Wind Map

   Earlier today I posted about two web sites for following the hurricane. One of those, Wind Map, has a neat feature where you are able to zoom in sort of like with Google Earth. As you zoom in the names of cities start to show up. This allows you to see the wind patterns with much more detail around specific areas as you can see in this graphic. To move back out click on the ‘Unzoom’ button.
   Below are two short videos of some of the wind patterns – one showing the United States and the other a closeup of the center of the hurricane. Both from the same time at around 7 pm CDT this evening.

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Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Blowing in the Wind

Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy

   Hurricane Sandy, described as “historic” because of how late in the year it formed and its intensity, is approaching the eastern seacoast of the U.S. threatening our friends and family living in the storm area. They as well as everyone living in the area are certainly in our thoughts and prayers.
   In a recent post I shared some links for tracking hurricanes. So in that spirit here are some web links for tracking Hurricane Sandy. However the focus of these two are the winds that blow across our country as well as those that circle counterclockwise around the low pressure in the storm’s center.
   The Weather Underground web site, a longtime Internet presence, offers a static map (updated regularly) showing the wind patterns across the United States through the use of a color code for wind speed, and small arrows indicating the direction the winds are blowing toward. Other links on this page connect with the other display choices.
   The Wind Map web site offers a very unique view of the blowing winds across the United States with an animated map that is color coded to show wind speeds. From the animation it is obvious which direction the winds are blowing towards. This web site is one of the many visualization projects created by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg two visualization artists at Google. Click here to learn more about them and their creative work.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Learn with NASA

   Looking for ways to incorporate Earth and Space Sciences into your classes, or just curious about the neat stuff teachers and students have access to? Then take a look at the new NASA website designed with educators in mind. Called NASA Wavelength this is a web site that is organized into six sections by grade level, and also includes a section for higher education and informal education. Activities and lessons are further organized by topic (Earth and Space, Engineering, Mathematics, etc.) and type of resource (activity, lesson plan, data, instructor guide, etc.) – with materials available both online and downloadable. This web site was developed in conjunction with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and contains quite a lot of resources about science at NASA and is well worth taking advantage of the many resources available. For an even more in-depth look at science at NASA visit the NASA Science web site.

   Science at NASA is also available in Spanish.

   While the Wavelength web site is certainly complete there are many other web sites based on NASA activities or the various NASA facilities and their operations. One of these ‘other’ web sites is NASA Quest where there are “Web-based, interactive explorations designed to engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes. The solutions relate to issues encountered daily by NASA personnel”. These quests, or challenges, are not just space-based but illustrate the many areas that NASA is involved with. For example, students could simulate the roll of an Air Traffic Controller with Smart Skies, or design their own exo-planet at Astro-Ventures.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Feed Me!

Devouring a Planet

   “Fried Planets” is the title for a recent News Release from NASA describing observations and data collected from a star in the constellation of Perseus the Hero. Using a 9.2 m telescope at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas the star, BD+48 740 – a red giant star, has apparently destroyed, “devoured” one of its planets. This conclusion was reached after spectroscopic studies of the star revealed an abundance of the element Lithium in the red giant star. Lithium is typically destroyed during nuclear reactions in a star, so finding it in the amounts they detected suggests that this extra Lithium came from a planet or planets orbiting the red giant star. These planet or planets were close enough to the star to be engulfed and destroyed by the star as it expanded into a red giant star.
   Additionally the one planet still in orbit around BD+48 740 has an orbit that is the most elliptically shaped orbit for any planet observed so far – in our solar system or any of the exo-solar systems. The planet, roughly 1-2 times the mass of Jupiter, may have moved into this elliptical orbit during the time the planet or planets providing the Lithium were being destroyed by the red giant star.

Watch a ScienceCast video from NASA about this star and its activities.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

O x 3 = Ozone

   One of the interesting things we learned from the Ascent project balloon flights was that as the balloon gained altitude the air temperature first decreased then reversed and increased for a while. What had happened was that balloon had reached an altitude where there was ozone – in fact both balloons reached the lower part of the stratosphere where the ozone layer is located. Ozone is a molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms and is produced as well as destroyed by a combination of natural and manmade factors. Nonetheless the ozone making up the ozone layer is an extremely important, actually essential, component of our atmosphere. Ozone absorbs most of the Ultraviolet (UV) radiation sent our way from the Sun, and without that protection the surface of the Earth would be sterile from UV radiation, and as lifeless as the surface of Mars is today.

