Friday, December 19, 2008

Raccoons are awesome.

You might recall that a couple of months ago, NASA sponsored an "Ask an Astronaut" thing where people videotape or e-mail their questions and the best ones would be given to Greg Chamitoff aboard the ISS.

Here is the best one of all:

While we're on the subject of Lovell...

Can we officially put to rest the notion that Lovell reported a UFO to Mission Control by saying, "There is a Santa Claus"?

First, if a bunch of rocket scientists want to keep UFOs a secret, they're going to come up with a better system than, "Hey, if you see a UFO, say Santa Claus over a non-secured frequency."

Secondly, anyone who has the vaguest notion of the context of the transmission knows what Lovell meant.

At the time of this transmission (Christmas Day, 1968), Apollo 8 was coming back around from the dark side of the moon for the last time. If they didn't make this burn and get out of orbit, well...
For all you Bowie fans, it would have been a whole lot like "Space Oddity."

It was incredibly stressful, make or break.
If they answered Mission Control when they were supposed to, we were going to the moon before 1970. If they didn't, Apollo 8 had become a tragic failure.

Here's an excerpt from the PBS show "Race to the Moon":

Chris Kraft: We lost the signal exactly at the right time, when they went behind the moon, and everybody, at that point, got up and started walking around in the room and I got on my intercom and said, "Look, you guys, do what you want to do but I'm going to sit here and I want to pray a little bit and I'd like to have it quiet here because this is one hell of a tense moment for me and for those guys in the spacecraft. So, for God's sake, be quiet for me."

Mission Control: Apollo 8, Houston, Apollo 8, Houston.

Susan Borman: And there was just dead silence. I mean you really could have heard a pin drop. No one was breathing. No one was moving and waiting to hear something. Because all you heard was Mission Control saying "Apollo 8". You know there was a one-way transmission. "Apollo 8, Apollo 8." Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.

Apollo 8: Houston, Apollo 8. Over.
Mission Control: Hello, Apollo 8. Loud and clear.
Apollo 8: Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.
Mission Control: That's affirmative. You're the best ones to know.

What Lovell said was no different than, "Whew. Dodged that bullet."

40 years ago.

Local astro-celeb Jim Lovell has been doing lots of local interviews lately in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission.
80 years old and still hot.
It defies all logic.


Upcoming Events at Adler

November 24, 2008 - January 4, 2009
Take a journey back in time this holiday season to rediscover the story behind the Star of Bethlehem in the Adler Planetarium's Star of Wonder, the museum's longest-running sky show and one of Chicago's favorite holiday offerings.
Star of Wonder examines the theories behind the celestial event that prompted the Magi to travel to Bethlehem. Was this heavenly light an exploding star, a brilliant comet or an unusual grouping of planets? This holiday sky show presents a surprising and dramatic conclusion based on careful exploration of both ancient astronomical records and modern computer calculations.

December 20, 2008 - January 4, 2009
First 50 visitors on Saturday, December 20 receive a FREE replica Apollo 8 mission patch!*
The Adler is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission with a two-week celebration of space exploration. Come on down to the Adler to join in the fun.
What you can see and do at the Adler during the Adler's Apollo 8 Celebration:
  • View Apollo 8 artifacts including the original flight manual, the historic live Christmas Eve broadcast with footage and Capt. James A. Lovell's flight suit.

January 25, 2009
12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Celebrate the 5th anniversary of the landing of the Mars Rovers on Opportunity's 5th birthday! Launched in 2004, the rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, have survived 20 times longer than the 3 months they were expected to run.
  • Check out 3-D images from the Martian surface and learn about past, present and future rover landings in the Space Visualization Laboratory (SVL)
  • Sign a birthday card to be sent to the rover teams at NASA
  • Enjoy a free piece of birthday cake in Galileo's Café starting at 1:15 pm (while supplies last)
Activities are free with paid museum admission.
Please note: The activity schedule is subject to change without prior notice.

Are you going to listen to the Ursids?


The Ursid meteor shower caused by Comet 8P/Tuttle peaks this year on Dec. 22nd. About a dozen meteors per hour will fly out of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) as Earth passes through the comet's debris stream. Watching these northern meteors can be a chilling experience, so why not stay inside and listen to them instead? is broadcasting live audio from the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. When a meteor passes over the radar--"ping"--there is an echo. Give it a try; feedback is welcomed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Warning: Addictive.

The Spitzer Space Telescope site now has a section of "zoomable" Spitzer images.
I killed a good hour on this thing the other day and I only looked at a handful of images.

Check it out here.Above: The Helix Nebula as photographed by Spitzer.

Friday, December 5, 2008

When I was their age...

I was only interested in finding the closest convenience store that would sell us beer without ID.

Astronomy is a rare science. Someone like me is never going to discover the gene mutation that causes some terrible disease or develop a car that runs on air, but virtually anyone with a teensy bit of knowledge and access to a basic telescope can make amazing discoveries just like people with PhDs who work at observatories and get interviewed on Space Place Live.
(See Comet Hale-Bopp as an example.)

Congratulations, kids. Very inspirational.

Students Find Exoplanet

Ohhhhhhhhhhh yeah.

"Scientists predict Leonid meteor STORM for November, 2009."

See, I like when they tell me these things way in advance, so I can save up for airfare to my dark-skied hometown.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another good job by The Onion.

NASA Simulator Prepares Astronauts For Rigors Of An Interview With Larry King

I'd also like to see them develop an "Elementary School Assembly Hall Simulator."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In other news...

Korea has unveiled a prototype lunar lander it's developing.

The first comment at UT?

