Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Heat Shield Testing

I am trying to figure out how they keep the thermocouple wires to keep from burning off.

NASA – NASA heat shield material that could one day be used on an inflatable aeroshell during atmospheric entry on Mars recently underwent testing at Boeing’s Large Core Arc Tunnel in St. Louis, Missouri.

The inflatable aeroshell, using high temperature advanced flexible material systems, will enable atmospheric entry to planetary bodies and the landing of heavy payloads. The Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project is focused on development of the inflatable aeroshell technology and manufacturing capability at large scale, to support an orbital atmospheric entry flight experiment at Earth and Mars. HIAD overcomes size and weight limitations of current rigid systems by utilizing inflatable soft-goods materials that can be packed into a small volume and deployed to form a large aeroshell before atmospheric entry.

Critical to the development of the technology is development of flexible material systems whose performance must be verified through arc jet testing. During early August testing, small cutouts of the Flexible Thermal Protection System (F-TPS), about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in diameter and anywhere from a half-inch (1.3 cm) to 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, were placed in a supersonic wind tunnel and blasted with jets of superheated plasma gas. The plasma gas hit the cutouts at speeds of Mach 4 or more, and heated the surfaces to temperatures up to approximately 2,700 F. Thermocouples embedded in the samples measured the material’s response to the superheated conditions.

Researchers calibrated tunnel pressure and temperature to be similar to the range of conditions HIADs would face during atmospheric entry on Earth and Mars. The data from these tests will be used to validate mathematical models used for design.

The test team included researchers Steven Tobin, Matt Wells and Andrew Brune of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Grant Rossman, a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

HIAD technology is being developed by researchers at Langley through NASA’s Game Changing Development program, which is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program advances space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches to space missions.

Image: Boeing / NASA

Solar Flare Caught on iPhone

Pretty amazing, catching a solar flare on an iPhone! Not my phone to be sure and I’ve tried. Leave it to ESA, actually they got a lucky break in a way. I want to see the filter they used too!

ESA — A group of astronomers at ESA’s ESTEC were testing some solar observing equipment on 6 September and serendipitously captured a solar flare, which turned out to be one of the most powerful observed in the last decade.

The image shown here was taken with an iPhone through a special interference H-alpha filter (centred at the wavelength of hydrogen emission) mounted to a small dedicated solar telescope at 13:09:26 GMT. An X9.3 flare was observed to launch from the Sun by space telescopes at 12:02 GMT, meaning that this image was taken as the flare was in the gradual decay phase.

The flare is seen as the white cloudy feature with multiple ribbons towards the bottom right of the image. It appears as a lighter feature against the solar background average because of post-flare energy release visible in hydrogen emission from interconnected magnetic loops. North is up.

Image: ESA/T.Baumann/B.Foing/J.Zender

Happy 40th Voyager 1

Wow!  Launched on 05 September 1977 Voyager 1 is still flying after 40 years!  Congratulations to the Voyager program and NASA!

The image above is the  Voyager 40th Anniversary disco poster. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech and you can get your own by clicking here.

If by chance you are near Washington DC and can get to the Smithsonian  National Air and Space Museum you can attend the live public event commemorating the event.  Most of us will of course not make the journey but no matter we can watch the event live on NASA TV.

Here’s the details from NASA including a link to the live feed:

NASA and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will celebrate 40 years of the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft — humanity’s farthest and longest-lived mission — with a public event at 12:30 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The observance will take place at the National Air and Space Museum located at Independence Avenue at 6th street SW in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website.

Activities will include panel discussions about the Voyagers’ creation and mission history, their unprecedented science findings and imagery, impact on Earth’s culture and how the spacecraft inspired countless scientists, engineers and the next generation of explorers. The event also will include a galactic message transmitted toward the Voyager 1 spacecraft by a celebrity guest.

The Voyagers’ original mission was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Although the twin spacecraft are now far beyond the planets in the solar system, NASA continues to communicate with them daily as they explore the frontier where interstellar space begins.

Participants in the Sept. 5 event are:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist, Caltech, Pasadena, California
  • Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena
  • Gary Flandro, Voyager Mission Grand Tour creator, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Alan Cummings, Voyager researcher, Caltech
  • Ann Druyan, writer/producer, Golden Record Visionary
  • Morgan Cable, researcher, JPL
  • Eric Zirnstein, researcher, Princeton University, New Jersey
  • Matthew Shindell, curator, National Air and Space Museum

Eclipse 2017

The eclipse of 2017 is just a few days away and now I am going to be able to see part of it — weather permitting.  I’ll be well north of the line of totality but still will get to see a bite out of the sun.  I am so pleased, I’ve seen four solar eclipses of varying degrees, two of them were total and they are just fantastic!

