Video: An overview of the SETI Institute

The SETI Institute has a clever new logo:

As indicated by the variety of Institute seminar videos that I post here, the Institute is involved in an amazing variety of world class research projects and outreach activities ranging from astrobiology to exoplanet research.

The radio and web podcast program Big Picture Science has become quite popular.

Of course, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is still the primary activity.

The CEO Bill Diamond gives an interesting overview of the Institute and its wide ranging programs and projects:

BTW, Diamond mentions that the Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California welcomes visitors. Check out to see webcam shots of the site:

ATA Webcam 1


Video: A vinyl record playing songs ascends up to NearSpace

A vinyl record spinning on a turntable reaches the stratosphere (but not space): Third Man Records Sends a Vinyl Record Into Space – The New York Times

Watch the flight:

From the video caption:

Third Man Records has officially made history in celebration of their 7th Anniversary by launching the first record played in Space. The launch of the ICARUS CRAFT, a custom “space-proof” turntable attached to a high-altitude balloon, occurred on July 2nd just outside of Marsing, Idaho, spinning Third Man’s THREE MILLIONTH record pressed. The ICARUS CRAFT was designed and engineered by Kevin Carrico, longtime friend and electronics consultant for Third Man Records, and launched with the invaluable assistance of SATINS (Students and Teachers in Near Space.)

The goal of our mission was to send a vinyl record up as high as possible and document it being played there. Near space (our ultimate destination) is a regular destination for NASA (it’s the closest we come to mimicking the atmosphere of Mars, so it is traveled to often for tests), but our mission was made complex by the fact that we weren’t simply flying a stationary object, but a turntable that we wanted to work — and work well! — so the endeavor became more of a professional high altitude flight than one might expect. Because of this, we had several, oft-changing government standards to meet while refining our design, selecting camera angles, and weather proofing our craft in case of inclement weather — all while keeping the weight down and the maintaining enough battery capacity to keep the record spinning in cold air of the Earth’s atmosphere. We needed low winds, a clear sky, and approval from the FAA and the FCC, all which coincided perfectly on July 2nd.

The craft reached a peak altitude of 94, 413 feet at 1:21:20 flight time (roughly 1000/feet/minute) when the balloon burst (a truly beautiful sight) and the descent began. For the entire hour and twenty minutes of ascension, the Icarus turntable faithfully played Carl Sagan’s “A Glorious Dawn” (from “Cosmos” by Symphony of Science composer John Boswell) on repeat, using an impressively sturdy phono cartridge and stylus as well as an onboard flight computer programmed with a few different actions to keep the record playing while it was safe to do so. Once the return to Earth began (with the craft attached to a parachute and falling about 4x faster than it rose), the turntable automatically went into “turbulence mode,” where the record continued to spin, but the tone arm was triggered to lift from the record surface and stay in its locked position, to protect both the needle and the record itself. When Icarus reached the ground — a vineyard, to be exact — the record still spun, unfazed by its incredible journey.

Beyond the potentially bumpy ride, Carrico’s other hurdles to jump in making this project a success had to do with the just how incompatible space & vinyl records actually are! According to Carrico, “As you rise higher and higher into the thinning atmosphere, temperature and increasing vacuum (lack of air) can cause issues. Vinyl has a rather low melting point (160°F), and without air to keep things cool, you could wind-up with a lump of melted plastic on your hands if a record is exposed to the sun for too long. Without air, things in direct sunlight can get very hot while things in shade can get very cold. This constant expansion and contraction can physically distort a vinyl record rendering it unplayable. so our turntable platter also served as a heat-sink in order to keep the vinyl cool in direct sunlight.” The gold plating on the record was another measure to keep the grooves from losing their shape.

From its conception to flight, this endeavor took over three years, with much of that time spent in research and development, as Carrico tested each component of the craft separately and in combination with others. Of course, Carrico was often pulled away to tend to other Third Man Records projects including rehabilitating the Recording Booth and Wax-O-Matic that now reside at its Cass Corridor location. The discoveries made while working on vintage machines like these actually proved helpful in solving issues with Icarus, and visa versa, many solutions developed for Icarus were implemented in Third Man’s machines, full circle.

