Fri Nov 4, 7:48 AM ET
BERLIN (Reuters) - Numerous sightings of massive fireballs in the skies over Germany this week have led to an upsurge in reports of UFOs, but scientists believe the cause could be a bizarre annual meteor blitz.
According to the Web site of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), such fireballs have been reported elsewhere in the world and may also be due to the fact that the Earth is now orbiting through a swarm of space debris.
Many people in Germany have noticed the fireballs, said Werner Walter, an amateur astronomer in Mannheim who runs a Web site on unexplained astronomical phenomena and a hotline for reports on unidentified flying objects (UFO).
"The last reported sighting was yesterday at 7:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) in a corridor near the border of the Netherlands," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"This week we have had at least 15 emails and phone calls from people reporting these fireballs," he said. "Some people said it looks like something out of a science fiction horror film."
In addition to a possible meteor streak, Walter said amateur and professional astronomers were considering the possibility that the blitz was the result of a "falling satellite or UFOs."
"It is possible that they are UFOs, which are after all things which we cannot explain," he said.
NASA's science Web site (http://science.nasa.gov) mentions reports of recent fireball sightings in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, North Ireland and Japan. It includes images of the fireballs, which one man likened to a spotlight.
Walter described them as "super-large, colored fireballs that shoot with the speed of lightning through the sky."
However, the NASA Web site quotes meteor expert David Asher from the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland as saying that people "are probably seeing the Taurid meteor shower."
Taurids are meteors that shoot out of the constellation Taurus, which peaks at the end of October and early November.
Fireball Sightings on the Rise
By Tony Phillips
November 3, 2005
"I thought some wise guy was shining a spotlight at me," says Josh Bowers of New Germany, Pennsylvania. "Then I realized what it was: a fireball in the southern sky. I was doing some backyard astronomy around 9 p.m. on Halloween (Oct. 31, 2005), and this meteor was so bright it made me lose my night vision.
Bowers wasn't the only one who saw the fireball. Lots of people were outdoors Trick or Treating. They saw what Bowers saw ... and more. Before the night was over, reports of meteors "brighter than a full moon" were streaming in from coast to coast.
Astronomers have taken to calling these the "Halloween fireballs." But there's more to it than Halloween. The display has been going on for days.
On Oct. 30th, for example, Bill Plaskon of Jonesport, Maine, was "observing Mars through a 10-inch telescope at 10:04 p.m. EST when a brilliant fireball lit up the sky and left a short corkscrew-like smoke trail that lasted about 1 minute."
On Oct 28th, Lance Taylor of Edmonton, Alberta, woke up early to go fishing with five friends. At about 6 a.m. they "noticed a nice fireball. Then 20 minutes later there was another," he says
On Nov. 2nd in the Netherlands, "The sky lit up very bright," reports Koen Miskotte. "In the corner of my eye I saw a fireball about as bright [as a crescent moon]."
And so on.
Sun Nov 6, 2005
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alisha Klingenmeyer of Anchorage recalled spotting an orange-red fireball streaking across the sky as she drove north at about 8 p.m. Thursday. Paul Vos was watching a movie with his wife and son at their home in Hope at about 8:30 p.m. the same night when all three saw an arc of light over the mountains in the southern sky. [...]
A spectacular sky show is playing over Alaska this month as Earth passes through the fiery remnants of a comet.
Fireballs and bright streaks of light seen in the sky around Anchorage Thursday were part of the Taurid meteor shower, the annual spray of comet dust over the Earth's upper atmosphere, according to a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist. [...]
The better viewing is generally after midnight, and the best time is in the vicinity of 3 a.m., said Don Martins, chair of the UAA Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Meteor shower startles Riverina residents
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Thursday, November 10, 2005. 12:08pm (AEDT)
Some Riverina residents, in southern New South Wales, feared they had witnessed a plane crash early last night when they saw an apparent meteor shower.
The fire brigade received a number of calls from people in inland New South Wales who thought a plane was coming down.
One listener to ABC Riverina this morning, Allan, described the incident.
"Oh, there was a big ball of flame falling out of the sky ... it would have been about 6.30pm [AEDT] and would've been north, north-east of where we were. It didn't last very long, you had to be quick to see it," he said.
Griffith resident Susan says the meteor was so bright she and her family were sure a plane was falling out of the sky.
