Category Archives: Astronomy

USA 224

NPR: Amateurs Identify U.S. Spy Satellite Behind President Trump’s Tweet.

“Amateur satellite trackers say they believe an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday came from one of America’s most advanced spy satellites.

The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America’s multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.
Melissa Hanham, a satellite imagery expert and deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network in Vienna, Austria […] says she is amazed a satellite can provide such clear imagery. Spy satellites must peer down through Earth’s atmosphere, which is a bit like trying to look at objects in the bottom of a swimming pool. They also must snap their pictures while whizzing across the sky. Both effects can blur the fine details in images.

“I’m now scratching my head and curious about how they account for the effects of the atmosphere and motion of the objects,” she says.

And she says she thinks she’s not alone. Others will be trying to use the image to learn more about how USA 224 works. “I imagine adversaries are going to take a look at this image and reverse-engineer it to figure out how the sensor itself works and what kind of post-production techniques they’re using,” she says.

Hanham questions whether Trump’s tweet zinging the Iranians was worth the information this image provides to other nations, but she adds: “It’s his decision as the president.””

Dr. h. c. AstroAlex

KIT: Ein Blick ins All: Alexander Gerst begeistert am KIT. (YouTube, 1:53h)

“Wie sieht ein Gewitter über den Wolken aus, wie verändert sich der Körper in der Schwerelosigkeit und was kann Forschung an Bord der ISS zur Behandlung irdischer Krankheiten beitragen? Antworten auf Fragen wie diese fand ESA-Astronaut Alexander Gerst bei den beiden Missionen, die ihn 2014 und 2018 auf die Internationale Raumstation ISS führten. Seine wissenschaftlichen Wurzeln liegen auch in Karlsruhe: 2003 erhielt er sein Diplom in Geophysik an der Universität Karlsruhe, dem heutigen Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). Die KIT-Fakultäten für Physik und für Bauingenieur-, Geo- und Umweltwissenschaften verliehen ihm nun die Ehrendoktorwürde. Die feierliche Übergabe der Urkunde und ein Vortrag im vollbesetzten Audimax führten den deutschen ESA-Astronauten am 12. Juli 2019 wieder an seine frühere Universität.”

13 Minutes to the Moon

BBC: 13 Minutes To The Moon: new BBC Podcast tells the story of the people behind the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“On 13 May 2019, the BBC will be launching 13 Minutes To The Moon, a 12-part series covering the Apollo programme through the final dramatic 13-minute descent of the Apollo 11 mission, when everything came close to going badly wrong. Communication was breaking down, technology was failing and fuel was running out.
The final episode will be recorded live at Houston’s Rice University, where U.S. President John F. Kennedy made his speech in 1962, famously announcing his ambition to take humankind to the moon. It will be released on the exact 50th anniversary of the moon landing, 20 July 2019.”

I’ve only found this today, but the first two episodes as well as some trailers are already available for download.

The moon and the detection of collisions of black holes

NPR History: 50 Years Later, Looking Back At Apollo 10, Precursor To The Moon Landing. “It’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 10 mission. NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with General Thomas Stafford, who led the Apollo 10 mission.”

“MARTIN: So I think you’ve raised something I was going to ask you about, is these missions are happening at a time when there was the space race going on with the Soviet Union. So I guess a lot of people wanted to know, well, it’s like, were you jealous, or were you mad that you weren’t going to land? What I think I hear you saying is no, everybody was kind of doing their part. Everybody just wanted to do their part. Would that be fair to say?

STAFFORD: Well, you’re absolutely right. We’re doing our part. And Deke Slayton called me, and he said, Tom, he said, you’re going to be the backup for 7. You’re going to turn around and fly 10. He called Neil in, he says, Neil, you’re backing up 8. You’ll fly 11. Called in Pete Conrad, said you’re backing up 9. You will fly twelve. And between the three of you, if the systems go right, somebody should have a chance to land.”

NPR Science: Billion-Dollar Gamble: How A ‘Singular Hero’ Helped Start A New Field In Physics.

“Imagine spending 40 years and more than a billion dollars on a gamble.

That’s what one U.S. government science agency did. It’s now paying off big time, with new discoveries about black holes and exotic neutron stars coming almost every week.

And while three physicists shared the Nobel Prize for the work that made this possible, one of them says the real hero is a former National Science Foundation staffer named Rich Isaacson, who saw a chance to cultivate some stunning research and grabbed it.

“The thing that Rich Isaacson did was such a miracle,” says Rainer Weiss, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the 2017 Nobel laureates. “I think he’s the hero. He’s a singular hero. We just don’t have a good way of recognizing people like that. Rich was in a singular place fighting a singular war that nobody else could have fought.”

Without him, Weiss says, “we would’ve been killed dead on virtually every topic.” He and his fellow laureate Kip Thorne recently donated money to create a brand-new American Physical Society award in Isaacson’s honor.”

Blick auf den blauen Punkt im All

re:publica 2015 – Alexander Gerst: Blue Dot Mission – Sechs Monate Leben und Arbeiten auf der ISS. (YouTube, 1:12h)

“Man sieht Krieg. Wir haben Bomben und Raketen fliegen sehen über Gaza. […] Wenn es wirklich intelligentes Leben im Universum gibt und die uns irgendwann mal besuchen kommen, dann wäre das das erste, was die sehen. Wir sind eine Spezies, die sich auch intelligent nennt, und das erste, was man von uns sieht ist, dass wir unsere Lebensgrundlange, die sehr zerbrechlich ist und sehr begrenzt ist, zerstören und uns gegenseitig umbringen. Das ist das, was man von außen sieht, und ich wüsste nicht, wie man irgend jemandem erklären sollte, warum wir das tun.”

(Zitat ab 0:36:53)

Damals wurde Gerst auch gefragt, wie die Chancen stehen, dass er noch einmal ins All fliegt. Heute kann er auf seine zweite Mission, Horizons, im Jahr 2018 zurückblicken.

(Hinweis: Die Kommentare unter dem Video sollte man besser überwiegend nicht lesen… aber das versteht sich bei YouTube eigentlich von selbst.)