The Amazing Canadian Space Race – #CSAtweetup

Recently Jesse and I were invited to tag along with the latest group of #CSAtweetup tweeps, who participated in an event put on by the Canadian Space Agency called the Amazing Canadian Space Race.

It was the first event of it’s kind involving astronauts and ordinary members of the public (as far as I know). It took for the form of the popular TV show The Amazing Race, but pitted two teams against each other, each lead by one of Canada’s astronauts.

Jesse went with Team David, while I was with Team Jeremy.

The event took the teams around Toronto and highlighted the many players in the Canadian space industry – from government, to education/research – including York University – and private business.

It’s actually pretty amazing how much Canadian space industry is based right here in Toronto.

In any case, here is the video and written special report that I filed for Sun News Network:


Video not loading? Watch it here.

Canadian astronauts took to the streets of Toronto this week as part of the Amazing Canadian Space Race.

The event was part of the 65th annual International Astronautical Congress, the world’s premier space conference bringing together private, government, and military partners from around the world.

Astronaut’s Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques were each joined by members of the public and sent on a day-long adventure around Toronto, visiting education and industry partners, connected to Canada’s space industry.

“We’re one of the few early space-faring nations, and you have to remember is that everything we do in space comes back down to Earth,” said Saint-Jacques.

He also pointed to the record of job creation in the private sector, as a result of Canada’s wise investments in space technology.

The President of the Canadian Space Agency, Walter Natynczyk, opened the race by wishing the teams good luck and pointing to the significance of the event, “We have representatives here of the leadership of Canada’s space program. In this community here in Toronto, we’ve got great companies that have created incredible innovation that has been launched into space over the years.”

Setting the tone, he added, “Today is a day of discovery; it’s a day of hot competition.”

After the remarks, Hansen read the first clue for his team: “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a dragon by the toe, if it hollers, don’t let it go,”

Once teams deciphered the clue, they had to complete the task. Only once each task was successfully completed would teams receive the next challenge.

A subsequent challenge took the teams to the Department of National Defence’ Department of Research and Development Canada, where the astronauts were put through an obstacle course that is typically used to test new equipment materials.


From there, team Hansen went to York University while team Saint-Jacques was dispatched to Optech.

At those sites, each team was faced with a laser-based challenge connected to the OSIRIS-REx mission, set to launch in September 2016. This task was designed to expose participants to the Canadian technology that will be flying on the mission, designed by Optech to create a 3D map of the surface of an asteroid using lasers.

The last stop on the journey was at the Ontario Science Centre, where the teams went head-to-head to design, build, test, and fly a prototype Mars lander using only house-hold materials that could be found at hand.

“What better than to have real astronauts here trying an experiment that often we have with our visitors,” said Maurice Bitran, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre.

While both teams successfully accomplished the Mars landing challenege, the judges ruled that team Saint-Jacques’ spacecraft made better use of simple machines, propelling them to victory.

Jesse Rogerson, a participant and gracious winner said, “It really doesn’t matter who won. The astronauts were so fun to be around, so as a team, as a group, both teams really did win.”

“Events like this really get the word out and get the public involved,” Rogerson added.

Saint-Jacques explained the involvement of private industry in space will only create more opportunities for Canadians – not only to go to space, but here on Earth.

“You may not realize it, but it’s part of our everyday life,” he said.


30 years since the first Canadian flew in space – #Garneau30

It was October 5, 1984 just a little after 7 a.m. ET when the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off the pad from south Florida.

On board were Jon A. McBride, pilot; mission specialists Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan, and David C. Leestma; payload specialists Paul D. Scully-Power and Marc Garneau and crew commander Robert L. Crippen.

NASA, not having figured out a sensible numbering system for shuttle flights yet, called the mission 41-G — but this was actually the 13th space shuttle flight.

Up here in the north though, it was simply the first mission that carried a Canadian into the final frontier.

But that wasn’t the only first for STS-41-G.

It was also the first shuttle flight with a crew of seven; it was the first flight with two women on board; it was the first flight where a spacewalk would be conducted by a woman (Sullivan).

STS-41-G was Sally Ride’s second and last spaceflight.

During the course of the eight day mission (they landed October 13), Garneau was responsible for conducting 10 science experiments on board. He also assisted with general house keeping duties, such as preparing meals.

