Thinking of You, Shuttle Challenger Crew

Mission patch for the failed mission, STS-61, of shuttle Challenger, on January 28, 1986

Mission patch for the failed mission, STS-61, of shuttle Challenger, on January 28, 1986

It was this day back in 1986 that we said hello and goodbye to the crew of the shuttle Challenger (OV-099) as she blasted off into the atmosphere, only to be felled by a faulty rubber seal that engineers knew would not perform at the temperatures in the morning of that launch day.


Shuttle Challenger crew:

It’s hard to watch the videos of the explosion having watched as a little boy live.  But it’s interesting nonetheless.  I highly recommend watching The Challenger Disaster on Amazon, William Hurt ROCKS that role.  The two videos below are the best news coverage videos of the event that I could find — I hope each of their souls found rest.

Thanks NASA and Wikipedia.

Amazing Vintage Black and White NASA Project and Facilities Photos

Guide vanes in the 19-foot Pressure Wind Tunnel at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, form an ellipse 33 feet high and 47 feet wide. The 23 vanes force the air to turn corners smoothly as it rushes through the giant passages. If vanes were omitted, the air would pile up in dense masses along the outside curves, like water rounding a bend in a fast brook. Turbulent eddies would interfere with the wind tunnel tests, which require a steady flow of fast, smooth air. (March 15, 1950)  - Courtesy of the awesomeness at

Guide vanes in the 19-foot Pressure Wind Tunnel at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, form an ellipse 33 feet high and 47 feet wide. The 23 vanes force the air to turn corners smoothly as it rushes through the giant passages. If vanes were omitted, the air would pile up in dense masses along the outside curves, like water rounding a bend in a fast brook. Turbulent eddies would interfere with the wind tunnel tests, which require a steady flow of fast, smooth air. (March 15, 1950) – Courtesy of the awesomeness at

I saw this excellent article at a site I read called Brain Pickings regarding fear and the creative process a few nights ago as I bring to a close the entirety of the JimOnLight TV Episode 1 journey that has engulfed my life for the last year.  In the process of this, I discovered an amazing article that boasts a ton of vintage NASA project photographs from decades gone by, and I could not resist sharing these amazing pieces of history.

You have got to check out Brain PickingsMaria Popova is one of my heroes in this whole thing we call writing.

Maria, you’re awesome.  I hope you read my site sometime.

Good Morning Inspiration! Berlin, from Space, at Night, from Colonel Chris Hadfield at ISS

Good morning, Earth!

An awesome piece of inspiration this morning from Canadian Colonel Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station.  Col. Hadfield took a photo of Berlin at night from the ISS (he does this all over the Earth, btw, and they’re all awesome), showing an obvious color temperature divide between the higher quality HIDs of West Berlin and the crap Sodium Vapors of East Berlin.  To look at this photo gives me inspiration, and I hope it does for all of you.  West Berlin has 43,000 sodium vapor lamps that are being phased out slowly.

Also, are you on Col. Hadfield’s FacebookWHY NOT?  He is AWESOME!



We Can’t Stop Asteroids from Smashing Humanity into Powder


With a headline like that, one would think this would be bigger news than anything Kim Kardashian might produce, even trumping what color baby bib little cranky monkey Justin Bieber might be wearing today.  But, you’d be wrong.

Here’s the fact of the matter:  all over Earth right now – scientific organizations, special lobbying groups, NASA, the European Space Agency, et al – are telling lawmakers and news outlets that we need to get a collective effort going to solve the problem of hey, what happens if a global killer asteroid smashes into Earth?  Can we protect ourselves?  After all, apparently it only takes one medium-sized asteroid, something around a kilometer in width.  You saw Armageddon, right?  Billy Bob Thornton’s character makes it perfectly clear what would happen if that big rock in the movie slammed into the ocean – and this is just the movies:

asteroids-coming-again copy

“Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It’ll flash boil millions of gallons of sea water and slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it’ll create a tidal wave 3 miles high, travel at a thousand miles an hour, covering California, and washing up in Denver. Japan’s gone, Australia’s wiped out. Half the world’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, and the rest will freeze to death from nuclear winter.”

