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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!

 

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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!

Everything You Wanted To Know About Asteroids

 With the recent asteroid pass over Earth, and the Russian meteor that exploded last week, I thought this would be a perfect time to have a bit of a discussion about asteroids.

Asteroid DA 14, which passed the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles February 15th.

Asteroid DA 14, which passed the Earth February 15th.

What are Asteroids?- An asteroid is basically a rock that floats in space.  They do not have any atmosphere, and are too small to be considered plaents. Most asteroids are part of a vast belt between Mars and Jupiter nearly 60 miles wide. According to Space.com, the belt has over 750,000 asteroids floating within.  Asteroids are generally made of rock, but they often contain gasses like Nitrogen and Hydrogen at their cores. NASA has 3 different classifications of asteroids- Class C, (which are mostly made of Carbon), are the most common, and appear gray, like DA14 and the Russian meteor.

The biggest asteroid ever seen is technically also a dwarf planet named Ceres, discovered in 1801. It is nearly 600 miles across and orbits around Mars and Jupiter.

A view of the Orion Nebula in the constellation of Orion. Those three streaks are meteors that I captured as they came shooting across the screen.

A view of the Orion Nebula in the constellation of Orion. Those three streaks are meteors that I captured as they came shooting across the screen.

Difference between Asteroid and Meteors. An asteroid is an asteroid, asl long as it does not pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, then we re-name the object a meteor, commonly known as a “shooting star.” Like fireworks, meteors burn with a variety of different colors, depending on the chemical composition of the metals of which they are made.

Once the meteor finally hits the Earth’s surface, it is re-classified again as a meteorite. Over 10 tons of meteors hit the Earth every day, but by the time they get through the mile-long journey through the Earth’s atmosphere, the meteors are reduced to dusty grains no bigger than the sand you find on the beach.

 A Meteor Shower occurs when lots of tiny pieces of rock go through the Earth’s atmosphere at once and burn up in bright streaks. These streaks are often the debris from a comet and occur at regular intervals throughout the year. The next one to occur in 2013 is the Lyrid Meteor Shower, the debris from Comet Thatcher; the shower is scheduled to appear on April 22nd.
Meteor Crater Arizona, site of a meteor impact over 500 million years ago!

Meteor Crater Arizona, site of a meteor impact over 500 million years ago!

Meteors have crashed into the Earth, Moon, and other planets since the beginning of time. Over three billion years ago, asteroids containing the carbon and oxygen like outer-space care packages, hit the Earth, causing the planet’s atmosphere to slowly change from mostly methane gas, to its breathable state that supports living beings. On the Moon, asteroid collisions formed the craters that we see when we look at the Moon through telescopes. Some even speculate that the Moon might have been formed with an asteroid crashed into the Earth, sending molten rock into space that eventually cooled down to form the current Moon. As you can see in the picture on the left, meteors do still occasionally hit the Earth, although most of them burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere

Have there been any recent close calls with asteroids besides the Russian meteor? You may know that the same night as the Russian meteor, a much larger asteroid called DA 14 flew harmlessly by the Earth. Last year some speculated that DA14 would be eventually strike the Earth, and bring about the fabled 2012 Mayan apocalypse. However, these are only the most famous recent close calls. According to the International Astronomy Union (IAU), over 900 Near Earth Asteroids have been observed since 2011. A NEA is defined as an asteroid that passes within 1.3 Astronomical Units, or the distance between the Earth and the Sun. One of the most frightening examples occurred over the Mediterranean Sea. Space and Defense agencies warned that a sea impact could actually be worse than a land impact, as it could create massive tidal waves that could drown the whole country. Fortunately the meteor disintegrated before hitting the planet. General Simon Worden delivered a speech where he expressed relief that the asteroid didn’t impact, or even worse, be mistaken by mediterranean countries as hostile fire, and therefore an act of war:

The event of this June caused little or no notice as far as we can tell. But had it occurred at the same latitude, but a few hours earlier, the result on human affairs might have been much worse. Imagine that the bright flash accompanied by a damaging shock wave had occurred over Delhi, India or Islamabad, Pakistan? Neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors we do that can determine the difference between a natural NEO impact and a nuclear detonation. The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-trigger militaries there could have been the spark that would have ignited the nuclear horror we’d avoided for over a half-century. This situation alone should be sufficient to get the world to take notice of the threat of asteroid impact- Gen. Worden, quoted in SpaceRef.com.

