Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.MassiminoSpaceman

Title: Spaceman
Author: Mike Massimino
ISBN: 978-1101903544 (hardback)
Published: October 4, 2016 by Crown Archetype
Price: $28.00 hardback/$11.50 paperback/$13.99 Kindle (7/17)
(Reviewing the Kindle version)
Length: 336 pages

Mike Massimino was an NASA astronaut from 1996 to 2014, and he flew twice in the Space Shuttle, both times to work on the Hubble space telescope. Let’s look at his book.

Book Chapters

Prologue: A Science Fiction Monster (do NOT skip this section)
Ch 1: A Perfect Good
Ch 2: Most All-Around
Ch 3: Who You Gonna Get?
Ch 4: The Smart-Kid Olympics
Ch 5: Force Feedback
Ch 6: Human Factors
Ch 7: Disqualified
Ch 8: Yes or No
Ch 9: There’s Mach 1
Ch 10: If You Have a Problem
Ch 11: Spacewalker
Ch 12: Shackleton Mode
Ch 13: Seeing Beyond the Stars
Ch 14: Ready to Go
Ch 15: Weightless
Ch 16: Earth is a Planet
Ch 17: Maybe this is Heaven
Ch 18: The Story of Space
Ch 19: February 1, 2003
Ch 20: Why We Go
Ch 21: From the Ashes
Ch 22: One Last Job
Ch 23: Line 28
Ch 24: Grounded
Epilogue: Around the Next Corner

And now, my review

Don’t skip the prologue, or you will miss some well written material.  Mike’s description of his first time outside the space shuttle Columbia, as they waited to lift off to head to the Hubble, made me feel like I was there:

“The shuttle was making these ungodly sounds.  I could hear the fuel pumps working, steam hissing, metal groaning and twisting under the extreme cold of the fuel, which was hundreds of degrees below zero.  Rocket fuel burns off at very low temperatures, sending huge billows of smoke pouring out.  Standing there, looking up, I could feel the power of this thing.  It looked like a beast waiting there for us.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Prologue

Now that is descriptive writing!

Mike talks about his childhood, seeing Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon, which made him want to be an astronaut.  During his senior year of high school, Mike decided to go on to Columbia for his undergraduate degree.  He interned before graduating and a mentor at Sperry encouraged him to go on to graduate school to find something he was passionate about, to do with his life.  He saw one of my favorite movies, “The Right Stuff“, which made him realize he really wanted to try to become an astronaut.  He decided his best bet to become an astronaut meant he needed to get a graduate degree (or two) from MIT.  He took a job and decided to wait a year or two before starting grad school, but while he was at work he saw the news about the space shuttle Challenger exploding, and he realized he needed to go ahead and start grad school at MIT.  While there, he started working on skills he needed to become an astronaut, which included scuba diving and getting a private pilot license.

After completing two Masters degrees, Mike decided he needed more education to stand out to NASA, so he started on a program Ph.D at MIT.  It was difficult, and he failed his first qualifying oral exam.  He was on his honeymoon in Portugal when he thought about the early ocean explorers that took risks and never quit, so he realized he needed to try again.  I too had issues in college when I was younger, but later in life I returned and earned my undergrad degree in Computer Science.  That graduation ceremony is one of my own personal high points in life.  Like Mike, I encourage people to not give up and continue to try, as accomplishing a major life goal is always worthwhile.

Before reading Mike’s bio, I figured that a man with a Ph.D from MIT that became an astronaut and had two shuttle missions working on the Hubble might be arrogant and full of himself.  I was wrong.  In this book, Mike credits the people around him that helped him become what he wanted.

“I owe everything I’ve ever accomplished to the people around me – people who pushed me to be the best version of myself.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 6

It is inspirational to see someone with such a impressive career be that humble.  You don’t need to be a superman to become an astronaut – you need to work long and hard and with focus to become one.  I should add that Mike prepared differently for his second Ph.D oral exam and passed it.

After earning his Ph.D, Mike took a job with McDonnell Douglas and moved to Houston to be near NASA.  He applies and goes through the astronaut selection process, passing everything but the eye exam.  Now that his vision was a disqualifying issue, he decided to fix it instead of giving up.  He sees an eye doctor and starts vision training.  Working hard, following the advice of his doctor and friends, his vision improved enough and after reapplying, was accepted into the NASA astronaut program.  At last, he was in.

