❝ An asteroid roughly the size of a 10-story building gave Earth a particularly close pass Monday morning.

Asteroid 2017 AG13 came within half the distance from Earth to the moon as it buzzed by early Monday morning at 4:47 a.m. PT. The fly-by happened shortly after scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey first discovered the space rock on Saturday…

…In real terms, Earth had well over a 100,000-mile (161,000 kilometer) buffer of distance.

❝ 2017 AG13 isn’t so big it would have meant an extinction-level event had it been a direct hit. But if a good size chunk of it made it through Earth’s upper atmosphere near a populated area, there might have been damage like we saw in 2013 when a bolide collided with the atmosphere over the Russian city Chelyabinsk. In that event, a fireball streaked over the city, releasing 500 kilotons of energy as it ran up against some serious resistance from Earth’s atmosphere and exploded, blowing out windows all over town in the process.

❝ The asteroid is about 11 to 34 meters across, according to the Slooh Observatory, and moving very fast relative to Earth at 16 kilometers per second. That speed, coupled with 2017 AG13’s dim brightness level, made it difficult to spot with telescopes.

Cue theme from Twilight Zone.

NASA says the world won’t be destroyed in September

asteroids attack

Good news for those with plans for October and beyond: the Earth will still be in existence.

NASA has confirmed – after rumours swept the internet about an imminent asteroid strike expected between 15 and 28 September – that the two-week period in question will be entirely free of Earth-destroying space attacks.

The likelihood of any known potentially hazardous asteroid striking the planet within the next 100 years stands at 0.01%, the space agency said…

Persistent rumours on “numerous recent blogs and web postings” that an errant asteroid is due to wipe out not just Puerto Rico, but the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America, persuaded NASA scientists that they needed to speak up…

It is not the first time NASA has punctured the excitement of doom-mongers. In 2012, it dismissed claims that the comet Elenin was on its way to destroy mankind, calling it a “trail of piffling particles”.

The space agency was also proved right in its assertion that the world would not end on 21 December 2012, as the Mayan calendar came to an end, heralding the apocalypse.

Stupidity and ignorance, particularly regarding sciences like astronomy, unite populist nutballs of the Left and Right as thoroughly as do their fears of modern standards for teaching…or vaccination.

Measuring the risk of A-Bomb equivalent asteroids


The California-based B612 Foundation has released a video displaying the distribution of 26 multi-kiloton asteroid impacts known to have struck the Earth since the year 2000. Many of the impacts – detected by a network of satellites operated by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization – exploded with a force greater than that of the city-leveling bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons.

Our planet orbits the Sun alongside a swarm of asteroids. Most of these celestial wanderers pose no threat to Earth, however one need only observe the cratered face of the Moon to understand that, not only do asteroid impacts take place, but they do so with surprising regularity. In 2013 alone, one asteroid was caught on video striking the surface of the Moon, with another exploding in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The impact caused only superficial damage, but raised alarming questions as to what precautions we have in place to counter a potential asteroid strike…

The B612 Foundation, in conjunction with Ball Aerospace, intends to implement an infrared survey mission, which will catalog 90 percent of all asteroids larger than 140 meters within the area of our solar system that may pose a realistic threat to our planet. The mission will run for six and a half years and will involve the commissioning and successful deployment of a Sentinel satellite, which will maintain a Venus-like orbit around the Sun, searching out and following up on asteroids with the potential to strike Earth…

Once the project is complete, it is hoped that the Sentinel catalog will provide decades worth of early warning for potentially hazardous asteroids, allowing organizations such as NASA to develop and execute missions to avert a potentially devastating impact.

If this project gets sufficient publicity I can sense a growing profit to be made in asteroid shelters. Poisonally, I think the stats on living or dying by asteroid aren’t even close to all the truly stupid things a small number of human beings – in uniform or holding elected office – do to the rest of us.

Thanks, Mike

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft returns beauty from asteroid Vesta

A new video from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover journey above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The data obtained by Dawn’s framing camera, used to produce the visualizations, will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta’s striking features. It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualize this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.

You’ll notice in the video that Vesta is not entirely lit up. There is no light in the high northern latitudes because, like Earth, Vesta has seasons. Currently it is northern winter on Vesta, and the northern polar region is in perpetual darkness. When we view Vesta’s rotation from above the south pole, half is in darkness simply because half of Vesta is in daylight and half is in the darkness of night .

