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.
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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.
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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.

So Close, Yet So Cold!

not drawn to scale

not drawn full size

   Today, Tuesday 1 January 2013, as the Earth continues its annual trek around the Sun, the Earth reaches a point in its orbit that is called perihelion. Perihelion is the minimum distance that separates the Earth from the Sun, and we are the closest to the Sun for the year at this point in the orbit. So, at 11 p.m. CST (0500 UT 2 January) the Earth is 147,098,161 km from the Sun. Approximately one-half year or one-half revolution later, on 5 July, the Earth is at aphelion (152,097,427 km), its maximum distance from the Sun for 2013. This difference in distances is due to the shape of the Earth’s orbit being elliptical rather than circular. However the Earth has a mildly elliptically shaped orbit that is closer to being slightly out-of-round than the incorrect, very elliptical orbit that is often shown – like the illustration used here.
   To read more about the Earth’s orbit and get some teaching ideas click here to download a PDF copy of my January 2011 Scope on the Skies column Solar Explorations.

   Caveat: “The above comments are obviously northern hemisphere biased, and I make no apologies to those in the opposite hemisphere who may be sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying strawberries and cream.” He said with a big grin.
   
   
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.