   Since Ozone is important any change in its status is a cause for concern, and that is what led to essentially a worldwide agreement to ban the use of certain chemicals during the 1970s. Chemicals that when released into the atmosphere would react with ozone molecules and break them apart, and when doing so increase the amount of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

The Current Antarctic Ozone Hole

   NASA has several missions that observe our planet’s atmosphere, specifically the ozone layer and overall ozone concentrations in the atmosphere. Recent data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite shows that the ozone hole over the South Pole/Antarctica is the second smallest it has been in the last 20 years of monitoring the size of the ozone hole. Additionally there has been a significant decrease in the depletion of ozone over the years as the amounts of ozone depleting chemicals have also decreased. In other words the global ban on the use of products containing chemical compounds like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) for example has contributed significantly to the ‘healing’ of our atmosphere.

   Want to Learn more about the Ozone Hole over the South Pole region? Click here to go to NASA’s Ozone Hole Watch web site.

   Click here to go to the Windows to the Universe web site to learn more about the layers of the atmosphere.

Watch a short video explanation of how ozone is destroyed in a chemical reaction.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

ISS Live

   The lift-off of the Soyuz rocket carrying the next ISS crew was a short while ago, and the crew is now in space and on their way to docking Thursday morning.
   View the lift-off video below.
   So as a follow-up to the launch this morning I’d like to direct your attention to this NASA web site that provides real-time data from the International Space Station. The web site ISS Live offers a variety of options like views of the activity schedule for the crew as shown in the above graphic. Another real-time graphic displays the timeline for the science activities, while another offers a menu of various mission operations consoles to observe. Want to fly with ISS? Try the ‘Visit the Space Station‘ button to have a birds-eye view of the orbiting ISS with the Earth below. The display shows the changing view of the Earth and displays data about the orbital position of the ISS.
   Where is the Space Station right now? You can get a real-time simulated visual from the ‘Visit the ISS‘ page as shown in the above graphic, or you could use the ISS Sightings web site.

Watch the first few minutes of the lift-off:

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Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Rocket and Roll!

   In anticipation of launch tomorrow (Tuesday 23 October) the Soyuz rocket is transported to the launch platform by rail. Then tomorrow at 5:51 am CDT the Soyuz rocket will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Onboard will be the next crew for the International Space Station (ISS), Expedition 33/34, heading for a 6-month stay. NASA TV coverage starts at 4:30 am CDT. Two days later at 7:35 am CDT the crew consisting, of Kevin Ford (NASA Flight Engineer), Oleg Novitskiy (Soyuz Commander), and Evgeny Tarelkin (Flight Engineer), will dock at the ISS. Approximately 3 hours later the hatch will open and the current ISS crew will greet their replacements. NASA TV coverage starts at 7 am CDT.
   The current ISS crew returns to Earth on 17 November.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Balloon Kam Hunt

Getting Things Ready

   Help us find the Balloon Kam that went missing during its descent and recieve the heartfelt thanks from our group as well as a small reward for your efforts. The Balloon Kam was flown as part of the School Day at the K event this past May 17th. The balloon and payload were being tracked with GPS but the signal stopped at about 20,000 feet and without that signal or a visual sighting we were unable to recover the payload. The payload was carrying 3 hi-def cameras and science data loggers in addition to the GPS and a TV signal transmitter. We were broadcasting live video that was shown on the large jumbotron screen at Kauffman Stadium where the event was taking place.

GPS Signals During Flight

   The picture above showing us getting things ready gives an idea of the size of the payload package and more or less what the parachute looks like. The payload package is made of several disks of thick styrofoam material, while the parachute is 6 feet in diameter and is made of red and blue rip-stop nylon. The cameras are mounted on the side, top, and bottom, and the wire antenna is about 2 feet long. It’s all held together with duct tape, string, and other reinforcing material.

