Full-length Felix Bomgartner helmet cam video released

Just over one year ago, Felix Bomgartner rode his Red Bull Stratos balloon to the staggering height of 128,000 feet and then leaped out, free-falling from the stratosphere. It was the highest skydive ever made and, thanks to the extremely thin atmosphere, Bomgartner quickly broke the record for the fastest freefall at just over 840 MPH.

Prior to now, bit and pieces of the footage recorded by Bomgartner’s helmet cam have been released, but now, on the heels of the documentary release, the full nine-minute video has been released.

Astronomer Phil Plait points out that “Baumgartner accelerates to a velocity of 700 km/hr in a mere 20 seconds. That means he was accelerating at an average of about 9.7 meters per second per second — just about what you’d expect for an object falling to Earth in a vacuum, where the only force is that of gravity”.

While many news agencies were quick to describe this jump as “from the edge of space”, Plait also points out that space begins at a height of 100 KM and Bomgartner leaped from 39 KM. That doesn’t make it any less cool, of course, just a technical aspect of the perspective. If you are high enough to see the curvature of the earth, then its not somewhere most people would be comfortable with being, let alone jumping from.

What is “Remember the 13th”?

bigstock_Kennedy_Space_Center_nasa__4064149

Conspiracy theorists are running wild about a new web site that is purportedly from NASA. The web site in question is titled “NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet. This announcement will be released to the media on November 13th, 2013. It will be a day to remember and One for the history books. Spread the word to your family & friends and sign up to stay updated! – See more at: Remember the 13th and sports a logo from the space agency along with a rather cryptic message.

“NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet. This announcement will be released to the media on November 13th, 2013. It will be a day to remember and One for the history books. Spread the word to your family & friends and sign up to stay updated!”

There is also a countdown clock running on the site, currently at 41 days. Nothing more is revealed and there is nothing about the page which gives any sort of hints.

Its all very clever, but also likely a marketing ploy for something and not an actual NASA news conference. Other than the logo, which anyone can slap onto a website, there is nothing to suggest any of this is anything more than a clever marketing campaign for a product, movie or TV show.

I will leave the question up to all of you. What do you think this is? Legitimate news coming from the space agency? Has Curiosity discovered something? Or is it, as I am leaning towards, very good marketing hype?

Celestron

Celestron HomepageBrian Cogdell of Celestron stopped by the broadcast table at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to show off some of the company’s latest products.

If you are not familiar with the name then perhaps you can gleen a bit of information from it none-the-less. Celestron manufactures telescopes and, for the amateur astronomer — and we are all space fans here at GNC, the company makes some of the better ones on the market.

The latest lineup contains robotic devices that make finding that illusive object a whole lot easier. The new lineup contains cameras for photographing that amazing image and even a remote control for pointing the telescope to whatever area of the night sky you wish to examine. The camera also works to align the device by calculating where it is pointed and moving to where you want to go.

There is a lot more to learn, but you will need to watch the video below. Given the technology involved in all of this the prices are fairly reasonable.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network

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Curiosity Spent Halloween Taking Amazing Self Portrait

Most of us have spent the past couple of months being completely fascinated with Curiosity, the latest and largest lander to roam the surface of Mars.  NASA has been regularly posting images snapped by the multiple cameras on board the rover, but the one it snapped on October 31st may be the best so far.

Astronomer Phil Plait, who pointed this image out, dubbed it “the single greatest vacation picture ever taken” and I can’t argue one bit. After all, how would you like to send this image home to friends and family?  The incredible self-portrait took some work.  It’s actually a composite made up of 55 different high-resolution images taken by a camera mounted at the end of a two meter long arm (the arm was edited out to improve the image).

You can get much more detailed information by visiting Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover Magazine.  The image looks much like any desert on earth, but it’s a much starker and colder location than the images belie.  You can view the full resolution at the link below the image.

Preliminary self-portrait of Curiosity

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

New Helmet Cam Video of Baumgartner’s Incredible Freefall from Space

Yesterday Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the dizzying height of 128,100 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth in a two hour balloon ride.  He then came back down in a considerably faster way by stepping out of his capsule onto a tiny platform, giving a salute, and jumping.  The event broke many records, including highest jump, longest distance freefall and highest speed, as he broke the sound barrier by hitting Mach 1.24.  He also shattered internet viewing records as YouTube reported over 8 million simultaneous live streams.

