Amazing Video: Watch SpaceX’s Dragon in Flight, as Seen From the Ground

Always on the lookout for interesting events in the skies, astrophotographer Thierry Legault has captured an incredible video of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule traveling through space just 20 minutes after it launched from Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017.

“You can see the Dragon, the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, and solar panel covers,” Legault told Universe Today via email, “plus a nice surprise I discovered during processing: several fast ejections of material, certainly thrusters firing!”

Legault captured at least 6 ejections of material during the passage over his location in Tours, France. The three brightest are highlighted at the end of this video. He used a Sony Alpha 7S with a 200mm lens.

So, what you’re seeing is the Dragon traveling through the background of stars. Legault hand-tracked the Dragon, so even though it appears as stationary (with a few bumps here and there) and objects are zooming past, the capsule is in fact moving at close to 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h). This was taken a just few minutes after the capsule separated from the Falcon nine upper stage and jettisoned the covers on the solar panels, so all the individual bright ‘dots’ seen here were still near each other, moving together in Earth orbit.

This Dragon is now docked at the International Space Station, as the launch was the CRS-11 (11 of 12 planned Commercial Resupply Services for SpaceX.) This was the first time that a Dragon spacecraft was reused, and it brought supplies and science experiments to the ISS. As SpaceX has now done several times, the first stage booster landed back at KSC. This was also the 100th launch from historic pad 39A. Read more about the launch and mission here.

This isn’t the first time Legault has captured the Dragon in flight; he also shot footage of Dragon on its way to the ISS in April of 2014. Recently, he also was able to take multiple images of the ISS passing in front of the Moon:

Lunar transit of the ISS
Expedition 50 with French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on February 4, 2017. Filmed with Celestron C14 EdgeHD and Sony Alpha 7S from Rouen, France (Pesquet’s birth city). Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.

Thanks to Thierry for sharing his footage and images with Universe Today. Keep track of his amazing work at his website.

Explody Eta Aquarid Meteor Caught in the Act

An Eta Aquarid meteor captured on video by astrophotographer Justin Ng shows an amazing explodingred meteor and what is known as a persistent train — what remains of a meteor fireball in the upper atmosphere as winds twist and swirl the expanding debris.

The meteor pierced through the clouds and the vaporized “remains” of the fireball persisted for over 10 minutes, Justin said. It lasts just a few seconds in the time-lapse.

Here’s the video:

Justin took this footage during an astrophotography tour to Mount Bromo in Indonesia, where he saw several Eta Aquarid meteors. The red, explody meteor occurred at around 4:16 am,local time. The Small Magellanic Cloud is also visible just above the horizon on the left.

Persistent trains occur when a meteoroid blasts through the air, ionizes gases in our atmosphere. Until recently, these have been difficult to study because they are rather elusive. But lately, with the widespread availability of ultra-fast lenses and highly sensitive cameras, capturing these trains is becoming more common, much to the delight of astrophotography fans!

Mount Bromo, 2,329 meters (7600 ft.) high is an active volcano in East Java, Indonesia.

Check out more of Justin’s work at his website, on Twitter, Facebook or G+.

6 May 2017 – Eta Aquarid Captured at Mount Bromo (4K Timelapse) from Justin Ng Photo on Vimeo.

Ride Shotgun Through the Solar System with Chris Hadfield

It sounds like a space nerd’s dream come true: riding in a Tesla with former astronaut Chris Hadfield, doing a science version of Carpool Karaoke. And to top it off, you’re driving through the Solar System.

A new film out called “Miniverse” via CuriosityStream takes you on a ride through a scaled-down version of our Solar System. It’s similar to other scaled solar system models — which make the huge distances in our cosmic neighborhood a little less abstract — like the Voyage Scale Model Solar System in Washington, DC, the Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, New York or the Delmar Loop Planet Walk in St. Louis, Missouri.

But this is bigger. In the Miniverse, various points across the continental United States indicate scaled distances between the planets.

Here’s the trailer:

The first leg of the trip takes viewers on a journey from the Sun all the way to Mars. In the scaled down solar system, that’s only the distance from Long Island to the other side of New York City. In the sky, Mars appears over the Freedom Tower in New York, and Jupiter towers above the Lincoln Memorial.

Then later, as distances between planets stretch out, the gas giants and ice giants spread across the mid-section of the US. Even our friend Pluto appears over the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of California.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield and astronomer Laura Danly view Pluto from Santa Monica, California, in a scene from ‘Miniverse’. Credit: CuriosityStream.

Your traveling companions are pretty awesome.

