space

For those who are fans of SF (and by that I mean speculative fiction, not just SciFi), this is going to sound like a speed. It is…and then again, it isn’t. The Galaxy Zoo offered a challenge the middle of last week: Try to reach a goal of 1 million clicks in 100 hours as part of the 100 hours of astronomy. They put a nifty counter on the homepage and everything, but it under-reported the number of classifications. The final total was 2,617,570 classifications in 100 hours. Hence the title of this post. It’s just another example of the extreme popularity of citizen science. Many people will go out of their way to feel like they’re really, honestly contributing in a meaningful way to better understanding the universe we live in.

On a related note, I’m close enough to one of the top 10 Zooite locations to feel like I’ve been mentioned specifically, which is cool. Since I went to KSC last weekend, I feel as though I can assure Chris that NASA is keeping on with the business of building and launching space craft. While I’m disappointed that they’ve gone back to a rocket delivery system rather than a new orbiter like what we’re currently using, I’m pretty jazzed by the plans for the Constellation program and Orion. I hear they’re planning test launches of the Aries rockets next year and I, for one, will be right there watching them happen.

KSC is perhaps one of the coolest places I’ve been to. They’ve really made some awesome improvements to it in the last few years, but the best reason to go is from 40 years ago.

On the bus tour, you stop at an Apollo/Saturn V exhibit. After a brief history of the trials and tribulations faced by NASA as they tried to figure out how to get to the moon, you’re ushered into a gallery behind the original launch control room and experience a re-enactment of the countdown and launch of Apollo VIII. This was not the first mission to land on the moon, but it was the first mission to orbit the moon and get a good close-up look of our ultimate destination.

We were there today and, despite the fact that this is the 4th or 5th time I’ve seen this “show”, it never fails to bring a lump to my throat, a tear to my eye, and a pitter-patter to my heartbeat. There is no way that a video can adequately convey the nearly heartstopping moment when the overwhelming sound of a Saturn V begins to rock the launch control room. And I do mean rock – the whole place shakes and the windows rattle until you’re certain they’re only moments away from complete failure. Even the rosy glow of the rocket as it lifts off is simulated.

After the show, you have a few moments to get a close look at the control panels. Everything in the room is original. It’s hard to remember for those of us old enough (and would seem completely alien to the rest) that all the equipment used to first send our men into space was analog: rotary dial phones, plain steel flip switches, status lights with actual bulbs in them. LED bulbs didn’t come into common use until that same year! Yet, despite all this, we managed to cobble together an extremely sophisticated launch and landing vehicle and escape earth’s gravity entirely.

If you ever find yourself within reasonable driving distance of KSC, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. And be sure to block out time for the bus tour!

Going back to an old standby in the cool department, we get this report from the Galaxy Zoo team:

A new class of galaxy clusters has been identified by volunteers and astronomers of the Galaxy Zoo project, together with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. These clusters are rare, and have apparently gone unnoticed before, despite their unusual linear properties. Astronomers believe the identification of these types of clusters depend on the visual inspection of large numbers of galaxies, a feat which has only recently been made possible by the Galaxy Zoo project, and this may explain why they haven’t been discovered until now. “Space is, after all, really big,” said the Galaxy Zoo scientists, “and full of really surprising things.”

Be sure to read the whole article! The original paper can be found linked from the Galaxy Zoo blog.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Proving that you don’t need Google’s billions or the BBC weather centre’s resources, the four Spanish students managed to send a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere.

Taking atmospheric readings and photographs 20 miles above the ground, the Meteotek team of IES La Bisbal school in Catalonia completed their incredible experiment at the end of February this year.

[…]

Team leader Gerard Marull, 18, said: “We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs, to send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible.”

While you’re waiting for the space shuttle to launch, be sure to check out NASA’s new streaming video from the ISS. When they don’t actually have video streaming, it shows the flyover path so you can get an idea if you’ll be able to see it pass overhead. If you can’t watch the video, for whatever reason, you can still listen to the mission audio.

Enjoy!

…the ISS is about to take your place.

Venus is about to be ousted as the brightest star-like object in the night sky. The next space shuttle mission, STS-119 is slated to launch on Wednesday night, March 11 at 9:20 p.m. EDT (1:20 a.m. Thursday March 12 GMT), and astronauts will deliver and install the fourth and final set of solar array wings to the International Space Station. Once the array is deployed, the station will surpass Venus as the brightest object in the night sky, second only to the Moon. The new array will increase the amount of electricity available for science experiments by 50%, providing the power needed for the ISS to house a crew of 6 astronauts instead of the current 3.

I’ve seen an ISS pass, though not for a few years. The coolest one was shortly after I moved to FL in ’97 when the husband and I went down to the beach near dawn to watch a shuttle launch and the ISS passed over shortly after. You can see if the ISS is scheduled to fly over your location within the next 10 days at Heavens Above or just track it at NASA’s shuttle tracking page.

Happy star/object gazing!