News From Space: Arkyd Telescope and Shenzhou 10

spacex-icarus-670It seems that every day, the frontiers of space exploration are being pushed. In recent months, two stories occurred close to home (relatively speaking) that have stuck out in my memory. The first had to do with Planetary Resources plan to commission the world’s first crowdfunded telescope. The second came from China, where the new Shenzou 10 space ship launched on its way to dock with the prototype Tiangong-1 space station.

These stories were both groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Arkyd’s plan for a publicly-owned and funded telescope is not only an historic first, its also a major step forward in the creation of a new era of space exploration, one which is far more open and democratic than before. The second story represents a major leap for China as a major power, and their plans to conduct research aboard the Tiangong-1 shows a commitment to opening their space program to the public.

ARKYD-in-SpaceAnd as it happens, there have been recent developments on both fronts. On June 20th, less than a week ago, the Arkyd space telescope passed their goal of $1 million with its Kickstarter campaign. But perhaps to keep the money flowing, the company announced an ambitious aim to add extrasolar planet searching  to the list they can double that goal to $2 million.

And they’ve set some other fundraising milestones just to keep things interesting:

  • $1.3 million: A ground station at an undisclosed “educational partner” that would double the download speed of data from the orbiting observatory.
  • $1.5 million: This goal, just released yesterday, is aimed at the more than 20,000 people who signed up for “space selfies” incentive where uploaded pictures are photographed on the telescope while it is in orbit. For this goal, “beta selfies” will be taken while the telescope is in the integration phase of the build.
  • $1.7 million: The milestone will be announced if Arkyd reaches 15,000 backers. (It has more than 12,000 as of this

With five days remaining and a total of $1,189,359 now raised, they are not likely to break that ceiling. Still, the company’s plan to begin prospecting asteroids for the sake of future mining efforts now seems well within reach. Best of luck to them!

shenzhou10_tiangong1As for China’s Shenzhou 10, in an event that was captured on film, the space module is now docked with the Tiangong-1 space station and made a scenic transit in front of the sun. Astrophotographer Terry Legault had less than half a second to capture these incredible shots, but managed to get not one, but two shots in two consecutive days. Not an easy task to pull off, let alone twice!

If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make out Tiangong-1 station to the right of the sun, located below and to the left of a large cluster of sun spots. This top image is a crop of a full-face view of the Sun, taken with white light filters by Thierry from southern France on June 16, just after noon UTC. The transit duration was just 0.46 seconds, the distance of the spacecraft to observer was 365 km away, and the spacecraft was traveling at 7.4km/s (26,500 km/h or 16,500 mph).

shenzhou10_tiangong3This second imagine was taken the next day, again from the south of France, at 12:34:24 UTC on June 17, 2013. This one, in Hydrogen-alpha shows the Shenzhou-10/Tiangong-1 complex in multiple shots over the 0.46 second transit. Click on the photo to get the full resolution, then zoom in to see multiple shots of station as it made its transit across the face of the sun.

In a previous interview with Universe Today, Thierry explained how he prepares to take images like these:

For transits I have to calculate the place, and considering the width of the visibility path is usually between 5-10 kilometers, but I have to be close to the center of this path, because if I am at the edge, it is just like a solar eclipse where the transit is shorter and shorter. And the edge of visibility line of the transit lasts very short. So the precision of where I have to be is within one kilometer.”

Legault studies maps, and has a radio synchronized watch to know very accurately when the transit event will happen.

My camera has a continuous shuttering for 4 seconds, so I begin the sequence 2 seconds before the calculated time. I don’t look through the camera – I never see the space station when it appears, I am just looking at my watch!

Kudos to the man for once again capturing images of the heavens and sharing them with the world. And exciting times these are, when space exploration is once again booming and the frontiers of tomorrow are increasingly within our reach.

Sources: universetoday.com, (2), legault.perso.sfr.fr

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