SpaceX | Heavy Launch | Unique Views

I watched with excitement and apprehension as the countdown for the SpaceX Heavy launch neared liftoff. This stuff is in my blood and has been for more than 50 years. When the world’s most powerful rocket lifted off and arced over the Atlantic, it brought tears. I eagerly waited for the two side boosters to separate, return, and land at the Cape. They did so perfectly and almost at the same moment.

If you missed the launch, this replay video shows it all. I skipped the pre-launch discussions and set the time slider to the 21:45 mark for the actual launch. You can drag the time slider to the beginning if you want to see the whole video. The intro minute is actually quite good. Drag the slider to the 29:00 mark to see the boosters come down and land.

The third booster in the center core which lifted the payload into orbit also came down but into the Atlantic. It was supposed to land on a barge. A mistake in calculation of the amount of fuel needed at the very end caused it to run out before reaching the barge. As a result, it missed by about 380 yards and struck the water going about 300 mph. Elon Musk says that is an easy fix.

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Supermoon | 31 Jan 2018

In the evening of 30 January, the Moon rose bright and large in the east. Within 12 hours, it would be in the shadow of the Earth. There were a few clouds. The forecast was calling for a 50% cloud cover in the morning.

7 pm CST

At about 3 am I noticed the Moon was shining brightly through the bedroom windows. I felt hopeful the much hyped Supermoon would be visible before moonset/sunrise. I got up at 5:40 and walked down the street a few houses with camera and tripod. The Moon was entering some clouds toward the horizon. Overhead it was very clear. Eclipse was in progress.

We drove to a location away from houses and lights to get one more chance to photograph the beginning of totality. Too late. Clouds took over and the Moon disappeared. We headed home to watch online. NASA carried excellent video from three sites in California. These four images were screen grabs from Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles. They show the blood moon and the emergence from totality.

Using video from NASA via Griffith Observatory, I layered frame grabs onto a disk the size of the umbra of Earth. It shows the relative size of the Moon compared to Earth. Progress was slow as it moved at a speed of about 2,300 mi/hr (3,700 km/hr or 1 km/s). Totality began at 6:51 and ended at 8:08 CST.

Video via NASA | Griffith Observatory

Here is a beautiful time-lapse of the view from Griffith Observatory. It takes only a minute.

As the event ended, the Moon appeared low to the horizon as viewed by a telescope at the Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB. These frame grabs captured the distorted Moon behind some hills with wind turbines in view. As the Moon disappeared, it added a sense of finality to the entire event. It was a lot of fun to watch. I hope you were able to see it.

Endurance | A Year On ISS

I’ve been enjoying the book Endurance by Astronaut Scott Kelly. He tells of his life before becoming an astronaut and of his year in space aboard the International Space Station from March 2015 to March 2016. He and his identical twin brother Astronaut Mike Kelly were studied extensively to see the effects of long duration space flight on the human body. This study is an important one for the planned trip to Mars. The Twin Study is ongoing. Here are some of the latest articles about it.

The book provides countless behind the scenes looks at the lives of space explorers. I highly recommend the book to the space enthusiast. Part of Kelly’s duties now include travel to stores and special events to promote the book. My son attended a book-signing event near him and bought a copy for me. Kelly was invited to Talks at Google on 24 Nov 2017 where he spoke for about an hour about his experiences. You can watch his talk at this link.

I am a strong believer that we humans are capable of amazing and wonderful things. When we set our minds to a goal and work together, we can accomplish the most difficult of tasks. As Scott Kelly ended his talk, he spoke of how he feels about the potential of mankind. This is exactly how I see it.

Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2018

ūüĒ≠ ¬†Updates an¬†earlier post to¬†include recent changes and new information.

As an amateur astronomer, I use desktop planetarium software to plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. There are many products available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. I downloaded and use the open source Stellarium on my desktop computer. It¬†can be customized to your location and is free. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like¬†SkySafari. It isn’t free but is inexpensive.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of some I find interesting. Each has multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail. They can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events.

I have included only a few select sites and links since so many are available. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.



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Dial-a-Moon | 2018

How will the Moon look on any date in 2018? What will it look like on your birthday? Find out at NASA Dial-a-Moon. Enter any month, day, and universal time (UT) hour to see a high definition image. The composite images of Dial-a-Moon are made from those of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in low altitude orbit around the Moon since 2009. Here is the link for southern hemisphere readers.

You may leave the universal time (UT) at the default 1 value. If you are a curious type, Universal time conversion¬†can be done¬†at this link. Enter UTC¬†in the lower right box if it isn’t already set. You can switch from 12 hr to 24 hr at the bottom of the entry boxes. You may also enter any other local time in the upper left box. Go back to Dial-a-Moon to enter the UT.

The collection of accurate images of the Moon for each hour have been made into a movie lasting about 5 minutes. Try watching full screen. Versions of the movie are available for readers in the northern and the southern hemispheres.

I explain the peculiar wobble and tipping motions at this blog post.

Northern hemisphere

Southern hemisphere


The End | Near or Not

In case you didn’t notice, the predicted end of the world on 19 Nov 2017 did not happen. I don’t expect it to happen any time soon. I don’t normally make bold predictions about anything. There was one exception in 1974 in the Nixon administration. I successfully predicted he would resign. I think I was lucky.

If you are a believer in the end times prophesies, you may scoff at my prediction. That’s ok. I will give 10 reasons why I think I’m right. Mine are based on science. Join me below the glowing solar firestorm of death and destruction for the reasons we can feel the end is NOT near.

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Mars Bound | I Have My Boarding Pass

My bags are packed. I am ready to join 2.4 million other passengers as we begin our journey to Mars in May 2018 aboard the INSIGHT spacecraft. The trip will take about 7 months. It is a one-way journey.

Click to read the fine print. My flight miles award will be enormous.

INSIGHT is the acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. NASA loves acronyms. Previous Mars missions have studied intensively the surface and atmosphere of the planet. This spacecraft is the first designed to study the interior in hopes of finding clues to the formation of the rocky inner planets. The spacecraft will use seismology, heat flow equipment, and very precise tracking to probe the planet below ground.

The opportunity to sign up for the mission ended on November 1. There were over 2.4 million people who did so. In this link are examples which include children from an elementary school, mission and science managers, as well as famous people like William Shatner.

Clinton Prairie Elementary School | Frankfort, Indiana

Our names will be placed on silicon microchips and attached to the spacecraft. I think it is cool that so many names will be planted on another planet. Perhaps future space travelers will find them. Would you be willing to make the actual trip knowing it was one-way?