November 18, 2017

July 2013-Life in the AstroBlogosphere: Who’s Who in the AstroTwitterverse

Astrophoto-shoot take 2;

note inclusion of AstroLab!

Recently, we wrote up an article on The New Social Face of Astronomy for the August 2013 issue of Sky &Telescope. Among the many cyber-corners and crannies of ye ole Internet that we explored was the world of Twitter. Twitter is a great source of fast breaking information, tailor made for certain aspects of astronomy such as meteorite falls, satellite reentries, new comet discoveries and nova flare-ups. [Read more...]

The Solstice Eclipse: An Update

AWESOME!!! (All images and video by Author).

This is just a brief update: the solstice lunar eclipse was one for the record books, a bright Danjon “L4″ and easily visible thoughout totality. A coppery red, this was one of the brightest on record for this seasoned observer… expect a more through after action report in this space later today… more pics can also be seen here at our shinny new Flickr account. Now… sleep!

…a brief nap and the astronomer’s friend, coffee, has brought with it some more processed results, including the stop motion/live footage above and the processed stills below. For those interested, I shot with a JVC Digicam afocally through the 8″SCT, while shooting stills with a piggybacked 800-1600 DSLR. The rig worked out pretty good, all in all; having WWV radio call out time signals in the background was a huge help, as I just let the video run while shooting stills at the top of each minute.

Also, our Twitter “danjon count” was a huge success, with a clean sweep for a Danjon number of L4, the brightest eclipse possible… the power of crowd sourcing in action!

Astro Event: A South Pacific Eclipse.

Animation of the July 11th Solar Eclipse. (Credit: A.T. Sinclair/NASA).

Path of the solar eclipse…click for animation. (Credit: A.T. Sinclair/NASA).

   This year’s big ticket astronomical event occurs over a sparsely populated but beautiful track of our planet; we’re talking about July 11th’s total solar eclipse. Of course, it isn’t often that an eclipse doesn’t occur over the windswept Arctic or a war-torn banana republic… the Sun and sand of an island eclipse may just be the perfect combo. If you haven’t already made plans to catch one of the numerous cruises headed that way you may have to enjoy it vicariously with the rest of us via the Internet; this eclipse graces only a smattering of islands before making a brief landfall in South America across the Chilean-Argentine border at sunset. The path of solar totality will not grace our planet again until November 2012 in another South Pacific eclipse that intersects this month’s path! Its maximum length of 5 minutes and 20 seconds occurs over open ocean. Two very interesting sites for viewing include Easter Island and just off of the coast of French Polynesia and Tahiti; the more adventurous may want to head for the Cook Islands site of Mangaia, which lies right along the centerline. Weather prospects may favor the northern hump of the path, with a mean cloudiness of less than 50%… but for sheer beauty and landscape photo ops, Easter island will be your best bet. No doubt most of humanity will experience this one vicariously via the web; follow @Astroguyz via Twitter, as we’ll post where online to watch this extra-ordinary event in the days leading up to the eclipse!     

The Astro-term for this week is Metonic Series. A metonic series of eclipses arises from the fact that the period of 19 tropical solar years is very nearly equal to 235 synodic months. This was first recognized by the astronomer Meton of Athens in the year 432 B.C. The error of difference is 2 hours per 19 years, and this accumulates to a full calendar day every 219 years. A metonic cycle of eclipses will share the same calendar date in groupings of 4 to 5 per series… for example, the first eclipse related to this month’s was on July 11th, 1953 and the last will be 19 years from now, on July 11, 2029. Do not confuse metonic series with saros cycle, which is independent of the solar calendar and based on a period of 223 synodic months. So what, you say? Well, metonic series not only factor into eclipses landing on the same date, but also play a role in calculating when the Moon will appear at the same phase in the same position again… metonic series even play in to trajectory calculations for lunar bound spacecraft, as well as serving as a basis for the Hebrew calendar and the computation of Easter!

13.06.10: Hayabusa: a Sample Return Update.

  14.06.10 Update: They got it… as of this writing, it looks like the sample return capsule safely touched down in the Australian desert intact!
 
