Tag Archives: science

First Launch of the Falcon Heavy

On Tuesday, February 6th, SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket on its inaugural flight, sending Elon Musk’s original Tesla Roadster and “StarMan” on a far reaching orbit around the sun as a test payload.  Happily, I was able to fly out to Florida and experience the launch firsthand from the Kennedy Space Center’s closest available viewing location for the general public – just 3.9 miles away from the launch platform!  (It’s just too bad they haven’t removed the historic-but-no-longer-needed launch tower at LC-39A, as it was sitting between us and the Falcon Heavy.)  Still, it was quite the show with essentially three of their Falcon 9’s strapped together and all twenty-seven engines firing simultaneously!  Not to mention the amazing, never-seen-before, simultaneous return of the two outer boosters back to the nearby landing zone!

I’ve made a video of what it was like to watch (and hear) from our vantage point:

The Falcon Heavy launch as experienced from the closest public viewing area

This viewing location is part of Kennedy Space Center’s “Feel the Heat” ticket package which takes you to the Apollo/Saturn V Center to view a launch and includes a buffet, some commemorative items, and return entrance to the Kennedy Space Center on a later date to enjoy the rest of the exhibits.

You’re given an assigned arrival time some 5-6 hours before the launch to catch your bus (and told not to come earlier) but for this historic event, there were so many people that it took hours to get through the security gates, boarded on a bus (really? loading the buses serially??) and delivered to the viewing area.  By the time we unloaded from the buses at the viewing area, there was slim-pickings for anywhere on the grounds to set up a tripod with a good, unobstructed view because apparently many folks had shown up an hour or more earlier.  Anyway, I staked out a spot between others some three hours before the scheduled launch but had to skip the buffet to keep watch over all my gear.

The launch ended up being delayed several times due to high altitude wind shear and we were all getting a little nervous that they’d miss their launch window for the day (1:30 pm – 4 pm) as they rescheduled all the way up to 3:45 pm.  But then, about an hour before that, they made the call to go ahead and start fueling the liquid oxygen – meaning a go for launch!  Hurrah!

And then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, …. and great clouds of steam erupted with 27 engines firing – quite the sight!  We couldn’t see the rocket until it cleared that annoying (and unneeded!) tower, but afterwards the light intensity of the exhaust was incredible as it climbed into the sky.  You hardly notice the absence of sound from the rocket with the cheers of the crowd around you, but a few seconds later it starts to come across – and it’s an amazing, stuttering roar.

Then you get to watch it climb and roll and, higher up, begin to build a beautiful column of vapor – which it eventually disappeared into.  After a bit, it reappeared further east as a faint set of exhaust plumes still coursing away.  On the monitor, we could watch and hear announcements of each successful milestone and cheers would erupt each time – like with the separation of the side boosters and their retro-firing to return to Cape Canaveral.

Minutes later the two side boosters appeared in our sky coming down at incredible speed.  We all lost track of them though when they cut their engines again and unfortunately many of us weren’t in a position to see them again when they reignited for their final deceleration over their landing targets. We could of course see the video feed on the monitors, perfectly landing themselves (vertically!), like something out of science fiction – but it wasn’t until after they had landed that their twin sonic booms reached us.  We all of course learned later that the center core didn’t fare so well because two of the three needed engines were unable to restart (not enough ignition fuel) and it crashed into the ocean close enough and hard enough to damage the autonomous drone ship that was waiting for it.  But hey, this was a test flight!

 

The Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful rocket in the world, with the most lifting capability – though it will soon be surpassed by NASA’s upcoming “SLS” rocket as well as SpaceX’s own future “BFR”.

Meanwhile, “Starman” continues his/her epic journey in space:

Click through for my full photo gallery from the launch and my follow-up visit to the Kennedy Space Center:

      

Here are links to more videos of the first Falcon Heavy launch:

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Geminids over Pinnacles

Darlene and I went down to Pinnacles National Park for dark skies to watch the Geminids meteor shower Wednesday night:

Time-lapse of Geminids meteor shower

That’s a 20-second time-lapse I made looking south towards Orion about midnight, covering about 90 minutes that didn’t include any light trails from passing airplanes.  And here’s a still shot.

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Wait But Why

I haven’t posted an external link in a while but this is a great recent find I wanted to share: Wait But Why.  Tim Urban puts together some really brilliant, fascinating and in-depth posts about a myriad of topics.  I stumbled on it by way of his amusing post about his unexpected call from (and subsequent visit/tour/lunch with) Elon Musk (“The World’s Raddest Man“).  I later found myself up late, still caught up in his fascinating, two-part exploration of the current state (and potential, future existential threat) of artificial intelligence.

There’s an archive of posts to explore and upon subscribing for updates, you’ll receive an enticing list of popular articles to sink your time into, including these on “Science, Philosophy, Space and Anything Mind-Blowing”:

The Fermi Paradox – “The mind-twisting discussion of whether alien life exists and why we’ve never seen evidence of any. The post I get the second-most emails about.”

The AI Revolution – “A long, two-part post that took me six weeks to do—a full overview of what everyone’s been talking about with AI and the reasons I believe this is the most important topic in the world right now.”

Putting Time in Perspective – “An infographic that starts with today and works its way backwards, in increasingly large time increments, all the way to the Big Bang. Good way to put all of history in perspective.”