"Surely this is My Little Pony's lunar lander?"

Here it is, in all its pink and teal glory:

Not gonna rise from the ashes this time.

Phoenix is officially dead, and no one's even listening for it anymore.
Thanks to the entire Phoenix team for a fantastic few months.
From the moving goo on the lander legs to a Martian snowfall, this was a really entertaining mission.
(Oh yeah, and scientifically-groundbreaking, too.)

So long, little fella.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fifty years ago today.

Fifty years ago on November 30, Ann Hodges was napping on her couch in Alabama when she was struck by an 8 pound meteorite.
Sounds funny and all, until you see the photo of the unfortunate woman's hip and read about how her landlady successfully sued her for the meteorite, citing her rental agreement did not provide "mineral rights."
Mrs. Hodges had to buy the rock back from the landlady.
And that landlady was a young Leona Helmsley.*

*No it wasn't.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Toasts. Not the buttered kind.

Anyone who knows any Russians knows about their crazy toasting habits. To Russians, American parties are exceptionally bland. At most, we might, once or twice in a night, mumble "Cheers" or "To us", but that's about the extent of it. Russian drinking follows a lengthy, set pattern of toasts.
I read the following and smiled. It's obvious that our astronauts have spent some time drinking with their cosmonaut comrades.

"We decided to propose a toast," Pettit said. "So here's our cup filled with tea, and Steve has a cup filled with tea, and again, this is using the contact angle wetting phenomenon that rocket engineers use in fuel tanks in rockets to make a tea cup. And what we're going to do is propose a Thanksgiving toast on orbit.

Both astronauts tipped their cups and took a sip of tea.

"And now we're going to propose a toast to Thanksgiving, wishing everyone on Earth and off Earth a good Thanksgiving," Pettit said.

The astronauts took another sip.

"And now we're proposing a toast for future explorers."

The astronauts took another sip.

"And finally, we're proposing a toast just because we're in space and we can!

Even though Pettit sort of violates the rules of toasting (the first toast he makes is rather generic - he doesn't really toast anything - he just informs us that he's going to toast), he is following the pattern of repetitive toasting.

Here's a rough guide: The first toast is to the occasion, the second to the hosts, the third to our spouse. (Traditionally, to "the woman we love." After all, shots are historically a male thing, surprise surprise.)
After that, knock yourself out, but keep it interesting. It's also customary to toast world peace when you're among foreigners.

Russian toasts are usually accompanied by a story/joke. It's not uncommon for the pre-toast story to last quite a few minutes. Here's one of the shorter ones:

There were two best friends, Ivan and Sergey. One day, they were walking down the street. "Hide me!" yelled Ivan suddenly. "Why?" asked Sergey. "Do you see those two women walking up the street? That's my wife and she's walking with my girlfriend!"

"No it's not," said Sergey. "That's MY wife walking with MY girlfriend."

To best friends!

Friday, November 28, 2008

More fun facts.

Our Sun is so big that if you hollowed it out, it would hold 1,300,000 Earths.

If you hollowed out the star Antares, it would hold 64,000,000 of our Suns.

A star in the constellation Hercules is so big that, if hollowed out, it would hold 100,000,000 Antares stars.

The largest known star, Epsilon, is so big that if hollowed out, it could hold several million Hercules stars or 27,000,000,000 of our Suns.

Consider the thickness of a standard sheet of paper. Imagine that the thickness of one sheet of paper represents the 93,000,000 mile distance from the Earth to our Sun.

If every sheet's thickness represents 93,000,000 miles, how high would the stack of paper have to be to represent the distance from Earth to our next-nearest star, Alpha Centauri?
That stack of paper would need to be 70 feet high to represent that distance.

How high would the stack of paper be, with every sheet's thickness representing 93,000,000 miles, to represent the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy?
That stack of paper would have to be 310 MILES high.

How high would the stack be if we wanted to represent the distance to the edge of the known Universe from Earth?
That stack would have to be 31 MILLION MILES high.

Fun Facts.

An average sandbox (whatever that is) has been said to contain as many grains of sand as the Milky Way has stars.

If every person on Earth had a sandbox, the amount of sand grains contained therin would still not approach the number of stars in the Universe.

A teaspoon contains as many grains of sand as stars you can see on a perfectly clear night.

The Milky Way is bright enough to cast your shadow on a perfectly clear night.

Most of the Universe is empty. The space between stars contains less than one atom per cubic centimeter. In contrast, at sea level, one cubic centimeter contains a billion trillion atoms.

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the Universe will increase by 100 trillion cubic light-years.

And the award for "Most Airheaded News Crew (Non-National)" goes to...

Congratulations, guys. Well-deserved. No one else was even close.

The Universe

One of the best episodes of this excellent show I've yet seen:

The Universe: Light Speed

Lots of physics, sci-fi speculation on wormholes and warp speed, a scientist stopping light in a gas, moving it to another location and then restarting it, and other fun stuff.

Will be airing again Sunday at 4PM.

Beautiful sky coming up.

December 1st, Jupiter, Venus, and a crescent moon will be adjacent in the night sky.

Western Europe is even luckier - they'll experience a Venutian "eclipse" of sorts, which hasn't happened since 1961 and won't happen again until 2032.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Science and faith.

I note with amusement the description of an article on "Scientist goes public with his belief in God and the acceptance of evolution."

This is groundbreaking? This is noteworthy?

Sure, but only if you have some grave misconceptions about basic theology.

While I'm not overly impressed with Professor Giberson's defense of his faith (rather weakly conveyed, but hey, we can't all be J.R.R. Tolkien), I am surprised at the fact that the existence of a believer-scientist actually passes for news nowadays. It is simply perpetuating the myth of the uneducated believer, by pointing out that, hey, one of them DOES believe in science!

Let me just touch on one tiny part of the Catholic Church, the Jesuit order.

Contributions to seismology by the Jesuits were so numerous that it became known as the "Jesuit science." 35 craters on the Moon are named for Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

Jesuits made significant contributions to the development of:
  • Pendulum clocks
  • Pantographs
  • Barometers
  • Reflecting telescopes
  • Microscopes
  • The field of magnetism
  • The field of optics
  • The field of electricity
In addition, they observed, in some cases before anyone else:
  • the colored bands on Jupiter's surface
  • the Andromeda nebula
  • Saturn's rings
They theorized about:
  • the circulation of blood (independent of Harvey)
  • the theoretical possibility of flight
  • the moon's effect on the tides
  • the wave-like nature of light
They were also responsible for:
  • making star maps of the Southern hemisphere
  • the creation of symbolic logic
  • successful flood-control measures along the Po and Adige Rivers
  • introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics

In 2005, Paul Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for culture, said the Genesis account of creation and Darwinism were "perfectly compatible" and attacked "fundamentalists who want to give a scientific meaning to words that have no scientific aim." The point of Genesis, he said, was that the universe didn't create itself. The rest is details.

At a Vatican conference on evolution earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI said, "There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."
Following the Pope's remarks, Stephen Hawking gave a lecture on "The Origin and Destiny of the Universe."

It was the second time the brilliant Hawking (who calls himself "a believer, but not in the traditional sense") has lectured at the Vatican.

Echoing the same thought, the Rabbinical Council of America has stated that "evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a divine creator nor with the first two chapters of Genesis."

Tom Jones (Bachelor of Science, USAF Academy, Ph.D., Planetary Science, University of Arizona), wrote the following about his first flight on the space shuttle:

During one orbital night, Kevin (Chilton, pilot), Sid (Guitierrez, commander) and I gathered on the flight deck for a short communion service. Kevin, a Eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, in a simple golden pyx. The three of us shared our amazement at experiencing the beauty of creation, and thanked God for good companions and the success achieved so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, grateful for this comradeship and communion with Christ.

And deist scientists aren't just American, either.

Consider this "Orthodox Encyclopaedia" interview:

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Good morning! We all remember the words allegedly said by Yuriy Gagarin: I went up to the outer space and didn't find any God there. Many years have passed. Does this axiom still work for the modern space explorers?

Valeriy Korzun: I know another phrase, also said by Gagarin: If you haven't met God on Earth you won't meet Him in outer space. This phrase is much closer to my heart. A lot has changed: every crew gets a priest's blessing before the launch now.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Is there a church in Zvyozdny Gorodok?

Yuriy Lonchakov: Yes, there is, it was built three years ago.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Is there a specific saint cosmonauts pray to before the launch? Do you have a heavenly patron?

Valeriy Korzun: Not as such, but we have always considered St. Nicholas the Wonderworker our patron, because he takes care of all travellers.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Do you take icons along to space?

Yuriy Lonchakov: Yes, we take small ones along. I always have an icon of St. George the Victorybearer, because my name is Yuriy, it's a variation of George.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: I have recently been very surprised to learn that a church has been built in Baikonur. Do you know after whom it is consecrated and what services it holds?

Valeriy Korzun: I haven't heard that it's already been built, but I know there is an Orthodox community there, and they used to meet just in a room, and their priests came to bless us before the launch.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: Many people now consecrate their homes and cars, ships are consecrated, I even consecrated a theatre. Are rockets consecrated?

Yuriy Lonchakov: I don't know about rockets, but before the crew puts the space suits on, a priest is always invited to consecrate them.

Valeriy Korzun: And the bus that takes them to the launch pad. We don't know about the rockets because we don't deal with them, but they say they do get consecrated.

Father Alexiy Uminskiy: This must be wonderful - to fly all around the Earth on a consecrated space ship!
Valeri Petrov, Yuri Gagarin's best friend, has repeatedly stated it was not Gagarin but Khrushchev who said the bit about not finding God in space, and he attributed that statement to the cosmonaut. What Gagarin did say, says Petrov, is, "An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and heart."

A scientist who's also a deist? Hardly uncommon, and not exactly earth shattering.
Above: Astronauts and cosmonauts in the Zvezda module of the International Space Station share some repulsive-looking food amongst an Orthodox Crucifix, a painting of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (built from 1839-1883, destroyed by that p.o.s. Stalin in a couple of hours in 1931, and rebuilt to exact specs a few years back), Our Lady of Kazan, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Christ Pantocrator, and a boyish, adorable Yuri Gagarin.

Sooooo...... like Leona Helmsley.

Too soon?

On this date...

in 1969, Christopher Columbus Kraft, the man responsible for the permanent grounding of more astronauts* than anyone else, was appointed Deputy Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center.
Do not piss off Chris Kraft.
Just don't.

*Scott Carpenter and the entire Apollo 7 crew, just to name a few.

Above: Kraft announces he is permanently grounding his tailor for blatantly violating the standards of good taste.

Now if we could just find an organic spice molecule.

(And an organic "Everything Nice" molecule, natch.)

Glycolaldehyde Found in Potentially Habitable Part of the Galaxy

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In my neck of the woods. (Sort of.)

Beautiful Venus and Jupiter provide a nice backdrop for a time-lapse ISS flyby over Lake Michigan.

How I spent a great portion of my childhood.

This doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but it's really, really cool.
Especially the soundtrack.
(Make sure you pause the Playlist on the sidebar so the Soggy Bottom Boys aren't singing over the video.)

My kind of R&D.

Why did it take 50 years for this?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apollo 12 landing

On this date in 1969, Apollo 12 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

In stark contrast to the nerve-wracking Apollo 11 mission, Apollo 12 was filled with lighthearted fun.

From Pete Conrad's "Whoopie! That may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me!" exclamation when he first stepped onto the lunar surface to (presumably) the First Porn to the Moon (which was secretly placed into the lunar checklist flipbook by the backup crew), I think it's safe to say that Apollo 12 was the Animal House of lunar missions.

Why is the best site on the interweb tubes.

Because where else can you see
video of Heidi's toolbag* streaking across the night sky?
Nowhere, that's where.

And if you can find another site where you can enter your ZIP code and find out when and where to look for a
flyby of Heidi's toolbag, I'll buy you a beer.

*By the way, "Heidi's Toolbag" would now be a great name for a rock band.

In a pinch, you can drink it as is.

The urine recycler on the ISS is back on the fritz.

"Hey, does this taste like pee to you?"
"Yeah, it kind of does."
"Dude, I think that thing's broken again."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fly Me to Formalhaut

Scientists in Vancouver, BC, and Berkeley, Calif., have found the first solid, we-really-see-them planets in the galaxy. Orbiting Fomalhaut and a star pitifully named HR 8799, 25 and 130 light years from earth, respectively, the four planets are the first to actually be seen rather than just inferred based on dips in starlight and/or wobbles in their suns' or nearby bodies' orbits. They are big -- from 3-10 times as large as Jupiter.

According to the New York Times article discussing the discovery: "Both systems appear to be scaled-up versions of our own solar system, with giant planets in the outer reaches, leaving plenty of room for smaller planets to lurk undetected in the warmer inner regions. Dust rings lie even farther out, like the Kuiper belt of icy debris extending beyond the orbit of Neptune."

The two teams discovered the planets using the Hubble Telescope and the telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Stuff like this makes me wish I had been an astronomer, which would have been possible except for the simple facts that I am a math moron and I hate night work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I am watching stars

Legend has it that the monk, Dom Perignon, upon tasting his first glass of what would come to be known as "champagne," exclaimed, "I am drinking stars!"

For people like the Ward sisters, of which there are six, drinking stars is only moderately less interesting than watching them. But the light pollution in my hometown of Atlanta, means a lot of effort (staying up until all hours and making sure there are enough blankets around) for very little reward.

So this year, I am heading to my parents' home near Amelia Island, Florida, where a few sisters have gathered cots, sleeping bags and a cooler full of stars to drink, and where we will set up camp outside next to the marsh to watch the Leonids in what is still a fairly dark sky. I am desperately sorry that one sister, Cathy, the founder and hilarious voice of this blog, will not be with us, but we'll be waking her up with the occasional drunken phone call to join her in singing "Aquarius" and intoning William Shatner's introduction to Star Trek: "Space, the final frontier..."

For those few of you who may read this and not know this stuff: The Leonids are the pieces of junk thrown off of Comet Temple-Tuttle. The shooting stars they produce appear to arise out of Leo, thus the name, and appear at the ungodly hour of 4-5 am in the northeast sky.

This will be one of those rare times when we are all sitting outside and someone yells, "Oooohh. Did you see it?" And everyone else says, "You're lying," but it really will be true!

Anyway, we will be toasting Cathy and all of you who are watching with us.

Ramblin' Wreck in Space

I graduated from the University of Georgia. But I have always pulled for Georgia Tech (except when they play the Dogs). Even more so now that my retired sportswriter husband is making money writing for the Tech website. Georgia has had its share of successes -- it was one of the only schools (if not the only school)to have had two Rhodes Scholars in the last batch. This means something to me because my brilliant stepdaughter is now in her third year as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

But the fact that three former Georgia Tech students will be aboard Endeavor when it launches is pretty cool. They are:

Sandra Magnus, who flew on STS-112 and is now scheduled for a 3 1/2-month stay on the ISS. She earned her doctorate in materials science in 1996.

Eric Boe, a native of Chamblee, an Atlanta suburb, who earned his master's in electrical engineering in 1997.

Shane Kimbrough, a native Atlantan, who earned his master's in operations research in 1998.

Of course, Endeavor will carry four other astronauts, who graduated from various decent schools.

Endeavor is scheduled to head off at 7:55 pm Friday, Nov. 12, weather permitting. It will deliver about seven tons of new equipment and supplies, including a new kitchen and crew facilities for enlarging the station’s resident capacity.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Today in space history.

Engineer astronaut Chuck Jones was killed when AAL 11 was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. Jones never got to fly in space; his mission STS-71B was cancelled after the Challenger disaster. He left space service the following year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Holy crap!

I couldn't even get my Sea Monkeys to live in a 76 degree, pH-balanced, sunlit aquarium. With a castle![Above: A "water bear." Ain't they cute? If I'd have had a choice back when I was a kid, I would have had pet water bears instead of pet sea monkeys. Oh, snap. I think I just came up with a business model.]

Now this is scientific advance, y'all.

[Below: An actual, unretouched family photo of the Davisons, one of the many Sea Monkey families I grew and cared for. Or not.]

Premature celebration.

The LHC fired up today, and while many people are jumping around celebrating the fact that they haven't been sucked into a giant black hole, I'd just like to point out that the CERN scientists haven't actually collided any particles yet.


Google celebrated the on switch being flipped by making this picture, in which Google is, in fact, sucked into a black hole. Now that would be a tragedy. Yahoo Search? Not in this lifetime.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Unexpected meteor shower in the East.

