Yuri’s Night

yuri   April 12th 1961 Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to leave the surface of the Earth and orbit our planet. Coincidentally 20 years later, on the same date in 1981 the United States launched its first space shuttle, the Columbia. However April 12th is a date for celebrating the accomplishments of the Russian space program and the cosmonaut who became the first to orbit the Earth. So, on April 12th people around the world will take part in local events in what is known as Yuri’s Night. Use the link to the Yuri’s Night web site to learn more about this event and to see if there is a Yuri’s Night event in your area.

yuri   A few years ago I had an opportunity to work with a group of musicians (Dark Matter) in producing a series of videos about the solar system and our home planet that were then projected as full-dome videos on a Planetarium dome ceiling. Accompanying the videos were two musicians playing their respective instruments (Flute and Clarinet) along with electronic notes, live sampling of their music, and sounds of the interior of a spacecraft. Below is a version of that performance that was entered into a worldwide contest – placed in the top five by the way.

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.

Jupiter at Eastern Quadrature

1apr-jupiter-east-quad   On Tuesday 1 April the position of the planet Jupiter with respect to the Earth and the Sun places the solar system’s largest planet at an orbital position called eastern quadrature. Jupiter is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Jupiter follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Jupiter rises after the Sun and consequently sets after the Sun.
   Where is Jupiter now? Click here to see a graphic showing Jupiter and the star field of northern hemisphere winter and spring stars. I purposely chose a later time, 11:30 pm CDT, because at about that time Saturn and Mars will be visible above the eastern horizon.

   This is a short 6-7 minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that was performed at the Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City Missouri in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Jupiter, Saturn and some of their moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft.

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 Our Home

   “It’s our home, our only home” is a quote I came across and copied into my collection. It is from a video I used in my classroom many years ago. Can’t remember the video name nor find it but nonetheless it makes a powerful statement about our home planet. So this posting is in the spirit of celebrating our home planet.
   Monday the 22nd is Earth Day, an annual event sponsored by individuals, groups, and organizations who are activists (this is a positive use of the word), or stewards striving to create a more healthy environment for all. This is accomplished through education as well as events such as Earth Day.
group-large   Two years ago I joined with a group of musicians to form Dark Matter, a group of educators, scientists, musicians, and artists with the initial purpose of producing a series of Astronomically-based videos that would accompany a live musical performance. The videos were originally developed for use in the full dome video system at the Gottleib Planetarium at Union Station in Kansas City. The dome was approximately 60 feet in diameter and could seat around 150. The original videos were warped to suit the projection system however the two below are flat screen versions of the videos.
   The performance was called Orbit and with that as a theme I developed the videos with the compositions the composers provided. The style of music is described as electro-acoustical and was a combination of live combined with digitized sound samples and real-time sound sampling as the musicians played. The videos below were the opening and closing compositions and both were called Water Meditation. In the first piece the flute is played by Rebecca Ashe, and the second piece has a clarinet played by Cheryl Melfi. Music is composed by Daniel Eichenbaum and Richard Johnson with Richard also doing the real-time sampling during the performance.

The Banner graphic is from a high altitude balloon launched as part of the production for another full dome video and live performance called Ascent. This was during the fall of 2011 and is a view from 95,000 feet of the two neighboring cities of Kansas City Missouri and Kansas Kansas City Kansas.

   Click here to go to the Dark Matter web site.

   Water Meditation – Flute by Richard Johnson: Earth is a water world with more than 70% of its surface covered with water. Gain a different perspective of the planet as you orbit the Earth with a satellite. Flute is played by Rebecca Ashe.

   Water Meditation – Clarinet by Daniel Eichenbaum: As the closing composition I wanted to leave the audience with a sense of what it would be like to orbit the Earth with the International Space Station. So from that perspective we see a sunrise from orbit and our home planet as the rising Sun brightens the daylight side of the Earth. Clarinet is played by Cheryl Melfi.

ed   Click here to go to the Earth Day web site.

epa   Click here to go to the Environmental Protection Agency web site for Earth Day information.

