Category Archives: Cool Stuff

The TESS Data Pipeline

While we wait for the launch tomorrow of TESS, delayed “to conduct additional Guidance Navigation and Control analysis”, let’s look at how the data getting from the spacecraft back to researchers. We are not talking about a little data, the data rate could reach 27 gigabytes per day!

A quick word about the delay, everybody is doing their best to be sure that everything is perfect for the launch. I am unaware of what appears to be a last-minute decision; it could be just for reassurance or it could be something was not quite right. Double check the fairing while you are there.

Anyway, being a ham radio operator I enjoy these bits of communications news.

NASA — A Science Pipeline to New Planet Discoveries

NASA’s ongoing search for life in the universe produces a lot of data. The agency’s new planet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, will collect 27 gigabytes per day in its all-sky search for undiscovered planets orbiting 200,000 of the brightest and closest stars in our solar neighborhood. That’s the equivalent of about 6,500 song files beaming down to Earth every two weeks. The music of the stars, however, is not as polished for human ears as the latest Taylor Swift album. To get ready for scientific discovery, the data needs a bit of fine tuning.

One of the first steps in the data’s journey from deep space to a scientist’s laptop is the Science Processing Operations Center, called SPOC, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, the design of which is based on the Kepler mission’s Science Operations Center, called the SOC, also at Ames. The SOC has been chugging along for more than a decade, spitting out tens of thousands of possible planet signals from the Kepler space telescope, NASA’s groundbreaking planet-finding mission that’s revolutionized our view of the heavens as a place chock-full of other worlds where life could exist. Among Kepler’s many gifts to TESS is its science data pipeline, which will provide the public’s “data of record” for the mission. About 75 percent of the Kepler pipeline, which took over 150 person-years to develop, remains the same for TESS, giving this new mission a leg up on discoveries.

A data pipeline is like an assembly line where computer algorithms act in stages to refine data and extract types of information — in this case, the possible signals of planets. TESS’s cameras observe the slight dip in the brightness of a star as a planet crosses, or transits, in front of the star. Over time, a pattern emerges as the dips line up across multiple transits, revealing the signal of an orbiting planet.

It’s a simple concept with a history of successful science, but the raw data, appearing as two-minute digital counts of brightness on each pixel, is contaminated with signals from the telescope and the sky when it first arrives here on Earth. SPOC’s science data pipeline does a cleanup job, and paves the way for the mission’s science office branch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pick out the most promising planet candidates. From there, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University coordinates follow-up observations to determine which candidates are bona fide planets.

NASA Ames’ Pleiades supercomputer, one of the most powerful systems in the world, has the power to process TESS’s biweekly data deluge of almost 10 billion pixels in three to five days, a cadence that enables SPOC to keep up with the volume of incoming data.

TESS’s mission is to identify the most promising exoplanets for follow-up observations. Future missions and observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, will apply new technologies to study these exoplanets’ atmospheres in search of the chemical signatures of life.

TESS’s first public release of pipeline-processed data is planned for the beginning of 2019. Astronomers will then begin to peer at data from entirely new areas of the sky where we await new discoveries from these singing stars and their quietly humming planets.
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Yuri’s Night is Here

Update from here:  rain, rain, and more rain.

Today is 12 April!! You know what that means it is time for Yuri’s Night, the annual celebration of all things space and astronomy related and commemorating Yuri Gagarian the first human being ever to go to space — the date was 12 April 1961.

The concept of Yuri’s Night was first conceived by Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, George T. Whitesides, and Trish Garner during the Space Generation Forum at the UNISPACE III conference in 1999.

I was hoping for decent weather this year and was planning on having all three of my scopes out.  According to the weather people I am going to be treated to heavy rain — sigh.  We have a local college with a REALLY nice observatory and they probably would have been open to the public.

So I will be spending ALL of my time over at the Yuri’s Night website.  If you go there you can see if there is an event in your area.  Oh yes, LOTS of events all over the world!

Go to the website and look around there is plenty to do and learn.  I will be looking for pictures of events on the live tab, so if you can get to one upload a picture with a note and say hi.

So Yuri’  good job as usual and thank for the use of the logo!


Oumuamua – What We Are Learning

Remember Oumuamua the interstellar visitor that whizzing through the solar system at over 315,000 km per hour? The thing was kind of strange at first because it wasn’t anywhere near a roundish shape rather it was like a giant spike or chip.

I could imagine this thing being chipped off from a larger object or maybe this was all that was left after such an event. Now there is a new theory and I didn’t see this one coming. Gravity stretching? Yeah, weird. The other thing about Oumuamua is it is giving insight into planetary formation.

Here’s the scoop from NASA – he first interstellar object ever seen in our solar system, named ‘Oumuamua, is giving scientists a fresh perspective on the development of planetary systems. A new study by a team including astrophysicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, calculated how this visitor from outside our solar system fits into what we know about how planets, asteroids and comets form.

On Oct. 19, 2017, astronomers working with the NASA-funded Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS1) at the University of Hawaii spotted an object zipping through our solar system at a very high speed. Scientists at the Minor Planet Center, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, confirmed it was the first object of interstellar origin that we’ve seen. The team dubbed it ‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah), which means “a messenger from afar arriving first” in Hawaiian — and it’s already living up to its name.

“This object was likely ejected from a distant star system,” said Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at Goddard. “What’s interesting is that just this one object flying by so quickly can help us constrain some of our planet formation models.”
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Student Projects Go To Space

Utterly fantastic! It’s a great time to be a student.

