• Category Archives Astronomy
  • Face west to feed the duck curve

    This one caught me out…..


    To solve ‘duck curve,’ Missouri utility to pay bonus for west-facing solar panels.

    In an effort to better align solar-energy production with peak demand, the electric utility in Columbia, Missouri has begun to pay higher rebates for new west-facing arrays than it will for those facing south.

    Fantastically simple. Sure, not everyone has west facing roof space, but why not incentivize those that do and are thinking about adding solar?

    The biggest problem with the duck curve is that evening ramp up. As the sun sets, the people go home and the solar output really drops off, the power companies have to fairly quickly ramp up megawatts of generation, sometimes even getting close to a gigawatt.
    Thats tricky and expensive.
    A west facing solar panel will put out more power at sunset than a north or south facing one (the usual direction).

    To be clear, it will NEVER solve the duck curve. Only storage will, but it is a small step in reducing the steepness of that curve up the ducks neck.

  • Solar traffic jam

    The solar eclipse on the 21st is getting some press over here.

    I liked this guys take on it.


    In short, he thinks there is going to be a whopper of a traffic jam.

    Traffic, along with weather, will be the chief challenges for people wanting to see the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. I analyze how the U.S. population is distributed with respect to the U.S. road network and the path of total solar eclipse to predict how many people will visit the path of totality and the resulting traffic congestion. Using advanced ArcGIS.com software by Esri, U.S. Census data, and a road network model of every street in the USA, I present estimates for where people will gather for the eclipse and in what numbers.

    The main reason I love this guys article is because of all the data he pulls and uses to make his point.
    Will it happen?

    Duno. I will not be amongst it.
    I do not have the holiday time, I don’t like crowds and I have more (to me) interesting things to watch – like the electricity grid.

  • She’s an old workhorse doing bleeding edge science – Hale Telescope

    As you know, I am a massive fan of the Hale Telescope at Palomar Mountain. I really miss going up and being a tour guide (docent), but have such a low tolerance for political games…..

    Anyway, one of the many things I enjoyed telling people about on my tour was how she’s an old massive workhorse and this makes her a very interesting and valuable science platform in the astronomy world.
    The Hale Telescope is the last big telescope in the world that is built an on equatorial mount. This means the axis of the telescope matches that of the earth. Roughly 23.5°. This means that the telescope only needs 1 motor to track the stars across the sky. It also means that the image in the ‘eyepiece’ (we use cameras these days, I have been told it’s been scores of years since Hale had an eyepiece fitted) does not rotate, it is in ‘lock step’ with the star or galaxy that we are studying.
    Why does this matter?
    New big telescopes are built to move in X and Y. So tilt and pan, or like a tank turret. You aim up and down and left and right. To track a star, you make tiny movements in both all the time. It also means that the star rotates in the eyepiece.
    Lastly, Hale is big and heavy. New scopes are built to a price, they are delicate. You can’t just bolt big heavy bits of gear to them and expect them to perform….. Hale on the other hand, she shrugs and after a quick rebalance, tracks as good as the day she was commissioned in Jan 1949.

    Great, where am I going with this?

    To this day, new science equipment is first tested out on the Hale Telescope and then refined and fitted to bigger telescopes.
    Case in point is a new instrument that can block out the light from a star so effectively that we can now see planets orbiting around it.
    If it were not for Hale, we could not see stuff like this;

    Direct imaging of four planets orbiting the star HR 8799 129 light years away from Earth

    How amazing is that!!!!!
    Totally mesmerizing. The star at the center of the image is 129 light years away.

    If you want to know more, you can read about it here; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2010-128

    But as much as I geek out on the tech, I am always humbled by the fact that this new tech was tried and tested on the Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain, just up the road from where I live, and for one amazing year, I told people how even though she is a bit old, a bit heavy and bit low tech in places (I mean, she was designed and mostly built before WW2), she is still doing a critical job in expanding our knowledge of the universe.

    That’s pretty cool.

  • Near the edge of space

    There are a few companies that are very close to taking your money and hauling your backside into space or near space… In some cases, you can actually get into weightlessness…. The thing is, with all those options, they all involve a rocket of some kind…. While this might be exciting for some, I would rather have a more gentle option for getting above most of the planet’s atmosphere. Well, very soon, I will have that exact option.


    There are balloon rides, and then there are balloon rides. And although it may sound like something out of a Jules Verne novel, a company called World View says it will begin taking passengers to the edge of outer space by the end of 2017. In a step toward that goal on Tuesday, company officials confirmed that the first flights will take place in southern Arizona near the Tucson International Airport.

    World View plans to fly six passengers in a pressurized cabin to an altitude of 30km, where they will remain for a couple of hours. The generally accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is 100km, known as the Kármán line. However, at 30km, or about 100,000 feet, the balloon will have risen above 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere and afford fine views of the planet’s curvature and the blackness of space. The company has priced tickets at $75,000 per person for an experience that will last four to six hours in total.

    While 75 large is out of my budget (only just ), the longer more peaceful ride has my full attention.
    I love this idea of going up and down in a much more fitting way to view the amazing sight of the planet stretched out below you like that.
    No idea why, but it just seems to me that space should be peaceful, not torn apart by the roar and vibration of a rocket…. But hey, no one asked me.

  • The sky is falling

    Really cool story about a bunch of Aussies that found a meteorite.


    It all starts with a fancy camera system operated by Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network team. A group of 32 remote cameras dotted across the outback keep an eye out for falling meteorites in hopes of tracking their trajectories and aiding in recovery of the rare space rocks.

    The meteorite fell on November 27, a sight witnessed by people on the ground as well as the camera network. The team analyzed the images and traced the likely landing spot to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, a massive desert lake in South Australia that sometimes fills up with rain.

    Enough to say, they found it before it rained.

    Very cool.