The Cascade range of volcanoes is pretty impressive to see from the ground. Stretching from California up to Washington, it includes famous mountains like Saint Helens, Hood, and Rainier. I’ve seen many of these while driving in the area, and they’re even cooler from an airplane.
But I have to say, the view from the International Space Station might be best.
[Click to cascadienate.]
This shot was taken from the ISS on September 20, 2012, and shows the region around Mount Shasta, a 4300 meter peak in northern California. It’s technically dormant – it erupted last in 1786. In geologically recent history it’s erupted every 600 years or so, but that’s not a precise schedule, so geologists keep an eye on it, as they do many of the peaks in the Cascades. As well they should.
To the west of the mountain (to the right in the picture, near the edge) is the much smaller Black Butte. I only point that out because you can see a highway winding around it to the right. That’s I5, a major north-south highway, and a few years back when my family lived in Northern California, I drove it on our way to and back from Oregon. Black Butte was a pretty impressive lava dome, looking exactly what you expect a volcano to look like. And looming in the distance was Shasta, but more standard mountainy looking. That appearance is, of course, quite deceiving.
I love volcanoes, and I’m fascinated by them. I’m hoping to visit some more very soon.. and I’ll have some news about that, I think, in the near future.
Image credit: NASA
Do you like volcano pictures from space too? Here’s a bunch of ‘em!
You know, I was all ready to go to bed, with a blog post all ready to go first thing in the morning… and then astrophotographer Christoph Malin sent me an email about a video he put together. It’s called "The ISS Stacks" – instead of a normal time lapse where you take hundreds of still images and play them as individual frames of a video, he stacked them, so that each one adds to the last. It creates a dizzying, blurred version of reality that’s seriously trippy. See for yourself, but make sure it’s in HD and full screen first for maximum impact.
Whoa. Now I know what David Bowman felt.
Is there anything to be learned from this video? Probably not, to be honest. It’s just way, way cool.
Here’s a slice of weird: a photo taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station of three small cubes floating by:
What could they be? Balok’s warning buoy? Tiny little Borg ships? The ISS trying to roll a crit 18?
Nope. Those are CubeSats, small satellites about 10 cm (4 inches) on a side and having a mass up to a little over a kilo. Even though they’re teeny, they can be packed with a lot of equipment. Typical mission payloads are pretty diverse, from testing hardware for communications and satellite attitude control, to taking images (and other observations) of Earth, monitoring the satellite’s radiation environment, and even detecting dust in space. Because they’re small and relatively cheap (well under $100,000 including launch), space missions using CubeSats can be done by smaller institutions, including schools.
The picture above is from the deployment of three CubeSats on October 4 – the 55th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, humanity’s first artificial satellite. Two other CubeSats were sent out in a separate deployment as well.
Here’s another shot of the three regular Platonic hexahedrons over Earth:
These three are amateur radio satellites: they transmit a signal amateur operators on the ground can pick up. You can find more pictures and technical info at the UK Amateur Radio Satellite webpage.
It’s amazing that we’ve come so far that satellites can be done this inexpensively. Heck, people can even hold a contest to put stuff on small satellites like these! It’s really opened up what kind of space science and exploration can be done, and I have to admit, is something I never thought of when I dreamed of space travel as a kid.
Or heck, as an adult either. People are clever, and for them the sky is no longer the limit.
Tip o’ the Borg nanoprobe to my editor at the Hive Overmind, Amos Zeeberg. Image credit: JAXA and NASA
Last night (Sunday October 7), SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule full of supplies on a mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon was deployed successfully (as were its solar panels to give it power) and it’s on its way to ISS.
However, not everything went as planned. One of the nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 had a failure 90 seconds into the flight. It’s not clear what happened just yet, but there is pretty dramatic footage of the engine failure; in the slow motion video below you can see some sort of flash and puff of flame at the 30 second mark (I’ve set the video to start 22 seconds in):
You can see a bright spot glowing on the upper right engine, then what looks like shrapnel blowing back as well, so it appears something catastrophic happened to the engine. I can think of many things that could’ve caused this – a crack in the engine bell that failed when it got hot, a faulty valve, something in the pipes – but I’m just spitballing; hopefully the folks at SpaceX will be able to determine the cause from the engine telemetry.
[UPDATE: SpaceX issued the follow notice at 17:00 UTC today:
"Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.
As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.
Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission."]
Although this looks scary, the engine nozzles are coated with Kevlar to protect them specifically in case something like this occurs, so the other engines continued working. Also, the onboard computer immediately shut down the failed engine, and then on the fly – literally – recalculated all the needed changes to the thrust of the other engines to compensate. In the end, the first stage boost lasted an extra thirty seconds to cover for the failed engine. It’s important again to note that the Dragon capsule was delivered on orbit and will rendezvous with ISS on Wednesday.
Having said that, there may have been another problem as well: my friend Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan’s Space Report is reporting the upper stage didn’t make its second burn, so an Orbcomm satellite that was carried as a secondary payload didn’t make the correct orbit. I don’t have any more information about that, but I’ll update this post when I hear more.
