Amateur Space Weekly - July 26

Amateur astronomers helped create this image of Jupiter as part of a long-term research project on planetary weather. Credit: D. Peach/E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

Europe’s teens prepare for CanSat season, the world’s largest amateur telescope, and pro-am teams studying weather on other planets. 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: European CanSat contest and a Nasa crowdsourcing competition
  • Amateurs in Space: Teens coding space robots, and elementary students sending science in to space
  • Exploring Earth: Crowdsourcing maps of rainfall
  • Exploring the Solar System: One pro-am team studies planetary weather while another discovers asteroid’s moon, an amateur asteroid hunter, plus citizen science and the solar eclipse
  • Exploring Deep Space: Worlds largest amateur telescope in Utah, an amateur supernova discovery, distributed computing gravitational waves, and a physics teacher’s adventures in astrophotography
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: One step closer to near space tourism, and astronomy tourism gets new destination in Dubai

Space Makers

The European Space Agency released the rules and calendar for its 2017-2018 European CanSat competition. Teenagers across the space agency’s member states will design and build a CanSat - a model satellite small enough to fit in a soda can. Their CanSats must survive the stresses of a high performance rocket launch and collect data during the parachute descent to the ground. National tournaments in the Spring will select champions in each country. The Europe-wide finals will be held at the end of June.

Nasa plans to hold a contest to design a radiation shield, The Guardian reports.  As the space agency ventures deeper into space, it must protect its astronauts from intense radiation. One way to do this is to cover habitat modules with a radiation blanket. That blanket must be packed for launch and then unfurled once in space. Mission planners want to know the most efficient way to do this. Nasa will ask the public to develop origami-based approaches to folding the radiation shield in a crowdsourcing contest run through Freelancer.

Amateurs in Space

The Spheres robots are working tools on the International Space Station. This picture shows a recent test of space tether technology. Every summer middle school students across the United States get a shot at controlling the robots in the Zero Robotics competition. Credit: Nasa

Bay Area middle school students are learning how to program Nasa’s space robots, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Competing in this year’s Zero Robotics Middle School Tournament, the kids use a virtual environment to test their code. If they make it to the finals, their code will be uploaded to Nasa’s Spheres robots on the International Space Station. Videographers from the National Geographic Channel are filming the kids as they advance through the tournament for a documentary that will air later this year.

New Jersey elementary school students will send eggplant seeds into orbit, the Courier Post reported. Their school enrolled in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, an educational program that gives kids a taste for what science is really like. More than sixty-one thousand students have participated in the SSEP over the past six years. The latest batch of student space research will ride a SpaceX Falcon 9 to the International Space Station in August. The Waterford Elementary School students will study the effects the space environment has on eggplant seeds.

Exploring Earth

Cocorahs is one of the largest citizen science projects in North America. Volunteers use standard gauges to record daily precipitation levels. Weather happens on such small scales that professional weather stations, often separated by hundreds of miles, cannot measure exactly what is happening. The resulting maps provide much higher resolution snapshots that weather agencies can produce on their own.  The Coloradoan reported on Cocorahs’ local origins after an intense flood caught experts by surprise.

Exploring the Solar System

A pro-am team took this picture of Jupiter using a 1-meter telescope, about twice the diameter of most advanced amateur telescopes.  Credit: D. Peach/E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2

A pro-am team took this picture of Jupiter using a 1-meter telescope, about twice the diameter of most advanced amateur telescopes. Credit: D. Peach/E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2

A professional-amateur team is monitoring weather on other planets, Europlanet announced. They will use the 1-meter telescope at France’s Pic du Midi Observatory to take the highest resolution images of the planets ever taken from the ground. Their work will help the world’s space agencies with their deep space missions. “In the case of Venus,” explained Javier Peralta with Japan’s Akatsuki mission, “the amateur observations have experienced incredible steps forward in the last years.” Besides assisting with observations on the big telescope, Pico-Net’s amateur astronomers make observations with their own telescopes when clouds cover Pic du Midi.

