On January 18, 2019 JAXA ( Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency ) successfully launched a small Epsilon-4 rocket at the Uchinoura Space Center. JAXA proudly declared it one of 7 planned micro-satellite launches deployed to demonstrate innovative technology. Which innovative technology you ask? GPS, solar radiation, weather? Nope! Ponder entertainment technology, embellishing firework extravaganzas with artificial meteor showers.
It seems Lena Okajima, president of Astro Live Experiences was smitten by an encounter with the Leonid meteor shower 20 years ago. Her vision – pack a satellite with hundreds of pellets, launch into Earth orbit, program release of pellets to simulate a meteor shower. Today AstroLive is poised to facilitate Okajima’s dream of meteors at your service. Pardon my ignorance for asking why JAXA considers artificial meteor showers valid aerospace exploration. Despite questionable mingling of entertainment and science, ALE has a vision and JAXA is on board.
As I write, an ALE satellite orbits 500 kilometers above Earth. Engineers at ALE say 500 Km is too high for controlled release of artificial meteors. As such ALE’s satellite will gradually decrease orbit over the year to a distance of 400 kilometers. The first artificial meteor shower is slated for sometime in 2020 over Hiroshima, Japan. Pressure driven gas tanks will shoot out 20-30 pellets per entertainment event, each pellet glowing brightly as it burns up in the atmosphere. ALE’s goal is to dominate night skies with meteor showers on demand. “We want to use the sky as canvas and create very beautiful things” said Okajima.
Few snippets of space news upset me as much as ALE’s determination to turn meteor showers into on demand entertainment. Twenty years ago Lena Okajima encountered Leonid and squealed look at the pretty lights. Rather than promote dark sky sanctuaries, cosmic education or productive research, she decides to cheapen cosmic wonder with artificial slight of hand.
Take a moment to ponder timelapse perfection by Lucie Debelkova – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClDKSZTXcuOz4lC_Zv183Ng Lucie travelled along ancient trade routes from the Atlas mountains, across the Sahara to Marrakech during darkest Moon phases to capture night skies without light pollution. Dark skies reveal the Milky Way of our ancestors – mesmerizing, irrefutable and bristling with thought provoking imagination.
Invitation to the first full moon of 2019 arrives with the promise of cosmic splendor. January 20 marks the first full moon, first total lunar eclipse and first of three consecutive full supermoons ( lunar orbit coinciding with perigee, the closest point of orbit to Earth ). Full, total and super define the show, blood is an inaccurate rumour. Participants sold Blood Moon tickets needn’t despair, absence of Biblical prophecy won’t detract from the spectacle. Missing the show means waiting until May 26, 2021 for another.
There was a time when total lunar eclipse viewable from North and South America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern and western Africa and the Arctic was enough to attract participants. Today media dumbs us down with banners of blood moon click bait. In 2013 fundamentalist Christian pastor John Hagee published his book “Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change”. Four blood moons refers to a tetrad – four consecutive total lunar eclipses with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each separated from the other by six full moons. The last astronomical tetrad occurred during 2014/2015. End-timers dusted off the Book of Joel, equating “the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” with ominous end times prophecy. Never mind that a sun turning to darkness refers to solar eclipse, or science of atmospheric conditions make an early rising moon appear red. Hagee’s book spent weeks on NY Times best seller list, sold millions of copies and solidified full moons as blood. Blood Moons are fundamentalist poppycock, total supermoon lunar eclipses are cosmic gems. Shame on Christian fundamentalists for trying to steal cosmic wonder. Leave the moon alone.
Visit https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/ to determine optimal viewing at your location. Watch live at https://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2019/01/15/21-jan-2019-supermoon-total-eclipse-live-events-online/ or throw caution to the wind by going outside.
In a few minutes space history will induct New Years Day 2019 into the cosmic hall of fame. At 12:33 am EST on January 1, 2019 NASA’s New Horizons probe is tasked with making the farthest close approach fly-by of a space object in human history. Ultima Thule, a tiny Kuiper Belt object no more than 30 kilometers wide is about to be buzzed by the little mission that could. Linked below, a look no more definitive guide to NASA news conferences, live fly-by viewing and mission status.
Moments ago astrophysicist, New Horizons science collaborator and Queen guitarist Brian May premiered his first solo song in twenty years – New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix), a tribute to twelve years of New Horizons and her brush with Ultima Thule.
Happy New Year.
A billion miles beyond Pluto, deep within mysteries of the Kuiper Belt resides object 2014 MU69 -otherwise known as Ultima Thule. On New Years Day, January 1, 2019, NASA will make space history when New Horizons buzzes past Ultima Thule, solidifying the farthest planetary flyby in human history.
On January 1st, 2019, shortly after the switch into the new year, New Horizons will make its close pass of Ultima Thule. Here’s what we’re poised to learn.NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker
Ultima Thule is the bright yellow spot in the middle. Image courtesy John Hopkins.
Passing at 2,200 miles, science hopes New Horizons can explain anomalous light reflected from Ultima Thule. Is Ultima Thule two orbiting objects, one elongated object, a miniscule planet orbited by many tiny light reflecting moons?
We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, say Ultima Thule out loud – science fiction couldn’t script a better name for a mysterious cosmic object.