Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Human vs. Machine

I will bet the result doesn’t stand for long. The pre-loaded map won’t be necessary for too long either. Let’s hope JPL repeats this in a years time.

You may have also noticed “I” was not the one flying the drone either. Perhaps JPL and Google have heard about my expertise in this area. I have a drone well suited to be flown inside. Instead I took it outdoors and flew it around for about three-minutes when a gust of wind took the drone on a ride of it’s own.

Last I saw of the thing, it was passing over the top of the house towards the other side and losing altitude, although rather smoothly. I knew the drone was going to cross the road but would it be smashed by the truck and couple of cars going by at the time?

I ran around the house, all the while madly operating the flight controller in some sort of effort to do something.
Just what the something was supposed to be is still a mystery but it seemed like the thing to do. Well I did not see any wreckage in the road. Great, the drone is one piece, but where is it? Immediately on the other side of the road it is thickly wooded.

That seemed like a plus, so I looked in a grid search quite a large area, twice. Nearly two-hours later I had nothing but a bunch of Ticks to show for my effort, I took a break. After running around doing errands, I returned to the search and expanded the search area well outside the area I figured drone could reach given the angle of descent (as reckoned by me at the time).

Almost immediately I found the drone, it had flown about twice as far as I thought! The battery was dead and after charging it up I found I had a motor problem. So, I have to fix the motor and I do have new ones, otherwise everything is good.

Yes! There is video, it seems I quite accidentally hit the “record” button during my frantic attempt “to do something” as described earlier, and perhaps someday I will get it to YouTube although it’s really rather dull. The video showed the drone had hit a Pine tree branch about 3 or so meters up and dangled there for about as long as I was doing my search. A gust of wind shook it out to where it was easily visible from the road. I am pretty lucky nobody spotted it before I did because it is a popular dog-walker stretch of road. Anyway, there you have it, how not to fly a drone.

Happy Anniversary Meteosat

Meteosat was the first Earth observation satellite launched by ESA and that launch was 40 years ago today.

On 23 November 1977 at 13:35 GMT the Meteosat took-off from Cape Canaveral Florida and by 07 December the spacecraft had reached its destination in geostationary orbit. Two days later on 09 December, Meteosat took its first image and here it is.

Want to know more?

Fabulous Friday

Oh my, just look at this picture, it is beautiful. Thanks to Ollie Taylor for taking it and ESA for sharing it out. ESA has a nice press release and include other footage of this event which was widely seen across Europe.

ESA —  On 14 November 2017 at about 16:45 GMT a football-sized meteoroid entered Earth’s atmosphere about 50 km northeast of Darmstadt, Germany. It created a bright fireball in the sky, which was seen by thousands of people in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg, and was reported widely by media.

This remarkable image was taken by Ollie Taylor, a photographer from Dorset, UK, who happened to be on a shoot in Italy, in the Dolomites. The landscape scene shows the village of La Villa, Alta Badia, with Ursa Major seen in the background sky.

At dusk on 14 November, he was setting up for a night landscape shoot at Passo Falzarego, at 2200 m altitude, in clear but chilly –6ºC weather.

Ollie reports: “I was composing a shot of this scene and Ursa Major, seen above the meteor. I wanted to get it at twilight so the sky had a nice pink hue. I just decided I was not getting close enough, and was reaching for my other camera with a longer lens, luckily I left this camera exposing!

“It was a stroke of luck, as it’s given me not only the meteor, but great landscape background, too.”

Small lumps of rock enter our atmosphere every day, but it is rare for one to burn so brightly and to be seen by so many people.

“Owing to the meteoroid’s very high speed, estimated to be at least 70 000 km/h, it super-heated the air molecules in its path as it decelerated, creating a very luminous fireball,” adds Rudiger Jehn, of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme.

“Observers reported the meteoroid in detail, which allowed us to estimate its final fate: burning up at an altitude of around 50 km above Luxembourg.”

By yesterday, over 1150 sightings had been submitted to the International Meteor Organization, which runs a website to gather sightings of such events worldwide.

Four other fireballs were reported in France and the US 14–15 November, and the fireball over Luxembourg could be linked to the Taurid Meteor Shower , according to the organisation.

ESA supports the global effort to spot natural objects such as asteroids – much larger than this object – that can potentially strike Earth and cause damage. Access more information on the Space Situational Awareness programme via

Additional video footage of this event

Meteoroid seen from Dresden & Sighting report (in German) by Heiko Boehme

Meteoroid seen from Saarland by Freiwillige Feuerwehr Höchen

More information

Ollie Taylor Photography

Ollie Taylor via Instagram and Facebook

Credits: Ollie Taylor and ESA

Hitome Data

So there WAS data!  And to think I had written the mission off. Japan’s Hitomi mission launched on 17 February 2016 and there were only two short contacts with the spacecraft before communications was lost. What happened to the spacecraft is not known for certain but according to Japan’s space agency JAXA: “it is estimated that Hitomi separated to five pieces at about 10:42 a.m.”

From NASA — Before its brief mission ended unexpectedly in March 2016, Japan’s Hitomi X-ray observatory captured exceptional information about the motions of hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster. Now, thanks to unprecedented detail provided by an instrument developed jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), scientists have been able to analyze more deeply the chemical make-up of this gas, providing new insights into the stellar explosions that formed most of these elements and cast them into space.