Behind the wheel for the entire adventure is the funny and engaging Chris Hadfield. He’s joined by a distinguished band of interstellar hitchhikers: famed theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, as well as Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and Dr. Laura Danly, Curator of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Along the way, Hadfield poses questions to his guests about the various bodies in our solar system.

“The big takeaway is just how vast the distances are in the solar system,” Danly told Universe Today via email. “Every time we look at a drawing of our solar system it reinforces the wrong image in our minds. In reality, the planets are small and the distances are vast. Anyone who has driven cross-country knows that those miles get very long, day after day. So Miniverse provides a visceral feeling to just how great those distances are.”

A GPS-like view of the first leg of the trip through the Miniverse. Credit: CuriosityStream.

If you already have a CuriosityStream account, you can watch the film here. If you don’t, you can take advantage of a 30-day free trial in order to watch Miniverse, and all the other great science offerings available, such as Stephen Hawking’s Universe, Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life, and other topics from astronomy observing tips to info about various missions to theoretical physics. Check it out. If you’re interested in continuing after your free trial, the ad-free streaming service costs $2.99, $5.99 and $11.99 per month for standard definition, high definition, and ultra high definition 4K respectively.

We suggested to the CuriosityStream folks of putting physical markers along this path across the US, which would really make a great cross country road trip. Come along for the ride!

What’s the Difference Between a Rocket and Space Plane? Amazing Hand-Drawn Animations Explain It All

You gotta love Earth’s atmosphere. It basically makes life (as we know it) possible on our planet by providing warmth and air to breathe, as well as protecting us from nasty space things like radiation and smaller asteroids. But for studying space (i.e., astronomy) or coming back to Earth from space, the atmosphere is a pain.

Last year, we introduced you to freelance animator and storyboard artist Stanley VonMedvey, who started creating short, hand-drawn videos to explain a complex topic: how spacecraft work. These videos are wonderfully concise, clear and easy to understand. Plus Stan’s hand-drawn animations are incredible.

His series, “Stan Draws Spaceships” now has a new video that shows the complexities of how spacecraft return to Earth through our atmosphere, comparing the partially reusable Falcon 9 and fully reusable Skylon. Take a look below. Again, the hand-drawn animations are impeccable and Stan’s explanations are just captivating.

I was trying to think of sufficient accolades for Stan’s work, but I can’t do any better than one commentor on Stan’s YouTube Channel. MarsLettuce said, “The attention to detail here is insane. The air intake being shorn off by drag was especially great. The sequence of her hands making the paper plane was subdued, but it added a lot. The characters were really well done, too. I love the reaction of Stan being hit by the paper airplane. It’s hilarious.”

Stan’s earlier videos explain expendable launch vehicles and the space shuttle.

He describes himself as “completely obsessed with and fascinated by space exploration,” and he wants to share what he’s learned over the years about spaceflight.

Stan would like the opportunity and resources to make more videos, and has started a Patreon page to help in this process. Right now, he creates the videos on his own (he told us he uses the time-honored home-recording technique of draping a blanket over his head) in his home office. It takes him roughly 2.5 months to produce a 5 minute episode.

“I’d like to make a lot more videos,” he writes on Patreon, “explaining things like Hohmman transfers and laser propulsion and the construction techniques of O’Neill cylinders. I want to make long form videos (2-3 minutes) that explain a general idea, and short form videos (30 seconds) that cover a single word, like “ballistics” or “reaction control.”

An artist’s conception of Reaction Engines’ Skylon spacecraft. Credit: Reaction Engines

So, check out Stan’s videos and his Patreon page. If you’d like to see more, consider supporting his work. See more of his drawings at his website.

Northern Lights by Drone? You Won’t Believe Your Eyes


Northern lights over Iceland filmed by Icelandic photographer Oli Haukur using a drone. Don’t forget to expand the screen.

I knew the era of real-time northern lights video was upon us. I just didn’t think drones would get into the act this soon. What was I thinking? They’re perfect for the job! If watching the aurora ever made you feel like you could fly, well now you can in Oli Haukur’s moving, real-time footage of an amazing aurora display filmed by drone.

Oli Haukur operates the drone and camera during a test run. Credit: Oli Hauku / OZZO Photography
Oli Haukur operates the drone and camera during a test run. Credit: Oli Hauku / OZZO Photography

Haukur hooked up a Sony a7S II digital camera and ultra-wide Sigma 20mm f/1.4 lens onto his DJI Matrice 600 hexacopter. The light from the gibbous moon illuminates the rugged shoreline and crashing waves of the Reykjanes Peninsula (The Steamy Peninsula) as while green curtains of aurora flicker above.