"It really frightened us because the direction it was in and the place that it was directly over our neighbour's property and he has an ultralight and we thought, 'my god, he's fallen out of the sky'," she said.
Vince Ford from the Mount Stromlo Observatory says the current meteor activity is creating a lot of talk around the world.
"At the moment we've got a meteor shower running and it's the one that produces the brightest meteors through the year usually," he said.
"In fact, when it started running a week ago, Germany went UFO mad, everyone was ringing up saying spaceships were crashing. Well, they were partly right, it is rubbish from space, in this case it's little chunks left over from the passage of ... a comet ... back in the 1800s."
Skywatchers treated with fiery meteors
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Richard L. Hill
Fireballs -- large meteors that are a rare treat in fall's typically cloudy weather -- have been spotted streaking across the Oregon sky in the past two weeks.
Dick Pugh, a meteor expert with with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory at Portland State University, said he received reports from surprised eyewitnesses of fireballs Oct. 30 and Monday evening.
A Beaverton man reported seeing Monday's fireball at 7:16 p.m. It lasted about four seconds and was nearly the diameter of a full moon.
"He said it moved from the northwest to the southwest and ended up looking like a dumbbell," which indicates it probably was breaking up, Pugh said.
The fireballs are part of the annual Taurid meteor shower, which is caused by the Earth passing through debris shed by comet Encke. The tiny dust grains make white-hot streaks of light as they slam into the atmosphere at 65,000 mph.
The normally unremarkable Taurid shower is putting on a good show this year, with Earth apparently going through a debris area with unusually large particles.
Comment: So if the many fireballs that have been seen across the globle over the past two weeks are just the Taurids with "unusually large particles", then how do we explain the many fireballs sightings and impacts that have been reported over the past several years? When the Taurids and Leonids pass, yet the fireballs keep coming, we wonder what colorful explanation they will come up with to explain away the screamingly obvious.
1,400-Pound Meteorite Found in Kansas
Fri Nov 11, 4:46 PM ET
GREENSBURG, Kan. - In an area of southwest Kansas long known for its meteorite finds, Steve Arnold came up with what may be the biggest of its kind ever found in the United States.
Arnold, a professional meteorite hunter from Kingston, Ark., found the 1,400-pound space rock two weeks ago in Kiowa County's Brenham Township. Using a metal detector mounted on a three-wheel vehicle, he discovered it more than 7 feet underground and dug it up.
It was in the same area that in 1949 produced a 1,000-pound meteorite now on display at the Celestial Museum in Greensburg, part of the World's Largest Hand Dug Well that is the community's biggest claim to fame.
"It is aesthetically the type of meteorite that makes collectors drool," Arnold, a former Wichita resident who has hunted for meteorites around the world, said of his find. "It's what a meteorite ought to look like. It's going to make first-graders go 'Wow!'"
Arnold estimates the value of the big rock "in the seven figures" and says he wants to sell it, preferably to a museum or someone who will keep it intact.
"It won't be cut to reveal its inner beauty," he said. "It's awesome enough from the outside."
Geoffrey Notkin, a science writer and meteorite collector who was with Arnold when the meteorite was found, said its size alone makes it extraordinary.
"By sheer mass, it has to be one of the largest finds in decades," he said.
According to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Brenham meteorite exploded centuries ago over what is now Kansas, scattering more than three tons of fragments.
"We get regular reports of meteorites," said Rex Buchanan, associate director of the Kansas Geological Survey. "People see them and they bring them in. A normal size is anywhere from the size of your fist to a grapefruit."
The meteorite Arnold discovered is classified as an oriented pallasite, so it has a conical shape and has olivine crystals embedded in iron-nickel alloy. Only two larger ones of that type are known to have been found: a 3,100-pounder in Australia and a 1,500-pounder in Argentina.
Meteorites change shape as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. An oriented meteorite, which is rare, maintains a stable flight rather than tumbling.
Richard Stephenson, manager of the Big Well, said the majority of meteorites found in Kiowa County are from a two-square mile area in Brenham Township. The Kiowa County meteorites are known throughout the world for gemlike olivine crystals, and they look almost like stained glass when cut.
Sheriff's office investigating night sky phenomenon
11/10/2005 10:30 PM MST
DOUGLAS COUNTY - 9News received numerous calls Thursday night about a bright light dropping across the southern sky.
