Category Archives: space

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


World’s Highest Skydive Calls for World’s Biggest Balloon



By now you probably know about the world record skydive attempt that is upcoming.  The “Red Bull Challenge” will have Felix Baumgartner jump from an astonishing 23 miles above the surface of the earth, effectively from the edge of space.  Now we are learning some of the more interesting tidbits from behind the scenes of this record-breaking jump.

The technology that lies behind a feat like this is, as you can imagine, pretty amazing.  First, there’s the pressurized capsule that resembles something like what the Apollo astronauts splashed down inside of.  Then there is the massive balloon required to haul both the capsule and the jumper to such mind-boggling heights.  The balloon is so large that it will actually require 10 workers just to unfurl it and it will take about 45 minutes just to fill the 334 foot tall polyethylene structure.  Even more amazing is the fact that the balloon is actually about 10 times thinner than the average sandwich bag.

Baumgartner expects to become the first human to break the sound barrier when he makes the historic leap, a faster speed than Joe Kittinger attained during his record setting 1960 jump in which he reached 614 mph, or Mach 0.9.


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.