Category Archives: space

The Next Annular Eclipse is May 20, 2012



On Sunday, May 20, 2012, there will be a solar eclipse. This one is special because it is an annular eclipse. It has been eighteen years since an eclipse of this type was visible from the continental United States.

We know that the moon circles the Earth. However, the moon doesn’t travel in an exact circular path. Instead, it is more like an elliptical orbit. This means that the moon will, at certain times, be a little bit closer or a little bit farther from the Earth than usual. The moon’s orbit can vary from 221,457 miles to 252,712 miles away from the Earth.

When an annular eclipse happens, it looks like the moon is passing in front of the Sun. The moon won’t appear to completely block out the sun, though. This is because on May 20, 2012, the moon will be closer to the Earth than usual, at around 225,000 miles from us. The result is that the moon will look as though it has a bright ring of fire surrounding it.

Not everyone is going to be able to view the upcoming annular eclipse. It will be visible to people who are in southern Oregon and northern California, and it will become visible to people who are in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Much of the rest of the United States will be able to see at least some of this special eclipse. Those of you who live on the east coast of the United States will not be able to see this eclipse because the Sun will already have set. The eclipse might be visible in parts of China and Japan as well, unless the weather causes too much cloud cover while the eclipse is happening.

Obviously, one should not stare into the Sun. You shouldn’t stare directly at an eclipse, either. I highly recommend that you do a little homework and learn about what you need to do in order to safely view an eclipse. It is a special eclipse, but, your eyesight is even more precious. Be smart, and be careful!

Image: Solar Eclipse by BigStock


The Space Picture of the Day Isn’t from Outer Space



This morning the space shuttle Enterprise made what was likely its final flight, but this time it was on the back of a 747.  After several delays the shuttle finally took off from Washington DC, where it had been housed at the Smithsonian museum, and headed to New York City and it’s new home at Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

As the 747 and it’s passenger passed over the Big Apple, NASA photographer Bill Ingalls captured what could be one of the most iconic space shuttle images ever when he snapped a shot of the shuttle, mounted on the top of the 747, as the pair passed the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

The Enterprise will officially go on display at it’s new home on July 19th.  Meanwhile, the space shuttle Discovery has replaced Enterprise at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.


Meteor Explodes Over California



While news reports have been scant, there was a major cosmic event over California and Nevada this past Sunday.  A meteor weighing approximately 70 tons rocketed across the sky at a stunning 33,500 mph and exploded in the atmosphere.  The meteor sighting was reported by residents of both states and those in California also reported the explosion, which rattled house windows across a large area of the state and also set off building and car alarms.

The meteor, which was roughly the size of a minivan, although much heavier due to the density, and traveling at such a high velocity, was estimated by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office to have exploded with the force of roughly3.8 kilotons of TNT.

While NASA is busy mapping earth-threatening asteroids, one of this size is difficult to spot in advance.  Thankfully most asteroids in this range are likely to burn up upon entry into earth’s atmosphere, as this one did.  Some experts think that it could have possibly scattered tiny pieces of debris across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but no fragments were likely large enough to do any damage.  You can check out the video below.


Rocket Launched With Secret Payload



Vandenburg Air Force Base, which is located 130 miles from Los Angeles, California, launched a rocket at 4:12 in the afternoon, PDT, on April 3, 2012. Originally, this rocket was planned to be launched on March 29, 2012. It was delayed because engineers needed to fix an issue with the upper stage engine of the rocket.

The rocket is a Delta IV. It was launched on a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. This is the agency that monitors the United States’ network of spy satellites. It is known that the rocket was carrying a secret payload. The details of that mission are classified, but it has been said that the mission “will help various government agencies improve national security by monitoring other parts of the world”.

My husband and I live in California, but we were too far away from Vandenburg Air Force Base for it to be convenient for us to drive over there in the hopes of being able to watch the rocket when it was launched. However, we were able to walk outside our home, look up into the sky, and see the long, white, vapor trail that the rocket left behind.

We were just coming back from picking up some take-out for a late lunch when we noticed the mark that the rocket temporarily left in the sky as it exited the planet. It isn’t something we get to see every day, and both my husband and I thought it was really cool that the vapor trail was visible from where we live. It is one thing to know that a rocket was launched. It is quite a different experience to actually see the evidence of the launch, floating in the sky, before one’s very eyes.

There is a really good video that was taken of this rocket when it was launched. It is a raw video replay that you can watch right now. Off it goes!

