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Archive for December, 2011

What was that piece of space junk that fell in Namibia?

December 23, 2011 1 comment

This 30 kg titanium pressurant tank, which survived the reentry of a Delta 2 rocket second stage, looks very similar to the metal sphere found in Namibia.

 



The coolest thing about working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is that you are surrounded by people you can ask questions like, “Hey, what was that metal ball sphere that fell out of outer space into a lake in Namibia?

One such individual is my friend Scott Hull, who is an orbital debris engineer at Goddard. He helps scientists and engineers comply with NASA regulations regarding space debris, including how to minimize the volume of it in orbit and reducing the chance to nil that a chunk of it will bonk somebody on the head someday. (That’s never happened, by the way…)

I asked Scott about that mysterious sphere in Namibia, reported on CNN.com and Space.com, among other places. He things the object in question looks like a propulsion tank — a tank that held fuel for rocket thrusters on a spacecraft.  He says it’s “probably titanium, since it has no discernible rust or burn-through spots. Tanks like this survive reentry relatively frequently.”

Indeed, that is why NASA engineers have begun to develop “demisable” propellant tanks for satellites and spacecraft, which burn up on reentry. Think of demisable rocket fuel tanks as like “biodegradable” plastic of aerospace engineering. When you are done with them, they despose of themselves.

“If this technology can be adapted for other uses, we may see fewer of these tanks surviving reentry,” Hull emailed me. “Of course, the tanks that are already on-orbit will still be falling for decades, so there will always be some.”

He pointed out that the tank found in Namibia looks very similar to the third example on this NASA web site.

Why didn’t the tank burn up? One possibility is that it’s wrapped with graphite epoxy or glass fibers. That provides some resistance to heat, presumably.

There you have it, straight from the Orbital Debris Engineer’s mouth. If you want to learn more about space debris and Scott’s work, see past coverage in Geeked On Goddard here, here, and here.
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Comet Lovejoy from the space station: spectacular!

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment




International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank captured spectacular imagery of Comet Lovejoy as seen from about 240 miles above the Earth’s horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Burbank described seeing the comet as “the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space,” in an interview with WDIV-TV in Detroit. MORE

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Christian Ready's video explainer about exoplanet Kepler 22b

December 22, 2011 3 comments

My friend Christian Ready, a web developer who used to work on the Hubble Space Telescope mission, has made a clear, well-paced, and visually captivating explainer video about “the discovery of Kepler 22b, a planet orbiting a star not unlike our own sun at a distance where life can thrive.” (This is the finding that was announced BEFORE the more recent announcement of Kepler 20e and 20f, Earth-sized planets that are not in the so-called “habitable zone” of their star.) You can see other videos by Christian on his YouTube channel.



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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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New Comet Lovejoy video from SDO/SOHO Picture of the Week

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment



Steele Hill, NASA Goddard’s herald of all things heliospheric, just posted his latest  release of imagery, courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Steele creates these images and videos for display in science museums and other public places. The video and image in this post combined solar imagery from both SDO and SOHO of the rounding of the sun by Comet Lovejoy last week. Steele’s  descriptive text (below) explains the details.

And by the way, Steele and his colleagues have just surpassed their 500th solar “Picture of the Week.” It took 10 years. Congratulations!

“Comet Lovejoy came into view on Dec. 14 as a bright, white streak, skimmed across the Sun’s edge about 140,000 km above the surface late Dec. 15 and early Dec. 16, 2011, furiously brightening and vaporizing as it approached the Sun. It exited our field of view on Dec. 18. It was the brightest sun-grazing comet that SOHO had ever seen, with a nucleus about twice as wide as a football field. It unexpectedly survived the pass and cruised out from behind the Sun some hours later. Comets are ancient balls of dust and ice.

“In this still and movie, we combine views from SOHO’s two different coronagraphs (which block out the Sun) with solar Dynamics Observatory’s view of the Sun itself.  Note how the tail of the comet always turns away from the Sun due to the forces of the solar wind.”






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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Earth Science Picture of the Day: December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In July 2010, Geeked on Goddard marked the 10th anniversary of the Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD), a social media site founded at Goddard Space Flight Center.

EPOD is still going strong. Here is today’s Earth Science Picture of the Day, a beautiful multiple-image composite of the moon rising above the Parthenon in Athens.

Photographer: Elias Chasiotis; Mona Sorayaei
Summary Author: Elias Chasiotis; Mona Sorayaei

The image sequence above shows the partially eclipsed Moon rising over the Parthenon in Athens, Greece on December 10, 2011. Philopappou Hill, the hill opposite to the Acropolis, offered an interesting perspective to capture this lunar eclipse. Totality was noted in Australia and most of Asia as well as portions of western North America. Totality was not visible in Greece, where the full Moon rose after the Earth’s shadow had already covered the lunar disk. Nevertheless, the partial phase of the eclipse was quite attention getting. This was the last total lunar eclipse until April 2014.






About EPOD
The Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) was started at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2000 by scientist James Foster of Goddard’s Hydrological Sciences Laboratory and is a collaboration with Universities Space Research Association (USRA). USRA’s Stacy Bowles handles the technical aspects of the site with help from Erin Carver. Stu Witmer does the editing and runs the EPOD Facebook page.

