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NASA

The Nova-C Class IM-1 Odysseus in preparation for launch. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By Daniel Dunaief

The stars aligned for a group of engineers and scientists in Washington D.C. recently, as a meeting brought these experts together at exactly the same time NASA was landing a vehicle on the moon for the first time since the finale of the Apollo missions, over 50 years ago.

The Nova-C Class IM-1 Odysseus in preparation for launch. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“I happened to be in DC for [NASA’s] annual Moon to Mars Architecture workshop on the day that the Intuitive Machines Odysseus spacecraft landed,” said Tim Glotch, Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University and the Science Chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, or LEAG. “The whole group I was with watched the live stream with excitement and nervousness.”

Attendees at the conference knew when NASA was supposed to receive a signal from the spacecraft. As they waited, Glotch said he could “feel people starting to think, ‘Uh oh, it started to happen again,’” raising the possibility of a problem with the landing. “A few minutes after the planned touchdown, everyone was relieved and overjoyed when the flight manager confirmed that they had a signal from the spacecraft,” he said.

Indeed, on February 22, the Odysseus lunar lander touched down about 185 miles from the moon’s south pole and within a mile of its target near the Malapert A crater. Glotch and the other scientists and engineers learned the next day at a press conference about some of the issues the spacecraft had when it landed, including the fact that it tipped over.

“From the standpoint of getting a soft touchdown on the moon in very challenging terrain near the south pole, this has to be considered a success,” he added.

Over the last few years, many attempts by companies and governments have demonstrated the challenges of landing on the moon, which is about 238,855 miles away, or the equivalent of over 9.5 times around the circumference of the Earth at the equator. Through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, private companies are trying to do what only a few governments had done, at considerably lower cost. 

“With every attempt, NASA’s commercial partners are learning the best ways to accomplish their goals of landing safely on the moon and successfully delivering NASA’s and other commercial partners’ payloads,” Glotch said. The Stony Brook professor described the overlap between the meeting and the landing as a “fun coincidence,” which created a “pretty big cheering section.”

Reflecting on the landing, Glotch shared his sense of pride in the space program, which is preparing to send people back to the moon through Artemis missions over the next five years.

“The fact that NASA was able to work with private corporations to develop the technology, not quite from scratch [but] to redevelop this capability is really impressive,” Glotch said. “It’s a great demonstration of ingenuity, determination and drive.” Engineers likely put in long days and nights making sure everything was ready, testing and retesting systems for this launch and landing, he said.

Lunar meeting

As for the gathering, Glotch said this second annual meeting provided an opportunity for scientists and engineers to discuss the future of travel to the moon and, potentially further in the future, a trip to Mars. 

The auditorium of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine building where Tim Glotch and the other engineers and scientists were watching the landing attempt. Photo by Tim Glitch

A group of scientists and engineers are working together to learn to do the things on the moon that it will eventually do on the Red Planet. The team is focusing on a few bigger items that will matter in a relatively shorter term. After the meeting last year, Glotch said he “really got the sense that the architecture team [at NASA] had been listening to input from scientists.”

One of the bigger questions involves the amount of samples astronauts will bring back from the moon. Researchers expect some of these samples to contain volatiles like water and ice in them.

The scientific community has urged NASA to develop a plan to bring those rocks back frozen in their natural state. When the ice melts, it can cause chemical reactions to occur that make it more challenging to analyze them.

“If they are changing on the way back, we can’t be sure we’re getting the right answer” about where the water originated, he said.

Still, Glotch suggested that examining these defrosted rocks would provide considerable information.

NASA isn’t going to be able to keep the rocks under cold conditions for the first manned American mission that will return people to the Earth, aboard Artemis 3, which is scheduled to launch in September of 2026.

Starting with Artemis 5, in September of 2029, NASA, however, intends to include freezers to keep samples in pristine shape.

As the Science Chair for LEAG, Glotch brought up the need for a new lunar orbiter to characterize the surface at higher spatial resolution. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been in space since 2009, has six or seven years of fuel left.

“Given that time frame, we need to develop a spacecraft and what type of instruments go on it,” said Glotch. NASA “really needs to think hard about funding a follow on orbiter.”

As for a manned journey to Mars, NASA plans to launch such a mission in the 2030s, according to the space agency’s website.

Weather balloons were launched to gather radar data. Photo by Brian Colle, Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

[email protected]

The hours a few meteorology professors and some of their students spent in driving snow and whipping wind this past weekend amid the nor’easter may improve the accuracy of future weather forecasts.

Samantha Lankowicz, above, a sophomore at SBU, takes a photo of the multi-angle snowflake camera, which is the equipment mounted on the black tripod. It captures photos of the snowflakes as they fall from three angles in real time. Photo by Brian Colle, Stony Brook University

Even as other Long Island residents were hunkered indoors, Stony Brook University Professors Brian Colle and Pavlos Kollias were teaming up with scientists from several institutions as a part of a three-year NASA-led study called IMPACTS, for The Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms.

The researchers and a group of their students launched weather balloons and gathered radar data from last Friday evening through Saturday night, as the nor’easter named Kenan dumped well over two feet of snow through parts of Long Island.

Stony Brook students helped launch weather balloons every few hours, while NASA sent an ER-2 high altitude airborne plane and a Lockheed P-3 Orion plane into the storm.

“Everyone brings their tools to the sandbox with respect to looking at these storms,” said Colle, who collected data and managed students for over 24 hours.

