSC. I saw STS-117, and I WILL see one more of the final 6 flights before the old birds are permanently grounded forever.
Here is a rough schedule for the ending of the shuttle program:


11/12...Atlantis....STS-129/ISS-ULF3...3....ELC-1; ELC-2 (external spares)

02/04...Endeavour...STS-130/ISS-20A....3....Node 3 (Tranquility); cupola
03/18...Discovery...STS-131/ISS-19A....3....Logistics module; science racks
05/14...Atlantis....STS-132/ISS-ULF4...3....Russian research module; spares
07/29...Endeavour...STS-134/ISS-ULF6...3....Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer; spares
09/16...Discovery...STS-133/ISS-ULF5...0....Permanent Logistics Module; spares

X-15 + 50 years.

Time for another anniversary. This time is the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the X-15 rocket plane back in 1959. Scott Crossfield was the first brave guy to get dropped off the wing of the B-52 as if riding in a big black bomb with stubby wings. Then flipped a switch to light the engines and it became the fastest and highest flying plane - until Rutan beat the altitude record with his SpaceShip one.
NASA in it's effort to encourage the general public to become more interested in all this really cool space stuff, they came up with another interactive web page. Here is the latest page, this time on the X-15. Check it out and get distracted for a while. Good stuff!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gigagalaxy Zoom

Seems that the internet keeps coming up with more and more cool sites that once you get into them, you can end up spending hours there. The latest of these time-sucking beasts is a new site called "Gigagalaxy Zoom". This is an 800 million pixel image of the night sky with the Milky Way through the middle. The photo is composed of about 120 hours of images at 6 minutes each and assembled into a large image. Here is a quote from the site that describes it:
The painstaking production of this image came about as a collaboration between the renowned French writer and astrophotographer Serge Brunier, his fellow Frenchman Frédéric Tapissier, and ESO staff. Brunier spent several weeks during the period between August 2008 and February 2009 capturing the sky, mostly from ESO observatories at La Silla and Paranal in Chile. In order to cover the full Milky Way, Brunier also made a weeklong trip to La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, to photograph the northern skies.
Anyway, go check it out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

NGC 6946

Clear nights here in Renton this weekend. So I went after a galaxy that was nearly straight up in the sky. Good since it's got less atmosphere to look through, a little less on the light pollution around the horizon, and it also seems that the scope seems to autoguide fairly well on stuff that is directly overhead.
This galaxy is magnitude 8.9, and is about 10,000 light years way. So, this is what the thing looked like 10,000 years ago!
This shot is made up of 10, 5-minute exposures at ISO 800 with that Canon 350D. Imaged at f/6.3 with the 12" Meade LX200.
(Click image to see full size)

Cassini and Star Trek

I may be one of the few people that found the latest Star Trek movie appalling, and made me wonder if my Lasik eye surgery had suddenly failed me with all the pointless lens flares and motion sickeness inducing camera angles. That's a whole different argument that I could get started, so I'll stop there.
Anyway, the coolest part of the movie was the fact that Carolyn Porco from the Cassini imaging team contributed to the movie and oversaw the use of Saturn images. Remember the scene where the Enterprise rose out of Titan's atmosphere? It was a very small part, but pretty nice otherwise. That image is now available from Diamond Sky Productions to download.
(I'd post it, but there is a big Paramount notice about not posting it on other websites. Click link below for the images)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Target aquired and locked.

The LRO spacecraft has been mapping the moon and the target crater has been picked for the LCROSS Centaur stage impact, followed by LCROSS itself a few minutes later. The dark, hopefully ice filled crater is named Cabeus A at the south pole of the moon.
Impact is going to be around 4:30am (Seattle time) on October 9. Got to get up early (or just don't go to bed?) that night to see this. Should be visible from ground based telescopes including us amateurs with our wee little scopes in our backyards. October 9 is a risky time for us Seattle dwellers though....yeah - clouds. We could (and I'm sure hoping) get an extended summer which we sometimes get, so I'm hoping we get some good weather for this event. I just have to practice on the moon now and figure out my exposures for images and video.
| See Emily's Planetary Society blog for more|

Saturday, September 12, 2009

That's no moon, that's a space station!

I think I used that title before, but it works. The ISS flew over my house at about 7:48pm. It was really tough since the sun had just gone down, and I had to find a star to focus on. Jupiter could be seen, but was behind a bush. Synced the scope on the estimated Jupiter location, then slewed to Vega. Found it pretty close, so used it to focus with a few seconds to spare. Bahtinov mask is a true lifesaver!

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11/01 -- 9/11/09

NGC 7331

After some processing of the image below. Not sure if I like the processing though, will take some more work.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ares-1 solid rocket test.

There was a problem about a week ago when this monster was supposed to be lit. You know how these things are, "place on ground, light fuse, get away, do not point at face...."
Today the the full test firing of the first stage of the Ares-1 went off. This is the rocket that will get the future astronauts off the ground and is basically the same thing that the shuttle uses, but without the shuttle and tank. Again, this is one of those rockets that once lit - you fly - until it's done.
Interesting history behind this rocket. The segments have all flown before on the shuttle, including STS-1 way back in 1981 when Columbia first flew on it. (Click graphic for details).