Balloon Release


   Once released the balloon followed a path that took it southeast from Kauffman Stadium toward my home in Lee’s Summit. We were following the balloon descent in cars while tracking it in real-time and were just passing through Lee’s Summit on Highway 50 when we lost the signal. We spent a lot of time driving around south of the area where we lost the signal, and also closer to the Quarry near Lee’s Summit and Lake Lotawana but were unable to spot anything from the road. We drove around the latter area because the winds that day were blowing from the southeast and it is possible that the payload did not make it to its calculated landing spot south of Lone Jack, MO. I even flew over the area with a local pilot in a small plane but was unable to spot anything.

Calculated Landing Spots

   Given the wooded areas surrounding the calculated landing sites it is possible that the payload, antennas, and parachute got caught in a tree. And after this much time the parachute colors may have faded.
Eye Altitude: 731 feet

Eye Altitude: 731 feet

Balloon Kam Search
   Here is where the search comes in. Google Earth has updated the imagery for this area with the images in higher resolution and are as recent as this past September 2 2012. This means it is possible that the parachute and payload may be spotted from scanning the Google Earth display. This screen capture shows the detail one can see from an altitude setting of around 700 feet. It is possible to zoom down even further before the image becomes too pixelated and still see detail.

Original Calculated Flight Path

   This graphic shows the original flight path as calculated the morning of the flight. The blue color indicates the ascent and the red color is the descent. The payload may have landed anywhere within the circles or somewhere along the descent path. Or it may be somewhere between this area and west toward the new possible landing spots. The winds were out of the southeast and blowing toward the west-northwest direction.
   To help in the search here is a link to a small file that may be downloaded and opened with Google Earth. It shows the possible landing locations after the flight path calculations were redone using different algorithms and weather data from the actual flight time as opposed to the weather data we used from the morning of the launch. If a location is suspected as a possible sighting use a ‘push-pin’ to mark its location. Then either save this as a Google Earth file and e-mail to me, or e-mail me the coordinates.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Oh – Orion

The starry skies around Orion

   The Orinids Meteor shower, at least for me, is now history. The sky was very clear however with the ambient light from Kansas City to the south and west the skies had a limiting magnitude of around 2 to 4 depending on which direction I faced. I saw 7 meteors during a 2-hour time span between 3:30 and 5:30 this morning. All were at least 1st magnitude, and none were captured on film despite running the video for nearly the entire time.

Jupiter, the Hyades, and Pleiades

   However I did manage to capture the area around Orion from Taurus over to the Gemini Twins. In the picture above, Orion’s right knee, the star Saiph, is seen between the leaves and branches of a tree. Near the top of the picture is bright Jupiter and the two open star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades. This picture is a closeup of Jupiter and the two star clusters.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Here Come the Orinids

Sunday 21 October – 4 am CDT

   The Orionid Meteor shower reaches its peak on the morning of Sunday the 21st. Best viewing is looking toward the east to south part of the sky after midnight and before sunrise. Look for the stars of Orion – most find Orion from the 3 bright stars forming his belt. Look to the left from the belt stars for the bright reddish-orange star Betelgeuse (often pronounced ‘beetle juice’) that represents Orion’s right shoulder. A little further to the left from Betelgeuse is the radiant, the area where the meteors or shooting stars will seem to be radiating outward from.
   All annular meteor showers, like Orionids, and the more well-known August Perseids, are named for the constellation the radiant is located within. Meteor showers are the result of several factors including the reaction between the comet’s dirty, icy surface with the Sun’s radiant energy and the orbital path the Earth and comets follow around the Sun. All comets leave behind clumps or clouds of comet debris, their surface material, as they come closer to the Sun’s heat energy. Some of this comet debris is left along the Earth’s orbital path such that the Earth regularly passes through these debris clouds. As the Earth passes through the debris the small bits of rock enter the Earth’s atmosphere and as they heat from friction and melt they glow briefly appearing as streaks of light. Some meteors leave a bright glowing trail, called a train, for a few moments. The Orionids average around 20 meteors per hour, however this year estimates are that that number may go up to as many as 60 per hour.
   How the number per hour can increase is based on the debris cloud and where the Earth passes through it. The debris is cloud-like in its shape and there are parts of the ‘cloud’ where the particles are more numerous – the thicker parts of the debris cloud. Meteor showers, like the Earth’s orbit are pretty well known so part of the equation for determining the number per hour is based on knowing what part of the debris cloud the Earth will pass through. This year we apparently pass through a thicker part of the debris cloud.
   Hang on to your hat!

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.