A long trip home! (Credit: JAXA).  
A long journey home! (Credit: JAXA).
Earth looming as seen from Hayabusa. (Credit: JAXA).
Earth looming as seen from Hayabusa. (Credit: JAXA).
  (Note: As of this writing, the search for the sample return capsule is still underway in the Australian outback… expect updates here and on our Twitter feed as the day unfolds!) 

  Hayabusa returned to Earth today, lighting up the skies over the Australian outback and the Woomera restricted zone slightly before 10:00 AM EDT. Good captures of the fireball and the re-entry were confirmed, and the probe burned up after releasing the sample return capsule to plunge over the Australian desert. But the big mystery remains; did Hayabusa in fact capture and return a sample of asteroid Itokawa, and in doing so succeed in a first ever sample return from an asteroid? Of course, we may not truly know the answer to this long awaited tale for some time, as engineers must first recover and retrieve the capsule for further analysis. All indications were that the sample stirring pellet gun did not fire during the asteroid encounter, but there’s always the slim chance that material may have gotten stirred up and caught in the sample retrieval horn. Hayabusa slammed into the atmosphere today at a terrific speed of 27,000 mph, one of the fastest re-entries ever attempted. All space fans were present watching the action in the Australian night via Twitter and UStream, further evidence that the realm of new school media has in fact arrived. NASA & SETI’s joint reentry observation program was also aloft in a DC-8 for the event, watching to grab a spectroscopic analysis of the fireball as it plunged to Earth. The trail seen was quite bright, lighting up the thin scud of clouds as viewed from the surface.  Robin Whittle and his Wife Tina reported a fireball “brighter than Venus” from their locale 25 km west southwest of Port Augusta. Re-entry came at an angle of 10 degrees and had to endure temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during the decent. Toasts were raised worldwide as Hayabusa made its heroic return, a triumph for the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA). Doubtless, it’ll be days to weeks for engineers to sort out the after action data; for example, scientists are still going over the Stardust aerogel returned from comet Wild years later.   A search of the Australian outback is underway and we’ll post more pics as we see em throughout the day… Kampai, Hayabusa! 

 

Video of the fireball in the Australian night… 

01:00 PM EDT: More dramatic pics have just come in via JAXA and the NASA/SETI team…

Image via JAXA's All Sky Observation System... (Credit: JAXA).

Hayabusa re-entry as seen by the JAXA Ground all-sky observation network. (Credit: JAXA).

  …and the most recent images from the joint SETI/NASA airborn observation program;

 Hayabusa re-entry...is that the sample return package flying formation to the right? (Credit: NASA/SETI).

Re-entry as seen from the air; is that a sample return capsule I see flying in formation to the lower right? (Credit: NASA/SETI).

   

The Smart Phones Strike Back: The STS-132 NASAtweetup!

Astroguyz in uber-nerd mode! (All Photos by Author).
Astroguyz in uber-nerd mode! (All Photos by Author).

    I got into Twitter about a year ago with some apprehension; did I really want to know (or care?) what someone’s cat did today? Was “micro-blogging” a cop-out to serious writing? After all, a scant decade ago, we barely knew what e-mail was. Here it is a year later, and we’re hooked. Twitter has produced tangible benefits, such as the opportunity to attend the launch of STS-132 last week and the NASAtweetup! Fans of this space will note that we attended our first Tweetup at the Johnson Space Flight Center in March. While that was a stellar session, we’d always wanted to do a launch event, and not be stuck viewing from the peanut gallery or a Home Depot parking lot in Orlando, but up close with the “serious” media.  [Read more...]

Astro Event of the Week: Spot Atlantis on its Final Flight!

(Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller).

(Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller).

 Atlantis posed for flight!

