Wednesday, August 24, 2016


by Stephanie Osborn

I am thrilled to announce that the first book of the Gentleman Aegis series, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse, has WON the 2016 Silver Falchion Award for Best "Nonfiction" (read: historical fiction) YA Book!

The award is sponsored by the Killer Nashville mystery convention!


~Stephanie Osborn

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

AURORA ALERT 23/24 August 2016

by Stephanie Osborn

According to the various solar/geomagnetic data (collected in one convenient place by; I actively support them with contributions), we are currently experiencing minor geomagnetic storming. This is likely being caused by a combination of a favorably-oriented local interplanetary magnetic field, as well as an enhanced wind stream from a coronal hole.

This is a Solar Dynamics Observatory image 
from 23 August 2016. It depicts the coronal holes 
on that date (yesterday). Holes were numbered by 
SolarHam. Coronal Hole #07 likely produced the
solar wind stream creating the current geomag storming.

The planetary K-index is a NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) product created using magnetometers around the world. According to the SWPC, "The K-index quantifies disturbances in the horizontal component of earth's magnetic field with an integer in the range 0-9 with 1 being calm and 5 or more indicating a geomagnetic storm. It is derived from the maximum fluctuations of horizontal components observed on a magnetometer during a three-hour interval. The planetary 3-hour-range index Kp is the mean standardized K-index from 13 geomagnetic observatories between 44 degrees and 60 degrees northern or southern geomagnetic latitude. The label 'K' comes from the German word 'Kennziffer' meaning 'characteristic digit.' The K-index was introduced by Julius Bartels in 1938. SWPC has used the K-index since the forecast center began operations." 

Any time the K-index reaches 5, geomagnetic storming is occurring. We have been experiencing K=5 for at least 9 hours at the time of this writing.

K-index graph captured as of approximately 10:25pm CDT, 23 Aug 2016.

The higher the K-index, the farther away from the geomagnetic poles the aurora can be seen, and the more effects can be seen. Generally coronal hole wind streams produce only minor storming; it takes a moderate to strong coronal mass ejection (CME) impact to reach the upper levels of the K-index.

The NOAA SWPC Geomagnetic Storm Scale.

We are currently experiecing a G1 Minor geomagnetic storm.

It takes something around an X-class flare producing a large, strong CME to hit an 8-9 on the K-index scale, and that's up around Carrington-event class. So we aren't going to have anything like that, but higher latitudes might have a nice aurora tonight or the next few nights.

Here are maps (posted to SolarHam, but obtained from NOAA SWPC) that will show you where aurorae are possible. Find the line marked Kp=5 for our current condition, then look from that line poleward. If you are in that region, keep a watch out for aurorae. If you are near but outside the region, keep an eye peeled poleward, just in case.

K-index map of North America.
K-index map of South America/Antarctica.
K-index map of Eurasia.
K-index map of Australia/extreme South Pacific.

Good viewing!

~Stephanie Osborn

Monday, August 22, 2016

Some Solar Updates

by Stephanie Osborn

Just a few tidbits today, guys.

FYI we had another spotless couple days. Scarcely two, but there was nothing yesterday and today there is a spot rotating around from the far side. According to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center there is one already on the near side continuing to decay — yet it doesn't show up — and the one rotating to the near side is one that rotated completely around. Judging by the STEREO imagery, however, there isn't another spot on the entire solar surface.

That said, there are some interesting magnetic field patterns in the inner corona in the Solar Dynamics Observatory's 211b channel, and that might indicate where the mysterious unseen spot group is supposed to be. Have a look at this image and look just over coronal hole 07, and you'll see it:

Said SDO channel image also shows the coronal holes, but they're moderate currently. We had a passage through an enhanced solar wind stream from one over the weekend, but it wasn't impressive and only mildly unsettled the geomagnetic field.

This magnetogram (also from SDO) shows that, plus the group rotating around, plus ANOTHER that also isn't showing up.

So yes, there's some activity, but it isn't a lot.

The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means for the Earth and You

Our Sun is an active star. It may even be a variable star. Sunspots, flares, coronal mass ejections, all are signs of its activity. What kind of effect does it have on Earth? Other than the occasional sunburn, could it be dangerous? Has it been dangerous in the past? What can we expect in the near future?

