Chasing Triton’s Shadow – Neptune’s Moon Will Cast Shadow on Earth

SOFIA can travel where the action is

A few weeks back I travelled with a NASA sponsored team to Idaho to launch high altitude balloons during the recent total eclipse. We sent up various cameras, data recorders and more (even an Idaho potato) to record data and media at high altitude during totality (being up above any possible weather or smoke is an added bonus). We travelled to Idaho from Reno and Las Vegas because that was where totality would occur. We only would have experienced a partial eclipse if we’d stayed home and would have missed out on important data you can only record during totality. Since then we have shared almost all the data and media we recorded and will continue to do so.

Partly because of that experience (and other NASA projects I’ve been allowed to be part of), my experience with the RECON project and because my job requires me to have a social media presence and share resources and experiences via those connections, NASA recruited me to take a flight on SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy). My flight is scheduled for September 25th – here’s the observation plan for that night. Needless to say I’m thrilled and honored to have this opportunity!

SOFIA over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I’ve been told we will takeoff about 7:00 PM and not land until 5:00 AM the next morning, so 10 hours in air.

SOFIA’s infrared telescope weighs in at 19 tons (38,000 pounds) and was built in Germany.

SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP. Note the large door in it’s side that when open exposes a 2.5 meter (100 inch) wide reflecting infrared telescope to the sky.

So why put a telescope in a 747 and fly all night recording data? Seems expensive for something you can do on the ground from much larger telescopes.

SOFIA generally flies between 12,000 and 13,000 meters (39,000 and 43,000 feet), and that is important. It’s important because at those altitudes you are above most of the Earth’s atmosphere and humidity. The “Twinkling” of the stars in the sky experienced from the ground is caused by the starlight traveling through the atmosphere’s humidity and variations in temperature. You are also above clouds, most air pollution and other factors (like bad weather) that limit grounded telescopes from obtaining a clear view (also why the Hubble space telescope gets such awesome observations even though it is much smaller that many ground based telescopes on Earth).

A huge advantage SOFIA has over ground based telescopes is that it can go where the action is  – like when it travelled to New Zealand to capture Pluto’s occultation of a star

 

 

 

ANNNND it will travel to the US east coast on October 5th to Chase Triton’s Shadow over the Atlantic Ocean.

From SOFIA’s media outlet: “As Neptune’s moon Triton passes in front of a distant star, it will cast a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. The team of researchers will carefully map the path of that shadow and then fly into it to study Triton’s atmosphere, directly, for the first time in 15 years. SOFIA will takeoff from Florida to catch the shadow that will fall over the Atlantic Ocean. The shadow is moving; the plane is moving; and the predicted path may change in flight, making catching the shadow very challenging. Researchers are trying to determine if Triton’s atmosphere is expanding or collapsing and if haze last seen by the Voyager mission is still present.” triton-final[1][1][1] (link to flyer)

I won’t be on the flight chasing Triton’s shadow (it happens over a week later than mine), but that gives me the opportunity to pass on what I learn about SOFIA in preparation for the October 5th flight. I will be presenting about Chasing Triton’s Shadow and SOFIA locally in Reno and I’m available to visit local schools and even video-conference in pretty much anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be adding more posts about SOFIA soon and you can follow me on Twitter @bcrosby. I’ll be uploading photos to FLICKR as well, I’ll post the link when I post photos.

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

 

 

Photos, Video and DATA from the Eclipse Balloon Project

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe

I’ve been back for awhile from our Eclipse Balloon Project launches. We’re still processing data we recorded from cameras and data loggers from 3 HAB balloon launches outside of Twin Falls, Idaho, (really from Camas, Idaho), but wanted to share some of the incredible visuals. Click on any photo to see enlarged.

This is the shadow of the Moon from about 23,000 meters (75,000 feet)

Video of the shadow moving across the Earth’s surface :

More video – Click Here

More photos from Dr. LaCombe:

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Peekaboo

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Full Disk

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Prominences

 

 

 

 

 

The track of our flight. Starts at the top near Camas, Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prediction was very accurate – this is actually 10 predictions on one screenshot – yellow dots are predicted burst and blue predicted landing spot:

ASTRA flight prediction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did send up a small solar panel attached to a voltage data logger. We usually do this to record data on what happens to the voltage as the panel gets higher and much colder. But this is interesting for obvious reasons:

 

Note the voltage goes up as the altitude rises over time … then “something happens” that causes the voltage to drop to almost zero.

