Category : Astronomy News

Astronaut Loses Tool Bag on Space Station

Astronaut loses toolbagA spacewalking astronaut accidentally let go of her tool bag after a grease gun inside it exploded, and helplessly watched as it floated away with everything inside.

It was one of the largest items ever to be lost by a spacewalker, and occurred during an unprecedented attempt to clean and lube a gummed-up joint on a solar panel.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper was just starting to work on the joint when the mishap occurred.

She said her grease gun exploded, getting the dark grey stuff all over a camera and her gloves. While wiping off herself, the white, backpack-size bag slipped out of her grip, and she lost all her other tools.

“Oh, great,” she mumbled.

Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper and her fellow spacewalker, Stephen Bowen, then went on to finish their tasks in six hours and 52 minutes by sharing tools.

Mr Bowen had his own tool bag with another grease gun, putty knife and oven-like terry cloth mitts to wipe away metal grit from a clogged joint at the space station.

“Despite my little hiccup, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out there,” Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper said after returning to the space station.

Flight controllers were assessing the impact the lost bag would have on the next three planned spacewalks.

Earlier, the spacewalkers spotted a screw floating by, but were too far away to catch it. “I have no idea where it came from,” Ms Stefanyshyn-Piper told Mission Control.

So, look out for a NASA toolbag landing in your backgarden soon! No, not really I think it will burn up in the atmosphere or actually stay in orbit forever!

AstroBlast Day 2008

Astroblast 2008 Exhibition HallOn Sunday I travelled to Bedford for my first ever Astroblast. I got to Bedford School just in time to attend Nik Szymanek’s workshop talk on the basics of CCD imaging. I have attended a couple of Nik’s talks and at last this time he went a little further into how he gets his results, by covering his setup and how CCDs work as well as information on dark frames, flat fields etc.

I would like to hear from Nik all day long about his methods, and he does actually do some 1 day workshops now and again, so I think I shall book one of these once they are on at a venue near me.

AstroBlast 2008 StormtroopersI then walked down to the main exhibition hall which contained all of the exhibitors including Green Witch, Astronomy Now and many others. I also saw a recon pair of stormtroopers from the 501st garrison who were keeping guard and directing people around.

In the afternoon I sat in on a talk by Lee Sproats from Green Witch who gave a talk entitled “Telescopes of the Future” in which Lee spoke about the present and future research telescopes.

Lee began by talking about the history of telescopes and about adaptive optics, as well as active optics and how large mirrors are actually built and transported.

Here is a list of the telescopes that Lee talked about and some of the specifications of the telescopes:

Large Binocular Telescope

  • 2 x 8.4m F/1 mirrors
  • 11.8m aperture
  • 600 ton weight
  • 3x resolution of the Hubble Telescope due to adaptive optics

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

  • 3,200 Mp Camera
  • Paul Baker optical design
  • 1GB/sec download speed

Giant Magellan Telescope

  • 7 x 8.4m mirrors
  • 7 secondary mirrors
  • Same resolving power as a 24.5m mirror


  • 96 x 1.45m Segments (42m mirror)
  • 5,500 tons in weight
  • 6m secondary mirror

JWST (James Webb Telescope)

  • 12ft long
  • 39ft wide
  • 6.5m mirror


  • A 2.5m telescope on a 747 plane which can handle flying times of 8 hours


  • 18 x 10m mirrors
  • Mercury mirrors


  • 30m mirror F/1
  • 2m secondary mirror


  • 100m mirror
  • 130m high

It was good to see lots of activities for the children especially the rocket bulding, and I can’t wait to take my son in a few years so he can build rockets and do modelling etc.

Now I have mentioned rockets, I attended a talk by the Great British Rocketry Team, who gave an interesting talk on the different types of competition classes of rocketeering there are as well as talking about their trip to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which holds a lot of history pieces in the space museum. They also told us that Gagarin actually had to parachute out of his capsule when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at about 60,000 feet. He also mentioned that Russia actually had their own Space Shuttle which looks almost identical to the US version, but the Russian’s did not think much of the design, and they only flew the shuttle twice and it was never manned.

As I was leaving the Astroblast the children all gathered on the front lawn and launched their rockets which they had made during the day, they were launched two at a time with help from an air compressor, some went quite high, and you had to keep your eye on them, so you did not have one land on your head!

I have fancied getting into some rocketry, but I think I will start with some simple stomp rockets and bicarbonate rocket kits first.

Overall, a great day of free talks and exhibitors, I look forward to attending next year’s Astroblast 2009.

New Planet Orbiting another Sun

New Sun and PlanetAstronomers have captured what is believed to be the first image of a planet orbiting another Sun.

A dramatic photograph shows the star, 500 light years away, as a blazing fireball. At the top left of the picture is an orange speck that scientists strongly suspect is a giant planet.

Astronomers have calculated that the “companion” is eight times more massive than Jupiter and a long way out from the star – 330 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun. To classify as a planet, the object must be orbiting the star.

Canadian astronomer Dr David Lafrenicre, from the University of Toronto, who led the Gemini Observatory team that made the discovery, said: “This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our Sun. If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward.”

Until now the only planet-like bodies to be photographed outside our Solar System have either been drifting freely in space or orbiting “brown dwarfs”. These are dim pseudo-stars which are too light to maintain the hydrogen-burning fusion reactions that power the Sun.

Since the 1990s astronomers have detected more than 300 “extra-solar” planets in other star systems.

The most common method used is to look for the way a planet’s gravity causes its parent star to “wobble”.

Another technique is to measure the drop in brightness of a star when a planet moves in front of it. Powerful space telescopes due to be launched in the next 10 years will make it easier to “see” planets outside the Solar System. The technology should also make it possible to analyse their atmospheres for signs of life. The image captured by the Gemini Observatory provides a first taste of what may be to come.

Could this planet be a new home for us? Could the planet be the correct distance from the Sun to be inhabitable?

Water Widespread on Mars

An article in Nature says that wet conditions probably persisted for a long time on the Red Planet.

Researchers from NASA found evidence of vast lakes, flowing rivers, and deltas on early Mars, all of which were potential habitats for life.

The data comes from the NASA spacecraft on Mars.

But surely we all expected this outcome, didn’t we?

Especially when the spacecraft is digging on the north iced pole of the planet.  I think the major breakthrough would be finding some microbes and genetic substance of marsian frozen creatures.

Space Junk in Earths Orbit

I was amazed today to see these images on the internet depicting how many pieces of space junk or should I say satellites there are in Earths orbit.

This image shows a view of the Earth from over the North Pole.

Items in Earths Orbit taken from the North Pole

Apparently the number of objects orbiting the planet is increasing by two hundred per year on average.

The vast majority of these objects in orbit are satellites, which remain in orbit around the Earth once their lifespan is complete.

These computer-generated images have been released by the European Space Agency.  The images show the incredible impact of travelling to the stars, as the planet has more and more dead metal floating around us.

Does this mean that we may before long see satellites collide? Or more satellites having to be shot down if the satellite breaks down, as happened previously.

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