October Qué tal Now Available

october que tal   As the subject line says the October issue is now online and available.
   Many interesting celestial events this month including one minor meteor showers, a partial penumbral lunar eclipse, and conjunctions with our Moon, planets, and stars. In the east before sunrise look for Jupiter to be the point of a right-triangle with the ‘twin’ stars. Mars will pass by the star Regulus in Leo and will have a temporary traveling companion – Comet ISON. Both will be within a couple of degrees from one another but will have very contrasting apparent magnitudes. Mars is naked-eye visible and the comet is not.

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

Tracking Satellites – Online

   In planning for a photo opportunity with either or both the International Space Station and an Iridium Satellite flare I use each of the 3 web sites displayed in the slideshow below in addition to the information provided by the Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro. If my Knidle is not available I go online to the NASA Spot the Station web site for important viewing information including where and when the ISS is visible, and the duration of its visibility. The link here takes you to where you choose a location. Once selected the sighting opportunities will be calculated for that location.
iss-ani   Another online resource is the SATVIEW web site. Your ISP will be detected and used to determine your general location like latitude, longitude, and timezone. This information is then used by the web site to calculate satellite visibilities and other data for your location. You may select from a list of satellites to track and then watch its orbital path on a larger Mercator projection type map of the Earth. Superimposed on top of this map is an animated graphic that shows the satellite from above in motion as it orbits the Earth’s surface below. Below these maps is a data stream display of location information, speed, altitude and so on, and is constantly updating.
   The AstroViewer web site shows an animated graphic as if looking down from the ISS as it orbits above the Earth’s surface. It also displays a data stream of information about the ISS as well as the orbital path plotted on a world map. The ‘ground track’ shows the path the ISS is following and is updated every second. Clicking on the snapshot button opens a new browser window with a larger and more detailed graphic of what the ISS was orbiting above. Additionally you may get a visibility listing for a location similar to the list from the NASA web site.
   This particular web site, AstroViewer, requires the use of Java and if you have heeded any of the cautionary reports about using Java then your computer should either not allow Java and subsequently not show the animated graphics, or you will be prompted to allow the use of Java.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

InSight Into the Red Planet

Click on image to download a bookmark.

Click on image to download a bookmark.

   InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the next NASA planned mission to Mars. Set for launch in March 2016 the lander will have a flight time of approximately 6 months with a scheduled landing during September of 2016. In order to learn more about how terrestrial planets form this mission will be studying the Martian interior rather than the surface as all previous lander and rover missions have done.
   As a lander the power will be generated with solar panels and in order to maximize the efficiency of the solar panels a location near the equator needed to be chosen. This led to helping decide the final landing area within the Elysium Planitia, a large relatively flat plain like feature that lies on the equator. However a decision on the specific landing spot has not been made yet.
Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page

Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page.

   On board will be two types of instruments that will be used for a variety of tests including the use of a seismometer, and a heat flow probe. Cameras will record daily events and operations. Precise measurements of the distance to the sun will be made that will enable scientists to determine how the planet wobbles as it is tugged on by the Sun’s gravity. The wobble of a planet is determined by how unevenly mass is distributed throughout the planet’s interior. Areas with a greater concentration of mass in one part of the interior will cause that part of the planet to have a greater attraction with the Sun than an area with a less dense lower concentration of mass. So as the planet rotates and revolves with respect to the Sun the gravitational attraction between the two varies slightly causing the wobble. Among other things this results in a better understanding of how the process of differentiating occurred within the planet and how that mass is distributed within the interior.

   Click here to go to the InSight mission web site for more information.

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

Catching an Iridium Flare

Click on this image to see it full size.

Click on this image to see it full size.

   Last night and this morning brought clear skies, again thanks to the influence of a high pressure system that has lowered the air and dew point temperatures. “Photo op!” I thought. So using ISS Detector Pro, an App on my Kindle Fire HD (7″) I was able to see when and where to look for the next Iridium Flare that would become visible to me. This App, obviously by its name, also tracks the International Space Station and shows where and when to look for the ISS to become visible as it orbits above your location. The App uses data from the Heavens-Above web site, one of the best online resources for star maps, ISS and other satellite flyby events.
   What is an Iridium Flare? Iridium is the name for a series of around 60-70 numbered communication satellites orbiting the Earth. The ‘flare’ is simply the reflection of sunlight off the satellite’s solar panels. You see this reflection as a sudden burst of light, a flare, as the satellite re-positions its orientation to the Earth to keep its antenna aimed at ground-based antennas.
A 'Bonus' Satellite Flyby