The calls came in from the north and south Denver Metro area. One person from Fort Lupton wrote, "I saw a green glowing light in the southern sky. It looked like it was falling through layers of clouds. I did not see it hit the ground. The whole event took maybe one or two seconds to happen."
The reports started coming in around 8:30 p.m. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said it planned on investigating the reports received from residents there.
UFOs Like 'Inverted Meteors' Caught On Film
From Bill Brooks
Photo copyright-2005 Bill Brooks
Date: Sat, November 12, 2005 7:15 am
Don't know quite what to make of this....was out with the wife in La'ie Observation Point . I didn't notice this at first until I started working with the review of all of the pictures we took that day. The pictures are digital and un-tampered with. At first I thought it was just a single peculiarity but as you can see there are 3 of them all on the same trajectory coming from an earthly direction at a 45 degree angle. I know you get hundreds of these but just thought I would send this up. Perhaps there is a very logical explanation but it struck me as odd that all three seem to have telemetry in the angle of ascent. As you may know, Oahu is chock full of military bases, although none in the immediate area.
Place: La'ie Lookout Point, NorthShore Oahu Hawaii
Date: November 11, 2005
Time: Appx 3:30 PM
Weather: Slightly overcast but clear
Camera: Olympus Digital Camedia 2.1 MegaPixel Auto-Focus Auto-Exposure
Orientation: South to North (guestimate..could be wrong)
Thanks for this terrific submission. At first glance, we thought perhaps it was sunlight piercing through holes the clouds, but close inspection reveals the sun is clearly to the far right, not behind the clouds dead ahead in your shot. We found one additional, faint anomalous object also at the same angle, apparently one considerably more distant from the others on the right side of the photo. This almost certainly tells us these are really there, in various levels of depth of field. If this is a digital defect, its one we've never come across before. The "tracers" seem to indicate these objects were moving at tremendous speed, which might explain why you didn't even see them when taking the photograph.
Space rock puts Arkansan on cloud 9
Man hopes 1,430-pound meteorite will land him seven-figure payout
BY MARK MINTON
Bunch said he had spotted a meteor himself the other evening. It streaked across the sky while he was smoking a cigarette on his porch. Bunch, the breed of smalltown banker who wears overalls and rides a Harley-Davidson, has come to view such phenomena with new appreciation.
KINGSTON - When Steve Arnold heard that grapefruitsized meteorites were pelting a Chicago suburb two years ago, he rushed to the scene and stayed 44 days, meticulously plotting strike points and sweeping streets curb to curb with a detector fashioned from a magnet and broomstick.
He got some funny looks, but he left with 113 meteorites.
In the deserts of Oman on a similar excursion, Arnold and wife, Qynne, bounced over the sands in a Jeep looking for cosmic treasures. 'We'd see a black spot on the horizon, and it would either be camel poop or a meteorite, Arnold said. They scooped up 151 of the rocks.
Of the 6.4 billion people who live on Earth, no more than two dozen are full-time meteorite hunters. Arnold, 39, of Kingston, has been one since 1990, earning enough to finance his adventures and to sustain a rustic lifestyle for his family.
He has sold some nice rocks. But the big scores such as six-figure chunks of the moon or Mars have always eluded him.
Until last month.
Arnold was dragging an 8-foot-wide custom metal detector over a Kansas wheat field when a sustained screech blared through his headphones. Seven feet down, there it was: the 1,400-pound mass of rock and metal that is the largest meteorite of its kind discovered in the world.
Arnold hauled it to the Ozarks last week in his 1973 Ford Ranger. The meteorite, shaped like a jellybean and roughly the size of an engine block, hunkered in the bed, a mottled chunk of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The discovery has already earned Arnold a degree of fame: appearances on the Today show and Discovery Channel Canada as well as wide circulation on the news wires. He also has new notoriety around Kingston, a Madison County town whose downtown includes the tiny bank made famous by Bill Clinton's Whitewater venture.
'Congratulations, Mr. Rich and Famous, the banker Gary Bunch greeted Arnold on the square Wednesday.
Bunch said he had spotted a meteor himself the other evening. It streaked across the sky while he was smoking a cigarette on his porch. Bunch, the breed of smalltown banker who wears overalls and rides a Harley-Davidson, has come to view such phenomena with new appreciation.
'I got interested in it since the rich and famous got involved, he said.