Now, that’s just lines from a movie.  But even for a movie that’s pretty hardcore!  Can you imagine it?  I’ve had some bad days, but that sounds horrible.  Thank goodness it’s only the movies.  Are we actually supposed to entrust Billy Bob Thornton with our astrophysical safety, he was also the “french fried pertaters” guy in Slingblade?!  Of COURSE we are!

asteroids-coming copy

Back in the real world that I live in, I ask myself exactly what might happen if a thousand thousand tons of rock slams into the bedrock of Earth.  In that other movie about asteroids with Morgan Freeman (It’s called Deep Impact, and I hear that many a porno has been modeled after the title), astronauts were able to not exactly save Earth, but they were able to pulverize the asteroid enough so that only a smaller chunk of it smashed into Earth.  Still, that smaller chunk made the seas rise a few hundred feet, created a big tidal wave that made the Atlantic wash up into Tennessee and killing a few hundred million Americans.  But that was still just a movie!  Right?!

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km.  It's the size of a large midwestern city.

Asteroid 433 Eros, a planetary killer discovered in 1898, has a dimension of 34.4 kilometers by 11.2km by 16.84 km. It’s the size of a large midwestern city.  433 Eros is a potential Earth impactor.

What Do Earth’s Scientists Think?

Scientists are all over the freaking place about this very real issue right now.  Some people are deeply concerned, others think that there’s such a little chance that it would ever happen:

“Right now, based on our survey, we see no national imperative for this nation to be upset or excited about impending doom.”  – James L. Green, Director of NASA‘s Planetary Science Division, on Discovery

Perhaps the most daunting answer to come from the House Science Committee hearing with John Holdren was this:  “An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization… from the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States.  But if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.”   – White House Science Advisor John Holdren

University of California Santa Barbara physicist Philip M. Lubin thinks we should start small on smaller asteroids first – ones we know are coming:  ““We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it, and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

Scientists don’t disagree that something needs to be done.  What they do differ on is how it needs to be done.  Some scientists feel that some sort of projectile, either nuclear or otherwise, should be thrown at the asteroid somehow.  Some think that attaching some kind of “solar sail” or assisted rocket takeoff device on a grand scale would be the best bet.  One scientist even suggests painting the asteroid in order to change the amount of light it reflects.  Others, seriously yet still funny enough, make jokes in Senate hearings about “calling Bruce Willis,” while actual scientists theorize about possibly making a huge laser and reflector work as our asteroid goalkeeper.  Lest we not forget that Bruce Willis was not only an asteroid killer in the movies, but also Died hard a whole bunch of times.  Like, a TON of times.  How many times can you actually die hard?  Maybe he can just tell the asteroid to go f*ck itself while shooting at it.  Since John Holdren pretty much summed our Earth-asteroid defense systems with “if it [an asteroid] comes in the next three weeks, pray,” then maybe some fictional help might not hurt!


A few of these ideas that scientists are kicking around still in theory format:

Yarkovsky Paint

The long and the short of this idea is to change the amount of light that the asteroid emits in IR photos, eventually causing a miniscule “rocket thrust” in one direction.  The article at Wired explains this fantastically:

The Yarkovsky effect works by changing the amount of light an asteroid gives off. As an asteroid rotates, the surface that has been heated by the sun moves away to face space and radiates infrared photons. Though massless, these photons carry away small bits of momentum from the asteroid, essentially generating a tiny rocket thrust in one direction. The effect is very slight but over time can noticeably change an asteroid’s orbit. By making an asteroid lighter or darker, and therefore changing the amount of radiation it absorbs, we could turn up or down this miniscule rocket thrust. It’s a long haul-technique, requiring years, decades, or even centuries of advanced notice to alter an asteroid’s trajectory.

Will it work?  I have no idea.  I don’t think we have “decades or even centuries” to wait it out, though!

DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation


DE-STAR is basically a re-directing and re-purposing of the Sun’s energy into little laser blasts that might be able to either re-direct or completely vaporize an approaching asteroid over the course of a year.  From a post at Popular Science:

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

The DE-STAR team also claims that their system might also be able to push a spacecraft at the speed of light into the unknown.  More on that in another post.

