The Week in Amateur Space - January 5

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. 

Exploring Deep Space

Singaporean amateur astronomer Justin Ng captured an image of a supernova. Only days after professional observatories detected the stellar explosion, Ng captured the 2-hour photo of NGCC4666, the Superwind Galaxy. Type 1a supernovae happen when a white dwarf star pulls so much gas from a close-orbiting companion star that it triggers an uncontrolled fusion reaction. Ng is an award-winning wedding and landscape photographer whose space photos have been featured in astronomy magazines and websites around the world. (h/t Earth Sky)

A Canadian amateur astronomer donated telescopes to local schools, reported the Prince Edwards Island Guardian. Keith Cooper a longtime amateur astronomer and member of Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown has donated $500 Dobsonian telescopes to 7 local schools to enhance their science programs and support local outreach. Cooper arranged for the University of Prince Edward Island to administer the program and build a website where the schools can share observations.

Exploring the Solar System

People spotted a lot of fireballs in the night sky last week. It may be that the Quadrantid meteor shower has more fireball-generating meteoroids in it this year - or it may be that more people are out looking at the night sky during the holidays.

The Astronomical Society of the Caribbean captured video of a fireball over Puerto Rico in its all-sky cameras (in Spanish, but google translate works well, or read this Earth Sky report in English). Since the spectacular fireball lasted for 44-seconds, the pro-am society’s professional contacts believe it was created by a piece of space debris - possibly a booster stage from recent Russian or American rocket launches.

One of the best reports on the December 29 fireball over the northeastern US and eastern Canada came from New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun which interviewed local professional and amateur astronomers about the nature of meteors and why public reports are so important. Over 1,500 people reported the fireball to the American Meteor Society.  But most of the news was generated by this video taken by a New Jersey man's dashcam.

Although it generated few media reports, over 80 people in Southern California reported the December 30 fireball. Unfortunately, reported the OC Register, people also called 911. The LA Fire Departments, response? Don't call us unless it lands.

The Planetary Society posted wrote about amateur asteroid-hunter Bob Stephens’ work collecting asteroid light curves. Stephens and two other amateur astronomers created the Center for Solar System Studies - a non-profit observatory in the Southern California Desert - to conduct astronomical research on their own and in collaboration with professional astronomers. The Planetary Society awarded the Center with a Shoemaker Near-Earth Objects Grant in 2013 to support their asteroid research. Thanks to that grant, the Center accounted for 82% of the light curves published worldwide.

Missouri amateur Rick Owens explains how his jewelry business his work in astrophotography and asteroid research in an interview with the Sedalia Democrat. Now retired after a 20-year career in the Navy, Owen sells his astronomy-themed jewelry to fund his asteroid research. He contributes his asteroid observations to the Minor Planet Center, the professional archive that scientists use to map asteroid orbits.

Jupiter is at a point in its orbit where the line-of-sight from Earth intersects with the orbital plane of Jupiter’s moons, prompting many articles on astronomy sites.  Astronomy Now explains how to capture the moons' shadows crossing Jupiter. As an example of what's possible, Universe Today shared an amateur astronomer’s timelapse of Io and its shadow passing over Jupiter.

Mars One Monday

A weekly news round-up about the project to send people on a one-way journey to Mars

Of the various university projects competing for a spot on Mars One’s 2018 lander mission, the British lettuce greenhouse, American urine-to-water, and German air-producing bacteria projects got the most coverage last week. The only candidate news came from Montenegran candidate Miloš Vujković who told Vijesti Online that he probably wouldn’t get picked for the next round.

Exploring the Planet Earth

Nasa helps students use astronaut photos to study our planet. Nasa created the Expedition Earth and Beyond program to encourage students in grades 5-12 to study science and math. The students can search through 1.5 million images of the Earth taken by astronauts on the International Space Station to learn about geology, oceanography, and meteorology. They can even send astronauts requests to take pictures of specific places from orbit.

Students from Evergreen Middle School requested this image of Viedma Glacier for their investigation. Credit: NASA  

Students from Evergreen Middle School requested this image of Viedma Glacier for their investigation. Credit: NASA

Indian government uses remote sensing data to make Braille maps, reports The Hindu. Beyond physical maps of India, the National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organization also produces maps to help blind students understand trends in population, weather, and soil quality. “In the absence of Braille products, students have to depend on audio books and thus can’t get a grip on spellings,” Shampa Sengupta, director of the Shruty Disability Rights Centre told The Hindu. New all-digital procedures promises to make Natmo's braille maps more accessible to India's blind.

Amateur Microgravity Research

Middle and high school students in British Columbia and across America are about to send their experiments into space. Tuesday's launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station will be the students' second attempt after the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares launch vehicle last October. Their research into the effects of microgravity, part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, includes investigations into crystal growth, plant growth, and bacterial growth in the weightless environment on the space station. Originally scheduled for late December, SpaceX postponed the launch to conduct extra pre-launch tests. Nasa reports a 60% chance of good weather for Tuesday’s launch with better chances on Wednesday. Although not amateur related, this launch will be SpaceX’s first attempt at landing the Falcon 9 first stage on an ocean going barge.

Making Spaceships

An Australian man and his 12-year old son will fly a supersonic glider, reports the Australian Broadcasting Company. A high-altitude balloon will lift the remote-controlled glider 45 kilometers above the Australian outback. After its release, the aircraft will reach speeds of Mach 2 before gliding back to Earth. This test is the first phase in Project Thunderstruck, the pair’s attempt to create a spaceplane that can travel to deep space and back. (h/t Southgate Amateur Radio News)

Undergraduates are Kickstarting a suborbital rocket. Students in the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group plan to build a rocket that can carry 45-kilogram payloads 133 kilometers into space. The payloads won’t reach orbit - it’s a straight up-and-down flight - but that’s all many scientists need for their microgravity and astronomy research. They have already raised $90,000 from the university and outside sponsors, but need an extra $10,000 to get to their July launch date.  With only days to go, Burpg has already passed its $10,000 funding goal. (h/t Gixmag)

The IEEE Spectrum’s report on the Google Lunar X-Prize highlighted lunar lander projects with strong amateur connections. Undergraduates do much of the work for the Penn State Lunar Lions which has made them prime recruiting targets for the aerospace industry. Israel’s SpaceIL has a strong outreach program that has engaged over 60,000 students. The Google-sponsored contest hopes to spur private-sector investment in space exploration, but the challenges involved forced it to reset its 2015 deadline by another year.