The meteorite business can have its rewards, but job security is not one. A risky enterprise, it is peopled by a band of fiercely competitive entrepreneurs willing to instantly fly someplace they have never been before with no more to go on than a news report or hot rumor.
'I've lost thousands of dollars chasing nothing, said Matt Morgan, a competitor based in Denver. 'When you get there, it turns out to be a piece of lava or something like that.
But the lure of money falling from the sky is so tantalizing that meteor hunters quickly converge when there is news of a fall. The 2003 Park Forest, Ill., meteor shower was the rare event in which a major metropolitan area was hit by hundreds of meteorites. About 100 professionals and hobbyists followed.
'It's about the only meteorite chase I've been on where there was a Red Lobster in the middle of the search area, said Mike Farmer, a professional from Tucson, Ariz. 'Usually, you're in Africa, and you're getting rotten goat meat.
The same year, a gaggle convened in New Orleans, where a 40-pound meteorite had crashed through a house near the Superdome. The rock smashed an antique desk, penetrated the upstairs floor and slammed into the bathroom below, narrowly missing the commode, according to Farmer, who eventually won the competition to acquire the rock.
THE METEORITE MARKET
In 1998, Arnold beat him and others to the spot where a meteor crashed down near a basketball court in Monahans, Texas, where seven boys were playing. The police confiscated the rock, which had fallen in two chunks.
Arnold, first on the scene, represented the boys as a broker. He 'kind of shamed the city into not taking this away, said Arthur Ehlmann, the Texas Christian University emeritus geology professor who followed the dispute from his perch as curator of the university's Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Gallery.
In the end, Ehlmann said, the city kept the chunk that landed on a city street. The boys got the other, and Arnold made a commission when he sold it for them for about $20,000.
Arnold also brokers exchanges for museums, including the one at Fort Worth's Texas Christian, which is home to about 1,200 meteorites, including a 100-pounder that Ehlmann keeps under his desk.
Demand for meteorites is fed not only by scientists, but collectors fascinated to own an extraterrestrial object that has rocketed through space at 50,000 miles an hour.
Dealers could not say how much the market is worth. In Denver, Morgan said his own sales hit about $500,000 last year.
Pallasites such as Arnold's 1,400-pounder are rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of known meteorites, dealers say. Prized for the nickel-iron and olivine crystals that form them, pallasites are often cut into slices, polished to a shine and sold as art objects or in jewelry.
Arnold's rock is 'oriented, meaning that it didn't tumble as it entered Earth's atmosphere, and thus has a rounded 'nose cone.
It is hard to say what the rock might be worth. Arnold is willing to speculate about 'seven figures, and fellow dealers, perhaps hoping for a spillover effect from such a sale, are quick to agree.
But the biggest sum that has been reported for a meteorite to date is about a quarter of a million dollars, Arnold said, and rocks from the moon or Mars have commanded the highest prices.
RUN, DON'T WALK, TO KANSAS
Slices of pallasite from the same Kansas meteorite fall have gone for about $4 a gram, dealers said. Assuming enough demand to sell the whole 1,400-pound monolith slice by slice, that would make the meteorite worth $2.5 million.
It's an other-worldly figure. But Arnold is loathe to even discuss slicing the stone. Because of its size and nose cone, he said its highest value is as is.
Arnold found his prize on a farm in Kiowa County, between Wichita and Dodge City, a site well-known among meteorite hunters. The Brenham meteorite that landed there, named for the township where it landed, exploded overhead centuries ago, scattering more than 3 tons of fragments, according to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum owns some of the Brenham specimens, as does the Field Museum in Chicago.
But most hunters left the Brenham zone for tapped-out decades ago.
In his research, however, Arnold discovered something - he won't say what that convinced him they were wrong.
He told it to Phil Mani, a San Antonio geologist and oil and gas attorney who collects meteorites. Mani was quickly persuaded. He agreed to bankroll a hunt.
'I suggested that he hurry run, not walk to Kansas,' Mani said. But first the treasure hunters needed the permission of the landowners. They also needed to somehow acquire legal rights for stones they might find.
'So we did what's probably never been done in the history of the world before, Arnold said. 'We made a meteorite lease.'
The pair currently hold the meteor rights to 2,000 acres of Kansas farmland. The leases give the landowner a percentage of any sales. Still, some of the locals thought it was all a little strange, Mani acknowledged.
