Blog Archives

New Scary Posts for Halloween!

Here are my best posts on Halloween:

 

  1. History of Halloween, NEW https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/astronomy-myths-and-legends/
  2. My exploration of the myths of Werewolves! https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/new-page-astronomy-myths-and-legends-new-wolf-moon-hooowl/ 
  3. Harvest Moons: https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/09/ 
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Stargazers Watch Earthbound Satellite Make Fiery Reentry | Video – ABC News

Today the GOCE European Space sattelite came crashing down to the South Atlantic Ocean! Scientists caution that there is a huge garbage dump of sattelites orbiting our planet and that this could happen again at any moment. The lesson here appears to be: “Space to Earth, CLEAN UP YOUR SKY!”

Stargazers Watch Earthbound Satellite Make Fiery Reentry | Video – ABC News.

SUPER MOON MADNESS!

Tonight is the beginning of what astronomers call the Moon’s Perigee, the point in which the Moon is closest to the Earth. This means that tonight, the Moon will appear 12% bigger than usual!
Find out how to spot craters and

Not only is this the biggest Moon of the year, it’s also one of the most interesting. June 23rd’s full moon is classified as a “Strawberry Moon,” or “Rose Moon” It was called Strawberry by the Algonquin Native Americans because they knew this full moon was an ideal time to gather fruit. To learn more about this particular full moon, I’ve posted a link to a video created by the good folks at “The Farmer’s Almanac”, a trusted astronomy resource for over 100 years.

So I hope to see some of you down at Primland to look at this beautiful full moon. I know I’ll be training the telescope on it!

Happy Stargazing

Is NASA headed for “The Abyss?”

TheAbyss Like most of us in this economy, NASA has had to make some budget cuts. When they released their 2014 budget, it cut over $55 million from the previous year. Planetary studies have been hurt the most with 300 million cut from the budget. Looking at this, it’s clear that studying our solar system is just not a priority anymore; NASA is taking new directions with its research and some of its new plans are quite exciting.

For Example, NASA is increasing its funding to support Earth science; tracking man made and natural changes to our planet, including pollution and climate changes. The idea is that hopefully learning more about how to protect our planet and to protect ourselves.

In addition, there is also a program in place to start manned missions into space once again. I’ve written about this before when I mentioned the Orion Spacecraft, the first manned spacecraft designed for interplanetary orbit in 30 years. NASA is already building the space capsule, and the whole project should be finished by 2021.

BUT, there is one item on the NASA budget that seems right out of science fiction- The capture and mining of ASTEROIDS!

That’s right, President Obama approved a new project designed to send a special craft out into space for the purposes of finding and capturing a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA), and then bringing it back down to Earth to study, and eventually mine it for its contents. This might sound like something out of a James Cameron movie, but it really is part of the NASA budget, and the project is getting underway as we speak.

So why mine asteroids? To answer this question, I’ll break down the arguments and, (to continue with the Sci-Fi theme I’ve begun), I’m going to list them one by one, and name them after some awesome Sci-fi movie titles.

1. The Abyss/ Avatar-

According to scientific estimates, one asteroid may contain over $20 TRILLION dollars worth of precious metals, as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. Ultimately, it might improve NASA’s budget and the world economy greatly to invest in asteroid mining. Plus, unlike Avatar, all of these asteroids would be uninhabited, making mining comparatively easy from a socio-political standpoint. Still, as you can see from the video above, to make this plan economically viable on a large scale we would need to develop vastly superior rockets, to keep the cost of sending rockets up into space all the time lower than the profits reaped from the asteroids themselves. As far fetched as this idea may seem, companies are already working to make it a reality. Imagine NASA beginning a new industry as unlimited as the universe itself!

2. Titan AE

If our planet were to suffer a cataclysm, (which could literally happen any day now), we will need to find a new way of getting water, oxygen, and the ingredients to create plant life. In addition to precious metals, asteroids also contain all of these. Bits of oxygen and hydrogen are locked up within the rocks. In addition, we know that asteroids contain ingredients for life, since 3.5 billion years ago, they helped develop life on our own planet. Therefore, if we ever need to leave the Earth, it makes more sense to mine our raw materials from asteroids, rather than taking everything with us. Of course, getting us off the Earth, is a much bigger problem:

3. Armeggedon

As the Russian meteor explosion grimly reminded us, Earth could literally be hit by an asteroid at any time without warning. This is why the primary goal of the Asteroid Retrieval project is to study asteroids and determine how best to combat a potential threat. Lest we forget, an asteroid destroyed entire species on our planet 65 million years ago, and we need to be careful to make sure it doesn’t happen to us (cue the dramatic music).