At 4 a.m., Colle was driving on a road where the lanes and other traffic had disappeared.

“I kind of enjoyed it,” Colle admitted, as he maneuvered along the snow-covered roadway where the lanes completely disappeared.

Colle is in the second year of an IMPACT operation that started in 2020 and was put on pause last year amid the pandemic.

The purpose of the study is to improve forecasting in a one-to-two-day time horizon.

An improvement in the accuracy of localized forecasts over a shorter time can help municipal authorities determine when to send out plows.

“The models can hone in on those features and provide what we refer to as ‘nowcasting’ or short term forecasting,” Colle said. “There’s a big emphasis within the National Weather Service of providing decision support to emergency managers.”

Part of what makes forecasting these storms so challenging is the difficulty in predicting the timing and location of snow bands, which drop large amounts of snow in short periods of time.

In addition to information from the weather balloons, scientists throughout the area gathered temperature, wind and moisture data in places like Brookhaven and Albany.

Researchers ran a few different radar systems probing into the clouds to get more details about how these precipitation bands formed. 

During the storm, Colle said the wind shear or the change in wind speed at different altitudes was dramatic, with 10- to 20-knot winds near the ground and 50-knot winds only 500 meters above.

“I was surprised by how strong those winds were, right above our heads,” Colle said.

Colle suggested that the students who participated in gathering data amid a driving snowstorm had the opportunity to apply their textbook learning to a real-world situation.

“The students learn about these measurement approaches in class” but they truly understand it differently when they gather the data themselves, he said.

Student experience

A second-year student in the PhD program at Stony Brook, Erin Leghart, who lives in Farmingdale, worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., which included launching six balloons in about six to eight hours.

Leghart said this was the first time she experienced winds like this in a winter storm.

She was well-dressed for the weather, as she invested in an ankle-length winter coat, snow boots, thermal long johns, Patagonia under armor and ski goggles.

Leghart said the excitement about the storm built about five days before it arrived, as it presented an opportunity to “do a live experiment.”

A sophomore at Stony Brook, Samantha Lankowicz, meanwhile, was excited to join her shift from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“I got to do hands-on science with other students,” she said.

Lankowicz, who loves snow and was hoping for a chance to study a nor’easter this year, was pleased that one of the balloons made it all the way to the stratosphere.

Lankowicz has been to other balloon launches where a snow band turned into rain, which was “not as fun, standing in pouring rain when it’s 34 degrees.”

The only time she felt cold was when she had to take off her ski gloves and put on thinner gloves to handle the balloons.

Also a sophomore, John Tafe, who is from Salem, New York, was fascinated by weather early in life. When he was four years old, he saw clouds on the horizon and predicted a thunderstorm, which not only came later that day, but also knocked out power.

Tafe, whose hands also got cold from handling the balloons, was excited to contribute to the effort.

“To be in such a major storm that hopefully will provide valuable data is exciting,” Tafe said. “I hope that the data we collected will help advance the science.”

Above, Scott Kelly, right, with his twin brother Mark. Photo by Robert Markowitz

By Daniel Dunaief

Dear readers,

Each week, in the Power of Three, Times Beacon Record News Media highlights the efforts of dedicated scientists at Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Lab and Brookhaven National Lab. This week, we will feature astronaut Scott Kelly, who set an American record for consecutive days in space.

Kelly not only conducted research on flowers and performed space walks while orbiting the Earth, he also became his own living laboratory, taking blood samples to compare to his twin brother Mark. Some day, the pioneering studies from the twins may turn the dream of a trip to Mars and beyond into a reality.

He had a spectacular view for close to a year, watching 16 sunrises and sunsets each day aboard the International Space Station. He even pretended to catch a pass thrown by television host Stephen Colbert from over 249 miles away.

A view of Earth aboard the ISS. Photo by Scott Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly set an American record for consecutive days in space, floating from one part of the multinational station to another for 340 days. During that journey, in which Kelly traveled over 143 million miles with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the New Jersey native conducted numerous experiments, including on himself. NASA plans to use the information gained from Kelly’s mission to design future extended trips into space, including any future journey to Mars.

Kelly, who returned to Earth in March of 2016, recently published a book titled “Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery” (Knopf), in which he shared a long journey from underachieving high school student to celebrated astronaut.

“There are things about the experience that are absolutely amazing,” he said, “but, then, at the same time, the things that make everything amazing also make other things more difficult.” For starters, moving from a Soyuz rocket to the space station isn’t as simple as stepping out of a car and opening another door. When the rocket attaches to the station, it can take hours to equalize the pressure. In a film or documentary of life in space, “You can’t show 11 hours of docking or six hours of preparation to go out on a space walk,” Kelly said.

Once aboard, the astronaut, who had lived on the space station on an earlier six-month mission, said he had to adapt to the logistics of meals in space. Gravity doesn’t hold the astronauts on a chair or their food on a plate. For close to a year, he couldn’t relax his body while eating, which meant that he felt like he was standing and balancing during meals.

Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly in 1967. Photo from Scott Kelly

Kelly said the transition from life on Earth to the station, and then back again, requires adjustments. One of the most significant scientific efforts he was a part of originated from a conversation Kelly had with a NASA scientist, asking him what he should say if a reporter asked if NASA was comparing the changes in his body to those of his identical twin brother Mark. The NASA scientist then asked if he and his brother, who is a retired astronaut, would consider participating in such an effort. Thus, the NASA Twins Study was born.

