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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Begins Historic Mission

Lunar & PlanetaryWith its very first pair of images, NASA's newest mission to the Red Planet has made history and prepares for a mission to set new standards for robotic planetary exploration. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has used its ultra-high resolution camera to "see" the Mars Rover "Opportunity" on the surface from an altitude of about 180 miles, and its just gonna keep gettin' better and better from here on!
Almost unbelieveably, our newest imaging camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged the golfcart-sized rover Opportunity from its operational orbital altitude of 180 miles above the surface of Mars. Everything about this latest mission to Mars is historical in how much improvement has been made from every mission that came before. Its a new day on the Red Planet! Image courtesy NASA/JPL/UA

If you haven't been actively watching and reading about the MRO mission to Mars, much of what we're about to start hearing and seeing about this mission will seem almost fantastic to the masses. If you have been watching and waiting, you're anticipation is extreme. Never before have any cameras on an orbiting spacecraft seen so clearly and sharply. Objects as small as a shoe are capable of being seen from this craft's operating altitude of approximately 180 miles above the planet surface. This week, NASA has taken and released one of the most famous pictures of recent memory. In order to show off a bit of what MRO is capable of, and to really test out just how powerful their newest "toy" is, operators have imaged the Mars Rover Opportunity at its winter station on the slopes of Victoria Crater, complete with wheel tracks and the shadow of the camera mast in clear detail!

Above-left is the entire picture and by clicking here for the close-up you can go directly to the 1.2 Mb file of this historic image.

The OTHER historic image from Mars Recon this week. Its said that if a person were standing in the field of this image, we'd have NO TROUBLE seeing a human figure there. Image courtesy NASA/JPL/UA

To the right is the second of this week's extraordinary images from NASA's newest Mars Orbiter.

Mars Recon arrived at Mars in March of this year, after its launch on August 12, 2005. It spent the first 6 full months repeatedly dipping into the upper levels of Mars tenuous atmosphere in a manuveur known as aerobraking which gradually slowed its speed while also circularizing the orbit at the same time. It is only now beginning it's 2-year science mission, and if I had $100 to bet, I'd put it all on seeing a 4-year MINIMUM science mission before NASA even considers seriously cutting funding for Mars Recon.

I refer you now to my original story on this mission for the full details on just how impressive this mission will eventually be. This is going to be one amazing mission!

Click read more for some additional images and captions on this mission.

TEACHERS TEACHERS TEACHERS! CLICK right for a link to LOTS of Education materials and activities.
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Holloway Comet Observatory Struck by Lightning

General NewsYou're an amateur astronomer who has spent the last several years building up an observatory full of the finest, most exquisite set of equipment available on today's markets. You spend long hours chasing after comets, making a name for yourself for your persistence and imaging abilities, and one evening you put everything to bed and call it a night. There's a storm between this and the next time you enter your observatory, but when you do go back to it, everything is destroyed from a direct lightning strike.

On August 4, 2006, AOAS' own Mike Holloway lost his entire inventory of equipment at Holloway Comet Observatory to a direct lightning strike. While he may be down, he's not out, and we all wish him best of luck with returning to full operation as soon as possible.
Holloway Comet Observatory sits a few hundred feet away from Mike's home on AR Hwy 220 north of Van Buren near Uniontown. From the outside, you would not believe that everything inside was totally destroyed by a direct strike from a lightning bolt.

I was shocked, no pun intended, to hear last week about Mike Holloway's observatory being knocked off-line by a direct lightning strike in early August. I was asked last week by the local Farm Bureau Claims Adjuster agent John Driggers, to look at Mike's equipment and write a letter describing what I found for the official record. But what I saw when I got to Mike's home on August 23 made me absolutely sick to my stomach.

Mike and I disassembled his equipment and removed it to his home where we examined it all carefully. The Takahashi FSQ-106 Flourite refractor tube assembly had the dust cap on it when the storm that caused the destruction came up.
The dew shield on the $3,500 refractor tube assembly shows the brunt of the strike on the dew shield rim. The charge from the bolt caused sparks and metallic fragments to be blown into the inner glass of the quadruplet lens and literally melted into the glass. The lens and entire tube assembly are trash.
The bolt apparently came through the very top of his fiberglass dome and then hit the end of the refractor perhaps 24" below the dome. The only outward evidence of the strike is a small hole in the dome's crown, about the size of your little finger.