The Sony camera is shown attached to the drone. To capture the aurora, Haukur used a fast lens, high ISO and set the frame rate to 25 frames per second (fps) or 1/25th of a second per frame. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography
The Sony camera is shown attached to the drone. To capture the aurora, Haukur used a fast lens, high ISO and set the frame rate to 25 frames per second (fps) or 1/25th of a second per frame. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography

When the camera ascends over a sea stack, you can see gulls take off below, surprised by the mechanical bird buzzing just above their heads. Breathtaking. You might notice at the same time a flash of light — this is from the lighthouse beacon seen earlier in the video.

To capture his the footage, Haukur used a “fast” lens (one that needs only a small amount of light to make a picture) and an ISO of 25,600. The camera is capable of ISO 400,000, but the lower ISO provided greater resolution and color quality.

Moonlight provided all the light needed to bring out the landscape.

The drone used to make the night flight. Credit: Oli Haukur
The drone used to make the night flight and aurora recording is seen up close on takeoff. Haukur, of Rejkyavik, Iceland, works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker as well as providing professional drone services in that country. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography

Remember when ISO 1600 or 3200 was as far you dared to go before the image turned to a grainy mush? Last year Canon released a camera that can literally see in the dark with a top ISO over 4,000,000! There’s no question we’ll be seeing more live aurora and drone aurora video in the coming months. Haukur plans additional shoots this winter and early next spring. Living in Iceland, which lies almost directly beneath the permanent auroral oval, you can schedule these sort of things!

Am I allowed one tiny criticism? I want more — a minute and a half is barely enough! Haukur shot plenty but released only a taste to social media to prove it could be done and share the joy. Let’s hope he compiles the rest and makes it available for us to lose our selves in soon.

Experience the Glorious Night Sky Over Yellowstone National Park

Tomorrow, August 25, 2016, the US National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, and the NPS has been celebrating all year with their “Find Your Park” promotion. But the first national park, Yellowstone National Park, was created 144 years ago. Yellowstone is known for its dramatic canyons, lush forests, and flowing rivers, but might be most famous for its hot springs and gushing geysers.

This new timelapse offers you a chance to “find your dark skies” at Yellowstone, and features the many geysers there, showing the dramatic geothermal features under both day and night skies. But the night skies over these geyser explosions steal the show! It was filmed by Harun Mehmedinovicas part of the Skyglow Project, an ongoing crowdfunded project that explores the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible dark sky areas in North America.

SKYGLOWPROJECT.COM : HADES EXHALES from Harun Mehmedinovic on Vimeo.

The Skyglow Project works in collaboration with International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit organization fighting to educate the public about light pollution and to preserve the dark skies around the world.

Coming up this weekend, you can enjoy free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25-28, 2016. You can “find your park” and read about special events happening all around the country at FindYourPark.com

A still from the timelapse video 'Hades Exhales,'  a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park's geyser basins.  Credit: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.
A still from the timelapse video ‘Hades Exhales,’ a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park’s geyser basins. Credit: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.

Many thanks to Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of Sunchaser Pictures for continuing their great work with the Skyglow Project and for sharing their incredible videos with Universe Today. Consider supporting their work, as all donations go towards the creation of more videos and images.

A still from the video 'Hades Exhales,' a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park's geyser basins.  Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.
A still from the video ‘Hades Exhales,’ a timelapse journey through several of Yellowstone National Park’s geyser basins. Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic/Skyglow Productions.

Watch SETI-Seeking Radio Dishes Dance Across the Universe

Radio dishes always evoke wonder, as these giants search for invisible (to our eyes, anyway) radio signals from objects like distant quasars, pulsars, masers and more, including potential signals from extraterrestrials. This new timelapse from Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan of Sunchaser Pictures was shot at several different radio astronomy facilities — the Very Large Array (VLA) Observatory in New Mexico, Owens Valley Observatory in Owens Valley California, and Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. All three of these facilities have been or are still being partly used by the SETI (Search for the Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program.

Watch the dishes dance in their search across the Universe!

The huge meteorite streaking across the sky above Very Large Array (2:40) is from the Aquarids meteor shower. The large radio telescope at Green Bank is where scientists first attempted to “listen” to presence of extraterrestrials in the galaxy. The Very Large Array was featured in the movie CONTACT (1997) while Owens Observatory was featured in THE ARRIVAL (1996).

