Amateur Space Weekly - November 1

Gold medals in rocketry, exploring the Solar System from the western US, and the dark skies over Utah. Every week I recap headlines like these from around the world the feature the growing number of people taking space exploration in their own hands.

  • Featured News: Observing asteroids with Nasa, teachers conducting astrophysics research, citizen science and light pollution, plus more.
  • Space Makers: Bio major wins gold in world rocketry contest, Irish students prepare for CanSat competition.
  • Amateurs in Space: Sphero robot heads to space, Massachusetts school builds stuff for Nasa, and teams prepare for Zero Robotics contest.
  • Exploring the Solar System: US communities explore the Solar System, amateur astronomers needed to track Jupiter’s storms, making Nasa’s images of Jupiter your own, and grants to promote European planetary science.
  • Exploring Deep Space: Louisiana teen’s black hole research
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Utah’s dark sky parks and the rise of citizen astronomers.

Featured News

Space Makers

A Kalamazoo College biology major took top honors at the World Space Modeling Championships last month. Emma Kristal took up model rocketry in fifth grade and soon began winning National Association of Rocketry contests. A member of the US space modeling team since 2010, she traveled to Ukraine for this year’s competition where she won individual and team gold medals.

Ireland’s schools are getting a head start for this year’s student satellite-building competition, the West Cork Times reports. The European Space Agency conducts the European CanSat Competition to foster science and engineering education within its member states. Teams of secondary school students must build a model satellite that fits within a soda can. Each CanSat must survive a launch on a high-performance rocket and collect data during its descent. The CEIA, a business development association whose acronym doesn’t appear to stand for anything, promotes technology education in Cork and southern Ireland. It has sponsored Irish participation in the CanSat Competition and is recruiting schools for this year’s contest.

Amateurs in Space

Edge-of-Space will control Sphero's educational robot SPRK on the International Space Station to develop zero-g educational programs. Credit: Edge of Space

Several educational projects rode to the International Space Station on Orbital ATK's supply mission, NanoRacks announced. Sphero, creator of the Star Wars BB-8 droid, and education specialist Edge of Space sent a spherical robot to the space station where astronauts will help develop microgravity-based educational programs.

High schools United with Nasa for the Creation of Hardware (Hunch) is part of Nasa's efforts to foster America's modern manufacturing industry by bringing shop classes back to secondary schools. Medway Local wrote about a Massachusetts school whose students build hardware for Nasa. Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School is expanding its manufacturing resources to give kids the hands-on experience they need to work in modern factories. One of the students explained his work designing enclosures that would let astronauts transfer mice through the International Space Station.

Pembroke Local wrote about students in Massachusetts who hope to control robots on the space station. They have entered the Zero Robotics 2016 High School Tournament. Students across the United States, Russia, and European Space Agency member-states will write code to navigate robots through a virtual obstacle course on the space station. The best schools will form international teams that will see their code executed in space. 

Exploring the Solar System

This is my own take on JunoCam's images. A glitch kept Nasa from getting more pictures during Juno's last orbit, but more data should come back from Jupiter next month.

This is my own take on JunoCam's images. A glitch kept Nasa from getting more pictures during Juno's last orbit, but more data should come back from Jupiter next month.

Fr James Kurzynski, writing on the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s blog, explains how easy it is to process Nasa’s latest images from Jupiter. The public gets access to these images shortly after the data arrives from the Juno spacecraft. Anyone can download the data, process the image, and share their creations.

Communities across the western United States will observe a trans-Neptunian object for science. They are part of the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (Recon), a collaboration between planetary scientists and more than fifty small towns that span from the Canadian to the Mexican borders. Schools, libraries and amateur astronomers host telescopes and observe occultations - the shadows cast be distant objects that pass between the Earth and a star. [You can read more in my interview with Recon founders John Keller and Marc Buie]

Sky & Telescope reports that storms have broken out on Jupiter’s northern hemisphere. While professional astronomers have collected data from mountaintop observatories, tracking the storms requires help from amateur astronomers.

A new grant program will support European planetary science outreach. Euro-Planet fosters communication between planetary scientists across the European Union. The new program will award grants, up to 15,000 euros each, to programs and pilot projects that bring European planetary science to diverse audiences.

Deep Space

A Louisiana teen’s black hole research advanced him to the Siemens Compeitition finals, the Shreveport Times reports. Ankur Khanna studied how the accretion disks surrounding black holes reach such high temperatures. The only student from Lousiana to reach the finals, Khanna’s achievement has already earned him a $1000 scholarship.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Utah’s state park system hopes to earn dark sky certification for a quarter of its parks, the Deseret News reports. Preserving dark skies has environmental and health benefits, but also boosts the state’s economy by attracting a growing number of astronomy tourists. The International Dark-sky Association (IDA) has already certified two of Utah’s parks in addition to several national parks and national monuments in the state. The Deseret News interviewed IDA program manager John Barentine about Utah’s efforts.

In “The rise of citizen astronomers” the Christian Science Monitor looks at the role amateur astronomers play in professional research. From online crowdsourcing projects like Disk Detective to outreach programs like Nasa’s JunoCam, citizen science creates opportunities - and challenges - for professionals and amateurs alike. Professional astronomers can leverage the time and resources provided by hundreds or thousands of people around the world to produce research not possible through traditional means. But that requires a level of engagement with the public most scientists have never experienced.