As seen in the second image, the tube's dew shield was dented inwards, and the dust cap was dented outward and blown off by the strike. When the two were put back together, the gap between them showed damage from the intense heat from the bolt and was nearly an inch wide! To top that off, the interior of the tube assembly shows tiny BB's of molten metal welded into the glass from the electric charge passing through the aluminum tube parts. The whole assembly was sealed and there was another piece of glass at the rear.....and it, too, had the same damages and welded particles within that piece of glass. I've seen millions of tiny little BB's like I saw within this tube as a welder for more than 20 years, but I never saw them imbedded in fine glass lenses like this.

Click read more for more images and the rest of this heartbreaking story.
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Designing America's Return to the Moon - Part Two

Lunar & PlanetaryUPDATE: Lockheed Martin Corp. has won the contract to build the new crew vehicle for man's return to the moon. Click on the company's name to go directly to the Constellation website. New high-resolution images are clickable at the end of the first section of this story.

We are considerably more adept at building rockets now than we were in the 1960's when we put the first man on the moon. Will it be any easier, cheaper, or safer when we return to the moon again? I'm betting it will be!

An artist's depiction of America's next generation of rockets are being designed for a return to the moon with manned missions. Their new names will reflect a little homage to the Apollo program. Top: The new Crew Launch Vevicle, recently designated as Ares I. Bottom: The new heavy-lift Cargo Launch Vehicle to be known as the Ares V.
Heeere we go! At least we're hoping so. America's least science-friendly President wants America to return to the moon, but this time it won't just be for a short stay of a couple of days. When we do finally return to the moon, we'll be setting up shop, so-to-speak, so that we'll wind up with a bona-fide, long-term, manned moon base.

And its about time, too, at least in my mind. Cutting the Apollo missions of the 1970's put the brakes on a space science program that was providing huge amounts of information on how to travel safely, navigate and live in space, as well as revealing hints on the formation of how the moon itself came to be. From the materials returned to us by our Apollo program, we now believe that our moon was formed when the early Earth was impacted by a huge planetoid, something nearly the size of Mars.

That glancing blow added a small amount of mass to our young Earth's original size, but the "splash" material from what was flung off during the impact gave us our moon. That material slowly coalesed as the moon, which at that early time was only orbitting a mere 40,000 miles away, about 5-6 times closer than it is now.

That knowledge aside, the government bureaurocrats had little trouble in convincing the American public that since we had beaten the Russians to the moon in the Apollo era, there was no reason to continue pouring money into the most successful science program ever. Those rocks that we spent so much money to bring back hardly seemed worth the roughly 20-billion-dollar price, but what we learned about ourselves was unmeasurable.

People may argue that other accomplishments besides Apollo are more important or successful for dozens of different reasons. It's a toss-up as to what is or isn't THE most successful program ever, but no one can argue that the motherlode of technological advancements that were given us from the early moon program was, and still is, astounding. Farther down the road after this upcoming return we will gain back even bigger dividends given enough time.

This time it isn't a race, but does it really need to be a race before we jump on board as a science oriented society?

Similar to the Apollo crew vehicles of the early space program, the new Crew Module will be utilizing a Service Module for its fuel and life support essentials, but this time we'll use solar panels to generate most of the electrical needs instead of using the fuel cells that were responsible for the near catastrophe of Apollo 13. The biggest changes will be in the nearly double-sized volume of the new crew compartment.

Differences and Similarities

To be a little cliche here, we can discribe these new spacecraft that we'll use to return to the moon as being like the Apollo era spacecraft on "steroids". That's not very far from the truth, actually. The Crew Module that will carry the next generation of American astronauts to the moon will now hold up to 6 crew members, twice the Apollo capacity. The Lunar Module will allow for up to 4 crew members to touchdown on the Lunar surface. But that's about as far as the similarities go, however.

The rockets that will propel the crew and hardware towards the moon are shown in the opening photograph. There is also an image comparing the sizes of the new rockets to the Space Shuttle and the original Apollo Saturn V rockets viewable by clicking "read more" near the end of Part One. The most obvious changes are seen in the lower portion of the two new vehicles. The Crew Launch vehicle, which has just recently been christened as the Ares I launch vehicle, sports a solid-fueled rocket first stage, with a liquid-fueled second stage to take the Crew Module on into orbit.

NEW images!

