Amateur Space Weekly - August 2

Near space balloon flights into the stratosphere, crowdfunding student research in orbit, crowdsourcing earthquake measurements, and discovering exoplanets are among the ways amateurs explored space last week.

Space Makers

The Global Space Balloon Challenge enlisted hundreds of teams around the world to send balloon projects into the stratosphere. The GSBC announced winners in ten categories. The Museum of the Coastal Bend helped an elementary school to design stratospheric science experiments, earning the museum a Best Educational Initiative award. Random Race won the Longest Ground Track award for its 250 kilometer international flight. The Russian organization's balloon flew from Abkhazia over the Caucuses Mountains to land 2 in Russia’s Baksan river valley. High school students in Georgia formed an after school program, the Lovett Makers Club, to do high altitude science. They plan to launch a mission during September’s lunar eclipse to catch pictures of the celestial event. In the meantime, watch their Best Video award winning documentary:

Another Global Space Balloon Challenge team, the Albert Cassens Elementary School, may have set a new world record for the highest paper airplane flight, the Intelligencer reports. The balloon rose 107,811 feet where it released the airplane. The Guinness Book of World Records is reviewing the flight data to confirm that the 5th graders beat the previous record by 10,000 feet.

Britain’s Amateur satellite makers may have a better chance of seeing their projects reach space, reports Southgate Amateur Radio News. UK regulators are changing rules that require up to £65,000 in insurance fees.

Amateurs in Zero-G

DreamUp is sponsoring a German school’s plant growth experiment. Professional research conducted in space has focused on seedlings’ ability to grow in microgravity. But commercial farming often uses cuttings to ensure consistency rather than growing plants from seeds. The teens launched a campaign on the ScienceStarter crowdfunding site with hopes of raising the money they need to get their experiment to the International Space Station. So far they have raised €12,590 towards their €50,000 goal.

Exploring Earth

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Alaska last week, KTUU reports. Almost 1,100 people submitted reports to the United States Geological Survey through its Did You Feel It crowdsourcing program. Did You Feel It gives seismologists a map of earthquake intensities much earlier than their network of seismic sensors. Within the first ten minutes hundreds of reports flooded into the USGS website.

Remote sensing satellites aren’t for spies any more - they can spot rogue fishing trawlers that use forced labor - modern-day slavery. Journalists with the AP used satellite data to track one slave fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. SkyTruth, a non-profit that uses space data to track environmental issues, helped track the boat using search and rescue satellite data. Remote sensing company DigitalGlobe tasked its reconnaissance satellites to capture an image of the fishing boat.

An ABC affiliate in Indiana used Cocorahs data to show how this year’s record rainfall is affecting communities along the border between Indiana and Michigan. Cocorahs is a network of amateur weather-watchers who collect precipitation measurements that professional meteorologists use to make better forecasts. While official weather stations are often hundreds of miles apart, weather happens on much smaller scales. The Cocorahs volunteers fill in the gaps. Meteorologists use the data to better predict rainfall while emergency planners depend on the data to predict flooding. ABC57 used the data to give communities a more accurate picture of their local weather.

Exploring the Solar System

An 18 year old amateur astronomer in Poland won the Edgar Wilson Award for his discovery of the comet P/2014 C1 (TOTAS), reports Kosmonauta. Rafał Reszelewski is a member of the Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey, a collaboration of European amateurs who help the European Space Agency search for near-Earth asteroids.

Exploring Deep Space

Ground-based observations made by a team of amateur and professional astronomers in 2005 led to confirmation of an exoplanet discovery. Credit: Nasa/Esa/A Fields (STScI) via Keck Observatory

Ground-based observations made by a team of amateur and professional astronomers in 2005 led to confirmation of an exoplanet discovery. Credit: Nasa/Esa/A Fields (STScI) via Keck Observatory

Professional astronomers discovered a planet orbiting a distant star with help from amateur astronomers. The research project uses gravitational lensing, the warping of space-time by a star’s gravity, to measure light from an even more distant star. A network of amateur astronomers in the Microlensing Follow-Up Network measured periodic dips in the starlight, indicating that an exoplanet could exists. The pros followed up with ground and space-based observations that confirmed the Neptune-sized exoplanet orbits its star a little closer than Jupiter orbits the Sun.