Out of this world shot from Astronaut Christina Koch!

On Wednesday, NASA astronaut & Grand Rapids native Christina Koch tweeted the photo above that perfectly captures Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula with the caption “Waving to the mitten! Greetings to my friends and family in Michigan. The Great Lakes are as stunning from space as they are in person.”

Indeed!! While Ms. Koch calls North Carolina home now, we appreciate her appreciation for the state she was born in. Even more appreciated is the work she’s doing in space & the contributions to science she’ll make as the new champion in the “longest single spaceflight by a woman” category. The Verge explains:

Koch launched to the ISS on March 14th, along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. But rather than stay for six months, as most of NASA’s astronauts do, Koch is now slated to remain on the station through February 2020. That means she’ll spend 328 days, or nearly a full year, in orbit, which is one of the longest consecutive stays in space by any NASA astronaut. She’ll just miss beating Scott Kelly’s record of 340 straight days in orbit, the all-time record for a NASA astronaut. But she’ll beat Whitson’s time of 288 consecutive days in space … She’ll just miss beating Scott Kelly’s record of 340 straight days in orbit, the all-time record for a NASA astronaut. But she’ll beat Whitson’s time of 288 consecutive days in space.

The lengthy stay could be helpful for NASA to better understand how long-duration spaceflight affects the human body. While Kelly was in space for his year-long mission, he gave samples of his own blood and did other health analyses so that NASA could see how his body changed while in orbit. The space agency then compared Kelly’s health data to that of his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth throughout the full year. The experiment revealed a few surprising ways that space messes with the body, like damaging DNA and affecting cognition. NASA noted that Koch’s flight will also add to this growing area of research.

Read on for more at The Verge including plans for NASA’s first all-female space walk & DEFINITELY check out NASA’s photo gallery for Ms. Koch at work (wowzas) and/or all the photos from Expedition 59.

Wildfire in the Sky

Sleeping Bear Bay Northern Lights, photo by Kenneth Snyder

Here’s a feature via Leelanau.com

A Conflagration of Storms from his online book The 23rd Cycle, Dr. Sten Odenwald tells of the evening of March 13, 1989 when a massive wave of solar energy struck our atmosphere, creating one of the most impressive northern lights displays of the modern era.

Alaskan and Scandinavian observers were treated to a spectacular auroral display that night. Intense colors from the rare Great Aurora painted the skies around the world in vivid shapes that moved like legendary dragons. Ghostly celestial armies battled from sunset to midnight. Newspapers that reported this event considered the aurora, itself, to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle. Some even worried that a nuclear first-strike might be in progress.

Luke Pontin, a charter boat operator in the Florida Keys, described the colors in reddish hues as they reflected from the warm Caribbean waters. In Salt Lake City, Raymond Niesporek nearly lost his fish while starring transfixed at the northern display. He had no idea what it was until he returned home and heard about the rare aurora over Utah from the evening news. Although most of the Midwest was clouded over, in Austin Texas, Meteorologist Rich Knight at KXAN had to deal with hundreds of callers asking about what they were seeing. The first thing on many people’s mind was the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS29) which had been launched on March 13 at 9:57 AM. Had it exploded? Was it coming apart and raining down over the Earth? Millions marveled at the beautiful celestial spectacle, and solar physicists delighted in the new data it brought to them, but many more were not so happy about it.

Silently, the storm had impacted the magnetic field of the Earth and caused a powerful jet stream of current to flow 1000 miles above the ground. Like a drunken serpent, its coils gyrated and swooped downwards in latitude, deep into North America. As midnight came and went, invisible electromagnetic forces were staging their own pitched battle in a vast arena bounded by the sky above and the rocky subterranean reaches of the Earth. A river of charged particles and electrons in the ionosphere flowed from west to east, inducing powerful electrical currents in the ground that surged into many natural nooks and crannies. There, beneath the surface, natural rock resistance murdered them quietly in the night. Nature has its own effective defenses for these currents, but human technology was not so fortunate on this particular night. The currents eventually found harbor in the electrical systems of Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Read on for much more about how our electrical grid can be brought to its knees by the power behind the beauty of the northern lights and get much more in the 23rd Cycle.

Kenneth took this photo back in July of 2012. See more great pics in his Sleeping Bear Dunes album & also check out many more northern lights photos in the Leelanau.com group on Flickr!

The Colors of Cold

Green Blue Ice, photo by Charles Bonham

Apparently Charles is my go-to photographer for ice colors as his picture was used for my post about what makes ice blue or green a couple years ago on Michigan in Pictures. Then as now, I went to The Causes of Color to answer the question: What causes the blue color that sometimes appears in snow and ice?

As with water, this color is caused by the absorption of both red and yellow light (leaving light at the blue end of the visible light spectrum). The absorption spectrum of ice is similar to that of water, except that hydrogen bonding causes all peaks to shift to lower energy – making the color greener. This effect is augmented by scattering within snow, which causes the light to travel an indirect path, providing more opportunity for absorption. From the surface, snow and ice present a uniformly white face. This is because almost all of the visible light striking the snow or ice surface is reflected back, without any preference for a single color within the visible spectrum.

The situation is different for light that is not reflected, but penetrates or is transmitted into the snow. As this light travels into the snow or ice, the ice grains scatter a large amount of light. If the light is to travel over any distance it must survive many such scattering events. In other words, it must keep scattering and not be absorbed. We usually see the light coming back from the near surface layers (less than 1 cm) after it has been scattered or bounced off other snow grains only a few times, and it still appears white.

