Category Archives: Cool Stuff

New Record Jump

Google Executive Alan Eustace left an abandoned airport in New Mexico in a helium-filled balloon. He later jumped from the balloon at 41.42 km / 135,908 feet.

Eustace reached speeds of 822 mph.

Only two-years ago Felix Baumgartner jumped from 39 km / 128,000 feet to set the record. Will he respond? I hope so!

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A Rover View of Comet

NASA Rover Opportunity view of the Mars comet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ASU/TAMU
NASA Rover Opportunity view of the Mars comet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ASU/TAMU

This is the (annotated) view of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity about two-and-a-half hours before the close encounter with Mars.

Want an non-annotated version?

You will notice some cosmic ray hits are labeled. Very common artifact as anyone who dabbles even a little in astrophotography will attest. This image has been processed to remove detector artifacts and a slight twilight glow. The processing was very well done, sometimes the processing is half the fun.

You can see more images, including a blink between two frames from Opportunity. Do have a look.

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End of an Era

When NASA astronauts and any support staff that might have to quickly exit the had to get off the 60 meter/195 foot level of Launch pad 39A and B at Cape Canaveral they would do so by using slide-wire baskets.

The baskets could hold three people could get in the baskets at the Fixed Service Structure and travel 366 meters/1200 foot to safety in just about 30 seconds. The braking system was a drag chain braking system and a catch net.

via Live Leak

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Taken during night time calibration.  The circle of stars is a result of 100-30 second exposures as they travel around Polaris.  Credit: NASA/JHUAPL
Taken during night time calibration. The circle of stars is a result of 100-30 second exposures as they travel around Polaris. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

I just love these balloon missions.

The Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS) is a high-altitude, stratospheric balloon mission that is planned for launch today to study a number of objects in our solar system, including an Oort cloud comet.

The balloon payload, a gondola measuring 6.7 meters tall (22 feet) tall and 2.4 meters wide (8 feet) wide and weighs in at 5,200 pounds. If all goes as planned the balloon will hoist the gondola to an altitude of about 36.6 to 39.36 km (120,000 to 130,000 feet) and keep it there for 24 hours!

The balloon itself is another flight of the BRORISON mission, recall this was a mission to observe Comet ISON within a year of its discovery. Let me tell you that is FAST. The logistics of a observing balloon mission are tremendous. Unfortunately there was a flight anomaly and the observations were not able to be made.

A couple of the observing objectives include Comet C/2013 Siding Spring discovered on 3 January 2013. This comet is the one that will make a close approach to Mars on 19 October 2014. The comet is coming into the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud, very possibly for the first time. Do you know what that means? This comet has been around since the formation of the solar system until something perturbed into this epic journey.

The second is another comet. Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS was discovered on 17 May 2012 and like Siding Spring it too is making what it thought to be its first journey into the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud.

The launch will be about a week before the Comet Siding Spring Mars visit. Observations will be made in the near-infrared and near-ultraviolet along with light in the visible spectrum though a 0.8 m (2.6 feet) telescope.

If things go really well there could also be observations of Uranus, Neptune, Vesta and Ceres.


The BOPPS website

More about the image:  you can also make such an image.  You just need a stable camera set up and a shutter you can keep open either for multiple long exposures like this one or open most of the night during darkness of course..

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Iceland Eruption from Space

Annotated satellite image of the Iceland eruption. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies
Annotated satellite image of the Iceland eruption. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies

I’ve been following the Iceland volcanic eruption for a bit. Watching seismic activity is pretty interesting as is the ground based cameras looking at the volcano.

Now we get a space based view from the Earth Observing Satellite.

Volcano cams
Seismic activity
NASA’s Earth Observing Program

This from NASA:

On the night of Sept. 1, 2014, the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft observed the ongoing eruption at Holuhraun, Iceland, from an altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers). Data were collected at a resolution of 98 feet (30 meters) per pixel at different infrared wavelengths and were then combined to create this false-color image that emphasizes the hottest areas of the vent and resulting lava flows. The image captured the 0.6-mile (1-kilometer)-long fissure from which lava is erupting, a channeled lava flow, and a broad expanse of lava flows extending 2.2 miles( 3.5 kilometers) from the fissure.

Continue reading

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Volcanic Activity on Io


Volcanic outbursts on the Moon Io witnessed by the W. M. Keck and Gemini Observatories on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The images are amazing especially when you consider this moon is 3,700 km / 2,300 miles in diameter and it is the inner most moon of Jupiter.

