Of rockets & plovers

Piping Plovers by JamesEyeViewPhotography

Piping Plovers by JamesEyeViewPhotography

“Musk is a very smart man. But he either was ignorant of the ecology out there or he felt his project was so much more important that it really didn’t matter what he did to the area.”
-Texas environmentalist Jim Chapman.

This article about the impact of Elon Musk’s Space X launchport on its neighbors spiked my blood pressure this morning. It’s bad enough hearing the dashed retirement dreams of Celia Johnson, a former Michigan social worker. The realization that it also impacts piping plovers, a beloved & endangered seasonal resident of the Great Lakes State, turned my anger up to 11:

The company’s presence, while welcomed by local politicians lured by the promise of taxable income and employment opportunities, has become a nightmare for many residents and wildlife conservationists attempting to protect the sensitive habitat surrounding the development.

Since SpaceX started construction in late 2015 and testing rockets in 2019, explosions have showered debris across previously unspoiled tidal flats and blown out residents’ windows, including Johnson’s. Rare species of birds like the piping plover and mammals have dwindled, and intense periods of construction and testing have closed off public access to the beach for more days than were authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has federal oversight of the development. The company has also installed bright floodlights to illuminate the road and construction site.

…“This is a very important area for migratory birds as it’s a huge stopover area,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who submitted comments to the FAA questioning the legality of the SpaceX expansion. “Even a power plant would be concerning. But here you have giant rockets powered by methane that tend to explode, causing debris and noise impact, and we want to make sure the impacts are mitigated.”

Amid the constant construction noise, truck traffic, enormous floodlights over the site and debris from explosions, some species have already dwindled at an alarming rate, said David Newstead, director of the Coastal Bird Program for the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, a nonprofit group that works to protect the area’s bays and estuaries.

Newstead conducted a study of the local population of piping plovers, sparrow-sized shorebirds that nest and feed in coastal sand and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. He found that the population halved from 2018 to 2021, correlating closely with the intensity of SpaceX operations in the area.

Read more at NBC News & here’s hoping the tiny piping plover can weather the storm. Tou can read more about them in this Leelanau.com piping plover article featuring another photo from James!

James took this photo back in the summer of 2018 in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the primary nesting areas for piping plovers. See more in his Summer gallery & for sure view and purchase his work including 2022 calendars on his website.

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Perseverance: New Mars Rover Lands Today

Milky Way + Mars viewed from Garden Peninsula MI by Daniel Sandin

Milky Way + Mars viewed from Garden Peninsula MI by Daniel Sandin

NASA’s Perseverance Rover will land on the surface of Mars today, Feb. 18, 2021 in a search for ancient life that will test the next generation of exploration tools:

Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion, and our nation’s capability, to take on and overcome challenges. It will collect carefully selected and documented rock and sediment samples for future return to Earth, search for signs of ancient microbial life, characterize the planet’s geology and climate, and pave the way for human exploration beyond the Moon.

Perseverance is also ferrying several cutting-edge technologies to the surface of Mars – including a helicopter named Ingenuity, the first aircraft to attempt powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The landing takes place just before 4 PM EST & you can watch online at NASA.

Daniel took this photo back of Mars in July of 2018 on the UP’s Garden Peninsula. See more great night photography on his Flickr & for sure check out his website – he looks like a very interesting guy!

Here’s NASA’s YouTube stream which goes live around 2 PM today.

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Michigan Lights Up the New Year!

Michigan Lights up the New Year by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) UW-Madison

Michigan Lights Up the New Year by CIMSS UW-Madison

This satellite photo from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin shows:

…two of the first 2021 images from the Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 satellites when they flew over the U.S. overnight to acquire stunning VIIRS nighttime imagery with light from recently full moon (98% illumination). City lights shimmer in the wintry landscape while a large storm swirls in the Mississippi Valley. Including a zoom into the Great Lakes Region because there’s no place like home!

Indeed!! Head over to their Facebook page for more & congratulations for being a part of the most welcoming state from space on the planet!! ;) 

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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.

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.

#TBT: Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1

Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1

Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1, photo by NASA

“You’ll be flying along some nights with a full moon. You’re up at 45,000 feet. Up there you can see it like you can’t see it down here. It’s just the big, bright, clear moon. You look up there and just say to yourself: I’ve got to get up there. I’ve just got to get one of those flights.”
-Roger Chaffee (The New York Times, January 29, 1967, p. 48.)