The newly named Orion Crew Vehicle. The new Ares V Cargo Launch Vehicle. Approaching the ISS. Breaking out of the Cargo Vehicle shroud. Leaving Earth Orbit. The Orion and Lander at the moon. The LSAM and crew on the moon. Leaving the moon in the ascent stage. Full-resolution images of New Launch Vehicles.

Click read more for the rest of this two-part story.
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Why Pluto Had to GO!

Lunar & PlanetaryInternational Astronomical Union names 2003ub313 as "136199 Eris", or just ERIS for short. Read the announcement at PHYSORG.COM here.

Pluto HAD to be demoted from planethood, and here is my explanation why. What the International Astronomical Union, (IAU) did on August 24, 2006, was to assign the new desciption of "dwarf planet" to Pluto, but that falls short of truly describing what this object is. PLUS, if you think that what Pluto is called today will be what it's still called in another 2 to 3 years, well, I wouldn't try holding my breath expecting that to stay the same either.

There are several things that must be taken into consideration to have any success at an accurate description of what Pluto should be called. Here are my offerings on what I believe it MIGHT be called at some point in the not-to-distant future. It's only my own speculation, but let me present my case anyway.

A NASA artist's depiction of what Pluto and Charon may look like from the surface of one of Pluto's newest pair of smaller moons. Pluto is at right center, Charon to Pluto's right, one of the two new moons at the left of Pluto and the imagined appearance of the surface of the other new moon in the foreground.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Clyde was a Kansas farm boy who built his own reflector telescope and studied the planets by making carefully detailed pencil sketches of them. In 1928 he decided to send some of his drawings to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. He was both pleased and proud when he received a reply from Lowell saying they liked his pictures and he would be offered a job at Lowell if he could get to Flagstaff. I read somewhere that he left his farm home with less than a dollar in change in his pockets, bound by rail for northern Arizona.

Visual observations of Uranus and Neptune showed mathematical irregularities in their orbits in the late 19th century. The math hinted that something out beyond Neptune's orbit was the culprit. When Clyde arrived at Lowell Observatory, he was put straight to work on the problem of trying to find whatever may have been out there producing those minute little "tugs" on Neptune and Uranus. It would take him nearly 2 years to find it, but on February 18, 1930, he found his elusive quarry.

I was fortunate enough to have attended a presentation given by Clyde Tombaugh in 1988 at that year's Texas Star Party. Clyde was speaking on whether there might possibly be a 10th planet out there somewhere in the frozen outskirts of the solar system. Although in his 80's at the time, he was still a skilled an interesting speaker. Clyde began by telling everyone of his discovery of the 9th planet while using the 13" astrographic telescope at Lowell Observatory. This instrument didn't allow for visual observations, but instead it took images of the sky. Since planets move in their orbits around the Sun, any given image taken on any one night needed another image made of that same area a few nights later. Then the two images were set up in an instrument called a blink comparator which allowed the investigator to carefully examine the starfield with nothing more than his eyes to see if there were any "stars" that had moved from one night to the next. How time-consuming and tedious would you think such a job might be? And yet, this was how Clyde found Pluto.

But Tombaugh didn't stop there. The mathematical studies of the inconsistencies in Neptune's and Uranus's orbit had indicated that whatever was out there should be approximately 6 times the size of Earth. Pluto was MUCH to small to have been that suspect object, and so, for another 15 years, Clyde Tombaugh kept up his steady and monotonous search. Pretty much everyone felt there HAD to be something else out there, something considerably larger than Pluto's 1,300 mile diameter. Hearing Tombaugh give such a vivid, detailed description of "blinking" roughly 14,000,000 stars (by his own estimates), and then winding up his presentation by stating emphatically, "There is NO other planet beyond Pluto, no "Planet X", or I would have found it." That statement gave me all I needed to accept his word on the matter, but I really have to wonder what he would have said about the demotion of Pluto to "dwarf planet".

Click read more for the rest of this story.
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AOAS to End "Stars in the Parks"

General NewsFor the past three years, AOAS has worked with the City of Ft Smith Parks Department as partners in their "Friends of the Park" program. According to the guidelines of the program, a participating partner agreed to perform some type of work or hold some public events in a regular manner in trade for free room rentals.

For our AOAS bi-monthly meetings held 6 times each year on the first Friday of even-numbered months, we agreed to hold public observing events at Carol Ann Cross Park that we called "Stars in the Parks" in exchange for our room rental fees. Our "Stars in the Parks" events seemed a perfect partnership with the Parks Department from our perspective, but regretably, these highly successful public events will come to an end after this year.