In simplest of terms, think of the ice or snow layer as a filter. If it is only a centimeter thick, all the light makes it through; if it is a meter thick, mostly blue light makes it through. This is similar to the way coffee often appears light when poured, but much darker when it is in a cup.

Click through for lots more about light & color!

Charles took this photo last week on Sand Point near Munising. Check it out bigger and head over to his Flickr page for a bunch more great shots of winter in the Upper Peninsula!

More winter wallpaper and more amazing ice on Michigan in Pictures.

Walking on the Moon: The Apollo Capsule in Grand Rapids

Now That Was Just Weird by Daniel E Johnson

July 20th is 49th anniversary of our first steps on the moon. The Mix 95.7 Grand Rapids tells the story of the Apollo capsule in front of the Grand Rapids Public Museum:

It turns out that the capsule is an actual Apollo Capsule, but it wasn’t a capsule that sat atop an Apollo Rocket. The capsule was made for training astronauts. But don’t let that news get you down, the capsule still has quite the history to it!

This type of capsule is known as a “Boilerplate” … built, along with dozens of other capsules, in the 1960s to test various systems on the Apollo Rockets. 

BP-1227 was lost at sea in early 1970 during a routine training drill to recover the Apollo boilerplate capsule by UK-based naval units. Later that same year, the capsule that was lost was miraculously recovered by a Russian “fishing vessel.” Many believe that the fishing vessel was actually a spy boat that was tracking the capsule as part of an intelligence operation.

The capsule was taken back to Russia and in late 1970 the Russians invited the Americans to recover their capsule. On September 8th, 1970 the US Navy Icebreaker, Southwind, made a stop in Murmansk to recover BP-1227. This was the first visit to a Soviet port by a US military vessel since World War II.

After the capsule was returned, the Smithsonian Institution spent the next several years restoring BP-1227 before it was eventually given on loan to the City of Grand Rapids in 1976. The boilerplate capsule was dedicated to the people of Grand Rapids on December 31, 1976. Students from local high schools filled BP-1227 with everyday items from their lives to form a time capsule. The time capsule was sealed on the last day of our nation’s Bicentennial year and it is to be opened on July 4th, 2076, as our nation celebrates its Tricentennial.

Read on for more. About the photo, Daniel wrote: We had a huge, odd cloud float over Grand Rapids today. Wednesday October 1st, 2008. HDR from one exposure shot in raw and split out three times , re-compiled in Photomatix.

See more in his HDR gallery.

Watching the August 21st solar eclipse in Michigan

The solar eclipse will be visible in Michigan on Monday, Aug 21, 2017 so in the interests of maximal eclipse enjoyment, I’m publishing this special Sunday Michigan in Pictures!

Solar Eclipse May 21st 2012, photo by John Kennedy

The brighter stars and the planets come out. Animals change their behavior. Birds and squirrels nest. Cows return to the barn. Crickets chirp. There is a noticeable drop in both light level and air temperature. It is an eerie feeling. Totality can last for no more than about seven and a half minutes but is usually less than three minutes long.
-National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tomorrow is the day for the total eclipse, although in Michigan we will see only 70-80% of the sun eclipsed by the moon (less as you move northward) it’s still a rare opportunity. Here’s times for a range of Michigan locations:

NASA’s Eclipse 2017 website is definitely the place to go for all of your eclipse watching & info needs. In addition to the NASA Goddard Instagram feed and an Eclipse 2017 Flickr group where you can share photos from the eclipse with people from all over, there’s…

View the photo background bigtacular and see more in John’s Scenery slideshow.

The Pink Sands of Sand Point

Pink Sand at Sand Point, photo courtesy Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore shared this photo yesterday saying:

Is this sand pink? Yes it Is! The pink sand on the beach can be found on the northeast corner of Sand Point at the very end of Sand Point Rd. The pink sand is actually garnet that has eroded from one of the sandstone layers of the Pictured Rock cliffs. The garnet then washed up at Sand Point and makes a unique pink sand beach.

View it bigger on Facebook, and visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for much more information on Sand Point and other amazing places in one of Michigan’s most amazing parks.

PS: Better follow PicturedRocksNL on Facebook too if you want to know about things like being able to watch a sunset from a lighthouse.

The future of Great Lakes is slipping through our hands…

Silver Carp in hand, photo by Dan O’Keefe, Michigan Sea Grant

The Herald-Palladium reports that an Asian carp has been found just 9 miles from Lake Michigan:

…the news is a reminder that the Trump administration needs to take the problem seriously, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said Friday. The St. Joseph Republican on Friday called on the president to release a bottled-up blueprint for tackling the problem.
“The time to act is now. I am calling on the Trump administration to immediately release the Brandon Road Study so that we can have a full grasp of our options to stop this destructive force,” he stated in a news release. “Asian Carp have the potential to decimate the Great Lakes we all love and depend on.

“It is absolutely imperative we step up our efforts to further protect our lakes. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle here in the House and the Senate to take action to stop Asian Carp from entering our waterways.”

Earlier this week, Upton signed on as a co-sponsor of the Stop Asian Carp Now Act. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would compel the Trump administration to release the Brandon Road Study within seven days of the bill’s enactment. The Brandon Road study will provide important guidance on how best to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. The entire Michigan Congressional Delegation supports of this legislation.

The live Asian carp has been discovered in a Chicago waterway – well beyond an electric barrier network designed to prevent the invasive fish that have infested the Mississippi River system from reaching the Great Lakes, officials said Friday.

I would encourage you to read on for more, and you can also see the whole text of the Stop Asian Carp Act (HR 892). I would note that this bill was originally introduced in 2011, so maybe make a couple of calls to your representatives.

View the photo background big and see more in the Michigan Sea Grant’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) slideshow.