Before his mission, Kelly got several small tattoos on his body, to make sure he was drawing blood from the same place each time. Scientists have spent over a year examining changes in his genes. While more results will be published next year, the work so far shows an uptick in the methylation of Scott’s DNA. That means he potentially had more signals that can turn on or off genes.

Additionally, Scott’s telomeres, which protect the ends of DNA strands, were longer during the same period than those of his Earth-bound twin. Also, Scott returned from space closer to two inches taller than his brother because the discs in Scott’s spinal column weren’t compressed by gravity. That difference didn’t last long, however, as his spine returned to normal after he came back to Earth.

While life aboard the space station included movies like “50 Shades of Grey” in Russian and books like “The Right Stuff” by Thomas Wolfe, which Kelly said inspired him to become an astronaut, it also involved unusual environmental challenges.

Scott Kelly. Photo from NASA

As part of his training, Kelly needed to recognize any of the symptoms of carbon dioxide buildup in his system. His girlfriend Amiko Kauderer provided some necessary observations during one particular conversation. Within seconds of speaking with him, Kauderer told him to stop talking to her and check the carbon dioxide levels. She quickly had diagnosed that the carbon dioxide levels, while not dangerously high, were above Kelly’s comfort level.

Kelly explained that the routine in space doesn’t leave much time for relaxation or down time. “You have one day on the weekend when you’re off,” he said. “You can arrange your workweek such that you’re taking advantage of that. You still have stuff like cleaning the space station and you still have to exercise and organize the living environment.”

Indeed, astronauts need to exercise aboard the station or risk losing bone mass and encountering muscular atrophy during their missions. In addition to stretching his body, Kelly expanded the typical limits of his responsibility for some scientific experiments.

As he chronicled in his book, he was following a protocol for growing zinnias. When the flowers weren’t flourishing, Kelly asked NASA if he could take over the decision-making process, which NASA approved. “The satisfaction came more from the idea that it was an experiment that we were making the decisions on and controlling,” he said.

Typically, he reported what he saw to NASA, and scientists back on Earth came up with a plan that they sent to Kelly. While they required considerable effort, the astronaut also took satisfaction in the three space walks he conducted during his journey. As with the movie “Gravity,” Kelly recognized the danger that orbiting space debris, even small pieces, could pose for the space station and him. “You could get hit with something that would not only put a hole in your visor, but would put a hole in your head,” he said.

Kelly didn’t bother watching out for such objects when he’s outside the station because he’d “never see it coming at you at 17,000 miles an hour.” As for what he could see from space, Kelly watched wildfires in California and Hurricane Patricia, which was a storm off the coast of Oman. In addition to information NASA might take from his mission that could inform decisions about future missions, Kelly hopes people view his experience, and his success, as a model for them.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for redemption in the United States,” Kelly said. “It’s not the preferred or easy path, but it is a path, especially in this country.”

Adam Gonzalez. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

More than four days after lift off, pioneering astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the surface of the moon. The NASA schedule, which included preparing the vehicle for an emergency abort of the mission in the event of a problem, called for a nap of four hours. Once they were there, however, Armstrong and Aldrin couldn’t imagine taking a four-hour respite.

“Both Armstrong and Aldrin were, understandably, excited about where they were and decided to forgo the sleeping and changed history,” Thomas Williams, element scientist in Human Factors and Behavioral Performance at NASA, described in an email.

A future trip to Mars, however, would involve considerably longer delayed gratification, with the round trip estimated to take over 400 days. The stresses and strains, the anxiety about an uncertain future and the increasing distance from family and friends, not to mention the smell of cut grass and the appearance of holiday decorations, could weigh on even the most eager of astronauts.

Determined to prepare for contingencies, NASA is funding research to understand ways to combat the mental health strains that might affect future astronauts who dare to go further than anyone has ever gone.

‘Being in long-duration space missions with other people, we expect the mental health risk will be much more elevated’. — Adam Gonzalez

Gonzalez, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University, received over $1 million in funding from NASA to explore ways to help these future astronauts who might be anxious or depressed when they’re on the way to the red planet.

In a highly competitive process, Gonzalez received the financial support to provide guidance on what NASA considers a low-probability, high-consequence mental health event, according to Williams.

Gonzalez “was funded because of the soundness of his research proposal and the clinical and technological expertise of the research team he assembled to help NASA address this research gap,” Williams explained.

Gonzalez started providing three different types of psychological assistance to 135 people in the middle of September. He is testing ways to provide mental health assistance with a delay that could require over 40 minutes to travel back and forth.

One group of test subjects will use a system called myCompass, which is a mental health self-help program. Another group will use myCompass coupled with a delayed text messaging response from a therapist, and a third will have a myCompass system along with delayed video messaging from a therapist.

“Being in long-duration space missions with other people — in this case, months and potentially years — stuck in extremely close quarters with others, we expect the mental health risk will be much more elevated relative to what they are going to have on the International Space Station,” Gonzalez said.

Williams said astronauts to date have not had any diagnosable disorders, but NASA has seen fluctuations in their mood, which appears linked to workload demands and the phase of the mission, Williams said. For astronauts, NASA does not want a continuing negative trend that, over a longer term, could turn into a problem.

“Part of what we hope to achieve with [Gonzalez’s] research is a validated approach to address any of these concerns,” Williams said, adding that astronauts typically understand that their contributions involve work in “high-demand, extreme environments,” Williams said.