Visitors at the April 16, 2005 "Stars in the Parks" event catch a glimpse of Saturn through a large telescope. As many as 125 people attended that particular event, as at least 11 AOAS members with 8 telescopes helped share our universe with the general public for more than 3 hours.
In our first 19 years at the Creekmore Park facility, we had frequently found ourselves faced with one loud group or another on the opposite side of a partition between the Magnolia and Azalea Room. We would have a hard time hearing anything in our meeting while a room filled with screaming kid's at a child's birthday party competed with us on the other side of the partition.

We had moved our meetings to the River Parks Events Building in 2005, but earlier this year, the Parks Department asked us to move back to Creekmore Park and the problems we'd had there. Our members want to use this opportunity as an attempt to more closely associate AOAS with an educational facility, and we are currently working to finalize an agreement to meet at UA Fort Smith for the next 2 years or so.

We are working towards an eventual, long-term meeting location at the future NEW Van Buren Public Library after it's construction is finished in late 2007 or 2008. We hope to make many solid relationships with Van Buren Library, with the VB High School and with UA Fort Smith as well, which will keep us associated with education taking us far into the 21st Century.

The July 1st night of public viewing at Carol Ann Cross Park. These visitors had to stoop WAY over to catch a final quick glimpse of Saturn for the current 2006 observing season. This night saw about 35-40 visitors, with 8 AOAS members using 6 telescopes for approximately 2 hours.
The new short-term meeting location is being negotiated and will be announced officially as soon as the details are finalized.

We have also decided on "going mobile" in 2007 as we attempt to set up public observing nights in surrounding towns. We'll offer one or two public nights in the Ft Smith/Van Buren area, and a few more in outlying area towns. These public events have been too successful for us to drop them completely, but just as importantly, our members also want to continue the practice. We truly enjoy getting out to help people experience the universe our way. We're just looking for an educationally friendlier place to hold them.

And so, we ask everyone to watch your local town newspapers and if we come to your town next year, come out and enjoy the view with us. Let us share with you our little neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy, and maybe even a few neighboring galaxies.

We'll also help all those folks who want to learn how to get the most out of a small telescope, and we offer regularly held summer classes in the "Basics of Astronomy" as well. We just may be setting up an event in your hometown and we hope to see you there!

Thanks everyone.....please come out and visit with us soon!


Bob Moody

President, AOAS

Caretaker, Coleman Observatory

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Designing America's Return to the Moon - Part One

Lunar & PlanetaryThe designing of the spacecraft is underway that will someday soon return man to the moon. The actual construction won't be far behind. This new NASA program to return American astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars is called CONSTELLATION, and I have to wonder whether this project will be any easier to complete than the Apollo Project of the last Century?
Apollo 17, last manned mission to the moon, sits in early morning bathed in floodlight and the gathering sunlight. When will we return to the moon?

Which young man or woman in today's high schools, or which college freshmen will be members of the first crew of astronauts to return to the Moon? It could just as easily be an Arkansas-led crew as to have a crew leader from any other state. I'm just biased towards the youth of our area. Who knows, but how wonderful that day will be when we finally return with the first lunar landings of the new millenium no matter where they may call home.

The knowledge that what we do this time around will be in preparation for an eventual permanent moon base, one designed for long-term lunar stays will make it all the more special. Much of what we leave behind on the surface with these next missions will in some way be utilized as permanent structures or storage facilities from where many truly far-ranging lunar exploratory excursions will depart.

NASA's Constellation Program will become the new "Apollo Program" of today, with the eventual long-term goal being nothing less than a manned mission to our sister planet, MARS!

The APOLLO Program - 1963-1972
An early NASA illustration of the Saturn I, the "mid-sized" Saturn V launch vehicles alongside the gigantic (proposed but not built) Nova rocket design which would have used 5 stages instead of the four used in the Saturn V.

President John F. Kennedy rallied the entire country to [achieve] the goal of landing a man on the moon, and [return] him safely to the Earth" in a speech to the joint house in 1963. And though Dubya is no "Jack" Kennedy by a long, LONG shot, he did lay out the goal for America to return to the Moon and establish a permanent moon base as a precursor to an eventual manned trip to Mars sometime in the future. So far, engineers are only working on the new designs for both a new heavy-lift rocket and a new crew rocket. I can liken it to how the Apollo program grew and evolved from what was first envisioned to what we finally had later when we actually began our first exploration of the moon between 1969 and 1972.

