Saturday 29 November 2008

Space Shuttle STS-126

After a very long period of poor weather, this evening was clear enough to see some stars and...Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-126. The sky quality was poor though, with a lot of haze.

The first observation was in deep twilight, at 16:25 UTC. STS-126 was 1m 45s ahead of ISS, descending to the east as the ISS rose in the west. It was bright, at least -1.5. I captured both on a series of 4 second images. Below is a composite of two of these images, taken 1m45s apart and combined in to one picture:

(click image to enlarge)

The second pass was at 17:58 UTC, when it was completely dark. Both STS-126 and the ISS disappeared in the Earth shadow at 50 degree altitude. The Shuttle was very bright, at least mag. -2. Below are two images: one single shot of the Shuttle, and a second where this image is combined with a shot of the ISS taken 1m 50s later. One can see from the latter, that STS-126 was almost as bright as the ISS:

(click images to enlarge)

I also captured Lacrosse 2 (91-017A), which manoeuvred a few days ago, on photograph. To my surprise, as I failed to see it naked eye, I also have Progress-M65 faintly on photograph.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Asteroid (142014) Neirinck

Today, it was my pleasure to announce to Pierre Neirinck that the IAU has approved this new asteroid name:

(142014) Neirinck

The naming citation published in the Minor Planet Circulars, reads:

(142014) Neirinck = 2002 PA168 Discovered 2002 Aug. 8 by NEAT at Palomar.
French-born Pierre Neirinck (b. 1926) headed the Satellite Orbits Group at Appleton Laboratory in the U.K. during the 1970s. Now retired, he still coordinates the international amateur satellite observations. The name was suggested by M. Langbroek.

Pierre Neirinck is a veteran satellite observer and analyst. As an active French observer from the dawn of the space age, he was recruited by the British satellite research analyst Hele-King, and headed the British Orbital Analysis Group from the early seventies until his early retirement. Now 82 years old, he still actively observes, and coordinates amateur satellite observations. He provides new Cospar designations to new observers, and daily sends bulletins updating the orbits of some of the more interesting satellites (notably the KeyHoles). His daily reports are a delight to read, not only because of the orbit analysis, but also because they always contain an ironic, sometimes even cynic commentary on current affairs in this world. Amongst others, he keeps a dedicated tally of the number of people that depart our planet in violent ways each day.

(142014) Neirinck was discovered by me in archived images of the NEAT project from 8 August 2002 (and surrounding nights) taken by the 1.2 meter Schmidt telescope of the project at Mount Palomar. With H=16.9, it is estimated to be about 1.5 kilometers in diameter. It completes an orbit around the sun each 3.8 years.

(click image to enlarge)

The same batch of MPC's contained three other new asteroid names suggested by me for objects I discovered:

(132820) Miskotte

132820 Miskotte Discovered 2002 Aug. 17 by NEAT at Palomar.
Koen Miskotte (b. 1962) is a Dutch confectioner and amateur astronomer whose main interests lie in meteor astronomy. He is a very prolific meteor observer, active within the Dutch Meteor Society. The name was suggested by M. Langbroek.

Koen is a very close friend of mine, and we have travelled the world and observed meteor showers together many times. He is a dedicated, extremely active meteor observer for many decades now, and has contributed data to several scientific meteor studies.

(179678) Rietmeijer

179678 Rietmeijer Discovered 2002 Aug. 26 by NEAT at Palomar.
Frans J.M. Rietmeijer (b. 1949) is a Dutch-born planetary geologist specializing on interplanetary dust particles. He is a research professor at the University of New Mexico. The name was suggested by M. Langbroek.

Frans, a renowned expert scientist on IDP's, is a close friend too, even though he lives at distance in New Mexico. We met 10 years ago through my meteor/meteorite related activities and soon developed a personal friendship. Whenever Frans is briefly in the Netherlands again we meet for a dinner. He has acted as my older & wiser mentor in science career related business.

(132798) Kürti

132798 Kürti Discovered 2002 Aug. 8 by NEAT at Palomar.
Stefan Kürti (b. 1960) is a Slovakian amateur astronomer with a focus on minor planets. Among his discoveries are two near-earth objects. The name was suggested by M. Langbroek.

Stefan was in the Spacewatch FMO project with me, and is an active asteroid hunter. He surprised me last summer by naming one of his finds after me.

Monday 3 November 2008

A decaying tank that is not shot down

Somewhere today, the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) will plunge into our atmosphere and decay. The EAS is a large refridgerator-sized tank filled with ammonia, that once was part of the International Space Station. It was never used, and finaly jettisoned during an EVA on July 27th, 2007. I observed it several times, and photographed it on July 20 this year.

Interestingly, some pieces of the EAS are thought to probably survive re-entry. Plus, it is filled with a large amount of Ammonia, a rather agressive substance.

Remember all the fuss about the hydrazine tank of USA 193 early this year? The danger of anyone coming into contact with the agressive hydrazine, was the official "argument" to shoot the decaying spy satellite USA 193 down with a missile. Subsequently, fierce debate erupted about whether this really was the reason or not (see here and here).

Now, here we have another tank with an agressive substance, the EAS, decaying. And does anyone really bother? No, apparently. Even though a NASA spokesperson is quoted in this story as saying:

NASA expects up to 15 pieces of the tank to survive the searing hot temperatures of re-entry, ranging in size from about 1.4 ounces (40 grams) to nearly 40 pounds (17.5 kg).


"If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it," Suffredini said.

Wasn't the last thing exactly what all the hu-ha was about with USA 193?! I again conclude that the whole fuss about the hydrazine in USA 193 was not the primary reason to shoot it down....

(Click image to enlarge)