Texas amateur astronomers helped detect a possible moon orbiting an asteroid, KXXV reported. They were part of a professional-amateur team of astronomers who monitored the asteroid 113 Almathea as it passed in front of a star. This occultation casts a shadow on Earth’s surface like a small night-time eclipse. A line of telescopes perpendicular to the shadow’s path can measure the asteroid’s size and shape. In this case, an unexpected gap in the observations indicates that the asteroid may have a small moon. Four more occultation opportunities next year will give astronomers, professional and amateur alike, a chance to confirm the moon’s existence.

An asteroid has been named after Luxembourg’s amateur asteroid-hunter Matt Dawson, Delano reports. The former rock musician conducts follow-up asteroid observations to ensure astronomers can predict the space rocks’ orbits. Dawson’s colleagues named the asteroid after him in recognition for his service to science.

2017 North American Eclipse

A Nasa citizen science program asks the public to measure the eclipse’s effects. “We want to inspire a million eclipse viewers to become eclipse scientists,” said Nasa’s deputy project coordinator Kristen Weaver. People observing the eclipse can download the space agency’s Globe Explorer app to their smartphone. As the eclipse’s shadow passes overhead, they will measure and report the temperature. That will produce a timelapse of eclipse-generated cooling as the event passes from Oregon to South Carolina.

Pacific Northwest citizen scientists will be the first to study the solar eclipse, reported the Seattle Times. They will send instrument-laden weather balloons into the stratosphere to collect images and data as the eclipse passes overhead. Combined with data from sixty-eight other teams across the United States, the Citizen Cate program will produce a ninety-minute timelapse of the Sun’s corona. This little-understood part of the Sun’s atmosphere reaches temperatures many times higher than in the fusion-generating solar core.

Undergrads at St. Catherine’s University built a near space eclipse project from the ground up. The students are part of a research project that will study the radiation and atmospheric environment in the stratosphere as the eclipse passes overhead. “It’s incredible,” explained rising senior Alynie Walter. “It's pushed me to do more than I ever knew I could do."

Exploring Deep Space

The world’s largest amateur telescope opens to the public in Utah, Fox 13 and the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Truck driver and amateur telescope maker Mike Clements built the bus-sized telescope around a government surplus mirror he bought at auction. The 70-inch diameter telescope is awaiting certification from the Guinness Book of World Records. In the meantime the public can see the telescope - and look through the eyepiece - at the amateur-run Stansbury Observatory.

One of the Stansbury Observatory’s amateur astronomers made his 3rd supernova discovery, KUTV reported. Patrick Wiggins discussed his motivations and the benefits his work contributes to professional astronomy.

Einstein@Home’s search for gravitational waves has yielded three new research papers. Unable to afford a dedicated supercomputer, the project scientists rely on thousands of volunteers around the world. Einstein@Home distributes chunks of data from radio telescopes to its citizen scientists. They in turn donate the spare processing power of their personal computers to crunch the data.

Virginia physics teacher Christopher Becke’s night time astrophotography hobby was featured in the Virginia Gazette. Becke explains how his interest in astronomy led him to taking pictures of planets and galaxies that media outlets like CNN have used.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

A Bloon with a view. Six tourists plus crew will rise into the stratosphere in a pod like this before parachuting back to Earth. Credit: Zero2Infinity

Zero2Infinity unveiled the latest design for its Bloon near space capsule. Tourists will ride a giant balloon into the stratosphere where they will see the Earth’s blue marble beneath the blackness of outer space. A parachute will return the capsule to the surface safely. Zero2Infinity retained a sustainable fashion house to design the apparel to be worn by pilots, ground crew, and passengers.

Emirati amateur astronomers hope Dubai will become an astronomy tourism destination, Whats On UAE reports. The Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre will give visitors a hands-on introduction to the Universe with interactive exhibits and stargazing events with a 1-meter telescope.