Amateur Space Weekly - April 3, 2017

Crowdfunding amateur rocket launches, citizen scientists may have found Planet 9, and using a DSLR to measure light pollution. 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: TARC finalists to be announced this week, crowdfunding amateur test launches, Bangladesh’s undergraduate rover designers, plus high altitude art and science.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Aurora watch red alert, undergrads sending a greenhouse to the Moon, citizen science finds Planet-9 candidates, and planning for the solar eclipse.
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Using a DSLR to measure light pollution, and space tourism grows in Texas and Florida.

Space Makers

The final qualifying launches for the Team America Rocketry Challenge are underway. Thousands of kids across the United States have designed and built their own model rockets. TARC will announce the top 100 teams who will travel compete at the national championships in Virginia. Top teams will earn prizes and scholarships. The national champs will represent the US in international competition at the Paris Air Show. This article from the Franklin County Times reports on Alabama teenagers hoping to make it into the finals. Some of them were members of the 2015 team that won the world championships.

Copenhagen Suborbitals just launched a $20,000 Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund its next test launches. The all-volunteer team of amateur rocket scientists hopes to launch people into space on suborbital rockets. The Nexø II will test their final rocket engine design as well as a scaled version of the capsule and descent system. If the summer’s tests go well, they will start building their full scale Spica rocket.

Six teams of Bangladeshi university students will compete in the University Rover Challenge. Hosted by The Mars Society, the annual competition challenges university teams to design an automated rover that could help future astronauts explore Mars. The Daily Star spoke with members of Brac University's "Mongol Tori" team, one of six that will compete this summer.

Will a trip to the edge of space enhance the provenance of art? That’s what a collective of Canadian artists wondered. They are sending their work on a stratospheric balloon flight above Australia to find out. The CBC’s report describes how, with the help of the Canadian Space Agency, the artists’ project will explore the business of art and the science of space.

Indiana engineer and part-time community college professor Dave Bohlmann talked about stratospheric ballooning with the South Bend Tribune. At $300 a flight, it’s a relatively inexpensive hobby. Each balloon carries camera and other gear above much of the atmosphere where it catches pictures of Earth below the blackness of outer space. British teens conducted a near space mission of their own, sending a balloon 27 kilometers into the stratosphere.

Exploring the Solar System

AuroraWatch UK issued a red alert Monday night as its aurora-detectors spiked. A coronal hole has generated strong solar winds that hit our atmosphere with a stream of charged particles. That has created brilliant aurora displays across the polar regions. The scientists with AuroraWatch UK explain their readings in the linked blog post and share pictures from aurora spotters around the world.

Two first-year engineering students may see their greenhouse project land on the Moon before the end of the year. TeamIndus is the only Indian team in the Google Lunar XPrize competition to land a privately-funded robot on the Moon. As an outreach project, TeamIndus offered university students around the world a chance to tag along. As finalists, they earned the right to pay $750,000 to get their soda can-sized experiment into space. There's always a catch.

CosmoQuest highlighted its crowdsourced research at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

A crowdsourced citizen science project has found four candidates for Planet 9, Universe Today reported. A few years back planetary scientists noticed Pluto-sized objects at the Solar System’s edge did not orbit the way theory predicted. One explanation would be a Neptune-sized planet orbiting the Sun even further out. The trick is proving it. Professional observatories are only good for looking at things you know about. So the pros turned to amateurs. Backyard Worlds asks the public to spot things moving in animated images of the outer Solar System. A big push sponsored by the BBC resulted in millions of classifications - and four potential candidates.

A solar eclipse will cross the continental United States this year. It has already sparked a big boom in tourism with hotels booking up years in advance. The town of Bonne Terre, Missouri, received a briefing about the solar eclipse from a member of the St. Louis Amateur Astronomy Society. The local paper described the briefing and explained how the local airport will host the town's public viewing session.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

You can use a DSLR and fish-eye lens to make scientific measurements of light pollution - even from a rocking boat. A team of German and Israeli scientists took the equipment out onto the Gulf of Aqaba to see how well it worked. Traditional light pollution detectors only point straight up. The fish-eye lens’ all-sky view measures light levels from the horizon all the way to the zenith. (arXiv: 1703.08484)

Texas Monthly looked at the ways dark skies deep in the heart of Texas help boost astronomy tourism. Florida Today looked at the resurgence in Florida's rocket-watching tourism as more companies launch rockets from the Kennedy Space Center.