Category Archives: Space

“My Battery Is Low And It’s Getting Dark”

To the cold hearted pragmatists it was probably just two small bits of telemetry, numbers, indicating the level of battery charge and the transparency of the Martian atmosphere. A machine, built by humans, launched to Mars by humans, guided by humans, running a program written by humans.

Two numbers.

But humans put it in context and translated it into our languages, in the process adding context and massive amounts of emotion.

I hope when my time comes I’m lucid enough to remember those words. They wouldn’t be the worst final words to use if you get to pick.

I also hope that I say them on Mars in about 200 years…

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Good Night, Opportunity

I know we’re not supposed to cry over robots, especially after we send them into hostile environments a billion miles away, and especially after they run for fourteen years in their ninety-day missions.

But I’m going to anyway.

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Lunar Eclipse Tonight

Here’s a shot that didn’t suck from tonight:

I’ll have more in the next day or so after I sort through all of the images from tonight, but after a quick scan of the photos from the wide angle camera, this one stood out first. Fully eclipsed moon at lower left, Orion on the right, and Sirius is the bright star at the bottom right just above the tree.

It was beautiful to watch but we had a ton of wind and clouds blowing through periodically. (You can see a band of high clouds in this picture from the lower right to the center, just along the right edge of the big tree, with some more clouds in the lower right.)

But most of the time we were able to see the moon from the first stages of the partial eclipse, through totality, until the first minute or so as the moon started to come out of totality. Then it was solid clouds and after ten minutes or so waiting for any sign of a break, I bailed.

I hope many of you also got a chance to see some or all of the eclipse, it was wonderful. More orange than red to my eye, but it looked through the telephoto camera to have a dark brown or grey cast to the darker sections. We’ll see what the photos say.

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ISS Pass With Lightning!

That was a first!

I hope that some of you in LA got to see the nice ISS pass that I talked about last night. It was bright, it was long, it went almost from horizon to horizon, fairly near the zenith.

It was behind this:

(Image from NOAA Hi-Def Radar app)

But the green stuff hadn’t covered the blue dot yet, so hope springs infernal! Out I went with my tripod & gear!

Much as in the radar, clouds covered most of the sky. But not ALL of it – there was that little slice to the west-northwest where the ISS would be rising. And the lighting wasn’t continuous, nor was it close enough to actually hear the thunder yet, so standing out there in the open on top of the hill next to the trees and telephone poles wasn’t the stupidest thing I had done today!

And there it was!

I tried shooting this in portrait mode this time instead of landscape mode since the ISS was rising pretty much straight up. That part worked. I even remembered to focus! I still need to work on getting a slightly more stable tripod setup, since you can see where there was a slight shift twice.

But given the circumstances, I’m not unhappy with this result. I’ve seen (and photographed, for better or for worse) the ISS three times in two days. (No visible pass tomorrow, but there’s a so-so one on Sunday night, then nothing for a while.) And I didn’t get hit by lightning!

Now it sounds like the storm is here and that big orangish, reddish, angry looking blob is headed right towards us in the next fifteen to twenty minutes, so I’m going to go out on my front porch and enjoy (in safety) a bit of rogue Southern California weather. I might even do another Facebook Live if it gets to hopping and booming!

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Double ISS Pass

First of all, if you’re in LA, I’m showing you this tonight because there’s an EXCELLENT pass of the ISS tomorrow!

Rise at 17:32 in the northwest, highest point at 19:35:58 in the southwest 62° above the horizon, sets at 19:37:54 in the south-southeast. (Map here on heavens-above.com)

Which brings us back to this evening.

The ISS goes around the Earth in about 90 minutes. If you happen to have a long twilight at a particular time of year and you get a pass early enough in the evening (but still after it’s dark enough to see the ISS in the dusk) you might get another one 90 minutes later before it’s full dark. That happened tonight in LA with passes at 18:48:35 and 20:24:56.

Here’s what I learned trying to photograph it (I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s a learning process):

(Image created using StarStaX 0.7)

For that early dusk pass, when it’s still fairly bright but you can see the ISS just fine with the naked eye, a one-second exposure isn’t going to work. The sky’s too bright and each frame will be way, way over-exposed. I had a feeling that might happen and was tempted to cut it to like 3/4 second – should have cut it to like 1/8 second or less and then just shot a LOT of frames to stack.

Secondly, when you realize the ISS is over there when you thought it was going to rise over there and you grab the tripod and scramble to reposition, take a second to make sure that the camera’s still in focus. (It probably isn’t any more – duh!)

