Another Satellite Collision Simulation

50 minutes after collision, over the South Pole (University of Southampton)
50 minutes after collision, over the South Pole (University of Southampton)

On February 10th, Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 became the first ever satellites to collide in orbit. The event was unprecedented. Quickly, visualization companies (such as AGI) created stunning 3D animations of the event unfolding, modelling the resultant debris. Now, there’s another animation available, this time from the University of Southampton Astronautics Research Group.

Watch the University of Southampton simulation »

I really like this version, as a) it is modelled by software called “DAMAGE”, b) you get a real sense of orbital speed vs. the vanishingly tiny chance that two satellites, of that size, could possibly collide, and c) you can almost hear the *BOOM* when contact is made (it is a fanciful *BOOM*, because in space no one can hear a satellite scream).

Let’s just hope those hundreds of pieces of debris don’t amplify the space junk problem up there…

Source: Flightglobal/Hyperbola

Grab Your Mai Tai and Helmet, We’re Flying into Space… from Hawaii!

Coming to a tropical island near you (NASA, edited by Ian O'Neill)
Coming to a tropical island near you (NASA, edited by Ian O'Neill)

Hawaii state officials are seriously considering applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a spaceport licence. According to local media, Hawaii has been approached by four space tourism companies wanting to launch their spaceplanes from the Pacific islands. I’m assuming that includes Rocketship Global (as their promo video was being used in the report), XCOR (as their Lynx would be more than capable of using existing runways) and possibly Virgin Galactic? Richard Branson is making moves to launch passengers through the Aurora Borealis from the Swedish town of Kiruna, why not launch passengers from a tropical location too? Makes perfect sense.

At first, I was a little sceptical about this possibility, after all who really wants spaceplanes blasting into suborbital space from one of the most beautiful locations on the planet? I’ve visited Maui and Oahu, and I would hate to see any (more) damage done to the place. However, these commercial spaceplanes aren’t exactly huge polluters (no more than your average airliner that lands at Honolulu International in any case) and the launches would be a great source of revenue for the islands in the form of taxes (as will be the case in New Mexico) and tourism. And then there’s the possibility of accessing Hawaii via suborbital flightpaths from California and Japan. Flight-time from Hawaii to mainland US will be slashed from five hours to 90 minutes. If that means I can leave my house and be on Waikiki in about two hours… who am I to stand in the way of progress?

Unfortunately a lot of misplaced hope and optimism is placed on commercial spaceflight, so we’ll have to see how the Hawaii Spaceport idea develops before we go getting too excited…

For more, check out Space Tourist Suborbital Flight from Hawaii?

Twitter Physics: #physics140

physics140

If you are familiar with Twitter, you will have come across search tags (words with the hash character in front, i.e. “#searchterm”). So today I decided to create #physics140 where any Twitter user can submit an everyday example of physics.

Examples:

@MDBenson: Cat with wet paws jumps on handbasin for a drink, slips and falls off with a crash and a lot of spitting. Friction Fail #physics140

@astroengine: Turns out that putting ur coffee mug ontop of a subwoofer during NTrance “Set You Free” vibrates said mug onto the floor. #physics140

We’ll see how this works out, but it could be fun as well as educational. So, get onto Twitter and include your piece of everyday physics in 140 characters or less!

For easy tag browsing, check out the #physics140 @tagalus listing (thanks @natronics!)

A Windy Day on Mars Gives Spirit an Energy Boost

On Mars, there are no car washes, no windscreen wipers, no rain, no fans... you get the picture... (NASA)
On Mars, there are no car washes, no windscreen wipers, no rain, no fans... you get the picture. (NASA)

By far the biggest difficulty for robotic operations on the Martian surface are Sun-blocking dust storms. Not only do red-tinted dust clouds block the Sun from penetrating the atmosphere, the dust grains fall on solar panels, creating a layer of dusty sunscreen, reducing the amount of light falling on the photovoltaic cells. This is a special problem for long-term missions on the Red Planet. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been pottering around in the Martian regolith for over five years, mission planners had little idea their tough explorers would live much beyond their designed 3 month lifespan; long-term accumulation of dust was of no concern… until now.
Continue reading “A Windy Day on Mars Gives Spirit an Energy Boost”

“FAR” (the 365 Days of Astronomy Theme Tune) by George Hrab

It is very rare that I come across someone with star quality. Having said that, I have stumbled across a few stars in LA, such as Harrison Ford (great), Clint Eastwood (awesome) and Brittany Murphy (nice) because I’m only 20 minutes away from the city. These things happen in a place where its main (only?) industry is celebrity and film. Oh yes, I’ve also had dinner with Billy Dee Williams, stood in a queue with Jerry O’Connell (he was buying dog food) and tripped over Nicole Richie (she is rather tiny after all). However, when it comes to meeting somebody before they became famous… I draw blanks. Hardly surprising really, I’m no talent scout and I spend most of my time typing, indoors. I need to get out more.