From comes this info:

FIREBALL OUTBURST: Yes, it pays to watch the sky. This morning, Sept. 9th, with no warning whatsoever, a flurry of bright fireballs appeared over eastern parts of the United States. "Our SENTINEL all-sky camera picked up 25 bright meteors in a shower that began at 0620 UT and lasted approximately 4 hours," reports NASA astronomer Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This video "frame-stack" shows the outburst at a glance:

"Most appear to have a radiant near Perseus (3.3h, +43o), leading us to hypothesize an outburst of the September Perseids," says Cooke. Also known as the delta-Aurigids, the September Perseids come from an unknown comet and have been caught bursting only four times in the last century: 1936, 1986, 1994 and now 2008. Most of the meteors recorded by the NASA camera were magnitude -2 or brighter, i.e., as bright as Jupiter or Venus.
"We encourage people to keep an eye on the sky tonight," says Cooke. "The show is probably over, but we don't know enough about these mysterious meteors to say for sure." Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New Google Earth add-on

A new add-on to Google Earth features real-time locations of all 13,000 satellites, dead and alive, being tracked by U.S. Strategic Command.

It also contains the information on each satellite, such as the date and time it was launched and by whom, the apogee/perigee, and the mass and orbital information.

It's a really interesting way to look at Google Earth, and it makes pretty obvious the fact that Kessler Syndrome will soon be a very, very big problem for both live satellites we depend on for technology and the men and women who actually fly in space. Apparently we're going to wait until the ISS or Shuttle gets struck and lives are lost before we actually start cleaning up this mess.
At any rate, it's quite fun to play around with.
By the way, if you're looking for a particular piece of junk or a particular satellite, you can just go in the info box on the left-hand side of your screen, and click the + by "Satellite Database." Then just click the + beside whatever you're interested in: active satellites, inactive satellites, debris, etc. Then if you click a + beside CA, US, ESA, JPN, etc., you can narrow it down to the country of origin. When you find what you're looking for (say, "DELTA 1 DEB, Satellite Number 10634") just double-click and your Google Earth will go right to the satellite's location.
You can add this feature to your Google Earth by clicking here.

ISS/Jules Verne photo

Now that Jules Verne (the ATV, not the guy) has undocked from the ISS, both are visible in the night sky.

This photo was taken by Michael Vandeputte of Ronse, Belgium:
(Click to enlarge. The ISS is the brighter object, natch, but Jules Verne is visible if you turn the lights down. It's much fainter and off to the "northeast" of the Station.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


A fun reprise of the launch failure.
The way the 1812 Overture works with this footage is right up there with the way Dark Side of the Moon works with Wizard of Oz.

(You'll have to pause Moby over there in the Playlist, of course.)

And this particular video's description mentioned it was the "famous Delta 2 failure from 1997."
This is indeed the one that caused the "simple country boy" such confusion.


I remember one particular launch failure a few years back when we were living in Vero Beach.
(It may well have been the one in this video - I have no idea.)
I didn't know about it until I got to work, but apparently it was a doozy, and the radio and TV were giving instructions "not to go outside unless absolutely necessary" and not to go out at all if you suffered from any type of lung ailment. Something about the payload.
But I didn't know about this because I was busy with yardwork, walking the dogs, ya know - being outside. Everyone at work laughed and laughed at my mock horror at my certain impending doom. Anyway.

The next day in the paper, a fellow who happened to be tuned in listening to Launch Control wrote a hilarious tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor about the Cape using the term "anomaly" instead of something more plain-language like "launch failure" or "explosion."
He wrote something to the effect of, "When I first heard that we had an anomaly, I panicked. I'm a simple country boy. What the hell is an anomaly, and how did we get one? If I get it on my shoe, will it come off? I had to run and get my dictionary!"

Anyway, this video combines raining fireballs, melted glass, and the knowledge that no one was injured. It doesn't get much cooler than that, y'all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Garrett did a Q&A session with young children at the Natural History Museum in NYC the other day.

Here was one exchange:

Kid: Do you believe in aliens?
Garrett: Ah, I didn’t see any, but that’s because they live under your bed.

I died.

Read the whole article.

The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack on.

Orion parachute test.
Mister Orion, I'm very disappointed in you.
This will go on your permanent record, young man.

I'm just burnin' doin' the neutron dance.

This is SO cool:

Thanks to data from ESA's Integral gamma-ray observatory, scientists have been able to locate where particles in the vicinity of the rotating neutron-star in the Crab Nebula are accelerated to immense energies.

The discovery put in place another piece of the puzzle in understanding how neutron stars work.

Rotating neutron-stars, or 'pulsars', are known to accelerate particles to enormous energies, typically one hundred times more than the most powerful accelerators on Earth, but scientists are still uncertain exactly how these systems work and where the particles are accelerated. A step forward in this understanding is now accomplished thanks to a team of researchers from the UK and Italy, led by Professor Tony Dean of the University of Southampton, who studied high-energy polarised light emitted by the Crab Nebula - one of the most dramatic sights in deep space.

That's because Garrett isn't Capcom.

Chamitoff on verge of winning second chess game vs. MCC.

Rated S. Heh.

JPL "Space Sounds" video:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Freaking awesome.

A rap about the LHC.
Hell to the yeah - nerd rap, y'all!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

On a dreadfully serious note.

For the second time in three years, the city of New Orleans and her people are facing a catastrophic hurricane.

Many, many people in this region are poor. Many haven't completely repaired their homes from three years ago. Many had just a few possessions left after Katrina, and now they are going to lose those, too.

