Amateur Space Weekly - March 6

Download code from Nasa, spot storms pros can't see, and muon-counting for science. 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.

Space Makers

Nasa released its latest software catalog to the public. Funded by the American taxpayer, the space agency’s open data policies require as much of its work to be made public as possible. “The software catalog is our way of supporting the innovation economy,” said Steve Jurczyk, the head of Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Some of the software includes an activity planner for Mars missions, propulsion codes, and a global atmospheric model. So why not check out some space code?

Canadian teens will send a balloon into the stratosphere over Nova Scotia, The Annapolis County Spectator reported. Sending balloons into the stratosphere is a great way to give teens hands-on experience with a "space" project. For a few hundred dollars they can build an instrument package, tracking system, and cameras. The data and images taken from 30 kilometers in the sky show the cloud covered landscape below, a blue ribbon of atmosphere at the horizon, and the blackness of outer space above. 

A CubeSat-based telescope will study cosmic x-rays. AstroWatch reported the latest progress of the Cosmic X-Ray Background NanoSat-2 (CXBN-2). Scheduled for launch later this month, it will observe the Universe’s background radiation at the highest energy levels. That does not sound very amateurish, does it? The article focuses on the science and engineering, but there is another side to the story. Researchers at Morehead State University lead the project. MSU is the home of Bob Twiggs, the scientist who co-developed the CubeSat standard as a platform for teaching undergraduates. Students get to participate in every aspect of programs like CXBN-2. They arrive knowing little-to-nothing about building spacecraft. They graduate as experienced professionals.

Amateurs in Space

A Fox News affiliate reported on the local 8th graders whose experiment launched into space on last month’s SpaceX supply mission. They were part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program's latest mission 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.

Exploring Earth

America’s National Weather Service relies on a 400,000 person network of volunteers to report severe weather. Many of the SkyWarn program’s volunteers are police, firefighters and other first responders. But many are normal citizens interested in helping their communities. Tennessee’s WKRN reported from a storm spotter training class. NWS meteorologist Krissy Hurley told the news station that “without the storm spotters out in the field and emergency management, we wouldn’t know what is going on out there.” But she stressed that safety must take priority for all of their storm spotters. Minnesota’s Morrison County Record reported the nearest NWS radar station cannot see weather happening within 8,000 feet of the surface. That makes local storm spotters essential partners with the weather agency as they help fill in the blanks left by technology.

Exploring the Solar System

After the European Space Agency received more than 20,000 images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta spacecraft, the project team turned to the public for help. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

An amateur spotted new features on a comet. Writing on the Planetary Society’s blog, amateur image analyst Marco Parigi described how he found a collapsed cliff in images of the comet 67P captured by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft. Mission scientists issued a call to the public in 2015 for help analyzing the many images coming back from the comet and Parigi was one of many citizen scientists who answered.

A fireball blazed across the central Texas night sky last weekend, the Dallas Morning News reported. The small meteor generated sonic booms that swept across the landscape without causing any damage. The American Meteor Society received nearly 50 reports to its crowdsourced meteor tracking site.

The new crowdsourcing project, Planet Four: Ridges, asks citizen scientists to find polygonal ridges on the surface of Mars. Some of these ridges stretch 50 meters or more into the Martian sky. But scientists are not sure how they formed. A project scientist gives her first take on their work.

Exploring Deep Space

Not all muon rings are this easy to spot. Since computers can't get the job done, Muon Hunters needs your help. Credit: Muon Hunters

Muon Hunters will let citizen scientists help astronomers study supernovae and other extreme events in the Universe. The scientists want to study gamma rays, the most energetic form of light, emitted by stellar explosions and black holes. Gamma rays striking atoms in the upper atmosphere create a shower of sub-atomic muons that shower Earth’s surface. Unfortunately, the same thing happens when cosmic rays hit the atmosphere. The Muon Hunter project asks people to review images from the Veritas gamma ray telescope array for signs of muon impacts. This will help the scientists eliminate cosmic ray impacts from their data so they can focus on studying the gamma ray impacts.

Thirty-nine teachers will fly towards the stratosphere with a Nasa telescope. They have joined the Nasa Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program which exposes secondary school science teachers to real-life scientific research. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) is a 2.5-meter infrared telescope that sticks out the side of a modified Boeing 747. It flies to altitudes approaching 45,000 feet to climb above infrared-absorbing moisture in the lower atmosphere. The teachers take graduate-level courses in infrared astronomy before joining scientists on one of their observing flights. The Signal reported on twelve Southern California teachers picked to join the program.