Astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh
captured an image of the US Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The reusable, uncrewed space vehicle, designated OTV-5, is on a secret testing mission since its launch in September 2017. From Vandebergh's post at Spaceweather.com
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I have been hunting for the OTV-5 since months and saw it visually in May. When I tried to observe it again mid June, it didnt meet the predicted time and path. It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers-network, it was rapidly found in orbit again and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2. This most recent pass was almost overhead. The OTV is a small version of the classic Space Shuttle, it is really a small object, even at only 300 km altitude, so dont expect the detail level of ground based images of the real Space Shuttle. Considering this, the attached images succeeded beyond expectations. We can recognize a bit of the nose, Payload Bay and tail of this mini-shuttle with even a sign of some smaller detail.
Images were taken through a 10 inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera. Tracking was fully manually through a 6x30 finderscope.
Next year, NASA's Artemis 1 mission will carry a baker's dozen of small cubesats to space, including one that's home to a colony of yeast cells. That cubesat, BioSentinel, will orbit the sun to help scientists understand how space radiation affects living organisms outside of Low Earth Orbit. NASA hasn't purposely sent any lifeforms beyond Low Earth Orbit since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972. (Purposely is a key word because of course every probe launched carries some accidental microbial contamination.) From Space.com:
But Apollo 17 lasted less than two weeks. BioSentinel will gather data for nine to 12 months, opening a window on the long-term effects of deep-space radiation on DNA and DNA repair...
The 30-lb. (14 kilograms) satellite will carry two different varieties of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae: the normal "wild type," which is quite radiation-resistant, and a mutant type, which is much more sensitive because it can't repair its DNA nearly as well.
"Importantly, yeast's DNA damage-repair process is highly similar to that of humans, making it a robust translational model," NASA officials wrote on the BioSentinel fact sheet. "BioSentinel's results will be critical for interpreting the effects of space radiation exposure, reducing the risk associated with long-term human exploration and validating existing models of the effects of space radiation on living organisms."
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BioSentinel’s microfluidics card (seen above), designed at NASA Ames, will be used to study the impact of interplanetary space radiation on yeast. Once in orbit, the growth and metabolic activity of the yeast will be measured using a 3-color LED detection system and a metabolic indicator dye.
There are an estimated 129 million tiny bits of debris floating in orbit that, due to their high velocity, can cause catastrophic damage to space vehicles and satellites. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers are developing a compact orbiting device to semi-autonomously seek out the debris and catch it in a net. Designed as a system of CubeSats, each just 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, the trash collector, called OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal), will collect the tiny pieces of junk until it's full and then deorbit itself to burn up in the atmosphere. From RPI:
One of (the three) CubeSat units (in each complete system) will house the “brains” of OSCaR including GPS, data storage, and communication, as well as the power and thermal management systems. Another will hold propellant and the system’s propulsion module to drive OSCaR forward. The third unit will contain four gun barrels, nets, and tethers to physically capture debris, one piece at a time. This capture module will also have optical, thermal, and RADAR imaging sensors to help OSCaR locate debris in the vastness of its surrounding space...
“There’s an informal agreement that’s been in place for a few years that people who put space objects up there should be practicing good citizenship,” (Rensselaer engineering professor Kurt) Anderson said. “We envision a day where we could send up an entire flock, or squadron, of OSCaRs to work jointly going after large collections of debris.”
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Students at Mackie Academy secondary school in Aberdeenshire, Scotland created a piece of high art on the playing field. While the act occurred last year, its documentation -- which was actually the real prank -- apparently lives on in Google Earth.
“I’m sure there is lots of penises drawn in lots of places around the school and many other schools across the country, but this really is impressive," said one former student.
(The Scottish Sun)
Of course, they weren't the first students to play this particular, er, long game. For example: "Suspected high school prank goes unnoticed by APS for years" Read the rest
On Sunday evening, SpaceX launched a satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Visual Burrito created this beautiful time-lapse, 4K video of the spectacle in the sky.