Still, like explorers in earlier centuries, astronauts on a trip to Mars will journey farther and for a longer period of time than anyone up to that point. MyCompass is a “good, efficacious program” that takes a “trans-diagnostic cognitive behavioral therapy approach,” Gonzalez said. He suggested that the program is broad enough to help individuals manage their emotions more generally, as opposed to targeting specific types of health disorders.

Gonzalez emphasized that the choice of using myCompass as a part of this experiment was his and might not be NASA’s. The purpose of this study is to investigate different methods for communicating for mental health purposes when real-time communication isn’t possible.

William suggested that Gonzalez’s work, among others, could lead to individualized procedures for each astronaut. In addition to his work with NASA, Gonzalez also assists people at the front lines after man-made or natural disasters. He has worked with Benjamin Luft, the director of Stony Brook University’s WTC Wellness Program, on a program that offers assistance to first responders after the 9/11 attacks.

Gonzalez’s father, Peter, was a police officer who worked on the World Trade Center cleanup and recovery efforts. The elder Gonzalez has since had 9/11-related health conditions.

Gonzalez and associate professor Anka Vujanovic, the co-director of the Trauma and Anxiety Clinic at the University of Houston, are putting together a research project for the Houston area. Vujanovic did a mental health survey on Houston area firefighters earlier this year. They are inviting these firefighters to complete an online survey and telephone assessment to determine their mental health after Hurricane Harvey.

They are also conducting a three- to four-hour resilience training workshop for Houston area firefighters engaged in Harvey disaster relief efforts. “This resilience program, developed by [Gonzalez] and his colleagues, has shown promising results in reducing various mental health symptoms when tested among first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” Vujanovic explained in an email.

Vujanovic has known Gonzalez for over 10 years and suggested his questions were focused on “how can we better serve others, how can we improve existing interventions and how can we develop culturally sensitive approaches for vulnerable, understudied populations.” Gonzalez, who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and came to Stony Brook in 2012, said he was always interested in helping others.

Williams suggested that this kind of research can help people outside the space program. “We openly share and encourage the sharing of any of our relevant research findings to help address societal needs,” he added. Gonzalez’s research is “a great example of how a NASA focus on delivering personalized interventions in support of long-duration spaceflight could potentially be generalized to more rural settings where mental health providers may be scarce.”

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The eclipse has come and gone, and for me it lived up to its advanced billing. It was awesome. I can’t say I was prepared to be awed. In fact, since most “great” shows tend to be overhyped, especially with all the different platforms we now communicate on, from radio and TV to blogs, websites, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, they are over previewed and inevitably a letdown.

Not so last Monday’s eclipse. I happened to be taking a vacation day, and my family was visiting, so there were a number of us getting ready for the event. We weren’t particularly excited about what was predicted to happen. I think curious was a better description. None of us had secured the appropriate glasses in advance but fortunately a good friend put a pair in my hands at the last minute, and that made all the difference.

Without the glasses, we were told not to look at the sun for fear of damaging our retinas. The day dawned pleasantly enough, with blue sky and bright sun but, as the morning wore on, the light breeze that started the day disappeared altogether. We noted that fact because we have a little Hobie Cat that we use to get out on the water, and there wasn’t even enough wind to move that slender craft. As we sat around the patio, there was an air of expectancy around noon, although maybe I was just projecting. We heard no birdsong, saw no squirrels and thought the yard unusually quiet. By then the bright sun had yielded to what seemed like overhanging clouds, but there weren’t low clouds in the sky. By 1:30 p.m., there was perceptibly less light.

By 2:30, one by one we looked up at the sun through the protective glasses, and each of us emitted an involuntary noise. The moon, essentially a black disc, was moving west to east across the lower three-quarters of the sun. We could see it clearly, with no clouds in the way. The feeling was of watching something happening that was profoundly greater than any human activity. In fact, I had a similar sensation when I stood at the top of a mountain in Alaska and looked out over the hundreds of miles of landscape with not a human or a human structure in sight. I felt the utter insignificance of humans in the cosmos.

Just as predicted for the New York region, around 2:40 we saw the maximum area of sun occluded by the moon, and just around that time there was a fierce gust of wind that came from nowhere and shook the surrounding trees, with their lush summer leaves, into a frenzy. It was almost spooky. After a few minutes, the wind diminished and turned into a summer breeze.

We sat in a circle, passing the cardboard glasses from hand to hand, and continued to marvel at the sight of the moon blocking most of the sun. But the surface of the moon did not seem uniformly dense, rather appearing to let patches of light through parts of the disc — or so it appeared to me. Then, as the minutes ticked by and the moon moved off, it was almost with regret that we saw it leave. For those all-too-brief moments, we had witnessed what only the gods can see: the movement of the inner parts of the universe as some sort of well-regulated Swiss watch. It was a stately dance of the planets, predictable for its steps but thrilling on its cosmic scale.

Then it was over and, as one, we rose to take advantage of the newfound breeze and get in some late afternoon sailing. But somehow we weren’t quite the same. Yes, we know the basics: That the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth, a kind of merry-go-round within a merry-go-round. But to witness a tiny part of that movement, for even the shortest time, can only be described as leaving us in awe. 

A boy wears protective glasses during a partial solar eclipse in 2014. Photo from nasa.gov

By Jill Webb

It won’t be an average Monday, Aug. 21, this year as the moon will completely block the sun for two-and-a-half minutes.

