June 27, 2017

Watch the Launch of SpaceX’s Dragon on CRS10 Live

Enter the Dragon… Credit: NASA

Ready to catch a space launch? Don’t happen to live on the Florida Space Coast? We’ve got a shot coming right up tomorrow morning, with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departing from the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, February 18th with CRS-10 at 15:01 Universal Time (UT)/10:01 AM EST.

That’s not a typo; this is indeed launching from the Kennedy Space Center, not Cape Canaveral to the south. The is the first launch from the KSC since the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. Liftoff will occur from the historic launch pad 39A, the same pad that not only put shuttle orbiters into space, but sent humans to the Moon.

You can watch all the action here on NASA’s shinny new YouTube live feed, which is much more stable in our opinion than many other secondary feeds, especially when using spurious internet and spotty WiFi connections:

It’s also worth following SpaceX’s dedicated feed as well, as they’ll try to once again land the Falcon stage one booster back on land, shortly after launch.

This is a historic first from the KSC, for both the site and SpaceX. NASA will hold a pre-launch news conference today at 20:00 UT/3:00 PM EST, and the webcast for tomorrow’s launch begins 90 minutes prior to liftoff at 13:30 UT/8:30 AM EST. Dragon will spend two days chasing down the International Space Station, for a grapple and berthing set for Monday, February 20th, at 14:00 UT/ 9:00 AM EST. That webcast will also go live on NASA TV just 90 minutes prior.

And keep an eye out for the Dragon, as it chases down the ISS. We’ll be watching for Dragon on CRS-10 once it’s in orbit, and we’ll publish sighting ops worldwide on our Twitter feed under @Astroguyz.

Don’t miss it!

Review: True Genius by Joel Shurkin

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Chances are, you’ve never heard of one of the great minds of the 20th century. Physicist Richard Garwin was behind some of the major turning points of the past half century, though we’ll have to admit, we’d never heard of him, either. 88 years old now, Garwin was not only at the inception of the hydrogen bomb, but technology used in Vietnam, the Star Wars missile defense initiative, and lots more.


We just finished reading True Genius: The Life of Richard Garwin The Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of by Joel Shurkin from Prometheus Books. True Genius not only takes you back to the early days of Las Alamos and the good old bad old days of the early Cold War, but shows science at its best, as researchers race to solve problems in the name of national security.

True Genius gets you right down into the nuts and bolts of some of the problems faced by post-Manhattan Project-era scientists, the few remaining of which won’t be with us very much longer. While the creation of the first atomic bomb during World War II is well documented, the later struggle to complete the first hydrogen bomb — utilizing a fission weapon to create a brief but powerful fusion reaction — has been largely untold. And this story is applicable with today’s news as well, as the first hydrogen bomb detonation by the United States marked the closest the Bulletin of Atomic scientists has ever moved the Doomsday Clock at 2 minutes to midnight, an asymptote we’re know just half a minute away from this year.

The book also uncovers some fascinating strange but true stories of intrigue, such as plans to use nukes in Vietnam and some of the the other crazy ideas of the Cold War (James Van Allen’s biography, The First 8 Billion Miles also talks about ideas such as a continuous ‘nuke shield’ over the U.S. which was, thankfully, never implemented.) We won the siege of Khe Sanh during the Tet offensive largely because of technology and microphones dropped around the base that allowed Marines to snoop on Viet Cong encroaching on the surrounding hills, all tech that Garwin had a hand in.

Garwin was also a member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, a think tank group composed of some of the greatest minds of our time that has advised presidents on technical and scientific issues since 1966 right up through the recent Obama administration.

Garwin was the real deal, a truly curious mind always eager to discover just how things work. Personal anecdotes dot the narrative of the book, such as the time he disassembled and repaired a photocopier, on the spot. Garwin laments of the proliferation of so-called modern day “experts” who often suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, commentary on how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Like many scientists who worked on the bomb, Garwin was also a key advocate for nuclear non-proliferation in later years, a cause he’s still active in today.

Be sure to check out True Genius for a look at a fascinating lifetime journey through 20th century science, and a look at the life of a man who guided America’s path through troubling times.

Next week: we finish up our science fiction duology review with Brenda Khan’s Spear of Light, the sequel to The Edge of Dark.

In For the Long Haul, Fixing the Future

In our natural habitat.