This balloon came down within sight of a temporary command center of sheriffs and other emergency personnel that had been set-up to help with the crowds and any issues that may have arisen. You’ll note that at the end of the data it seems to have gotten dark again. The sheriff investigated what had landed  nearby and picked up our payload and placed it in their command vehicle until we showed up. Once we had described it they briefly handcuffed Dr. Wang and I for endangering the public … then had a good laugh and took the handcuffs off.

Dr. Eric Wang and I handcuffed with our payloads in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing too surprising about our temperature readings – at 28,000 meters (92,000 feet) it was about -42C :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have other data as well I might post later.

We successfully launched 3 balloons – one got to over 110,000 feet, but we also had 2 balloons pop on the ground during and just after inflation – one seemed defective, the other probably got stressed in the relatively high winds at the launch site and popped just as we were connecting payloads. Fortunately we had enough gas to fill 2 more balloons.

Learning is messy!!

Eclipse Ballooning Project

3 balloons capturing images, data and awesomeness!

One of the awesome parts of my job is that I get to be part of some wondrous projects. Being part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project is one of those. 

In case you haven’t heard there will be a solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. It will be a total eclipse for some parts of the country – the gray line across the country below is where you’ll want to be to see the total eclipse:

 

 

 

 

 

If you are lucky enough to be on that line of totality and you have a cloudless sky, the sky will go dark, stars will come out and the corona of the Sun will be visible. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse of varying degrees based on location.

I’m part of Nevada’s NASA Space Grant and the folks that I’ll accompany (the real experts) are from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Washoe County School District and Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program.

My team’s plan at this point is to launch about 3 HAB balloons from eastern Idaho that should each reach altitudes of around 30,000 meters (100,000 feet). One will carry a payload that will stream live video … if we can get it working … during a test flight it only worked intermittently and then when a parachute failed it hit the ground hard and now is being pieced back together (messy learning?). The others will carry temperature, air pressure, humidity data loggers along with GoPro cameras and a 360 degree camera. All the balloons carry communication gear so we can follow, find and retrieve them. I’ll post links to videos, photos and data after the launch.

We may live stream the launch, probably on Periscope if we have enough hands and solid internet. I’ll tweet that out if it looks like it will happen. @bcrosby

We do have back-up locations in mind in Wyoming and Oregon if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Learning is messy!!

2017 Math & Science Institute – for teachers

In New Orleans ... and it's FREE!

Earlier this year I agreed to lead two grant funded STEM professional development courses for teachers sponsored by Metairie Park Country Day School, June 7th, 8th and 9th, 2017. The courses will be held at Tulane University in New Orleans as part of the 2017 Math & Science Institute. AND NOTE THIS – You just have to get there – tuition is FREE! (note the flyer to the right for more information). Note: private school teachers have to pay $149 per course.

Each course is about 6 hours long spread over the 3 days (2 hours per day, per course). Here’s a page with all the course descriptions.

I’ll be teaching 2 courses: “Powerful, Connected, Collaborative and Global STEM Learning” and “STEM: Hands-on, Minds-on, Creativity-on”

From the online course description:

STEM: Hands-On, Minds-On, Creativity-On is a six-hour course designed to help teachers integrate powerful STEM learning with a focus on engaging, hands-on engineering lessons. Participants will not only experience the lessons firsthand, but also how to collect and analyze the rich data the lessons produce. Strong connections to science, language arts, technology, art, the Next Generation Science Standards and three dimensional learning will be included. Most lesson activities utilize easily obtained materials.

Powerful, Connected, Collaborative, Global, STEM Learning is a six-hour course designed to allow you to see how the power of STEM inquiry projects are leveraged when students are connected and collaborate globally.

There are several Common Core State Standards that require students to utilize technology to collaborate starting in elementary school. This course will provide hands-on engineering lessons and phenomena – coupled with free or cheap collaborative online tools that promote sharing and analyzing data, explanations, global awareness and much more. Participants and their students will learn to collaborate and share through powerful writing, oral language, photography, math, art and other media. Online safety and ethics will be featured.

Check out the 2017 Math & Science Institute home page to see all the courses being offered.

Hope to see you there!

Learning is messy!

WyTECC Keynote

STEM Is A Culture, Not a Time of Day or Day of the Week

So much going on right now so my plans to blog more often have taken another hit. One of the things going on that I’m really looking forward to is my participation in the Wyoming Technology Engagement Curriculum Connection (WyTECC) in Rock Springs, Wyoming in early May. May 6th to be exact.

