October 6, 2015

Possibly Visible Rocket Launch Thursday (Oct. 8) Morning

This comes from Launch Alert:

The launch time for Thursday morning's Atlas V launch from Vandenberg AFB is 05:49 PDT. Following liftoff, the Atlas will rise vertically for several seconds and then probably begin a gradual turn towards the south.

The announced launch time is several minutes before the start of morning twilight at Vandenberg. If the rocket makes a gradual climb into orbit, the powered phase of the launch will probably end before the Atlas climbs into sunlight. In this case, the Atlas will resemble a moving orange or white light.

However, if the rocket makes a steep climb into orbit, the Atlas initially will resemble a moving orange or white light. The rocket may then climb high enough during the powered phase of the launch for the exhaust plume to catch the Sun's rays, creating a weak Twilight Effect.

Regardless of the angle of the rocket's climb, the event could be visible to the naked eye for a few hundred miles.

The probability of acceptable weather at launch time is 70%.

Webcasts of the launch should be available from the following web sites:




For information about viewing Vandenberg AFB launches, go to:


For information about photographing Vandenberg launches, go to:


permalink | October 6, 2015 at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2015

Here's A Way To Look At It

Yes, the whole New Horizons mission that just went past Pluto cost $720 million, but that's less than the cost of one NFL stadium. Examples:

  • New Minnesota Vikings stadium: $1 billion.
  • MetLife Stadium: $1.6 billion.
  • Tokoyo's 2020 Olympic arena: $2 billion.

The article also points out that the cost of the space mission works out to 24¢/mile.

permalink | July 16, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2015

MIT Robot Autonomously Jumps Over Barriers While Running

They call it a "cheetah," but look at it. It's a goat or a sheep. It's got hooves even! I think those MIT brains need to take a break and visit a zoo.

permalink | May 29, 2015 at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)


An animation of how the tsunami generated by the 9.5 quake in Chile in 1960 propagated.

permalink | May 29, 2015 at 06:52 PM | Comments (2)

May 22, 2015

Zero To 100 MPH In 1.2 Seconds

A test of the launch abort system on the SpaceX Dragon vehicle.

The video below shows you what it looked like from the Dragon's POV.

permalink | May 22, 2015 at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2015

Amazon Rocket Test

Well, no, not really Amazon, but Blue Origin which is run by Jeff Bezos. Here the New Shepard is launched to a height of 307,000 feet.

permalink | May 1, 2015 at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2015

No Shit, Sherlock

The Oklahoma Geological Survey, a government agency, has announced that it "considers it very likely that the majority of recent earthquakes, particularly those in central and north-central Oklahoma, are triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells." IOW, fracking. But it's not fracking alone that does it, or North Dakota would be experiencing the same huge leap in earthquake activity.

"These earthquakes swarms are occurring over a large area, about 15% of the area of Oklahoma, that has experienced significant increase in wastewater disposal volumes over the last several years."

"Most of the earthquakes in Oklahoma are occurring within crystalline basement, deeper than most oil and gas operations. However, reactivation of deeper basement faults from water injection/disposal at shallower depths is often observed in cases of triggered seismicity."

"The majority of wastewater disposal is targeted for injection in the Arbuckle formations, which closely overlie the crystalline basement."

Compare this map of earthquakes greater than 2.5 over the last 30 days in Oklahoma with this map of known faults in Oklahoma. It looks to my layman's eyes that the quakes are occurring in an area well away from the major faulted areas.

permalink | April 24, 2015 at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2015

Solar Eclipse Two Ways

If you want to see and hear how ordinary, non-TV professionals respond to the solar eclipse, you'll want to watch this video shot by Frank Jernigan in Norway. A GoPro would be about the least appropriate camera for a solar eclipse, IMO, but when he pans around to show you the crowd out there on the ice, don't they look just like penguins wearing puffy coats and toting cameras?! Very fun video despite or because of the technical issues. Don't tell me you wouldn't say stupid things, too, if you were watching totality from Norway.

permalink | March 26, 2015 at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2015

Possibly Visible Vandenberg Launch Thursday Morning


A Delta II rocket carrying a NASA scientific satellite and three small secondary payloads is scheduled for launch from Vandenberg AFB on Thursday morning, January 29. The Delta is set to lift-off from Space Launch Complex-2 West at 06:20:42 PST, the start of a three-minute launch window.

Following lift-off, the Delta will climb vertically for several seconds, gradually nose over, and head south over the ocean.

The Delta II uses liquid propellant first and second stages. For this launch, three solid rocket motors are strapped to the first stage for added thrust.

The first stage main engine and strap-on motors will ignite on the launch pad. The solid rocket motors will burn out at +1:05* and be jettisoned at +1:39. The first stage liquid propellant main engine will continue to burn until main engine cutoff (MECO) at +4:22.

Stage 1/2 separation occurs at +4:28 followed by second stage ignition at +04:36. Several minutes later, the second stage containing NASA's SMAP satellite and three small payloads will reach orbit.