Live image from backyard observatory

Just for fun, here is what a single raw image looks like from our backyard observatory. I'm out back right now imaging the NGC 7331 galaxy group, and surfing the internet while monitoring the scope. The techie details:
  • Scope: Meade LX200 Classic 12"
  • Guiding scope: Orion 80ED with Meade DSI for guide camera.
  • Imaging software: ImagesPlus 3.80 (Just got the newest version and testing it out right now)
  • Camera: Canon 350D (with IR mod)
  • Image: single 5 minute frame at ISO 800. Dust specks, vignetting from f/6.3 reducer, and red sky from light pollution are all visible.
Check back later for the final stacked version. Should look better if all works out right!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another 2000 sols on Mars - Opportunity this time

The stuck Spirit rover had it's 2000 day celebration recently, and now it's Opportunity's time for it's 2000 sol anniversary. Opportunity has been stopped for a while poking, sniffing and looking very closely at the "Block Island" meteorite found a while back just sitting out in the open on the open plains of Meridiani Planum. The rover is still working it's way across to the big Endeavor crater and is currently 4.2 km into it's 19km journey.
A poster celebrating the rover's 1,910 days past warranty expiration is shown below. Be sure to download the full image to read the poetry.

First light with "new" Hubble telescope

We have been waiting a while for these to be released. After Hubble was upgraded a few months back, it has been going through a bunch of calibrations, testing and other stuff. We did get a quick peek at Jupiter when the "Wesley Impact" happened, but then back to the calibrating. Finally, the first new images are out, and they are....uh....speechless. (Just look at them!)
Zoom I think my favorite of the new ones is the Stephan's Quintet image (the one at the top right). Zoom in close on the image and look around the galaxies. There are a whole bunch of other galaxies in the background! This is a tough object to image from the backyard, and seeing it like this (and that background stuff!) made me have to get up off the floor - fell out of my seat when I first saw it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The always fun to watch SRB camera views.

(Double click the video for other view options)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Want a job with JPL? Here's your chance!

I'm actually "employed" by JPL myself and have one of these jobs as a Solar System Ambassador. The job doesn't pay anything, but you do public outreach activities such as star parties, talks at schools, Space Day activities at local museums, and whatever else you can come up with to get the public interested in our Astronomy hobby. You do get on lists for a ton of email links from NASA with links to download a ton of information on space exploration, and every now and then you'll get a large envelope full of goodies to give out (or keep some of it yourself!) to the public. They also send you a snazzy name tag with your photo on it next the words "NASA" and "JPL". Pretty official! I've done it for about 2 years now and have a lot of events logged on my profile page.
Here are the details:

Wanted: Volunteer Ambassadors to the Stars

What do a teacher, surfer, firefighter, award-winning book author and neurosurgeon have in common? A love of space and a desire to share that passion. They've joined a growing number of private citizens in NASA's Solar System Ambassador program, which brings space information to the public through planetarium talks, telescope-viewing parties, mall displays and other events. Now you can volunteer too. Applications are being accepted through Sept. 30.

Ambassadors are U.S. citizens selected from all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico or U.S. citizens serving U.S. audiences abroad. The program is one of the longest-running NASA volunteer outreach projects.


* Ideal volunteers are self-starters who are enthusiastic about space exploration and active in their communities
* Demonstrated ability in public engagement and/or disseminating information
* Initiative and ingenuity to engage his/her community in learning about NASA's space exploration efforts
* Ability to inspire community youth to seek careers in science and technology
* Makes the best responsible use of the materials provided
* Each ambassador agrees to hold at least four public events during the year and report on those events

Volunteer Benefits Include:

* Receive online training from JPL
* Educational materials supplied by various space missions
* Contact with mission scientists
* E-Mail updates with mission information and news
* Satisfaction of knowing you've made a difference in someone's life

Rocket jiggling old and new.

Once again it seems that the best way to test a rocket stack on the pad is to jiggle it by hand or foot. The Aries 1-X rocket is completely stacked, and the biggest thing to come out of the VAB in Florida since the Saturn V in the early 70s. Back then they had a bunch of guys pulling on a rope and others pushing with their feet to get the full 363 foot tall beast to rock back and forth.
Today, they are still doing similar things with the new Ares rocket. If I had a chance to do this, I'd do it with my bare feet - yeah, I'd be pretty excited to smear my greasy toes on one of these!
Aries jiggling:

Saturn V jiggling:
| Click here for video and more details on why they did this |

Whoopie! There's Apollo 12 site.

If Pete Conrad was still alive, I'm sure that is probably what he would say. His words when he was the 3rd person to step on the moon was "That may have been one small step for Neil, but it's a long one for me!"
The LRO has recently sent back some photos of the Apollo 12 site where Pete Conrad and Alan Bean explored. They landed next to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft which is also easily seen in this photo. The orbiter still has few more weeks before it reaches it's final low orbit, so hopefully we'll see even more details of the Apollo sites coming up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jupiter from a couple nights ago.

Might be the last clear night for a while from the looks of the forecast. A bright moon was out, but it was a nice warm evening anyway, so it was better to spend time outdoors. Deep sky imaging was pointless with the moon, so I tried Jupiter. Atmosphere was pretty stable so the image isn't too bad. I need to stack more frames though, this was maybe 200 images stacked. Odd things happening with the observatory computer though, might need some work or an upgrade.
No sign of the 'Wesley Impact" I think that has disappated below the reach of my equipment and skies.
(Click photo for full size)

In space, nobody can hear you scream.

...but there are still sounds that come from the sky in the form of radio emissions. I came across a very interesting web page by a Swedish space enthusiast named Sven Grahn. He has an interesting hobby of using radios to track and record the sounds from spacecraft. He has quite an extensive collection of sound recordings on his site all the way back to Explorer-1 (though he didn't record the older stuff). There is a lot of links and articles on the web page too. I think I could spend a long time reading and listening to his stuff.
Reminded me of the "Lost Cosmonauts" site that claims to have recordings of Russian space disasters and the final gasps of Cosmonauts before they died in a horrible fiery death. I'm not really sure what to make of this site, but I'm still wondering if Yuri Gagarin may have only been the first to survive a trip into space? There might be some mystery in there still.