Amateur Space Weekly - February 13

Kids send pink-eye science into space, storm-spotters improve forecasts, and amateurs make a Jupiter time-lapse, 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: Citizen science saves a dark matter search, helping Nasa study asteroids, and more.
  • Space Makers: A winner of the dumb space crowdfunding of the year award (boo), and a British politician wants kids building rockets (yay).
  • Amateurs in Space: Kids doing DNA research in space, controlling space robots, resupplying the space station, and testing pink eye in zero-g.
  • Exploring Earth: The hurdles of crowdsourcing Earth Science, environmentalists using satellites, and storm-spotters helping weather forecasts.
  • Exploring Outer Space: Amateurs create Jupiter time-lapse, and tracking meteorites in Wisconsin. 
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: It’s called the vomit comet for a reason.


Featured News

Space Makers

What could possibly go wrong with this? A new Kickstarter project wants to raise $100,000 for a special eclipse observation project. The team wants to send people into the stratosphere suspended beneath a giant balloon. Far above 99.99% of Earth’s atmosphere they will conduct scientific observations from a pressurized capsule. At the end of the flight the capsule will parachute back to Earth - but not before a passenger with no skydiving experience jumps out of the airlock. Oh. And they will run experiments for students. (It’s not for the kicks, folks. It’s for the kids.) Spacedotcom was the only media outlet to pick up the story which may explain why they only raised $1,800 in their first week.

A member of Parliament wants British teens to compete in the UK Rocketry Challenge, Your Thurrock reported. The annual rocket-building competition asks teens to design a rocket that will carry a raw egg 800 feet into the sky and return it to the Earth safely within 42 seconds. The winning team will represent the UK in the International Rocketry Challenge to be held this summer at the Paris Air Show.

Amateurs in Space

These Italian students were part of the winning team that took control of robots on the International Space Station. Credit: Esa

The European Space Agency hosted 100 high school students participating in the Zero Robotics programming competition. They connected with similar gatherings of students in America and Australia... and with astronauts on the International Space Station. The annual coding contest gives kids a chance to control robots on the space station. The winning team was a collaboration between two Italian schools and an American school.

The third annual Genes in Space competition will let American high school students conduct DNA research on the International Space Station. The winning students will attend a Space Biology Camp and get help from professional scientists to get their experiment ready for launch. Anna-Sophia Boguraev, the first winner, sent her immunology research to the space station last year while 2016 winner Julian Rubinfien will see his DNA aging research launch later this year.

Kids and teachers in New Jersey supplying parts to Nasa talked with the Mt. Olive Chronicle. They learned how to make storage lockers and other consumable parts while meeting the space agency’s exacting standards. What makes this possible is Hunch, a Nasa-run program that lets students learn how to use modern machine tools. The Randolph Reporter spoke with program organizers about the impact Hunch has on students interest in science and engineering. The latest batch of storage lockers will ride to the International Space Station on a SpaceX launch later this month.

TV station WTLV spoke with the Tennessee middle school students whose pink eye research will launch into orbit this month. Their school is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program which has let more than 60,000 kids in the US and Canada take part in zero-g research.

Exploring Earth

As crowdsourcing plays a growing role in Earth Observation, scientists in Europe conducted a survey to understand the “hurdles and challenges” stakeholders face. Trust in the project is a concern for both scientists and participants. Communication and engagement are seen as essential ways to link the project’s goal with societal benefits. The journal Remote Sensing published the full text (DOI: 10.3390/rs9010087)

SkyTruth’s history of satellite-based environmental activism was the subject of a presentation covered by the Frederick News Post. Hundreds of satellites point cameras down on the Earth, but they are not operated by spy agencies. Commercial remote sensing companies have networks of satellites scanning the Earth every day. Journalists, environmentalists, and other watchdogs now use images from space to shine a light on once-hidden activities. John Amos, SkyTruth’s founder, got his start monitoring the Deep Water Horizons oil well disaster. Since then his team has mapped fracking sites, pirate fishing fleets and more using images from space.

A National Weather Service meteorologist explained the important role played by volunteer storm-spotters to Texas TV station KTXS.. Weather-spotting is the earliest form of citizen science. Ben Franklin "crowdsourced" reports of a storm to reconstruct its progress across the American colonies. Before the Civil War the Smithsonian Institute created the first weather map by collecting reports from volunteers. The NWS continues that tradition today. Its SkyWarn program has several hundred thousand volunteers who report severe weather conditions. This "ground truth" is an essential resource for NWS meteorologists.

Exploring Outer Space

Read about amateur collaboration with Nasa's Juno mission in my article "Amateurs and Juno: Better Together"

Read about amateur collaboration with Nasa's Juno mission in my article "Amateurs and Juno: Better Together"

91 amateur astronomers around the world helped create this animation of Jupiter’s dynamic atmosphere. They captured more than 1,000 images of the planet over a period of three-and-a-half months. Putting this together is more complicated than typical time-lapse videos. A traditional photographer uses one camera to make those. Each of the 91 amateur astronomers has their own combination of cameras, telescopes, guiding equipment, and software that they use to take planetary pictures. The volunteer editors had to map each one to a common image size and color profile before stitching everything together. 


The amateurs who helped make that video are part of a team working with Nasa’s Juno mission to Jupiter. Their global coverage lets the amateurs gather pictures of the giant planet at a rate and quality that the professionals cannot match. Competition for time on the big mountaintop observatories prevents planetary scientists from monitoring Jupiter around the clock. The amateurs’ work lets the pros devote their precious observing time on specific, targeted observations that, when combined, set important context for Juno’s scientific measurements. Check out my earlier interview with Filipino amateur Christopher Go, one of the amateurs helping the pros explore Jupiter.

Nearly 500 people reported a large fireball early Monday morning, the American Meteor Society reported. The calculated  trajectory shows the meteor passing from Wisconsin and disappearing over Lake Michigan. The AMS worked with NOAA scientist Marc Fries to find evidence of the falling meteorites in weather radar data. But the object may have started breaking up earlier. WFRV reported that a woman recovered what appears to be a meteorite fragment. She told WFRV that she will donate her find to scientists at the University of Wisconsin. 

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

The Telegraph’s Travel section looked at zero-g tourism. Developed by space agencies to train astronauts, and used by scientists for research, airplanes follow a rollercoaster flight path that creates brief periods of free fall that simulates conditions in orbit. Several companies now offer the chance for tourists to experience the weightlessness of space. But watch out. An expert told the Telegraph that one third of people become “violently ill”.