Since its launch in September 2000, the Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) website has provided a forum for professional photographers, educators, scientists, students and the general public to share images that highlight Earth Science processes and phenomena. To date, there are well over 3000 user-submitted images and educational summaries representing the full spectrum of Earth Science.

Each year EPOD receives more than twice as many submissions as can be published. Submissions are reviewed for scientific accuracy, topic relevance, and aesthetic appeal before publication. Further, EPOD receives more 2 million visits (worldwide) resulting in over 4 million page views each year. Web analytics also reveal that in addition to a loyal U.S. and Canadian audience, EPOD reaches viewers in 205 other countries and territories.

Visit the EPOD website if you would like to contribute your Earth photography to the project.
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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NASA Goddard's Marc Kuchner talks about alien planets on public TV

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

You may have heard the big exoplanet news today:

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun.

In the general spirit of the day, here is some more planet talk — from NASA astrophysicist Marc Kuchner, who recently appeared on Maryland Public Television to discuss the latest research on planets around other stars.




OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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The Carbon Crisis in 90 Seconds: Goddard Earth scientist Peter Griffith explains the difference between a banana and a lump of coal

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

still image of banana and lump of coal from peter griffith video
In the run up to last week’s “Best of Goddard” film festival, I came to know Peter Griffith. It turned out we both had made science-related videos in 2011, but missed the deadline to submit them to the Best of Goddard screening. (Mine was a Hubble music video.) Better luck next year! You can see “Best of” videos here, here, here, and here.

Griffith’s day job is managing the NASA Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems research office. But he’s also been active in an interagency program called Earth to Sky, helping to teach national park public education “interpreters” about carbon and climate change so they can incorporate that knowledge into their talks and tours.

Thus was born the video below, which explains the difference between a banana and a lump of coal with respect to Earth’s climate. I won’t get into the details here; the film speaks for itself. It’s a clever and highly effective way to explain a scientific concept that could have easily become deadly dull in the wrong hands.





Griffith made The Carbon Crisis in 90 seconds in collaboration with Eric Mortensen, a graduate student at the Maryland Institute College of Art who was a 2011 summer intern at Goddard. It was one of the 10 videos selected for the American Geophysical Union “S Factor” Science Video Workshop, held in San Francisco on December 6th, 2011. See some of the videos here.

Three Hollywood filmmakers critiqued Griffith’s video and, he says, they liked it. It was one of three that got the nod from one of the filmmaker’s pre-teenage daughter. “I was kind of expecting a little bit harsher treatment,” Griffith says.

The animated version of the film is a more artistically evolved version of what Griffith calls his “talking head version,” with him on camera, well, talking a lot. That segment was originally produced for use on National Park Service Web Rangers site for kids aged 8-12 to earn merit badges by learning some Earth science.

Griffith has plans to obtain a summer intern in 2012 to make another film about carbon and climate (concept as-yet-undetermined). Geeked On Goddard has only one bit of advice: Stick with the banana.


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Comet Lovejoy waggles its tail on the way around the sun

December 16, 2011 2 comments

Lovejoy_entry

Steele Hill of the Solar Dynamics Observatory media team just released a video showing Comet Lovejoy beginning its closest approach (perihelion) with the sun last night. Here is Steele’s video and description:



Comet Lovejoy skimmed across the Sun’s edge about 140,000 km above the surface late Dec. 15, 2011, furiously vaporizing as it approaches the stellar surface. The video clip from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory covers about 30 minutes. It is the brightest sungrazing comet that SOHO and SDO have ever seen, with a nucleus about twice as wide as a football field. The comet’s tail waggled at interacted with the Sun’s atmosphere. It unexpectedly survived the pass and cruised out from behind the Sun roughly hours later. Comets are ancient balls of dust and ice.

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Video of Comet Lovejoy looping around the sun intact

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Defying expectations, sungrazing Comet Lovejoy looped around the sun after its closest pass and made it out alive. I emailed Karl Battams at the Sungrazing Comets website this morning for an update on Lovejoy. “It’s still ridiculously bright, if somewhat tailless!” he wrote. “It will be back in several hundred years.”

Even more amazing, perhaps, is that I was able to boot up a small program developed at Goddard Space Flight Center and create this video over morning coffee. (The clip was looped using Final Cut Pro Studio, BTW.)

I used JHelioviewer, a NASA/European Space Agency collaboration, but you can also use the Web-based app, Helioviewer.org. The Helioviewer Project team at Goddard consists of solar scientist Jack Ireland and computer programmer Keith Hughitt, both based in the Heliophysics Science Division. Summer interns have also contributed at various times.

I think Jack, Keith, and all the other members of the team deserve enormous credit for putting this amazing tool in the hands of the public to explore the sun and sungrazing comets. I shudder to think how difficult it would have been, and how time-consuming, to obtain videos like this before the Helioviewer Project. Because of these people, we can bring you minute-by-minute updates, and we can all enjoy the drama of a live astronomical event unfolding literally on our laptop screens.



[Video updated 10:30 am (EST) Dec. 16, 2011]


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Categories: Comets

Lovejoy survived!

December 15, 2011 2 comments

This just in from the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory website: Comet Lovejoy survived its close pass of the sun and has reemerged on the other side of the star. Here is a short clip of the fortunate comet’s re-apparition:

OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Categories: Comets