ISS Last Night

   Last evening was my first opportunity to see the ISS in at least a month so I quickly set up my camera aiming it toward Venus and Mars. However my aim was off by quite a bit so I hurriedly readjusted the camera, 3 times, to capture these pictures. All were taken with ISO 800; F5; 18mm; 2.5 second. Pictures were stacked, merged, using Starstax.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

ISS This Evening

   Despite a temperature of 6oF and standing in a couple of inches of snow it was worth it as Venus and Mars shined brightly over my neighbor’s laser light show and I waited patiently for an ISS orbit over my home this evening. This orbit had the International Space Station rising in the northwest and setting in the southeast in a 6-minute visibility that took it nearly to the zenith with its maximum altitude of 85o above the horizon. It’s orbital track had the ISS pass along one side of the ‘Summer Triangle’, the stars Vega and Deneb. As it nears the zenith the ISS will pass very close to the star Alpheratz, the upper left corner star of the asterism “Square of Pegasus”. Alpheratz is actually a star in the constellation of Andromeda the Princess, but it it is commonly used to complete the ‘Square of Pegasus” asterism.

   Camera settings were 18mm; ISO 800; F6.0; 3.2 sec. Pictures stacked using StarStaX. StarStaX is available as Freeware for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

NSTA @ Nashville


   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

It’s EarthKam Week

   This week I am privileged to be able to once again take part in the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission with students in the Lee’s Summit School District and Aerospace students at the Center for Advanced Placement Studies (CAPS) in the Blue Valley KS School District.
earthkam-ani    What is EarthKam? In short it is an opportunity for students to request images of the Earth’s surface to be taken by a camera on the International Space Station. The previous time I participated with the program was last January and during that week the daytime orbits we could request images from were all from the equator and southward. We got some great pictures of mountains and islands, and of course clouds!

   
   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Far Out!

On Tuesday July 14th the New Horizon spacecraft makes it one and only flyby of Pluto coming the closest at 6:49 am CDT (11:49 UT) with a distance of 12,500 kilometers (7,750 miles). As it passes through the Pluto system that includes the dwarf planet Pluto, and 5 known moons the spacecraft will be traveling at approximately 14 km/second (31,000 miles per hour.)

NASA’s New Horizons web site
Pluto at Opposition
What’s Your Pluto Time?

Watch this short song/video written and performed by Dani Robinson, a student in my Astronomy class, this past year.

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Sailing With the Sun

light sail   Here is an opportunity to include a picture with the Planetary Society Light Sail mission that is scheduled to be launched on the 20th.
   A light Sail is like sailing on water except that it is done in space using the charged particles of the solar wind. I stand corrected! I have incorrectly described the solar sail and how it was like wind sailing on water. This was pointed out by a NASA JPL Scientist colleague and with his permission I am re-posting his comments below.

“Your brief description of how a light sail works is wrong. TPS’ website reads “LightSail is designed to demonstrate solar sailing, using the momentum of sunlight to propel small spacecraft through space.“ The solar wind has nothing to do with propelling a light sail. There are proposals to harness the solar wind for propulsion but they involve the use of a large-area spanning magnetic field to take advantage of the momentum of the charged particles in the solar wind.
   The first demonstration of the use of the pressure of sunlight in space, that I’m aware of, was by Mariner 10 while it orbited the Sun between its Mercury flybys. To reduce the consumption of attitude control propellant, its solar panels were oriented to reflect sunlight in suitable directions. The mission managed two additional flybys after the initial one planned in the primary mission. Today, the Kepler mission’s K2 extension maintains its orientation for weeks at a time by the orienting its solar panels to use the pressure of sunlight, combined with its two remaining reaction wheels.”

   
   
   This link takes you to the Planetary Society web site for more information about sending your selfie. Just be careful if using a selfie stick!!
The link below is to a web site where there is a short Science Fiction story about a solar sailing race around the Earth and Moon.
   The shorty story: The Wind from the Sun by Arthur C. Clarke

   
   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

An EarthKam Mission

iss_flyover-ani   This coming week, the last one in January, is going to help make this month a more memorable month than I had previously thought.
How so?
Firstly January marks my 200th monthly column of Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine, the NSTA‘s Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers. In that column I wrote about Earth viewing missions.”A New Year, A New Earth View”. take-pics   Secondly, and very coincidentally, earlier this month an opportunity came up to apply to take part in the next scheduled Sally Ride EarthKam Mission. I was accepted and so this week will be for requesting images on the orbits between Sunday and Friday.
“Doing this alone?” You ask.
I have teamed up with two Science Teachers at Summit Lakes Middle School here in Lee’s Summit Missouri, and starting Monday morning students will begin making their requests. Also my college Astronomy class students will be requesting images as part of a lab lesson on tools Astronomers and Earth Science (among others) use.
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Making requests is a simple 10 or so step process beginning with logging in to the web site. However the Teacher first needs to register at the mission website, and then register for the next mission. The teacher will receive a list of codewords a few days ahead of the actual mission dates. Each codeword may only be used once; one codeword = one picture request. I’ve prepared a guidebook of sorts using screen captures that steps through the process of logging in and making a request. A more detailed and useful guidebook is the one prepared by the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission folks. Some time ago I wrote a short blog about the EarthKam mission.
orbits-ani

Our week looks promising for getting pictures of the southern hemisphere according to the mission orbit plotter. That is weather permitting. By clicking on the desired orbit group the map will then display the paths for that group. Remember that red lines show where it will be daylight and only when pictures could be taken.
zoom-ani

Using Google Earth means that you are able to zoom in to better place your marker for a picture. There are limits to getting a ‘good’ picture, one taken from as directly overhead as possible. Specifically it is the distance from the ISS orbit path. The further away from the orbit path the lower the ISS will be relative to the horizon.

I’ll share the pictures sometime next week after we get them.

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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.