Garneau was on board representing the National Research Council of Canada – which at the time made the Canadian astronaut selections – since the Canadian Space Agency did not yet exist (the CSA was founded March 1, 1989).

Garneau’s backup for the mission was fellow Canadian astronaut Dr. Bob Thirsk, who flew into space on STS-78 (1996) and as part of the Expedition 20/21 (2009) crew to the International Space Station.

Besides STS-41-G, Garneau also flew into space on STS-77 (1996) and STS-97 (2000).

Over the course of STS-41-G, Challenger completed 133 orbits covering some five million kilometers.

The photos below all courtesy NASA/JSC.

Portrait view of STS 41-G crew in civilian clothes. Bottom row (l.-r.) Payload specialists Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power, crew commander Robert Crippen. Second row (l-.r-) Pilot Jon McBride, and Mission Specialists David Leestma and Sally Ride. At very top is Mission Specialist Kathryn Sullivan.

Portrait view of STS 41-G crew in civilian clothes. Bottom row (l.-r.) Payload specialists Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power, crew commander Robert Crippen. Second row (l-.r-) Pilot Jon McBride, and Mission Specialists David Leestma and Sally Ride. At very top is Mission Specialist Kathryn Sullivan.

View of the early morning launch of STS 41-G Challenger. The dark launch complex is illuminated by spotlights as the orbiter begins its ascent from the pad. The light is reflected off the clouds of smoke from the orbiter's engines.

View of the early morning launch of STS 41-G Challenger. The dark launch complex is illuminated by spotlights as the orbiter begins its ascent from the pad. The light is reflected off the clouds of smoke from the orbiter’s engines.

View of the Canadarm end effector touching the SIR-B antenna during STS 41-G

View of the Canadarm end effector touching the SIR-B antenna during STS 41-G

View of the SIR-B antenna being deployed during STS 41-G

View of the SIR-B antenna being deployed during STS 41-G

False-color image showing Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was acquired by the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) during STS 41-G. The St. lawrence River dominates the right portion of the photo. Several bridges cossing the river are visible. Pink and blue areas are generally buildings or pavement. Light green areas regions of natural vegetation; darker green areas are generally cultivated regions. A race track like structure is apparent at top left. The Riviere des Milles Illes and the Riviere des Prairies (left and right, respectively), join to form a U-shaped waterway at the center of the image. The large elliptical green-centered feature west of the St. Lawrence is Mt. Royal.

False-color image showing Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was acquired by the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) during STS 41-G. The St. lawrence River dominates the right portion of the photo. Several bridges cossing the river are visible. Pink and blue areas are generally buildings or pavement. Light green areas regions of natural vegetation; darker green areas are generally cultivated regions. A race track like structure is apparent at top left. The Riviere des Milles Illes and the Riviere des Prairies (left and right, respectively), join to form a U-shaped waterway at the center of the image. The large elliptical green-centered feature west of the St. Lawrence is Mt. Royal.

STS 41-G crew photo taken on the flight deck of the Challenger during the flight. Front row (l.-r.) Jon A. McBride, pilot; Sally K. RIde, Kathryn D. SUllivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Back row (l.-r.) Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, payload specialist. Garneau represents the National Research Council of Canada and Scully-Power is a civilian oceanographer with the U.S. Navy.

STS 41-G crew photo taken on the flight deck of the Challenger during the flight. Front row (l.-r.) Jon A. McBride, pilot; Sally K. RIde, Kathryn D. SUllivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Back row (l.-r.) Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, payload specialist. Garneau represents the National Research Council of Canada and Scully-Power is a civilian oceanographer with the U.S. Navy.

The Space Shuttle Challenger lands at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at the end of the STS 41-G mission.

The Space Shuttle Challenger lands at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at the end of the STS 41-G mission.

Title: Space Shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center at end of STS 41-G

Title:
Space Shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center at end of STS 41-G

STS 41-G crew leaves the orbiter after landing at Kennedy Space Center at the end of their mission. Astronaut Robert Crippen shakes hands with George W.S. Abbey, Director of JSC's Flight Crew Operations, while the other crewmembers wait behind him. They are Jon McBride, David Leestma, Sally K. Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power.

STS 41-G crew leaves the orbiter after landing at Kennedy Space Center at the end of their mission. Astronaut Robert Crippen shakes hands with George W.S. Abbey, Director of JSC’s Flight Crew Operations, while the other crewmembers wait behind him. They are Jon McBride, David Leestma, Sally K. Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power.