Early in the "Race to the Moon" when America and Russia were competing to see who could put a man on the moon ahead of the other, there was no definitive design for what our first moon rocket would look like. About the only thing most engineers could say for sure was that it would take an enormous vehicle to achieve the launch to orbit of whatever we'd be sending on out beyond Earth to the moon. Whatever it was to be would have to achieve a speed of at least 25,000 mph while pushing dozens of tons in the right direction. Not even the design of the flight plan was in place when we saw one of our first concept pictures such as the image above.

Some engineers wanted to build a gigantic single-stage behemoth that would go directly from Earth to the moon as a single unit. The laws of physics demanded that that idea be scraped in favor of smaller multi-stage vehicles. Weight was going to be the deciding factor in how we got to the moon, if indeed, we could even get there at all.
The evolution of designs for the Lunar Module for the Apollo program. What was first designed was not especially similar to what the final version looked like. Weight decided nearly all of the design changes seen in this image.
The flight plan that was finally settled upon was for a very large rocket with four stages that would place in orbit the crew module and another craft designed ONLY for landing on the moon, a "Lunar Module". These two components would be shot away from Earth by the third stage at the required speed of 25,000 mph in order to escape the gravitational pull of Earth, and allow the two primary components to reach and finally orbit the moon.

The crew module, called the Command Module, would sustain a single astronaut in orbit around the moon while the other two of a three-man-crew would enter the Lunar Module for the trip down to the surface of the moon. All the consumables for the trip would be contained in what was called the Service Module which would remain mated to the Command Module until just before re-entry into the atmosphere by the Command Module and the crew.

This flight plan was referred to as Lunar Orbit Rendezvous due to the Command and Lunar Modules being required to dock, undock and descend, and later return to orbit to once again dock, and allow for the three man crew to return safely to the Earth in the Command/Service Module leaving the now useless Lunar Module behind. In the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon", the fifth episode called "Spider" deals specifically with all that went into the Luner Orbit Rendezvous mission and the extremely difficult problems involved with the creation of the Lunar Modules by the Grumman Corporation. Enormous difficulties were encountered, and overcome, and this is my personal favorite episode of this outstanding and important series.

Click read more for the rest of Part One including images of our new rocket designs.
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Celebrating 40 Years of Intent Listening

NASA Space PlaceBy Diane K. Fisher

For over 40 years, the “Mars” 70-m Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, has vigilantly listened for tiny signals from spacecraft that are billions of miles away.
(Click image for larger view.)
In nature, adjacent animals on the food chain tend to evolve together. As coyotes get sneakier, rabbits get bigger ears. Hearing impaired rabbits die young. Clumsy coyotes starve. So each species pushes the other to “improve.”

The technologies pushing robotic space exploration have been like that. Improvements in the supporting communications and data processing infrastructure on the ground (the “ears” of the scientists) have allowed spacecraft to go farther, be smaller and smarter, and send increasingly faint signals back to Earth—and with a fire hose instead of a squirt gun.

Since 1960, improvements in NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) of radio wave antennas have made possible the improvements and advances in the robotic spacecraft they support.

“In 1964, when Mariner IV flew past Mars and took a few photographs, the limitation of the communication link meant that it took eight hours to return to Earth a single photograph from the Red Planet. By 1989, when Voyager observed Neptune, the DSN capability had increased so much that almost real-time video could be received from the much more distant Planet, Neptune,” writes William H. Pickering, Director of JPL from 1954 to 1976, in his Foreword to the book, Uplink-Downlink: A History of the Deep Space Network, 1957-1997, by Douglas J. Mudgway.

Mudgway, an engineer from Australia, was involved in the planning and construction of the first 64-m DSN antenna, which began operating in the Mojave Desert in Goldstone, California, in 1966. This antenna, dubbed “Mars,” was so successful from the start, that identical 64-m antennas were constructed at the other two DSN complexes in Canberra, Australia, and Madrid, Spain.

As Mudgway noted in remarks made during the recent observance of the Mars antenna's 40 years of service, “In no time at all, the flight projects were competing with radio astronomy, radio science, radar astronomy, SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence), geodynamics, and VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) for time on the antenna … It was like a scientific gold rush.”
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A Galaxy of Things to Explore with NASA Quest

Education OutreachNASA Quest has competitions where students can vie for prizes and help design futuristic spacecraft, aircraft and habitats. Current contests include the Lunar Outpost Design Challenge, helping to design the systems for living and working on the moon. Click here to go directly to NASA Quest.