Mike undergoes new astronaut orientation and talks about flying T-38s.  I’d assumed all astronauts are pilots, but that isn’t true.  Mission specialists like Mike fly in the back seat – they get to do maneuvers including aerobatic, as well as handle the radio and navigate, but they don’t do take offs or landings.  Bummer.

“There are a couple of things you do on your first flight, kind of like your initiation.  The first thing is to go weightless.  The second thing you do is break the sound barrier.  When we reached <mach> 1.0, I said, ‘There’s Mach 1,’ in my best Chuck Yeager impression.

I loved flying.  I could not get enough of it.  Backseaters had to log a minimum of twenty-five training hours in the T-38 every quarter.  I was always near the top of my class in hours.  I had more hours than any mission specialist in my group, especially out of the civilians.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

I’d love to have a chance to ride in a T-38, even just one time, and yeah, I’d take as many photos as my phone would hold (and maybe one or two short movies) to be able to relive the event.  Maybe some day.  Everyone can dream, can’t they?

Shortly after being accepted to the astronaut program, Mike’s father became ill and he asked his fellow astronauts for help and they gave it.  Mike said something about astronauts I hadn’t heard before and feel like I should share it with you:

“If you’ve ever wondered what the right stuff is, that’s what the right stuff is – the real right stuff.  It’s not about being crazy enough to strap yourself to the top of a bomb.  That’s actually the easy part.  It’s more about character, serving a purpose greater than yourself, putting the other guy first, and being able to do that every single day in every aspect of your life.  People ask me all the time what it takes to become an astronaut.   It’s not about being the smartest or having the most college degrees.  The real qualifications for being an astronaut are: Is this someone I’d trust with my life? Will this person help look after my family if I don’t make it home?”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

Mike’s father recovered and was able to attend his graduation ceremony from Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) to full Astronaut.  The way Mike’s fellow astronauts and friends rallied around when he needed help was incredible – not many companies where you matter so much to you coworkers, especially in this modern world.

When Mike was becoming an astronaut, it was the time we were preparing to build the ISS.  Assembling the ISS would require a lot of spacewalking, so Mike learned that skill.  He covers the details in depth, and I had no idea how much was involved just learning to move about in space.  Fascinating read, chapter 11.  Do not skip it.

One thing the astronauts had to learn was cold weather survival skills.  They went to Cold Lake in Canada, where it was subzero most of the the time they were there.  As a Minnesota transplant, I understand how difficult it can be for warm climate people to be forced to contend with severe cold, and they did well.  During a trip to Japan to help the Japanese Space Agency, he realized something important about his job:

“Going to space doesn’t make you an astronaut.  Being an astronaut means you’re ready to go to space.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 12

The Hubble Space Telescope is simply incredible.  In addition to sharing the same first names, Mike Massimino and I are both impressed with the Hubble as it is a great engineering triumph for humanity.  The research done by the Hubble far exceeds the beautiful images it sends back, and it is indeed a valuable tool for discovering our place in the universe.  Before reading this book, I was unaware the Hubble has 6 gyros that keep it aligned on a target, and that the internals of the Hubble are kept at room temperature even though the outside conditions vary between -200 and 200 degrees F every day.  The Hubble had problems with gyro failure, so two missions were planned: 3A and 3B.  Mike was part of the development process for 3B and he hoped to be part of the actual mission:

“Bob Curbeam, who flew on a couple of station assembly flights (of the Shuttle), used to say, ‘Hubble guys are the Jedi.  The coolest.’  I wanted to be a Hubble guy.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 13

Did he get to go on flight STS-109, mission 3B?  Yes he did.  He talks about the details of establishing the shuttle crew, the dynamics and skills of the people that were mission specialists and the flight deck crew, as well as the Hubble components they were to replace.  The amount of work he and other astronauts do, just to get ready for a mission, is incredible.  It is amazing how well NASA can provide different ways of duplicating conditions the astronauts face while working in space.  They not only have the pool for full size practice.  They also use virtual reality to practice how it feels to move mass in a weightless environment.  The preparation for the mission was lengthy, but finally they launched.  Mike’s description of the Earth from the shuttle is worth sharing:

“We were over the Indian Ocean, which was a beautiful shade of blue with puffy white clouds sprinkled across it.  I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you’re magically floating above everyone else.  I could see the ripples in the ocean, the horizon with the blue atmosphere in thin, hazy line.  It was like all the pictures I’d seen, only a thousand times better.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

Mike continues to provide details about the mission, including that they needed to setup the toilet, galley, and exercise bike after launch.  I never thought about them being stowed, but it makes sense.  Again, great details for space enthusiasts as well as prospective astronauts.  Mike’s description of how they needed to get used to being in space was also new.  He describes how it feels to have all the fluid in your body move towards your head, and it doesn’t sound fun.  And I didn’t know that your spine stretches so you grow an inch, but the muscles in your back have to stretch and adjust, so that’s painful too.  And he gives the best description I’ve seen about space sickness:

“Then there’s the nausea.  ‘Stomach awareness’ is the official term.  That whole first day I floated around feeling like I was going to barf at any moment.  Space sickness is the opposite of seasickness,  The effect is the same, the nausea and vomiting, but the root cause is different.  … In space, you’re floating around and this time it’s your eyes that are telling your brain you are moving and your inner ear that’s telling your brain that you’re still, because your inner ear doesn’t move when you’re weightless.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

It took three days to catch up to Hubble, so they had time to adjust and to prepare for the mission.  Mike was very nervous, but he remembered details he shares in this book, like how he sounded in his suit:

“My voice sounded different, too, because the sound wave travels differently through the lower atmospheric pressure.  It’s at a lower register.  I sounded like I was about to cut a blues album.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch16

Mike and his teammate do their first EVAastronauts install ACS on Hubble and replace one of the solar array panels.  It was an intense process, physically difficult and draining, and the part of the mission Mike was most concerned with.  He was stressed, but Mike says the view of the Earth was worth it.  His second EVA was working with James Neuman to replace the failed Faint Object Camera with the Advanced Camera for Surveys and NASA has a picture of the two mission specialists doing that during the 3B mission.

Astronauts have reported having an epiphany during their missions.  I’ll let Mike speak for himself on his own epiphany:

“I took a moment and turned and glanced over my shoulder at the Earth again. …

The thought that went through my head was If you were in heaven, this is what you would see.  This is my view from heaven.  Then that thought was immediately replaced by another thought.  No, it’s even more beautiful than that.  This is what heaven must look like – maybe this is heaven. …

And my thought looking down at the Earth was Wow.  How much God our Father must love us that he gave us this home.  He didn’t put us on Mars or Venus with nothing but rocks and frozen waste.  He gave us paradise and said, ‘Live here’.”

Mike Massimino Spaceman Ch 17

While he was resting after the mission finished, Mike listened to music and said certain music was better during the day or night.  He liked Sting, Phil Collins, Coldplay and U2 during the day.  At night, Radiohead, plus the soundtracks for Dances with Wolves and Meet Joe Black.

At the end of chapter 17, Mike mentions that their Hubble mission, STS-109, went before STS-107.  Both were Columbia missions.  Mike’s flight came home, STS-107 broke up during re-entry and all aboard were killed, and Mike devotes chapter 19 to explaining how the loss of the crew of STS-107 affected their families and the other astronauts.

We’ve lost too many of our astronauts – the crews of Apollo 1, the Challenger,  and the Columbia – I wish, as a country, we could have an astronaut remembrance day to remember each of these brave individuals that gave their lives exploring space, to make us better as a race.  We should remember them as they deserve: as our heroes.

Chapters 20 through 23 are about the final mission to the Hubble.  After the Columbia was destroyed during re-entry, the decision was made to cancel the last planned trip to the Hubble, as it was considered too unsafe.  NASA kept a planned robotics mission to go to Hubble, and then the NASA administrator was replaced by someone wanting to do something big for NASA, and the mission was back on.  Due to the costs of replacing entire defective systems, the decision was made to repair them in place – something that qualify as the most technically challenging repair ever done in space, on could be viewed as the most important piece of astronomical equipment ever deployed: the Hubble.  The technical challenges they faced, disassembling, repairing and reassembling equipment not designed to be worked on in orbit, were considerable, but NASA being NASA, they were addressed and the mission to upgrade and fix Hubble was on, using the Atlantis shuttle.  In addition to saving the Hubble, one other notable event happened during the flight: the first tweet from space was done by Mike on the Atlantis.

