Amateur Space Weekly - November 14

Chinese teens’ CubeSat, mapping radiation at Europe’s abandoned uranium mines, and amateurs discover more than 3,100 comets. 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 for Nasa, giving science teachers hands-on research experience, and more
  • Space Makers: 3D printing in space, a Michigan rocket champ brings back the gold, China’s teens making CubeSats, and a transparent rocket motor.
  • Amateurs in Space: Illinois boy scouts send science into space, so do Maryland undergrads
  • Exploring Earth: German maps radiation leaking from abandoned uranium mines, and storm-spotters help forecasters in Pennsylvania
  • Exploring the Solar System: Amateurs discover 3,100+ comets, meteor-spotters help experts track meteorites, and a New Zealand amateur honored for her asteroid and exoplanet discoveries
  • Exploring Deep Space: Learning astronomy with the WorldWide Telescope
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Astronomy tourism in New Zealand gets a boost, NatGeo names top travel spots for stargazers, and the promise and perils of citizen science

Featured News

Space Makers

Popular Mechanics featured this DIY hybrid rocket motor. The motor’s walls are transparent because the acrylic housing itself is the propellant. Oxygen fed into the motor burns the acrylic from the inside out. A little impractical for space flight - or even a hobby rocket - but it is an impressive demonstration of how rockets work.

Mouser Electronics announced the winners of its zero-g 3D-printing competition. Judged by former Mythbuster Grant Imahara and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the contest asked the world’s makers to design “something useful” that astronauts could print with the International Space Station’s 3D printer. Andy Filo’s winning entry is a femtosatellite launcher. Femtosats are circuit board satellites the size of soda crackers. (Filo was part of the KickSat project) Check out the TechCrunch interview with Filo, Hadfield, and Imahara for more details.

The Kalamazoo Index reports that a local college student won gold medals at the World Space Modeling Championships in Ukraine. The biennial competition gathers together the world’s amateur rocketeers for a week of competition to see whose rocket designs can fly higher.

A CubeSat designed by Chinese teenagers reached orbit last week, Amsat UK reported. The Camsat CAS-2 is a pathfinder project for a series of amateur radio satellites that schools across China will build. The CAS-2, secured to the CZ-11’s upper stage, will stay in orbit for years.

Amateurs in Space

A Boy Scout troop in Illinois will send a cell mutation experiment into orbit, the Daily Herald reports. The scouts won their place in space by entering the Space Station National Design Challenge, a pilot program between the Boy Scouts of America and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program helps communities send middle and high school research projects to the International Space Station. More than sixty-one thousand students in the United States and Canada have participated in the SSEP in its six year history. University of Maryland biology majors will get to send their research into orbit, the Diamondback News reports. Their bacteria growth experiment will be part of the SSEP’s 10th Mission into orbit launching in February.

Exploring Earth

A German volunteer maps radiation around abandoned uranium mines. He uses the Safecast bGeigie Nano, a DIY detector created in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to measure surface radiation levels around the Cold War-era mines. “From this research,” Bergi_X explains, “I learned that abandoned uranium mines can cause high surface contamination, even if the mine was closed decades ago.“

A National Weather Service meteorologist told the Carbondale News why volunteer storm-spotters are crucial to the weather service’s forecasts.

Exploring the Solar System

The Sungrazer project has let amateur astronomers discover more than 3,100 sun-grazing comets. (arXiv: 1611.02279) Nasa launched its Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (Soho) more than twenty years ago to study the Sun and space weather. In an early approach at open data, Nasa chose to publish the images from Soho’s cameras on the Internet almost as soon as they arrived. People soon noticed comets in the images. Many of these ice mountains are fragments of a much larger comet that shattered as it passed too close to the Sun. You can learn more and submit your own discoveries on the Sungrazer website.

University of Minnesota Moorhead professor Juan Cabanela explained to Valley News how a baseball-sized chunk of rock created a fireball as it entered Earth’s atmosphere over Minnesota. He also advised people to report fireballs to the American Meteor Society so experts can trace the meteor’s trajectory.

The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand made amateur astronomer Jennie McCormick a Fellow for her asteroid and exoplanet discoveries, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Exploring Deep Space

Bucknell University released new tools for teaching principles in astronomy. Professors and students developed tours in WorldWide Telescope that, when combined with hands on projects, help high school students and undergraduates understand parallax and the Universe’s expansion.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Although the earthquake dominated news from New Zealand as the week closed, Scoop ran this upbeat piece of news earlier in the week. Earth & Sky will build a new International Astronomical Centre on the shores of Lake Tekapo. The region is an IDA-certified Dark Sky Reserve that attracts millions of tourists every year. The expansion will create more options for tourists who visit the area during the day.

National Geographic wrote about the top astronomy tourism sites.

The headline is a little click-baity, but The Guardian’s piece about public participation in scientific research is a good recap of the issues facing citizen science.