If you are located in the US or parts of Canada, I hope you have good weather!

What if you don’t have glasses? Do not look at the directly without proper eye wear!  Fortunately those cardboard glasses are easy to get, I think even some of the public libraries will have some (they are for sure where I will be). Still you could be stuck with no glasses, like construction workers for example, well there is still a simple way to see what is going on. I’ve done this myself with success:

If you get to see the eclipse and can view it safely you will be treated to Bailey’s beads and The diamond ring effect. Here is a great look at them from the 2012 Australian Eclipse in a a video posted by William Hetzel:

Cosmic Ray Detector Heading to ISS

The mystery of cosmic rays will be explored in a new detector to be launched to the International Space Station.

The detector is called CREAM short for the Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass mission. The CREAM detectors have flown before on balloons as far back as 2004 and 2016 at altitudes of around 35 km (120,000 feet) so the technology is not new. This time around being at the ISS, the detector will be able to measure the highest energy cosmic rays so far.

Cosmic rays are constantly raining down on Earth mostly from outside our solar system. Most any astrophotographer has seen evidence of cosmic rays at white pixel anomalies in their photographs.

The launch date: 14 August 2017
More information on CREAM and cosmic rays.

Larsen C

I’ve seen a few different views of Larsen C and this image from ESA’s Sentinel-1 spacecraft is one of the best and arguably the most interesting.

ESA — On 12 July 2017, Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission returned radar images showing that a lump of ice more than twice the size of Luxembourg had broken off the Antarctic Peninsula. Since then, this large tabular iceberg – known as A68 – has drifted about 5 km from the ice shelf. Images from Sentinel-1 also show that a cluster of more than 11 smaller icebergs has also now formed, the largest of which is over 13 km long. These ‘bergy bits’ have broken off both the giant iceberg and the remaining ice shelf. The image has been compiled using Sentinel-1 acquisitions on 27 July (right) and 30 July (left).

Image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by BAS–A. Fleming.

To Scale: The Solar System

A great video by Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh.

I even do this every now and then myself just for fun and I get a bit of exercise in the process. I don’t do it quite the way Wylie and Alex did  as I just pace off this distances but even so, it is very interesting.

This is a GREAT activity for children!  Depending on what scale you use for distance you all you will need is a flat piece of ground, like say a football pitch. Even at one step per 10 million kilometers you can get a pretty long ways away from the starting point so plenty of room is helpful.

You can change the scale to fit your needs as long as you are looking at distance and not necessarily planetary sizes; also a good exercise for youngsters to exercise their brains during the school holiday.

To get you started have a look at this page from the Lunar and Planetary Institute.


This ‘family portrait’ shows a composite of images of Jupiter, including it’s Great Red Spot, and its four largest moons. From top to bottom, the moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Europa is almost the same size as Earth’s moon, while Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System, is larger than planet Mercury.
While Io is a volcanically active world, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are icy, and may have oceans of liquid water under their crusts. Europa in particular may even harbour a habitable environment.
Jupiter and its large icy moons will provide a key focus for ESA’s JUICE mission. The spacecraft will tour the Jovian system for about three-and-a-half years, including flybys of the moons. It will also enter orbit around Ganymede, the first time any moon beyond our own has been orbited by a spacecraft.
The images of Jupiter, Io, Europa and Ganymede were taken by NASA’s Galileo probe in 1996, while the Callisto image is from the 1979 flyby of Voyager.

The JUICE mission sounds like a typical ESA mission — ambitious and well planned.  It should be exciting, even if there is a long tome until launch.  Read more about the JUICE mission here.

What Makes Drizzle Drizzle?

Image: Wikimedia Commons contributor GerritR, CC BY-SA 4.0 via NASA.

A recent NASA study sheds some light on what makes drizzle. I have to admit to really “geeking-out” after reading the following from Carol Rasmussen (NASA’s Earth Science News Team) – especially the end.

NASA – A new NASA study shows that updrafts are more important than previously understood in determining what makes clouds produce drizzle instead of full-sized raindrops, overturning a common assumption.

The study offers a pathway for improving accuracy in weather and climate models’ treatments of rainfall — recognized as one of the greater challenges in improving short term weather forecasts and long-term climate projections.

The research by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; UCLA; and the University of Tokyo found that low-lying clouds over the ocean produce more drizzle droplets than the same type of cloud over land. The results are published online in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Water droplets in clouds initially form on microscopic airborne particles, or aerosols. Scientists have been studying the role of aerosols in clouds and rain for decades. There are more aerosols over land than over the ocean, and scientists had thought the additional aerosols would tend to form more drizzle over land as well. The new study shows that the presence of aerosols alone can’t explain where drizzle occurs.
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