Every good thing comes to an end.  Mike decided against doing any long term Soyez missions, so he was removed from flight status and moved on from being an astronaut, but he is still using social media – I follow him on Twitter, as do many.

I took four days to read this book, because I didn’t want it to end, any more than Mike wanted his time as an Astronaut to end.  A truly great story about overcoming obstacles to accomplish what is important to you in life.  I found three videos plus a ton of podcasts about or by Mike Massimino on iTunesU – go there if you want to see and hear the man himself.  Or you can try episodes of The Big Bang Theory on TV – he’s made a number of guest appearances since the 5th season

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Mike’s bio.  Learned a ton of things about becoming and being an astronaut, as well as understanding how a shuttle mission was planned and implemented.  Like Col. Hadfield’s bio, this is one I will re-read.

I strongly encourage people to buy this book.  Mike Massimino tells a great story, and his vivid details paint a clear picture of his experiences.  He takes you inside the astronaut program and lets you see how hard it is to get in, but shows that you can overcome obstacles if you work hard enough.  I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Only one task is left for me now: I need to track down an autographed copy in hardback for my home library.  I want to read it again and then I will encourage my wife to read it.  I may even buy a few paperback copies to give as Christmas gifts.

Note

I have written book reviews for print magazines in the past.  The largest I wrote was 1000 words, but usually they were 200 – 500 words.  This review is much longer because I wanted to do justice to this biography.  It is well crafted, exciting to read, and reveals more details about NASA and space missions than other NASA bios I’ve read.  I enjoyed the book and hope Mike Massimino has another one planned – if he does, I’ll read it.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.Product Details

Title: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
(print versions in English, Spanish, German)
Author: Col. Chris Hadfield
ISBN: 978-0-316-25301-7
Published: October, 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (www.littlebrown.com)
Price: $28.00 for hardback/$11.99 for Kindle (7/2017)
Length: 284 pages

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian that decided to become an astronaut when he was young, when Canada did not have a space program.  Chris decided to make education and career decisions that would affect his chances if he could become an astronaut, but would also be rewarding if he failed to achieve that goal.  He devoted himself to learning in school and became a glider pilot at 15 and then a licensed private pilot at 16.

When Chris was young, the path to NASA was open to people in the military (being a jet pilot was/is very important to NASA), so Chris decided to go to military college and he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then went the jet pilot route awhile before becoming a test pilot.  Like other test pilots, he applied to NASA, and yes he was accepted.  I’m not going to go into more detail as he does a fine job covering his education and military experiences in the first chapter of this book.

This book covers Chris’ experiences on getting accepted to NASA, on riding in the space shuttle, and on riding in a Soyuz. While those mission descriptions were very interesting, I found Chris’ work experience at NASA and in Russia fascinating.  I knew astronauts are always training for missions, but I wasn’t aware how many other roles they have at NASA.  Chris was heavily involved with so many aspects of the space program, that he is one of those people you hope to find that will share his experiences with you.  This book does that, but I’d still love to meet this person and hear from him about his adventures as an astronaut.

Book Chapters

Introduction (do NOT skip this part)
Ch 1 – The Trip Takes a Lifetime
Ch 2 – Have an Attitude
Ch 3 – The Power of Negative Thinking
Ch 4 – Sweat the Small Stuff
Ch 5 – The Last People in the World
Ch 6 – What’s the Next Thing that Can Kill Me?
Ch 7 – Tranquility Base, Kazakhstan
Ch 8 – How to Get Blasted (and Feel Good the Next Day)
Ch 9 – Aim to Be a Zero
Ch 10 – Life on Earth
Ch 11 – Square Astronaut, Round Hole
Ch 12 – Soft Landings
Ch 13 – Climbing Down the Ladder

Every chapter is worth reading – don’t be tempted to skip ahead.  My favorite chapter was Ch 7, about Chris’ experience working with the Russians.  This was fascinating, as we see so little of what goes on in Russia on NASA TV.  The main information I’d seen before was on the ceremonies that the Russians follow before and after a flight.  Very elaborate, and proof that space flight means a great deal to them.  Chris talks about his time there, and it helped me see how much our space program has been helped by cooperating with Russia.  They have helped us build and run the ISS, as well as ferry many people there.  I would hope they are part of our missions establishing outposts on the moon and on Mars.  Both of our countries would benefit from the joint effort.

