Amateur Space Weekly - October 17

Undergrads bio-printing science balloons for Mars, great ball of fire over Mississippi, citizen scientists search for gravitational waves, and more. Every week I recap headlines from around the world about the growing number of people who take space exploration in their own hands.

  • Featured News: Amateurs helping Nasa study asteroids, teachers doing science with Nasa, citizen scientists measuring light pollution, and more.
  • Space Makers: Mining Martian water, growing space hardware, India’s student CubeSat lives, and Indian undergrad makers compete globally.
  • Amateurs in Space: Teens video camera experiment streams video from space
  • Exploring Earth: App developers get free access to Nasa images of Earth
  • Exploring the Solar System: Mississippi fireball generates 600 reports, Australian amateur tracks meteorite impact site
  • Exploring Deep Space: Citizen scientists help search for gravitational wave, new science from Galaxy Zoo.
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: West Texas becomes a hub for space technology and tourism

Featured News

Space Makers

Nasa-sponsored Rasc-Al launched a new undergraduate engineering contest, the Mars Ice Challenge. Future human and robotic missions to Mars will manufacture the rocket fuel needed to leave the red planet. Making rocket fuel requires processing water extracted from beneath the surface. The Mars Ice Challenge tasks student teams with designing ways to drill through Martian regolith and extract water from simulated permafrost. 

A team of undergraduate from Stanford University and Brown University are developing biologically synthesized enhancements for space exploration. The only way to overcome economic and physical limitations of the rocket equation is to build as much as possible at the destination using in-situ resources. This year the team is designing a biologically-synthesized high-altitude balloon that could be used on Mars.

Amateur radio operators received the first signals from India’s student-built CubeSat, the Amateur Radio Relay League reports. Students at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay built Pratham as a pilot for future space projects.

Indian undergraduate students compete in worldwide engineering contests, the Hindustan Times reports. Students at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay built a Mars rover to compete in the Mars Society’s University Rover Challenge. Students at other have built underwater autonomous vehicles, solar-powered houses, and water purification systems.

American amateur satellite makers at Amsat may place an amateur radio transponder on a US geosynchronous satellite, Southgate Amateur Radio News reports.

Amateurs in Space

High schools United with Nasa for the Creation of Hardware (Hunch) lets high schools make parts for the Space Station program. Students learn how to use modern manufacturing tools from computer aided design to 3D printing. While most of the parts get used in training here on Earth, students from more advanced programs get to see their work go into space. Motherboard writes about the video cameras students are testing in orbit. Nasa wanted to see how well high-end consumer camcorders handled the extreme environment of Outer Space. Students helped design components of the High Definition Earth Viewing experiment and take part in the project’s operations.

Exploring Earth

A Nasa API gives coders access to whole-Earth images. The data comes from Nasa’s Dscovr mission, an Earth-observing satellite orbiting at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange position. This is the satellite that catches images of the Moon passing in front of the Earth. App developers can integrate these images freely, even for commercial use.

Exploring the Solar System

The American Meteor Society generated this heat map from hundreds of crowdsourced reports when a meteor fireball streaked across the morning skies of the southern United States. Credit: American Meteor Society

A fireball appeared over the American South, ALdotcom reports. The American Meteor Society received more than 600 reports from residents of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. It has posted several dashcam videos of the fireball (watch the left side of the screen).

An Australian amateur astronomer used night time video from security cameras to triangulate a meteor’s path, Chinchilla News reports. The bright fireball passed over Queensland last month. The amateur analysis points to a local island as a possible site for meteorites. 

Exploring Deep Space

Gravity Spy asks citizen scientists to classify "glitches" like this Blip in data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. Credit: Zooniverse/Gravity Spy

Gravity Spy is a new crowdsourcing project lets you help the search for gravitational waves. Last year the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (Ligo) detected the disturbance in space-time generated by orbiting black holes. Gravitational waves are so faint that scientists must devote a lot of effort to scrub noise from their data. Everything from distant earthquakes to trucks driving on local freeways can introduce false signals into the data. Gravity Spy asks citizen scientists to identify “glitches” in the Ligo data. Symmetry Magazine, a publication of the US Department of Energy, wrote about one of Gravity Spy’s beta testers whose contributions are now part of Ligo’s workflows.

The Astronomical League honored teens for their work in astronomy, Sky & Telescope reports. Teens who met on a summer science camp were honored for their research on OH radicals in the interstellar medium. A New Hampshire high school student was honored for her work studying magnetar “glitches”. The outreach work of a recent high school graduate from Illinois earned her an award for Popular Astronomy. Other awards went out to students for their science writing and astrophotography.

The Galaxy Zoo project is publishing two new science papers. The first is the official data release from Galaxy Zoo: Hubble (arXiv: 1610.03068). More than 80,000 volunteers helped classify more than 145,000 galaxies. A blog post explains why the project which began in 2010 took so long to complete. The second paper is from the Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS project (arXiv: 1610.03070). More than 41,000 citizen scientists classified more than 52,000 objects. A blog post explains how the classifications were used to identify disk galaxies without spiral arms.

Amateur astronomers in South Africa and New Zealand contributed to an exoplanet discovery (arXiv: 1609.06720). Astronomy Magazine reported that the research is the first time gravitational lensing, the way a star’s gravity bends light, led to an exoplanet discovery. The amateurs are part of an international collaboration of amateur and professional astronomers who observe small-scale lensing events.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

The western tip of Texas has a small but growing aerospace community, writes El Paso Inc. Blue Origin tests its reusable suborbital rocket a few miles to the east. Spaceport America in neighboring New Mexico hosts sounding rocket launches and may be the center of suborbital tourism (if Virgin Galactic ever opens for business). At the heart of it all, the University of Texas El Paso is a center of engineering research and a pipeline of fresh talent.