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Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

(Partial) Spacesuit Answer
Anyone familiar with the book Starship Troopers (not the movie) knows about the battelsuit: powered armor which augments the soldiers' strength while at the same time protecting the soldier from extreme environments, including vacuum. As usual, science fiction is becoming closer to science fact. This is one potential solution for inflated spacesuits, since the mechanical advantage of the armor may overcome the resistance of the suit. The gloves, always a weak spot for spacesuits, will still be an issue.
6:14 am est

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bad Headline
Here is a good article about some of the uncertainties of tracking Apophis, but the title mentions 'how to deal with rogue asteroids.' That is only mentioned at the end of the article.
9:38 pm est

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So you Wanna...
...contribute to the search for minor planets? I found this page today which is a guide to minor body astronomy from the Minor Planet Center. It looks like they're ready to help out quite a bit to get you started. Here's a favorite answer about restrictions placed on naming your observatory:
...we are fairly liberal in the observatory names that we allow into the MPCs. At least two amateur-owned sites have names with connections to the popular TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Where is the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable? This is determined on a case-by-case basis. Using a popular character from the well-known TV series The X Files as an example, "Scully Observatory" would probably be acceptable, but "ScullyIsAGoddess Observatory" wouldn't.
6:38 pm est

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dire Warning
I'm playing around with JPL's Horizons system, which will give you positions of planets, moons, and small bodies in the solar system. They advise that you contact them if you're actually planning a mission with the system, as brought to light within the directions:
OK, OK, I get it.
7:27 pm est

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Any Good Idea, Part X
Earlier this year, I also thought that a good effort for the BOINC distributed computing system would be generating high-accuracy ephemeris for near-Earth objects. Apparently, I didn't blog about it, but I did post a question to an email group I'm a part of. Once again, it turns out someone else already thought of it. My title was "NEO@home", but the one that's been worked on much more is orbit@home. Apparently, it's an outgrowth of ORSA, the Orbit Reconstruction, Simulation, and Analysis software. Looks like not much has happened recently on orbit@home. My interest waned when I found how extensive the JPL NEO page is.
9:12 am est

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Any Good Idea...
...has likely already been thought of. Earlier, I discussed an idea of creating a network of bolide-watching cameras. Turns out such a network exists on a small scale in Colorado right now, run by Chris Peterson and described at his Cloudbait Obersvatory web page. The camera looks like it can be built for less than $500, though that doesn't include dedicated resources to monitor it. I hope to have more info on this soon.
11:30 am est

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Congressional Blues
Mike Griffin, head of NASA, had a bad day in Congress a few days ago. The Bad Astronomer had some comments on the event, and some people asked about the utility of the station and the shuttle. I added my $0.02:
Station was originally conceived because the Soviets had one and we didn't. It took on more importance once Challenger exploded and most of the planned payloads were taken off the shuttle. Then, it almost got cancelled in the early 90s, until the Russians were brought on board as partners, making it an instrument of Statesmanship. It's in the wrong orbit (too highly inclined) to be really useful as a waypoint to build anything. (One possibility is a co-orbiting supply depot for fuel, oxidizer and water...this could build on the station's utility). Plus, since it was built to try and do many things, it doesn't do any of them particularly well.

The shuttle has similar problems. It's an amazing machine but it was designed by multiple committees (NASA, DoD) then built by the lowest bidder. It was never built with operations in mind, though it was sold as an operational vehicle. The best analogy for this in aircraft would have been if a concerted government effort had been made to build the DC-3 (or even 747!) after 10 years of aviation.
I decided to post it here before clicking 'submit' on the BA post.
6:02 am est

Friday, November 16, 2007

Holy Halley!
In researching around on Near Earth Object (NEO) close approaches, I generated this chart (big file!), of NEO approaches sorted by relative velocity. If you look at the last entry, you'll gain insight to an amazing show that Halley's comet will provide Earth in the year 2134. It will approach to within 0.1 AU. Almost worth staying around for!
2:31 pm est

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Streetnames: The Next Generation
I was looking around some maps today, and came across this section. Picard Ln, Crusher Ct, Reiker [sic] Dr, Laforge Ln. Now there's an urban planner with a sense of humor!
10:14 pm est

Monday, November 12, 2007

Speaking of Asteroids
D'ooh. A spacecraft approaching Earth was mistaken to be an asteroid. The provisional name applied to it has been retired.