The day marks the first total solar eclipse to happen in North America since 1979, and it’s the first one to stretch from coast to coast in 99 years. In a total solar eclipse the disk of the moon seems to entirely cover the disk of the sun. This will happen Monday on a path about 70 miles wide.

A solar eclipse. Stock photo

Unfortunately, Long Island isn’t on the eclipse’s path of totality, but you still will be able to see a partial eclipse. New York will have about 71 percent of the sun covered during the eclipse. At 1:24 p.m. the eclipse begins on Long Island, and will last till 4:01 p.m. The peak eclipse time is 2:46 p.m.

“I think it’s wonderful for families to experience this with their children,” NASA expert Laurie Cantillo said. “It could be an experience like this that will get a child to stop looking at a phone or tablet and look up to the sky and perhaps motivate them to want to learn more.”

Fredrick Walters, an astronomy professor at Stony Brook University, has put together a list of ways to maximize your viewing experience of the eclipse. Walters said to focus on looking at the stars emerging during the daytime, the shadow bands that will appear across the land and the changing colors as the light fades.

Most importantly, you need to have the proper viewing tool: eclipse glasses. Regular sunglasses won’t cut it, and it’s very dangerous to directly expose your eyes to the sun.

“We’ve all been taught ever since we were kids don’t ever look directly at the sun and that advice applies,” Cantillo said. “The only time it’s safe to remove eclipse glasses is if you’re in the path of totality, during those couple minutes of totality.”

Unprotected viewing may not cause immediate pain, but Walters said he has heard of cases of people waking up the next morning with blurry vision or blindness. Some people can recover in months to years, but it’s not worth the risk.

North Shore solar eclipse events

Middle Country Public Library

2017 Solar Eclipse: Celestial Event of the Century

At its Centereach building, the library will be hosting a solar eclipse viewing between 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Along with the viewing, activities and eclipse glasses will be provided for all ages. Register for the event by calling 631-585-9393.

Huntington Public Library

Astronomy Crafts

From noon to 2:00 p.m. Huntington Public Library will be offering an astronomy craft session at its main building as well as the Huntington Station branch. One of the space-themed crafts is an eclipse on a stick. There will also be a viewing event in the afternoon at both buildings where you will receive a free pair of eclipse glasses; no registration is required. For more information, visit www.thehuntingtonlibrary.org.

Long Island Science Center

Solar Eclipse Event

From 1 to 4 p.m. the Long Island Science Center will be hosting solar activities, live streaming and more. Planetarium presentations will happen at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Admission is $10 and free for children 2 and under. For more information, visit www.lisciencecenter.org.

North Shore Public Library

Catch the Eclipse!

At 1:30 p.m. Tom Madigan of Suffolk County Community College, who is a part of Astronomy for Change, will give a brief presentation on solar eclipses before leading the event outside to view the solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses will be provided. Register for the event by calling 631-929-4488.

South Huntington Public Library

See the Solar Eclipse

Bring some snacks and a blanket to lay out on the lawn behind the library from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. to witness the eclipse. The library will provide glasses (four per family) while supplies last. Inside, the eclipse will be live streamed from NASA in the library’s theater. Visit www.shpl.info for more information.

Maritime Explorium

Totality 2017 Solar Eclipse

Become a citizen scientist at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson by attending a viewing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and helping to crowd source data for researchers at NASA and EclipseMob. Eclipse glasses will be available while supplies last; no registration required. For more information, visit www.maritimeexplorium.org.

The professor said that these special glasses are basically pieces of Mylar foil shielding your eyes. The glasses should be from proper sources that are certified by testing organizations.

“If you have a pair of eclipse glasses and want to test them, put them on and look —not at the sun — but just look at bright lights and things.” Walters said. “If you can see anything, throw them away. You shouldn’t be able to see [anything] except the sun.”

If you can’t get a pair of eclipse glasses in time, you can DIY them by putting a small round hole in an index card and project the image of the sun onto a flat surface.

“One thing you will notice if you don’t look at the sun through your glasses is if you look at the shadows on the ground, you’ll see the shadows are crescent-shaped,” Walters said.

Leaves in the trees could act as projection tools too, casting multiple tiny crescent-shaped shadows on the ground.

During the partial phase, according to Walters, you won’t notice anything besides the sun getting dimmer.

“Unless, you look at the sun through your eclipse glasses, and you can see the sun is no longer circular — there’s a chunk taken out of it,” Walters said. “But, nothing much changes until you have the total phase of the eclipse because the sun just fades.”

Viewers along the path of totality will have a different viewing experience than Long Islanders.

“Inside the path of totality is completely different, it will be night for two and a half minutes.,” Walters said. “The sun gets completely blocked out, the corona of the sun is about as bright as the full moon, that will provide illumination.”

Walters also pointed out that in the path of totality, regular colors might appear different. Where sunrises and sunsets usually appear to have reddish tints, during the eclipse the tone will have a blue tinge. Another thing to notice is temperature; during the peak eclipse things will get colder.

Eclipses have provided researchers with data to uncover scientific discoveries. This time, the scientists are letting the public partake in their findings.

“One of the things that is being planned for next Monday is the National Solar Observatory and the National Science Foundation have handed out a number of telescopes [and] cameras to people along the eclipse line,” Walters said. “The idea is to have them take pictures and movies and stitch it all together to a 90-minute-long movie of how the sun’s corona is changing. This has never been done.”

If you miss this eclipse, don’t fret because another one is coming April 8, 2024, that will run from Texas through Maine — and upstate New York will be in the path of totality.