For the second pass when it’s much later and darker, those 1-second exposures work well! The ISS here is the upper track, passing from the lower right to the upper left. The lower tracks are aircraft over the California coast on the long arc into LAX from Asia.

You’ll note that the ISS fades out in the top (upper left) of its arc. This was when it moved into shadow. Being the second pass of the night you’re probably not going to see it get too high or travel too far across the sky. It’ll still be there! But the Earth’s shadow will catch it, it will fly into orbital night, and you won’t see it any more. But watch for it – it will dim and turn red and orange as it goes through it’s ten-second orbital sunset.

Tasty!

Meanwhile:

In between the wires after the first pass there was a two-day old moon and Jupiter down on the western horizon. (They’ll be there tomorrow too when you go out to see that ISS pass that I told you about at the top – right?) This photo brought to you by the fact that I remembered to focus!

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Spectacular SpaceX Launch

Tonight SpaceX launched a large weather satellite out of Vandenberg just after sunset. We know from experience that this can lead to some truly spectacular views in the Los Angeles area.

Since we’re now in a home at the top of a hill with a decent view to the west (Vandenberg is to our northwest and they’re launching to the south, so the rocket goes directly to the west of us) instead of one at the bottom of a hill (this hill, in fact) with the hill blocking the horizon to the west, I was hoping we would get some decent views. I was not disappointed.

With advance warning of the launch, I decided to try my first FaceBook Live streaming video of the launch. There were lessons learned and things to do better next time, but I think that it turned out pretty well all in all. You can watch it:

HERE

It starts as we’re about a minute or so before launch and in the background you can hear the audio from the SpaceX webcast. You’ll also hear the dulcet tones of me and my gravelly, nasal voice trying to give some sort of running commentary, and occasionally going a bit ape. Did I say that we had “decent” views? Try “spectacular” views!

You can fast forward to about 3:45 to when I first see the rocket coming up over the hill. At 5:05 the first stage shuts down, the stages separate, the second stage lights off and heads south to deliver the satellite to orbit, and the first stage starts puffing clouds of gas from the cold gas control thrusters as it maneuvers. (This whole thing is utterly amazing and colorful and freaked out more than a few people in LA who didn’t know what was going on.)

At 08:20 the first stage re-entry burn starts as the first stage slows and aims for landing back at Vandenberg. (It fell below the hill again after the burn ended so I couldn’t see the landing, but it did occur and was perfect.) From there on I follow the second stage and satellite, which was visible all the way to second stage engine cutoff!

That’s freaking amazing, just astonishing.

Enjoy the video, and if you’re in the LA area, keep an eye on the SpaceX feed (or on my FaceBook and/or Twitter feed) for the next dusk launch.

In ten years I would love to see these things be weekly events. In twenty I would love to see them daily.

We’re spreading off of this planet and becoming a multi-planetary species!

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Anti-Soul Crushing Sunset Pictures

Someone who I follow on Twitter because they attended a recent NASA Social (and I’ve found that most people who attend NASA Socials are pretty decent human beings) tweeted today: “I need something inspiring to happen. Today has been soul crushing in countless ways.”

My response was: “I know the feeling. ISS pass in your area tonight? Colorful sunset? Thunderstorm you can watch from a safe place? Look at the new pictures from Hayabusa 2 rovers? Look for Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars after sunset if it’s clear?”

Just in case they weren’t able to get any of those things or any acceptable substitutes (and without having a clue if they read this site) or just for any of you who might have had similar thoughts today, here’s the fair-to-middlin’ sunset we had tonight.

One of the problems I’ve found with the “new” house (jeez louise, we’re coming up on five months here!!) is all of the power lines and telephone poles directly to the west which show up in my sunset pictures.

Today I decided to wander down the hill a few houses (I need to get out more – five freakin’ months!) and found that a few houses down on the other side of the street there’s a much better, less obstructed view.

On the other hand, looking back to the north from there (the tall trees (Spartan Junipers maybe?) on the far right are next to our driveway) where it was darker and pinker and purple-er there was a jungle of silhouetted wires, which I found curiously compelling as an image.

As for Hyabusa 2…

For those of you with your souls being crushed tonight by those who no longer have a soul – I believe you. I see you. I will listen to you. I want to help.

For those of you still intact – join me.

For those of you who no longer have a soul – my Catholic school teachers wanted to impress me with the concept of redemption. I’m pretty sure that it was total bullshit, but I’m open minded still to having you prove me wrong.

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