 

I’ll be providing the keynote and 2 to 3 breakout sessions. They asked for a “STEM-ish” theme so I’m redesigning my “STEM Is A Culture, Not a Time of Day or Day of the Week” presentation and plan to build in more STEM experiences. My sessions will focus on STEM inquiry and the important parts that get left out too often because the activity is engaging, the students get excited, time runs short and we skip the parts that really make STEM learning powerful.

Hope to see you there!

Learning is messy!

Mini Drone Classroom Kit Example

Designed for teacher classroom checkout

In case it helped others think about how to incorporate mini drones at their school I thought I’d share this design. Not presenting this as an ultimate solution, just as an example to build on. Please share links to designs you might have in the comments. As an aside I want to stress: I don’t train teachers that students should never fly drones via a joystick … but I am pretty frank that piloting via joystick is more just play – and that is not a bad thing – it has its place. Having students use apps like Tynker where they have to learn programing skills and problem solve to navigate their drone is really the point.

One awesome unintended consequence of receiving a grant is that sometimes there is “money leftover” – usually because of a cost savings or other circumstance. I just came into some “leftover” funds from 2 grants we have going. Some of that money I spent to get more Parrot Rolling Spider Minidrones. When I wrote the NSUAVCSI grant these drones were $99.99 each, the bid we negotiated got the price down to $62 (we bought 65 of them at once) and now the price is down to $49. Parrot has discontinued this model apparently, and the new models don’t have the wheels and are more than double the $$$ that I can get The Rolling Spiders for … so 62 new ones just arrived.IMG_7229

 

Now that I have some experience with checking out “kits” of drones for teachers to use in their classrooms, I re-designed the kits to make them easier for teachers and students to utilize.

 

 

The plastic tubs we have fit about 8 mini drones each, but since many class sizes here can be 30 students or more, each kit consists of 2 tubs (16 drones total) figuring 2 students per drone.IMG_7227 BTW – 3 students per drone works too, but I like to provide as much flexibility as possible.

As with almost anything that runs on batteries, you can never have too many. So each kit has 4 battery chargers that each charge 4 batteries at a time – as well as 16 extra batteries. The USB cable that comes with each mini drone also fits the charger (which didn’t come with a cable). Removing batteries from the drones with just your fingers to recharge them in a charger is a bit of a struggle and tends to  foster anxiety that something is going to break – so each kit also contains popsicle sticks that work well to gently pry the batteries from their confines.

IMG_7228

A power strip with both regular  3-prong sockets and USB ports rounds out the kit for now.  One thing that is missing are iPads to program and run the drones. I do have 20 on the way, but that is short of what is needed. A fair number of local schools have iPads, but they tend to be older, non-Bluetooth iPads that won’t work with the mini drones. 20 iPads was as far as I could squeeze the “leftover money”.

Hope that helps anyone looking into adding a programming component to your curriculum that also teaches students the care and feeding of aerial robots!

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

 

NSUAVCSI Classroom Re-Visit

Dilworth STEM Academy

I’ve written about Mike Ismari’s class before (here and here). He received a grant last summer to buy several models of drones and flight simulators to use with students.
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ABOVE: Mike’s drones finally arrived and are stored on shelves his students are building.

Since he had little to no experience with drones he signed up for our institute. His plan was to learn the safety, ethics, programming and operation of UAV’s and then when his drones arrived he’d be ready to go. But, one thing after another delayed his purchase, so he kept checking out NSUAVCSI drones … finally his have arrived along with iPads to operate them. He stopped by my office yesterday to return some Phantom 3’s he’d checked out and told me I had to come by again and check out what his students were up to.

10 students were flying Parrot Air Cargo Minidrones using Tynker to program them. Mike rotates his students through these different activities. Students were paired up – a student that had experience programming the drones with an inexperienced student. The experienced student talked and prodded the new student through the steps to program the drone “around the mountain” -portrayed by a chair on a table. The goal is to take off, fly around the mountain making specific maneuvers meant to keep a front pointing camera (which these don’t have – only down-looking) pointed at the mountain and eventually land back on the spot where it launched. I shot some video of 2 students doing just that.

In this first video (less than a minute long) they are troubleshooting their most recent flight: IMG_7219

Now they run the program with the changes they just made (about 20 seconds)
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Some students were learning and practicing computer programming on the NCLab program our grant provided:IMG_7218

Others were constructing vehicles: DSCF0473

Others were practicing with RealFlight flight simulators (not pictured).

Great “messy” things happening! More photos and videos on the link below:

Flickr Album from the visit

Learning is messy!