“It’s almost a mystical experience — you really have to experience this,” Walters said. “It’s good scientifically, but it’s really a great thing to observe on a human level.”

News 12 meteorologist Rich Hoffman said in an email that the weather forecast for Aug. 21 is good, even though things could change between press time and the eclipse. Hoffman said mostly sunny skies are expected for the day with temperature highs near 84.

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There will be a rare, special occasion on my birthday this year. The spectacle I refer to is the first total solar eclipse across the United States since 1918.

Termed the Great American Eclipse, the moon will come between the Earth and the sun, blocking out daylight for about two-and-a-half minutes on Aug. 21.

According to a New York Times science article, “A Dark Spotlight” by Nicholas St. Fleur, “The temperature will dip. Birds will hush. And a dazzling, pearly white halo will emerge, demanding everyone’s attention.”

Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, population 26,000, has been deemed by NASA as “the point of greatest duration.” This small college city is bracing for an onslaught of many thousands, who will want to experience that day in the most dramatic place. Hotels are booked, some at $499 per night with a three-night minimum, seats are selling in the 15,000 seat Southern Illinois University stadium for $25, and local business people are rubbing their hands in expectation of an economic bonanza amid municipal financial struggles.

According to The Times, “People have called from Europe, Japan, Panama and Brazil” looking for accommodations. The city is planning other events leading up to the eclipse, including a music festival called Shadowfest. T-shirts, eclipse hats, coffee mugs and any other items that can carry a logo are selling.

Among the visitors will be excited astronomers, who are fascinated by this rare opportunity to collate new data. With the total eclipse, the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, will be visible separately behind the moon. It has long been a mystery because its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius while the rest of the sun’s surface registers 5,500 degrees Celsius. Why the extreme difference and why is it hotter farther away from the center? Astronomers will have only 2 minutes, 38 seconds to capture the sun’s secrets. But they can come yet again to Carbondale for the next eclipse, which is predicted for April 8, 2024. Coincidentally, that will be the 48th anniversary day of the founding of The Village Times.

To share with you some interesting trivia I learned from the article, the sun goes through an 11-year cycle. During that period its activity level changes from mellow to being more turbulent. Bet you didn’t know that, unless you are an astronomer or a rabid stargazer. This year, the sun is on the down side, but during the next eclipse activity will be greater, with more sunspots and solar flares.

Now that you know about the coming eclipse, if you didn’t already, perhaps you too can pass yourself off as a “magician.” That is what Hank Morgan does in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” In that tale, Hank receives a severe blow on the head and when he awakes, he finds himself transported back in time from the 19th century to early medieval England and the world of King Arthur, Merlin and Sir Lancelot. Because Hank is dressed differently and speaks oddly, he is sentenced to burn at the stake. But his execution date, he knows, coincides with a historical eclipse, and he threatens King Arthur with blocking out the sun if he is set alight. As the eclipse begins, the king releases him from prison, and Hank becomes the second most powerful person in the kingdom.

All of which gives me an idea. On Aug. 21, I will proclaim myself publisher of six newspapers, one website, several supplements and maps, and the executive producer of a full-length historic film called, “One Life to Give.” Now I call that magic. And if people don’t believe me, I will threaten on my birthday to blot out the sun.

Stony Brook’s Center for Planetary Exploration opens

Renee Schofield explains the testbed for the PIXL she built. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Although some might not think of Suffolk County as an obvious hotbed of planetary exploration, it doesn’t take long to discover just how impactful the research and work conducted on Long Island has been on the growth of space science.

Going back to the Apollo program in the early 1960s, the Grumman corporation was vital in landing astronauts on the moon by designing, assembling and testing the lunar module at its facility in Bethpage.

Even closer to home, the founder of Stony Brook University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Dr. Oliver Schaeffer, became the first person to date celestial objects. He confirmed that the moon rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts were more than four billion years old.

Donald Hendrix leads a research team to help future astronauts prevent long-term illnesses. Photo by Kevin Redding
Donald Hendrix leads a research team to help future astronauts prevent long-term illnesses. Photo by Kevin Redding

Now half a century later, Stony Brook University has once again cemented Long Island’s place in innovative planetary research.

In 2014, Timothy Glotch, a professor in the department of geosciences, received a $5.5 million grant from NASA through their Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute program to support his research. The department eventually obtained a 6,500-square-foot, world-class facility consisting of three different labs.

On Aug. 26, the public was invited to the official opening of Stony Brook’s Center for Planetary Exploration, where faculty members and students in the department gave a tour of their labs and showcased the inspiring work that has taken place so far.

At the core of CPEX is the Stony Brook-led multi-institutional Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration Institute, one of the nine nodes of the NASA program.

“We’re trying to pave the way for future human exploration of the solar system,” Glotch said. “Right now we are doing basic science; we are doing exploration activities that are going to get humans to Mars, back to the moon, and to the moons of Mars. That work is going on right here. We’re kind of leading the way in space exploration and we’re very proud of that. ”

He stressed the importance of the overall goal: to train the next generation of solar system explorers and scientists. The students are going to be running missions in the next decade or two, he said.

“Just as Schaeffer put together a young and talented group of researchers, we now have an extraordinarily talented group of young researchers working in planetary science,” current Chair of the Department Dan Davis said.

“We’re trying to pave the way for future human exploration of the solar system.”

—Timothy Glotch

As for the three different labs, professor Joel Hurowitz runs the geochemistry lab, which includes a student-built test bed for the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, which will fly on the Mars 2020 rover.