[UPDATE: ORBCOMM has confirmed the satellite was placed into the wrong orbit due to the engine failure. They, along with aerospace company Sierra Nevada, are looking into using the satellite's onboard propulsion system to raise the orbit.]
Elon Musk at SpaceX is expected to have an announcement later today about the launch. Again, I’ll update this post as info comes in.
Tip o’ the nose cone to AstroEngine for the alert about the video.
In May, 2012, when the International Space Station was passing over Africa at 8 kilometers per second, astronaut André Kuipers took this stunning picture of Mount Kilimanjaro:
[Click to hephaestenate.]
The stratovolcano is nearly 5900 meters (19,000 feet) high. The iconic "Snows of Kilimanjaro" are transcendently beautiful, but may not be around much longer. The ice is receding, and it’s expected the volcano will be ice-free in as little as ten years. While the recession has been going on for a century now, the past couple of decades have seen phenomenal acceleration in ice loss, just as we’ve seen in glaciers across the planet and in the arctic sea ice as well.
Global warming is doing more than heating the planet and potentially threatening our lives. It’s robbing Earth of its beauty. I wonder for which we’ll be judged more harshly by future generations?
You know what? Our planet is awesome.
[Click to thalassenate.]
This photo was taken by ESA astronaut André Kuipers, on board the International Space Station. Frustratingly there’s no info I could find on when this was taken, or what part of the planet it shows… but then, in a way, maybe that’s OK. It’s a reminder of how big Earth is, how easy it is to get lost here, and how much of it there’s still to explore.
Of course, that glint we see of reflected sunlight can tell us so much. It tells us we live on a world of water, which we already knew. But sometimes we see glints from alien worlds, and that tells us liquid exists there too.
And that tells me to take nothing for granted. Even the simplest thing we see so often can reveal amazing knowledge of things we’d otherwise never see.
My Italian is a little rusty, so I hope I got the title right. Either way, here’s what I was referring to:
Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s Italy, of course, seen on August 18, 2012, at night by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The ISS was well to the southeast, probably over Libya or Egypt in Africa, when the astronaut took this shot facing northwest. I poked around a bit, and the ISS was in this position twice on that date. Once was during the day, and the other around local midnight, so that fits.
It’s pretty neat to see Italy from space; I’ve posted an image like this before (though the ISS was much more overhead for that one). In this one you can see the arc of green airglow caused by oxygen atoms about 100 kilometers up giving up energy after getting whacked by ultraviolet light from the Sun. To the left and along the top you can see some of the ISS structures, too.
I’ll note that on Thursday, August 23, NASA announced that the private company SpaceX had been approved for a dozen cargo flights to and from ISS; this comes after their successful demo mission in May. The first of these flights is scheduled for October 2012. Not only that, but the aerospace company XCOR will be opening a new facility in Florida, near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. XCOR is building a reusable suborbital spaceplane called Lynx, and expects to phase into orbital work eventually.
It’s exciting to see private industry getting involved! And it shows that, when it comes to space travel, America is still looking up.
Image credit: NASA. Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to Fragile Oasis.
I’ve been posting a lot about Mars lately – and stay tuned, there’s plenty more! – but let’s not forget the first planet we ever viewed from space: our own. Here’s another lovely time lapse video of Earth made from images taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, called Earth Illuminated.
Regular readers might recognize some of the clips used here; for example the opening shot shows the solstice Sun not quite setting over the limb of the Earth. Many of the other features you can see in this video I’ve explained before too, like air glow, aurorae, and cities from space. Still, it’s nice to see them again, some literally in a different light.
Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to Dan Gillmor on G+.
For no other reason than it is beautiful, here is a picture astronaut André Kuipers took of Buenos Aires as the International Space Station sailed into the night over the Atlantic Ocean.
[Click to enmásgrandenate.]
Kuipers took that picture on May 11, 2012. Looking to the west you can see the city lights, as well as the thin green line of the atmospheric aerosol layer. I suspect that’s Venus right over the horizon, too. The silhouette is of the Russian Progress 47 capsule which docked with the ISS in April, and will remain there for several more months.
Image credit: NASA/ESA
I don’t have a lot to add to this incredible picture taken by astronaut André Kuipers of the Dragon capsule as it approached the International Space Station on May 25:
[Click to embiggen.]
Isn’t that spectacular? Actually, I will add something: the caption for this post indicates it’s over the Rocky Mountains. I got excited for a second, thinking maybe it was near my neck of the woods. But then I realized the icy mountaintops look nothing like they do here in Boulder. I checked anyway, and on Wolfram Alpha I found the picture was taken over Vancouver Island, which is where my friend Fraser Cain from Universe Today lives!
Huh. Small planet.
[P.S. Speaking of Fraser, I'll be doing a live video star party with him, Pamela Gay, and many others for the Transit of Venus Tuesday. We have telescopes lined up all over the world to view this last-chance-in-a-lifetime event! Stay tuned for more info, but I'll have the chat embedded here on the blog when the time comes.]
Image credit: ESA/NASA