6 months in a leaky boat

With apologies to Tim Finn and Split Enz for borrowing stealing their title.

The ISS (you may remember it from posts infinatum on here) has sprung a leak.

[brief pause while I spill coffee all over my laptop]
[that wasn’t a good idea]

Look. We all have problems and they affect us all in different ways. There are levels here. My laptop may have just taken a hit of Nespresso to its power switch, but all the oxygen that I rely on for breathing isn’t disappearing into space.

Which is nice.

Apparently, the leak was likely caused by a MicroMeteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD) strike to one of the windows. A MicroMeteoroid is exactly what it sounds like: a very, very small meteoroid, but it was the Orbital Debris bit that got me interested.

Orbital Debris is also exactly what it sounds like. Debris in orbit around Earth. But what I didn’t realise was that it is often man-made. Yep. We’ve dumped shedloads 0f litter in space too. Great. Is there actually anywhere that we have f**ked up yet?

And MMOD strikes aren’t even unusual:

Although spacecraft are designed with a level of protection from such impacts, MMOD was the third biggest threat to losing an orbiter during her mission – second only to launch and re-entry.

During the Space Shuttle era, all of the orbiters would receive flesh wounds from MMOD strikes.

And because things in space generally go much faster than on earth, the damage is… well… here’s an example of what those MMOD strikes look like:

Eina.

But it was this line that amazed me:

Atlantis and Endeavour both suffered “bullet hole” impacts to their radiators, with Atlantis’ damage was sustained when she was hit by a tiny piece of circuit board on orbit – likely from a destroyed satellite. The damage held no mission impact and was only noticed once she had returned home and was in post flight processing inside her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

Of course, NASA did a whole risk-analysis, debriefing, scientific investigation technical report paper on the whole thing. During the investigation, they tried to recreate the incident (in a lab on earth) by firing a bit of circuit board at a space shuttle panel at 4.14km/sec (that’s about 15,000kph). The entry hole on the original space shuttle panel was 2.74mm in size. The fragment of circuit board was only 0.4mm long, but when it’s going that fast, even little stuff is going to hurt.

There’s no evidence that the ISS window strike was from a man-made object, but it’s a proven fact that we’re literally putting astronauts in danger by putting them in the firing line of plastic rubbish that we’ve put into space and which is now hitting the ISS and other spacecraft.

Bonkers.

Cape Town from space

Astronaut Randy Bresnick shared this image of Cape Town taken from the International Space Station. He says it was this morning, but there was a lot of cloud over Cape Town this morning, so I’m guessing that it was just “a morning”. Still, decent pic:

Click through here for full size.

It’s upside down in conventional cartographical terms, so here’s a quick guide to what you’re looking at:
Robben Island bottom right.
Cape Point top right.
False Bay all across the middle.
Rooi Els and Pringle Bay top left.

You may also be able to pick out Steenbras Dam, just above Gordon’s Bay down in the bottom left corner of False Bay. Hint: Look for the light coloured sand, rather than the blue coloured water. Hmm.

Tungsten Station

I grabbed my trusty camera at the last minute and shot the space station as it passed over Cape Town yesterday evening.

29657434532_1213d41c21_k

Quickly adjusting the exposure time and f-stop on the manual exposure setting allowed me to capture this quick and dirty shot of it going over, but it was only upon reviewing the images later that I realised that a little tweaking of the white balance (which had been set to “Tungsten” for this image) may have been advisable.

I’m such a pro.

It wasn’t a Blue Sunday really. And – aside from the sky – today isn’t really a Blue Monday either.

ISS pass tonight

My ISS Detector app has detected that the ISS will be passing over tonight. Over Cape Town, that is.
It’ll be passing over a lot of the rest of the world as well of course, but it’s the Cape Town bit that I’m going to be looking out for.

wp-1456815575297.jpg

Here’s a quick screenshot from my phone, showing a few details.

As you will note, the pass begins near Uranus just before… I’m sorry? Is there something you find amusing about that? Honestly, grow up.
Anyway, you’ll need to look North West towards Uranus at… STOP SNIGGERING AT THE BACK!

You’ll need to look North West at 7:58 this evening, and you should see a bright white dot racing South East across the sky. You won’t need a telescope, binoculars or a magnifying glass. You won’t miss it: it’ll be the brightest object up there. And the only one that’s moving at 8km/second.
Take your kids out and show them before bedtime, and let’s hold thumbs for a cloudless evening.

For the nerds out there, I use RunaR’s ISS Detector app (actually, I have the Pro version at R29, but the free version does most everything you need), and it’s really good for alerting you to interesting stuff in the sky.

Moon

I was alerted to an animation by this tweet:

If the Moon were only a few hundred km away, it would look AMAZING… but you’d be way too dead to notice.

An animation artist has arted an animation of what it would look like if the moon were about 420km above the earth’s surface. That’s about the same altitude as the International Space Station. And yes, it does look amazing:

Here’s the cool stuff:

If the Moon were that close — 420 km (260 miles) over the surface of the Earth — it would be over 100º in size, literally more than half the sky! Right now it’s a mere 0.5º in size, for comparison.
It’s dark in the middle because with the Moon blocking the Sun for so much of the Earth, there’s no light to reflect and illuminate the Moon there!
The motion in the video is sped up; at that distance the Moon would orbit the Earth in about 90 minutes or so. It would cross the sky in very roughly five minutes.

And here’s the kinda weird bit:

The Earth has about 80 times the mass of the Moon, so if you could situate yourself exactly halfway between them, the Earth would pull on you 80x harder than the Moon. But it’s worse than that; gravity drops as the square of the distance, and the Moon is pretty far away. Right now, the center of the Earth is roughly 6400 km below you, and the Moon’s center is about 380,000 km above you. Take the ratio and square it, and you see that the Earth pulls on you 3500 times harder just because it’s closer. Add in the fact that the Earth is more massive, and you’ll find it pulls on you about 300,000 times harder than the Moon!
That’s why you don’t notice the gravity of the Moon. It’s only 0.0003% as strong as what you feel from the Earth.

But if the moon were 420km away,and you redo the gravity calculation, you’d find the force of gravity from the Moon on you is 1/10th that of Earth!
When the Moon passed overhead, you’d weigh 10% less.

Weight Watchers paradise.

But sadly, that’s where the good news ends. Because tides.

If we bring the Moon in really close, suddenly one side of the Earth is a lot closer to the Moon than the other: The Earth’s near side is 2158 km from the Moon’s center, and the far side is nearly 15,000 km away. That’s a huge difference, and the tides felt by the Earth would be amplified enormously — nearly 100,000 times what we experience now! There would be global floods as a tidal wave kilometers high sweeps around the world every 90 minutes (due to the Moon’s closer, faster orbit), scouring clean everything in its path.

That, and the fact that the earth would be so pulled and stretched that the crust would start to fall apart and the sea would probably boil away as the magma beneath the earth’s surface was exposed.

Oh, and the high likelihood that the moon would be pulled apart by the earth’s gravitational forces.

Look, it’s not going to end well.

In fact, the reason we are still here – and that the moon is still there – is exactly that: that we are here and it is there. Anything else would result in certain disaster. So there’s something to brighten your journey home today.

More facts and information here.