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David Yanofsky and Tim Fernholz created an interactive chart showing the weight, national origin and position of more than 1,300 active satellites orbiting the planet Earth. The data was sourced from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
It goes out in bands: there's a cloud in low-earth orbit bulked up with the International Sapce Station and surveillance satellites. Satellite phone networks such as Iridium and Globalstar form conspicuous rings about 800 and 1500 km up. 20km up are the navigation networks GPS and Glonass. 37km up is a mess, with so many geostationary satellites clustered together that they become a rainbow blur in the graphic. Read the rest
This strange object fell from the sky over Milwaukee, Wisconsin last week and smashed the roof of a van. (Image below). According to the van's owner, Michael Robinson, the large, heavy object "looked like a barbecue grill in the snow" but smelled of diesel. Police hauled the thing away and the FAA didn't respond to inquiries from a local TV station. From Mysterious Universe:
Fortunately, there are sites that track the re-entry paths of old satellites, rocket parts and space debris and it looks like Robinson’s space barbecue may have been a part from a Russian military “communications” satellite that was predicted to re-enter the atmosphere on December 19th on a path that would take it directly over – you guessed it – Mike Robinson’s van.
“What is that?!” Unidentified, unexplained large object damages man’s van on Milwaukee’s north side (Fox6Now)
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SpaceX successfully deployed two satellites on Wednesday, but the Falcon 9 rocket that carried them into orbit then crashed into its drone ship while touching down in the Atlantic Ocean. Read the rest
Google Maps and similar services are most useful, but who has the most recent space footage of your neighborhood? Check out mapbox, a Landsat viewer that tells you when the satellite image you're looking at was taken, and when a new snap is scheduled. The zoom level really isn't useful for anything at a life-lived level – with the exception of recent weather, disasters, etc – but all services should expose metadata like this. Read the rest
In the late 2020s, NASA plans to send a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa to determine if there's oceanic life beneath its crust. Before then, Draper Laboratory hopes that its novel sensor system of CubeSats, satellites smaller than a shoebox, and postage-stamp size sensors, called ChipSats, could be the basis of a complementary $10 million mission to inform the big 2020 effort, expected to cost $2 billion. Draper's idea is that CubeSats could be delivered to Europa's orbit to identify areas on the moon with the thinnest ice. As data comes in about what's below, the CubeSats would then dump hundreds of the tiny ChipSats onto the moon's surface. Those ChipSats would then identify the best location for the later NASA probe to penetrate the surface. (Insert requisite "2010: Odyssey Two" reference here.) From Draper Laboratory, developers of the system:
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Initial indications suggest that (ChipSats') small size and lack of moving parts may make them highly capable of surviving impact on a planetary surface without any dedicated protection system, (Draper researcher Brett) Streetman said. The low cost of ChipSats would enable scientists to use a large batch, reducing the consequences of losing some upon impact, he said.
Additionally, this capability could provide a quick-response solution for researchers who study events on Earth that are difficult to predict, and thus difficult to reach quickly with personnel and in-situ sensors, such as volcanic eruptions and algae blooms, said John West, who leads advanced concepts and technology development in Draper’s space systems group.
Google Maps is replacing a satellite image that shows the body of Kevin Barrera, a 14-year-old who was killed in 2009 in Richmond, California. The body is lying prone by train tracks. A police car and several people are nearby. The boy's father, Jose Barrera, apparently found out about the picture just a few days ago, commenting "When I see this image, that’s still like that happened yesterday." The police investigation remains open. Google says it will take eight days to swap out the satellite picture.
"Google has never accelerated the replacement of updated satellite imagery from our maps before, but given the circumstances we wanted to make an exception in this case," Google Maps VP Brian McClendon told the San Francisco Chronicle.
I don't care to reproduce the sad image here, but the San Francisco Chronicle did.
"Google to fix map image showing slain boy" (SF Chronicle) Read the rest
It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.
Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.
Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time. Read the rest
The images above — prepared by NASA hurricane researcher Owen Kelly — were taken on Sunday, before Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the United States' Northeast coast. They're made from radar data collected by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, and they show a feature of this storm that helps explain why it's caused much more destruction than you might expect from a Category 1 hurricane.
In the right-hand image, showing a close-up of the storm's eye, you can see a feature labeled "eyewall". Those are vertical cloud walls that surround the eye, and they're the spot with the strongest winds in the whole storm.
Placed in context, the TRMM-observed properties of Hurricane Sandy’s eyewall are evidence of remarkable vigor. Most hurricanes only have well-formed and compact eyewalls at category 3 strength or higher. Sandy was not only barely a category 1 hurricane, but Sandy was also experiencing strong wind shear, Sandy was going over ocean typically too cold to form hurricanes, and Sandy had been limping along as a marginal hurricane for several days.
That eyewall, says NASA and New Scientist, is the result of Sandy's Frankenstorm nature. Despite all the factors that should have made this storm weak, it represented the merging of several storm systems. Because of that, Sandy was stronger than a Category 1 storm normally is.
Read the full story on this at NASA and New Scientist
Via Michael Marshall
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Today is the final day for voting in the USGS "Earth as Art" image project. To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Landsat Program on July 23, 2012, the federal agency seeks your help in selecting the 5 coolest images from more than 120 scenes.
For 40 years Landsat satellites have been acquiring images of the land cover of the planet. The satellites have given us spectacular views of mountains, valleys, coastal areas, islands, volcanic fields, forests, and patterns on the landscape. By highlighting some of those features and creatively crafting the colors we have developed a series of "Earth as Art" perspectives that reveal the artistic side of Landsat. The Top 5 "Earth as Art" images will be announced on July 23 in Washington, D.C., at a special event commemorating the launch of the first Landsat satellite.
Vote here, by end of day today.
Image above, from the Landsat collection: Akpatok Island lies in Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Accessible only by air, Akpatok Island rises out of the water as sheer cliffs that soar 500 to 800 feet (150 to 243m) above the sea surface. The island is an important sanctuary for cliff-nesting seabirds. Numerous ice floes around the island attract walrus and whales, making Akpatok a traditional hunting ground for native Inuit people.
(Thanks, Miles O'Brien!) Read the rest
How? It's surprisingly simple. Turns out, demand for trees in neighborhoods behaves a lot like a luxury item, as opposed to a basic necessity.
Tim De Chant at The Per Square Mile blog wrote about research on this a couple of weeks ago. Then, he went out and found examples, using images from Google Earth. Read the rest
You're familiar with contrails, the tracks left by airplanes as they move across the sky. Those are made when hot water vapor from the exhaust of jet engines hits cold, high-altitude air and condenses into ice.
Under the right conditions, big ships can leave a very similar trail, but it's caused by a slightly different mechanism. Incomplete combustion of fossil fuels means little particles of dust—aerosols—come out in the exhaust. Water molecules are attracted to these aerosols. As water builds up around a piece of dust, you get a cloud. Yes, it's basically cloud-seeding.
This photo of oceanic "contrails" over the Pacific is one of NASA's Images of the Day today, but it's not the first time they've featured this kind of photo. This is a cool phenomenon and they've posted photos of it in 2002, 2005, and 2009.
Thanks Philip Bump! Read the rest
From satellites, to probes, to capsules full of people—humans have launched more than 7000 objects into space. In a nifty infographic at Technology Review, Tommy McCall and Mike Orcutt illustrate reams of data, collected from hundreds of sources, to show how the character of launches has changed over time in different countries.
One of the first things you'll notice when you look at the graphic: The Soviet Union launched far more objects into space than anybody else. Why? According to Orcutt, it's partly because Soviet satellites were less robust. The U.S. didn't have to launch as many because we got more mileage out of the ones we did launch.
Via David Brin Read the rest