Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Down Under

Hey Space Placers!

I am ‘down under’ - below the equator, 12 degrees South  - and it has been a LONG time since I have done that, 33 years to be exact! 

I enjoyed seeing Lima, Peru, especially the birds and sea lions located on some islands just off the coast of the city.  We took a small motor launch out to the islands and it was quite the trip.

There were an estimated 10 THOUSAND sea lions frolicking in the water and laying out in the rare sunny day. They make quite the noise and I have listened to my video of them several times to hear them - quite the amazing memory I must say. Here you can see them in the water and on the island. 



There were also very large pelicans, Humboldt Penguins, yes Penguins (!!) to see as well as Turkey Vultures which I could not distinguish from my fave bird of prey in Virginia. They soared overhead in large numbers and in binoculars I could see the tell tale red head and white color of their feathers to ID them. There was also Peruvian Black Vultures which were different from our Black Vultures in Virginia as they seemed larger.

The weather has been a perpetual fog bank followed by very brief periods of somewhat clear skies. I have been able to see the Moon located about 50 degrees North of where it would be in Virginia and the brightest two stars in the night sky, Sirius and Canopus. Sirius is directly overhead, again due to being in the Southern Hemisphere.

We are headed North to Ecuador but I am still hoping for a clear night to see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds - the largest dwarf galaxies orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy - and the Southern Cross.


Sky Guy at Sea Down Under

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Headed Back to Sea

Hey Space Placers!

I am enroute to join Holland America's Statendam for a 16-day cruise from Lima, Peru to San Diego, CA.

This is a bit of a nostalgic trip as I gave my first cruise lectures on Statendam 17 years ago during the 2/98 total solar eclipse in the southern Caribbean with Sky & Telescope and a number of other Scientific Expeditions lecturers that are now friends, including WTTG Fox 5's Sue Palka. She and her cameraman Joe caught the eclipse on wet film (no digital) and got it off the ship in time for the 10 o'clock news in DC.

HAL Statendam
Image courtesy of www.shipspotting.com
I hope to see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds which are the largest dwarf galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy - this is on my bucket list to do so. I also hope to see and photograph as well the Southern Cross and the incredible southern Milky Way.

As usual I can't say how well the Internet will hold up but I will try to post each day to share the sky and hopefully pics with you.

Sky Guy not in VA

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pushing the Human Frontier to the Final Frontier

Hey Space Placers!

WOW! They - Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka - are in orbit after a flawless launch from night time Russia at 3:42 p.m. EDT, March 27, 2015.

Their Russian made rocket and Soyuz spacecraft performed perfectly to get the trio into space and begin the six-hour chase to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station which currently has three crew members aboard.  WTOP Radio spoke live with Astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoferetti two weeks ago.

Off to Work
NASA
Both Scott and Mikhail (Misha) are beginning their epic 'One Year In Space' Mission that will provide medical data on two humans' long term exposure to space. This acquisition of medical data is pivotal to identifying medical issues for humans on a projected 500 day mission to Mars and ways to overcome them. I have always said that is is really human issues, not technical issues, that will make getting humans to Mars so difficult.

As an added medical data bonus Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who is a retired NASA astronaut. Comparison of medical data from Scott to Mark during the course of the one year mission will provide a unique opportunity in the history of manned spaceflight as I do not think such comparisons have ever been done before.

This mission also shows how space exploration brings out the best in us as Russia and America, who certainly are having Earth-bound issues - are still cooperating in the exploration of the Final Frontier. In order to survive and flourish humanity has to follow this model of international cooperation and expound on it. Failure to do so puts us at grave risk for humanity's collective future.

You can follow the mission here.

Sky Guy in VA




Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mars Updates - Part 2

Hey Space Placers!

I actually have TWO items to add to this update from my 3/24/15 blog.


One is that Mars Rover Opportunity just finished the 1st ever MARATHON on Mars as stated by NASA, "by driving  26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) -- with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months." 



NASA
A Red Planet Record that will last for some time as NASA's other Rover Curiosity has a LONG way to go in terms of time and distance to meet and beat Oppie's record.

Meanwhile in orbit around Mars NASA's newest mission to the Red Planet, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft,  as stated by NASA, " has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere".



Artist's Conception of Mars Aurora
NASA
These discoveries only further heighten scientists' interest in the Red Planet's atmosphere.

One thing is for sure, Mars will continue to amaze and surprise us.


Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interesting Find on Mars & Other Red Planet Updates

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Curiosity rover has made a very interesting find on the Red Planet.
Curiosity Selfie
NASA
Using its onboard sample laboratory Curiosity has detected Nitrogen which is a biologically useful element for life as we know it. The discovery was made after a sample was heated up and analyzed. 

This is further evidence that the location where Curiosity has been exploring, Gale Crater, was habitable for life in the distant past. There is no evidence to support that this Nitrogen was caused by biological processes currently ongoing at Mars as the planet is deemed inhospitable for life.

But we know that Mars in its ancient past had loads of water - in fact new research just published states that there was enough water on the planet 4 billion years ago to cover all land to a depth of 140 meters! It is more probable that there was an ocean that held the majority of the water and some depths could have reached 1.6 km.

Credit:
ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org
And NASA's other operating Rover, 11-year old Opportunity, just had its memory reformatted to help keep the science coming. Pretty amazing that a rover with a projected lifespan of 90 days on the Red Plane is still going strong 11 years later! Opporunity's sister rover, Spirit, ceased operations a few years ago when it got stuck and could not get solar power to stay alive.

Here is a recent photo taken by Opportunity of Marathon Valley:


I'll have one more update tomorrow on Mars. Such an interesting planet!!

Sky Guy in VA

























Sunday, March 22, 2015

Twins & A Year in Space

Hey Space Placers!

We had a wonderful audience of 80-90 at the Peaks of Otter last night listening to my talk on "The Future of U.S. Manned Spaceflight." The sky was so-so but clear enough for us to go outside and see the brighter stars. The tree frogs were LOUD (wonderful!!!) and a lone owl Hoo-Hooed for a magical time.

Next Friday a new 3 person crew will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) with two of them earmarked to spend a full year on board instead of the usual six months. American Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will provide crucial data with their bodies about what happens to humans in long duration exposure to spaceflight. This will help fill in gaps in our knowledge that will be necessary for making manned flights deep into space.



An added bonus to this knowledge to be gained by this mission is the fact that Scott Kelly has an identical twin, Mark Kelly, that is a retired NASAAstronaut. The ability to compare what happens to Scott's body to his Earth-bound brother 's body will really provide valuable medical and scientific data that would not be available otherwise. I do believe that this identical twin comparison is the first to be done as related to spaceflight. Such studies have been common in medical studies.

To get to Mars and other deep solar system destinations is as much of a challenge, if not more really, from a human perspective as well as a technical one. You have to keep astronauts healthy during their mission as well as the rest of their lives. Radiation exposure, the effects of long term zero-g, and psychological factors are just a few that come to mind.

The On Year-Twin Comparison Mission will go a long way in helping humanity prepare for and complete long term solar system missions.

Sky Guy in VA


Friday, March 20, 2015

Help Name Features on Pluto

Hey Space Placers!

Been watching March Madness and my UCLA Bruins and UVA Cavaliers ARE IN!

New Horizons Pluto System Flyby
NASA
The New Horizons Mission to Pluto Team needs your help in coming up with names for features they are GOING TO FIND when they flyby Pluto and its moons in the coming months. The Team wants to have a library of names to draw from because the features are going to come fast and furious, especially at closest approach on July 14, 2015.

Get all the information here  and vote for your favorites by April 7, 2015.

Sky Guy in VA