The PIXL is an X-ray microscope that looks at rock samples and builds maps of the elemental distribution in those samples to make it easier to analyze.

“From there, we can start to dig in and try to understand whether the environment that those rocks were deposited in were habitable,” Hurowitz said. “PIXL can detect things that are chemical biosignatures. It can detect biosignature in a rock on the surface of Mars. So we’re trying to place some constraints on whether or not there was ever life on Mars.”

The lab is also conducting a series of experiments to determine the damaging effects of lunar dust inhalation by future astronauts.

“What I do is I try to find minerals here on Earth that are similar to what’s found on the moon,” Donald Hendrix, a graduate student leading the research, said. “I grind them up into powders and determine what chemicals are made when they are exposed to fluid, because whenever you breathe in a mineral powder, they can produce chemicals inside your lungs that can potentially cause a lot of damage and turn into lung cancer.

Since humans are going to go back to the moon in the next 20 or 30 years, for really long periods of time, I want to know what hazards astronauts might face while they’re up there.”

Through the research he’s conducting with his team, he’s trying to figure out where astronauts could go that won’t be quite as dangerous.

Professors Joel Hurowitz, Deanne Rogers and Timothy Glotch guide their students in planetary research. Photo by Kevin Redding
Professors Joel Hurowitz, Deanne Rogers and Timothy Glotch guide their students in planetary research. Photo by Kevin Redding

Deanne Rogers runs the remote sensing facility, where faculty, students and postdoctoral researchers analyze various images and infrared data that come from Mars and the moon. From there, they incorporate observation skills and geological training to learn about the planet or moon’s environmental and climatic history.

Glotch’s spectroscopy lab is where students acquire infrared spectra of minerals and rocks for comparison to data collected by Mars and Moon orbiters. Within this lab is the Planetary and Asteroid Regolith Spectroscopy Environmental Chamber, used to re-create the conditions on the lunar surface for accurate measurements.

“I can make the moon on Earth, basically, and that’s pretty exciting,” graduate student Katherine Shirley said. “This machine is special because we can make different environments in this. Eventually we’re going to get some attachments so we can simulate the Martian surface or asteroid surface.”

The lab includes a small piece from Mars, which visitors were encouraged to hold.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was once a student and employee at SBU, spoke about how much the department means to him.

“I’m practically retired, but my heart is still here,” he said. “I served in this department and am proud to have been among such extraordinary researchers and wonderful human beings for 43 years. It’s a privilege now to help send resources in the direction of these extraordinary individuals who are literally writing the next chapter of our understanding of the universe and solar system. I look forward to continuing to work with you as you go forward. They say I’m technically retired, but don’t believe it. I’m just one phone call away.”

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) presented the faculty with a proclamation from the county legislature to celebrate what this research means for the community, the university and the overall future of science.

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BNL’s Peter Guida with Daniela Trani, a summer school student at the NASA Space Radiation Lab. Photo from BNL

Ferdinand Magellan didn’t have the luxury of sending a machine into the unknown around the world before he took to the seas. Modern humans, however, dispatch satellites, rovers and orbiters into the farthest reaches of the universe. Several months after the New Horizons spacecraft beamed back the first close-up images of Pluto from over three billion miles away, NASA confirmed the presence of water on Mars.

The Mars discovery continues the excitement over the possibility of sending astronauts to the Red Planet as early as the 2030s.

Before astronauts can take a journey between planets that average 140 million miles apart, scientists need to figure out the health effects of prolonged exposure to damaging radiation.

Each year, liaison biologist Peter Guida at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at Brookhaven National Laboratory coordinates the visits of over 400 scientists to a facility designed to determine, among other things, what radiation does to the human body and to find possible prevention or treatment for any damage.

Guida is working to “improve our understanding of the effects that space radiation from cosmic rays have on humans,” explained Michael Sivertz, a physicist at the same facility. “He would like to make sure that voyages to Mars do not have to be one-way trips.”

Guida said radiation induces un-repaired and mis-repaired DNA damage. Enough accumulated mutations can cause cancer. Radiation also induces reactive oxygen species and produces secondary damage that is like aging.

The results from these experiments could provide insights that lead to a better understanding of diseases in general and may reveal potential targets for treatment.

This type of research could help those who battle cancer, neurological defects or other health challenges, Guida said.

By observing the molecular changes tissues and cells grown in the lab undergo in model systems as they transition from healthy to cancerous, researchers can look to protect or restore genetic systems that might be especially vulnerable.

If the work done at the NSRL uncovers some of those genetic steps, it could also provide researchers and, down the road, doctors with a way of using those genes as predictors of cancer or can offer guidance in tailoring individualized medical treatment based on the molecular signature of a developing cancer, Guida suggested.

Guida conducts research on neural progenitor cells, which can create other types of cells in the nervous system, such as astrocytes. He also triggers differentiation in these cells and works with mature neurons. He has collaborated with Roger M. Loria, a professor in microbiology and immunology at Virginia Commonwealth University, on a compound that reverses the damage from radiation on the hematological, or blood, system.

The compound can increase red blood cells, hemoglobin and platelet counts even after exposure to some radiation. It also increases monocytes and the number of bone marrow cells. A treatment like this might be like having the equivalent of a fire extinguisher nearby, not only for astronauts but also for those who might be exposed to radiation through accidents like Fukushima or Chernobyl or in the event of a deliberate act.