Another distinct feature seen in the video is a massive circular structure in the south pole region. Scientists were particularly eager to see this area close-up, since NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope first detected it years ago. The circular structure, or depression, is several hundreds of kilometers wide, with cliffs that are also several miles high. One impressive mountain in the center of the depression rises approximately 15 kilometers above the base of this depression, making it one of the highest elevations on all known bodies with solid surfaces in the solar system.

Enjoy. Who knows? Your children or grandchildren may visit someday.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft sends close-up of giant asteroid Vesta

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the first close-up image after beginning its orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta. On Friday, July 15, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The image taken for navigation purposes shows Vesta in greater detail than ever before. When Vesta captured Dawn into its orbit, there were approximately 16,000 kilometers between the spacecraft and asteroid. Engineers estimate the orbit capture took place at 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15.

Vesta is 530 kilometers in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Ground- and space-based telescopes have obtained images of Vesta for about two centuries, but they have not been able to see much detail on its surface.

We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles. “This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta’s history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons…”

Although orbit capture is complete, the approach phase will continue for about three weeks. During approach, the Dawn team will continue a search for possible moons around the asteroid; obtain more images for navigation; observe Vesta’s physical properties; and obtain calibration data…

Rock on, folks! Keep us ordinary folks up with what we need to keep our space curiosity bump happy.

Newfound asteroid has been Earth’s companion for 250,000 years

Horseshoe shape of how the orbit appears from Earth

Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland have found that a recently discovered asteroid has been following the Earth in its motion around the Sun for at least the past 250,000 years, and may be intimately related to the origin of our planet…

The asteroid first caught the eye of the scientists, Apostolos “Tolis” Christou and David Asher, two months after it was found by the WISE infrared survey satellite, launched in 2009 by the United States. “Its average distance from the Sun is identical to that of the Earth”, says Dr Christou, “but what really impressed me at the time was how Earth-like its orbit was”. Most near-Earth Asteroids – NEAs for short – have very eccentric, or egg-shaped, orbits that take the asteroid right through the inner solar system. But the new object, designated 2010 SO16, is different. Its orbit is almost circular so that it cannot come close to any other planet in the solar system except the Earth.

… So while on the one hand its orbit is remarkably similar to Earth’s, in fact “this asteroid is terraphobic”, explains Tolis. “It keeps well away from the Earth. So well, in fact, that it has likely been in this orbit for several hundred thousand years, never coming closer to our planet than 50 times the distance to the Moon”. This is where it is now, near the end of the horseshoe trailing the Earth…

… 2010 SO16 could represent leakage from a population of objects near the so-called triangular equilibrium points 60 degrees ahead of and behind the Earth in its orbit. Such a population has been postulated in the past but never observed as such objects are always near the Sun in the sky. If they do exist, they may represent relic material from the formation of Earth, Moon and the other inner planets 4.5 billion years ago.

For the time being, the astronomers would like to see the physical properties of the object studied from the ground, especially its colour. “Colour, a measure of an asteroid’s reflectivity across the electromagnetic spectrum, can tell you a lot about its origin”, they explain. “With this information we can start testing possible origin scenarios with hard data. If it proves to be unique in some way, it may be worth sending a probe to study it up close, and perhaps bring back a sample for laboratory scrutiny.”

Probably at least as interesting as, say, who might appear on Dancing With The Stars next season. And a lot more useful.

A winter treat as Geminid meteors sparkle in December sky

Flaming rocks will soon begin hurtling toward the Earth with the arrival of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the biggest of the year.

The peak of the week-long shower will come just before dawn on Tuesday, but the shooting stars will also be visible across the world late in the weekend, says Rebecca Johnson, editor of StarDate magazine from the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas.

Where skies are clear, the viewing will be best “before dawn on Tuesday. It starts to get light an hour before sunrise, so any time before that is going to be a good time to look,” she says…

Meteors of course aren’t falling stars. In the case of the Geminid shower, they’re tiny pieces of debris breaking off an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon as it orbits the sun. Although the shower was first seen in the 1860s, the asteroid wasn’t discovered until 1983…

But what’s producing the meteor showers hardly matters considering how lovely they are. For those who can’t make it out Tuesday morning, the meteors will be visible for two days before the peak and a day or two afterwards, just not as plentiful.

It’s “a great shower that many people never see” because they come during cold weather, says NASA’s Bill Cooke. “The Perseids get all the press. It’s much nicer to be out on a warm August night then to be freezing your rear in December.”