Most importantly, many people have already been killed by this storm (Americans aren't the only people whose lives matter, FYI. Cuba and Haiti are burying their dead already), and more are sure to die.

This is not a joking matter. This is a tragedy in progress.

Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do you sometimes find yourself missing the old secretive, paranoid Soviet-style Russia?

[Poster: "Keep your mouth shut!" by Nina Vatolina, 1941]

Me too!

[Pats you on head.]

Here, honey. Feel better.

In the interest of fair time, may I also present the hilarious official NASA version on the whole DAM affair:

Conjunction Update:
Using ATV thrusters, the ISS performed a 1 m/s braking burn yesterday at 12:11pm EDT to remove the risk of collision with an orbital object,- #33246 (part of the Kosmos-2421 satellite). The retrograde firing of 5 min 2 sec duration resulted in a mean altitude loss of ~1.77 km. Propellant usage: ~98 kg of ATV prop, leaving ~190 kg in “Jules Verne” prior to undock (possibly with some margin, to be assessed by ESA) and ~320 kg of Progress/SM props for attitude control of the stack. A second possible conjunction with another piece (#33248) of Kosmos-2421 has been identified for tomorrow (8/29) at 9:09pm EDT, currently predicted to be in the RED box. This would require another DAM (Debris Avoidance Maneuver), but more tracking is required for a burn decision. Estimated prime TIG (Time of Ignition): tomorrow 7:00pm. Prop strategy is currently under study. If a second DAM is necessary tomorrow, using ATV prop, the Progress 29P undocking on 9/1 (Monday) can be supported by SM thrusters. Ballistic calculations must continue to account for future Soyuz launch, Soyuz landing and Shuttle ULF2 launch/rendezvous constraints.

Ah, bureaucracy!

Wonder if anybody is walking around KSC today saying, "BAAAADGES?!"

According to reports, the security badges used by KSC are real fun until someone loses an eye.

On August 15th, a NASA Safety Notice issued at Kennedy Space Center warned that NASA's new Identity Stronghold badge holder has the "potential to introduce dangerous Foreign Object Damage (FOD) to flight hardware areas and can cause personnel injury if the metal clips are installed improperly."
The badge holder's metal clasps, if installed backwards, "will become a projectile when the badge is opened creating a potential eye injury hazard," the Safety Notice says. "When removing your badge, do not point end with metal clips towards your face or another person."


We trust them to assemble solid rocket boosters but we can't trust them to properly assemble a security badge?

And I know that NASA is full of light-hearted pranksters , but do they have to take it to the "pointing metal clips towards other people" level?

Folks, when security badges are outlawed, only outlaws will have security badges.

Huh. I work with a lot of Putzes, too.

I see that today is the 108th birthday of Oswald Putze, a German rocket engineer who became a USSR rocket engineer following the post-WW2 relocation.

In the immortal words of the US immigrant German rocket engineer in The Right Stuff, "Our Germans are better than their Germans."

Way to go, Chamitoff.

[Below: The culprit downloads porn and plays a little pirated Grand Theft Auto to pass the time. Probably.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy birthday, Sergei Krikalyov a.k.a. Sergei Krikalev.

Happy birthday to one half of the "last citizens of the Soviet Union."

(The other half being ISS Expedition 17 commander Sergey Volkov's father Aleksandr - Volkov and Krikalyov were aboard Mir on December 21, 1991 when the USSR collapsed. When they left earth, they were citizens of the USSR; when they returned, a few things had changed, and they were citizens of Russia. Thus, they have the distinction of being the "last Soviets.")

Sergei Krikalyov is a cool cat.

The craziness which surrounded him during his time on Mir is way too involved to write about here. I don't have 2 weeks for one post.

The events of Sergei's space travel seemed at times a comedy of errors, though I am sure it wasn't funny to Krikalyov.

Fires, collisions, Volkov's spacesuit malfunctioning during EVA, a banged-up leg due to a hard landing, having to start calling your hometown "St. Petersburg" after knowing it as "Leningrad" your whole life, watching your country crumble, having to rethink your entire identity... really, nothing else could have happened to poor Sergei during that damn Mir EO-4.

Undeterred by the black cloud which overshadowed EO-4, Sergei would go on to serve on three shuttle missions (in fact, he was the very first cosmonaut to fly aboard a space shuttle) and two Space Station Expeditions, including the very first. It was Krikalyov who first placed icons (there are now dozens) in the Zvezda module of the ISS during Expedition 1.

He also received the beautiful icon "Theotokos of Valaam" while serving on Expedition 11. The icon arrived on an unmanned Progress supply ship, and Our Lady would make more than 1,000 orbits around the earth before she headed back home with her fellow space travelers.

Sergei Krikalyov accumulated more time in orbit than any other human being, 803 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes. He is now the VP of RKK Energia. Go fig.

Volcanic sunsets.

Above: Sunset in Princeton, Indiana, as photographed by Misty Lundberg.
The eruptions of Kasatochi and two other volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska are creating red sunsets all across the United States.
Says atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley: "Volcanic eruptions hurl gigantic clouds of fine dust and sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere where high winds spread them around the globe. Sulfur dioxide forms aerosols; these and the dust scatter sunlight to give us red skies, twilight rays and Bishop’s rings. I’m getting many reports of unusual sunsets – look up!"
Check out the entire article (and more photos) at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cassini, 4 years and counting.

New vidja from JPL.

More on noctilucent clouds.