This video was created for SkyGlowProject.com, a crowdfunded educational project that explores the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible Dark Sky Preserves in North America.

The music is by Tom Boddy, and titled “Thoughtful Reflections.”

Thanks to Gavin Heffernan for sharing this video.

Screenshot from the DishDance timelapse. Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan.
Screenshot from the DishDance timelapse. Credit and copyright: Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan.

SKYGLOW: DISHDANCE from Sunchaser Pictures on Vimeo.

See a Glowing ‘Honey Moon’ and Unique Star Trails in New Night Sky Timelapse

The “stars” of a new 3-minute timelapse are some very unique star trails and a glowing fireball that is actually a giant ‘honey moon‘ — the full Moon in June. Gavin Heffernan from Sunchaser Pictures and Harun Mehmedinovic from Bloodhoney.com teamed up for this video, filming in gorgeous mountain locations in the Southwestern US, showcasing gathering storm clouds and stunning night sky scenes.

At about 1:50 in the video, you’ll see a unique “split” star trail effect, where it looks like the trails are cascading down the sides of a mountain. At 2:02, the Moon appears to burn through the sky like a meteor.

See imagery from the footage below:

This video is part of the Skyglow Project, which is an initiative to protect the night skies and raise awareness of the light pollution and its dangers. It was produced in association with BBC Earth.

Interestingly, Heffernan said some of the footage seen here was also featured this summer by The Rolling Stones in their Zip Code Stadium Tour, after Mick Jagger saw some of their previous timelapse videos.

The footage was shot in Monument Valley, Arizona, Trona Pinnacles, California, and Red Rock Canyon, California.

Thanks to Gavin Heffernan for continuing to share his wonderful work!

A star trail sequence from the timelapse video "Pinnacles". Image credit: Harun Mehmedinovic. Used by permission.
A star trail sequence from the timelapse video “Pinnacles.” Image credit: Harun Mehmedinovic. Used by permission.

PINNACLES – Southwest Timelapse Medley from Sunchaser Pictures on Vimeo.

This is a Scale Model of the Solar System Like You’ve Never Seen Before

We’ve all seen illustrations of the Solar System. They’re in our school textbooks, on posters, on websites, on t-shirts… in some cases they’re used to represent the word “science” itself (and for good reason.) But, for the most part, they’re all wrong. At least where scale is concerned.

Sure, you can show the Sun and planets in relative size to each other accurately. But then the actual distances between them will probably be way off.* And OK, you can outline the planets’ concentric orbits around the Sun to scale pretty easily. But then there’s no convenient way to make sure that the planets themselves would actually be visible. In order to achieve both, you have to leave the realm of convenience behind entirely and make a physical model that, were you to start with an Earth the size of a marble, would stretch for several miles (and that’s not even taking Pluto into consideration.)

This is exactly what filmmaker Wylie Overstreet and four of his friends did in 2014, spending a day and a half on a dry lake bed in Nevada where they measured out and set up a scale model of the Sun and planets (not including Pluto, don’t tell Alan Stern) including their respective circular orbits. They then shot time-lapse images of their illuminated cars driving around the orbits. The resulting video is educational, mesmerizing, beautiful, and overall a wonderful demonstration of the staggering scale of space in the Solar System.

Watch the video below:

Or watch full-screen on Vimeo here.

For some reason whenever I think about the sheer amount of space there actually is in space, it gets me a like choked up. These guys get an “A+” for effort, execution, and entertainment!

Credit: Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh

*There have been a few web pages that have been able to show the scale sizes and distances of the planets (and there are even some driving-distance ones too) but often they oversimplify by lining the planets up in a row — which doesn’t happen all that often and doesn’t portray the orbital circumferences either. This all just happens to be a favorite contemplating point of mine.

Watch the You-Know-What Out Of This New Trailer for The Martian

The second full trailer for 20th Century Fox’s upcoming film The Martian dropped this morning and it looks like a whole red-planetful of awesome space adventure! Directed by Ridley Scott and based on the runaway hit novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a member of a fictional yet not-too-distant-future NASA mission to explore the surface of Mars. After a violent dust storm batters the camp the team is forced to abort the mission, abandoning the base and Watney, who was injured and assumed dead. Except, of course, he’s not, thus beginning his new mission to remain alive on Mars long enough to be rescued — a feat which will require bravery, brains, luck… and a whole you-know-what-load of science. (If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s a lot of fun. I highly suggest it.) So check out the trailer above, and feel free to repeat as necessary.

The Martian opens in U.S. theaters on Oct. 2. Visit the official movie site here.