Uh, yes.

Although we get up well before dawn – and it’s worth stumbling around outside to see what we can see.

Asteroid Lutetia – up close and personal

Asteroid Lutetia has been revealed as a battered world of many craters. ESA’s Rosetta mission has returned the first close-up images of the asteroid showing it is most probably a primitive survivor from the violent birth of the Solar System.

The flyby was a spectacular success with Rosetta performing faultlessly…

The images show that Lutetia is heavily cratered, having suffered many impacts during its 4.5 billion years of existence. As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view. The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130km.

“I think this is a very old object. Tonight we have seen a remnant of the Solar System’s creation,” says Holger Sierks, OSIRIS principal investigator, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Lindau, Germany.

Rosetta raced past the asteroid at 15 km/s completing the flyby in just a minute. But the cameras and other instruments had been working for hours and in some cases days beforehand, and will continue afterwards. Shortly after closest approach, Rosetta began transmitting data to Earth for processing…

The flyby marks the attainment of one of Rosetta’s main scientific objectives. The spacecraft will now continue to a 2014 rendezvous with its primary target, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will then accompany the comet for months, from near the orbit of Jupiter down to its closest approach to the Sun. In November 2014, Rosetta will release Philae to land on the comet nucleus.

RTFA. Lots of great photos.

As the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, said – “It has been a great day for exploration, a great day for European science.”

Extending, expanding knowledge of our solar system is a natural goal for inquiring scientific minds. Every step forward opens more avenues for study and learning, understanding the context of our evolution.

40% of Americans think Jesus will be back by 2050!

More than 40 per cent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050, according to a poll.

Americans are largely optimistic about the future, according to the poll from the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press/Smithsonian Magazine.

By mid century, 71 per cent believe cancer will be cured, 66 per cent say artificial limbs will work better than real ones and 81 per cent believe computers will be able to converse like humans.

But Americans are also braced for a major energy crisis and a warming planet, according to the survey. More than half, or 58 per cent, fear another world war in the next 40 years and 53 per cent expect a terrorist attack against the United States using a nuclear weapon…

Here are some other findings of the poll:

• Nearly three-quarters, or 74 per cent, of those polled believe it likely that “most of our energy will come from sources other than coal, oil, and gas”.
• Yet 72 per cent believe the world is likely to experience a major worldwide energy crisis by 2050.
• 66 per cent say the Earth will definitely or probably get warmer but it breaks down strongly along political lines, with just 48 per cent of Republicans saying so and 83 per cent of Democrats.
• 41 per cent say Jesus Christ will return within the next 40 years while 46 per cent say this will definitely or probably not happen.
• 31 per cent expect the planet will be struck by an asteroid.

Lots of supposedly interesting opinions resulting from one of the least useful polls ever conducted by Pew Research.

Anyone who stays current with Talking Heads, Reality TV, fundamentalist preachers and Tea Party agitprop already has a decent idea of what fills the empty space in American conversation in between sports seasons and presidential elections. And could have written up the results of this poll in advance.

Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission comes home

Itokawa photographed from Hayabusa – 500 meters long

A capsule thought to contain the first samples grabbed from the surface of an asteroid has returned to Earth.

The Japanese Hayabusa container hit the top of the atmosphere just after 1350 GMT, producing a bright fireball over southern Australia.

It had a shield to cope with the heat of re-entry and a parachute for the final drop to the ground.

A recovery team later reported they had identified the landing zone in the Woomera Prohibited Range.

“We just had a spectacular display out over the Outback skies of South Australia,” said Professor Trevor Ireland, from the Australian National University, who will get to work on the samples

“We could see the little sample-return capsule separate from the main ship and lead its way in; and [we] just had this magnificent display of the break-up of Hayabusa,” he told BBC News.

The Hayabusa mission was launched to asteroid Itokawa in 2003, spending three months at the 500m-long potato-shaped space rock in 2005.

The main spacecraft, along with the sample-storage capsule, should have come back to Earth in 2007, but a succession of technical problems delayed their return by three years.

Even now, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the capsule really does contain pieces of Itokawa.

RTFA. Terrific tale of engineering and science expertise laboring three years to bring an experiment home.

Who knows? They’ll be out looking for the capsule parachuted into the desert, tomorrow morning. With luck – samples from an asteroid will be there for study.