Weather permitting, the first few minutes of the launch should be visible to the unaided from King City, Fresno, western Ventura County, and coastal Los Angeles County. Under good conditions, the event could be visible over a much wider area.

For the first minute of flight, the rocket will have a bright orange flame due to the solid rocket motors. When the solid motors burn out, the delta will decrease in brightness and resemble a moving white star.

Liftoff occurs 42 minutes before sunrise as seen from Vandenberg AFB. According to independent space analyst Rick Baldridge, the rocket will climb into sunlight during the first stage burn at +2:50 for a 06:20 PST liftoff and +2:40 for a 06:23 PST liftoff. Observers along the coast from King City to Long Beach should see the sunlit first stage exhaust plume suspended against the dawn sky during the last minute of the first stage burn.

Under good conditions, the launch could be visible to the unaided eye until first stage main engine cutoff. Second stage ignition and the second stage burn will probably not be visible without optical assistance.

*All flight events are expressed in minutes and seconds after liftoff.


For launch and countdown status for Thursday's Delta II launch, consult the following sources:






permalink | January 27, 2015 at 08:55 PM | Comments (1)

December 31, 2014

Comet Lovejoy

Phil Plait says it's visible in Orion.

On Jan. 7 it will pass about 70 million kilometers (44 million miles) from Earth, and it’s predicted to peak around 4th magnitude; easily visible from dark skies without optical aid.

4th magnitude is somewhere between the Andromeda galaxy and Ganymede at its maximum brightness. What Phil Plait can see with his naked eye may differ from what you or I can see.

permalink | December 31, 2014 at 07:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2014

The Future Has Arrived

This...THIS is the genuine, real, official poster for the current crew on the International Space Station
. Your jetpack and flying car will be available for pick-up in the first week of December. The crew includes two Americans, three Russians and one from the European Space Agency who is, to be specific, Italian.

Have I mentioned that the ISS will be landing on the Black Rock Desert next August? Oh yeah, you gotta be there.

permalink | November 25, 2014 at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2014

The ESA Troubles Me

And I'm sure you are all equally troubled as you sit watching the live feed of the landing of Philae on Comet 67P (Success! has just been declared as I write) and stare at this odd rainbow, as seen in the photo below:
European Space Operations Centre Rainbow
The blurry letters say "European Space Operations Centre." The rainbow, however, is just wrong: indigo - pale blue(?) - green - orange - red - yellow. I'm not going to quibble that there are only six colors, like the gay rainbow. It's the sequence that gets to me. It should be indigo - pale blue(?) - green - yellow - orange - red. This is, after all, a science agency - not the paint chip display at Home Depot.

permalink | November 12, 2014 at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

Earthquake Swarm In Nevada

Earthquake Swarm NW Nevada
A swarm of earthquakes has been occurring in northwest Nevada.
This USGS map shows 225 quakes of all magnitudes over the last seven days. The two biggest quakes were magnitude 4.7. The cyan dot is one of those.

Updated, interactive USGS map here. You can zoom out on that map just one click to see how close the swarm is to the future home of Black Rock City.

permalink | November 12, 2014 at 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2014

Comet Landing Tomorrow

The full (very full!) schedule for the landing of Philae, the landing craft from Rosetta, on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The touchdown is scheduled for 8:03 AM Pacific Time tomorrow, November 12. Of course, reality will change the schedule. This is the first attempt at soft landing on a comet.

Live feeds available here. They start at 11 AM today, Pacific Time.

permalink | November 11, 2014 at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

November 6, 2014

GoPro In Water On ISS

ISS astronauts create a water bubble in zero G and then shove a GoPro into it.

permalink | November 6, 2014 at 08:00 PM | Comments (1)

October 25, 2014

European Space Agency

The publicity directors at ESA are given greater freedom to run with their imaginations than those directors at NASA (and when you see the credits at the end, you may understand why NASA is a bit more conservative - did all of those people get paid?!):

Comet 67P on 18 October - (D)
A close up of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
shot from a point 9.8 km from the center of the comet.

permalink | October 25, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2014

Mammoth: 683 Quakes In 24 Hours

That's what USGS was displaying on their map when I checked it. The biggest was only 3.5, but 683 quakes are 80% of the world's earthquakes in that 24-hour period.
Quakes in the area of Mammoth, California, September 20, 2014

L.A. Times story:

At 11,053 feet, Mammoth Mountain in California's Eastern Sierra is a lava dome complex on the southwest rim of Long Valley Caldera, although eruptions haven't occurred for some 57,000 years. The recent swarm of quakes in and around the mountain is being tied to recent "volcanic unrest" marked by gas emissions, tree die-offs and intrusions of upward-moving sheets of rock, according to the USGS.

In terms of geologic time, 57,000 years is less than the blink of an eye.