However, it all changed last month, when I met George Hrab. I’ve known about George for a while, but I only knew of his writing on Geo-Logic and that he was a musician. I had only heard the first couple of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts and I noted that they had one hell of a catchy theme tune. However, I didn’t give it any thought until I was introduced to George Hrab at the AAS in Long Beach last month. Ahhh, that George Hrab!

In the short time I spent with George between the AAS presentations and (free) beer, I realised this guy has star quality. This was confirmed when he performed live at the grand opening of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. And what did he perform? His signature theme tune, “Far” for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, only this time with audience participation. Needless to say, George did a superb job, he has great talent and he’s a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he’s a skeptical thinker and embraces space, science and logical thinking. My prediction is that George Hrab really will go FAR (uber-far)…

Watch the video above, or you can download the full mp3 from George’s blog. Enjoy!

Pictures from the Red Dwarf Set

Robert Llewellyn (Kryton), Chris Barrie (Rimmer) and Danny John-Jules (The Cat) on the set of Coronation Street (Dave)
Robert Llewellyn (Kryton), Chris Barrie (Rimmer) and Danny John-Jules (The Cat) on the set of Coronation Street (Dave)

Behind the scene pictures of the forthcoming mini-series of the UK space comedy, Red Dwarf, have just been released by the Dave channel. TV comedies are out of the remit of Astroengine, but Red Dwarf will always have a special Astroengine.com VIP Pass. Why? Because it’s awesome.

The pictures above were taken on the Coronation Street set (a UK soap, that I also miss terribly) during the making of the upcoming Easter pair of episodes in April. For me, seeing the cast back together, after nearly a decade apart, is great. I loved each series (although the original four seasons were probably the best in my opinion) and I can’t wait to see how these new episodes turn out.

Smegging fantastic!

For more, check out “They’re (Not) Dead Dave…” – Red Dwarf Returns!

Source: Dave

Satellite Imagery of Lake Eerie Ice Floe Break

MODIS images of Lake Eerie on Feb. 6th (left) and Feb. 8th (right). Thinning and breakage of ice floe is evident (MODIS/NASA)
MODIS images of Lake Eerie on Feb. 6th (left) and Feb. 8th (right). Arrow indicates the area of Crane Creek State Park, where the rescue was mounted. Thinning and breakage of ice floe is evident (MODIS/NASA)

On Saturday (February 7th), more than 130 fishermen were stranded off the Lake Eerie shoreline. Eerie is the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes, sandwiched between the Canadian province of Ontario and by the US States of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. It is a freshwater lake, a very popular fishing destination. During winter, large areas of the lake freeze over, tempting fishermen to venture further from the coastline onto the ice floe.

However, over the weekend, tragedy struck when a large chunk of ice thinned and drifted from the Ohio coastline (along Crane Creek State Park‎). The ice floe broke away, carrying 135 fishermen into the lake. One 65 year old man fell into the freezing waters and died of a heart attack. The remaining 134 men had to be airlifted from the ice by the emergency services, some were stranded for several hours. For the full details of the rescue, read the Associated Press article.

A satellite image of Lake Eerie during summer (Google)
A satellite image of Lake Eerie during summer (Google)

Local officials warned fishermen of the risks with venturing too far into the frozen lake, but it would appear the temptation was too great to find the best fishing spot. According to news sources, the ice was up to 2 feet thick, giving the illusion of safety. However, temperatures were rising and an offshore wind of 35 mph cracked the ice, isolating the fishermen.

Having just explored the MODIS website for satellite imagery of the UK snow cover, I was contacted by David Gamey (at Mang’s Bat Page) wondering whether I had found any satellite imagery of the event. After a short investigation, sure enough the MODIS archives were up to date, showing the frozen Lake Eerie clearly.

