Saturday, August 10, 2013

Watch for the Perseid meteor shower this weekend

[UPDATE - 7:37 p.m. EDT] - Meteors showing up on this Ustream broadcast from Valladolid, Spain.

Enjoy a summer evening of sky watching this weekend as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks Sunday night into Monday morning. Rates can get as high as 100 meteors per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky. Early Sunday evening, a waxing crescent moon will interfere slightly with this year's show, but it will have set by the time of the best viewing, just before dawn, Monday morning.

Perseid meteors come across the sky from all directions, a good time to lay back in your favorite lawn chair and look straight up into the dark sky. It is important to be far away from artificial lights, if possible, but not required. Your eyes can take up to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to “dark-adapt.”

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust -- most over 1,000 years old -- burn up in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.

If cloud cover blocks your view, listen to the Perseid meteors by clicking here.

Schedule of Events

Saturday / 8:12 p.m. EDT – Sunset in Washington, D.C. area.

Saturday / 9:55 p.m. EDT – Moonset in Washington, D.C. area.

Saturday / 11:00 p.m. EDT - Join NASA in a live Web chat to watch the Perseids. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke and Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw from the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center will answer your questions.

Sunday / 8:11 p.m. EDT – Sunset in Washington, D.C. area.

Sunday / approximately 9:00 p.m. EDT - Live broadcast of the skies over NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. begins.

Sunday / 10:28 p.m. EDT – Moonset in Washington, D.C. area.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Report released on May 2012 mid-air collision over Warrenton, Va.

Click on image to enlarge.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report Thursday into the mid-air collision between a Piper PA-28 and a Beechcraft Bonanza on May 28, 2012.

"This accident shows once again that the see-and-avoid principle is inadequate for preventing collisions between aircraft flying under visual flight rules (VFR)," said Jon Lee, TSB's Investigator-in-Charge. "Additional defenses must be put in place to prevent mid-air collisions among VFR aircraft."

The Piper (tail number N23C) was registered to and piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee Thomas Proven, and the Beechcraft (tail number N6658R) was registered to and piloted by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) employee James Duncan. Given the unique circumstances surrounding the ownership and operation of the aircraft, the TSB accepted delegation of the accident investigation from the NTSB in accordance with international convention.
The Beechcraft was in a shallow climb, headed southbound, being operated VFR for the purposes of a biennial flight review. The Piper was in level flight, under VFR, and was heading in a southeasterly direction. The aircraft collided at approximately 1,800 feet above sea level just after 4 p.m. EDT in the area of Warrenton, Va.

The Beechcraft broke up in flight and the pilot and flight instructor on board were fatally injured. Proven, the sole occupant of the Piper, conducted a forced landing in a pasture approximately six nautical miles south of the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport.

“The TSB remains concerned that yet again, the defenses available to avert a mid-air collision between VFR aircraft in congested airspace have failed,” the board said in their report. “As VFR traffic increases, additional lines of defense should be considered to reduce the risk of a mid-air collision. These include changes in airspace classification, increased air traffic control intervention, ground-based and on board technology.

“A meaningful improvement to the ability to see-and-avoid other VFR aircraft may require on board technology capable of directly alerting pilots to the proximity of conflicting traffic. A number of viable and economical on board alerting systems exist or are under development. Had one or both of these aircraft been equipped with some form of the technology, the risk of collision would have been reduced. The report identified that there is a high risk of mid-air collision in congested airspace when aircraft are not alerted to the presence of another aircraft and rely solely on the see-and-avoid principle.”

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Monday, August 5, 2013

NASA's next spacecraft going to Mars

NASA's next spacecraft going to Mars arrived Friday at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and is now perched in a clean room to begin final preparations for its Nov. 18 launch.

The spacecraft was transported from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., on Friday, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for testing, launch processing, and mission operations.

Known as MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), the spacecraft is undergoing detailed testing and fueling prior to being moved to the launch pad.

MAVEN will conduct the first mission dedicated to surveying the upper atmosphere of Mars. Scientists expect to obtain unprecedented data that will help them understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space may have played a part in changing the planet's climate. Previous Mars missions detected energetic solar fields and particles that could drive atmospheric gases away from Mars. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a planet-wide magnetic field that would deflect these solar winds. As a result, these winds may have stripped away much of Mars' atmosphere. Scientists will use MAVEN data to project how Mars became the cold, dusty desert planet we see today. The planned one-year mission begins with the spacecraft entering the Red Planet's orbit in September 2014.

In the next week, the team will reassemble components previously removed for transport. Further checks prior to launch will include software tests, spin balance tests, and test deployments of the spacecraft's solar panels and booms.

MAVEN's principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, is based at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. The university provides science instruments and leads science operations, education and public outreach. Goddard Space Flight Center manages the project and provides two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provides science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

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Two Russian spacewalks planned aboard space station

On Aug. 16 and 22, Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin will install equipment for the arrival of a new Russian module and begin preparations for the installation later this year of an optical telescope on the International Space Station.

The two cosmonauts will venture outside the ISS at about 10:40 a.m. EDT on Aug. 16 for a spacewalk scheduled to last about 6.5 hours. They plan to continue routing power and Ethernet cables for the future arrival of the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, which will be launched aboard a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They also will install on the Poisk module a panel of experiments designed to collect data on the effects of the microgravity environment in low-Earth orbit.

The Aug. 22 spacewalk also is scheduled to begin at about 7:40 a.m. Yurchikhin and Misurkin will remove a space laser communications system from the hull of the Zvezda service module and install a pointing platform on which a small optical telescope will be installed on a future Russian spacewalk.

The spacewalks will be the 172nd and 173rd in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the seventh and eighth of Yurchikhin's career and the second and third for Misurkin. Yurchikhin will wear a Russian Orlan suit bearing red stripes, and Misurkin will wear a suit with blue stripes. Misurkin's suit also will be equipped with a U.S. helmet camera to provide close up views of the work he will be performing outside the station.

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Sequestration: Florida-based company offers alternative to military flyovers

As sequestration continues to affect the U.S. military's ability to perform at air shows and participate in flyovers, civilian-owned Black Diamond Jet Team is stepping in as an alternative for professional and college-level sports teams, as well as other organizations looking to book a flyover for an upcoming event.

Black Diamond Jet Team, based in Lakeland, Fla., has performed at dozens of air shows and performed numerous flyovers since it was founded in 2010. The team has seen an increase in demand for flyover appearances since sequestration, recently performing a five-ship flyover as part of an elaborate grand opening event for Transformers: The Ride-3D at Universal Studios in Orlando. Black Diamond Jet Team has already booked additional air show appearances and event flyovers for the coming months and encourages universities, National Football League teams and other organizations looking to replace traditional military flyovers to consider the aerobatic jet team as an alternative option.

The Black Diamond Jet Team includes five L-39s and a Canadair CT-33.

In October, the team will participate in the 2013 Wings Over North Georgia show.

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