September 23, 2017

AstroEvent: ISS All Nite!

 

The ISS as seen from STS-130. (Image Credit: NASA).

The ISS as seen from STS-130. (Image Credit: NASA).

(Editor’s Note: Due to timeliness concerns for events mentioned, we nudged next week’s astro-event up to today!)

   After a long drought, the International Space Station (ISS) returns to the nighttime skies this week. And what a return it is; starting tonight on June 23rd, the ISS enters a phase in which it is illuminated by the Sun throughout the span of its orbit. This unique event continues for four days, and sighting opportunities abound. This is only possible within a few weeks surrounding the solstice season, and does not happen again this year. Generally, the farther north or south in latitude you are, the greater the sighting opportunities; areas such as northern Maine, for example, will see the ISS on every 90 minute pass throughout the night! This also produces a dilemma for residents of the ISS, as overheating is a major concern. To offset or minimize this effect, portions of the ISS can be angled to alternately “shade” sections and automated cooling and radiating devices are installed throughout. Now is a good time to spy this celestial outpost of humanity, as its brightness rivals Venus. Spaceweather.com, Orbitron and the NASA ISS website all provide sighting guides; you can even follow @twisst on twitter for sighting ops or our humble feed @Astroguyz if you live in the US Southeast. Our favorite pick for ISS tracking is Heavens-Above, a tried and time honored favorite… let us know of your ISS sighting success stories!

The Astroword for this week is Inclination. This is one of the essential perimeters that defines an orbit of a celestial body; usually an established and agreed upon 0° degree point is set based on the primary bodies’ rotation (as is the case for objects orbiting the Earth) or orbital plane (for objects orbiting the Sun). That is, the Earth’s orbit as traced out by the ecliptic establishes zero point inclination throughout our solar system. The fact that the illumination angle of the ISS changes is a direct result of its 51.6° degree inclined orbit with respect to the Earth’s rotational equator. This relatively high inclination was chosen to be easily achievable between U.S. and Russian launch sites. In order for the shuttle or any spacecraft to reach the ISS, it must match the same magical orbital inclination of 51.6° degrees.

Adventures along the Maine Solar System Model

ver wanted to cruise the solar system? A new project in Northern Maine enables you to do just that! Located in Aroostook county, the Maine Solar System Model is the largest complete representation of our solar system in the world. Conceived by the Univeristy of Maine at Presque Isle and completed in the traditional “9″ planet configuration in June 14th of 2003, the model is based on a 1:93,000,000 mile scale, meaning that a mile on the model essentialy equals one astronomical unit.

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Make Your Workout Pay; Collecting Cans While You Run

This topic has nothing to do with astronomy, except for the fact that the idea may be considered as well, in outer space to some. I live in and grew up in the state of Maine. Maine has a long tradition as being one of the first states to offer a return deposit for cans going back to 1976. I vividly remember spending endless hours peddling rural back roads looking for discarded cans. Back then return rates were in .05, .10, .20, and .50 increments… now they’re .05 for cans and bottles and .15 for large liquor bottles (I wonder why the rate hasn’t increased with the price of soda and beer?) Still, in the 1970s a dollar could buy you a comic (50 cents… “Destroy the Justice League, Super-Villians!”) and an ice cream or soda (or pop, as we say in Maine…and the redemption cycle continues.) [Read more...]