Image: Rocket Tail by BigStock


Fireball Seen in Skies Over New Zealand



Eyewitness reports have been pouring in about sightings of a meteor in the skies above New Zealand.  The fireball passed over large population areas like Wellington and Christchurch giving the opportunity for anyone with a camera handy to grab shots.  The pictures have been piling up at the WeatherWatch site for the kiwi nation.  One eyewitness reported seeing an “object the size of a helicopter on fire.”  Others across the island nation have submitted reports about seeing the object, which seems to have been visible across a large portion of the country.

The meteor was likely a lone incident as the earth is not currently passing through any showers right now, although the Lyrids is coming up in about three weeks.  The meteor probably burned up in earth’s atmosphere as there are no reports of an impact.  If more information comes in I will add an update to this post.  I have also sent a message to the “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait to see if he has additional insight.

Picture Credit: Channel 3 News via Web Pro News

 


Teen Sends Lego Space Shuttle Into Space



An eighteen year old named Raul Oaida, who is from Romania, is a big fan of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. When he learned that the program had ended, he decided to see if he could manage to launch a replica of the Space Shuttle, made out of Legos, into the upper atmosphere of Earth. Surprisingly, he managed to actually succeed at doing it!

Who doesn’t love Legos? I have several fond memories of building things out of Legos with my younger brothers. We managed to put together some creative and interesting things with the little colorful blocks, but nothing that compares to what Raul Oaida created.

The teen used LinkedIn to make contact. with Steve Sammartino, a venture capitalist from Melbourne, Australia. Raul Oaida was looking for an investor who could help him to finance his project.

The two eventually ended up talking on Skype, where Raul Oaida kept asking questions of Steve Sammartino. The result was that the venture capitalist became inspired by how earnest, and excited, the teenager was about this project. He agreed to manage the funding aspects that were necessary in order to make the project happen.

Raul Oaida put together a small model of a Space Shuttle that was made from Lego bricks that he glued together. The glue was to help the little plastic blocks to stay connected so that the model would survive the 124mph atmospheric winds it would be exposed to during its flight. The Lego Space Shuttle had a large weather balloon attached to it. There also was a styrofoam box that contained a camera and some tracking equipment attached to the model.

The launch of the Lego Space Shuttle happened on December 31, 2011. It took place in Germany, in part because it seems that Romania has laws that do not allow people to just go ahead and launch things into space whenever they want to. The Lego Space Shuttle ascended to 130,000 feet. An impressive video was taken during the launch, which can be viewed on YouTube. I highly recommend you check it out!

Image: Space Shuttle Flying Left on White Stock Photo by BigStock


NASA Delays Rockets – Releases Moon Videos



NASA has decided to delay the launch of the five unmanned rockets that it planned on shooting into the sky on March 14, 2012. The rockets were part of the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) project. The purpose of the project is to gather more information about the process that is responsible for the high-altitude jet stream that exists 60 to 65 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The reason for the delay is because there was an internal radio frequency interference problem with one of the payloads on the rockets. NASA scientists are going to look into this problem, study the weather reports, and select another night for the launch of the rockets.

There is potential that the launch will happen at night on Friday, March 16, 2012. That would be the first night within the window of time that they can select for a new launch. The window stretches to April 3, 2012. It remains to be seen exactly when the “five rockets in five minutes” launch will actually happen. So, pay attention to news from NASA, and keep watching the skies.

In the meantime, you can check out two brand new videos of the moon that NASA released on March 14, 2012. The team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which is in Greenbelt, Maryland, released these two amazing videos of the moon now for a very interesting reason. It is because the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has now been in orbit for 1,000 days.

The LRO is a robotic scout that is orbiting the moon on a low 50 km polar mapping orbit. The purpose of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is to create a detailed, 3D map of the moon, to identify areas on the moon that would be a safe landing site, and to locate potential resources that are located on the moon. It also is going to gather information about the radiation that is present in the environment.

One of the videos is called Evolution of the Moon. The moon did not always look like it does today. The video shows you when the craters and other features were formed, and what happened that caused their creation. Obviously, this is done with animation, but that doesn’t detract from how awesome the video is.

The other video is called A Narrated Tour of the Moon. This video shows you incredibly clear, sharp, images of the moon, as a narrator describes the significance of what you are seeing. It includes views of Orientale Basin, Shackleton crater, South Pole – Aitken Basin, Tycho crater, Aristarchus Plateau, Mare Serenitatis, Compton-Belkovic volcano, Jackson crater and Tsiolkovsky crater. The video footage was filmed by the LRO.

Image: The Moon by BigStock.