So, how are YOU holding up? Today marks two weeks since the inauguration/coronation of El Presidente, and like many, it’s tough to keep the old nose to the grindstone and focus on writing. This isn’t the usual distraction of kids/TV/yard guys around the house that’s easily shut out with ear defenders (yes, we occasional type with 105 Db proof-rated ear defenders on. Sometimes, I even wear a back brace, too) or a good blast of death metal music. [Read more...]

Doomsday Clock Announcement Set for Thursday

The Castle Bravo nuclear blast from 1954.

Credit: The United States Department of Energy.

How close are you to an existential crisis? In the case of humanity, we might just reach a tipping point this week. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will make their yearly ‘Doomsday Clock’ announcement this coming Thursday live at 10:00 AM EST/15:00 Universal Time (UT). [Read more...]

Review: Department Zero by Paul Crilley

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Ever wondered why this reality is as strange as it is? Certainly, the multi-verse idea is one very possible solution, especially in light of the worldwide political wackiness we’ve experienced in 2016.

And former Los Angeles detective Harry Priest (Atticus Pope, or at least, that’s who he thinks he was before the world went strange on him) is about to join the ranks of those who attempt to keep order across multiple dimensions. [Read more...]

2017: A Return to the Eyepiece

Our trusty solar scope…

I planned to get a flu shot on return to the States, honest.

We alluded last week to our recent (and still lingering) ’bout with pneumonia. Yup. We caught the flu that was burning right through the expat community in Spain just before leaving, and despite our valiant efforts, it decided to migrate to our lungs on arrival to the U.S. I even went to Urgent Care, concerned that we might’ve cracked a rib from our incessant coughing (we didn’t). [Read more...]

Re-entry: Coming Home

Catching the first sunrise of 2017.

We’re back!

The last week of 2016 saw us successfully make the jump back across the big pond that is the Atlantic Ocean back to the United States. It also saw us contract a flu that was sweeping the Spanish expat community of Jimena de la Frontera just days before departure, a flu which, despite our best efforts, progressed to mild pneumonia upon arrival back. Hey, we fully planned to get our yearly flu shot on return, honest. Anyways, we’re now (finally!) regaining strength, and thought we’d reflect on the trip last year and our return while impressions are still fresh in our mind’s eye.

It’s always a bit surreal, coming back to the U.S. Here, gas is cheap, and goods are plentiful. It’s hard not to grab random people and try to explain to them just how good they have it, and just what real poverty looks like. I know that it’s all relative to what people have experienced in their own lives, but travel opens you up to just how huge the disparity exists between the haves and have-nots is worldwide. And yet, we experienced such generosity from those who had the least to give us. Back in the States, it seems like we’re once again stuck in our own little bubble, with an indifference to others.

But its not all bad. Here, the WiFi screams along as fast as my fingers and brain can move, and I’m not clinching my teeth with every mouse click. In the States, we can really get business done. Whereas abroad, finding batteries or a place to get a haircut feels like a daily victory, here everything is a Walmart stop or an Amazon click away.

We also realize what a precious and expensive commodity personal space is on return to the U.S. Here, secondary roads are wider than main highways abroad, and garages are bigger than many European apartments.

Still, we miss the quiet solitude of writing amid the Andalusian foothills with the goats and cows, and the pleasant winding drive through the mountains home vs the endless redlight stop-start traffic of Florida’s US 19.

We did prove to ourselves that we can travel and work online indefinitely from the road in 2016, and keep the cash outflow equal to the very modest inflow our current lifestyle affords.

Of course, the return to the new ‘Occupied America‘ was a bitter sweet one, though the current political polarization isn’t as oblivious in day to day life even here in purple state Florida as our online life would suggest. We just do our best to break that bubble, and reach out to friends of all stripes. And speaking of which, PBS Newshour has an excellent quiz (and we almost NEVER take online quizzes) to help you see if you’re doing the same.

Well, that’s it for now. Time to rest up get healthy, and be ready to outrun the government’s fleet of flying killer robots if needed. Hey there’s and eclipse in 2017, so its already a good year.

Oh, and speaking of the eclipse, I wrote a book whilst traveling as well. be sure to check out our 101 Astronomical events to watch out for in 2017. Here’s to another exciting year!

More Adventures in Space-A: Slight Return

On the flight…

We’re back! 48 hours and one military hop later, and we’re back in the US of A. From the wild hills of Andalusia Spain, we now once again find ourselves in the land of strip malls, and Ihops, all in time for the looming Christmas weekend. Unlike our outward leg earlier this year, this one went pretty quick. We actually got on the very first flight we tried for. [Read more...]