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“Oh my god, it’s full of stars!”

I’ve looked into telescopes a bit now and again, spurred by some new cool astronomical event but never actually took the plunge until just recently, near the end of 2013, with the approach and subsequent demise of comet ISON.  This time I was committed to doing the research and actually ordering some gear… and, given my love of photography, astrophotographic gear too!  Oh my, what a deep hole I’ve found here… what have I got myself into?!?

Things started out a little rough as my mount arrived in November with a manufacturing defect that I didn’t know enough to figure out immediately and required some back and forth with Celestron’s tech support to narrow down.  Then I had to package it all back up and send it back and wait for a replacement.

But here it is, it’s an 8″ Celestron EdgeHD 800 on an Advanced VX mount – lovely!  (It’s a Schimdt-Cassegrain on a German equatorial mount.)

My Celestron EdgeHD 800 telescope set up on my upstairs deck

I’ve long wanted to get a telescope, as in a real telescope, not that silly cheap thing I got as a kid in the 70’s.  I’ve tinkered on and off with desktop and mobile apps for exploring the night sky, explored a bit with a nice pair of image-stabilized binoculars and attended the occasional star party here and there.  (The one held on the slopes of Mauna Kea was pretty cool!)

And I wanted to take advantage of the somewhat darker skies I now have here in the hills above Santa Cruz – at least darker compared to my old condo in San Jose – that swath of light from Silicon Valley and the Bay Area is at least somewhat shielded by the coastal mountains here.  I’ve got a nice, super-convenient, south-facing deck off of my upstairs master bedroom with an open view of most of the sky (except to the north, beneath the celestial pole).  And once I get a little more experienced, it’ll be fun to pack up the gear and take it to some remote dark locations.

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It’s pretty overwhelming how much there is to learn, particularly when you get into astronomical imaging, but I am certainly enjoying the endeavor.  As such, I’ve decided to put together a little newbie’s guide to backyard astronomy to summarize all the information I’ve been gathering and the choices I’ve been making as to gear and setup:  A Newbie’s Guide to Telescopic Adventures

So here’s a bit of first light through it – imaging a portion of the Orion nebula.  Mind you, I’m just starting to get into this and this is just a newbie’s single, 16-second exposure to catch a bit of color:

Orion Nebula (M42), Nikon D7000, 16 seconds @ ISO 6400, 8″ EdgeHD, .7x reducer lens

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Moon-Jupiter Conjunction

A nice conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter tonight — meaning that they appear very close together in the sky.  With binoculars, you can see our moon, Jupiter nearby (appearing as a small disc) and several of Jupiter’s moons (several points of light around Jupiter) all at once.  Pretty cool.

I tried to capture what I could see through my binoculars using my 400mm lens plus a 2x teleconverter on my DSLR but I wasn’t able to get a sharp image with my lightweight tripod, even with a delayed shutter release.  (I have been meaning to get a heavy tripod for this sort of thing.)  So this was the best I could do before the sky started to get a little cloudy with moisture — and I never got so far as finding an exposure to catch Jupiter’s moons as well:

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Space Shuttle Flyover

I went down to the NASA Ames Research Center / Moffett Field this morning to watch the flyover of the space shuttle Endeavour on its way to a museum in southern California.

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There were a number of booths set up showing some of the science and technology developed at Ames to support the shuttle program as well as a number of guest speakers including a couple of shuttle astronauts. Unfortunately, the host speaker built up expectation a bit much by describing how the shuttle and its 747 carrier were expected to come down the length of the runway potentially as low as 200 ft.  As the supposed 20,000 of us were gathered along the length of the runway, this would have been quite spectacular to see.  Alas, the pilots clearly had other plans.

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After we were told the shuttle was approaching, it was the escort jet that became first visible and we were all watching *it* as the shuttle itself made a stealthy approach hidden behind the large hanger frame on the opposite side to the runway.  It was nearly on top of us when it popped into view and everyone turned (and hastily swung their cameras around) to see it fly over — at a more mundane 1500 ft or so.

Here’s a short video I created of the event:

Still it was fun to get to see it with the big crowd and to hang out with others while waiting for its appearance!  I was there with the Geek Club Meetup group.

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Here’s a great time-lapse video of the shuttle being maneuvered along the streets of Los Angeles.

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Aliens!! Hiding in the Sun!

I found the alien spacecraft hiding in front of the sun today!!  It’s still there now as of 5 pm June 5th, slowly moving across the face.  Alert the media!

Strangely, neither Pan or Hera seemed particularly concerned about this news, but at least Hera seemed to be paying attention.

 

(Okay, yes, for the benefit of finding this later, it’s a transit of Venus.)

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Eclipse Watch

I drove up to a spot near Lake Tahoe for the annular eclipse on the evening of May 20th, 2012.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and get the necessary solar filters to do any photography work — and checking around the couple of days before the event proved fruitless.  But at least I had binoculars so I could set up a projection to watch it.

My little arrangement makes me think of the robot from the movie Short Circuit.  Hmm, I suppose Wall-E too.

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Lunar Eclipse

This morning’s lunar eclipse…

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I liked how I could just step out on the balcony to see it too.

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Live Raptor Presentation

Pictures and video from a wonderful presentation I attended about raptors and raptor rehabilitation programs:

  

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