So there you are, the major reasons why it’s a good idea to find asteroids and bring them back here. We eagerly await NASA making this project a reality, so that they make space a safer and more profitable place to live. As one more treat, here is a NASA animation of how the project might look, with dramatic Hollywood music underscoring for good measure.

Cool Astronomy Resources For Kids

Hello everyone!

In addition to running this blog and giving nightly astronomy tours, I am also working on developing a kid’s astronomy program for the resort. In my quest to make astronomy fun, accessible, and interactive for young people, I came across some valuable free resources that I’d like to share with you. Obviously there are hundreds of blogs, podcasts, video channels, and websites out there and I could never share them all, so if you like this post and think something should be added, let me know! I’d be happy to make this a new page on the blog and follow up weekly with new resources.

So here is a short multimedia collection of links that you can show to your young ones to get them excited about space:

Video channels

Deep Sky Videos– An excellent channel, not only for astronomy, but for science all together. It features great pictures by professional astro-photographers and lots of valuable data.


NASA TV- Here’s NASA’s official YouTube Channel, which provides you with simple, clear explanations of what our space agency is doing. Sometimes they interview astronauts on the International Space Station, and get them to talk about life in space.

NASA JPL Live This is not Youtube, but a live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Whenever there is any kind of live event at NASA, such as the docking of a spacecraft, or live pictures from Mars, you can access it with this link!

Video streaming by Ustream
Apps

Exoplanet- A free app that allows you to keep track of any new planets discovered outside our solar system. You can use your mobile device to find each planet in an interactive map of the galaxy, zooming at warp speed to newly discovered worlds.

Sky Viewer- This app tells you exactly what planets and constellations you are looking at by overlaying names and a connect-the dots pattern over the night sky. A GPS compass keeps track of where you are, and you can see the stars using the display. There is a pay version that also shows you more planets and keeps track of satellites, but the free version is a nice way to learn the constellations and keep track of where you are in the sky.

NASA Space Weather Map (Android App only)

View near real-time images of outer space from current NASA missions. Learn about weather near the Sun, Solar Wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Heliosphere from scientists who study them

I did find some neat pay apps from this website too, just in case you aren’t  satisfied with the free stuff:

Websites

Astronomy.com– The official website of Astronomy Magazine, loaded with pictures, articles, and tips for amateur astronomers, and yes, there’s a kids’ page.

ISS Tracker- A website that allows you to know where the International Space Station is at all times!

NASA’s JPL Planet Quest- A great interactive site which teaches kids about planets beyond our solar system, by allowing them to create one, studying the ideal conditions for creating life in the universe.

Social Media

The Curiosity Rover’s Twitter Page- Updates from the mission, written in the first person by the robot.

Kids Needs Science (Tumblr Page)-Full of beautiful pictures of space objects and links to articles.

International Space Station Facebook -Regularly updated with videos, pictures, and news articles.

So there’s a rough start to the vast world of astronomy for kids on the web. Like I said earlier, I’d be happy to post any of your suggestions, or turn this into a regular feature on the blog. Let me know in the comments. In closing, just to show you how far we’ve come with online education, I’d like to post an oldie but a goodie- Bill Nye the Science Guy explores comets and meteors:

Happy Stargazing!

 

Happy Earths Day!

Hi everyone, and no, that is not a typo- Today marks not only the celebration of Earth Day on our planet, it also heralds the discovery of not one, not two but THREE Earth-like planets!

Kepler-62-system

Just three days ago, the Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to look for planets beyond our solar system, discovered a group of planets known as Kepler 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. These planets come from two star systems over 1,200 light years away. Although the discovery was a few days ago, we’re celebrating now because it coincides with the celebration of our own planet.

Now, there are over 600 confirmed extra-solar planets in our galaxy and certainly there may be many, many more, but these planets are special because they orbit their respective stars within what’s called the “habitable zone,” that is, a safe distance from the star that keeps the planet from being scorched like Mercury, or frozen like Neptune. Since we can’t actually see the surface of these planets, this is our best guess to determine if a planet is capable of supporting life.