Official photo of the 41-G crew. They are (bottom row, left to right) Astronauts Jon A. McBride, pilot; and Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Top row from left to right are Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, Canadian payload specialist.

Official photo of the 41-G crew. They are (bottom row, left to right) Astronauts Jon A. McBride, pilot; and Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Top row from left to right are Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, Canadian payload specialist.

30 years since the first Canadian flew in space – #Garneau30

It was October 5, 1984 just a little after 7 a.m. ET when the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off the pad from south Florida.

On board were Jon A. McBride, pilot; mission specialists Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan, and David C. Leestma; payload specialists Paul D. Scully-Power and Marc Garneau and crew commander Robert L. Crippen.

NASA, not having figured out a sensible numbering system for shuttle flights yet, called the mission 41-G — but this was actually the 13th space shuttle flight.

Up here in the north though, it was simply the first mission that carried a Canadian into the final frontier.

But that wasn’t the only first for STS-41-G.

It was also the first shuttle flight with a crew of seven; it was the first flight with two women on board; it was the first flight where a spacewalk would be conducted by a woman (Sullivan).

STS-41-G was Sally Ride’s second and last spaceflight.

During the course of the eight day mission (they landed October 13), Garneau was responsible for conducting 10 science experiments on board. He also assisted with general house keeping duties, such as preparing meals.

Garneau was on board representing the National Research Council of Canada – which at the time made the Canadian astronaut selections – since the Canadian Space Agency did not yet exist (the CSA was founded March 1, 1989).

Garneau’s backup for the mission was fellow Canadian astronaut Dr. Bob Thirsk, who flew into space on STS-78 (1996) and as part of the Expedition 20/21 (2009) crew to the International Space Station.

Besides STS-41-G, Garneau also flew into space on STS-77 (1996) and STS-97 (2000).

Over the course of STS-41-G, Challenger completed 133 orbits covering some five million kilometers.

The photos below all courtesy NASA/JSC.

Portrait view of STS 41-G crew in civilian clothes. Bottom row (l.-r.) Payload specialists Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power, crew commander Robert Crippen. Second row (l-.r-) Pilot Jon McBride, and Mission Specialists David Leestma and Sally Ride. At very top is Mission Specialist Kathryn Sullivan.

Portrait view of STS 41-G crew in civilian clothes. Bottom row (l.-r.) Payload specialists Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power, crew commander Robert Crippen. Second row (l-.r-) Pilot Jon McBride, and Mission Specialists David Leestma and Sally Ride. At very top is Mission Specialist Kathryn Sullivan.

View of the early morning launch of STS 41-G Challenger. The dark launch complex is illuminated by spotlights as the orbiter begins its ascent from the pad. The light is reflected off the clouds of smoke from the orbiter's engines.

View of the early morning launch of STS 41-G Challenger. The dark launch complex is illuminated by spotlights as the orbiter begins its ascent from the pad. The light is reflected off the clouds of smoke from the orbiter’s engines.

View of the Canadarm end effector touching the SIR-B antenna during STS 41-G

View of the Canadarm end effector touching the SIR-B antenna during STS 41-G

View of the SIR-B antenna being deployed during STS 41-G

View of the SIR-B antenna being deployed during STS 41-G

False-color image showing Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was acquired by the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) during STS 41-G. The St. lawrence River dominates the right portion of the photo. Several bridges cossing the river are visible. Pink and blue areas are generally buildings or pavement. Light green areas regions of natural vegetation; darker green areas are generally cultivated regions. A race track like structure is apparent at top left. The Riviere des Milles Illes and the Riviere des Prairies (left and right, respectively), join to form a U-shaped waterway at the center of the image. The large elliptical green-centered feature west of the St. Lawrence is Mt. Royal.

False-color image showing Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was acquired by the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) during STS 41-G. The St. lawrence River dominates the right portion of the photo. Several bridges cossing the river are visible. Pink and blue areas are generally buildings or pavement. Light green areas regions of natural vegetation; darker green areas are generally cultivated regions. A race track like structure is apparent at top left. The Riviere des Milles Illes and the Riviere des Prairies (left and right, respectively), join to form a U-shaped waterway at the center of the image. The large elliptical green-centered feature west of the St. Lawrence is Mt. Royal.