NASA – Four university student projects were successfully launched at 6:51:30 a.m. EDT, March 25, 2018, on a NASA suborbital sounding rocket from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket carried the projects to an altitude of 107 miles. The projects then descended by parachute, landing in the Atlantic Ocean. The projects were recovered and will be returned to the students for analysis.

The undergraduate student teams’ projects from Utah State University, Logan; the University of Nebraska – Lincoln; the University of Kentucky, Lexington; and the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, were launched through the NASA Undergraduate Student Instrument Project or USIP.

“USIP gave students the opportunity to experience working in a research and development environment and learn about different aspects of taking an engineering project from conceptual design through fabrication and testing. Students gained skills in project management, design analysis and selection, fabrication, and assembly. The Nebraska USIP team also honed its interpersonal and writing skills through design reviews, monthly status reports, and required grant reporting,” said Amy Price, a senior mechanical engineering student and team lead.

She said, “The University of Nebraska-Lincoln USIP team is comprised of multidisciplinary students providing a well-rounded project team. Throughout the two-year duration of the USIP project, 29 undergraduate students have worked on the project. This includes students from various disciplines within the College of Engineering such as biological systems, chemical, computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering majors. In addition, there are math, physics, finance, and economics majors on the team.”

“USIP has been a fantastic experience for the more than 46 University of Kentucky students who have been able to work on the project. The KRUPS Operational Re-entry Experimental Vehicle for Extensive Testing has been a great opportunity for participating in the NASA systems engineering process and for obtaining hands-on experience designing, building, integrating and testing the capsule’s ejection mechanism and communication systems. A highlight so far was presenting the project to the NASA Deputy Administrator at the Spring 2018 Space Grant Conference,” said Gabriel Myers, a senior mechanical engineering and physics major.

Myers added, “Through cooperation with engineers at NASA Wallops and elsewhere, the group has been able to gain a degree of engineering intuition aiding the students in drawing connections between their classes and applying that knowledge.”

Wallops managers serve as USIP technical advisors for these four cooperative agreements on behalf agency’s Office of Education and the Science Mission Directorate. In 2016 NASA selected an additional 43 university experiments to fly on orbital and suborbital vehicles including rockets, aircraft, balloons and CubeSats through a cooperative agreement competition for members of NASA’s 52 Space Grant Consortia and other eligible higher education institutions.

Image: NASA

Liberty One Launch – A Must See

You may remember hearing about “Mad” Mike Hughes. He was the individual who was going to launch himself in a “Do It Yourself” rocket. Well he did it!

He did get some sort of back injury according to reports. That second parachute maybe ought to have opened a bit sooner.

Reports say he went 1,875 feet into the air trying to prove the Earth is flat? Let’s see 1,875 feet is 571.5 meters, seems like an airplane might be a better choice but hey, what fun would that be – lol.

Hey, if you are trying to prove the Earth is flat you have to do it right. Right = rocket, and how much better can it get than in a home-made rocket? It can’t and my hat is off to Mike and I hope he has a speedy recovery and continues his efforts! He is going to try and get to the 109 km mark in the rocket he is calling the “Rockoon”.

The launch site was about 325 km east of Los Angeles California. The ramp was constructed by the 61 year-old Hughes from an old mobile home and the launch angle was set so he would not land on public land, a serious issue for the US government.

You can see MUCH more about all this at the Noize TV site.

Hey, There’s STEVE

STEVE is spectacular!

Who’s STEVE? STEVE is not a who, rather STEVE is a what. STEVE is short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Part of the story from NASA:

NASA == Notanee Bourassa knew that what he was seeing in the night sky was not normal. Bourassa, an IT technician in Regina, Canada, trekked outside of his home on July 25, 2016, around midnight with his two younger children to show them a beautiful moving light display in the sky — an aurora borealis. He often sky gazes until the early hours of the morning to photograph the aurora with his Nikon camera, but this was his first expedition with his children. When a thin purple ribbon of light appeared and starting glowing, Bourassa immediately snapped pictures until the light particles disappeared 20 minutes later. Having watched the northern lights for almost 30 years since he was a teenager, he knew this wasn’t an aurora. It was something else.

From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists — people like Bourassa who are excited about a science field but don’t necessarily have a formal educational background — shared 30 reports of these mysterious lights in online forums and with a team of scientists that run a project called Aurorasaurus. The citizen science project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, tracks the aurora borealis through user-submitted reports and tweets.

The Aurorasaurus team, led by Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, conferred to determine the identity of this mysterious phenomenon. MacDonald and her colleague Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada talked with the main contributors of these images, amateur photographers in a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers, which included Bourassa and lead administrator Chris Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff gave the phenomenon a fun, new name, Steve, and it stuck.

But people still didn’t know what it was.

Scientists’ understanding of Steve changed that night Bourassa snapped his pictures. Bourassa wasn’t the only one observing Steve. Ground-based cameras called all-sky cameras, run by the University of Calgary and University of California, Berkeley, took pictures of large areas of the sky and captured Steve and the auroral display far to the north. From space, ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area at the same time and documented Steve.

Read on to learn more including how you might be able to participate.

Send Your Name to the Sun

Done! Pretty easy to do too. Click here to send your name:

For those who might be looking for a launch today, I messed up my calendar and had the wrong date for the launch I referenced yesterday with the Expedition 55 crew is on 21 March. I have corrected the reference to it in a previous post. Where the confusion came in is there is Soyuz Satellite launch (four broadband internet satellites) WAS to have launched tomorrow but that has been delayed until Friday. Whew. . .