About the ICARUS CRAFT launch, Third Man Records owner Jack White said, “Our main goal from inception to completion of this project was to inject imagination and inspiration into the daily discourse of music and vinyl lovers. Combining our creative impulses with those of discovery and science is our passion, and even on the scale that we are working with here, it was exhilarating to decide to do something that hasn’t been done before and to work towards its completion. And, it brings us great fulfillment to pay tribute to the incredible scientist and dreamer that Carl Sagan was. We hope that in meeting our goal we inspire others to dream big and start their own missions, whatever they may be.“

director: Kevin Carrico
editor: Brad Holland
videographer: Zach Voss

Satellite images monitor wildfires and help to prevent them

1_igh_4ADz5F-I27bs9M13ag[1]The Beaver Creek Fire in northern Colorado on June 21, 2016.
PlanetScope image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

This post from the earth observation satellite company Planet (formerly Planet Labs) describes the use of satellite imagery to monitor forest wildfires and to help prevent them from happening: Fire Watch: Watching and Understanding Wildfires from Space — Planet Stories — Medium –

Satellite imagery has long played an important role in fighting wildfires, from estimating the amount of dry vegetation available to fuel a fire to evaluating the severity of a burn in the wake of a blaze. The rapid revisit rates and relatively high resolution of Planet’s RapidEye and Dove instruments allow unique ways of preparing for, monitoring, and responding to fires.


True-color image and vegetation map of the
site of the San Gabriel Complex fires on June 4.
RapidEye satellite images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

These images show the site of the San Gabriel Complex fires, which ravaged the mountains north of Los Angeles. Starting on June 20, 2016, the Reservoir Fire and Fish Fire consumed a total of 9652 acres, before being contained about a week later.

On the [top] is a true-color image, showing the area On June 4, 2016, more or less as it would appear to a human observer. The dark green, chaparral-covered hillsides contrast with gray rooftops and roadways — the northern fringes of the Los Angeles conurbation.

On the [bottom] is a map of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of plant health and abundance. Dark green represents thick, vigorous plant cover, while lighter greens represent thinner and less healthy vegetation. Beige areas are vegetation free — bare soil, rock, asphalt, or concrete.

Vegetation Index maps are a valuable fire-fighting tool because they show fuel available to feed a fire. This can help land managers plan efforts to thin vegetation on vulnerable land to limit the intensity of damaging fires, or prevent them from spreading in the first place.


True-color and near-infrared false-color images
of the San Gabriel Complex fires on June 22, 2016.
RapidEye satellite images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

True-color and near-infrared false-color views of the San Gabriel Complex fires show the extent of the blazes on June 22. In true-color ([top]), smoke is blue-brown, burned areas are dark gray, and flame retardant foam laid down in front of advancing flames is bright red. In false-color ([bottom]), the smoke almost disappears, leaving a clear view of the burn scar. More severely burned areas are darker. Vegetation appears bright red, and water is dark blue.

Satellite images can help fire fighters during a fire outbreak:

Up-to-date vegetation data can help predict the propagation of a fire, especially when combined with additional information like topographic maps, weather data, and land cover classification. This allows firefighters to efficiently combat wildfires and protect at-risk property.

And after a fire the satellite information can help with rehabilitation of the affected areas:

The USDA Forest service employs Burned Area Emergency Response teams to evaluate the severity of fires, and quickly rehabilitate areas vulnerable to threats like erosion and the spread of invasive species.

New low cost smallsat constellations like that of Planet’s can provide more frequent images of a fire area, in some case multiple views per day, and are making space imagery more accessible and affordable.

Perseid meteor shower peak approaching

The annual Perseid meteor showers are underway. Here is a guide for observing the shooting stars: Viewing the 2016 Perseids – American Meteor Society

The Perseids are active from July 13th through August 26th. Maximum activity is predicted to occur on the morning of August 12th, when rates in excess of 1 per minute may be seen from dark sky sites. On the morning of maximum the waxing gibbous moon will set between midnight and 0100 local daylight time as seen from mid-northern latitudes. This will free up the prime observing hours from interfering moonlight.

A meteor shower happens when the Earth’s orbit crosses the trail of dust particles left by a comet. The Perseids are produced by the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle as seen in this image:


Although the dust particles are tiny, they are going so fast relative to the earth they can still produce a bright meteor when crashing through the atoms in the upper atmosphere.

More at

The Space Show this week – Aug.1.2016

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, August 1, 2016: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT, 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome back GREG CECIL to discuss space educaton.

2. Tuesday, August 2, 2016: 7-8:30 PM PDT (10-11:30 PM EDT, 9-10:30 PM CDT) We welcome PADDY NEUMAN of Neuman Space in Australia.

3. Friday, August 5 2016: 2016; 9:30-11AM PDT; (12:30-2 PM EDT; 11:30 AM – 1 PM CDT) We welcome back DR. JOHN BRANDENBURG for his latest book, “The GEM Unification Theory: Extending the Standard Model to Include Gravitation“.

4. Sunday, August 7 2016: 12-1:30 PM PDT (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): DICK ROCKET of NewSpace Global LLC returns.

See also:
* The Space Show on Vimeo – webinar videos
* The Space Show’s Blog – summaries of interviews.
* The Space Show Classroom Blog – tutorial programs

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.