The Perseus cluster, located 240 million light-years away in its namesake constellation, is the brightest galaxy cluster in X-rays and among the most massive near Earth. It contains thousands of galaxies orbiting within a thin hot gas, all bound together by gravity. The gas averages 90 million degrees Fahrenheit (50 million degrees Celsius) and is the source of the cluster’s X-ray emission.

Using Hitomi’s high-resolution Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS) instrument, researchers observed the cluster between Feb. 25 and March 6, 2016, acquiring a total exposure of nearly 3.4 days. The SXS observed an unprecedented spectrum, revealing a landscape of X-ray peaks emitted from various chemical elements with a resolution some 30 times better than previously seen.
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This is a Cool Drone!

Around here we are seeing the beginning of drone use in a few activities for hire, for example crop and field mapping, monitoring wetlands, oh and just a few kilometers from here monitoring a public road infrastructure projects. If I am seeing this, I know you must be also.

In this case this drone is a scientific instrument that will plainly be a remarkable platform for science especially for our students.

NASA / Goddard / Lori Keesey — NASA scientists, who always are on the hunt for new platforms from which to carry out their research, now may avail themselves of two agency-developed unmanned aerial systems, or UASs, that some say represent the future for drone aircraft.

Unlike most commercially available unmanned aircraft systems, Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 and Black Swift Technologies’ S2 small Unmanned Aircraft System, or sUAS, purposely were designed for scientific investigations.

Both provide one-of-a-kind capabilities that represent a significant success for NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research, or SBIR, program, which funded their development, said Geoff Bland, a research engineer at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“Our goal always is to advance state-of-the-art airborne capabilities and platforms tailored to the needs of our scientists,” said Bland, who oversaw the aircrafts’ development. “The SBIR program offered us an outstanding venue for engaging small businesses in our quest to develop new tools for gathering scientific data.”

Now operational after months of development, the aircraft are offering the scientific community complementary, easy-to-use capabilities at a lower cost.

To Antarctica and Back

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Ghostly Green

An Australian deep-space dish is lit in green. Very nice.

ESA –  Just in time for Halloween this week: a green deep-space tracking station.This image was taken by Byron Bay-based astrophotographer Dylan O’Donnell in October during a photo shoot at the New Norcia station, some 120 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The ‘ghostly green’ was created by reflecting a floodlight off the station’s 35 m-diameter deep-space antenna and structure. The station routinely communicates with spacecraft orbiting Mars as well as ESA’s Gaia and XMM observatory missions. In future, it will link up with BepiColombo at Mercury and the Euclid astronomical observatory. Since August, the station has been operating in part on a new solar power system, which, together with a local water recycling system, is helping to boost the station’s sustainability and reduce its environmental impact.

More information

Estrack network

New Norcia station

Copyright: ESA/D. O’Donnell

Earthquake Scotland

You don’t see this every day. On 01 November at 20:59 UT a small earthquake occurred west of Glasgow.  According to the USGS the quake occurred just 3km north-northwest of Tarbert UK. The quake measured a magnitude 2.5 (you probably didn’t feel it) and was at a depth of 7 km.

Power update: looking better!

Interstellar Visitor A/2017 U1

It has been years since I visited the lovely Queen’s University campus.

Note: Space X will attempt a launch of a KOREASAT 5A satellite today at 19:34 UT – you can find coverage here starting at about 19:20 UT / 15:20 ET. BTW, I have no power/internet and am not likely to get it back until late tomorrow. If I disappear for a day or two you know why – I am running a generator sparingly so will try to keep things updated.

Queen’s University:  A Queen’s University Belfast scientist is leading an international team in studying a new visitor to our solar system – the first known comet or asteroid to visit us from another star.

The fast-moving object, now named A/2017 U1, was initially spotted on 18 October in Hawaii by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s, together with colleagues in the UK, USA and Chile have been tracking it using powerful telescopes across the world.

Commenting on the project, Professor Fitzsimmons said: “By Wednesday this week it became almost certain this object was alien to our solar system. We immediately started studying it that night with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands, then on Thursday night with the Very Large Telescope in Chile.”

The initial data implies it is a small rocky or icy object that may have been drifting through our galaxy for millions or even billions of years, before entering our solar system by chance. The object flew into the solar system from above, was close to the Sun last month, and is now already on its way back out to the stars.

Astronomers believe it was probably thrown out of another star system during a period of planet formation. The same process is thought to have unfolded 4.5 billion years ago around our own star, when Jupiter and Saturn formed. Despite suspecting such objects existed and looking out for them over past decades, scientists have never seen such an interstellar visitor until now.

During rapid investigations, Professor Fitzsimmons’ team has now captured clear images of the unusual object, and obtained data on its possible chemical makeup.

Meabh Hyland, a PhD student from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “It’s wonderful and exciting to see this object passing through our planetary system.”

Commenting on the incredible findings, Professor Fitzsimmons added: “It sends a shiver down the spine to look at this object and think it has come from another star.”

More information is needed to pin down the exact details of where the visitor came from and what its properties are, but luckily the object should be visible in powerful telescopes for a few more weeks, allowing scientists to continue their investigations.

The team studying the object include Professor Alan Fitzsimmons and Ms Meabh Hyland (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Colin Snodgrass (Open University), Dr Robert Jedicke (University of Hawaii) and Dr Bin Yang (European Southern Observatory).

Image: Queen’s University