Another Teacher Checks in on Progress with the NSUAVCSI

Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute

DSCF0003[1] Sarah Richardson, a high school science teacher at Virginia City High School in Nevada, and also a participant in our NSUAVCSI program checked in with me while I happen to be writing my last post. Virginia City, Nevada is in the Storey County School District, a very rural school district that also happens to be home to the new Tesla Gigafactory and the largest data center in the world the Switch Supernap. And yes, it’s the same Virginia City made famous by the TV show Bonanza.

I delivered Parrot, Phantom 3 and OpenROV drones, 10 Chromebooks, and other materials the grant provided, to Sarah in mid January which was later than planned because of the historic rain and snow we’ve had. Sarah took it from there. Today she emailed me this update on what she and her students have been up to:

 I am having the students (well I am trying to get the students) to make videos about what they have been doing. We have come up with a few road blocks with the drones that they have problem solved. We could not get the drones to pair with the controllers. I told them to figure out what to do, and they did it. I was excited that they actually did it! Once paired they played with the flight simulator. I am hoping that once the weather clears up, we will get them piloting outside!

After they get comfortable with the controls, they are figuring out how to code a course that will take a panoramic picture of the school. Our final project… hopefully, will be to create a topographical map of the school grounds. Then I have grand ideas of using that map to design a sustainable slope in the front of the school. As we have one side of the front of the school that is covered in rocks that flooded the walkway and the other side is full of weeds. I am hoping to have them design a sustainable slope or create a terrace garden of sorts with a native plant garden. That is my vision, but the second part might take a while to do.

As far as the ROVs, (Editor’s note from Brian – she is referring to – OpenROV 2.8 Underwater robots) I have a small group still coming in and working on building their own. We just received the thruster packs from SeaPerch… it took about three weeks to get them from the time I ordered them. So, I think by next week we will have a few homemade ROVs. Then we will focus on building the controllers.

Can’t wait to hear what others in the program have been up to when we meet up for our first follow-up class.

Learning is messy!

Great Video About a Teacher in our STEM Institute

Teachers and students doing STEM

You can tell from the bulk of my most recent posts that a big part of my job right now is about facilitating our STEM institute. I actually have another post about telescopes waiting in the wings for after I get a couple of questions answered. This video was produced by the Washoe County School District to celebrate Mike Ismari’s STEM class at Dilworth Middle School STEM Academy. Mike signed up for our STEM institute right away last year because he had received a grant to buy several models of drones (you mostly see them in the video, but a few he checked out from the institute make an appearance as well). Mike wanted to learn about the ethics and safety of utilizing drones in the classroom as well as the pedagogy to consider. Our institute is still ongoing and will be pretty much right up to the end of the school year. I think you’ll enjoy the video … it’s does a great job of showcasing Mike and more importantly his students and the learning they are part of. Enjoy!!

Learning is messy!

 

NSUAVCSI Classroom Visit SMS

Although classroom visits are not actually required by the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI) “College and Career Ready” grant I wrote last summer, I believe visits and mentoring are a vital pieces of quality professional development. I’ve done about 4 visits so far and plan to do many more. Back in December (Yes I’m late getting this posted – Urgh!) I visited Carrie Mieras’s class at Sparks Middle School. They were experiencing using the Parrot Spider Minidrones for the first time although they had used another type of drone that only allows controlling via a joystick controller, so this would be their first attempt at writing a program to fly.

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They worked in pairs and “3’s” to assemble the wheels that allow these drones to roll on the ground ceiling or walls, but also perform as blade guards. While one partner was assembling, the other was setting up either Tickle or Tynker on their iPads or iPhone to write their block program that would tell the drone what to do.

Block programming is a great first step to learn programming because it can be used successfully by even young children. Even though students are not writing actual lines of code, the process of block programming includes many of the thinking and problem solving skills required to program in languages like Python.

It was interesting to watch students struggle some to write their first program, but also to identify which of the 8 or 9 Parrots that showed up on their iPads was theirs. Several times students would choose the wrong one and when they started their program someone else’s Parrot would spring to life and begin it’s journey. That led to a quick lesson on how to tell which is which and then they were off!

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You can see the block program on this student’s iPhone (he was using Tickle, (Tynker doesn’t work on iPhones) to tell his Parrot Spider Minidrone what to do.

 

 

 

By the time everyone had had a chance to get things off the ground a bit the period was over (“Whaaaaat!!??”) and it was time to put stuff away.

It was definitely a bit of a “messy” experience for the students, so I loved it. They weren’t taught everything … they had to figure things out on their own, but they were now ready to be more productive the next day!

Learning is messy!