Destination – Asteroid Belt!

Lynn and I gave another ‘Lynn and Amy’ show on Sept. 3rd. Our topic this time was “Our trip to the Asteroid Belt”, or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”.

Planning a trip to the asteroid belt requires a lot of research. After all, if we’re going to spend that much time cooped up in a small spacecraft we better have some cool destinations in mind! It turns out that the asteroid belt is NOT the veritable mine field portrayed in Sci-fi movies. It’s actually fairly easy to get through, no need to dodge asteroids. In fact, the entire mass of the asteroid belt if compacted would be roughly 4% of the moon. The four largest asteroids: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea account for half the belts mass, with Ceres making up a third!

Image from Space-Facts.com
Image from Space-Facts.com

The good people at NASA have a lot of experience traveling to the asteroid belt.  One mission, the ARM, or Asteroid Redirect Mission is in the planning phase. They plan on bringing back an asteroid and putting it in orbit around the moon.  Don’t worry, it’s going to be a small one. The spacecraft would use a solar electric propulsion engine. Unfortunately we still have to develop a SEP that has enough power to get to the asteroid belt, grab an asteroid and bring it back.

Artist concept showing the Dawn spacecraft with Ceres and Vesta.
Artist concept showing the Dawn spacecraft with Ceres and Vesta. Image from NASA.gov

Since the ARM is still in the planning phase  there’s no way we’ll be traveling to an asteroid in lunar orbit any time soon. We needed to check out something more current, so we looked at the  Dawn mission. The Dawn mission is half complete. It has already studied Vesta, the first of it’s two destinations and is on it’s way to Ceres.  This spacecraft uses an entirely different method of travel, ion propulsion. It’s economical, lightweight and very maneuverable. The downside is that it is very pokey.

It turns out that we may have to put off our trip to the asteroid belt for awhile. First of all, I just don’t have enough PTO banked to cover that kind of time, and second we should really wait until a more convenient method of travel is developed. We’ll leave the asteroid exploring to robot satellites and future NASA astronauts.

In the mean time – a girl can dream!!

Dare to dream!

 Amy

Amazing Sun Photo

Isn’t this picture of the Sun amazing? It was taken by Tony Kroes, a fellow club member that Amy and I have raved about in the past. He’s a very talented astronomer who lives West of Green Bay, and a resource in the area that we really appreciate.

20140907 Solar Filament Loop
Image condensed into one frame using Registax software to combine and stack the best 30 frames of a 300 frame video of the sun. Video captured on 9/7/2014 with a Celestron Skyris 274M CCD video camera and x2.8 Barlow at 1/30th sec per frame through a 60mm Coronado SolarMax II hydrogen-alpha solar telescope.

Tony took this picture this past weekend on 9/7, a beautiful Wisconsin Sunday. Make sure you read Tony’s details below. Thanks for sharing Tony!!!

Image condensed into one frame using Registax software to combine and stack the best 30 frames of a 300 frame video of the sun. Video captured  on 9/7/2014 with a Celestron Skyris 274M CCD video camera and x2.8 Barlow at 1/30th sec per frame through a 60mm Coronado SolarMax II hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. 

I placed the blue dot on the image to show the relative size of Earth (110 times smaller than the sun in diameter.) So the looping prominence on the right side of the image would have gone completely over the Earth, although I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be there at the time!

On the upper left side you can see a ‘hedge-row’ of smaller prominences. All along the distance between the loop and the hedgerow you can see numerous tiny spikes called ‘spicules’. These are small (relatively speaking) jets of material that spurt upward, lasting only a few minutes before being replaced with new ones in a cycle of constant activity. They typically extend 3,000-10,000 Km above the surface (the earth is 12,000 Km diameter.)

Some good details are also seen on the surface of the sun in this image. There is an extremely bright ‘active region’, which is an area of extreme magnetic activity, just to the upper left of center. These areas often occur around sunspots, and can be hotbeds of solar flare activity. Further onto the disk of the sun you can see two smoky grey worm-like structures. These are prominences just like the looping one seen on the edge of the disk, but because they are seen against the surface background instead of the black of space, it is difficult to tell that they are really huge 3D jets of material spewing out into space and then falling back onto the surface.

Also of note is the surface itself.  You can see the orange-peel ‘granulation’ and many tiny fibrous patches across this area. This is the surface of the Chromosphere, which is only visible in a narrow band of wavelengths, specifically that of singly-ionized hydrogen known as hydrogen-alpha or H-a for short. This wavelength is narrow, and is usually masked completely by all the other wavelengths put out by the sun, but the special filter in my telescope blocks all the rest, allowing us to see the delicate detail hidden in this one small part of the solar spectrum.

Tony Kroes

Quantum Skies Observatory