Thursday, November 17, 2016

Scintillating Science with Dara O'Briain

by Cian O'Regan

Hundreds of people from all over Ireland descended on Dublin's National Concert Hall on Monday for an evening of Scintillating Science hosted by Dara O'Briain.

The night began with O'Briain inviting physicist and professor of science education at UCD, Shane Bergin on stage to conduct a quick hearing test on the audience.

Using oscilloscopes, Bergin tested the crowd's ability to hear different pitches of sound waves - with all but one person(admitting to never have used earphones) being able to hear the highest frequency.

O'Briain and Bergin experimenting with liquid nitrogen
credit: Naoise Culhane
After the first of the evening's experiments, O'Briain was joined on stage by aspiring Irish space farers - STEAM artist and science communicator Niamh Shaw, and Ireland's very own aquanaut Marc O'Griofa.

O'Griofa is a physician, scientist, engineer and an expert diver by trade who works to train astronauts while testing procedures for future space flights.

Admitting that his Irish charm may have had something to do with getting a job at NASA, Marc recently returned from an eight-day mission this past July to conduct science and research for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO)-21 mission.

O'Griofa - who was responsible for flying the first Irish experiment to the International Space Station - conducted a multitude of groundbreaking scientific experiments during his time living on the ocean floor.

The NEEMO-21 crew, which included NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Megan Behnken, tested a DNA sequencing device, the operational performance of a HoloLens for human spaceflight cargo transfer, building a coral nursery as well as evaluating various techniques and equipment for a manned mission to the Moon, an asteroid or Mars.

"There's no way to simulate risk if there's no risk there!" O'Griofa replied when asked why NASA sends astronauts training for space station missions to an underwater habitat.

"If there's an emergency, we have to go through a 15-hour decompression to purge the nitrogen out of our system.. It's not as simple as being able to just go out the hatch and swim back up to the surface.."

O'Briain was quick to point out that he had a weightless experience of his own - filming a hysterical yet insightful segment for the popular BBC show 'Stargazing Live' in the Zero-G vomit comet.

From the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to the Utah Desert, Niamh Shaw is getting ready to spend a month living and working in a space habitat to simulate a mission to Mars.

Irish aquanaut Marc O'Griofa talks about his NEEMO-21 mission to conduct science
 and research on the ocean floor. credit: Naoise Culhane
In February of next year, Shaw will be part of an international crew to simulate a mission to the red planet at the Mars Desert Research Station(MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah.

During her mission, Niamh will study how living in a confined space(a factor astronauts will have to deal with on a journey to Mars)affects humans both physically and mentally. The MDRS is a two-story cylindrical building eight meters in diameter that can house seven crew members at one time.

Equipped with an airlock to conduct spacewalks, Shaw and her team will have to contend with a sixteen minute delay to mimic real-time communications between astronauts on Mars and Mission Control back on Earth.

After a short break, the theme of the event turned from space to the science of winning, with O'Briain being joined on stage by psychologist Dr Ian Robertson to discuss the science of the brain.

Robertson educated those in attendance with fun facts about the brain. Did you know that the sole purpose of having bends and turns on the majority of our roads is not to avoid hills, mountains and rivers, but to keep the mind of the driver alert and ready to adapt to change?

Jessie Barr - the Irish Olympian who is currently working toward a PhD on the mental well-being in sport - admitted to using this to her advantage in running a 400 meter hurdles race.

"You run that race in about fifty seconds, and with ten hurdles in your way, you've got to be ready and alert all the time.."

Jessie's brother Thomas Barr admitted that he is at the peak of his motivational reasoning having just finished in fourth place in the men's 400m Olympic final in Rio.

Barr attributes this to setting small goals which develop into something big.

"If you asked me beforehand where I hoped to finish in the Olympics, I would have said the final, but sometimes reality goes way beyond your expectations."

Dara O'Briain quizzes Niamh Shaw on her upcoming mission to simulate a
mission to Mars early next year. credit: Naoise Culhane
Similarly Brian Cody, with fourteen All-Ireland medals under his belt as both a player and manager, focuses on achieving small goals before dreaming big.