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

Explore Icy Worlds Contest

   “NASA Essay Contest Examines Missions to Icy Worlds
   NASA is inviting U.S. students in grades 5-12 to participate in an essay contest about proposed missions to explore Saturn’s moon Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
   To enter, students must describe in 500 words or fewer why one of the proposed missions to these icy worlds is the most interesting of the bunch. Winning essays will be posted on a NASA website, and winners and their classes will be invited to participate in a video conference or teleconference with NASA scientists.
   The proposed missions include exploring Titan with an orbiter and balloon and investigating Europa with a lander. Both missions would have science instruments to study their subjects — an exciting prospect for astrobiologists. Students are encouraged to include details of the science instruments they might include on these spacecraft to help with key investigations.” (web links added by me)

   Contest Entry Deadline is 28 February 2013
   This contest is open to all students in the United States who are in grades 5 to 12.

   Click here to go to the NASA contest web site to watch videos about the proposed missions.
   Click here to go to the NASA web site for information about the contest.

   Take a short tour of Jupiter, Saturn, and some of their moons by way of a video I produced as part of a live performance at a local Planetarium. This is a 6-minute cut from a longer video that has an original music score written by Daniel Eichenbaum. Flute is by Rebecca Ashe and Clarinet by Cheryl Melfi. Electronics by Richard Johnson. We performed under the group name Dark Matter.

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

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

   Ok- as having once taught middle school grades 6 through 8 I have always enjoyed this part of the lessons about the solar system. That is, when I can explain to students about a debate over the pronunciation of this particular planet. Of course saying ‘Your Uh Nuss’ is not as humorous as the kids preferred ‘Your Anus’! I like to describe this debate (with tongue in cheek), that there are two sides to the pronunciation debate – sort of split down the middle if you will. Eventually we get to the planet and its characteristics. Eventually.
Uranus in the Evening Sky

Uranus in the Evening Sky

   So what about this East Quadrature? This is a position of an outer planet with respect to the location of the Earth and the Sun. Outer planets at eastern quadrature are located at a 90o angle from the Earth and the Sun as shown in the first graphic above. This is one of the three positions that are used to describe an outer planet location during the Earth’s orbit around the Sun — not the outer planet’s orbit. An outer planet will be at eastern quadrature, then approximately 3 months later at opposition (Uranus-Earth-Sun), 3 months later at western quadrature, 3 months later at superior conjunction (Earth-Sun-Uranus), then the pattern repeats.
Uranus in Motion

Uranus in Motion

   So where exactly is Uranus (the correct answer is not behind you!!)? This outer planet currently rises before sunset local time and is over the southern horizon as shown in the second graphic above. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye, or at least right at the fringes of what we can see – so if your skies are really dark then you may be able to discern the faint glow of reflected sunlight from Uranus.
   With binoculars it will become, in a sense, one of the stars in your binocular field of view. In this simulated 7×50 binocular view Uranus is slightly brighter that the 6th magnitude stars nearby. To verify that you are actually viewing Uranus use this animated graphic as a star field guide. Wait a couple of weeks to allow the slower moving planet to move in its orbit. Then observe this same area to see if there have been any changes. This graphic starts with the Uranus near a pair of equal in brightness stars on 26 November. The graphic dissolves into showing the position of Neptune today, and then dissolves one last time to show where Uranus is with respect to the pair of stars.

   Here is a couple minute long clip from a video I produced that was used during a live music performance by the group Dark Matter under a 60-foot diameter planetarium dome.