Surfing An Asteroid On Solar Sails


Solar Sails are something that have taken on validity in this race to figure out how to mitigate the asteroid threat.  This would basically consist of a huge solar sail deployed in space, making good use of the ever-present solar pressure that is exerted on objects in space.  From How Stuff Works:

The reflective nature of the sails is key. As photons (light particles) bounce off the reflective material, they gently push the sail along by transferring momentum to the sail. Because there are so many photons from sunlight, and because they are constantly hitting the sail, there is a constant pressure (force per unit area) exerted on the sail that produces a constant acceleration of the spacecraft. Although the force on a solar-sail spacecraft is less than a conventional chemical rocket, such as the space shuttle, the solar-sail spacecraft constantly accelerates over time and achieves a greater velocity.

Interesting.  The principle of solar pressure also kind of tickles me in that special place.  But again, another post for another time.

Potential Impact of Potential Impacts

Watch this – the recent asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which exploded around 40 miles above the town with the force of 300 Hiroshimas, was 55 feet across, and injured over 1500 people.  This was in a sparsely populated area, so imagine the impact of an asteroid exploding over San Francisco or New York City:

Also, if you have some time (or want to skip through to where John Holdren tells the Senate Committee that if an asteroid comes to NYC in the next three weeks that we can only pray), check out John Holdren’s Senate Hearing en toto.  It’s actually pretty interesting right off the bat — it might also be interesting to hear the almost comical questions and answers from our elected legislators to these scientists presenting scary information to Congress, not to mention the entire House Science Committee turning every answer of these scientists into how much it would cost and all of the interrupting that these scientists had to endure:

Thanks to:
Mother Jones
Daily Mail
Red Orbit
Space Politics
The Register
NBC’s Cosmic Log
Wikipedia on Asteroid Impact Avoidance

Hurricane Sandy – New York and New Jersey Blackout Satellite Images

This is really unfortunate and pretty telling as to the power and fury of Mother Nature – the Earth Observatory at NASA has published images, both before and after, of the East Coast where Sandy came ashore.  You have to see this, it is unbelievable.

So here is the coast before Sandy hit:

and here is the ensuring blackout and chaos post-Sandy:

From the Earth Observatory page on Hurricane Sandy:

This pair of images shows New Jersey, New York, and eastern Pennsylvania as viewed at night by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The top image was taken at 2:52 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:52 Universal Time) on November 1, 2012. For comparison, the lower image was taken at 2:14 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:14 UTC) on August 31, 2012, when conditions in the area were normal.

Both images were captured by the VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe signals such as gas flares, city lights, and reflected moonlight. In the top image, lingering clouds from Hurricane Sandy are lit by moonlight and obscure much of New York’s Hudson Valley, northwestern New Jersey, and northeastern Pennsylvania. (For a wider view, download the large image beneath each web image.)

Turn on the “view image comparison” button to see the difference in city lighting before and after the blackout. In Manhattan, the lower third of the island is dark on November 1, while Rockaway Beach, much of Long Island, and nearly all of central New Jersey are significantly dimmer. The barrier islands along the New Jersey coast, which are heavily developed with tourist businesses and year-round residents, are just barely visible in moonlight after the blackout.

Along with the scattered electric lights, there is a bright point along the shore south of Mantoloking, New Jersey, that could be fires fueled by severed natural gas lines. Note: It is not clear if the fires reported on October 31were still burning on November 1.

For more views of the storm, visit our Hurricane Sandy event page.

The Earth Observatory has this applet on the website that allows you to move a slider across both images overlaid together, showing a humbling differentiation between the before and after shots:

In order to get this view, go to the Earth Observatory Blackout in New Jersey page and click the “View Image Comparison” button.  It’s crazy how the blackout just spidered across the coast.

The ISS Presents The Light Friday Fantastic

My friend Jules posted this I think yesterday — a bunch of images from Don Pettit, flight engineer aboard the International Space Station.  Not regular ol’ images of life in space or anything, nay.  These are long exposure shots of stars, et al, taken from the station itself.  This is about the coolest thing I’ve seen this month, and I’ve seen some cool sh*t this month.

