Members of the Spacelink team recently saw one of Brian Cox’s live talks in Brighton. The talk captured the imaginations of 3500 people for two hours of space-centric wonder!
The talk went in-depth on a very wide variety of topics, ranging from how the universe was created, to how we might discover life on other planets in the future. The topics were covered extensively and to a level that might seem confusing at first, but is explained with such enthusiasm and simplicity that anyone can feel like they are an astrophysicist!… Even me.
It was great to see such a huge amount of people at the event, with such a variety of people as well. There were teachers, children, and everyone in between. With events going on at the moment such as Tim Peake going to the ISS and this event, space interest is at an all-time high, and that is brilliant.
As December begins, we at Spacelink start to think about Christmas – but instead of looking up into the sky for Father Christmas, the end of year meteor shower – The Geminids – is a spectacular gift that the sky gives to us.
The Geminids have upward of 100 meteors per hour, near the bright star Castor. It can usually be seen every year between the 4th and 17th of December, this year peaking on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th.
The name comes from the constellation Gemini where the meteors seem to come in the sky.
The Geminids are associated with an asteroid, the 3200 Phaeton.
It is suggested to look towards to south for better viewing, at night. Try to avoid being near too many artificial lights, but hopefully you can see the shower with the naked eye. Unfortunately weather conditions and the moon can make viewing conditions difficult, so fingers crossed for some great sightings.
This week we thought we would look at a few interesting facts about space:
Did you know all of space is completely silent – in our busy world, can you image what that would be
Do you know why this is? There is no atmosphere in space, so sound waves can’t travel so it will
always be silent.
You can become taller in space!
In micro gravity the spine straightens, as gravity isn’t pushing down – up to perhaps 5cm taller.
Space isn’t that far away –
The boundary of space is 100km away above the earth – that’s not that far at all is it?
If you feel sad in space and start to cry, what do you think happens to your tears?
The weightless environment means that your tears can’t fall. This can be dangerous for astronauts
as water will cling to the surface it’s on, so tears will cling to the face and if you had a helmet on you
The Apollo astronauts footprints left on the moon will stay there for:
1. 1 year
2. 10 years
3. 100 million years?
The answer is at least 100 million years – there is no wind or water to wash away the marks.
Oh dear, did you know in space the skin on your feet peels off?
Astronauts are not using their feet to walk in space; the skin on their feet softens and then flakes off.
They have to be very careful when they take their socks off.
Is the sun yellow, or could it possibly be white?
At our last great Get Space Day, Professor Lucie Green gave us an incredible talk called “15 million degrees a journey to the centre of the sun”.
When we first learn to draw and colour in, we have always coloured in the sun a beautiful bright yellow. On a sunny, summers day, the warmth we feel on our faces comes from the yellow disc in the sky. As we get that heat from the sun, do you imagine it is engulfed in burning waves of flames?
But, the sun isn’t really yellow at all, nor does it have those fiery flames we imagine. It appears to look like it does to us because of Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere makes its rays appear the colour we see, tinted with yellow. The temperature of the sun is 6,000 degrees Kelvin, so hot, that a star of this temperature is in reality white.
However, the sun is essentially colours mixed together. Rainbows are light from the sun, separated into its colours. The colours each have a different wavelength, red being the longest, and blue being the shortest.
Always remember never to look at the sun directly, even with sunglasses; you could damage your eyes.
Did you know it takes 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach Earth? Light travelling at 300,000 kilometres per second!
And going back to that fascinating talk by Professor Lucie Green entitled “15 million degrees a journey to the centre of the sun” – the temperature at the suns core is 27 million degrees F or 15 million degrees C; so it’s hard not to imagine a great ball of fire is it?
It’s darker earlier in the evening and the nights are getting colder, let’s discover what to look for in the sky during November.
If you fancy getting up an hour before sunrise on the 5th, Jupiter can be seen in Virgo below Porrima.
On the 7th is the first quarter moon.
12th November, The annual Northern Taurids are medium speed meteors, and consist of large grains that can produce fireballs.
The Full moon is on the 14th.
On the 15th the full moon is to the left of the Hyades Cluster in Taurus. Half way towards the cluster is the giant star Aldebaran.
Before dawn on the 18th November, The annual Leonid Meteor shower, peaks on the 17th. It comes from material left by repeated passages of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle.
Last quarter of the moon is on the 21st.
Saturn meets Mercury on November 23rd after sunset, very low in the western sky.
Again an early start on the 25th, before dawn, the third quarter moon will lie close to Regulus in Leo.
A new moon is on the 29th. The moons orbit takes it between the earth and the sun and is in the same region of the sky where the sun is.
In the western sky after sunset on the 30th, the crescent moon forms a triangle with Mercury and Saturn.
Jupiter is the only planet to be seen in the pre-dawn sky this month. Saturn can still be seen, after sunset, but as the month progresses it will sink lower and be more difficult to see.
Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for the ISS, from 3rd to 17th. Go to spotthestation.nasa.gov for precise times.
As we are approaching the end of October and the end of British Summer Time, we at Spacelink started to think about time on other planets.
Here on Earth our year (the time it takes us to complete one orbit around the sun) is 365 days.
On Mercury, the orbit is 88 days, so a year is equivalent to 88 Earth days. But, and this seems strange, because of Mercury’s slow rotation one day on Mercury works out at 175.96 Earth days!
A year on Venus is 224.7 years. Another strange thing happens here, because of its rotation and orbit, a single day on Venus is 117 Earth days. How confusing.
Mars has a longer year, 687 Earth days, but the day is a similar length, 25 hours.
Jupiter takes only 9 hours 55 minutes to rotate on its axis, but a year on Jupiter is 4,332.59 Earth days.
Saturn’s year is even longer, 10,759 Earth days. It takes 84 Earth years for Uranus to rotate once around the sun, and Neptune 164.8 years. That’s a long time to wait for the next birthday!
Don’t forget to put the clocks back, Summer time ends on October 30th, an extra hour in bed.
After looking at what to see in space during October 2016, we at Spacelink wondered at what has happened in space in Octobers past.
We discovered quite a lot:
October 1947 Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier for the first time in the X-1.
Eleven years later NASA announces its manned space flight program. A panel of scientists and engineers form the Space Task Group. October this year was also the month NASA was founded.
Jumping ahead to 1961, on October 27th Saturn 1, the rocket for the initial Apollo missions, is tested for the first time.
Then in October 1965 the Soviet Union launches Voskhod 1, a modified Vostok orbiter with a three person crew.
Apollo 7 ( the first manned Apollo mission) launches on Saturn 1 for an orbit of the Earth on October 11th 1968. This mission was the first time there was a live television broadcast of humans in space.
Prospero satellite is successfully launched by the UK in October 1971.
Heading for Jupiter, Galileo is launched on the 18th October 1989 aboard Atlantis. Two years later the US Galileo spacecraft, on its way to Jupiter, obtains images of the asteroid Gaspra.
On the 15th October 1994 India launches its PolarSatellite..
Yang Liwei becomes China’s first taikonaut on the 15th October 2003. A two taikonaut crew launches on board the Chinese Shenzhou 6 in 2005.
October 1st 2007 NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson prepares for launch to the ISS becoming the first female commander.
The Space Age turned 50 on October 4th 2007, so we have celebrations to look forward to next year.
Uranus is nearest to Earth on the 15th.
There is a full moon on the 16th (Hunters Moon).
ISS Space Station -from the 12th to 19th should be visible, catch it quickly as you only have a few minutes.
Saturn and Venus are in alignment on the 27th and on the 27th Mercury is in superior conjunction.
Mars will be closest to the Sun on the 29th.
The ORIONIDS meteor shower is active in the morning from the 16th and leaks from the 21st to 24th.
And don’t forget – end of summer time on the 30th!
ExoMars – The Voyage Talk given by Don McCoy at the Royal Aeronautical Society HQ
This was stimulating and informative talk given by Don who is the ESA ExoMars Project Manager and has worked with ESA for 30 years.
This project has two main partners ESA and Roscosmos although a number of other European countries and the USA have contributed to the payload. The Spacecraft consists of two missions, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)(mass 3707Kg) and the Entry Descent and landing Module (EDM)(mass 576Kg).
The launch of the spacecraft was on 12th March 2016 on a Proton rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on 56m long, 700 tonnes including payload, 630 tonnes of which was fuel. The launch trajectory was accurate and 11 hours after launch data was received.
Currently, the spacecraft is ahead of Mars on its orbit, the spacecraft will be slowed down in two stages until the velocity differences are millimetres per second. The TGO orbiter and Schiaparelli lander will separate. 12 hours after separation the TGO must be deflected from a Mars collision. 72 hours after separation the TGO will do a Mars Orbit Insertion Manoeuvre (MOI), whilst performing the MOI the TGO will be receiving Schiaparelli’s descent data.
Schiaparelli, after performing its main mission of gathering atmospheric and decent data, will soft crash land on Mars, using its radar arrays and crushable structure to cushion the landing at the plain known as Meridiani Planum. While Schiaparelli batteries last, it will act as a radio relay and weather station sending data back via the TGO. This surface payload is known as DREAMS.
Initially the TGO will be in a highly elliptical orbit; this will be changed ideally to a 400km x 400km in December by slowing the TGO down by “dipping” into the atmosphere of Mars. Initial “dips” will be small and effects on the spacecraft will be carefully monitored. The TGO will then continue then continue to send data from its scientific payload for a minimum of one Martian year (687 Earth days).
This is a fascinating project with a 2020 mission lander currently in development and production.
