Tag Archives | Near Earth Objects

Asteroid Large As Mountain Heading For Earth

Needless to say, if a mountain-sized asteroid slams into the Earth’s atmosphere, it will be devastating to life on our planet. Could the Russian scientist who says he’s spotted the asteroid in question be right? First the news video from the Russian Space Agency (in Russian, sorry):

Report from the Christian Science Monitor:

A Russian astrophysicist says his team has located a huge, mountain-sized asteroid whose orbit crosses the Earth’s every three years.

Even though experts say the giant object, known as 2014 UR116, poses no immediate threat of collision, its unexpected discovery underscores how little is still known about asteroids and their unpredictable orbits.

Vladimir Lipunov, a professor at Moscow State University, announced the find in a short documentary, “Asteroid Attack,” posted on the website of the Russian Space Agency on Sunday. Mr. Lipunov says the asteroid, which he calculates is 370 meters in diameter, could hit the Earth with an explosion 1,000 times greater than the surprise 2013 impact of a bus-sized meteor in Russia.

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United Nations to Adopt Asteroid Defense Plan

Ssc2005-01bThe Hollywood adaptation of this story is no doubt already in the works. In the meantime, Scientific American has the details of the UN’s plan to defeat an asteroid attack:

When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids.

The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraft to slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.

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Massive Asteroid Will Buzz Earth Today

This “Near Earth Object” is so big it has its own moon, and it’s visiting Earth today. Let’s hope the scientists didn’t get the estimated distance wrong! Via NPR:

An asteroid nine times the size of a cruise ship is dropping by Earth Friday, and it’s not coming alone. Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be about 3.6 million miles from our planet at its closest approach. But the new proximity has already given scientists a surprise: The asteroid has its own moon, measured at about 2,000 feet wide.

Today will mark the closest the asteroid comes to Earth for at least the next 200 years, say researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the radar observations spotting the asteroid’s moon. The point of maximum proximity will come at 4:59 p.m. ET, or 20:59 UTC, Friday, according to the space agency.

“In the near-Earth population, about 16 percent of asteroids that are about 655 feet (200 meters) or larger are binary or triple systems,” according to NASA.

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NASA Wants $100 Million To Catch An Asteroid

2007wd5And just what do you think they’ll do with the damn thing if they actually catch it? From Aviation Week:

NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request will include $100 million for a new mission to find a small asteroid, capture it with a robotic spacecraft and bring it into range of human explorers somewhere in the vicinity of the Moon.

Suggested last year by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, the idea has attracted favor at NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. President Obama’s goal of sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 can’t be done with foreseeable civil-space spending, the thinking goes. But by moving an asteroid to cislunar space — a high lunar orbit or the second Earth-Moon Lagrangian Point (EML2), above the Moon’s far side — it is conceivable that technically the deadline could be met.

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Can We Stop The Next Meteor Strike?

Given the history of planetary destruction from meteor strikes in the past, trying to stop them from impacting our now vastly more populated planet seems like a good idea, but one wonders if it’s realistic. NASA is working on it, regardless, reports The Christian Science Monitor:

This month’s meteor detonation above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk and Earth’s close shave with asteroid 2012 DA14 have kick-started conversations on lessons learned and what steps can be taken to prevent space rock impacts in the future.

One positive action item was actually in place prior to the dual asteroid events of Feb. 15: a new Memorandum of Agreement between the Air, Space, and Cyberspace Operations Directorate of the Air Force Space Command and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

That document, which was signed on Jan. 18 of this year, spells out specifics for the public release of meteor data from sources such as high-flying, hush-hush U.S.

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Why Aren’t You Working On An Asteroid Shield?