Thanks to longtime Michigan in Pictures contributor Rudy Malmquist for the find on this. By total coincidence, Rudy will be back tomorrow with a photo!!

The National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian shared this photo yesterday, saying:

Remembering the crew of Apollo 1. On January 27, 1967, astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee perished in a fire during a pre-launch test for what was to be the first crewed Apollo mission.

Rudy pointed out that Chaffee was from Grand Rapids, and you can read a very detailed biography on Roger B. Chaffee from NASA’s History Office.  Here’s a few choice bits about his early life … and here’s hoping that Michigan in Pictures readers can do their best to instill a love of service, science and following ones dreams in the young folk in their lives:

“On my honor, I will do my best…” are the first eight words of the Scout Oath for the Boy Scouts of America. Individually, the words are short and simple. Collectively, however, they speak volumes and serve to inspire millions of boys to strive for excellence. Lieutenant Commander Roger Bruce Chaffee was a Scout for whom the Oath was more than just mere words. He took the pledge to heart and accepted the challenge to fully live the words of the Oath. Whether he was meticulously hand crafting items from wood or training to be the youngest man ever to fly in space, Chaffee always did his best by putting one hundred percent of himself into the effort.

…Earlier in his career, Don Chaffee had been a barnstorming pilot who flew a Waco 10 biplane. He was a regular sight at fairgrounds and made a bit of extra money on the side by transporting passengers. He also piloted planes for parachute jumpers. Later, Don worked for Army Ordnance in Greenville and in 1942, he was transferred to the Doehler-Jarvis plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he served as Chief Inspector of Army Ordnance.

Don shared his love of flying with his son and at the age of seven, Roger enjoyed his first ride in an airplane when the family went on a short excursion over Lake Michigan. Although it was a relatively brief flight, Roger was absolutely thrilled. To satisfy his continued interested in planes, Don set up a card table in the living room where he and Roger would create model airplanes piece by piece. By the time he was nine, Roger would point to a plane flying overhead and predict, “I’ll be up there flying in one of those someday”.

…By the time Roger was fourteen, he had developed an interest in electronics engineering and tinkered with various radio projects in his spare time. In high school, he received excellent grades and maintained a 92 average. Vocational tests showed that Roger’s strongest abilities were in the area of science. He also scored high mechanically and artistically. Mathematics and science were his favorite subjects, with chemistry being particularly appealing. Once the family switched to a gas heating system, Roger transformed the outdated coal bin area into his own private workshop where he spent countless hours experimenting with his chemistry set. By the time he was a junior in high school, he was leaning toward a career as a nuclear physicist. As a senior, he established a lofty goal for himself: he wanted to someday have his name written in history books. Before the world’s super powers took their first halting steps into space, Roger Chaffee had shared his dream of being the first man on the moon with his closest friends.

Here’s an article about the fire, and if you’re in Grand Rapids, check out the Roger B Chaffee Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Museum.

2014 Meteor Shower Calendar starts tonight with the Quadrantids

meteor and milky way

meteor and milky way, photo by HLHigham

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014 says that:

Although the Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour, the sharp peak of this shower tends to last only a few hours, and doesn’t always come at an opportune time. In other words, you have to be in the right spot on Earth to view this meteor shower in all its splendor. The radiant point is in the part of the sky that used to be considered the constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural Quadrant. You’ll find this radiant near the famous Big Dipper asterism (chart here), in the north-northeastern sky after midnight and highest up before dawn.

Because the radiant is fairly far to the north on the sky’s dome, meteor numbers will be greater in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2014, watch in the wee hours – after midnight and before dawn – on January 3 in North America and January 4 in Asia. Fortunately, the waxing crescent moon sets soon after sunset, providing a dark sky for meteor watching.

Click through for more and a calendar of 2014 meteor showers. The next shower isn’t until the Lyrids on April 22nd so check them out tonight and early AM on the 4th if you can! You can get viewing tips for the Quads from Universe today too!

View Heather’s photo big as the sky and in her Night Sky slideshow.

NASA turns 55

Milky Way - Silos

Milky Way – Silos, photo by eddy.matt

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”
~NASA’s Vision

On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D Eisenhower signed the  National Aeronautics and Space Act that established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration aka NASA. While I don’t think that we’ve seen quite the advances we expected after making it to the moon in just over a decade, NASA has evolved into a science agency that is engaged in an incredible range of operations from theoretical research (warp drive is my current favorite) to monitoring our planet, solar system and the visible universe (measuring Northern Lights and roving Mars) to a permanent presence in space (I watched NASA TV live from the International Space Station this morning) and plans for a manned Mars mission.