For more details use these links:
Did you know?
In 1947 fruit flies were sent into space to study the effects of radiation, then it was a monkey called Albert.
But the first animal to go into orbit was a dog, travelling on board Soviet Sputnik 2 in 1957. Sadly the dog died during the flight. Her name was Laika and there is a memorial to her in Moscow. Her flight enabled scientists to understand the effects of space travel.
On July 2nd 1959 a Soviet launch carried two dogs and the first rabbit into space. The Soviet Sputnik 5 was the first to return animals alive from orbit in 1960.
Strangely, even more unusual animals also enjoyed a space flight, monkeys, chimpanzees, rats, mice, cats, frogs and even a tortoise!
Then of course on 12th April 1961 the first human, Yuri Gagarin, journeyed into space in his Vostok spacecraft.
It was two tortoises who were the first to travel in deep space.
Then in 2007, during the ESA’s FOTON-M3 mission, tardigrades, aka water bears, were able to survive 10 days in open space. On the same mission a Russian cockroach, was sent in a sealed contained and became the first creature to give birth outside the earth – 33 babies!
1947 First animal in Space
1949 First monkey in Space
1951 First dogs in Space
1957 First animal in Orbit
1968 First animal in Deep Space
2007 First animal survives exposure to space
We are now sadly moving into Autumn, but September is still a good month to observe Neptune. It is nearest to Earth on the 2nd.
On the 3rd it should be possible to observe Venus after sunset.
Between the 5th – 9th you can also see Saturn and Mars. Look south-southwest after sunset.
At the end of September, but for early risers before dawn, if the day is clear you may be able to get sight of Mercury.
The new moon is on the 1st, the first quarter on the 9th, the full moon will be on the 16th and last quarter on the 23rd. do you know what a penumbral eclipse is? It’s the moon passing through the Earth’s penumbral shadow – difficult to see but happening on the 16th.
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission is to send samples of the asteroid Bennu back to earth so we can discover more about it, this is planned for 8th – but will take a couple of years to get there and won’t be returned for 5 years!
Don’t forget to keep an eye open for the ISS – hopefully on the 9th September it should be visible.
If you missed the Perseid Meteor Shower, make sure to look out for some of these!
Spacelink have just gotten back from the first ever Bluedot Festival, held at the amazing Jodrell Bank Observatory. The festival was an educational, psychedelic and inspirational experience for all ages, with such a variety of activities that there really is something for everybody!
The incredible setting at Jodrell Bank was only emphasised by Brian Eno’s artwork being projected onto the main telescope at night. The spacey atmosphere at the festival was beautifully created to immerse you in the universe that they have made for you to explore.
On Friday evening we began our adventure by visiting the “Restaurant at the end of the Universe”, run by Michelin star chef Aiden Byrne! Not the most normal start to a festival we understand… But we just had to try his food, for research! His menu was inspired by astronomy and futurism, so it prepared us the cosmic journey we would go on during the rest of the weekend.
During the day there are educational talks, demonstrations and displays that festival goers could enjoy and play with. The first talk we went to was actually Spacelink’s own trustee Anita Heward! Who gave an amazing talk about the Twinkle program and the democracy of space.
Bluedot contained all the demographics imaginable, from young people there to see acts such as the amazing DJ Shadow, whose visuals fit the atmosphere perfectly; to families who were there with their kids to help them learn about the universe we all live in. The entire festival felt warm and friendly, and had an air of innocence about it. The whole time as a space enthusiast you were surrounded my like-minded people, all wanting to explore the planetary playground that was on offer.
The name twinkle aptly captures the child-like adventure that its satellite strives to keep alive in us. Run by Dr. Marcell Tessenyi, the satellite aims to discover more about extrasolar planets, which are planets that orbit Suns other than our own. Ultimately this means that we are looking for more worlds that humans could possibly inhabit, and how science fiction does that sound? But it’s not!
The twinkle satellite should hopefully be in low-Earth orbit within the next 4 years, and is being built and launched in the UK!
Once Twinkle is in orbit, it will be able to observe over 100 planets. When it sees these planets, twinkle measures the light being given off by the planet and can see which elements are and molecules are in the planet’s atmosphere. It will also be able to detect amino acids, which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life! We do not know much about these planets, other than their mass, so Twinkle will be discovering never before known information about these planets.
The Twinkle project has an education program, named EduTwinkle. Lead by Dr Clara Sousa Silva, EduTwinkle will focus on GCSE and A level students, but will eventually expand to primary schools as well. Once the Twinkle satellite is in operation, the students will be able to use real data, in Twinkles newest program; ORBYTS (Original Research By Young Twinkle Students). This direct involvement in the research will hopefully assist in dispelling the stereotype that some people cannot be involved with STEM subjects, and will attract all sorts of people to enjoy the amazing subject of space! Spacelink cannot wait to be more involved with the twinkle project!