A Disco Ball In Orbit!

   The Humanity Star satellite was launched from New Zealand earlier this month and has an orbital life expectancy of around 9 months – (spoiler alert!!) meaning it’s coming back down!
   The satellite is a 1-meter diameter geodesic dome shape made of highly reflective materials. While in orbit the Humanity Star will spin and reflect enough sunlight making it bright enough to be seen which means this could prove to be perhaps as fun as tracking ISS and Hubble. Right now the satellite is only visible from latitudes greater than 46 degrees north or south but the orbit will gradually change making it visible from all latitudes.
   The web site has an interactive tracking map.
      “The Humanity Star was created by Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck. It was born of the desire to encourage people to consider their place in the universe and reflect on what’s important in their own lives and the lives of humanity as a species.”
http://www.thehumanitystar.com/

   
   
   

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.

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.

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   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.

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

Smack the Moon! Two Times!!

The Impact Site

The Impact Site

   On Monday 17 December the NASA GRAIL mission to our Moon comes to end as the twin spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, are dropped from their respective orbits to an impact with the lunar surface. Beginning at 1 pm CST NASA will broadcast a live commentary on NASA TV and on the web using Ustream during the de-orbit and impact. Impact is calculated to occur at 4:28 pm CST when the twin orbiters impact a mountain near the lunar north pole.
   NASA’s GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) mission was launched in September 2011 and after entering lunar orbit the science phase of the mission began the following March of 2012. That phase of the mission ended in May 2012 resulting in the most accurate gravitational map of the Moon. This data when combined with topographic data will enable scientists to more accurately deduce the Moon’s interior structure.
LCROSS on the way to impact

LCROSS on the way to impact

   The planned impact of the GRAIL orbiters is not the first time that a space program purposely impacted the Moon. On June 18th 2009 NASA launched a spacecraft towards an impact with the lunar surface – which occurred about 3 months later on October 9th. This was the LRO / LCROSS (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter / Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite). This was a launch of essentially 3 spacecraft with one rocket. LCROSS was 2 two part vehicle that included the upper stage of the launch rocket as a 5000 lb (2300 kg) impactor. It was followed into lunar impact by a smaller vehicle carrying a suite of several scientific instruments for recording the data from the impact of the upper stage of the rocket before it too impacts with the lunar surface. The purpose of the impact is to excavate a crater – create a crater with the impact, and study the ejecta and crater for evidence of water.
LRO Image Apollo 11 Landing Site

LRO Image Apollo 11 Landing Site

   The LRO, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, was designed to orbit the Moon and search for possible landing sites for the next round of robotic and human missions to the Moon. In many ways this is sort of a mirror of the current missions to Mars where the orbiters are used to scout possible future landing sites among the other scientific investigations being done from orbit.
   The video below highlights the LCROSS mission from launch to impact and is accompanied by an original song written and performed by the LCROSS Deputy mission director. It is shown with the Text Captions turned on.


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