Tag Archives | Near Earth Objects

Early Warning System For Asteroid Attack

Impact eventOne of the more credible of the various 2012 “end is nigh” scares is the prospect of a massive “Near Earth Object” (NEO), most likely a meteor or asteroid, smashing through the Earth’s atmosphere, causing damage locally on impact and potentially causing such great meteorological disruption that our way of life is changed forever, possibly to an extinction level. Frighteningly there is usually hardly any warning that they are coming. MIT’s Technology Review reports on an astronomer’s plans for a network of telescopes that could give up to three weeks’ warning of a city-destroying impact, on its Physics arXiv Blog:

At about 3am on 8 October last year, an asteroid the size of a small house smashed into the Earth’s atmosphere over an isolated part of Indonesia. The asteroid disintegrated in the atmosphere causing a 50 kiloton explosion, about four times the size of the atomic bomb used to destroy Hiroshima.

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When Asteroids Collide

One of the most likely ‘Earth Apocalypse’ scenarios among the many bandied about by 2012 alarmists is that a “Near Earth Object” — as asteroids, meteors and other space junk that might collide with us are known in the trade — might smash through our atmosphere and impact with our planet. The Hubble Telescope has recorded a taste of what that might mean, reported in the Register:

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the aftermath of just what happens when two asteroids collide at 11,000 mph (17,702 km/h), prompting an explosion “as powerful as the detonation of a small atomic bomb”.

P/2010 A2. Photo: NASA

P/2010 A2. Photo: NASA

The result is a “peculiar” object – dubbed P/2010 A2 – which boasts a comet-like debris trail behind a mysterious X-shaped formation.

The asteroid belt pile-up happened in early 2009, according to NASA, but it wasn’t until January this year that the Lincoln Near-Earth Research (LINEAR) Program Sky Survey spotted the tail.

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Two Asteroids Perilously Close To Earth

NASA/JPL plot of asteroids' paths

NASA/JPL plot of asteroids' paths

These ones probably won’t hit, but they show that so-called Near Earth Objects could collide with our planet at any time with precious little warning. From ABC News:

Today is not a good day for the anxious among us. Two small asteroids — two in twelve hours — are passing the earth, both coming within the moon’s orbit, one of them whipping by about 49,000 miles away.

In a spirit of calm, we ought to point out that NASA says close calls like these happen, on average, almost daily. The difference is that usually we never know. These two objects were both spotted Sunday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona.

The specifics:

–Asteroid 2010 RX30 is estimated to be 32 to 65 feet in size (10-20 meters) and passed within 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51 a.m. EDT this morning. (The moon, by comparison, is 2,200 miles in diameter and respectfully stays about 240,000 miles away.)

–Asteroid 2010 RF12, about 20-45 feet in maximum width (6-14 meters), is passing within approximately 49,088 miles of us at 5:12 p.m.

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Tonight: Cloudy With More Than A Chance Of Massive Meteor Showers

Hopefully it won't be cloudy! If you don't live in a totally light-saturated neighborhood (or the southern hemisphere) look at the skies tonight for a fantastic light show -- the Perseids. You should be able to see as much as a meteor per minute, caused by the debris from multiple orbits around the sun of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The video below is illustrative, but believe me, it will look a whole lot better with the naked eye.
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Very Early Warning: 1-in-1,000 Chance of Asteroid Impact in 2182

Ian O’Neill writes on Discovery News:

This isn’t an urgent call to arms, but it’s certainly a future date to consider. In the year 2182 — 172 years time — there’s the possibility that we might be hit by an asteroid with potential to cause some significant global turmoil.

This long-distance forecast could help mankind determine whether asteroid deflection techniques are warranted, especially when given nearly two centuries of lead time.

The not-so-romantically named (101955) 1999 RQ36 — discovered in 1999 — measures approximately 510 meters in diameter and is classified as an Apollo asteroid. Apollo asteroids pose a threat to our planet as they routinely cross Earth’s orbit.

With a one-in-a-thousand chance of 1999 RQ36 hitting Earth — with half of this probability indicating a 2182 impact — the threat might not sound too acute.

But compare this with the panic that ensued with the discovery of 99942 Apophis in 2004.

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Dark Asteroids Found Lurking Near Earth

Dark Asteroid

A near-Earth object becomes visible in infrared (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

David Shiga writes on New Scientist:

An infrared space telescope has spotted several very dark asteroids that have been lurking unseen near Earth’s orbit. Their obscurity and tilted orbits have kept them hidden from surveys designed to detect things that might hit our planet.

Called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the new NASA telescope launched on 14 December on a mission to map the entire sky at infrared wavelengths. It began its survey in mid-January.

In its first six weeks of observations, it has discovered 16 previously unknown asteroids with orbits close to Earth’s. Of these, 55 per cent reflect less than one-tenth of the sunlight that falls on them, which makes them difficult to spot with visible-light telescopes. One of these objects is as dark as fresh asphalt, reflecting less than 5 per cent of the light it receives.

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NASA Says Asteroid Will Buzz Earth Today

Near Earth AsteroidAs reported in Wired News:

An asteroid 30 to 50 feet across will pass by the Earth at just more than one-third the distance between the Earth and the moon on Wednesday. That’s the closest near-Earth object approach currently known between now and the flyby in 2024 of a similar-size object known as 2007 XB23.

The new asteroid, called 2010 AL30, was discovered by the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program, and announced Monday by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The short amount of time between the spotting of the object and its near intersection with Earth is a good reminder that humans don’t know every object that could come hurtling out of space and collide with our planet.

“Visitors frequently ask me if I worry about the NEOs that I measure,” wrote Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of the Arkansas Sky Observatories, on a forum thread discussing the asteroid.

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Russia’s Plan To Knock Earth-Bound Asteroid ‘Apophis’ Off Course

While NASA has just launched its WISE warning system for Near Earth Objects, the Russians are planning to actually do something about one that has been variously forecast to hit us in 2029, 2036 or 2068, Apophis (reported at Yahoo News/AP):

Russia’s space chief said Wednesday his agency will consider sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.

Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, telling Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37.

Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

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NASA Launches WISE To Spot Near Earth Objects

In her book 2012: Science or Superstition, Alexandra Bruce writes:
We’ve been told since childhood that an asteroid extinguished the mighty dinosaurs in a single day. When we look out at our pockmarked celestial neighbors, we know that something similar could happen here again. Recent discoveries at the bottom of the seas seem to bear this out and the “Planet X” rumors probably stem from these new scientific observations. “In 1980, only 86 Near Earth Asteroids and comets were known to exist…[today] NASA estimates that there are perhaps 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets in the general vicinity of Earth.” So far, the technology to adequately view and track these potential threats simply didn’t exist. With the November 2009 launch of NASA’s “WISE”: Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, it is hoped that we’ll be able to see any hazards that we’ve missed.
NASA was a little late, but on December 14, 2009 at 14:09 GMT WISE was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket deposited WISE into a polar orbit 326 miles above Earth. In a cheap but cute video, NASA scientist Dr. Amy Mainzer describes how the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will provide a map to the universe's hidden treasures, not to mention warning us of impending impact with Near Earth Objects: [cross posted from 2012SOS.com]
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