Learn how our young students of the Arkansas River valley can join in on design competitions for how we'll live and work on the Moon, how we'll survey and explore the surface of Mars, and an entire universe of possibilities just by going to the NASA Quest site.
Meet the people of NASA and look over their shoulders as they make NASA's goals a reality. Whether in the area of aerospace design or training for space walks, NASA Quest is a rich resource for educators, kids and space enthusiasts who are interested in meeting and learning about NASA people and the national space program. NASA Quest allows the public to share the excitement of NASA's authentic scientific and engineering pursuits like flying in the Shuttle and the International Space Station, exploring distant planets with amazing spacecraft, and building the aircraft of the future. Click here to learn more about NASA Quest.
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ArkLaTex Star Party - 2006

General NewsThe Red River Astronomy Club will host their Second Annual ArkLaTex Star Party beginning Sept. 21 - 24, 2006 near Nashville, Arkansas. Of course, the main attraction is the dark sky. This years presentations will include a Mission Specialist (name to be announced by AAS), a Cosmochemist, a presentation on the mysterious lights of Gurdon, Arkansas and a workshop on image processing by a panel of experts.

Rex's Astro Stuff will have a wide variety of accessories available for sale. We offer free camping, observing field power for laptops and scopes, a shower, T-shirts, swap meet, bottomless coffee pot, cocoa and snacks plus our now famous ArkLaTex give-away. Thris's BBQ will have a catering trailer on site. What has become the hallmark of the star party is the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. 4 days / 3 nights.

For details / registration: http://www.rrac.org
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From Thunderstorms to Solar Storms...

NASA Space Placeby Patrick L. Barry

New GOES-N satellite launches, carrying an imaging radiometer, an atmospheric sounder, and a collection of other space environment monitoring instruments.
(Click image for larger view.)
When severe weather occurs, there's a world of difference for people on the ground between a storm that's overhead and one that's several kilometers away. Yet current geostationary weather satellites can be as much as 3 km off in pinpointing the true locations of storms.

A new generation of weather satellites will boost this accuracy by 2 to 4 times. The first in this new installment of NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites series, called GOES-N, was launched May 24 by NASA and Boeing for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) (A new polar-orbiting weather satellite, NOAA-18, was launched May 2005.)

Along with better accuracy at pinpointing storms, GOES-N sports a raft of improvements that will enhance our ability to monitor the weather?both normal, atmospheric weather and “space weather.”

“Satellites eventually wear out or get low on fuel, so we've got to launch new weather satellites every few years if we want to keep up the continuous eye on weather that NOAA has maintained for more than 30 years now,” says Thomas Wrublewski, liaison officer for NOAA at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Currently, GOES-N is in a “parking” orbit at 90° west longitude over the equator. For the next 6 months it will remain there while NASA thoroughly tests all its systems. If all goes well, it will someday replace one of the two active GOES satellites?either the eastern satellite (75°W) or the western one (135°W), depending on the condition of those satellites at the time.

Unlike all previous GOES satellites, GOES-N carries star trackers aboard to precisely determine its orientation in space. Also for the first time, the storm-tracking instruments have been mounted to an “optical bench,” which is a very stable platform that resists thermal warping. These two improvements will let scientists say with 2 to 4 times greater accuracy exactly where storms are located.

Also, X-ray images of the Sun taken by GOES-N will be about twice as sharp as before. The new Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) will also automatically identify solar flares as they happen, instead of waiting for a scientist on the ground to analyze the images. Flares affect space weather, triggering geomagnetic storms that can damage communications satellites and even knock out city power grids. The improved imaging and detection of solar flares by GOES-N will allow for earlier warnings.

So for thunderstorms and solar storms alike, GOES-N will be an even sharper eye in the sky.

Find out more about GOES-N at goespoes.gsfc.nasa.gov/goes. Also, for young people, the SciJinks Weather Laboratory at scijinks.nasa.gov now includes a printable booklet titled “How Do You Make a Weather Satellite?” Just click on Technology.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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Become a card-carrying member of AOAS. Paying dues gives you several advantages over other registered users, including a subscription to the club newsletter, an AOAS.ORG e-mail address, use of club materials, including books and telescopes, and access to the Coleman Observatory facilities. On top of all that, you also qualify for a 20% discount on all books at any Books-A-Million location.

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