Endeavour Space Academy
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I cannot remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with astronomy, the space program, and science fiction. I was a child during the Apollo era, and a young man when the original COSMOS first aired. I cut my teeth on Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Larry Niven; Carl Sagan was, and remains to this day, my personal hero. Now that I think about it, I started doing astronomy outreach the moment I got my first cheap telescope in 1968; I showed the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn to the neighbors, and took it with me to summer camp. I had one of those really scary green glass eyepiece solar filters – that got used a lot more than I like to think about! My wife gave me an 8″ Dobsonian telescope for my 40th birthday, that came with a not-scary-at-all solar filter; that telescope has seen a LOT of use in 16 years – so much so, it’s … Continue reading

Asteroid Day 2016
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June 30th – the date of the historic Tunguska Impact Event of 1908. Dr. Carl Sagan introduced me to Tunguska in his 1980’s COSMOS series. I’ve done the same for quite a few members of the public, and students over the years. June 30th is also the date of this year’s second annual worldwide Asteroid Day. In 2013, a relatively small asteroid exploded over a densely populated city in Russia – blowing out windows, damaging buildings, and injuring almost two thousand people. A group was organized – their goal was simple: to make every human on earth aware of asteroids, to urge world governments and space agencies to ramp-up asteroid detection programs, and begin creation of planetary defense and impact mitigation programs. This group crafted a declaration, and got a significant number of very well-known individuals to sign-on: As scientists and citizens, we strive to solve humanity’s greatest challenges to safeguard our families and quality of life on Earth in … Continue reading

ExoMars Orbiter and Lander Begin 7 Month Journey to the Red Planet
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The first mission of the European Space Agency’s  ExoMars programme has lifted off on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and is on its way to Mars. The mission includes the Trace Gas Orbiter, plus the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. The mission will arrive at Mars in October of 2016. The main objectives of the mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes, and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to future Mars missions. Three days before reaching Mars, the Schiaparelli lander will detach from the orbiter, and coast towards atmospheric entry. It will enter the atmosphere at 21,000 km/hr, aerobraking and then deploying parachutes. A thruster system system will be used for the final stage of its descent. The lander will operate on the surface of Mars for 2-4 sols (Martian days). The scientific mission for the Trace … Continue reading

Space Visualization Software
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“Where do you get all those cool images from?” I was asked this after one of my lectures. When I create a lecture, I always include a LOT of images; I get many of these from various space mission websites. Occasionally, I am unable to find exactly the image I want, or wish to convey a concept that I cannot find an image for. When this happens, I create my own! There are several computer apps that allow you to visualize objects in space in a number of different ways, including: See the current position of the planets in the solar system. Go to a current NASA spacecraft, and see what they’re doing. View the solar system from any planet or moon. See the sky from the surface of the Earth at any time in the past or future. Lob an asteroid at the Earth, and see what happens. Send a star hurtling through the solar system, and see what … Continue reading

If You Could See All The Asteroids…
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In this video, astronomer Scott Manley shows you what it would look like if you could see all the asteroids near the Earth. This is a “360 video;” if you play it on a device that supports it (like a smartphone) you can look around in all directions. Scott produced this video, showing asteroid discovery over the last few decades. Watching this for the first time simply shocked me, and may well be one of the reasons I started researching asteroids for my lecture. Scott is a also a huge fan of Kerbal Space Program, and has produced a boatload of helpful training videos. In this video, Scott shows the new Asteroid Day mod for KSP, including a in-game version of the B612 Foundation’s infrared asteroid-hunting Sentinel space telescope. … Continue reading