With any luck, while it isn't about solar/space weather, I should have some exciting news for my fans sometime this week!

~Stephanie Osborn

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Link to Guest Blog Series

by Stephanie Osborn

Just a quick note: Upon request (both from readers and Sarah), I have begun a series on solar, space, and geomagnetic weather on According to Hoyt. The first installment posted today. Future installments should post every Thursday for the next couple of months. I'll try to ensure that a new post goes up here to link my blog readers to it, also.

Here's the link:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Op-Ed Guest Post

Today, please welcome my old NASA colleague, Larry Bauer. Currently retired, he and I worked numerous Shuttle missions together as payload flight controllers.
~Stephanie Osborn

* * *

A Few Observations on Reusable Space Hardware,
or Why the Space Shuttle was an engineering masterpiece and a logistical nightmare.
by Larry Bauer

The National Space Transportation System, or what people commonly refer to as the Space Shuttle, was composed of four parts: the Shuttle itself, the three Shuttle main engines, the External Tank, and two Solid Rocket Boosters. In theory everything but the tank and its fuel were recoverable.

I was reminded of this when I saw an article noting the sixth successful landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after the successful launch of the JCSAT-16 commercial communications satellite.

From a purely economical aspect it all comes down to what is the cheapest means to launch a payload into a desired orbit. On the face of it reusing hardware only makes sense. However there are a good many factors that mitigate against such as assumption.

With NSTS we salvaged everything except the ET. The Shuttle and engines landed and the SRB shells parachuted back into the sea for recovery. In theory maximum reuse of critical hardware. But let's look first at those boosters. They were made in sections far from the launch site, built and filled in sections so they could be transported by barge to Kennedy Space Center. From a logistics standpoint it would have made much more sense to build them as a single tube and fill them with solid propellant right there at the launch site. However that was not an option. The state of Florida would allow launches from KSC, but they refused permission to build the SRBs there. The solid propellant is nasty stuff and the process of filling the boosters violated too many state pollution restrictions. So the SRBs were built and filled originally by Thiokol of Brigham City, Utah, later bought out by ATK.

I will note that the recovery and remanufacture of the boosters was very cost- and labor-intensive, and there was always a debate over whether a cheaper throw-away design might have been more cost effective. I will also point out that a design incorporating a single continuous tube would have made the failure that caused the Challenger disaster impossible. Which does not mean something equally tragic might not have happened, but you cannot have a joint failure if there are no joints.

The high-performance Space Shuttle Main Engines, known as SSMEs or the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25, are an example where reuse of hardware only makes good sense. These are the pinnacle of the state of the art for liquid fuel rocket engines. With the help of the solid boosters, these engines, sucking immense quantities of liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the External Tank, could lift a combined vehicle and payload weight of roughly 2060 tons. Bringing these highly intricate and fine-tuned engines back for reuse only made sense.

And that does lead me to the subject of a rather controversial opinion of mine. As magnificent an engineering achievement as the NSTS was — and I spent the majority of my career at NASA doing ground support to on-orbit experiment operations so I have a great fondness for the beastie — the reason why it was a huge logistics failure rests in the numbers. The shuttle itself weighed in at 2030 tons. Its payload was 30 tons. The NSTS was a true heavy lift rocket, but most of what should have been useful payload mass to orbit was spent instead on creating the ability to land sort of like an airplane. A requirement imposed, by the way, by the Air Force — who withdrew from the project between the time the design was firmed up and the first launch. I will also observe that every astronaut pilot I've ever spoken with all described the shuttle as “that flying brick.” [I can confirm that astronaut description. —Steph]

And all of the above is explanation as to why we don't see any shuttle-like designs these days. It is ever so much more efficient to make as much of the upmass be useful payload as possible, with the crew compartment just sufficiently robust to carry the astronauts up and get them back to Earth safely.

* * *

Thanks much for that information, Larry! It squares pretty nicely with what I know of the various programs, as well.


A New American Space Plan, by Travis S. Taylor with Stephanie Osborn, available in print and ebook, discusses the history of space exploration, where we are, how we got there, and where we ought to be and be going. You can find a lot more detail on the Space Shuttle, how it worked, the main engines and how the whole system was designed, right in this book. There's also a good bit about the recent efforts to develop commercial space launch systems and why the epithet "commercial" is often a misnomer.

~Stephanie Osborn