STS 41-G crew photo taken on the flight deck of the Challenger during the flight. Front row (l.-r.) Jon A. McBride, pilot; Sally K. RIde, Kathryn D. SUllivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Back row (l.-r.) Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, payload specialist. Garneau represents the National Research Council of Canada and Scully-Power is a civilian oceanographer with the U.S. Navy.

STS 41-G crew photo taken on the flight deck of the Challenger during the flight. Front row (l.-r.) Jon A. McBride, pilot; Sally K. RIde, Kathryn D. SUllivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Back row (l.-r.) Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, payload specialist. Garneau represents the National Research Council of Canada and Scully-Power is a civilian oceanographer with the U.S. Navy.

The Space Shuttle Challenger lands at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at the end of the STS 41-G mission.

The Space Shuttle Challenger lands at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at the end of the STS 41-G mission.

Title: Space Shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center at end of STS 41-G

Title:
Space Shuttle Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center at end of STS 41-G

STS 41-G crew leaves the orbiter after landing at Kennedy Space Center at the end of their mission. Astronaut Robert Crippen shakes hands with George W.S. Abbey, Director of JSC's Flight Crew Operations, while the other crewmembers wait behind him. They are Jon McBride, David Leestma, Sally K. Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power.

STS 41-G crew leaves the orbiter after landing at Kennedy Space Center at the end of their mission. Astronaut Robert Crippen shakes hands with George W.S. Abbey, Director of JSC’s Flight Crew Operations, while the other crewmembers wait behind him. They are Jon McBride, David Leestma, Sally K. Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power.

Official photo of the 41-G crew. They are (bottom row, left to right) Astronauts Jon A. McBride, pilot; and Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Top row from left to right are Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, Canadian payload specialist.

Official photo of the 41-G crew. They are (bottom row, left to right) Astronauts Jon A. McBride, pilot; and Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan and David C. Leestma, all mission specialists. Top row from left to right are Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, Canadian payload specialist.

Scientific Radio and Podcasting Workshop

On May 24th, 2014, York Universe hosts Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson travelled to Montreal to present at the Genomes To/Aux Biomes Special Workshop on Science Communication. It was a half day workshop prior to the beginning of the Genomes To/Aux Biomes conference (a biology conference). With years of experience as radio hosts on York Universe, Lianne and Jesse were invited to create a hands on workshop that teaches the development of scientific podcasts for the attendees of the biology conference. Here is the title slide to the presentation:

The title slide to the podcasting workshop.

The title slide to the podcasting workshop. Note the dropbox link. By following that link (click here), you can access some of the resources Lianne and Jesse used during the workshop.

The workshop was designed in three parts:
1. A formal presentation by Lianne and Jesse
2. Building a script, recording your voice
3. Editing with Audacity.
The first part was designed to give the participants some insight into how they should be thinking when building a podcast, i.e., researching, writing a script, story telling, documentation, communication with listeners. The second and third parts were designed to get the participants to actually attempt to build their own recording and edit it in the workshop.

Lianne and Jesse laughing at the front of the room while the attendees record their podcasts.

Lianne and Jesse laughing at the front of the room while the attendees record their podcasts.

Jesse helping an attendee work with Audacity.

Jesse helping an attendee work with Audacity.

The workshop was a huge success, as was the rest of the Science Communication Workshop; this included panel discussions and another break away group on blogging and social media.

Why teach scientists about public outreach?
There are a lot of good reasons for designing a workshop like this. Communication is an important part of ANY field, in whatever form it takes. In academia, people are constant drawn upon to write about, present about, or animate their results so that others in the research community can learn what you have done, and incorporate it accordingly in their own work. Science is built on the open source concept wherein you reach into the grab bag of work that has already been done, add your own experiment/twist/look at it, then send it back for others to do the same. It’s a wonderful system that requires good communication skills. By working to find the most important facts of your work and making it palatable for the public, you are also honing your ability to clearly and concisely communicate your work to the academic world as well. Therefore, by participating in public outreach, you are training yourself to better communicate with the layperson AND your peers.
It is also important to note that scientists have a duty to inform the public of what it is working on, because basic science has a huge impact on engineering, development, and future social connections. The public has a right to the knowledge scientists develop as it is funded by public dollars (for the most part).
Finally, public outreach is fun. It is a wonderful feeling to have someone excited about your field to talk to.

