“Hey Joe – Where You Goin’ . . .” To Outer Space


ISSpresso anyone? Espresso supplier Lavazza has teamed up with an Italian engineering company to produce a zero-gravity Espresso machine that’s headed to ISS next April. Astronauts are looking for a good cup of Joe and the Italian astronauts in particular have been asking for accommodations. Will WaWa be next? Total lunar eclipse this Wednesday morning – coloration part starts at 5:15am but encroaching sunrise will limit us to just about 90 minutes of visibility. How’s this for Exotic! – Planetary scientists are studying what looks like a disappearing island on Saturn’s moon Titan. Biggest Solar Flare Ever Observed ! – The star, DGCVn is 60 light years away, about 1/3 sun’s size and mass but only 30 million years old, so spinning very rapidly. The explosion, categorized as an x100,000 is the biggest ever seen as a flare. Our sun’s really big explosions are just x45’s.

October 6, 2014


[Dave Heller] Weather permitting, Wednesday morning provides a potential opportunity to catch sight of a total lunar eclipse. Let’s lock in with Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute. Derrick, the key word is potential.

[Derrick Pitts] This is a total lunar eclipse, but unfortunately, we’re on the wrong end of the country, really. If we were over on the west coast, we’d get to see all of the eclipse in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday morning. But unfortunately, as it turns out, we’re way over here on the eastern side of the country and that means that the moon will be setting just as the eclipse really gets underway. And in fact, most of the eclipse will happen after moon set after sunrise. So what we have is a situation where the moon is already on the western side of the sky; by 5:15 a.m. it’s down pretty low. Now for the next 45 minutes as the colors starts to come onto the surface, we’re now competing against morning twilight. Also we have to add to that, sunrise is coming two hours after that, and that means the sky’s going to be brightening, the moon’s down low on the western horizon, we might have to fight western morning sky conditions… All in all, it’s just not really good positioning for us to see this eclipse.

Well let’s stay on topic with unusual sights in our solar system: What’s this about a Peek-a-Boo Island?

[Laughs] Ah, yes, well. Here’s a situation where planetary scientists are looking at what seems to be a peek-a-boo — a disappearing — island. They actually call it Magic Island. And the issue about Magic Island is it first showed up in 2013, and it was around for a couple of months, it disappeared, and just recently it’s been rediscovered or re-sighted. And this time it’s twice as big as it was when it was sighted in 2013.

Now is this part of the Galapagos chain?

Yeah, that’s the best part about this. When we talk about islands, we automatically assume we’re talking about here on Earth. But no! We’re talking about a feature that seems to be appearing and disappearing on the largest moon of Saturn, Titan. Now when you talk about islands appearing and disappearing, one might automatically assume, well, if we think of it like a sandbar that comes and goes as the tides of the ocean rise and fall. Or we talk about oceans of water on Titan. But no – here the temperature is 290 degrees below zero. And so it’s not water, but it’s methane. Liquid methane that creates lakes and small seas and large puddles and things like that. And it seems as if this moon of Titan going through seasonal changes might be seeing a change in methane’s sea levels as the liquid freezes, thaws, condenses. So, there’s a methane sea, some of it evaporates as the temperature rises, turns into clouds that then condenses as methane rain and the sea level “rises” again. And maybe this is the mechanism to account for how this island appears and disappears.

  • This radar image released by NASA Tuesday, March 13, 2007, shows what scientists believe to be sea-size bodies of liquid, shown in blue, on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. The discovery by the international Cassini spacecraft was welcomed by researchers, who have long theorized that Titan possessed hydrocarbon seas because of methane and other organic compounds in its thick, largely nitrogen atmosphere. (AP Photo/NASA)

Now it’s a good thing that our sun doesn’t emit flares the size of what’s been discovered, what, some 60 lightyears away.

Yes. There’s a small red dwarf star one-third the size of our sun, one-third the mass of our sun, that recently put out a solar flare at a magnitude much, much, much larger than anything we’ve ever seen coming from our sun. And one might wonder: How is it possible that such a small star could generate such incredibly high activity? Well first of all, it’s a very young star. It’s just about 30 million years old. Our sun is 5 billion years old, so it’s much older. Let’s just say our sun it much more mature. And because it’s so much more mature. Its rate of spin is far lower than it used to be when it was younger. Now because of the dynamics of how our sun operate, all of the solar activity that we see is generated out of the internal motion and spinning of the core of the sun that generates enormous magnetic fields that then manifest themselves as flares, prominences, what are called coronal mass ejections. But the higher the speed of rotation, it turns out, the more intense that activity can be. And that’s what we find in very young stars. So in this case, we have a 30 million year old star that has a very, very high spin rate and that’s generating the energy that would produce solar flares this size.

Let’s look at that spin rate. How long does it take for the sun to complete its turn?

Our sun rotates on its axis about once every 30 days.

But that revolution rate is gradually slowing as our sun, as you say, matures?

It is gradually slowing as our sun matures. As I said, we’re 5 billion years old, this other star known as DG CVn. “DG” is the actual designation for the star, CVn refers to its location, constellation Canes Venatici. And so that star is moving at a much, much higher rate of rotation. By the way, the difference is our sun can generate explosions of say the X45 class of solar flare — that’s really, really intense. This star is generating eruptions at X100,000. It is staggeringly powerful.

Good thing it’s 60+ lightyears away.

Fortunately we have a magnetic field and the distance also helps to protect us, though. So we don’t need to run out and buy any sunscreen for this just now.

Lastly Derrick, we’ve come a long ways since Tang quenched the thirst of NASA Gemini astronauts, which I can imagine ISS crew members saying, “Thanks a latte.”

[Laughs] Yes indeed. Even astronauts on board International Space Station are really looking for a good cup of coffee. And we all know about how, shall we say, less than haute cuisine food aboard International Space Station is, of course that extends to the hot beverages. But some of the Italian astronauts on board have commented that they would really like a good cup of coffee. Off to the rescue is the espresso company Lavazza. And Lavazza has gotten together with an Italian engineering firm to create an espresso machine that will work in zero gravity. In fact it works so well that it’s due to be launched on a resupply mission up to International Space Station next April. And at that time, this very specially-designed machine will be able to provide espresso to astronauts working aboard Space Station.

Well congratulations to Lavazza. Too bad Wawa didn’t get the winning bid.

Yes, but they have the contract for the donuts.

  • This undated product image made from a video provided by Lavazza, shows a prototype of Lavazza’s and Argotec’s “ISSpresso” machine. The final version of the coffee machine will be the first real Italian espresso machine on The International Space Station, and will coincide with a six-month mission by Italy’s first Italian female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. (AP Photo/Lavazza)

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