Now in his nineteenth season at the helm of The Cats, Cody puts a big emphasis on making sure his players are in the right state of mind before setting foot on the pitch.

"You can tell them to be ready for September, but if you don't prepare enough physically and more importantly mentally, then you'll be ready - you just won't be there!"

Cody mentioned that when it comes down to All Ireland Final day - what dictates how well a player is going to perform isn't his fitness - but his state of mind.

O'Briain recalled how golfer Colin Montgomerie would be able to make one hundred four-foot putts in a row in practice, but when it came to making that same, deceptively simple four-footer going down the stretch of a major championship, there was no guarantee that he would sink the putt. But why does this happen?

Well, it all comes back to Marc O'Griofa's point - you can't simulate risk if it's not there!

To bring the evening to a close, Shane Bergin was invited back on stage to conduct the final experiment of the night.

Armed with a tank filled with liquid nitrogen, Bergin and O'Briain attempted to mark the beginning of Science Week with a bang! However, sometimes scientific experiments don't always go according to plan, as was the case when the duo were unsuccessful in their attempts to demonstrate the explosive power of the boiling liquid when sealed in a bottle.

After several minutes with their hands cupping their ears, the audience were happy to leave with their eardrums intact. It is still unclear at this time whether or not the bottle has exploded.

More to follow on this story shortly..

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dream Big - Space, Limerick and Two Men's Quests to Reach for the Stars

by Cian O'Regan

Crowds of excited space enthusiasts descended on the Limerick Institute of Technology's Millennium Theatre on Wednesday evening, to hear from Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden, and Limerick's very own Space Tourist Cyril Bennis.

Moderated by the brilliant Dr Niamh Shaw, the evening began when the two special guests were both asked what made them decide they wanted to dedicate their lives to space exploration.
Most Al Worden stories finish with whooping laughter, as seen here!
credit: Irish Space Blog(Cian O'Regan)

Worden was able to trace this all the way back to his humble beginnings growing up on a farm in Michigan, when he discovered that a life spent working the land simply wasn't for him;

"I made the decision, albeit at an early age, that I wanted to get as far away from the farm as possible."

Little would this farm boy know that years later he would travel a quarter of a million miles to the Moon to fulfill this promise.

With the full support and backing of his parents, Worden decided to follow the theme of the evening and dream big - firmly setting his sights on attending the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point. However, he soon found out that things weren't going to be that straightforward.

"One big obstacle I had to face was that we didn't have enough money to send me to college," Worden said. "I did all my study at the side, and got myself set for a competitive exam in the state that I lived in, did well enough in that exam to get an appointment from one of the state senators, and that got me into West Point..

All I had to do was keep my nose clean, nose to the grindstone, shine my shoes, make sure my clothes were neatly folded in the closet, get up readily at six o'clock and be out there with the rest of them, do what I had to do, and I found out that I did okay!"

The twenty-three year old Worden graduated from the USMA as a member of the class of 1955, and thanks to a number of senior Air Force officers at the Academy, decided that flying aeroplanes would be his next big move.

"I found out that I had a knack for flying - it was almost second nature."

Having earned his Air Force wings, Worden decided that flying aircraft higher and faster than anyone else was what he wanted to do next. For any pilot with such lofty aspirations, Edwards Air Force Base in the high-desert of California - the kindergarten for astronauts - was the next logical step.

Following in the footsteps of some of America's first space explorers at Edwards(Gus Grissom, Frank Borman, Tom Stafford and Ed White to name just a few), and after spending time at the Empire Test Pilot School in Farnborough, England, Worden was selected as part of NASA's fifth group of astronauts in April 1966.


Cyril Bennis was just a young secondary-school student when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard his Friendship 7 spacecraft in 1962. A school visit by Glenn on a post-flight goodwill tour to Limerick was the source of inspiration for a young Bennis to reach for the stars.

"At that moment I thought that this is what I want to achieve in my life" said the former mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon in England. "I believe that absolutely everyone has a potential to do something great, and that something great for me I hope is to fly in space."

Like Al Worden, Bennis had the full backing of his parents to pursue a career in space, in particular from his mother.