How are scientists studying these asteroids? Scientists all over the globe are keeping close watch for Near Earth Asteroids with ground based telescopes and space probes. In fact, the Canadian Space Agency just launched a new satellite early last week designed to track asteroids and other Near Earth Objects: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/satellites/neossat/default.asp

Not to be outdone, NASA is also developing the NEAR program, and Russia has the Planetary Defense League. Plans are also underway for a new system of telescopes designed to give everyone on Earth a week’s head’s up for an imminent asteroid impact called the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) to be ready in 2015.

Why didn’t scientists predict the Russian meteor? Simply put, the meteor, (which has been described by NASA as a “little asteroid”), was too small for the space agencies to detect.

Could an asteroid destroy the Earth? To be honest- yes. Although the planet Jupiter, with its massive size helps considerably in deflecting asteroids, an asteroid could impact the Earth at any moment. If the asteroid is of sufficient size, its impact could send dust into the atmosphere, blotting out the Sun. This would effectively kill all life on Earth. We know this is true because it’s exactly what killed the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. This is why studying asteroids is so important.

How to prepare for an asteroid apocalypse– Discovery Magazine.com has provided a list of 10 ways to stop an asteroid for fun, which I have linked to here. My personal favorite is the plan to paint the asteroid with light-deflecting paint, to hopefully use solar radiation to push it away.

Well, hope that satisfies your craving for outer-space knowledge. As you know, although asteroids and meteors are fairly common, they only rarely hit the Earth. With any luck, our planet will be safe from a catastrophe for a long, long time.

Happy Stargazing!

Paul

Doom From the Skies- week of 2/11-2/17

Greetings readers!

Photo of the meteor that disintegrated over  Russia's Ural mountains on February 15th.

Photo of the meteor that disintegrated over Russia’s Ural mountains on February 15th.

HOOLY COW! What a week it has been- between the asteroids going across the globe, a comet in Australia, meteors in Russia, and lightning strikes in Rome; it seems like the gods of astronomy are working overtime to make this a very fascinating week. I have posted a recap of this week’s events on Today In Astronomy to fill you in on anything you missed, with the best reporting the web can offer!

Enjoy!

-Paul

Progress 50 is LIVE NOW!

Hello all!,

As you read this, there is a NASA mission going on to send a supply ship to the International Space Station. I’ve included a live feed from the mission on the Today In Space History Page. Please click on this page and enjoy watching this once-in-a-lifetime space mission!

Progress 50 spacecraft, which will launch from Earth and dock with the International Space Station on Monday, February 11th.

Progress 50 spacecraft, which will launch from Earth and dock with the International Space Station on Monday, February 11th.

I’ve also included the ISS tracker, so while the spacecraft is docking with the station, you can figure out when it passes over your hometown! Click here to access it: http://www.isstracker.com/&vm=r

Stay tuned for a Historic Space Docking!

Progress 50 spacecraft, which will launch from Earth and dock with the International Space Station on Monday, February 11th.

Progress 50 spacecraft, which will launch from Earth and dock with the International Space Station on Monday, February 11th.

Tomorrow a re-supply ship will dock with the ISS, and you’ll get to watch the whole thing live HERE! I’ll provide you with a little history on the ISS, and of course, the live feed from NASA. So don’t miss it! The launch begins tomorrow at 9:40 AM.

Enjoy!