Team Russia launches

Relaunching the blog from Moscow, Russia.

de Ferrers (and West Park) are here taking part in the Space Master Class.

Each day a student will be writing about their experiences.

Mr G.

Our first day began with our space cadets experiencing a wide ranging breakfast of burgers, pizzas and pancakes. Though, after a long day of travelling, some of our students did not quite make the 8.00am start time!

Split into two groups, we embarked on a walking tour of Moscow city. First, however, we had to catch the metro into the city centre, which plunged us right into the daily lives of Russian citizens whilst experiencing the diverse culture that the stations had to offer. Most prominent of which were bronze statues lining the walls of the station depicting Russian workers of many professions. The stunning art pays tribute to Russia’s citizens and rich history.

Whilst above ground today, we were exposed to unique sights such as: the eternal flame, the changing of the guards and the resting place of Lenin. However, the students found most amazement in the beauty of St Basil’s cathedral and the famous Kremlin. Today saw our students experience the immense landmarks that Moscow had to offer, and were not left disappointed. We finished the day with a meal at our hotel and an exclusive presentation given by Alexander Martynov with a special guest… Alexander Volkov, the Ukrainian cosmonaut! This was a fantastic opportunity for the whole team to ask him some pressing questions and even have a photo taken with the national hero.



Is this the year of Space Science?

First there was Rosetta – catching up with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Landing the Philae probe onto the surface in November 2014.

Philae, unfortunately landed in too much shadow (after a few bounces). But woke up again on 13th of June having received enough sunlight, just days before Dr Monica Grady (big sister of our “head of maths”) came to give a talk to de Ferrers students.

140912_Philae_s_backup_landing_site_from_30_km_b Rosetta_comet_land_3105124k Rosetta_Philae_Artist_Impression_Poster_625x815

This week has seen New Horizons reach Pluto, after a 9 year journey around the solar system

We now have clear images of Pluto’s surface and pictures of Pluto’s moons, such as Charon.


Other important space science events include:

It’s a very exciting time to be an Astrophysicist!

Mr G

Source: NASA (New Horizons), Wikipedia, HubbleSite

A Month of Spectacular Space Weather

The Sun has been pretty busy lately, with lots of flares and coronal mass ejections sending high energy particles flying towards the Earth. These can cause problems, both in space and on the ground.

Fortunately the Earth’s magnetosphere deflects most of these away from us. But the field comes back to Earth at the poles and these high energy charged particles come rushing down into the atmosphere (in some cases accelerated by the Earth’s magnetic field).

These particles “excite” the atoms in the air by giving the atoms electrons more energy, which then get rid of the energy again as light. Blue or Red for nitrogen (70% of the air) and Red and Green for the oxygen.

At high altitude oxygen red dominates, then oxygen green and nitrogen blue/red, then finally nitrogen blue/red when collisions prevent oxygen from emitting anything. Green is the most common of all auroras. Behind it is pink, a mixture of light green and red, followed by pure red, yellow (a mixture of red and green), and lastly pure blue.

Just like iron filings line up along a magnetic field, so do the charged particles. We get sheets of air glowing when hit by the particles following the Earth’s field lines, drifting and swirling around. We call them Aurora. Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. The Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (The Southern Lights).

Here is a BBC Stargazing Live video explaining Aurora – it’s aimed at Primary kids so it’s kept nice and simple.

Below is a slide show of Aurora photos taken during January 2012.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mr G

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC News, BBC Stargazing Live, Various Newspaper websites.

Curiosity and the God of War

The Curiosity Rover has started its journey to Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) is biggest robotic probe we have ever sent to Mars, the size of a car. It is 5 times larger and 10 times the mass of the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity that we landed on Mars in 2004. Each was due to run for 90 Mars days – Spirit finally broke in 2010 and Opportunity is still going having driven 21 miles so far. The Curiosity rover is nuclear powered – so it does not rely on solar panels – should be running for 668 Mars days (which are slightly shorter so this is 688 Earth days). It might run a lot longer though if it does as well as the previous two.

Here is the launch…

Landing something that size is a problem – before we wrapped probes in air bags and after a parachute slowed it down they bounced onto the ground.

This one needs a bit more care. It involves a heat shield, a parachute and a rocket powered hovering crane that lowers the rover the last few meters.

This is a computer animation of what the rest of the journey will be like.

It’ll hopefully land at Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012.

Mr G

Sources NASAKennedy YouTube channel, The Guardian, Wikipedia

Goodbye Endeavour – not quite!

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is getting ready to launch for the last time.

Update – the launch has been postponed. Current scheduled date is the 16th of May 2011.