"I would spend a lot of my time in school dreaming, dreaming of places I wanted to go..
My mother always used to say that I needed a rocket under me to get me going, well now when I make my flight - I'll have four under me!"

Widely tipped to become the first Irish citizen to fly in space. Bennis is due to make two flights with XCOR Space Expeditions. On his first flight, Bennis will zoom to the edge of space - 60 kilometers above the Earth aboard the company's Lynx Mark I spacecraft.

Bennis describing his flight profile using a scale model of the XCOR Mark I
credit: Irish Space Blog(Cian O'Regan)
His second flight will be aboard an updated Lynk Mark II, which will take him past the Karman Line(the internationally recognized boundary of suborbital space at an altitude of 100 kilometers), pull 4Gs on the way home, and in the process, become Ireland's first astronaut.

As the night went on, Worden, with NASA and Apollo 15 patches emblazoned on his flight jacket, told stories of his journey to the Moon with the same enthusiasm and excitement as if he had only returned a from the odyssey a few months ago.

As one of the 24 men to have flown to our nearest neighbour, and one of only seven men to have orbited the Moon alone as Command Module Pilot as he did in 1971, you could hear a pin drop as the audience listened intently to tales ranging from launching atop the 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket into space, to what was visible outside the porthole-sized windows of his spaceship Endeavour.

"I had a full panorama of the heavens! Because of the rotation of the spacecraft I would watch the Sun go by, the Moon go by and then the Earth go by." Shaw was quick to ask what goes through a person's mind after seeing something so unique.

"You don't process it much in flight because you're still in awe that you're there.. Those thoughts come to you a couple of weeks after, and you relive what you saw and all those thoughts in your head start to come out."

For Worden, he found the best way express what he saw and felt was through the art of poetry;

"When we got back to Houston, we would get up early and debrief with the whole Mission Control team. Every single second of the flight had to be debriefed, and it took us two weeks to go through all that.

Afterwards I began to have strange thoughts.. I was at home by myself at night, so I'd sit in my living room, turn off all the lights, and these thoughts would come to me. So one day I got a legal pad and I start writing and writing and writing, never really thinking about what I was writing as it was just sort of coming to me. That resulted in a book of poetry!"


Worden discussing his days as a West Point cadet
credit: Irish Space Blog(Cian O'Regan)
Bennis, who has yet to see the Earth from space, told the audience that he'd hopefully be able to answer the same question in the not too distant future.

DREAMING BIG

In their closing remarks, both men focused on the power of aiming high, and stopping at nothing until you've set out what you wanted to achieve in the first place.

"I think it's good to have two feet on the ground and be humble about things" said Limerick man Bennis. "If you dream, you can do these things."

Recalling R-Day(Reception Day - the first day of a cadet at the USMA) at West Point, Worden admitted to feeling way out of his depth.

"I went into West Point that day with something like 850 cadets, and I looked at all those guys and I said to myself "I don't know why I'm here. These guys are so much better than I am. They're the star quarterback on the football team, the straight-A student, the student body president - really great, great guys, and I'm just a little kid off the farm competing with these big city kids."

It took me about three months to figure out that they were no better than I was!

If you want something badly enough, you're going to find a way to do it. You've got to have the dream, the goal, the persistence and the determination to reach that goal, and you'll find that if you can go through life with that kind of attitude, you can do anything you want. Don't ever short-change yourself."

Niamh Shaw, who recently attended Elon Musk's keynote speech at the 67th International Astronomical Congress in Mexico,(an event overshadowed by a straight-up weird Q&A session dominated by over-enthusiastic fans of the billionaire) thankfully did not face such a dilemma as she opened the floor to questions ranging from thoughts on conspiracy theorists to the growth of the commercial spaceflight industry.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end as the night had to come to a close. Yet with everyone already smiling from ear-to-ear after hearing such wonderful stories and adventures, we couldn't not take a special Space Week group selfie!


On behalf of everyone in attendance that night, I would like to sincerely thank the Blackrock Castle Observatory for organising this fantastic Space Week event in association with LIT and Lough Gur Heritage Centre, and of course offer my sincerest thanks to the superb duo of Al Worden and Cyril Bennis for their stories and inspiration.