Loria is conducting tests for Food and Drug Administration approval, Guida said.

If this compound helps astronauts, it might also have applications for other health challenges, although any other uses would require careful testing.

While Guida conducts and collaborates on research, he spends the majority of his time ensuring that the NSRL is meeting NASA’s scientific goals and objectives by supporting the research of investigators who conduct their studies at the site. He and a team of support personnel at NSRL set up the labs and equipment for these visiting scientists. He also schedules time on the beam line that generates ionizing particles.

Guida is “very well respected within the space radiation community, which is why he was chosen to have such responsibility,” said Sivertz, who has known Guida for a decade.

Guida and his wife Susan, a therapist who is in private practice, live in Searingtown.

While Guida recalls making a drawing in crayon after watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, he didn’t seek out an opportunity at BNL because of a long-standing interest in space. Rather, his scientific interest stemmed from a desire to contribute to cancer research.

When he was 15, his mother Jennie, who was a seamstress, died after a two-year battle with cancer. Guida started out his career at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he hoped to make at least the “tiniest contribution” to cancer research.

He pursued postdoctoral research at BNL to study the link between mutations, radiation and cancer.

Guida feels as if he’s contributed to cancer research and likes to think his mother is proud of him. “Like a good scientist,” though, he said he’s “never satisfied. Good science creates the need to do more good science. When you find something out, that naturally leads to more questions.”

This view, from 478,000 miles, shows that Pluto is home to huge, 11,000-foot tall mountains, most likely composed of ice and frozen methane and nitrogen. The lack of impact craters suggests that Pluto’s surface is young, probably less than 100 million years old. Courtesy of NASA/APL/SwRI

When Alan Calder was young, his father used to share the world of the planets and stars with him through telescopes in their backyard. Peter Tarr, meanwhile, drew pictures in his teenage notebooks of Saturn and Jupiter and saved enough money to travel to Africa aboard a ship with Neil Armstrong to view a solar eclipse.

This past week, Calder, Tarr, and many others who have craned their necks skyward received the first set of clear images from Pluto, a dwarf planet located more than three billion miles from Earth.

The New Horizons space probe, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration blasted off from Earth in 2006, beamed back the first pictures of a dwarf planet that had, up until recently, been considered something of a gray, icy blob.

Traveling at the speed of light, the images took four and a half hours to reach the eager eyes of astronomers and scientists around the world. Long Islanders shared the excitement surrounding these first close-up views of a planet named, by then 11-year old Venetia Burney, more than eight decades ago.

“Our imaginations tend to fail us” when anticipating what’s around the corner or, more precisely, billions of miles away, said Frederick Walter, a professor of astronomy who specializes in stars and teaches a solar system course at Stony Brook. Pluto “doesn’t look like any of the worlds we know.”

Astronomers have zeroed in on the 11,000 foot high ice mountains, which, NASA scientists said, are likely made of a combination of ice and frozen methane and nitrogen.

The show stopper in these early images, however, was the lack of something many of them were sure would be there: impact craters. These craters are like the ones that riddle the surface of Earth’s moon and that have also affected the geology of our planet.

New Horizons captured this stunning image, on July 13, of one of Pluto’s most dominant features, the “heart.” It’s estimated to be 1,000 miles across at its widest point and rests just above the equator. The heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago. Courtesy of NASA/APL/SwRI
New Horizons captured this stunning image, on July 13, of one of Pluto’s most dominant features, the “heart.” It’s estimated to be 1,000 miles across at its widest point and rests just above the equator. The heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago. Courtesy of NASA/APL/SwRI

“Some process has been resurfacing this planet, to smooth it out and get rid of whatever craters it should have,” said Deanne Rogers, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook. “That was a real surprise for me.”

At this point, any explanation of the process that might melt and smooth out the surface of a planet that takes 248 years to orbit the sun is speculation, Rogers added.

One such possibility is the presence of radioactive elements, researchers said.

Calder, who is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook, said he, too, is “intrigued by what seems to be the smooth surface of the planet. That implies an active geology.”

Calder’s research is in the field of star explosions. He said the images and information from Pluto wouldn’t impact his work too directly, unless scientists were able to show an interesting ratio of unexpected isotopes.

Calder said he’s looking forward to watching the textbooks change and seeing an alteration in the curriculum of classes on the solar system in light of the new images from the New Horizons satellite that are returning at such a slow pace that it will take 16 months for NASA to collect them all.

The active geology of this distant dwarf planet suggests that “even a small cold body that far out has activity on it,” Calder said.

For Tarr, a senior science writer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, his interest in the planets date back to his teens. Traveling aboard a boat toward Africa to observe a solar eclipse, Tarr rubbed elbows with author Isaac Asimov, astronaut Armstrong, thousands of others interested in astronomy and fellow teenager Neil deGrasse Tyson, who would become an astrophysicist, author and director of the Hayden Planetarium.

For Tarr, some of the heroes of the Pluto images are the scientists who figured out, more than a decade ago, how to plot a course from Earth that would take the New Horizons spacecraft within 7,800 miles of Pluto.

“The calculation that goes into the launch is an incredible achievement,” Tarr said.

For Walter, part of the excitement of seeing these images comes from interpreting and understanding the unexpected parts of the picture.

“If you anticipated everything, you’d be doing the wrong thing,” Walter said. “Now that they’ve got these images” some of the old ideas will get “tossed out, and they’ll bring in something new” to explain the lack of craters, he added.