While Io is known to be volcanic, this seems to be a bit unusual because three outbursts inside of two weeks is more then generally is anticipated in a year or even two. Not just that, but these are huge outbursts:

De Pater’s long-time colleague and coauthor Ashley Davies, a volcanologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said that the recent eruptions resemble past events that spewed tens of cubic miles of lava over hundreds of square miles in a short period of time.

“These new events are in a relatively rare class of eruptions on Io because of their size and astonishingly high thermal emission,” he said. “The amount of energy being emitted by these eruptions implies lava fountains gushing out of fissures at a very large volume per second, forming lava flows that quickly spread over the surface of Io.”

Read the Keck press release here, very interesting.

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U.K. — The Place for Space?

U.K Spaceport concept.  Image: U.K. Space Agency via Spaceref
U.K Spaceport concept. Image: U.K. Space Agency via Spaceref

The UK is considering to open a spaceport and do it by 2018. The idea is for the UK to become a leader in the growing space market.

Business Secretary Vince Cable:

“Space is big business for the UK. It already contributes £11.3 billion to the economy each year, supporting nearly 35,000 jobs. That’s why it’s important for us to prepare the UK for new launcher technology and take steps towards meeting our ambition of establishing the first British spaceport by 2018.”

Exploring the opportunities that commercial spaceflight presents, and potentially making strategic investments in this area, will support the growth of this thriving industry and underpin the economy of tomorrow, making the UK the place for space

He and the government are very likely correct, a spaceport will provide a focal point for investment, provided they can get established early on and now is the time.

So how do they plan on getting a spaceport up and running by 2018? It won’t be as difficult as you might expect because existing facilities can be adapted. A recent civil Aviation Authority report named eight existing airfields that might be able to host an spaceport and not just any place will do because in addition to meteorological, environmental and economic criteria a few physical factors come into play:

– an existing runway which is, or is capable of being extended to, over 3000 metres in length
– the ability to accommodate dedicated segregated airspace to manage spaceflights safely
– a reasonable distance from densely populated areas in order to minimise impact on the uninvolved general public

The eight possibilities:

Campbeltown Airport (Scotland)
Glasgow Prestwick Airport (Scotland)
Llanbedr Airport (Wales)
Newquay Cornwall Airport (England)
Kinloss Barracks (Scotland)
RAF Leuchars (Scotland)
RAF Lossiemouth (Scotland)
Stornorway Airport (Scotland)

Will the UK become “The Place for Space”? I wouldn’t bet against it.

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Moon Eclipses Saturn

Moon eclipses Saturn. Copyright: Carlo Di Nallo
Moon eclipses Saturn. Copyright: Carlo Di Nallo

This photo taken from Buenos Aires, presumably by Carlo Di Nallo – my hat is off to him. Bravo!

Here’s the caption from ESA:

What happened to half of Saturn? Nothing other than Earth’s Moon getting in the way. As pictured above on the far right, Saturn is partly eclipsed by a dark edge of a Moon itself only partly illuminated by the Sun. This year the orbits of the Moon and Saturn have led to an unusually high number of alignments of the ringed giant behind Earth’s largest satellite. Technically termed an occultation, the above image captured one such photogenic juxtaposition from Buenos Aires, Argentina that occurred early last week. Visible to the unaided eye but best viewed with binoculars, there are still four more eclipses of Saturn by our Moon left in 2014. The next one will be on August 4 and visible from Australia, while the one after will occur on August 31 and be visible from western Africa at night but simultaneously from much of eastern North America during the day.

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Eta Carinae Nebula in 3D

Part of the story from the YouTube site:

Between 1838 and 1845, Eta Carinae underwent a period of unusual variability during which it briefly outshone Canopus, normally the second-brightest star. As a part of this event, which astronomers call the Great Eruption, a gaseous shell containing at least 10 and perhaps as much as 40 times the sun’s mass was shot into space. This material forms a twin-lobed dust-filled cloud known as the Homunculus Nebula, which is now about a light-year long and continues to expand at more than 1.3 million mph (2.1 million km/h).

Reminder: Cygnus is ready to launch at 16:52 UTC (12:52 EDT). Check this post to see if you can see the Cygnus and Antares rocket as it goes into orbit.

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