This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to find inhabited planets in this century. In our tours at Primland, we go into detail about the search for Earth like planets outside our solar system in our presentations, including the search for planets that might be inhabited by intelligent life! Hope you’ll come down and join us soon!

So Happy Earth Day everyone!  Also, (as a special bonus), I thought I’d include a video of Earth from space, so that you can see our planet in a new, special light:

Happy Stargazing!

Happy Anniversary, Hubble!

 
That’s right, today is the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s year in space. Its mission: observe the furthest objects ever seen in our universe, further beyond any human’s reach. After 1,000,000 peeps through the mighty space telescope, scientists have learned more than ever thought possible about the origins of our universe, the nature of planets beyond the Earth, and our place in the cosmos. Just today, Hubble scientists released a photo of the Horsehead Nebula, which Hubble last photographed in 2001. Using infra-red light, the telescope peered deeper into this mysterious dark cloud, and found the filaments that give it structure. Check it out in the video below!

 

 

If you like looking at Hubble photos like I do (and who doesn’t?), check out their facebook page, and their website: http://www.spacetelescope.org/, which also has videos, merchandise, and educational materials for teachers and students.

Mars discoveries, Curious?

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

The Curiosity Rover in Self-Portrait

Well, the Curiosity Rover is still working, though it will be unable to communicate with the Earth for over a month. However, it won’t  stop working, using its 10 scientific instruments to peer into the chemical, geological, and atmospheric makeup of Mars. Today I want to give you a general overview of the project, and some of its hopes and dreams; above all, the dream of finding life. Curiosity has the tools to find the building blocks of life, not just water but the chemical compounds that allow us to exist on Earth. If Curiosity can find these on Mars, someday we may be able to sent people to Mars and make it a new home for sustaining Earth plants and animals on another world.

What Is Curiosity?

The Curiosity is a rover, a robot that can roll around the surface of another planet, taking pictures, soil and gas samples and other scientific data back to Earth.

What’s It Up To?

Curiosity’s basic objective is to investigate the presence of water on Mars. As far as we know, water is the essential ingredient of all life. Other NASA missions have found clues that there was water on Mars, but in order to get a better view of Mars, Curiosity is here to use its advanced instruments to find a clear answer. Curiosity also trying to find clues in the Martian atmosphere, to see how different it is from Earth. Just yesterday, after 248 days on Mars, NASA announced that ancient Mars could have supported life:

“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably — if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,”   said John Grotzinger, NASA’s chief scientist for the Curiosity Project.

11 Cool Facts About the Curiosity Rover

  1. The mission cost $2.5 billion!
  2. The MSL spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral FLA, the same place where in 1971, NASA launched the first ever spacecraft to orbit Mars, (Mariner).
  3. Around 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing.
  4. The landing site of the Curiosity Rover is called the “Bradburry Landing Site,” named in honor of author Ray Bradburry, author of “The Martian Chronicles,” who died just two months after the rover landed.
  5. The Bradbury landing site rests within a 3.5 billion year old crater that could have actually been formed by wind erosion and water sediment, which is one reason for the trip- to discover whether Mars could potentially support life as we know it, or if it did support life in the past.
  6. Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, it took over 7 minutes to send a message from the Curiosity Rover to the scientists over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a period which the JPL dubbed, “The Seven Minutes of Terror”
  7. Just two days ago, (4/9/13) Curiosity found proof that the Martian atmosphere used to be thicker, and more Earth like. Now the atmosphere is mostly full of Greenhouse gases, which suggests that some kind of Global Warming might have happened on Mars
  8. The Rover is about the size of a small car, and weighs about 2,000 pounds
  9. Curiosity is powered by a small Nuclear Reactor, called a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
  10. The Rover actually has a lucky penny! To calibrate its complex cameras, the rover has a 1980 Lincoln penny attached to its  Mars Hand Lens Imager
  11. Curiosity is the only robot in the solar system to have a Twitter Account, which by the way, has been nominated for a Webby Award. If you visit the page and like what you see, you can vote to make Curiosity, a very happy interplanetary robot.