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

Saturn Rising

Saturn Meets Venus

   Following its solar conjunction during October the planet Saturn now moves into the pre-dawn morning skies on the western side of the Sun. As the Earth moves along its orbital path around the Sun, the Sun with its apparent motion along the ecliptic toward the east gives the appearance of moving away from Saturn. Gradually the distance between the Sun and Saturn increases resulting in Saturn rising earlier each day.
Try this: Observe Saturn at the same time each morning and you will notice that Saturn is appearing higher above the horizon at the same time.
   Venus is also on the move eastward and since its orbital speed is greater than the Earth and the Sun’s apparent speed it (Venus) will catch up with the Sun in the next month or so. Along the way Venus will pass by Saturn, coming within 1-degree, on the mornings of November 26th and 27th as this animated graphic shows. The graphic is set at 1 frame per day and shows the sky at 6:40 a.m. CST.

   The video below is a clip from a longer one I developed for a Planetarium performance last year. The longer video, Orbit, was part of a series of full-dome videos that were developed to be accompanied by original musical scores written by Daniel Eichenbaum, and performed live by Dark Matter under the 60-foot dome at the Arvin Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City, MO.

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

Jupiter Rising

Jupiter Rising

   This month brings the largest planet, Jupiter, into view as it is now rising in the east at around 9 p.m. local time and remains visible above the horizon throughout the remainder of the night. If you somehow miss Jupiter in the evening and are up and out before sunrise look west for Jupiter. On the other hand, if you are still outside facing east at sunrise check out Venus shining even brighter than Jupiter.

Daily Position of the Galilean Satellites

   Jupiter’s Moons
   One enjoyable pasttime is to observe the constantly changing four largest moons orbiting Jupiter. Sometimes known as the Galilean Satellites, they are: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Named after Galileo who made many observations of the moons and from these observations and others led him to question the Geocentric model of the solar system. These four planet-sized moons are visible as small bright stars on either side of Jupiter and depending on the time and date of viewing their arrangement around Jupiter is never the same as this animated graphic is showing. Each change is one day and this graphic shows the Moons at 9 p.m. from today through the end of this month.

   Recreate Galileo’s observations of the Galilean satellites through the use of an online simulation, the Java applet, Juplet. Input dates or times to see the position of the four Galilean satellites. The Juplet will display the planet and the satellite configuration for the date and time on the computer, or you could easily edit the date and time, and after pressing the Enter key see a different configuration. To keep track of these changes the position of each satellite relative to Jupiter could be drawn on a data table similar to Galileo’s data table.

   This video, ‘Orbs of Jupiter’, was one of the videos I made for a live musical performance at the Gottleib Planetarium at Science City in Kansas City MO. The original videos were made for full-dome projection – this one has been flattened. Music was written by Richard Johnson and performed by Rebecca Ashe (Flute) and Cheryl Melfi (Clarinet). Live and pre-recorded Electro-acoustical sampling by Richard Johnson and Daniel Eichenbaum. The soundtrack for the video is from the live performance by Dark Matter.

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.

STEMtech Conference

    At the end of this month the STEMtech Conference will be here in Kansas City. One of my ‘partners’ (Trevor Sutcliffe) and I will be doing a poster presentation about the Ascent high altitude balloon project at the conference. We have prepared a Powerpoint slide show about Ascent as part of our table display. The video below is the Powerpoint presentation set to the music written by Daniel Eichenbaum for the ‘teaser’ video we made prior to our performances last spring. If the video runs too quickly to read the text you could click here to download the PDF version of our presentation.

    What was Ascent? This was a project conceived by Dark Matter, a group of artists, musicians, scientists, and educators, and funded by a small grant written to support a community-involvement project. The Ascent project led to two successful flights of high altitude balloons carrying hi-def cameras and data loggers to altitudes of 16-20 miles. The video and images of the flights, were used to produce full-dome videos that we played on a 60-foot dome at the Arvin Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City. An original music score was written by Daniel Eichenbaum and performed live during the videos.
    A fun follow-up was to fly another balloon from the Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals) during a science show put on by one of the local TV stations. We broadcast live video from the balloon that was then shown on the jumbotron screen periodically during the program. That balloon and eqipment went missing however. The GPS signal stopped during descent so while we have an idea of the area where it landed we have not found it yet.

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