Amateur Space Weekly - September 19

Lunar CubeSats, backyard weather stations, and a giant Argentinian meteorite are just some of the stories in last week's news from the world of amateur space exploration.

  • Featured News: Citizen scientists power light pollution research, playing with JunoCam's pictures, educational rocketry, and more.
  • Space Makers: A near space ballooning tutorial, rocketry for education, India’s student CubeSat, two teams sending CubeSats to the Moon, and Nasa asks for feedback on its next 3D printing competition.
  • Amateurs in Space: A former Mythbuster and a singing astronaut could send your designs into space, a New Jersey university will send science into orbit.
  • Exploring Earth: Only citizen scientists can improve the science of hurricanes, the MetOffice relies on London’s backyard weather stations, tracing Krakatoa’s effects, a new map lets you hunt for illegal fishing ships, and a British schoolboy seismologist searches for earthquakes in Oklahoma.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Argentina’s amateur astronomers discover fourth largest meteorite, a New Zealand amateur astronomer names her kilometer-wide asteroid… New Zealand.
  • Exploring Deep Space: The Milky Way Project’s citizen scientists search galactic gas clouds for shock waves, bubbles, and yellowballs; new research based on Galaxy Zoo’s citizen science.
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Astronomy photographers of the year, light pollution in Los Angeles, women in astronomy and planetary science, how to make a spaceship, young astronomer prizes, and the female powerlifter who joined Nasa’s analog research program.

Featured News

Space Makers

Maker Stephen Dechert posted this YouTube video explaining how he built his high altitude balloon project.

A Recode op-ed from the Aerospace Industry Association’s president David Melcher explains how the Team America Rocketry Challenge (Tarc) sets kids on the road to careers in science and engineering. The largest educational rocketry competition in the world, Tarc challenges teams of middle and high school students to launch a model rocket to a specified altitude and bring it gently back to Earth within a set time. The catch: the rocket carries a raw egg which must survive the journey intact.

The Quad Community Press reports that the Minnesota Civil Air Patrol enhances cadets’ STEM skills by building and launching model rockets. The teens learn the history and physics of rocketry before building their own single and two-stage model rockets.

Amsat UK reports that India's student-built CubeSat will launch into space later this month. Students at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay designed their satellite, Pratham, to collect data on Earth’s ionosphere and send signals to ham radio operators around the world. 

Big rocket, small satellites. This Nasa infographic shows how the giant Space Launch System will carry thirteen CubeSats on its mission to the Moon. Credit: Nasa

The Nasa CubeQuest Challenge gives teams from academia and the private sector a chance to send a satellite to the Moon. The space agency’s first launch of the Space Launch System will send an unoccupied Orion space capsule on a test flight to the Moon and back. The big rocket will also launch nearly two dozen small satellites for science research and engineering development. Three of these satellites will come from teams of students, off-duty rocket scientists, and makers who compete in the CubeQuest Challenge. 

The Cornell Chronicle reported on Cornell University’s efforts to win the Nasa contest. The graduate and undergraduate students of Cislunar Explorers hope to use water to propel their satellite into orbit around the Moon. The Amateur Radio Relay League reported that the former Nasa PhD interns who formed team Ragnarok Industries will use ham radio to communicate with Earth. They partnered with the American amateur satellite organization Amsat to implement a “five and dime” transponder. [Check out my interview with Wes Faler, the founder of one of these competitors, Team Miles

If you are into 3D printing and space, Nasa wants your feedback on its latest 3D printing contest. The final phase of an effort to crowdsource ideas for planetary exploration, competitors would develop ways to 3D print a structural member for an offworld habitat from local materials.

Amateurs in Space

Spacedotcom wrote about the contest that could let you 3D print something in space. The International Space Station has two 3D printers from startup company Made in Space. The contest is sponsored by Mouser Electronics, judged by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and former Mythbuster Grant Imahara. Competitors must propose 3D-printable tools that will make astronauts’ life on the space station easier. Astronauts will print the winning design in zero-g. The ISS Challenge will accept entries through October 7.

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. The SSEP recently expanded its program to universities to support undergraduate education. New Jersey’s Stockton University announced that is students will conduct zero-g research. Professor Lori Vermeulen said in the press release that “this project represents Stockton’s commitment to faculty-mentored student research, particularly at the undergraduate level.” The students will join the SSEP’s Mission 11 which launches next spring.

Exploring Earth

Satellite image of hurricane Hermine as it approached the southeastern United States. Citizen scientist analysis of images like this will help meteorologists make better forecasts and earth scientists study the effect of climate change on tropical cyclones. Credit: Noaa

Cyclone Center asks citizen scientists to measure the intensity of hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones by analyzing satellite images. Project scientists in a recent blog post used a recently published paper to explain how volunteers’ contributions will help improve the science of cyclones. Satellites cannot measure hurricane intensity directly. That can only happen by measuring wind speeds on Earth’s surface or with infrequent flights of “hurricane hunter” aircraft. Researchers rely on a set of techniques that lets them estimate the intensity of a storm from space-based images. Unfortunately, different weather agencies implement the techniques differently. Even worse, individual researchers will derive different intensity estimates from the same image. The crowdsourced Cyclone Center project will create a consistent database of storm intensities for every hurricane across the past four decades - a project only citizen scientists can do.