If you watched the event live then you probably noticed what appeared to be an almost out-of-control spin during the descent.  Now new footage has appeared on Austrian TV (Baumgartner’s native country) that shows the view from the camera mounted to his helmet, and it’s a dizzying descent indeed.

Previous record holder, Colonel Joe Kittinger who jumped from 19 miles way back in 1960, was front and center at Mission Control and was the voice in Felix’s ear throughout the event.  You can watch the entire 2.5 hour Odyssey condensed down to a minute and a half here.  The footage from the headcam can seen below, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

A Possible Big Night Sky Show Coming in 2013

Orbit diagram

If you haven’t heard, a new comet was recently spotted.  Even better, it’s expected to pass ridiculously close to earth in 2013 and, if those predictions prove true, it will put on quite a show in our night sky.  The new object goes by the catchy name of of C/2012 S1, but is generally being called ISON.

The projected orbit should take ISON directly towards the sun in November 2013, causing melting which will result in a very defined tail.  By January 2014 it should pass 60 million kilometers from Earth, and that combination of large tail and proximity to earth could result in a night sky object approximately as bright as the moon.  That would make ISON the brightest comet ever seen.

According to a NASA report, “comet researcher John Bortle has pointed out a curious similarity between the orbit of Comet ISON and that of the Great Comet of 1680. ‘Purely as speculation,’ he says, ‘perhaps the two bodies could have been one a few revolutions ago.'”

All of this is still somewhat unknown because, for one thing, the brightness will depend on the composition of materials making up the comet and how much melting actually occurs.  However, the best estimates at this point are leaning towards a best-case scenario for anyone interested in the night sky.

Image: NASA

Astrononomy Photographer of the Year

The winning images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012 were announced today and as you might expect, they’re absolutely stunning. Organised by the Royal Observatory in conjunction with the Sky at Night magazine and Flickr, every single one of the pictures is fantastic.

Nearly 700 pictures were submitted to Flickr for 2012 and you can see them all in the Flickr Group Pool for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. There’s an endless supply of background images when you include the previous year’s entrants.

Milky Way Reflected in Tioga Lake

Photograph by Rick Whiteacre. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The BBC is showing off some of the photographs from the competition in a narrated presentation that’s well worth a watch as well.

The photographs are on show at the Royal Observatory through to 17 February 2013.

Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012

I won’t try to write a eulogy or a tribute.  I will leave that up to people who know more than me, but I did want to take a moment to post a tribute of some sort to the man who inspired a whole new generation of explorers.  Without Neil Armstrong so many things we take for granted now may never have happened.  He had the courage to take that “first step”, in more ways than just the obvious one.

Stars “Scream” When Devoured by Black Hole

“In space… no one can hear you scream….” Or, maybe they can. Scientists from the University of Michigan have been able to detect an oscillating signal that occurs as a star is devoured by a previously dormant supermassive black hole.

The event was documented with the Suzaku and XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescopes. They picked up semi-regular “blips” in the light from a galaxy located 3.9 billion light years away from the constellation known as Draco the dragon. The proper name for the “blips” is “quasiperiodic oscillations”. The scientists noted that the quasiperiodic oscillations were happening every 200 seconds, and occasionally would disappear.

The cause of the “blips” was due to a black hole eating a star that has had its gravity broken apart. In short, the star forms an accretion disk that surrounds the black hole. The scientists looked at x-rays that allowed them to see emissions coming from the disk extremely close to the black hole. This is what produces a quasiperiodic wobble. The researchers compare it to the sound of an ultra-low D-sharp note.

John Miller is an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the paper about the quasiperiodic oscillations that was recently published in Science Express. He said:

“You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like”.

Personally, that isn’t something I want to think about. There is something inherently creepy about the concept of a star “screaming” as it is being devoured by a black hole. Imagine the sound of that ultra-low D-sharp as you watch this NASA animation of a black hole devouring a star.