Space Station Flare Captured On Film

I’ve been watching this short video clip over and over. It may only be two seconds long, but it is such a unique view of the space station that I find it mesmerizing. Each time the animated GIF loops, another detail seems to reveal itself.

The ISS flare, as observed by Nicolas Biver from Versailles, France, on April 28th (©Nicolas Biver)

The ISS flare, as observed by Nicolas Biver from Versailles, France, on April 28th (©Nicolas Biver)

It’s also kinda hypnotizing in a rhythmic way; the space station appears to turn and boost away into the black of space, but just before its massive solar arrays capture the sunlight, dazzling the observer with a flash.

Is it me, or are those solar panels reminiscent of the sails hoisted up the masts of canon-touting battleships before the age of iron-hulled vessels and steam-powered engines? These slightly fuzzy images could even be from the turn of the 20th Century, when one of the first movie cameras filmed a ship steering out of port.

Of course, this isn’t a wooden ocean-going ship, it’s the space station, in orbit. And the video was taken with a modern digital camera through a 16-inch Dobsonian telescope by a highly skilled amateur astronomer called Nicolas Biver from Versailles, France. The reason why the station appears to “turn” is because the perspective of the observer changes as the station flies overhead, he did a great job of tracking it.

On April 28th, Biver tracked the space station through his ‘scope. Whether it was intentional or not, he was fortunate to capture an intense flare as the space station’s solar panels reflected sunlight at his location. The resulting flare was much brighter than Venus (after the Moon, the station is the second brightest object in the night sky). Usually when I hear about observations of flares made by stuff in orbit, I usually think of Iridium flares that occur at predictable times and locations, providing a target for observers on the ground to capture a meteor-like streak across the sky. The Iridium satellite network provides a great chance for astronomers to see the reflected light when the angle between them, the satellite’s solar panels and Sun is just right.

My astronomer friend Tavi Greiner (who has just joined the Astrocast.TV team as host of Our Night Sky, be sure to check it out!) is very skilled at observing the Iridium flare-ups, and as can be seen in this image, those things are bright.

However, on the 28th, it was the space station’s turn to reflect some light for Nicolas Biver.

In March, Space Shuttle Discovery completed the construction of the ISS solar arrays during the STS-119 mission. Over a series of space walks, the solar array had its area boosted to 16,000 square feet. With this extra surface area, comes the potential for very bright flaring events.

For the chance to view the ISS and possible flaring, check out SpaceWeather.com’s Simple Satellite Tracker.

Source: Space Weather

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Discovery Undocks From ISS, Descends Through Sunset

A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)

A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs. Images slightly corrected for camera rotation (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)

The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)

The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)

After looping once around the space station, space shuttle Discovery slowly dropped away as it started its journey back to Earth on Wednesday, March 25th.

I was watching the live video feed coming from the station, captivated by the scene. Having successfully completed the STS-119 mission, the seven crew members said their farewells after the 10-day stay in low-Earth orbit to install the remaining solar arrays (left). This will enable the station to collect more energy to sustain an expanded crew from three to six later this year, and allow the station to carry out more science.

On NASA TV, I listened to the chatter between mission control, the station and the shuttle but I was overjoyed to capture some screen shots as the shuttle passed through the sunset and then dropping into the Earth’s shadow (top). The added bonus was the glint of sunlight before Discovery turned orange before slipping into the night. Stunning…

For more, check out the Universe Today’s coverage of the Discovery undocking »

Pins and Solar Arrays

Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)

Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)

According to NASA, Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission to install the remaining solar arrays is going to plan, apart from the small matter of a pin that was installed the wrong way. Although this might sound inconsequential, the mistake made during today’s spacewalk has jammed an equipment storage platform, eating up valuable time during the EVA, causing NASA mission control to evaluate the situation. At the moment, the platform is temporarily tethered in place until a solution is found to the pin that has been inserted incorrectly.

For more information on this news, check out the Associated Press article »

In the grand scheme of things, this won’t hinder progress too much. I am still in awe of any mission that makes the space station capable of supporting an expanded crew of six, creating the second brightest object in the nights sky (after the Moon). This bright speeding object is a huge, man-made array of solar panels. If we are capable of doing these things at an altitude of 350 km, anything is possible…

Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper

Warning: You are about to read news of an upsetting nature. Brian didn’t make it, he was more of a thrill seeker than we gave him credit for…

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

If you have been following the news about the bat that caused a stir during Sunday’s Space Shuttle Discovery launch, we finally have closure on what actually happened. It is a sad day, Brian the Bat clung on to the shuttle’s exterior tank until lift-off…
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Stunning Discovery Post-Launch Video

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday (©Adam Bojanowski)

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday creating a bright white cloud (©Adam Bojanowski)

Watch the time-lapse movie after Discovery’s launch »

I compiled the pictures I took into a time lapse movie. The blue cloud appears to grow where the shuttle main engines passed through a particular layer of atmosphere. The cloud grew in coverage and changed from bright white to electric blue as it expanded.” — Adam Bojanowski

Note: The expanding vivid white cloud appears after tiny droplets of water condense and then freeze around particles in Discovery’s exhaust after passing through a saturated layer of atmosphere. The ice in this new cloud preferentially scattered the blue light from the setting Sun (this is called Rayleigh scattering, the same mechanism for giving the sky its blue hue).

Source: SpaceWeather.com

In Memory of Brian, the Discovery Bat

The bat, clinging to Discovery's external tank on Sunday's shuttle launch (©NASA/Collect Space/Brian the Bat)

The bat, clinging to Discovery's external tank on Sunday's shuttle launch (©NASA/Collect Space/Brian the Bat)

As the Sun set over Florida, NASA ground staff hurried to complete preparations for space shuttle Discovery’s launch just before 8pm EST on Sunday. Fortunately, the countdown went as planned and Discovery is now on its way to install the remaining solar panels in the International Space Station’s solar array. The launch itself was strangely captivating, probably because this was the sixth launch date that has been set (continuously postponed due to valve problems and, most recently, a hydrogen leak). However, there was another reason that interested me, a bat had been discovered, hanging onto the the shuttle’s external fuel tank, refusing to budge…
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Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!

discovery_launch

At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »