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Fun With Science – NASA’s Solar Sail Satellite Finally Deployed
posted by gatekeeper50
The Minotaur Rocket carrying seven satellites was launched from Kodiak, AK, on Nov. 19, 2010, and one of the onboard experiments was the deployment of the NanoSail-D, a solar sail.
But on Jan. 24, “Call it a stunner. In an unexpected reversal of fortune, NASA’s NanoSail-D spacecraft has unfurled a gleaming sheet of space-age fabric 650 km above Earth, becoming the first-ever solar sail to circle our planet.
“We’re solar sailing!” says NanoSail-D principal investigator Dean Alhorn of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. “This is a momentous achievement.”Now the satellite can be seen with the naked eye flaring in space as bright as Venus. (Spaceweather.com)
NASA’s new solar sail, NanoSail-D, is circling Earth and attracting the attention of sky watchers–especially when it flares. Sunlight glinting off the sail’s reflective fabric can rival the brightest stars, making a sudden and luminous streak across the night sky.
“At its peak, the flare was magnitude +3.5, easily seen with the naked eye,” says photographer Vesa Vauhkonen. “I was able to photograph the event using an ordinary digital camera (a Nikon D70s).”
On the same night, NanoSail-D flared even more brightly over Helsinki, Finland. A meteor camera operated by Esko Lyytinen caught the sail flashing almost three times brighter than a 1st magnitude star: image.
Future flares could dwarf these. NanoSail-D is skimming the top of Earth’s atmosphere and slowly descending as it circles the planet. As the spacecraft gets closer to Earth and aerodynamic forces flatten the fabric into an ever-better reflector, flares are likely to intensify, theoretically exceeding the brightness of Venus as much as 100-fold (5 magnitudes). Photograph one of those and you just might win $500.