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Space - A Cosmic Ocean Elon Musk Intends to Sail

Speaking in front of a capacity crowd at the 67th International Astronomical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX founder, CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, boldly unveiled his futuristic plans for sending humans to Mars.

In his much anticipated speech entitled "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Spacies," the billionaire outlined his ideas for colonizing the red planet in his trademark thinking-out-loud style of speaking.
Musk speaking in front of a capacity crowd the the International Astronomical
Congress on September 27. credit: bloomberg.com

He began by asking the question, "Why Mars?", before explaining that solar system real-estate is limited and that finding a prime spot is not as easy as people may think.

Musk stated that if a manned launch to Mars were to take place right now, a seat on board that ship would cost an astronomical $10bn per person. In other words, the system does not yet exist.

However, Musk's mantra has and always will revolve around driving down the cost of getting to space and making it accessible to all.

"The cost of a Mars ticket should equal the median cost of a house in the United States.. which is about $200,000" he went on to say. "You can't create a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars if the price is ten billion dollars per person."

This Musk explained, could only be achieved by addressing four key issues. These issues are:

-Full reusability
-Refilling in orbit
-Propellant filling on Mars
-Using the right propellant

If he succeeds in doing so, Musk believes he will be able to reduce the cost per tonne to Mars by five million percent, and in the process, facilitating the mass landing of around a million or so humans on our nearest neighbour by the 2060s.

While proclamations of slashing ticket prices to Mars were greeted with enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the crowd, the question that everyone wanted answered, was what exactly will this interplanetary space system look like?

Standing in front of a fifteen-foot-tall image of Mars, occasionally Musk would turn to catch a subtle glimpse of the revolving red globe, as if to remind himself that Mars was still there - that it wasn't so far away.

Getting to Mars
Blasting off atop a 254-foot booster from the same launch used on man's first voyage to land a man on the Moon, SpaceX's "Planetary Spaceship"(yet to be officially named, but Musk admitted that he would probably name the first ship "Heart of Gold" as a tribute to the ship used in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy") would firstly be delivered into a preliminary parking orbit around the Earth.
SpaceX System Architecture credit: SpaceX

The booster, similar in profile of returning a Falcon-9 first stage to Earth, would then return directly to the launchpad, refuel its tanker, and launch back up to the parked manned vehicle in orbit.

This refueling process would be repeated four more times before the interplanetary ship would get the green light to rendezvous with the red planet.


In what he described as something straight out of Battlestar Galactica, Musk said he hopes to include not one, not two, but a thousand Mars ships in a single fleet, with up to two hundred people per spacecraft.

The Planetary Spaceship will use its aerodynamic lift ability to enter the Martian atmosphere, and will come to a soft landing on the surface of the planet using its propulsive rocket system.

In theory, this would allow the Spaceship to land on any rocky body in the solar system, and provided there would be fueling stations along the way, it would result in humans gaining access to almost anywhere in the solar system.

The people in these craft would require only "a few days of training" before being certified to fly. If you arrive at the place and decide you don't like it as much as you thought and yearn to come home - don't worry! With the billionaire planning on sending fleets to Mars roughly every two years, there'll be another ship along shortly to bring you back to mother Earth.

As far as safety is concerned, for the first flights of the Interplanetary Spaceship on a journey to Mars, Musk offered the grim prediction that "The risk of fatality will be high."

Throughout the speech, Musk shied away from setting any concrete dates for accomplishing the above goals, estimating that it will take anywhere between forty and one hundred years to develop a self-sustaining species from the first ship's rendezvous.

What happens now?
As a space enthusiast, Musk excites me with his audacious plans to turn humans into a multiplanetary species. The fact that someone is even thinking about doing so, let alone already investing tens of millions of dollars in order to make it a reality brings me a profound sense of joy for the present, and quiet optimism for the future.

"With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction
and science fact is constantly being eroded" 
credit: SpaceX
Scouring online forums, websites and fan pages in the hours after Musk delivered his keynote, reactions ranged from sheer delight to downright doom and gloom. If Musk's speech was a movie, it would have received mixed reviews, and here's why..