Key moments in the Curiosity Timeline

  • November 26, 2011- The MSL spacecraft, containing the Curiosity Rover, launches from Cape Canaveral
  • August 6, 2012- The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, after a journey of 127 million miles.
  • August 7th, 2012- First pictures from the surface of Mars. Later photos would also be broadcast in 3D!
  • August 22nd- Curiosity Rove tests out its on-board laser, and tests its driving motors around the surface of Mars.
  • August 29- Curiosity beams a song from the surface of Mars back to Earth, composed by Will.I.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
  • September 27th- The rover discovers the remnants of an ancient river bed on Mars, making  a great case for the existence of water.
  • October 27th- Curiosity discovers mysterious pockets of Methane gas below the surface of Mars, which might be by-products of microscopic life forms.
  • November 24th- Curiosity tracks a dust storm on Mars.
  • February 7th- Curiosity starts drilling into the surface of Mars, to find the chemical composition of the soil.
  • March 12th- Samples from the drilling uncover evidence of ancient microorganisms, and chemicals that are necessary building blocks for Carbon-based life.
  • April 9th- The Curiosity Rover’s atmospheric sensors show the gradual decay of the atmosphere from primarily oxygen and argon rich, to mainly Carbon Dioxide, not unlike the Greenhouse Gasses in our atmosphere.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-cap of Curiosity’s great career so far, and we wish it luck as it wonders on alone, without parental supervision from Earth. If you want to see Mars yourself, you’ll have to wait until its path takes it away from behind the Sun, on June 20th.

Happy Stargazing!

Sources:

Time Magazine: “A Cosmic SUV Blasts Off for Mars” http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2100299,00.html

LA Times: “Signs Of Life On Mars” by Amina Khan http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-signs-of-life-on-mars-live-video-discussion-20130313,0,3183926.story

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity_rover

Star Master Weekend, Get your tickets NOW!

Today In Space History: Special Report- Dr. Richard Obousey

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

Richard Obousy, president of Icarus International.

Friday March 15th and Saturday 16th form Primland Resort’s Starmaster Weekend. On these weekends, the astronomy program. invite professional astronomers and scientists to come down and talk about their work with our guests. Our guest is Dr. Richard Obousey, president of Icarus Interstellar. Named after the son of the mythical Greek craftsman who invented special wings to make his boy fly, Icarus International is a private company, committed to developing new spacecraft, capable of traveling to other star systems. The current goal is to create the first interstellar spacecraft within 100 years. What follows is a brief overview of the work Icarus International does, and a little bit about the problems of interstellar space travel, so you’ll know a little about his program, and his work with Icarus Interstellar.

 

 

Design for the original Daedalus Project ship from the 1970s.
Design for the original Daedalus Project ship from the 1970s.

If you go to the Icarus Interstellar website, you can see artists’ design for all kinds of new propulsion systems, including fusion spacecraft, lasers, and even warp drives straight out of science fiction. Icarus is an outgrowth of the Daedalus Project from 50 years ago, and since 2011, with the help of NASA, Icarus has created five interstellar spacecraft projects, mainly focused on fusion propulsion.

Project Hyperion; Launched in December 2011, designed to provide an assessment of the feasibility of manned interstellar flight using current and near-future technoloigies. It also aims to guide future research and technology development plans as well as reasssess the Fermi Paradox. Finally it aims to inform the public about the prospects of manned interstellar flight.

Project Forward; Analyzes and assesses the concept of using laser light and interstellar star sails.

  • Project Persephone; Experiment to create possible livable habitats in space.
  • Project Bifrost; Launched in December 2011, by Tabitha Smith, The Icarus Interstellar Nuclear Space Technology (NST) and Propulsion Development Program will operate with long-term goals of tangible deliverables in mind, such as (1) Partnership with the US Government and other vital members of the NST community, (2) The Creation of Nuclear Engines (Thermal (NTR) and/or Electric) and (3) Proof of concept for NTR and building the foundation for evolving nuclear propulsion.
  • Project Helius; Launched in August 2011 by Richard Osborne and Kelvin Long, Project Helius has the purpose of building prototype pulsed propulsion demonstrators to test elements of the Daedalus (or other) architecture. The main areas of study are currently focussed on the tracking of pellets and the timing of laser devices.
  • 100 Year Starship – Funded by DARPA / NASA, a one year project announced in January 2012.