The 200th Episode: Just getting warmed up!

Episode 200, June 23, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Shah, Lianne, Julie, Ryan, Harrison, Ted, Jesse
Title: The 200th Episode: Just getting warmed up!
York Universe began in 2009 with the International Year of Astronomy (called ‘Live from York University’ at the time). Over the last 5 years, we’ve grown from a couple hosts and a twinkle in our eye to a full team of motivated individuals, captained by our resident Australian (and Dundee lookalike) Paul Delaney. Now celebrating our 200th episode, we look back over the history, and talk about the future. In this episode we also feature 2 panel discussions: The Human Exploration of Mars and Life in the Universe. We’ve had a great time with every episode, and look forward to the next ones. Thanks for listening everyone, podcast and show notes below.

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Science Slam: The Extreme Universe

[This post is co-written by Jesse Rogerson and Lianne Manzer.]

The Ontario Science Centre holds four or five star parties each year, in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Toronto Faction). These are always free events, and are great for both newcomers to the world of astronomy, and also to seasoned vets interested in doing a little outreach. Included in a Science Centre Star Party is a chance to see through some great telescopes (thanks to RASC), participate in various small science experiments/demonstrations, and watch some experts give presentations on various astronomy topics. On 12 July 2013, the Science Centre added a new element to the Star Party equation: the Science Slam. The structure of a Science Slam is, rather than having 1 presenter give a public talk, multiple presenters compete for the most entertaining presentation (by audience applause). The Science Slam structure is growing in popularity (mostly overseas, watch this EinsteinSlam out of Germany). This format of public outreach forces presenters to think of what is not JUST educational, but also entertaining.

The theme of the Ontario Science Centre’s Summer Star Party & Science Slam was the ‘Extreme Universe’ (happily in accordance with their new planetarium show launching this fall). There were four presentations for the slam: Extreme Distances presented by Randy Attwood (of SpaceRef), Finding Exosolar Planets presented by Lisa Esteves, Globular Clusters presented by Ryan Marciniak (of Astronomy in Action), and finally, Gravity in the Extreme, presented by Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson. Here’s the promotional poster for the event:

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

Both of us (Lianne and Jesse) do research in the field of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) (you can read Jesse’s Research Blog, or check his work here); AGN are powered by super massive black holes, which possess the most extreme gravitational fields possible. Since the the theme of the science slam was the ‘Extreme Universe,’ we decided gravity was a fun topic to cover. The presentation we designed was created to step people up from the gravity they know (Earth’s gravity), to the most extreme gravity possible (a black hole’s) by using simple demos and analogies.

The Presentation

We started by demonstrating Earth’s gravity (1g) by simply dropping two objects of similar size, but different mass, and explaining how gravity accelerates objects of different mass equally (check out the most ultimate version of this test here). We then compared Earth’s 1g to Kepler 22b‘s (roughly) 2g by creating what we called the Gravity Sim 22000; GS22000 was just ankle/wrist weights and two backpacks full of textbooks desgined to make someone of roughly 100lbs feel as if they were 200lbs. Our volunteer loved it! The next step was the Sun’s gravity (30g), and then on to a White Dwarf’s gravitational field, which is 10,000g. In order to demonstrate the difference in magnitude between 1g and 10,000g, we compared the difference in magnitude of a burning match, to the explosion of a hydrogen balloon. A Hydrogen balloon explosion gives off about 10,000x more energy than a match, which is the same difference in magnitude of the gravity of Earth compared to the gravity on a White Dwarf. Here’s a pic of me exploding the balloon:

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre's Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre’s Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Finally, we finished up our presentation by comparing Earth’s 1g to a black hole’s 1E16g (that’s 100,00,000,000,000,000g). That’d be the same difference in magnitude of a match compared to an atom bomb!

Why we do it

I loved the format of the Science Slam, because not only do I get to have a lot of fun with topics I find VERY interesting, but the audience has a bunch of fun as well. We all get excited about different things: some love movies, some love comics, some enjoy drawing, some like making models, some enjoy exercising, or hiking, or exploring, or geocaching…. I could go on. Everybody has SOMEthing. And what’s better than sharing that experience with others? It makes your own interests that much better when other people are enjoying it with you. That’s why we like talking about what happened in TV shows, or books…it’s why we have friends. This is exactly why I like presenting science to people. When I present, I’m telling people why I find astronomy so interesting. Hopefully, they will find it just as interesting as I do!