An excellent and timely question, asked by Emi Kolawole at the Washington Post:
Seriously, why aren’t all of America’s best and brightest working feverishly to keep us from being struck by an asteroid that could wipe a city (or more) from the face of the Earth? A cure for cancer, balancing the nation’s federal budget, and eliminating world hunger would all be rendered moot if an asteroid pulverized the planet. Granted, as the Post’s Brian Vastag reports, neither a city-destroying nor Earth-ending space rock is on anywhere near an immediate collision course with the planet — for now. (Seriously, don’t panic.) But the anticipated near-miss of asteroid 2012 DA14 by 17,000 miles on Feb. 15 should inspire every innovator to want to figure out how to make Earth asteroid-proof, right? Now, of course, there are a number of people working on how to keep Earth safe from asteroids and other potentially Earth-threatening debris. There are so many, in fact, that there is an internationalPlanetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff, Ariz., in April. And, as NASA Spokesman David Agle wrote...
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NASA Training Astronauts for Asteroid Mission

433 ErosThe mission would not occur until the 2020s, so we all can rest assured that no harbinger of doom is on the way ...? As Richard Gray reports in the Telegraph:
It is a space mission straight from the Hollywood film Armageddon... A team of astronauts, however, have already started preparing for just such a mission. Among them is Major Tim Peake, a former British Army helicopter test pilot who is now the first official British astronaut with the European Space Agency. Next month they will begin a training programme that will teach them how to operate vehicles, conduct spacewalks and gather samples on the surface of an asteroid. While the primary goal of a mission to an asteroid will be scientific to learn more about their hostile environments, the skills needed to work on their surface could also prove invaluable should scientists discover one on a collision course with Earth...
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We Can Survive Killer Asteroids — But It Won’t Be Easy

Celebrity astro-physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares some advice on how to guard against pesky Near-Earth Objects (like the meteor that lit up California and Nevada last weekend), in Wired Science:
The chances that your tombstone will read “Killed by Asteroid” are about the same as they’d be for “Killed in Airplane Crash.” Solar System debris rains down on Earth in vast quantities — more than a hundred tons of it a day. Most of it vaporizes in our atmosphere, leaving stunning trails of light we call shooting stars. More hazardous are the billions, likely trillions, of leftover rocks — comets and asteroids — that wander interplanetary space in search of targets. Most asteroids are made of rock. The rest are metal, mostly iron. Some are rubble piles — gravitationally bound collections of bits and pieces. Most live between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and will never come near Earth.
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Mysterious Explosion and Daylight Fireball in Nevada, California Skies

Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

The consensus is that it was a meteor crashing to earth. Martin Griffith reports for AP via Christian Science Monitor:

A loud explosion heard across much of Nevada and California on Sunday morning rattled homes and prompted a flood of calls to law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, some reporting fireball sightings.

The sound and the light show were likely caused by a meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere, astronomers said…

Some people reported seeing a brilliant light streak across the sky at the same time. Sightings occurred over roughly a 600-mile line across the two states, including Reno, Elko and North Las Vegas in Nevada, and the San Francisco, Sacramento and Bakersfield areas in California.

Astronomers said they believe the mysterious light was a fireball, which is a very bright meteor. It will take time to determine the path of the fireball and where it broke up, they added…

[continues at AP via Christian Science Monitor]

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Comet Dies As It Flies Too Close To Sun

Photo: Science/AAAS

Photo: Science/AAAS

Allison McCann reports for Popular Mechanics on the visual trail of a comet as it approached the sun, vaporized, and finally disintegrated:

Sun-grazing comets are frustratingly elusive. As they approach the intense heat of the sun, these dirty snowballs turn to gas in a hurry and put on an impressive show before they disappear. But the intense solar radiation also makes the comet’s death extremely difficult to detect.

On July 6, 2011, solar physicist C.J. Schrijver of the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center and colleagues became the first to directly witness a comet falling within the solar corona, a sort of blazing-hot atmosphere that surrounds the sun. Labeled C/2011 N3 (SOHO), the comet is from the Kreutz family, the source of about 80 percent of the comets that pass so close to our star. The comet, moving at roughly 1.3 million miles per hour, was only visible to scientists for 20 minutes before vaporizing.

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