In this video, Dr. Obousey talks about the goals and some of the challenges of Project Icarus. As you can see near the end, Dr. Obousey mentions that one of the major problems with getting to space is monetary- NASA is currently looking for ways to commercialize space in a number of ways. You probably saw the incredibly popular STRATOS YouTube video, which was designed to test spacesuits in the event of a high-altitude ejection. In addition, NASA also gets support from corporations in return for research. They are even lending their research to NASCAR! Sometimes NASA gets funding from unexpected sources, such as Dennis Tito, the multimillionaire who is funding a project to send a married couple to Mars in a privately owned spaceship.

Of course, there are also the incredible technical challenges of traveling from Earth to even it’s closest stars, (the closest of which is still over 12 trillion miles away). Most of Icarus’ efforts have been directed in harnessing the power of nuclear fusion to create more powerful engines that have the energy potential of the Sun itself.

History of Space Exploration

Artist's rendering of the Orion Spacecraft, which will send humans to the Moon, (and hopefully Mars) by 2017
Artist’s rendering of the Orion Spacecraft, which will send humans to the Moon, (and hopefully Mars) by 2017

As you might have read from my previous post about animals in space, NASA began sending people into space since the Mercury Project in 1961, and continued through the Gemini and Apollo mission, which sent men to the Moon from 1969-1972. NASA is trying to develop a new manned mission called Orion, set to go to the Moon in 2017. This mission will take humans back to the Moon, and then hopefully to Mars.

Some worry that even if NASA and Icarus develop the technology to get humans to other planets, that the demands of weightlessness on the human body, and the sheer length of the trip places create physical and psychological burdens on the human body. However, as Mary Roach points out in “Packing For Mars,” virtually every space mission has spawned numerous nervous medical theories, (some true and some false). One thing I’m sure Dr. Obousey will agree with me on, is that the prospect of manned spaceflight has been a Holy Grail of space exploration ever since man has first stared up at the stars. It united all of the country, and in a way the whole human race back when Neil Armstrong took that small step on the Moon, and hopefully the same thing can happen again with the help of NASA, Orion, and Icarus.

So, hope you come down to see Dr. Obousey next week. Click here if you want to make a reservation!

Happy Stargazing!

Week of the Comet!

EXCITING NEWS! On March 10th, Comet Panstarrs will reach its closest point to the Sun, and be visible at last for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere! The comet has been visible in the skies below the equator since early February, but at last those of you who join us at Primland can see it!

First ever photo of Panstarrs, 2011

First ever photo of Panstarrs, 2011

Comet Pannstarrs was discovered in 2011 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Panstarrs) in Maui, Hawaii. It is a non-periodic comet, which means that it very rarely passes within this solar system. In fact, once the comet leaves the solar system, it might not be back for over 100,000 years!

At first, the comet was barely visible with a telescope, but since its re-appearance in February, it has become bright enough to see with the naked eye. As it reaches its closest place to the Sun on the 10th, it grows steadily brighter and brighter. Predictions are already afoot that after it reaches parahelion ( the closest distance from the Sun), Comet Panstarrs will shine as bright as the planet Venus, the brightest planet in the sky!

 

Photo of comets Lemon and Panstarrs taken March 3rd, 2013 at Las Campanas observatory, Chile. Photo courtesy Juri Beletsky (public domain).

Photo of comets Lemon and Panstarrs taken March 3rd, 2013 at Las Campanas observatory, Chile. Photo courtesy Juri Beletsky (public domain).

When to Look- Starting March 10th, the comet will be visible in the western sky, in the constellation Pisces. Over the next few days, it will move North, until it will pass the North Star on March 29th. For more info on where to look and where to look for teh comet, visit Astronomy.com’s guide.

Chart of the ideal times to see Pannstarrs, courtesy of the Griffith Observatory

Chart of the ideal times to see Pannstarrs, courtesy of the Griffith Observatory

How to Look: The Griffith Observatory has a whole guide on the best way to view the comet from where you are, click here.

For some tasty photos and videos of the comet from earlier this year, click here:

Rest assured, if you come down to Primland, we will be on the watch every night looking for the comet, and hopefully snapping a shot! If you sign up for a Tour Of the Universe, you might even be able to see the comet pass overhead!

Till then,

Happy Stargazing!