This shows a bit how one group of really smart people can convince themselves of something in a bit of a vacuum. Luckily, it got corrected quickly.
8:30 pm est

Asteroid Names for Everyone!
The post title is a little snarky, but it came about because I sat with my daughter today and watched (well, I watched...she wasn't that interested) Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. It was a 1981 episode, well past my time watching, but it was a nice flashback to my younger days. Later, I wikipedia'd Mr. Rogers, and found that there's an asteroid named after him, 26858 Misterrogers. I think it's very cool that he has one named after him, but wonder if there are enough asteroids to use up all the names on the planet? I suppose that the critical decision to make is what diameter defines a name-able asteroid.

Update: According to this page, the count of asteroids and comets is up to close to 50 million, and going up by about 1 million a month.
4:47 pm est

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Save a Radar, Save the Earth?
Here is a Planetary Society statement asking to keep funding going for the Arecibo Observatory. When I first read the statement, I thought the wording was overplayed. Arecibo is a powerful radar, and it's done some amazing things, but I wasn't sure how flexible it was compared to other dishes that could move. The Wikipedia article pointed out to me some things about how steerable it is, which came as a pleasant surprise. Still, part of my thought process is that, if people aren't putting enough requests forward to operate the facility, the price needs to go up for each request. While it would work to put together a 'bail out package' and keep things going, I'm not sure if it's the best way to go forward for the long haul.

I think it would have been effective in the statement to list upcoming research opportunities, though there are probably some concerns of early release of study plans. Gee, almost sounds like an industrial process, doesn't it?
4:59 pm est

End of an Era
The last Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite flew into orbit last night. DSP is one of the first satellite programs I worked on, so always like to hear news about it. I worked in the time of DSP Flight 16, which flew into orbit on the space shuttle Atlantis. Full mission status report is here.
8:21 am est

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I broke out the ole 'scope today, trying to get a glance of the comet that people are talking about. Spent some time trying to find it because I just had no comprehension of how BIG it is in the sky. Once I changed my thinking, I pointed right at it. Even properly focused, the object looked more like a (big) smudge on my optics, but it is quite a cool view. The cold temperatures of the night drove me back indoors.
10:41 pm est

How much Energy does a Congressional Hearing Impart?
If you're trying to deflect a Near Earth Object (NEO) from an impact with the planet, you must impart energy to the body, applied in the correct direction. A Congressional hearing was held on Thursday, and a lot of opinions were expressed. No energy was imparted to any asteroids, however, so therefore the chance of an impact hasn't changed.

If funding profiles change, then that could lead to the eventual imparting of some energy.
9:31 pm est

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Army of Bolide Watchers?
I've had an idea perking around in my head for a while, but this post at Bad Astronomy brought it to the surface. In the comments to the blog entry, someone mentioned this site, where people should report meteor/bolide sightings so they can be correlated with other reports and information can be gathered from them.

My idea is for a network of amateur astronomer/hobbyists to build small bolide monitors in their yards. Using cheap cameras and fisheye lenses, the network would monitor the sky, and with wireless networking I'm pretty sure it's possible for a any computer in a house to capture any images that stand out. With some sort of orienting marks on the image, a lot of data would flow into a center devoted to characterizing different events.

Obviously, it requires more thought, but I think it has some potential. A quick search led to this site as a source of clear acrylic hemispheres to serve as environmental covers.
8:40 pm est

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Apophis Paper Released
Here is an update on Apophis tracking data. I've just glanced through it, but the authors are pretty confident that future tracking opportunities will decrease the error bar enough to say that there won't be an impact in 2036.
7:24 pm est

Thursday, November 1, 2007

No way to turn off a Solar Array?
Landsat 5 is still ailing, plus some family stuff has kept me pretty busy, but I couldn't miss this chance. has a story about the soon-to-be-done repair on the space station solar array. This quote is good:
"Once [solar arrays] are deployed, they start producing power as they're designed to do," Hassmann said of the 110-foot (33.5-meter) sail of solar cells. "There's nothing we can safe or turn off the array while it's deployed."
Here, we have a case where a more knowledgable reporter would ask "Can't you just turn the array to face away from the sun?" I realize that the solution is too simplistic. There may be thermal constraints of not allowing the sun to shine on the other side, or maybe both arrays need to move together and they can't go without the power of both. Still, it would have been nice to have seen a little more detail.
7:41 pm est

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