A ‘Bonus’ Satellite Flyby

   Given the time, direction, and altitude for Iridium Satellite #3 and the Starry Night Pro program I was able to see what the satellite’s path would look like. For this particular satellite it would travel toward the southwest below the length of the summer triangle asterism from near the star Deneb toward the small constellation of Delphinus the Dolphin, as the labeled picture at the top of the page shows. Then it was simply a matter of setting up my trusty Canon Rebel T3i on a tripod and doing a series of test pictures trying to find the best settings.
   For the satellite flyby – which was totally unexpected – I was using 3.5 second time exposures at F4.0, with an ISO setting of 1600. These are also the settings I used for the flare sequence of pictures. Some of the pictures have additionally been enhanced using Photoshop and Image Enhancement/Auto Levels settings.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   To pause the slideshow move the cursor over the pictures to bring up the controls.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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

EarthKam Opportunity

sally   Students and educators are invited to join NASA for the Sally Ride EarthKAM Summer 2013 Mission from July 9-12, 2013. Guide your students in hands-on research as they program a camera aboard the International Space Station to take pictures of specific locations on Earth. The optional online curriculum at the Sally Ride EarthKAM website is targeted at middle school students, but could easily be adapted for other grade levels.. All students and educators are welcome — including participants in summer and afterschool programs.

   Click here to go to the Sally Ride EarthKam website form more information.
   Click here to go to NASA’s Teaching from Space web site.

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

ISS, A Crown, and A Tree

Corona Borealis

Corona Borealis

   This morning, 13 March, the ISS (International Space Station) flew over the Tucson area. The ISS reached an altitude of 85 degrees during its 5 minute fly over from the southwest to the northeast. corona2 I was able to easily follow it as it tracked across the stars of the ‘Northern Crown, Corona Borealis as this cropped portion from one of the pictures shows, and then ‘set’ through the branches of a tree in the northeast corner of the yard as the slideshow below shows.
   The brightest star in this small u-shaped curve of stars forming this constellation is Gemma, or Alphecca
   For those that want to know, this picture and the pictures in the slideshow below were all taken with the following lens settings: Focal length – 18mm; Aperture – F3.5; Shutter Speed – 1.5 seconds. The length of each streak represents how much distance the ISS covered each 1-2 seconds.

   Click here to learn more about the International Space Station at the NASA web site.

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

The Time of Apollo

earth from moon   December 7th 1972 was the day the United States launched the Apollo 17 mission to our Moon. This was the last time, since then, that we have been on the surface of the Moon. Much of the Apollo missions were about beating the former Soviet Union, or probably more appropriate, being the first in some space exploration endeavor. This was the ‘Space Race’ and at least for landing people on the Moon, the United States won. Since then the focus of crewed (aka manned) space exploration has been confined to low, near Earth orbit – primarily with the Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions.
   I can very well remember sitting in the squadron barracks day-room in July of 1969 with other GIs watching the first men to step out of their lander and walk on the Moon. In the years that followed, I left the Air Force, completed undergraduate and graduate schools, and began my teaching career. Along the way I closely followed every NASA mission, crewed or robotic, and incorporated my excitement and passion of space exploration with my teaching. Now with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission yesterday it sort of brought home how much time has passed since the days of seemingly endless, almost routine, launches from the Florida coast.
   I don’t think my mother, living in Lake Mary Florida (about 40 miles west from the Kennedy Space Center), ever caught on to the timing for my family vacations to visit with her! We would be there around the time of a rocket launch, or in the case of the Shuttle, launches and landings. From her house we could watch the lift-off on TV and then step outside to see the vehicle climbing into the atmosphere. Or there were times when we would be ‘boomed’ out of bed, or hear the windows rattle as the shuttle passed over head leaving behind it’s signature double sonic boom.

   Somewhat sadly I am part of the only generation to have witnessed earthlings walking on another world.

   The three videos below will perhaps highlight and celebrate some of how I and probably many others feel about space exploration. The first video, Overview, is interviews with 5 Astronauts as they describe how viewing the Earth from space has changed them. The second video, The Time of Apollo, is from the 16mm film days, and is a somber look at the Apollo missions. It is narrated by Burgess Meredith (the Penguin in the TV Batman series!). The third video, Gagarin, is a video I produced with an original musical score by Daniel Eichenbaum. It is a look at our planet from orbit with quotes from Cosmonauts and Astronauts.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

The Time of Apollo

Gagarin


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