SpaceX carried out a successful test of the unmanned Crew Dragon capsule on 19 Jan 2020. Crew Dragon is designed to carry astronauts to space instead of relying on Russia. A previous flight of Dragon took it to the International Space Station where it docked for several days before returning to Earth. This test of Dragon was designed to see if it could safely escape from a malfunctioning Falcon9 booster under the most extreme conditions.
About a minute after launch the rocket passed through maximum dynamic pressure where stress forces from the atmosphere were at a maximum. Normally the rocket would continue to burn for a few more minutes raising the altitude and speed of Dragon before a second stage would help it achieve orbit. In this test the rocket shut down prematurely. Dragon sensed the change and fired its escape rockets at once. It proceeded ahead of the coasting Falcon9 booster, barely visible in the video. The booster lost control and started to tumble slowly. The aerodynamic forces broke it apart causing it to explode. The Crew Dragon was safely brought down into the Atlantic by parachutes and was recovered.
A manned flight to the ISS will possibly take place in April 2020.
The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in December 1972. It was televised live. I wanted to record the event in some way. I had no VHS tape machine. Those didn’t show up in the US for another 5 years in 1977. So, I aimed my film camera at the black and white picture tube and got several shots. I had forgotten about those images until recently when I started sorting old photographs.
The astronomy community has reported a confusing phenomenon in recent years that the universe is composed of mostly matter and energy we don’t understand and cannot see. The terms dark matter and dark energy are used to describe these unknowns. I posted earlier about their confusing nature. The normal matter we can see and measure comprises only about 5% of the universe. The remaining 95% is ‘dark’ to us. Not dark in the sense of absence of light. We are unable to see it in the same ways we detect ordinary matter. The distribution is depicted here by Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Progress is being made toward the detection and better understanding of the distribution of dark matter and dark energy. The progress uses techniques which infer the presence of something invisible which affects the visible normal matter. Techniques such as gravitational lensing are used. Theories are tested to see if observations match predictions. Progress is slow and difficult.
There are some very smart people working on this puzzle. Two of them are a wife-husband team who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab JPL in California. Alina Kiessling and Jason Rhodes are Astrophysicists with NASA-JPL. On 17 October 2019 they presented the public talk linked below for JPL’s Theodore von Kármán Lecture Series. It was one of the best programs on this topic I have seen.
In their program, they explained aspects of dark matter and energy, how it is detected, and what might be the ultimate fate of the universe. All was done in a manner that was not technical or overwhelming and included entertaining and humorous examples. At the end they answered audience questions.
My hopes were high to be able to see Mercury during transit with my own optical equipment. But, the weather didn’t cooperate. Our morning was cloudy as 2″ of snowfall was ending. A few moments of sunshine came as the transit ended. But, efforts to get a photo failed. Instead, I visited the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory to watch the event. They put on a great show at their dedicated transit site. The images and videos are archived there and can be visited any time.
Here is a sample. Watch the planet Mercury cross from left to right during the 5.5hr event. It is very small. This video and all images in this post are “Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.”
Perhaps you wondered why the Sun looked an odd color and appearance. That is because of the wavelength of light used. SDO simultaneously images the Sun in 10 wavelengths. It takes images in 10 wavelengths every 10 seconds. Those are stitched together to show the dynamic activity of the Sun. For example…
The transit was tracked as it started (ingress) in the multiple wavelengths below. Each wavelength is associated with different temperatures and energies at the Sun’s surface. They are colorized to make them easily distinguished from the others. SDO also tracked Mercury in a magnified view as it made its way across and also at the end of transit (egress).
“Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.”
As the transit unfolded, I captured short videos in the different wavelengths as Mercury was tracked. These videos were stitched together into a smooth transition from one color to the next.
The next transit of Mercury will be in 2032. The orbit of the planet is tilted with respect to our orbit and prevents a transit alignment for quite a while. Don’t hold out hopes for the next Venus transit. It will not occur until 2117.
I watched the 7 hour spacewalk and was impressed by the amount of work, the quality of the jobs done, and how difficult it was. Here is the follow-up news conference by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir. If you have contact with young women at home or in the classroom, share with them.
Sometimes things work out just right. The Sun was high about 2pm in very clear blue sky. The Space Station passed over me and did a very brief transit of the Sun lasting only 0.63 sec. I drove 2 miles and put myself as close to the centerline as possible. The path of visibility was only about 3 miles wide. I needed to be in the right place at the right time. The video is slowed to 10% normal speed so you don’t blink and miss the transit.
Frame grab of the ISS in transit. Solar panels easily visible.
Of course, it is easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time. One of my favorite performers, Dr. John, captured the situation of being in the right place at the wrong time. Enjoy.
A total solar eclipse took place on 2 July 2019. It was visible in the South Pacific and the southern tip of South America. The eclipse was imaged by the NOAA GOES-West weather satellite stationed over the equator above the Pacific Ocean. The video plays the eclipse 3x.
Dark areas on the globe are nighttime. The shadow of the Moon appears at the sunrise night-to-day boundary in the South Pacific. It moves east toward the southern tip of South America. It disappears at the sunset day-to-night boundary.