Here are some of my faves, but you have to check out the entire Flickr stack – ISS Star Trails on Flickr.







Laser Powered Broadband? In Space? Wait. What?

Ok, there is something very interesting taking place with NASA this month.  On September 23, NASA decided to approve three projects that are being called “Technology Demonstration Projects.”  A space-based optical communication system (which is what I find the most exhilarating), a deep space atomic clock, and a big ol’ space sail.  From the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist‘s office:

NASA has selected three proposals as Technology Demonstration Missions that will transform its space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities. The three Space Technology projects will develop and fly a space solar sail, a deep space atomic clock, and a space-based optical communications system. These crosscutting flight demonstrations were selected because of their potential to provide tangible, near-term products and infuse high-impact capabilities into NASA’s future space exploration and science missions. By investing in high payoff, disruptive technologies that industry does not have in-hand today, NASA matures the technologies required for its future missions while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost for other government agency and commercial space activities. 

Ok.  Personal commentary?  What a weird three projects to say “Hey, don’t take our money away, you crazy Congress people and President Obama, we’re NASA.”  I can see the space based laser communication system, that’s pretty cool.  Now granted no one asked me (and I know better that’s probably the main cause we don’t have a space-based laser that can scratch your back), but I’m sure there is reasoning behind these other two projects.  Right?


Check this out – again,. from the press release at NASA – it’s about this big space laser data communication thingie, called the  Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Mission:

Led by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will demonstrate and validate a reliable, capable, and cost effective optical communications technology for infusion into operational near earth and deep space systems. The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) office in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate is collaborating with the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist in sponsoring this technology demonstration. 

Optical communications (also known as laser communication – lasercom) is a transformative technology that will enable NASA, other government agencies and the commercial space industry to undertake future, complex space missions requiring increased data rates, or decreased mass, size, and power burdens for communications. For approximately the same mass, power, and volume, an optical communications system provides significantly higher data rates than a comparable radio frequency (RF) system. 

High-rate communications will revolutionize space science and exploration. Data rates 10-100 times more capable than current RF systems will allow greatly improved connectivity and enable a new generation of remote scientific investigations as well as provide the satellite communication’s industry with disruptive technology not available today. Space laser communications will enable missions to use bandwidth-hungry instruments, such as hyperspectral imagers, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and other instruments with high definition in spectral, spatial, or temporal modes. Laser communication will also make it possible to establish a “virtual presence” at a remote planet or other solar system body, enabling the high-rate communications required by future explorers. 

As an example, at the current limit of 6 Mbps for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it takes approximately 90 minutes to transmit a single HiRISE high resolution image back to earth. In some instances, this bottleneck can limit science return. An equivalent MRO mission outfitted with an optical communications transmitter would have a capacity to transmit data back to earth at 100 Mbps or more, reducing the single image transmission time to on order of 5 minutes. 

The LCRD mission will:

  • Enable reliable, capable, and cost effective optical communications technologies for near earth applications and provide the next steps required toward optical communications for deep space missions
  • Demonstrate high data rate optical communications technology necessary for:
    • Near-Earth spacecraft (bi-directional links supporting hundreds of Mbps to Gbps)
    • Deep Space missions (tens to hundreds of Mbps from distances such as Mars and Jupiter)
  • Develop, validate and characterize operational models for practical optical communications
  • Identify and develop requirements and standards for future operational optical communication systems
  • Establish a strong partnership with multiple government agencies to facilitate crosscutting infusion of optical communications technologies
  • Develop the industrial base and transfer technology for future space optical communications systems

Ok, now that does sound pretty cool.

How do you feel about these projects?  Worth the money?  NOT worth the money?  Leave a comment below!

What A Fun… Unusual Cosmic Blast!

Have you seen the news stories about this “unexplained cosmic blast” that NASA’s Swift Satellite captured a few weeks ago?  NASA scientists have been checking out this crazy monstrous gamma ray explosion they observed back in March, but that continues to keep shining.  Typically these types of cosmic explosions go on for about an hour or so, maybe a little longer, but this one was huge and bright, with very high levels of radiation being emitted from the site.