   This week sees the first in a series of finales; three shuttle missions remain, and the first shuttle up for its final voyage is Atlantis and STS-132. This is a resupply mission to the International Space Station, as NASA prepares to enter life aboard the ISS without a shuttle next year. Atlantis first took to space on October 3, 1985 and has performed such notable feats as the launching of the Magellan & Galileo spacecraft as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and last year’s final repair of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard STS-125. Atlantis takes its name from the famous sailing ship that first scouted out Wood’s Hole in the early 20th century, the RV Atlantis. After STS-132, Atlantis will have logged nearly 300 days in space. Atlantis will be kept for a STS-335 Launch On Need standby for the final STS-134 flight of Endeavour later this year, which is also the last of the shuttle program.

The good news is several sighting opportunities should be possible for both Atlantis and the ISS during its 13 day planned mission. Launch is scheduled for 2:20 PM EDT on Friday, May 14th, and the shuttle will pass over Europe as it lifts into orbit that evening at dusk. Interestingly, it looks like the Sun angle may be setting up for some transit sighting opportunities over the US Southeast during this mission. Docking will occur on day three, which will be on the 17th if everything launches on schedule. Lit dusk passes on the pair will favor the US eastern seaboard, and generally, the farther north you are, the higher the STS-ISS pair will be. Around late June, the ISS will enter a summertime orbital phase where its orbit will actually be permanently illuminated at times, and even now, the nights aboard the ISS are drawing up short. Do track sites such as Heavens Above, CALsky, Spaceweather, and this space for updates… it’s worth it to see Atlantis do its thing one more time!

(Note: An orbital ballet of sorts is also in progess at the ISS; today, the Progress 36 module undocks from the nadir port of the Zvezda  module. Progress will deorbit and burn up over the Pacific in June. Then, on Wednesday, cosmonaut Kotokov will pilot the Soyuz TMA-17 and undock from the aft end of the Zarya module and move it to replace Progress, freeing it up for the installation of the MRM-1  carried aboard Atlantis. Talk about a cool valet job!)

The astro-word for this week is: Space Tweetup! A space tweetup is an alignment of two or more space enthusiasts for a space flight cause via that most venerable of 140 character platforms, Twitter. A Tweetup may be virtual, as in “let’s watch a launch via NASA TV and tweet about it” or in person, as in next week’s NASA tweetup for the STS-132 launch, of which Astroguyz is proud to be a member. NASA obviously “get’s it,” and is eager to promote new technology and engage its legion of fans, many whom feel disenfranchised with the “old school” media. People often ask me, “Why bother with Twitter?” I reply that events like the NASA tweetup have given me the opportunity to gain access normally reserved only for a select few, and an ability to connect to readers in a way not possible previous. It’s hard to imagine that scant decades ago, the monthly astronomy magazine bulletins would tell us about the comet that had long since come and gone; through Twitter communities, I can not only act on alerts for new objects, but share images straight from the eyepiece in real time. I highly encourage anyone interested to apply for a NASAtweetup; it’s open to all, and they’ve had events at the Kennedy and Johnson Space Center and in Baltimore at the Goddard Space Center thus far. And if you can’t make it, you can always participate vicariously online!

28.10.09:Near Earth Shenanigans.

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been in the news as of late, perhaps as a prelude to Halloween. First, we woke up the morning of the 17th to a near miss of 2009 TM8, an asteroid about 10 meters in diameter that passed 90% the distance of the Moon. Then just yesterday, astronomers announced that they are tracking an unknown object tentatively named 9U01FF6 that is currently in an elongated 31 day orbit about the Earth. In all likelihood, this is probably a recaptured piece of Apollo hardware; many boosters are now in Earth-crossing orbits about the Sun. But wouldn’t it be cool if we had a second natural Moon? Now, a report has come to light out of Indonesia of a possible bolide earlier this month. The video embedded above depicts a smoke trail consistent with a large meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere. The event occurred at around 03:00 UT (11:00 AM local) on October 8th; its rather mysterious that in this Age of Twitter, the report took more than two weeks to surface! Trust me, “remote” locales such as Southeast Asia are more hooked up in terms of wireless technology than much of the rural US…The event also set off 11 stations of the International Monitoring System, which gauges the atmosphere for violations of the nuclear test ban treaty. The asteroid suspect is estimated to have been 5-10 meters in diameter and produced a yield of about 30-50 kilotons. In contrast, the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was only a yield of 21 kilotons. The event was offshore and very near the coastal town of Bone, and was witnessed and recorded by the villagers as seen above. Events like this are estimated to happen once every 2-10 years, and lend credence to the hypothesis that a fairly large impactor may come in with no warning at all. And no, Virginia, this doesn’t appear to be a Latvian crater hoax this time around!