The chapter that surprised me was Ch 9 Aim to Be a Zero.  I guess I assumed that, once people made it into the space program, they knew they needed to get along with others in all aspects of missions.  How could anyone not understand that human dynamics is extremely important when you have multiple people crammed together in a small space for a dangerous assignment in space?  Apparently Chris encountered some people that failed to understand that being exceptionally good doesn’t mean being exceptionally self-centered.  Chris offers great advice for future astronauts: don’t try to be difficult or cause issues, and learn how to get along with others if you want to work in space.

Conclusion

Great book, and a fast and easy read.  I’ve started re-reading it as it enjoyed it so much the first time, and this is the first time I’ve re-read a bio. There wasn’t great detail about being in the Canadian military, but that was due to the fact that this book concentrates on Chris’ life experiences that lead him to NASA, and helped him over his career.

If I had any complaint about this book, it was that it was too short at 284 pages.  I hope Chris does a followup book and provides more about specific details about his three trips to space, as well as about the daily experiences of working at NASA.  That might seem boring to people working at NASA, but not to us space flight fans that follow the space program.

I didn’t want to forget to mention that Chris was into photography when he was on the ISS, and he published another book called: “You are Here: Around the World in 92 minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station” – I haven’t seen this one yet, but I will.  To see actual pictures from the ISS would be really wild – kind of make you feel like you were there for a short visit.

Recommendation: Buy this book for yourself, and buy another copy for any space fan (young or old) in your family.  It will make a great gift this holiday season.  I give it 5 stars out of a possible 5.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy of NASA

This morning NASA used a Delta II rocket to successfully launch the Aquarius/SAC-D mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This new satellite will help scientists measure the amount of Sea Surface Salinity, which is important for global climate studies. The mission was accomplished with cooperation between NASA and Argentina’s CONAE Space Agency.

What impressed me this morning was the method I used to follow the launch: watching streaming video on my iPod touch. When the first space missions were launched, people saw the poor quality video on black and white televisions, many with tiny (compared to those available today) screens. This morning the video of the launch on my Touch was in color and in very good detail. I watched the final 15 minute countdown (which took longer than 15 minutes due to a built0in pause to make important system checks prior to launch), and it was great.

To read more about this launch, check out NASA’s website.

Two must-have iPhone apps are the NASA app and the NASA TV app. Being able to look up mission information or watch missions on NASA TV is fantastic for space enthusiasts (count me as part of that group). While I don’t have an iPad, I will add both of NASA’s apps when I do purchase one in the future. I imagine the materials will be better when viewed on larger screens. Anyone with an iPad that wants to share their experience with these apps is most welcome to post a comment.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

The Russian Mir and US Skylab space stations were the first space stations used for research done away from the confines of gravity. The news, newspapers and magazine articles of that era showed a bit of what the astronauts saw in orbit, and while the quality of images was generally lacking, they were better than nothing.

Now we have the International Space Station (ISS), which is a near earth orbit (~ 250 miles above earth) space station constructed from components built by the US, Russia, Japan, and Canada over the past 10 years. The first mission to construct the ISS was launched on October 31, 2000, and the ISS is still being updated today. The next major component for the ISS is a tool to help in the search for dark matter, which is scheduled for the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle Discovery in 2011. Modern satellite and cable companies carry the NASA channel, which has live and prerecorded feeds from the space station, and the quality of this material is impressive.

A couple of days ago I looked at the ISS in Starry Night Pro (SNP) 6 and the station was on the far side of the planet away from the sun, so I couldn’t see many details of the station. I left the software running and 15 minutes later the station had returned to the sunny side of earth (makes sense as the ISS makes 18 orbits around the earth every day), so I could easily see the station as well as earth below it. The image below is how the station would appear to a visiting vessel.

