The space agency wants to tow an asteroid back to our planetary neighborhood.
by Marc Kaufman
NASA wants to identify an asteroid in deep space, figure out a way to capture the spinning and hard-to-grab orb, nudge it into our planetary region, and then set it into orbit around the moon, the agency announced Wednesday.
The capture would be performed robotically, and the relocated asteroid would become a destination for astronauts to explore—and, possibly, for space entrepreneurs to mine.
The idea may sound more like science fiction than national policy, but it actually fits in with key goals of the Obama administration and the space community.
Those goals include learning how to identify asteroids heading toward us and to change their course, finding destinations where astronauts can go as they try to learn how to make the longer trip to Mars, and providing opportunities for space investors…
Rock that Ended Reign of the Dinosaurs Was a Comet
by Paul Rincon
The space rock that hit Earth 65 million years ago and is widely implicated in the end of the dinosaurs was likely a speeding comet.
That is the conclusion of research which suggests the 180km-wide Chicxulub crater in Mexico was carved out by a smaller object than previously thought. Many scientists consider a large and relatively slow moving asteroid to have been the likely culprit.
But other researchers were more cautious about the results.
“The overall aim of our project is to better characterise the impactor that produced the crater in the Yucatan peninsula [in Mexico],” Jason Moore, from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told BBC News.
The space rock gave rise to a global layer of sediments enriched in the chemical element iridium, in concentrations much higher than naturally occurs; it must have come from outer space…
Efforts to Protect Earth From Asteroids Are Under Way. But Will It Be Enough?
by Adam Mann
In the wake of Earth’s largest meteor strike in more than a century, the world’s attention has turned skyward.
The 17-meter bolide exploded in the air over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on Feb. 15, shattering windows and injuring around 1,000 people. But had the meteor come in at a slightly different angle, the space rock could have impacted the ground and the fallout could have been much worse.
More money is already flowing toward future asteroid detection and mitigation strategies, but we may never be able to fully protect ourselves.
There are plenty of programs already in place for monitoring relatively large near-Earth objects, and more will be coming online soon, both from government space agencies and the private sector. However, even the best efforts will not be able to catch objects the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor — rocks that are small enough to evade detection by current technology until they are streaking through Earth’s atmosphere, but large enough to be dangerous…
Asteroid Impact That Killed the Dinosaurs: New Evidence
by Charles Choi
The idea that a cosmic impact ended the age of dinosaurs in what is now Mexico now has fresh new support, researchers say.
The most recent and most familiar mass extinction is the one that finished the reign of the dinosaurs — the end-Cretaceous or Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, often known as K-T. The only survivors among the dinosaurs are the birds.
Currently, the main suspect behind this catastrophe is a cosmic impact from an asteroid or comet, an idea first proposed by physicist Luis Alvarez and his son geologist Walter Alvarez. Scientists later found that signs of this collision seemed evident near the town of Chicxulub (CHEEK-sheh-loob) in Mexico in the form of a gargantuan crater more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide. The explosion, likely caused by an object about 6 miles (10 km) across, would have released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times more than the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth, a little over 17,000 miles away, closer than many man-made satellites. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 to sweep close on Feb. 15, 2013
by Deborah Byrd
A near-Earth asteroid – called 2012 DA14 by astronomers – will pass very close to Earth on February 15, 2013. Astronomers estimate that, when it’s closest to us, it’ll be within the orbit of the moon (which is about 240,000 mi away), and within the orbits of geosynchronous satellites (about 26,000 mi up). 2012 DA14 will be about 21,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) away.
It will not strike Earth in 2013. Astronomers’ calculations of asteroid orbits can be trusted. After all, even decades ago, they knew enough about calculating orbits to send people to the moon and bring them safely back, and today we are able place our space vehicles in orbit around objects as small as asteroids.
What will happen when it passes us? The short answer is … nothing. On the day it passes, most of us won’t see it or be aware of its passage, in any way. The asteroid won’t alter the tides. It won’t cause volcanoes. It’ll just sweep closely past us – as millions of asteroids have done throughout Earth’s four-and-a-half-billion-year history – some in your own lifetime…
NASA, ESA Telescopes Find Evidence for Asteroid Belt Around Vega
by JPL staff
Astronomers have discovered what appears to be a large asteroid belt around the star Vega, the second brightest star in northern night skies. The scientists used data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, in which NASA plays an important role.
The discovery of an asteroid belt-like band of debris around Vega makes the star similar to another observed star called Fomalhaut. The data are consistent with both stars having inner, warm belts and outer, cool belts separated by a gap. This architecture is similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system.
What is maintaining the gap between the warm and cool belts around Vega and Fomalhaut? The results strongly suggest the answer is multiple planets. Our solar system’s asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, is maintained by the gravity of the terrestrial planets and the giant planets, and the outer Kuiper belt is sculpted by the giant planets…
Best Images and Videos From 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid Toutatis’ Flyby
by Adam Mann
There was a great deal of excitement from Tuesday’s (12/11/12) cosmically close shave as 3-mile-wide asteroid 4179 Toutatis zipped by the Earth. If you missed the action, we’ve rounded up some of the best images and videos from the event.