It was scheduled for its final launch last Friday and the mission is being commanded by Captain Mark Kelley – whose wife was the Congresswoman shot in the head and who will hopefully be well enough to watch the launch.

NASA has already retired the Space Shuttle Discovery – which had its last flight in February.

Endeavour is the youngest of the shuttles and was built to replace Challenger, the shuttle that exploded. In total there were 6 Space Shuttles:

  • Enterprise – was a prototype that was originally to be refitted to be the second to fly in space – but design changes meant that it was cheaper to build a new shuttle – Challenger.
  • Columbia – this shuttle disintegrated on re-entry on Feb 1st 2003.
  • Challenger – this shuttle exploded just after launch Jan 28th 1986
  • Discovery – this shuttle launched and took parts to the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • Atlantis – this shuttle will be the last one to fly – it is a back up to the final Endeavour launch and will fly by itself for the last time in June.
  • Endeavour – when Challenger exploded there were plans again to refit Enterprise – but it was again cheaper to start again using spares from Discovery and Atlantis.

In total the Space Shuttles will have flown into space 135 times.

Mr G

Sources: BBC News, Wikipedia, NASA Mission Site

NASA’s Messenger Probe reaches Mercury Orbit…

For the first time in human history we have managed to  orbit Mercury with a probe.

This mission will continue to revolutionize our understanding of Mercury during the coming year

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

For the first time in history, a scientific observatory is in orbit about our solar system’s innermost planet. Mercury’s secrets, and the implications they hold for the formation and evolution of Earth-like planets, are about to be revealed.

Sean Solomon, MESSENGER principal investigator of the Carnegie Institution of Washington

Along its long journey to Mercury it has photographed many of the planets in the Solar System – it was launched in 2004.

But space travel is rarely as simple as travelling in a straight line. To coast along with the minimum fuel being used can take several loops around the solar system before finally slipping into orbit.

Below you can see photos Messenger took along its route.

Not bad for a box that measures 1.85 meters tall, 1.42 m wide and 1.27 m deep.

While it is there Messenger will try to

  • find out the surface composition of Mercury
  • work out the geological history of the planet
  • measure the strength of the magnetic field and its variation with position and altitude
  • look for the presence of a liquid outer core
  • work out what the radar reflective materials at Mercury’s poles are

I think one more picture might just about finish this article… LOL

Mr G

Sources: NASA Press release, NASA Messenger Website, Wikipedia



The final flight (and pee) of Discovery

On a lighter (though still quite sad) note the Space Shuttle Discovery has retired following it’s 39th and final flight into space – this time to visit the International Space Station.

Above you can see the view some lucky aeroplane passengers saw as it took off.

Then the astronauts on the Space Station took a great photo as it approached.

An even luckier UK amateur astronomer, Rob Bullen, caught the approach of Discovery to the Space Station – from the ground!!

Finally – even sillier – German astronomer caught the moment Discovery emptied it’s urine tanks into space before it re-entered the atmosphere on the way back home.

For more videos, pics and comments – including info about the R2 Robot (Star Wars geeks I guess) they took up for the Space Station – check out this BigThink article.

Mr G

Sources: YouTube, Discover Magazine, Neatorama Blog, Wikipedia, BigThink

Voyager to leave the Solar System.

One of the two Voyager probes launched in the 70’s (and later featuring in the first Star Trek Movie – geek overdrive) is about to leave the Solar System. It is now 10.8 BILLION (10,800,000,000) miles from Earth – and still works thanks to it’s radioactive power supply.

Instruments on board that measure the Solar Wind have begun consistently showing Zero. The particles from the Sun are now being stopped by the particles on interstellar space.

Click the BBC link below for more info and an audio clip from Dr Ed Stone.

Mr G

Sources: BBC, Wikipedia

Homemade Spacecraft

You might have seen something similar on the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory (first series) – but this father and son team just sent a video camera up into space using a balloon.

They used an iPhone so they could find it again using the “Find My iPhone” GPS feature.

This is a YouTube version – the original was Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo. [WordPress cannot embed Vimeo yet!!]


Mr G

NASA presses the reset button to fix Voyager 2 computer

Voyager 2 was launched when I was 2 years old. It wandered around the Solar System, most importantly visiting the Outer Planets before heading towards the edge of the Solar System.

Voyager images of Jupiter (Voyager 1 Jan 1979, Voyager 2 Apr 1979)

But like most computers, it got a glitch when a single binary bit got changed from a 0 to a 1. For us down here, we just restart the PC. It was a little trickier with a space probe 8,600,000,000 miles away!!

But NASA have managed it and now it’s working properly again.

Mr G

Sources: Engadget, NASA Voyager 2 Images