By the way, so far there have been 67 Russian, 34 shuttles, 1 European, and 1 Japanese vehicles that have visited the ISS. In the screen shot above, you see the earth revolving under ISS. I like how the station goes from visible to barely seen when it leaves the sun-side of earth. This is a nice way to show students learning astronomy how our planet looks from earth orbit. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Tip: If you want to know the position of the ISS at any time so you can look at it with a telescope or binoculars, SNP has that data. Select the ISS, then select the Info tab and look at ‘Position in the Sky’ to get current position :

I looked at the ISS information in SNP and it is good, but the software also allows user to access online information about the space station from within SNP. I selected the Online Info option for the ISS, which launched Safari and took me to a page in Wikipedia. Now this choice of information surprised me, because most of my undergrad classes expressly forbid us the use Wikipedia as a source for any project or paper. I’m not knocking Wikipedia, but I’ve heard more than a few college professors express mistrust of the accuracy of some of the information.

In a future update of SNP, I’d like to have the ability to add my own links for external information, because NASA’s excellent site and Wolfram|Alpha have a ton of good information on the ISS – size, weight, missions, people that visit, – and NASA’s site also has a lot of good videos and still images, as well as blog entries and tweets by astronauts on the ISS. I’d also like to be able to jump directly to JPL’s and MIT’s sites that have ISS- and space-related content from within Starry Night.

Speaking of NASA’s site, if you’re interested in the space station, you can have a calendar with beautiful color images of the ISS. NASA has one available – click here to download the 2011 ISS calendar.

Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on the ISS (as well as other astronomy information), including the current position of the ISS.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Astronomy Buffs might want to check out the Galaxy Zoo site to lend an amateur hand to astronomy research. The concept of this site is similar to other Internet-based corroborative research projects, many people work together to analyse information. In this case the information concerns astronomy.

Galaxy Zoo is a part of the Zooniverse Project which is an organization that used the time and eyes of volunteers to analyze information that a computer cannot deal with.  There are a number of projects currently going on in the Zooniverse. In the Galaxy Zoo project one answers questions about an image of a galaxy they are shown. In the Moon Zoom project, one answers questions about moon surface images. The newest project is one called “Old Weather” where you help classify information about weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I.

The human mind, believe it or not, still surpasses the computer’s abilities when it comes to analyzing images. You can look at an image and say it has this or that feature, even though the image itself doesn’t fit any of the classical standard shapes. I guess the best example of this is security words used on some web sites.  They present a word or set of numbers rendered in a weird blobby way. Few computers are capable of deciphering what the letters are, but a real human would see it in an instance. So this site takes advantage of our amazing cognitive abilities, by showing the images to several “organic” computers and letting them provide information, and then organizing the answers so that research scientists can makes use of the data. Pretty neat!

The information asked for is pretty basic. You aren’t expected to have any background on the subject. You are simply asked to look at an image, and answer some basic questions about it or make some comparisons. What is so cool about this is that the Internet gives the people doing scientific research access to thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of eyes which reduce an almost insurmountable project to analyze millions of images to a simple project. Now that I think about it, it’s almost like the Matrix Movie universe….

All the projects below provide links to papers written using the data of the project, Blogs with more information about what is happening with that project, and more. Which is a great way to see how the information you have helped create is being put to use.

In the Galaxy Zoo  project, you are shown an image that is part of a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged with the robotic telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.  You then answer some simple questions about what you see. The questions are simple enough that even a person with only a very basic understanding of Astronomy can answer them. For instance the first question set is to determine what you are looking at, is it a smooth galaxy, one with features like spiral arms or a disk, or is it simple an artifact (some smudge, or defect that the computer through might be a galaxy but obviously isn’t).

Then based on your first answer, other questions are asked. The second set of questions is always the same for the same first answer. Your answer might lead to subsequent question sets. The question paths are always the same, the more you experience the site, the easier it becomes to move through images they provide. It really isn’t very difficult to answer the questions and you might be the first person ever to see this particular image! Although, I am sure several different people see the same image, giving a project to cross reference any one answer. In half an hour of looking you will go through quite a number of classifications.

The information provided by members is analyzed and organized and then made available to research scientists to help the do research and study the workings of the universe.

In the Moon Zoom project, there are two programs  to take part of. In one, you are shown an image of  the moon’s surface, (take from those created by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), then asked to locate craters in this image, bolder traces created by the impact, exploration hardware, and other interesting features. This project uses some interesting tools to help you click on and define the objects that you see in the image.  Another part of this project is called: “Boulder wars”. In this study you are shown two images, and choose which has the most boulders.