Catch the Launch of CYGNSS This Afternoon

Launch of a Pegasus XL rocket. Credit: NASA.

Wanna see a unique rocket launch? We’ve got one coming right up later today, when NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) takes to the skies.

But this isn’t any ordinary rocket launch; CYGNSS will deploy from the belly of a specially designed L-1011 aircraft Stargazer on an Orbital ATK Pegasus-XL rocket deployed off the shores of the Florida Space Coast this afternoon. [Read more...]

2016: A Survival Guide

An existential crisis of a year…

So, how did your year go? If your a member of humanity on planet Earth, 2016 might have been, well, a bit of a downer. Yeah, we’re talking about the major downturn of things for the worse, politically speaking.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Great, yet another pundit, blogging on just what they think on Trump and Brexit…”¯ believe me, we’re the last ones wanting to add our voice to the din. Plus, we tend not to be political in our public and professional life; call it a hold over from our days in the military, serving under leaders we did and more often than not, did not vote for. [Read more...]

By Jove: Our Review of the JoveMoons Jupiter Simulator App

A closeup screenshot of a double shadow transit in 2017.

What’s new under the Sun? There’s certainly no shortage of astronomy apps out there competing for your hard-earned cyber dollar. Increasingly, these pocket planetarium sky programs are also showing up at public star parties, as glowing mobile phones now punctuate the darkness, waving at the night sky.

One great observational tool that has come to our attention recently is JoveMoons Pro. Developed by Yeudy Blanco and TuanisApps and available both for Android and Iphone, this simple yet elegant application displays the current positions of the four major Jovian moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) as well as the orientation of the Great Red Spot.

We recently had a chance to put the App through its paces, and we liked what we saw. The App also simulates the view from different angles in space and time as well, displaying the Jovian system from 2014 up through 2020. This is a wise idea, as things not only get a bit chaotic over time, but the Great Red Spot also tends to drift a bit in terms of longitude. The GRS has been shrinking over recent years, appearing more pale-salmon than red. Still, many planetarium programs fail to incorporate the true rotational position of the GRS, a great added feature in JoveMoons Pro.

A wide view of the JoveMoons simulator app screen interface.

We also put the program through its paces as we edit our upcoming Guide to Astronomy for 2017. We’re always on the hunt for double shadow transit events for Jupiter’s moons, and can happily report that JoveMoons Pro jibes well with other big league programs such as Stellarium and Starry Night Pro. It even displays how the size and shape of each individual moons’ shadow differs.

JoveMoons Pro is not only a handy educational resource, but is a great tool to plan that next observing session of the largest planet in the solar system. One minor quibble: when zoomed in, the app gives the impression of hurdling through space, past the Jovian moons, complete with photo- realistic surface features… this is great, but (there’s always a ‘but’,) this doesn’t really represent the view at the eyepiece, with the moons as tiny unresolved dots. A minor fact, I know, but it’s hard to have a large disk of Jove zoomed in and see just what moon is casting a shadow at the same time.

Triple shadow transits of moons are rarer still, but JoveMoons Pro does indeed see the 2015 event as forcasted by Jean Meeus, another great test. Quadruple transits of Jupiter’s moons aren’t currently possible as seen from our Earthly vantage point in our current epoch… it should, however, be possible to simulate that ‘sweet spot’ vantage point in space to find out just where they can be seen from… plus, it’s just plain fun the see a ‘half quarter Jove,’ a view only witnessed by NASA spacecraft such as Galileo or Juno.

In fact, triple play transits need to involve outermost Callisto, the only moon that can miss on occasion. The innermost Galilean moons are in a 1:2:4 resonance. App developer Yeudy Blanco mentioned that one thing they learned while developing JoveMoons Pro was just how infrequent Callisto shadow transits are.

Be sure to add JoveMoons Pro to your astronomical toolkit of essential apps.

Review: Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper

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Note: This week, we’re hearkening back to ‘Classic Astroguyz’ with a book review. We largely stopped doing reviews since we started traveling long term over this past year, as it’s tough to receive hard cover advance copies… but hey, we can still read pdf versions, and will still conduct reviews of electronic copies. [Read more...]

A Sneak Peek at Our Latest Eclipse Tale

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Hey, we wrote another story!

This week, we thought we’d offer the first 1,000 words of our latest eclipse-fueled scifi tale Class Field Trip for our very favorite price: free. Like what you see? You can read the entire tale here. And we’ve got lots more science fiction tales at our Amazon author page… [Read more...]