Below: Noctilucent clouds photographed by ISS Expedition 17 crew:

Atmospheric scientist Gary Thomas of the University of Colorado has seen thousands of noctilucent cloud (NLC) photos, and he ranks this one among the best. "It's lovely," he says. "And it shows just how high these clouds really are--at the very edge of space."

He estimates the electric-blue band was 83 km above Earth's surface, higher than 99.999% of our planet's atmosphere. The sky at that altitude is space-black. It is the realm of meteors, high-energy auroras and decaying satellites.

What are clouds doing up there? "That's what we're trying to find out," says Thomas.

People first noticed NLCs at the end of the 19th century after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The Indonesian supervolcano hurled plumes of ash more than 50 km high in Earth's atmosphere. This produced spectacular sunsets and, for a while, turned twilight sky watching into a worldwide pastime. One evening in July 1885, Robert Leslie of Southampton, England, saw wispy blue filaments in the darkening sky. He published his observations in the journal Nature and is now credited with the discovery of noctilucent clouds.

Scientists of the 19th century figured the clouds were some curious manifestation of volcanic ash. Yet long after Krakatoa's ash settled, NLCs remained.

"It's a puzzle," says Thomas. "Noctilucent clouds have not only persisted, but also spread." In the beginning, the clouds were confined to latitudes above 50o; you had to go to places like Scandinavia, Siberia and Scotland to see them. In recent years, however, they have been sighted from mid-latitudes such as Washington, Oregon, Turkey and Iran.


(From a link I found on Space Weather which redirects to an article at

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cosmic "needle in a haystack"

A massive cluster of galaxies seen in the distant universe by ESA’s orbiting XMM-Newton x-ray observatory is so big that astronomers believe there can only be a few of them that far away in space and time. “Such massive galaxy clusters are thought to be rare objects in the distant Universe," said Georg Lamer, Astrophysikalisches Institut in Potsdam, Germany. "They can be used to test cosmological theories. Indeed, the very presence of this cluster confirms the existence of a mysterious component of the Universe called dark energy.” The astronomers compared the rare find to a cosmic 'needle in a haystack.'

Entire article over at Universe Today

Sunday, August 24, 2008


ATK sub-orbital rocket failure from the other day.

I once saw a rocket failure which was a thousand times cooler than this.
Alas, no video.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

To the moon!

For some time now, there have been rumors floating around that there are plans being bandied about to skip the lunar missions of Constellation altogether. The alternate proposal, it seems, is to land astronauts on an asteroid.
(Note: If it's Bruce Willis we're sending to an asteroid, I fully support this change of plans.)

Anyhow, in the comments section of one article from Aviation Week, someone posted this doozy:

We should concentrate on building a time machine. Then no matter what China does, we can go back before them and stop it. We can also go back to 1952 and buy all of the Mickey Mantle rookie cards and finance a trip to Pluto just in case the Brazilians have any plans. We see the way you are looking at Pluto, Brazil.

I LOL'd.

Spitzer Image

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveals generations of stars amid a cavity carved from a colorful cosmic cloud. The striking infrared picture shows a region, called W5, which is similar to N44F, or the "Celestial Geode" that was discussed in a Universe Today article last week. The gas cavity, which looks similar to a geode-like cavity found in some rocks, is carved by the stellar wind and intense ultraviolet radiation from hot stars. W5 is studded with stars of various ages, and provides new evidence that massive stars – through their brute winds and radiation – can trigger the birth of new stars.

-Universe Today

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's like Groundhog Day.


I am grateful that you let me see interviews with the STS-125 crew.
They seem really swell, to a person.
That Megan McArthur is just precious, and Mike Massimino comes across as extremely likable, just a neat guy to have a beer with.
I am very interested in the final Hubble servicing mission, and all that.
STS-125 is sure to be a great success with those seven people as its crew.

But in the name of all that is holy, can you PLEASE stop playing it 24/7?
I miss the ISS coverage. I miss "NASA Edge." I miss "Space Place Live."
Hell, I even miss the footage of random guys standing around while a random truck backs into a random building to unload who-knows-what.

Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Call CDOT. They'll have it ready for you by 2030. 2050, tops.

There's a big problem with Kennedy Space Center playing host to the Constellation Program: The heavy-lift rocket, Ares V, may be too heavy for the infrastructure to cope with. The crawlerway is a 40 year old road designed for the Saturn V (Apollo Program) crawler-transporters and is currently used to carry the Shuttle up to 6.8km (4.2 miles) from assembly building to launch pad. The crawlerway may be unable to withstand the weight of the fully-laden Ares V, transporter and mobile launch pad; a combined weight 33% heavier than anything the Kennedy crawlerway has ever supported.

I saw a hysterical comment about this matter on some site. It read:

When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a 10.9 million kilogram rocket on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, lad, the strongest rocketship in all the world.

I died.

Pants on fire.

A launch last weekend by Iran that the country's government claimed put a satellite into orbit was, in fact, a failure, according to information provided by US intelligence sources. The launch, which took place Saturday but not announced by Iran until Sunday, reportedly put a dummy or simple test satellite into orbit. However, US sources say that the second stage broke up during ascent, at an altitude above 150 kilometers, based on monitoring from a US Navy vessel in the Persian Gulf and satellite observations. Iranian officials still claim publicly that the launch is a success, although they have backed off from initial claims that it placed a satellite into orbit.

Chicago Sinfonietta presents Gustav Holst's "The Planets"

Chicago Sinfonietta
The 2008/2009 season

The Planets at Millennium Park

Millenium Park

Friday, August 22, 2008, 7:30 pm
Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park

The Chicago Sinfonietta performing Holst's The Planets

Due to popular demand, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Adler Planetarium present an encore performance of our legendary sight and sound spectacular on Chicago’s most spectacular stage.