'The notary was looking at us like, Hey, these boys from out of town are giving away free money.'
'KING OF THE PALLASITES'
With planting time fast approaching, Arnold set to work immediately in a 320-acre wheat field with his ATV-powered metal detector, which rides over the ground on a plastic frame with wheels and is sensitive to about 15 feet.
'I got a lot of hits, Arnold said. 'On wagon wheels. Horse shoes. Pliers. Linchpins. A whole lot of linchpins a whole museum display. A coyote trap.
'I found a really neat ring for a bull's nose.
He stopped about every 100 feet to dig in the clay soil and see what his detector was registering.
The rock was 7 feet deep, nose down.
Arnold hoisted it with a backhoe and hauled it to a nearby grain-elevator scale: 1,430 pounds, plus or minus 20.
He has been in the aggressivemarketing phase ever since, hoping to build interest and attract a buyer.
On worldrecordmeteorite .com, the 'official website of the world's largest oriented pallasite, he describes it as 'one of the most valuable meteorite finds ever made in the United States and of 'historic and scientific importance.
'We're coining it the King of the Pallasites,' Arnold said Wednesday. The King of the Pallasites was bound for a friend's body shop in Tulsa on Thursday, for an unusual radio cross-promotion marrying the astral and the accidental.
Then it was headed for an undisclosed location in Texas, to be overseen by Mani, who said he has 'several tens of thousands of dollars invested in the venture.
Mani believes a museum will be the best destination in the end for the meteorite.
Meanwhile, Arnold has work to do on the farms in Kansas, where he has bought a second house as a base for his prospecting.
'Who knows? Mani said. 'Maybe we'll find something better. Something bigger.
Mysterious 'booms' rattle homes
Residents report hearing loud blasts in different parts of country, claim their homes shook as result; IDF says in response no unusual military activity that may have caused blasts detected, Seismology Institute says no earthquakes recorded; Rita from Herzliya: I don't buy it. They should just tell us what is causing these shockwaves and blasts
Just three weeks after dozens of readers from across Israel told Ynet about unusually loud 'booms and tremors throughout the night, residents again reported hearing loud boom-like sounds in different parts of the country Tuesday, mainly in coastal regions, claiming their homes shook as a result.
Police officials confirmed people reported they heard 'explosions, but added that the source remains unknown.
The IDF said in response that no unusual military activity that may have caused the 'explosions was detected, and the Seismology Institute said no earthquakes were recorded
Rita, a resident of Herzliya in central Israel, said, 'Suddenly the entire house began to shake; even our cat felt it and began to act in a peculiar manner. It lasted for a few seconds. It was as if someone was forcefully rattling the home's windows and doors.
'I don't buy it'
However, she said she did not hear any explosions.
'The rumbling was similar to last month's incident, but then it took place at nighttime and we were able to hear the blasts, which were strong, she said
'Last time they said it was ultra-sonic booms from planes that flew over the Gaza Strip. I don't buy it. They should just tell us what is causing these shockwaves and blasts. It is getting a bit scary because we do not know what the source is.
Most of those who reported of the blasts reside in the Sharon region, in central Israel; they said the shockwaves came from the direction of the sea.
Last month Ynet readers offered several explanations for the mysterious blasts - from an alien invasion to underground nuclear tests.
The IDF said at the time the blasts may have resulted from a rare combination of IAF activity over Gaza and a unique weather conditions.
An Israel Air Force officer said at the time, 'this is an unusual phenomenon in which cold and warm layers are alternately formed in the air, and the sound waves move like a ping pong ball between the ground and layers.
Meteorite lights up WA skies
December 04, 2005
The Weekend Australian
A spectacular meteorite fireball has lit up the sky over a wide area of Western Australia.
The spectacle is reported to have been in the north of the state, also as far east as Kalgoorlie, nearly 500km from Perth, and in the south at Albany, which is just over 400km from the capital.
Astronomers believe the meteorite, flashing brightly and sending out sonic booms, smashed into the earth's atmosphere about 300km southeast of Perth at 8.47pm yesterday.
It is thought to be the biggest celestial light show seen in WA in a decade.
UH astronomer finds new comet The Halloween discovery is a first from Mauna Kea
By Helen Altonn
University of Hawaii astronomer Fabrizio Bernardi came here from Italy to look for potentially dangerous asteroids.