15.10.09:Watch the Hubble Repair Online!

Its out! After much waiting, PBS’s flagship science program NOVA has at last begun putting the new season up online for viewing! This will assure that those of us who now exclusively get their media via the Internet, such as ourselves here at Astroguyz HQ, receive our weekly fix. And the change-over could not have been timelier; the first episode we previewed was Hubble’s Amazing Rescue, the STS-125 mission to save the Space Telescope earlier this year. The episode follows the dangerous repair mission from the tank training on the ground to the problems encountered and overcome while in orbit. The personalities of astronauts Mike Massimino (a.k.a. The “Tweeting astronaut”) and Megan MacArthur shine through in this engaging episode. And hey, we learned a thing or two; I’d heard about the nut capture plate for instance, but had never seen it in action. Lots of stunning IMAX footage was shot during this amazing mission for eventual use on the big screen. Be sure to give the NOVA site a peek as new episodes are now going up!

08.10.09:Enhance Your Online Schooling Experience with Polldaddy.

Looking for the next big thing online? Tired of tweeting and mindless quizzes on Facebook? Let me introduce you to hidden tool to do your bidding. Trust me, today’s news post does tie in with astronomy! After all, its my soap box, right? A couple years ago, I started my quest for an online Bachelor of Science teaching degree with Western Governors’ University. One of the very first papers I wrote had me conduct a survey. Like so many before me, I disseminated the survey the “old-media” way. I built a word doc, e-mailed it to everyone in my address book, and tediously collected the data into a spread sheet. The response was very under whelming, and the process was time consuming. Most people tend to get buried in their e-mail, and if your in-box is like mine, its simply a clearing house where things get sorted, maybe occasionally read. No, I’m not going to plug the latest Iphone email app or recommend you outsource your email wading-through to Bangladesh. The new online secret I have to reveal to you is Polldaddy. Set up is simple, and within minutes you to can have a custom built, professional looking survey. Polldaddy is one of those things that I use more than I ever thought I would, both in school and in blogging. In fact, we have a running survey on our site, and its a great way to engage your audience. Recently, I had to conduct a genetics survey for school. In the olden days, this would’ve meant constructing a survey, then calling folks, a proposition that would’ve taken all day. With Polldaddy, I had a survey built and on its way to hundreds of eyeballs via Twitter, Facebook, and ye ole Email within the hour. I just had to sit back and watch the responses roll in. All answers were anonymous, so we couldn’t reveal any potentially sensitive information even if we had wanted to. (Scenario: I’m blood type O, and my Mom answers she’s blood type AB…. hey, it happened to Moses too…) In 24 hours, I had 50 responses. The report it arranged was neat, tidy, and ready for school use. In fact, a Twitter linked Polldaddy app would be a powerful tool. Just build your Poll, and it is automatically spread to your Twitter contacts, which spreads to Facebook, which spreads to…well, you get the picture. In short, Polldaddy is a cool school hack I’ve found that any starving student can appreciate. And the baseline sign up is our favorite price; free! Bloggers will also enjoy it as a way to jazz up their home page and engage their audience. Hey, its more productive than taking “Which washed up 80′s hair band singer are you” quizzes on Facebook!

AstroTwitter!

This is a quick blatantly promotional shout out; Astroguyz has finally joined the legions of the hip and joined Twitter! Keep up with the latest in the world of astronomy! Get quick up to the minute updates while mobile! Find out what Astroguyz thinks about over morning coffee! What’s that ominous glow on the horizon? Could it be a nearby Gamma Ray Burst or killer asteroid impact? Stay in touch with all things astronomical via Astroguyz via Twitter and never wonder again! Follow us here at this link.