Well, research is ongoing into this crazy little phenomena, but the general feeling towards this bright burst is that a star in another galaxy has gotten too close to its central black hole, and the black hole tore the star to smithereens – cosmic smithereens, that is.  I wonder if that’s the name of the new band by Jack Black and Judd Apatow.

When a star gets torn apart by a black hole like we think this one has, observers will notice a stream of radiation, light, and particles that makes a pretty good light show for a few hours.  This one has been going on for a few weeks, which is a bit puzzling, but scientists are thinking that we’re looking directly into the stream of light and particles that the star is giving off.  When a star is torn apart like this, a stream of light will be created along the star’s rotational axis – essentially we’re looking into a big bright stream of star destruction.  This is crazy pretty, no?

From an article at NASA’s Swift Satellite website:

That same day, astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a four-hour-long exposure of the puzzling source. The image, which locates the object 10 times more precisely than Swift can, shows that it lies at the center of the galaxy Hubble imaged.

“We know of objects in our own galaxy that can produce repeated bursts, but they are thousands to millions of times less powerful than the bursts we are seeing now. This is truly extraordinary,” said Andrew Fruchter at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

“We have been eagerly awaiting the Hubble observation,” said Neil Gehrels, the lead scientist for Swift at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The fact that the explosion occurred in the center of a galaxy tells us it is most likely associated with a massive black hole. This solves a key question about the mysterious event.”

Most galaxies, including our own, contain central black holes with millions of times the sun’s mass; those in the largest galaxies can be a thousand times larger. The disrupted star probably succumbed to a black hole less massive than the Milky Way’s, which has a mass four million times that of our sun

Astronomers previously have detected stars disrupted by supermassive black holes, but none have shown the X-ray brightness and variability seen in GRB 110328A. The source has repeatedly flared. Since April 3, for example, it has brightened by more than five times.

Scientists think that the X-rays may be coming from matter moving near the speed of light in a particle jet that forms as the star’s gas falls toward the black hole.

“The best explanation at the moment is that we happen to be looking down the barrel of this jet,” said Andrew Levan at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, who led the Chandra observations. “When we look straight down these jets, a brightness boost lets us view details we might otherwise miss.”

This brightness increase, which is called relativistic beaming, occurs when matter moving close to the speed of light is viewed nearly head on.

I’m gonna hold off on stocking up for the end of the world another few weeks.  :)


Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Goose Crap Edition

Light isn’t always a glamorous business, it’s true.  Sometimes you gotta get dirty.

Photo belongs to MistyDays.  Pretty, no?

The Large Magellanic Cloud

Hey, wanna see something ridiculously beautiful?

This image is of a really young star cluster called R136 – scientists think that it’s only a couple of million years old (you know, only), and lives inside the 30 Doradus Nebula.  You know, the 30 Doradus Nebula.  Yeah, I really have no idea where that is either – but it’s a very violent, turbulent region inside of the Large Magellanic Cloud.  See the blue dots?  Those are some of the largest stars known – some over hundreds of times larger than our Sun.

The Hubble Telescope’s Widefield Camera 3 took the above image in red, UV, and visible light.  This blew my mind – that image is about 100 light years wide.  The green hue in the photo is the glow of oxygen; red from fluorescing hydrogen; the blue hues are the hottest and largest stars.  It just blows my mind – the swirling cream-colored masses, it’s like space mist, so intangible to my imagination.

From the NASA site on this image:

The brilliant stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, and hurricane-force stellar winds (streams of charged particles), which are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born. The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys, as well as a dark region in the center that roughly looks like the outline of a holiday tree. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars can also help create a successive generation of offspring. When the winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The movement of the LMC around the Milky Way may have triggered the massive cluster’s formation in several ways. The gravitational tug of the Milky Way and the companion Small Magellanic Cloud may have compressed gas in the LMC. Also, the pressure resulting from the LMC plowing through the Milky Way’s halo may have compressed gas in the satellite. The cluster is a rare, nearby example of the many super star clusters that formed in the distant, early universe, when star birth and galaxy interactions were more frequent. Previous Hubble observations have shown astronomers that super star clusters in faraway galaxies are ubiquitous.

Beautiful.  Ridiculously beautiful.