Again the information provided by members is analyzed and made available to scientists studying our Moon. The information created by this project is used to study the moon, its age, the effects of impacts and more.

The newest Zooniverse offering a is the Old Weather project. This project seeks to pull weather data out of log books of a variety of ships that sailed around the time of World War 1.  Participants are presented with a digital copy of one page of a log book. You locate the date, location, and weather information written on it, and enter this information. The log entry might also provide some other observations, which you can point out, but mostly they don’t.

The information you pull from these log books help climate scientists create a profile for the weather at sea during this part of history. Having a better view of history makes it easier to create wether trend profiles that can more accurately predict the future and analyze climate changes over our history.

I personally like the idea that I can spend some of my free time, or time when I am forced to cool my heals, to help further our knowledge of the universe. I applaude this project and hope that many of our readers take the time to participate.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Neptune Facts:

  • Location: 8th planet from the sun
  • Size: 4th largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 30.06 AU
  • Orbital Period: 164.79 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 30.1 AUs *
  • Diameter: 49,532 km
  • Discovered: 1846 by Adams and Le Verrier
  • Atmosphere: Hydrogen, helium, methane
  • Moons: 13, Triton is largest (radius = 1350 km)
  • Interesting facts: it has rings, internal heat source
  • Total number of moons: 13 (Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Galatea, Larissa, Proteus, Triton, Nereid, Halimede, Sao, Laomedeia, Psamathe, and Neso)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Neptune

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

I enjoy using astronomy software to explore the universe, and lately I’ve concentrated on some of the planets in our solar system. I’ve already covered Jupiter and Saturn, so this post covers another gas giant in our solar system. Neptune is the 8th (and last) planet in our solar system. Neptune is the 4th largest planet (in diameter) and is around 30 times further out from the sun than Earth.

Neptune was discovered in 1846. It has a predominately hydrogen and helium atmosphere, with traces of methane that help give it a blue hue. Voyager 2 flew by it and took loads of pictures back in 1989.

This is a screen shot taken with Starry Night Pro 6 today:

There is a lot of data about Neptune in Starry Night, or you can select Starry Night’s “Info” tab and select “LiveSky.com” beside the “Extended Info” field to get data on Neptune from Wikipedia.

This is a screen shot of Triton (taken with Starry Night today), the largest of the 11 moons of Neptune:

Here is a picture of Neptune as it would be seen looking west on Triton – perhaps from the window of a visiting spacecraft:

This is an excellent screen shot of Neptune taken with the Red Shift 7 astronomy software:

This is a screen shot of an image of Neptune (magnified to 400%) retrieved with Mathematica 8:

There is more data available on Neptune using AstronomicalData (introduced in Mathematica 7), which returns properties on planets, moons, stars and galaxies. Check it out at the Wolfram website.

This is an image of Neptune from NASA‘s website:

There are many sources for astronomers – amateur and professional – besides telescopes. In this age of the internet, we has so much data available that formerly was only found in libraries. Take some time away from television and video games and explore the wonders of the sky. You have the ability and resources, you just need the motivation to see that space is more than Star Wars and Aliens.

=====================

Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth Information.

2-14-2011 – Added names of all moons.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Jupiter Facts:

  • Location: 5th planet from the sun
  • Size: largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 5.2 AU
  • Orbital Period: 11.86 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 5.26 AUs *
  • Diameter: 142,984 km
  • Discovered: 1610 by Galileo
  • Atmosphere: 90% Hydrogen, 10% helium
  • Interesting facts: visited by Pioneer 10&11, Voyager 1&2, Ulysses
  • Total Number of moons: 63 (Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, Thebe, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Themisto, Leda, Himalia, Lysithea, Elara, S/2000 J11, S/2003 J12, Carpo, Euporie, S/2003 J3, S/2003 J18, Orthosie, Euanthe, Harpalyke, Praxidike, Thyone, S/2003 J16, Iocaste, Mneme, Hermippe, Thelxinoe, Helike, Ananke, S/2003 J15, Eurydome, Arche, Herse, Pasithee, S/2003 J10, Chaldene, Isonoe, Erinome, Kale, Aitne, Taygete, S/2003 J9, Carme, Sponde, Megaclite, S/2003 J5, S/2003 J19, S/2003 J23, Kalyke, Kore, Pasiphae. Eukelade, S/2003 J4, Sinope, Hegemone, Aoede, Kallichore, Autonoe, Callirrhoe, Cyllene, and S/2003 J2)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Jupiter