Journey to Mars: Our Two Cents

Will this scene ever become reality?

Image credit: SpaceX

Would you go to Mars?

Last week, SpaceX’s Elon Musk made a seemly bold announcement, as  he outlined how humanity could colonize Mars.

It was exhilarating stuff, for sure. Elon’s the closest thing we have to a real-life Tony Stark, one of the new generation of civilization-conscious billionaires, a guy we’d actually like to have a beer with. [Read more...]

The End of the Nation State?

A thing of the past?

What does the near future of human civilization have in store? If there’s one thing we’re terrible at as a species, it’s predicting change. Looking at predictions of the past is an instructive exercise in the folly of attempting to prognosticate. The biggest hazard appears to be the mere projection of current culture, and imagining that such a linear progression will go on forever. While everyone imagined we’d have flying cars and robotic servants by now, everybody completely missed the rise of Twitter, Ebay and Paypal. [Read more...]

12 Surprising Things I Learned in the United Kingdom

Charming lane, or major thoroughfare?

And here, we thought we knew all there was of US vs UK culture. Sure, we knew a truck is a lorry, a boot was a trunk, and the whole fries-are-chips, chips-are-crisps thing. We’d accidentally avoided long stays in the UK in our 20+ plus years in the U.S. Air Force, as the Britain was usually a 24 hour stop off en route to Africa or the Middle East. Anyhow, as we near our final 72 hours in the United Kingdom, here are 12 differences large and small that we noticed in our two months in the British Isles: [Read more...]

The Universe: Fine-Tuned, or Just Fine Without Us?

Probing the universe… or is it the other way around?

It’s a chicken and egg question that comes around every so often in cosmology.

Were we created to live in the Universe, or was the cosmos fine-tuned for us? That is, was everything we see arranged just so we had to arise?

We’re currently reading Beyond Biocentrism, a book posing this very idea, repackaged in a slightly new way. This is known as the anthropic principle, an idea that rears its ugly head every so often. [Read more...]

I’m Writing a Book – ‘I’m Writing a Book?’

My view for the next few months…

There. I said it.

One sure way to carry through with an intended goal,  is to announce it to the world. Tell no one, and you always have a viable way out. In a way, keeping something under wraps can doom a project to failure. Hey, I finally quit smoking this way, way back in 1995. tell the world, and they’ll immediately know if you didn’t carry through.

Haven’t we written several science fiction books already? Yup… but the forthcoming project is something much larger in scope: our very first adventure into non-fiction.

Long time readers might recall our yearly roundup of astronomical events to watch out for in the coming year. This started way back when in 2009 on this blog, and migrated over to Universe Today in 2014.

It has grown in size and scope, and now, we’re taking it to the next logical step. We’re expanding this into The Top 101 Astronomical Events for 2017. Each event will get a one to two page entry, and the guide will be interspersed with factoids, tidbits, and tales of astronomical lore. This will be released first as an e-guide from Universe Today, and then as a download available from Amazon.

This, of course, is an experiment. If the demand reaches a certain threshold, this may become a yearly thing. I actually started doing this sort of list for myself, as a sort of outline on upcoming astronomy events to write about in the coming year. We also noticed that, while there are some amazing guides to, and almanacs for the coming year out there, none of them have really made the transition to digital. All this info is indeed out there on ye ole web, it’s just in disparate places. Most online guides we’ve come across on blogs and websites tend to treat astronomy in the coming year very superficially, in a standard ‘Top 10′ listicle format.

We’re looking to tie all of the ‘best of the best’ in one deep-diving handbook. Expect astronomical weirdness, and facts galore. What we don’t want to write is a simple basic learners book, nor will this be a laundry list of Moon phases in a standard almanac style. We’re aiming to make this something special, something in between. We’re incorporating tips, comments and suggestions from previous years, and we have some ideas for expansion (especially in the graphics department) if there proves to be a demand for this guide.

In previous years, we’ve even manged to include the list in Ical/Google Calendar format, and we’re hoping to do so again this year. Hopefully, this will be a resource you can download to your Ipad, smartphone, or viewing device of choice for use in the field.

It’ll be an eye-crosser to construct, for sure, but we hope to chronicle the creation process here over the next few months. And hey… we’re putting this all together whilst on the road traveling, using our 13.5” screen laptop.

Onward towards 2017, and another great year in astronomy.