Toutatis is a long, irregularly shaped object that swings by Earth about once every four years, usually coming within a few million miles of our planet. The asteroid is officially classified as “potentially hazardous” but has very little chance of actually hitting the Earth. Astronomers have calculated that its odds of crashing into our planet over the next 600 years are effectively zero. This year’s pass brought Toutatis within about 3.7 million miles of Earth, roughly 15 times the Earth-moon distance, though the next flyby, in late 2016, will be at a more comfortable 23 million miles. The asteroid won’t get close again until 2069, when it be around 1.8 million miles from Earth…
A giantasteroid is set to buzz Earth next week, and astronomers are already keeping their eyes on the skies—but not because 4179 Toutatis poses any danger.
Toutatis, at 2.7 miles (4.46 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide, is one of the largest asteroids that comes anywhere near Earth. But only an astronomer would consider its closest approach to be “near.” When the peanut-shaped rock is at its closest to the Earth on December 12, it’ll be more than 4.3 million miles (6.9 million km) away, or more than 18 times the distance from the Earth to the moon…
Asteroids smaller than those now being actively catalogued constitute a largely neglected natural hazard
by Russell Schweickart, Clark Chapman
In October 2001, we and 22 like-minded engineers and astronomers, including a few former and current astronauts, got together at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss what we saw as a missing element in the space program: attention to the possibility of our planet being struck by a near-Earth asteroid. We knew of the accelerating rate at which such objects were being discovered. But no one, certainly no federal or international agency, was taking seriously the question of what exactly to do when an asteroid is found with our address on it.
During that initial meeting, less than six weeks after the 9/11 terrorist strike, we decided that this threat from outer space needed to be dealt with seriously and that our group might just be able to move the process along. To facilitate our work, we formed the B612 Foundation, a non-profit corporation named after the home asteroid of the title character in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
NASA has been spending about $4 million a year to meet a 1998 Congressional mandate to chart (by 2008) at least 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are more than 1 kilometer in diameter. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been overseeing the effort, called the Spaceguard Survey, which has to date discovered more than 790 of an estimated 1,100 or so of these huge, rocky objects. The impact of a 1-kilometer asteroid would release the same amount of energy as 70,000 megatons of TNT or, equivalently, as 1,400 of the largest thermonuclear weapons ever detonated. The subsequent Sun-dimming pall of debris lofted high into the atmosphere would envelop our planet for months, threatening all of human civilization…
An asteroid the size of a city block is set to fly by Earth Thursday (June 14), and you may be able to watch it happen live.
The near-Earth asteroid 2012 LZ1, which astronomers think is about 1,650 feet (500 meters) wide, will come within 14 lunar distances of Earth Thursday evening. While there’s no danger of an impact on this pass, the huge space rock may come close enough to be caught on camera.
From the Mars-size object that slammed into our planet 4.5 billion years ago, forming the moon, to a bombardment that boiled off early oceans as recently as 2.5 billion years ago, Earth has taken some massive stonings in its lifetime. Now scientists think they know where the rocks were coming from. In a paper published online today in Nature, planetary dynamicists finger the now-depleted inner edge of the asteroid belt, located just outside the orbit of Mars.
Researchers had previously proposed that Jupiter and Saturn wandered toward the sun about 4 billion years ago, gravitationally slinging asteroids toward Earth as they went. But new computer simulations suggest that these planets would have also flung some innermost asteroids into inclined, but not perfectly stable, orbits. Slowly, these asteroids escaped from these orbits, pummeling Earth for billions of years to come.
If you are an amateur astronomer who likes a challenge, NASA has a new project and is looking for a little help from their amateur astronomers friends.
Called “Target Asteroids!” the project is part of the upcoming OSIRIS-REx mission to improve basic scientific understanding of Near Earth Objects. NASA is hoping amateur astronomers can help in the mission by discovering new asteroids and studying their characteristics to help better characterize the population of NEOs. NASA says amateur contributions will affect current and future space missions to asteroids.
Amateur astronomers can help determine the position, motion, rotation and changes in the intensity of light asteroids emit. Professional astronomers will use this information to refine theoretical models of asteroids, improving their understanding about asteroids similar to the one OSIRIS-Rex will encounter…
All asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft as of November 2010
by Emily Lakdawalla
The total of five comets and nine asteroid systems (including ten separate bodies) that have been examined up close by spacecraft are shown here to scale with each other (100 meters per pixel, in the “click to enlarge” version). Most of these were visited only briefly, in flyby missions, so we have only one point of view on each; only Eros and Itokawa were orbited and mapped completely.
This image is also available as a larger version at 20 meters per pixel; if you prefer, you can download a version without text. Both are 8600x6250 pixels, 9.4 M). People sometimes ask why I post them in PNG format instead of the more bandwidth-happy JPEG; it’s because I know this will be downloaded, used, and reused, and I want to make it available in a lossless format…
The Rosetta team has now published their data from the October 7, 2010 flyby of asteroid (21) Lutetia. At the time, it was the largest asteroid yet visited by a spacecraft, so it dominated the asteroids and comets montage poster I put together.
This data set is absolutely stunning, and my friends in the amateur image processing community wasted no time in creating art out of it. The images in this post were processed by Daniel Machacek. Here’s a color global view. Daniel remarked on his blog entry about these images that Lutetia is pretty much monochrome, a red-tinged gray, with few obvious variations, at least in natural color. I’ve been wanting this image for a long time. With it, I’ll be able to update my asteroids and comets montage to be in color. I will do that, but not for a while — I have a few pressing projects going on this month…