Astronomer and visual artist Dr. José Francisco Salgado’s breathtaking video suite is projected on a giant screen while the orchestra performs Gustav Holst’s dramatic masterwork. Immerse yourself in this unforgettable pageant of sight and sound.

Adler PlanetariumVector and Pixels Unlimited

A co-production of the Adler Planetarium and Vectors & Pixels Unlimited

This concert is free and open to the public.

Kay: Overture to the Theater Set
Ginastera: Estancia Dances
Holst: The Planets

Special thanks to the Pritzker Foundation for their generous support.

I'll certainly be there eating space cheese and drinking space champagne*.

*Okay, space sparkling wine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy birthday to the astronaut person with the most cumbersome name ever.

Many happy returns to Jean-Loup Jacques Marie Chretien, astronautical jack-of-all-trades.

Chretien trained with both the Russian and US programs, and served as a crewman on Soyuz, Mir, and STS-86.

In fact, he served on Mir's EO-4, which was also one of Aleksandr Volkov's Mir missions. The adorable Sergey Volkov, Aleksandr's son, is the current Commander of ISS Expedition 17.
And Sergey Volkov's favorite actor is Kevin Bacon.

(Okay, I made that last bit up.)

Hang in there, Space Coasters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In which I see the most awesome thing ever.

Friday night, I met up with some friends at Millennium "We weren't 4 years late, we were 996 years early" Park to hear my friend Michelle and the rest of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus sing the final concert of the free GPSO Summer Concert Series.
The concert didn't start until 8:30 PM, because the Chicago Air and Water Show was going on, and I guess the GPSO wanted to ensure that they wouldn't be drowned out by FA-18s.
There was a fireworks show at 9, but we didn't even hear it from MP.
So the evening was wonderful and we were enjoying everything, when suddenly:

The sky started falling.

I was sitting on the western edge of MP, so the Aon Center (the 3rd tallest building in Chicago) was just east of my northern view, then a space of maybe 3" if you held up your fingers to measure, then more buildings.

There was no air traffic at this point. A very, very bright UFO (unidentified falling object) was suddenly visible. We first noticed it at about 1000' altitude, and watched it fall all the way to about 400'. Then it disappeared behind the buildings.
Towards the end, it appeared to split into two pieces.

We were amazed, and didn't know what to make of it. It was so close, so beautiful.
Everyone in our immediate area was stunned.

About 2 to 2 1/2 minutes later, it happened again, but this time, it was three smaller pieces falling at the same rate, at the same angle. Again, we were stunned.

Then about 5 minutes later, it happened for the last time - same sort of thing, but toward the end it appeared to zigzag a bit.

Then, my husband thought, "Oh, maybe it's skydivers with magnesium flares!"
I replied that if that was the AWS's skydiving show, it sucked. It was totally random, no rhyme or reason.

I talked to other Chicagoans the next day who had been in the same area. They said, "Ohhhh, did you see the end of the Air Show?! Wasn't it cool?"

Now, keep in mind, this happened at about 10PM, long after the Air Show ended.

So I told them, "That couldn't have been the Air Show. It was too late, and it was too random."
Skydiving is a very precise, very orchestrated "show", particularly when they dive at night with flares. The only way this meteor-shower nut can describe it? It looked like the coolest falling stars you've ever seen, but it definitely looked like falling stars.

The next day, Tom Skilling from WGN (incidentally, the nation's HIGHEST-PAID weatherman, period) reported that the Perseids were still falling and very visible in Chicago's skies.
He did NOT, however, mention this event, just that many people were still seeing meteorites.

My opinion? So many people (like my friends at work) saw it and thought, "That's the Air Show", even though it happened an hour after the show ended.
The rest of the people? Maybe they thought, "Oh, that's pretty cool" and then went back to talking about Lindsay Lohan being gay.

I wish someone who knows about these things and maybe saw it (HELLO, ADLER!) would comment on it.

UPDATE: I found one mention of a woman seeing four shootings stars over the Lake.
(FYI, if you are sitting on the west edge of Millennium Park looking due North, you are actually looking straight towards Lake Michigan. The shoreline curves (think the S-curve on Lake Shore Drive near the Drake Hotel), so the ones she saw could have certainly been the ones I saw.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Launch of Soyuz TM-24

[Above: Валерий Григорьевич Корзун]

This date in 1996, Soyuz TM-24 launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome enroute to Fred Sanford's salvage yard Russian space station Mir.
Onboard were Aleksandr Kaleri and one of my very favorite cosmonauts space travelers of any country ever, Valeriy Korzun.

Mir EO-22 would become one of the most dangerous famous expeditions, giving us fun times like the Great Space Fire of '96, during which Valeriy's hands were badly burned had absolutely nothing of consequence happen to them, and the Great Human Waste Container Crisis of '96, during which the crew had to "improvise" storage for their space pee and space poo. Nice.
Korzun spent tons of time talking to amateur radio enthusiasts around the globe; he was really into this hobby. If it had been me, every single transmission I made would have been, "Get me off this piece of shit NOW."
But by all accounts, Korzun is good-natured and patient and professional and has a much less vulgar mouth than I do, so he kept a sunny outlook and a stiff upper lip and just talked about fun space stuff with average Joes around the world.

Undeterred by EO-22's mishaps and by TsUP's blaming of crisis after crisis on the cosmonauts, Valeriy went on to fly on STS-111 and was a crewman of ISS Expedition 5.

Valeriy Korzun is freaking awesome, and if I had the chance to meet one single cosmonaut, he'd be it.