Splitting hairs, this USGS page agrees that the most recent magmatic eruptions were 57,000 years ago, but the Times overlooked the fact that there were phreatic eruptions only 700 years ago. Wikipedia cites Krakatoa as an example of a phreatic eruption. So hardly anything to worry about, right?

permalink | September 26, 2014 at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 8, 2014

Countdown To July 2015

Charon orbiting Pluto

What you see there is a 12-image sequence showing Charon orbiting Pluto. Charon has 11% as much mass as Pluto (that's big), which is why you can see Pluto is also orbiting Charon (as is always the case with two bodies). The Earth and Moon do the same thing, but the Moon is so much smaller than Earth, the center of that rotation is inside the Earth near the Earth's center, so it's undetectable to ordinary, puny humans walking on the surface of our planet.

The photo was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in late July. The craft was launched in January 2006 and is expected to arrive in Pluto space in July 2015 where it will pass by Pluto at a distance of only 10,000 km. Charon orbits the planet[oid] at a distance of about 18,000 km.

New Horizons will cross Neptune's orbit on August 25, 2014. After that, NASA will put the craft back to sleep. It will be re-awakened December 6. More photos should start coming in January 2015. It is planned to keep the craft awake until about December 2016. It will not orbit Pluto, but head on out to the Kuiper Belt.

permalink | August 8, 2014 at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2014

Looking For Hot Water?

This LA.Curbed article about mapping all of Los Angeles County's 3,000 active oil wells caught my attention. It seems that some of our tax dollars have gone to create this very interesting, interactive map of "Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources" in California. When you you start there with a full-California view the large oil fields will be obvious as they are simply black with stars; a star indicates "Notice & Permit"...of an oil or gas well, we must assume.

Sometimes when I go to this page the map refuses to interact until I try some sort of search in the search fields. So, if clicking or dragging on the map gets no reaction for you, just search for something - anything, and that will wake up the map and you can drag and zoom all you want.

Many of the markers do not become visible until you drill down to a certain level of resolution, so keep zooming in and see what appears. I started out, as the LA.Curbed article suggested, looking at the oil & gas resources in Los Angeles County. Go look at the wall of oil wells that separates downtown from Dodger Stadium, or the area north of Wilshire, south of Santa Monica. Those poor people must have crude oil coming up in their bathtubs. In fact, it becomes obvious that the entire premise of The Beverly Hillbillies was backwards. Discovering oil in Kentucky (or wherever it was) and moving to Beverly Hills?! It would have been much more believable to discover oil in Beverly Hills and then move to Kentucky to get away from the big city.

After browsing L.A. for a bit, I began to scroll eastwards to see where the oil drilling finally stopped. I scrolled and scrolled and the map icons became fewer and fewer until suddenly a big wad popped up in the desert. Zooming in another couple of layers revealed this:
Hot Water Wells in the area of Desert Hot Springs
Some of the hot water wells in the Desert Hot Springs area
. The triangular icons stand for "Geothermal." Naturally at first I was impressed at the size of the secret geothermal industry in our area, but then I realized they don't distinguish between geothermal power generation (scroll down and look at Imperial Valley!) and 120° geothermal mineral water to heal your body. Geologists in Sacramento do not think the same way hoteliers in Desert Hot Springs think.

It will be obvious to the informed local resident that not all the hot water wells are shown, but I have not found information on the site to tell me why that might be. I do see that they don't have the current boundaries for the City of DHS, so maybe all their data is old.

While you have DHS on display, zoom out enough to see the whole Coachella Valley. Somebody in DHS (hoteliers? chamber?) should print that map out, mount it, and get it displayed at the Palm Springs Visitor Center with a legend under it something like "Looking for hot mineral spring water?"

permalink | July 31, 2014 at 10:38 AM | Comments (8)

July 27, 2014

James Webb Space Telescope Sunshield Test

NASA's Webb Sunshield Stacks Up to Test
This is the test version of the sunshield that will protect the James Webb Space Telescope from the sun
when it was tested on July 10 this year. This is the description provided by NASA:

The Sunshield on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is the largest part of the observatory—five layers of thin membrane that must unfurl reliably in space to precise tolerances. Last week, for the first time, engineers stacked and unfurled a full-sized test unit of the Sunshield and it worked perfectly.

The Sunshield is about the length of a tennis court, and will be folded up like an umbrella around the Webb telescope's mirrors and instruments during launch. Once it reaches its orbit, the Webb telescope will receive a command from Earth to unfold, and separate the Sunshield's five layers into their precisely stacked arrangement with its kite-like shape.

The Sunshield test unit was stacked and expanded at a cleanroom in the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.

The Sunshield separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold side where the sunshine is blocked from interfering with the sensitive infrared instruments. The infrared instruments need to be kept very cold (under 50 K or -370 degrees F) to operate. The Sunshield protects these sensitive instruments with an effective sun protection factor or SPF of 1,000,000 (suntan lotion generally has an SPF of 8-50).

In addition to providing a cold environment, the Sunshield provides a thermally stable environment. This stability is essential to maintaining proper alignment of the primary mirror segments as the telescope changes its orientation to the sun.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Here's my earlier post about the telescope.

permalink | July 27, 2014 at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)