Saturday, May 18, 2024

Odds, Ends, Small Stories, and Miscellaneous

Blue Origin is set to return to its suborbital tourist flights Sunday morning, for the first flight since the aborted flight of September 12, 2022. Call it just about 3 months, one quarter of a year, short of two years since they've flown.

Historic flight ... This will be the 25th flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket, and the seventh human spaceflight mission on New Shepard. Before Blue Origin's rocket failure in 2022, the company was reaching a flight cadence of about one launch every two months, on average. The flight rate has diminished since then. Sunday's flight is important not only because it marks the resumption of launches for Blue Origin's suborbital human spaceflight business, but also because its six-person crew includes an aviation pioneer. Ed Dwight, 90, almost became the first Black astronaut in 1963. Dwight, a retired Air Force captain, piloted military fighter jets and graduated test pilot school, following a familiar career track as many of the early astronauts. He was on a short list of astronaut candidates the Air Force provided NASA, but the space agency didn't include him. Dwight will become the oldest person to ever fly in space. 

This reference to Ed Dwight becoming the oldest person ever to fly to space comes from Ars Technica's weekly Rocket Report. I was taken aback because I recall that during William Shatner's flight, also on a Blue Origin New Shepard suborbital flight, in October of '21 that he was said to be the oldest person ever to fly into space. I thought he was older but the source says he was also 90. Do they compare ages to the day?  

It's being said that last week's geomagnetic storm was among the 20 strongest on record (second story down).  The article opens with a photo of auroras taken from New Caledonia in the south Pacific, at a latitude of -26.4 degrees, by Frédéric Desmoulins, who photographed the display from Boulouparis in the island's south province. "I could see the red color of the auroras with my naked eye. According to the New Caledonian Astronomy Society, these photos are the first for this territory." 

The Auroras visible from New Caledonia by Frédéric Desmoulins 

"The auroral visibility from New Caledonia is really unique and extremely valuable," says Hisashi Hayakawa, a space weather researcher at Japan's Nagoya University. "As far as we know, the last time sky watchers saw auroras in the area was during the Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, when auroras were sighted from a ship in the Coral Sea."

Hayakawa specializes in historical studies of great auroral storms. He tries to go back in time as far as possible. The problem is, magnetometers and modern sensors didn't exist hundreds or thousands of years ago. Instead, he looks for records of aurora sightings in old newspapers, diaries, ships logs, even cuneiform tablets. Great Storms are identified by their low latitude--anything with naked-eye auroras below 30° MLAT (magnetic latitude).

"May 10th was definitely a Great Storm," declares Hayakawa. "Naked-eye auroras sightings in New Caledonia (MLAT = -26.4°) and Puerto Rico (MLAT = 27.2°) confirm this in both hemispheres."

The sunspot that produced that flare is on the far side of the sun now, but another magnetically complex sunspot group, AR3685, emitted an X3 flare on the 15th and a slightly weaker M7 flare yesterday (17th). The spot isn't really Earth facing, and NOAA is predicting a chance of minor geomagnetic storm "early on the 19th" - which it currently is in UTC as I write. If there has been an impact, it hasn't made news, yet. 

It's worth paying attention to because this spot is just starting it's transit across the Earth-facing hemisphere of the sun, meaning we have about two weeks for this one to fling more Coronal Mass at us. This happens at the cycle max every cycle and while the actual max may be hard to declare except in retrospect, we're close to the peak of this cycle (25). While 25 is stronger than the previous cycle 24, that one was the weakest in 100 years, and this one isn't as strong as cycle 23 - making it the second weakest in at least the last 50 years (visual plot of all those cycles here - bottom plot on that page). We can expect flares, CMEs and this sort of stuff from the sun for another two to three years.

I've been slow in updating my blog reading list to link to Western Rifle Shooters' blog at Cold Fury. I thought that might end up being redirected from the old site I still linked to, but eventually concluded I should just link to it. A verbose way of saying WRSA's link in my right sidebar now takes you to the active web site.


  1. BO and NS? Don't care, just a very expensive joy ride, no real commercial usage, so... yawn.

  2. The problem with WRS is that he's convinced that he's a victim of the jews, and helpless to respond except via memes. All wallpapered over with
    >i am a christian honest see the scripture?
    His page makes me feel dirty.

    1. TBH, I've cut my visits down to once a week or less and that's one of the reasons. If I want to see Hamas sympathizers I can turn on the news. Thankfully, I'm nowhere near those big colleges.

      I don't need Gloom and Doom Merchants. That childhood story about the boy who called wolf is still relevant.

  3. Ahhh, sunspots. Gotta love 'em! I miss seeing the Aurora in Fairbanks. Good times.