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

I’ve been an amateur astronomer all my life, and I’ve been fortunate to use some of the best non-professional astronomy packages on a variety of platforms. Two of my favorite Windows/Mac astronomy applications are Starry Night Pro 6.x and Voyager 4.x. I’ve reviewed Starry Night for several UK magazines – MacWorld and Software Latest – and Ted Bade recently reviewed the Voyager 4.5.7 software.

This afternoon I ran Starry Night on my older G5 iMac and, as always, it showed the daily events for today. There were four, so I selected the first that was of Europa in transition around Jupiter. I liked it well enough to take a moment to grab an image so I could share it with you readers. Jupiter is my second favorite planet in the solar system, not because of the size but because of turbulent gases that make up the atmosphere and the many moons that surround it. Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and a bunch more.

Jupiter as Seen with Software

Europa transitions Jupiter - 10-16-2010

The shadow of tiny Europa on Jupiter

After seeing the shadow of tiny Europa on Jupiter, it might be a good idea to see how Jupiter appears to someone on Europa:

Jupiter as it appears from Io, the closest of the large moons of Jupiter:

Finally, Jupiter as it is seen on Ganymede:

It is so easy to change viewing locations in Starry Night. Just use the Options/Viewing Locations menu option and select the location to use for home, then press the Go to Location button. Simple.

Now an image of Jupiter while in Starry Night’s Spaceship mode (a fun way to play space explorer), on course for Jupiter:

The keyboard shortcuts are in the upper left area of the screen, while speed/distance/acceleration are by your target. I tried the Captain Sheridan thing (diving into the Jupiter atmosphere like he did to avoid the Shadow ship in ‘Messages from Earth’ Season 3 of Babylon 5), but hitting the atmosphere of Jupiter just puts you on the other side. Bummer! I should also add that some of the shortcuts (Roll, Pitch, and Yaw) don’t do me a lot of good on my Macbook, but I still love this feature of Starry Night.

Starry Night always makes my top 10 list for students of any age, and I can’t wait until they release the next major update. Please take the time to look over the various versions of this software at the website of Imaginova. And also take time to check out Carina Software’s site – the company that developed Voyager. Carina’s mobile versions of their products were known as Carina Mobile, but are now known as SkySafari and SkyFi and are available here.

Jupiter Moons as Seen by Probes

1. IO

Check out the coolest picture ever taken from a Earth vessel: an erupting volcano on distant Io:

Image courtesy NASA

This is a new image of IO shows incredible surface details. I find it as impressive as the erupting volcano image above.

Image courtesy NASA

2. Europa – from ZDNet 5/16/2011

Europa’s surface does not look inviting, at least if one planned to explore it on foot.

Image courtesy NASA

3. Ganymede – from ZDNet 5-16-2011

When I was young, I read Robert Heinlein’s ‘Farmer in the Sky’, a novel about humanity colonizing Ganymede. Heinlein didn’t have the images and scientific knowledge we possess of Jupiter today, but he wrote an interesting tale how we might live there.  This is an image taken on the last Jupiter mission by Galileo.

Image courtesy NASA.

4. Callisto – from ZDNet 5/16/2011

The surface of Callisto appears as inviting as that of our moon, however the view of nearby Jupiter would be impressive.

Image courtesy NASA

Astronomy is interesting, and while it is fun to catch shows on the science channel, the computer is the ideal media to really get into the subject. There are a number of good open source astronomy packages like Celestina and WorldWideTelescope.org that are available for cash-strapped people that are interested but unable to afford the cash outlay for more software.

=====================

Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth information.

5-16-2011 – Added 3 new images of Jupiter moons taken by Galileo.

2-14-2011  – Added names of all moons.

=====================

And for something completely different…

On an aside, I first tried the Starry Night software because my favorite painting of all time is Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which was the inspiration for Don McLean’s song called “Vincent”, which can be seen below:

Take care and be well.
Mike