Following the catastrophic loss of two of his Falcon-9 booster's in just fifteen months(for which a smoking gun in the second accident is yet to be identified), SpaceX's reputation as a reliable company capable of delivering payloads and one day astronauts in to space has taken a hard blow.

By the beginning of 2018 Musk hopes to begin conducting missions of its Red Dragon spacecraft(the vehicle that will deliver SpaceX's first astronauts to Mars), with Mars flights set to commence before 2023.

However, with the Hawthorne company yet to deliver a single astronaut to the International Space Station in its Crew Dragon, Elon Musk's timelines for the moment must be taken with a pinch of salt.

In summary, let us recognise that space is an awfully big ocean, and getting comfortable in the shallow cosmic waters of low-Earth orbit is a must before even thinking about venturing any deeper. It is therefore essential that Musk invest as much time and money into figuring what is going wrong with the Falcon-9, before pressing on with bigger issues.

With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction and science fact is constantly being eroded. But it is mandatory that Musk firstly learns how to fly his troublesome Falcon as close to total reliability as possible. Otherwise, none of this will ever get off the ground - let alone to Mars.

Godspeed, Elon Musk!

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Breaking News: Explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

In breaking news, there has been an explosion at one of the launch pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The pad in question is Launch Complex 40, which is currently used to by SpaceX to launch their Falcon-9 rocket to deliver payloads into Earth orbit.

SpaceX have been issuing statements throughout the day;

"SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the launch vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries."
Video footage showing extensive damage to the Falcon-9 launch vehicle at the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. credit: wftv.com

The 45th Space Wing at the Cape stated that the explosion, which occurred at approximately 9:07 a.m. as the rocket was being loaded with fuel.

"The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle." -SpaceX statement

SpaceX, which was set to launch the Israel Aerospace Industries/Spacecom AMOS-6 communications satellite on Saturday, was conducting a static fire test on the vehicle today ahead of the launch.

A static fire test is conducted in the days prior to every Falcon launch in which the engines of the rocket are ignited to test its engines as well as other onboard systems, without the vehicle leaving the pad.

More to follow shortly..



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Welcome to Jupiter" - NASA's Juno Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Jupiter

Following a 2.8 billion kilometer inter-planetary journey lasting almost five years, NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on a bold mission to unlock the secrets of our solar system and its largest planet.


Artists rendering of Juno approaching Jupiter
credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amid rapturous scenes in Juno Mission Control in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California, Jupiter orbit insertion was confirmed at 11:53 p.m. EDT marking the probe's long-awaited arrival at the gas giant.

Travelling at speeds of 58 kilometers a second(making it the fastest spacecraft to enter orbit around a planet), Juno fired its onboard engine for a risky thirty-five minute burn(insertion maneuver) on time at 11:18 p.m.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL.

The burn occurred at the spacecraft’s closest approach to Jupiter, and slowed it enough to be captured by the giant planet’s gravity into a 53.5-day orbit.

Following an initial capture orbit, Jupiter will begin recording scientific data on its third orbit of the planet by which point the spacecraft will have entered a more stable 14 day-orbit.

Flying from north to south, the spacecraft’s point of closest approach above the cloud tops varies with each flyby -- coming as close as about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) and as far out as 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers). As Juno exits over the south pole, its orbit carries it far beyond even the orbit of the Jovian moon Callisto.

After the main engine burn, Juno will be in orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will spin down from 5 to 2 RPM, turn back toward the sun, and ultimately transmit telemetry via its high-gain antenna.

Over the course of this historic mission Juno will complete thirty-seven orbits over the next twenty months before burning up in Jupiter;s atmosphere to bring the mission to an end in February 2018.

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer - Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

The main goals of the Juno mission include:

-To find out how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed).
-To look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties.
-To map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet's deep structure
-To explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter's northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.
-The possible discovery of new Jovian moons.