Check Matthew’s photo out bigger and see more in his slideshow. This photo is a still from a gorgeous time-lapse on the Leelanau Peninsula that he did last year in July.

More space on Michigan in Pictures!

Capturing Comet PANSTARRS

Comet Pan-Starrs ... 3-17-13

Comet Pan-Starrs … 3-17-13, photo by Ken Scott

EarthSky.org is a fantastic site for all things astronomical, and their post detailing everything you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS has great info on the first of 2013 major comets. The comet was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope in Hawaii and they explain that:

Comet PANSTARRS is still visible through binoculars in the Northern Hemisphere, if you know right where to look. Note where the sun sets in the west. Some 60 to 75 minutes after sundown, seek for the comet about two to three binocular fields to the right, or upper right, of the sunset point on the horizon. Comet PANSTARRS now sets at nightfall or very early evening at mid-northern latitudes. From here on out, the comet will dim a bit day by day, while the waxing moon will brighten daily. So it’s hard to say how much longer Comet PANSTARRS will be readily visible through binoculars. Each day, Comet PANSTARRS goes a few degrees northward (to the right) on the sky’s dome, toward the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen.

…No matter how bright it gets in March, the comet will surely fade as April arrives, as it moves away from the sun and back out into the depths of space. But it will be located far to the north on the sky’s dome and will be circumpolar for northerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. That means it might be visible somewhere in the northern sky throughout the night for northern observers. What’s more, the comet will be near in the sky to another beautiful and fuzzy object in our night sky, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the nearest large spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. If the comet truly is bright then, and if it still has a substantial tail, it’ll be an awesome photo opportunity!

Read on for more and also check out the michpics post on Comet ISON which has the possibility of  being so bright that you can see it in the daytime!

Ken shot this last weekend. You can see it on black, check out the sunset he captured before this and see more great work in his Night Sky slideshow. If you’re looking to purchase this or other shots, definitely head over to KenScottPhotography.com!

More nighttime photography on Michigan in Pictures.

Heavy (Space) Weather: Coronal Mass Ejections and the Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Northern Lights, photo by gkretovic

Michigan in Pictures has a whole lot on the Northern Lights.

The aurora borealis are one of the world’s most rare and wonderful sights and Michigan – especially the Upper Peninsula – is blessed with more than a few nights every year when this elusive phenomenon makes an appearance.

The Library of Congress page What Are the Northern Lights? calls on NASA’s Dr. Sten Odenwald, author of The 23rd Cycle, Learning to Live with a Stormy Star, to provide insight to how northern lights are formed:

The origin of the aurora begins on the surface of the sun when solar activity ejects a cloud of gas. Scientists call this a coronal mass ejection (CME). If one of these reaches earth, taking about 2 to 3 days, it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field. This field is invisible, and if you could see its shape, it would make Earth look like a comet with a long magnetic ‘tail’ stretching a million miles behind Earth in the opposite direction of the sun.

When a coronal mass ejection collides with the magnetic field, it causes complex changes to happen to the magnetic tail region. These changes generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into the Polar Regions. These particles are boosted in energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere, and when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce dazzling auroral light.

We focus on the beauty, but as he explains:

“Aurora are beautiful, but the invisible flows of particles and magnetism that go on at the same time can damage our electrical power grid and satellites operating in space. This is why scientists are so keen to understand the physics of aurora and solar storms, so we can predict when our technologies may be affected.”

Dr. Odenwald’s book is out of print but he has made it available online. There’s some interesting stuff in there, and be sure to check out his Astronomy Cafe site too.

One benefit from the economic & security concerns of predicting space weather is that you can get some great northern light forecasts. My favorite is NOAA’s Space Weather Service. They reported a G1 storm on March 1st – it’s the lowest intensity on the Space Weather Scales but as you can see is still able to produce auroral activity!

Greg took this photo Saturday night just before midnight at Presque Isle in Marquette – check it out on black and in his slideshow. You can see more of Greg’s work on Michigan in Pictures, at michigannaturephotos.com and definitely follow him at Michigan Nature Photos on Facebook.