The Week in Amateur Space - December 15

If you follow me on Twitter, you get my tweets as soon as I get any amateur space news. Every week I summarize the reports to give you a single snapshot - in over 140 characters - of how many different ways people like you explore space. 

Making Amateur Space Exploration Possible

The American Physics Society’s outreach site, Physics Central, interviewed players in 3 citizen science projects: the Stardust@Home analysis of interstellar dust, the Planet Hunters exploration of the Martian surface, and the Higgs Hunters project to identify particles from the Large Hadron collider.

Exploring Deep Space

NGC1300 is a barred spiral galaxy. A galaxy's bars may channel gas, dust, and star systems into the galaxy's central black hole, sending massive jets of ionized matter from the black hole's core. (Click on the image to see it full size or follow the link for more information about NGC1300) Credit: Nasa, Esa, and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/Aura

Melanie Galloway spoke about how citizen science lets her explore the giant black holes at the center of galaxies. A doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota, Galloway’s research depends on the crowdsourced astronomy project GalaxyZoo. Where once researcher like Galloway had to manually build their own lists of galaxies - a laborious process - the 900,000 galaxy catalog created by the GalaxyZoo volunteers lets Galloway focus on analysis.

British teen Cameron Watson won the Sir Patrick Moore Prize for his contributions to the amateur astronomy community as well as his astrophotography. The British Astronomical Association created the prize to honor those whose work reflects the many contributions Moore made to British astronomy. 

Two stories highlighted the benefits of dark skies. The Boston Globe wrote about southeastern Massachusetts residents fighting to keep their skies dark. Led by Kelly Beatty - a Sky & Telescope editor, astronomy teacher, and director of the International Dark Skies Association - the volunteers convince local governments town by town that dark sky policies produce long term savings through lower electricity and maintenance costs. Meanwhile the Fayetteville Observer wrote about a North Carolina county mourning the loss of the region’s largest star party. For more than a decade hundreds of people descended on a dark campground in Moore County for a week-long celebration of the night sky that boosted local businesses. A number of factors including the lack of support from local governments led the star party’s organizers to cancel the event.

Exploring the Solar System

The Mars Society’s analog research campaigns are in full gear in the deserts of Utah. The crewmembers consist of candidates for the society’s Mars Arctic 365 project that will send 6 people to an analog research station above the Arctic Circle for a full year. One of those candidates is US Army First Lieutenant Heidi Beemer a chemical weapon decontamination platoon leader. Beemer told Department of Defense News that the Utah desert “is a near-perfect analog site for Mars.”  Crewmember and Nasa engineer Victor Luo told Utah's KSL that “if we can't survive in the Arctic, then we don't stand a chance on Mars.”

This image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera shows Echus Chasma which may have been the water source that formed the Kasei Valles region of Mars. Thoth Technology will let you vote to send its mini rover to explore Kasei Valles. (Click on the image to see it full size or follow the link for more information about the image) Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A Canadian company is crowdfunding a $1 million Martian rover. Thoth Technology is a Canadian space technology company that restored Canada’s largest radio telescope, Algonquin Radio Observatory. It’s Northern Lights project intends to send a miniature rover to the Martian surface in 2018. The 75-kilogram lander will hitch a ride with a larger Mars mission (to be determined), plunge through the thin martian atmosphere, and use airbags to cushion the final impact. The 6-kilogram rover will carry a camera and spectrometer to explore the mineral content of the landing site. Rather than rely on Nasa’s Deep Space Network, all of the communications will pass through the Algonquin Radio Observatory’s 46-meter dish. Besides mission swag, backers get to vote for the mission’s landing site.

Exploring Microgravity

Jeff Goldstein describes watching almost two dozen student experiments go up in flames when the Antares launch vehicle exploded. Thanks to support from Nasa and Nanoracks - as well as fast work from the students - all of the research will ride into orbit on the next SpaceX resupply mission in mid December.

Exploring the Planet Earth

British geologist John Stevenson wrote about the Seismology in Schools project for the British Geological Society’s website. The project conducted teacher training workshops in Switzerland earlier this year and Stevenson attended to give teachers his perspectives as a professional scientist.  Seismology gives schools “a truly cross-curricular activity that investigates a real world hazard, using real world data.,” Stevenson wrote.

The Cocorahs crowdsourced weather project is making a full-court press to engage Canadian weather watchers. Its network of volunteers report precipitation data at higher resolution than professional meteorologists can obtain from their weather stations. Cocorahs data plays a critical role in preparing for local responses to storms and floods. Training sessions have begun in Saskatchewan to expand the Canadian branch beyond its current 500 members.

Making Spaceships

Undergraduates in the Vanderbilt University aerospace club have joined Nasa’s Student Launch program. The students will launch a scientific payload on a high performance rocket they design themselves. The payload will simulate a Mars sample recovery vehicle to help Nasa prepare for its next generation of Mars missions.

When Iowa teen Bryan Friestad decided to build rockets for his science project, he turned to Kickstarter to raise the $815 he needed for parts and materials. Friestad’s teacher Sue Cline told the Des Moine Register, “I have never had a student work so hard on funding their project.” Although it shouldn’t be too surprising - it counts as 80% of Friestad’s final grade.

A British team works with kids in order to break the world land speed record. Reaching speeds over 1600 kilometers per hour − faster than the speed of sound - would require borrowing two jet engines from the Royal Air Force’s Typhoon fighters. But the Ministry of Defense’s blessings came with one string attached: use the project to inspire more British schoolchildren to pursue careers in science-related fields. This Wired article explains how almost all schools in Britain are involved the Bloodhound Education Project

Some good news for Kicksat. The crowdfunded project’s first attempt to deploy its Sprites may have died a fiery death, but now XCor Aerospace wants suborbital researchers to use the satellite-on-a-chip for solar and atmospheric research. More detail will come from this week’s American Geophysical Union conference. In the meantime, the Cornell grad students are building KickSat-2 for another attempt in 2015.