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

Episode 198
Hosts: Pat, Julie & Hugh
Title:  Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. June 2, 2003 – ESA launches Mars Express.  It reached Mars that December; Beagle 2 was carried along and released at Mars, but contact was lost.  M.E. is still going strong, and has produced a nearly complete topographical map of Mars.
2. June 5, 1989 – Voyager 2 starts regular observations of Neptune. Its last encounter with a planet brought Voyager 2 close enough to Neptune to make observations of activity in the atmosphere.
3. June 5, 1783 – Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier gave the first successful balloon flight demonstration.

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Observatory Logbook: The Return of Leesann

Episode 197. Monday the 26th of May 2014.
Hosts: Jesse, Lianne, Shah
Title: Observatory Logbook: The Return of Leesann
Leesann having left York University after graduating, has returned to volunteer at the Observatory in her spare time. We welcome her back with open arms! We chatted about the shrinking (not so) Great Red Spot on Jupiter, and the dud of a meteor shower Camelopardalids, which Lianne was able to say without fumbling. Thanks for listening all; podcast and show notes below.

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Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

Last week there was a lot of noise surrounding this so-called “new meteor shower” called the Camelopardalids (said — Camelo-par-dal-ids) which were to occur on Saturday, May 24, 2014 (700 UT or 2 – 4 am ET). This new shower was broadcasting around the media as “A shower that could generate up to 100 or 1000 meteors per hour!” Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the media’s (or the public’s) hopes of a beautiful show, but that didn’t make this new shower any less awesome.

 

This new meteor shower appeared to come from the constellation Camelopardalis (a very small constellation near the north star) which is where it got it’s name. Meteor showers are usually produced by us (the Earth) travelling through the dust left behind by a comet orbiting our star.  As we travel through this dust, fragments of the discarded comet hit our atmosphere and burn up. This is what causes the bright streaks of light across our sky. Comets are constantly travelling through our solar system leaving behind dust trails, but it’s only the really dense clumps that we see.

This shower is a result of a comet called Comet 209P/Linear which was discovered in 2004. This comet is about 1-3 miles across, and rotates less than once a day. This comet orbits the Sun approximately once every 5 years, and every time it orbits it leaves some comet bits in it’s wake.

You may ask, why haven’t we seen this shower before? Well, this is for a few reasons. First, scientists think that this is a fairly old comet — it’s been around for quite a long time.  This means that the comet is less active and likely close to becoming a “dead comet” (much like an asteroid). Dead comets don’t leave behind as much dust. It was so dim that we didn’t even know that this comet existed until 2004! Secondly, as It’s a fairly faint comet it leaves behind small dust trails. In a normal year, we may skim the outside of these dust trails and not see many meteors. Due to this, it’s very hard to pick up that we are travelling through any trail. But, in the past few months, a number of papers had been released  by different groups regarding potential meteors that had been produced from this comet. These groups went back through their video meteor data and found evidence of meteors from this comet during April, May, and June, which suggested that this meteor shower has been around for a long time.

What we saw this week was due to us passing through a number of dust lanes head on! This is similar to what occurs when there is a particularly good regular meteor shower (such as the Perseids). But, as this is a smaller, more inactive comet, what we saw was much more like a normal, light meteor shower.  The debris that created the lovely show was likely from orbits over the last century!

Malcolm Park of Toronto captured a bright Camelopardalid this morning.

So, why the big let down? This because we don’t know a lot about this comet — some thought that there’d be a lot, and some thought that it would be the next big thing since sliced bread. Scientists are actually going to try to determine how active the comet was in the past by looking at the frequency of asteroids we see.  From this, scientists found out that the comet was much more active in the past than they had thought.

So, it wasn’t as spectacular as some had made it out to be, but according to some reports it produced some unusually slow meteors and at least one nice large fireball! Some estimates had suggested that there had been about 20 to 50 meteors per hour, with more brighter meteors than had originally been predicted.

Fun fact: it’s come closer to Earth than any other comet since IRAS-Araki-Alcot in 1983! On Thursday, this comet will pass within 8 million kilometres of the Earth (approximately 20 times the distance to the moon!)

More Reading:Space.com CBC UniverseToday