Juno's view of a half-lit Jupiter and four of its moons before all scientific
instruments were turned off prior to Jupiter Orbit Insertion(JOI) credit: NASA/JPL





                                                                                                                                                One of the main mission objectives is to discover how a giant planet like Jupiter came into being,  and how it evolved. This cloudy world is a primary example of a giant planet, and can also give us  clues as to how other giant gas planets(called "Hot-Jupiters") which we have discovered orbiting  other stars, may have formed.

Juno will accomplish this by studying the planet's cloudy atmosphere and its overall composition. By the end of the mission it is hoped that we will be able to see how Jupiter was born, and how important of a role it played in the formation of other planets in the solar system.

Using the suite of scientific instruments aboard Juno, teams back on Earth will study the magnetosphere of Jupiter, which will tell us if Jupiter has a solid core, and how big or small it might be.

Why the name Juno?
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of the gods, as well as god of the sky and thunder. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

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More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Space Station Trio Return to Earth

After a journey spanning almost 79 million miles, the crew of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft have safely returned to Earth after completing their 186 day-long mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander and veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko alongside crew mates Tim Peake and Tim Kopra landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 9:15 a.m. UTC -  just three hours after leaving their home for the past six months.
Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake shortly before closing the hatches
between their Soyuz and the International Space Station.
 credit: Roscosmos

The trio bid farewell to their Expedition 47 crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 6:52 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft from the station's Rassvet module - marking the official beginning of Expedition 48.

Since their arrival to station the crew have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments. The crew also saw off One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko back in March.

Having landed under cloudy conditions amid high winds, the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and flown to the remote town of Karaganda a short time later for a welcoming ceremony.

Malenchenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with his family, while Peake will return to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne and Kopra will return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This morning's landing concludes the fifth long duration space flight, and the fourth aboard the International Space Station for Malenchenko, who has now logged a total of 828 days in space. European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake - the first British astronaut to visit the space station Peake logs 186 days in space while and NASA astronaut Kopra now has a total of 244 days of spaceflight across two missions.

In the meantime, station commander Jeff Williams along with Russian flight engineers Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will remain aboard the station until September. Before his departure this morning, Expedition 47 commander Kopra handed over the reigns of the International Space Station to Williams in the traditional Change of Command ceremony in which he paid tribute to the space station programme;
Peake, Malenchenko and Kopra shortly after landing in the remote
steppe of Kazakhstan after 186 days aboard the ISS.
credit: NASA

"We've been so privileged to work here on board with a huge variety of science experiments that we know are going to be a stepping stone for human exploration.. together we've demonstrated that we have a world-class orbiting laboratory."

They will occupy the complex for the next three weeks before being joined in July by the crew of the Soyuz MS-01 comprising of Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The trio are set to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 6th.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to See the Transit of Mercury on May 9

There is no denying that the transit of planet Mercury is one of the most spectacular astronomical phenomena we witness on Earth. There's a transit of Mercury happening on May 9 and here's how you can see it with your own eyes.

What is the transit of Mercury?
A transit of Mercury occurs when our solar system's innermost planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Transits of Mercury occur 13 or 14 times every hundred years, which averages out to one every seven years.

How can I see it?
The transit of Mercury will begin at 11:12 UTC and last seven and a half hours.
credit: www.skyandtelescope.com
This year's transit will be visible(weather permitting) from North and South America, Europe, Africa and most of continental Asia.

Mercury will appear as a tiny dot on the surface of the Sun - covering approximately 1% of the solar disk.

However, viewers are warned not to look directly at the Sun with the naked eye as it may result in irreversible damage.

In order to view the transit safely, you will need a telescope with a solar filter. But don't worry if you don't have either of these, you can also project the image of the Sun using a piece of card with a pinhole in it. Be sure to contact your local astronomy club for more information on events that may be held in your local area to view the transit of Mercury.

The seven-and-a-half hour-long transit will begin at 11:12 a.m. UTC when Mercury makes first contact with the solar disk. The moment of greatest transit will occur at 2:57 p.m. when the planet is roughly mid-way through its path across the Sun's disk. The transit will end at the moment of final contact at 6:42 p.m.

If you're clouded over or living in a part of the world where the transit isn't visible. NASA will be providing a a near-live feed of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite will be available at www.nasa.gov/transit.

Clear skies!

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