London’s backyard weather stations fill the gaps between widely separated official weather stations, The Guardian reports. Personal weather stations lets anyone collect a wide range of weather data directly into their personal computers and upload them to the Internet. Britain’s MetOffice created the Weather Observations Website to crowdsource weather observations from these amateur meteorologists. It gives the weather service a finer-grained view of what is happening than their network of weather stations provide. The Guardian piece explains how 1,500 backyard observatories in London alone supplement data from the 10 official weather stations.

YouTube channel Objectivity produced a video explaining how 19th Century citizen scientists traced the effects of the Krakatoa eruption of 1883.

A team of environmental organizations partnered with Google to launch Global Fishing Watch. The project maps satellite data to track the world’s fleet of fishing ships - and spot illegal, unsustainable fishing that decimates world fisheries. “This free tool can be used by governments, journalists, citizens, researchers and the seafood industry,” Oceana’s Jacqueline Savitz said in the press release. “Journalists and everyday citizens will be able to identify behavior that may be related to illegal fishing or overfishing.” Scientific American took a deep dive into how the new service tracks up to 20,000 fishing ships every day.

A schoolboy seismologist is blogging his travels to the earthquake capital of the United States. No, it isn’t California. Oklahoma is far from the major tectonic fault lines, but it is the center for the fracking industry. Over the past couple of decades the state has experience a surge in tremors. (Related? Coincidence?) Young Ben, traveled from his home in Oakham (the UK’s earthquake capital) to receive treatment for an inoperable tumor. To keep him occupied and make up for his missed schooling, Ben and his parents agreed he should become a roving schoolboy seismologist for the Royal Geological Survey. Ben detected his first earthquake last week within minutes of connecting his geophone.

Exploring the Solar System

The fourth largest meteorite ever found was just unearthed in Argentina, La Nación reports. Spanish colonialists in 1576 reported a field of craters in a region northwest of modern Buenos Aires. The native people used iron meteorites to make tools and weapons. A series of expeditions in the 18th and 19th Centuries retrieved several tons of meteorites. A 37 ton meteorite found in 1969 is the second largest meteorite ever discovered. This new meteorite is nearly 31 tons and is the largest to be found by local amateur astronomers rather than government sponsored researchers.

A Kiwi amateur astronomer named an asteroid after her home country, the New Zealand Herald reports. Jennie McCormick discovered a kilometer-wide Near Earth Asteroid while taking a picture of a comet in 2009. As the discoverer on record, she received the right to name the asteroid. Earlier this year the International Astronomical Union approved the name McCormick proposed for the rock: New Zealand.

Exploring Deep Space

A new version of The Milky Way Project lets you search data from the Spitzer and Wise space telescopes. Originally created to map the “bubbles” that form as new stars ignite in interplanetary gas clouds, the project’s volunteers spotted new and interesting features. The project’s third iteration will map two of these citizen science discoveries, yellowballs and shockwaves. 

A research paper in progress uses citizen science data from Galaxy Zoo to map the transition of galaxies from star formation to quiescence. (arXiv: 1609.01737)

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Britain’s Royal Greenwich Observatory announced the winners of its Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Every year astrophotographers around the world submit their work. Chinese amateur astronomer Yu Jun won the solar photography category and the overall competition for his time lapse photograph of a solar eclipse in Indonesia. He captured the image using a Canon digital camera and Sigma telephoto zoom lens. The youth winner, fifteen year old American Brendan Devine, also used a Canon camera and telephoto zoom lens to create his striking lunar image. In fact most of the winning images were made with photographic cameras and lenses rather than telescopes and astronomical sensors.

My News LA wrote about light pollution in the Santa Monica mountain range north of Los Angeles. Once home to ground-breaking astronomy research at the Mount Wilson Observatory, pollution from LA’s famous city lights renders all but a few stars invisible to millions of Angelenos. Researchers from UCLA and the National Park Service have documented a slight drop in light pollution, probably thanks to new lighting policies in nearby communities. [Check out our feature article "Citizen scientists power light pollution research"]

Science News Students featured eleven astronomers and planetary scientists for its Women in STEM series. The news service asked for women in science and engineering to send pictures of themselves at work. The flood of responses spurred the new series which led with women who study the stars and planets.

Nature published a review of How to Make a Spaceship. The book documents the Ansari X-Prize competition to create the first privately-financed suborbital spaceplane.

Winners of the Astronomical League’s youth awards will receive a free membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers. The Astronomical League presents two awards to teens for their contributions to astronomical research and outreach. 

Wired interviewed Jonna Ocampo about her participation in Nasa’s analog research program. Ocampo, a competitive weight lifter, aspires to become an astronaut (she has applied three times). Nasa’s Human Exploration Research Analog (Hera) has gotten her closer than ever. Hera is a series of isolation projects that simulate long-term deep space missions. Nasa uses these projects to study the psychological and social impacts that comes with long-term confinement and isolation. Wired talks to Ocampo about her motivations and her experience in astronaut training programs.