Comparing two images (top), one from February 6th (the day before the ice floe breakage) and one from February 8th (the day after), it is clear there is significant thinning of the ice. In the Feb. 6th image, it is hard to see the lake at all, the ice blends very well with the surrounding land. On Feb. 8th, the blue of the lake water is highlighted signifying ice thinning and breakage.

It is striking how illustrative the MODIS photos are, providing valuable information about everything from snow cover to forest fires. This one example how a comparison between two dates of lake ice cover can be so valuable. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this Earth observing mission

Sources: MODIS/NASA, ABC News via David Gamey (at Mang’s Bat Page)

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream “Get Back Here You Thieving Alien!”

bridgestone

I’m quickly realising that the Super Bowl ad break is as eagerly awaited as the match itself. I’ve lived in the US for 3 Super Bowls, and each time there’s the buzz, “I wonder what the [insert company here] ad will be this year?” It’s funny, I’ve only watched one Super Bowl (in my first year) and I was astonished that there were more ad breaks than (American) football. (Which is no bad thing, I’m not a huge fan of the sport, give me football–soccer–any day.)

All I do know is, some of the ads are funny, some are clever but most are crap (don’t get me started on the GoDaddy marketing campaign… what in the hell are they doing?). But today, as posted on Greg Fish’s World of Weird Things, there was a glimmer of Space Age hope from a tire manufacturer…
Continue reading “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream “Get Back Here You Thieving Alien!””

“They’re (Not) Dead Dave…” – Red Dwarf Returns! (Update)

Chris Barrie (front), Craig Charles, Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules (back), plus computerized Hattie Hayridge (series 3-5)
Chris Barrie (front), Craig Charles, Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules (back), plus computerized Hattie Hayridge (series 3-5)

I don’t usually post stuff about TV shows, but this is HUGE news.

Besides, Red Dwarf was the best sci-fi sitcom, and it still is the BEST SCI-FI SITCOM to grace the TV in the UK ever since the mining spaceship Red Dwarf‘s crew was wiped out by a radiation leak, 3 million years ago. Lister (played by Craig Charles), the last remaining crew member (who was held in suspended animation for the duration), is joined by Rimmer (a hologram of Lister’s despised crew mate, played by Chris Barrie) and a descendent from Lister’s pregnant cat, called… Cat (Danny John-Jules). As the second series progressed, the trio meet the mechanoid Kryten, played by Robert Llewellyn (who, incidentally, I leant this news from via @bobbyllew).

The first show was aired back in 1988 and it continued (for eight seasons) until 1999, and I was addicted to each and every episode. Red Dwarf taught me many things, including:

1) There is no Silicon Heaven.
2) Toasters should not be allowed to talk.
3) There’s no such thing as “brown alert”.
4) The BSc in “Arnold Rimmer BSc” stands for “Bronze Swimming Certificate”.
5) Kryten has some amazing uses for his groin attachment.

So it looks like there will be a returning Easter special of two episodes, plus another two improvised episodes that will be done in front of a live audience! Alas, I’ll be in the US when it airs on the UKTV Channel Dave in April, but I will be sure to get it recorded!

For more info, check out The Guardian coverage of this superb news. Also, check out the Red Dwarf website, it’s just brought back some superb memories.

UPDATE: The Dave Channel Overlord just left a message informing me that Dave will be “revealing an exclusive piece of news from the production set every Wednesday at noon at http://www.joindave.co.uk. Enjoy!” Hopefully this will also be accessible to the continentally-challenged individuals like myself who’ll be missing out on the live airing in the UK… is there any news the new episodes will be online?

Please Dave, polymorph Red Dwarf into joyful smegtastic streaming video… pleeeaase?

Fireball Over Sweden

Just when we thought it was getting quiet, a fireball exploded over Scandinavia last night. What’s more, there is outstanding video footage of the event over the skies of Sweden (above). There are a huge number of sightings from Sweden, Denmark and Holland which is good, there’s a better chance of finding any debris that way (in fact, if you saw something, contact the International Meteor Organization).

The fireball occured on January 17th at 19:09 UT. It was a spectacular sight. Duration: 3 or 4 seconds, colours: yellow to green, fragmentation yes, brightness -10 or maybe brighter. I’m a meteor observer active since 1978 and I have observed almost 60 000 meteors since that time.” – Koen Miskotte, Ermelo, Netherlands.

For more, check out Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy article and SpaceWeather.com
Continue reading “Fireball Over Sweden”