"But, of course, we see other objects -- stars and comets. This time, the first time, I saw a new comet," the postdoctoral researcher said.
Bernardi was looking at images taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea when he noticed an object that was "a bit fuzzy," with a tail estimated at more than 13,000 miles long.
It was Halloween night, he said. "It was really weird.
"When I saw the comet images, it was a big surprise. The first thing I was doing was to check to see if it was new."
There were no known comets in the part of the sky where the comet was spotted, about 280 million miles away from Earth, almost three times the distance from Earth to the sun.
So it was a good candidate to be a new find, Bernardi said. "I was hoping it was a real comet. It was very exciting."
He was surprised to learn it was the first comet discovered from Mauna Kea.
Bernardi and colleagues David Tholen, Andrea Boattini and Jana Pittichova monitored the object for two or three nights and confirmed that it was a new comet.
It was reported to the International Astronomical Union and named for its discoverer: P/2005 VI Bernardi.
The comet orbits the sun about once every 10 years and does not come close enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Bernardi said he was working on a project in Italy "looking for asteroids with smaller telescopes. Not many astronomers are doing these jobs."
So he joined the UH Institute for Astronomy to work with Tholen, an astronomy professor who heads a NASA-funded program to find potential "killer asteroids" passing close to Earth.
It's called Apophis. It's 390m wide. And it could hit Earth in 31 years time
Wednesday December 7, 2005
In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness.
A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.
Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.
And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."
Apophis had been intermittently tracked since its discovery in June last year but, in December, it started causing serious concern. Projecting the orbit of the asteroid into the future, astronomers had calculated that the odds of it hitting the Earth in 2029 were alarming. As more observations came in, the odds got higher.
Having more than 20 years warning of potential impact might seem plenty of time. But, at last week's meeting, Andrea Carusi, president of the Spaceguard Foundation, said that the time for governments to make decisions on what to do was now, to give scientists time to prepare mitigation missions. At the peak of concern, Apophis asteroid was placed at four out of 10 on the Torino scale - a measure of the threat posed by an NEO where 10 is a certain collision which could cause a global catastrophe. This was the highest of any asteroid in recorded history and it had a 1 in 37 chance of hitting the Earth. The threat of a collision in 2029 was eventually ruled out at the end of last year. [...]
Fireball lights up Yukon morning
8 Dec 2005
Commuters coming into Whitehorse were treated to some free fireworks Thursday morning, as a meteoroid streaked across the sky.
Witnesses saw a bright fireball streak west to east across the sky just north of the territorial capital at about 8:30 a.m.
"It was blue-white, neon-like and very bright, and lasted about four seconds," said CBC reporter Doris Bill, who saw the light streak across the sky as she drove in to work .
The meteoroid left a grey contrail across the sky that slowly broke up in the upper atmosphere. There were no reports of any sonic boom.
In January of 2000, a 150-tonne meteoroid lit the skies over Whitehorse, and exploded over a lake about 100 kilometres south of the city. The Tagish Lake meteor produced a treasure of information about a rare kind of meteorite.
Thursday's meteoroid likely burned up far above Earth's surface.
Police report 'dazzling' meteor: Australia
December 8, 2005
There were reports of a big meteorite crossing south-western New South Wales and central Victoria overnight.
Victorians from Geelong to Mildura called police after apparently watching the object.
Senior Victorian Constable Peter Bullock and his partner were patrolling the Calder Highway at Kyneton at about 11:20pm AEDT when they saw what they say was a huge light.
Senior Constable Bullock says they had a clear view of the meteorite dropping towards the ground in the eastern sky.
"My offsider with me had a look as well and we were just dazzled," he said.
"It was unbelievable, it was a huge light, much bigger than any star. It was sort of round and had a very long tail and seemed to be dropping fairly slowly, so we were able to see it for 15 to 20 seconds."
"I said to my offsider, 'that's a meteorite, it's certainly too big to be a falling star' and he said the same thing."
Comment: With the increasing numbers of Fireballs being sighted, and increasing volcanic activity, we have to wonder if these events are in any way connected to the obvious climate changes we see all around the globe? Unfortunately, most people who do pay attention to the fact that all the ancient myths discuss heating of the earth, increasing Volcanic and Earthquake activity, "signs in the heavens," and wars and rumors of wars, can do little or nothing about it in the face of the massive control system that has been created to keep our attention off what really matters. The Global propaganda machine more and more resembles the system utilized against the citizens of Nazi German under Hitler and Soviet Russia under the Communists. Those who might be creative enough to figure a way out of this mess are marginalized and factionalized. It is oh, so true, that Pathocracy is like a disease:
...What happens if the network of ... psychopaths achieves power in leadership positions with international [control]? ... Goaded by their character, such people thirst for just that even though it would conflict with their own life interest? They do not understand that a catastrophe would ensue. Germs are not aware that they will be burned alive or buried deep in the ground along with the human body whose death they are causing.
Meteor brightens EUP skies (Michigan, USA)
By JACK STOREY/The Evening News
Dec 12, 2005
EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA - A smattering of early risers across a wide area of the Eastern Upper Peninsula were startled by the brilliant light from a falling meteor or some ?space junk? in the northern sky about 6:05 a.m. today.
The bright light traced a lightning-fast path over the northern horizon from west to east, briefly and silently illuminating the dark winter sky for a few seconds in the pre-dawn cold.
One witness, Dixie MacArthur, said the object's path appeared to skim the treeline from west to east, making no sound as it flashed through the sky. Other similar reports were made by the few other observers up and out of doors when the brightly-burning object crossed the sky.
A spokesman for the National Weather Service in Gaylord was not aware of the early morning sighting today. He said the object would not register on U.S. weather radar, since meteors usually burn up in earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 40 to 70 miles, far above the reach of weather radar.
He said it is difficult to tell from the ground if the object was a meteor or ?space junk? gradually working its way back to earth from some orbit.
Another spokesman for the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University confirmed that view, adding that the seemingly low trajectory of the object actually means it passed a significant distance away from observers. ?If you see it very low, it has to be very far away,? he said today.
The MSU official added that the silent passage of the object across the sky likely confirms the distance suspicion. He said a passage or landing within 50 miles would have brought a sharp sonic boom from the burning object, moving at speeds several times the speed of sound.
?If they're really close, you hear a kind of whistling sound,? he added.
MacArthur said no sound accompanied her early morning sighting suggesting whatever it was falling through the morning sky was up to several hundred miles distant.
The MSU official said incoming ?space junk? is tracked by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, Colo. NORAD's public affairs office was not available for comment on today's early morning anomaly by midmorning today.
Comment: That's right, just because meteors "usually burn up" high in the atmosphere, we should all therefore ignore the plethora of recent fireballs all around the globe that have been creating massive booms or actually impacting the ground. Nothig to see here.
Strange new object found at edge of Solar System
13 December 2005
A large object has been found beyond Pluto travelling in an orbit tilted by 47 degrees to most other bodies in the solar system. Astronomers are at a loss to explain why the object's orbit is so off-kilter while being almost circular.
Researchers led by Lynne Allen at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, first spotted the object in observations made with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in December 2004. Since October 2005, they have made follow-up observations that have revealed the object's perplexing path.
Tentatively named 2004 XR190, the object appears to have a diameter of between 500 and 1000 kilometres, making it somewhere between a fifth and nearly half as wide as Pluto. It lies in a vast ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt, most of which orbit in nearly the same plane as Earth.
But at 47 degrees, 2004 XR190's orbit is one of the most tilted, or inclined, Kuiper Belt Objects known. That suggests it was flung out of the solar system's main disc after a close encounter with another object - such as Neptune or perhaps a star that passed by the Sun billions of years ago. [...]
Hal Levison, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US, says he and others have produced objects like Buffy using models of such special resonances. "However, I do have some problems with the idea," he admits.
He points out that this object was found when it happened to be passing through the plane of the solar system - where it spends just 2% of its orbit. That suggests many more such objects remain undiscovered, tilted at orbits where most surveys do not search for them. "I just don't think these mechanisms can deliver that much stuff," Levison told New Scientist.
He ventures another possible explanation - that the Sun had a twin and that both stars followed circular orbits around each other. "That could excite inclinations without exciting the eccentricities," he says. "However, this idea creates more problems than it solves, by far."
Neptune has been blamed for scattering many other KBOs into tilted paths. But these tend to show other signs of a past interaction with the giant planet, such as moving in elliptical paths and having one part of their orbit pass near Neptune's at 30 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun).
2004 XR190, however, follows a nearly circular path. And it is too distant to have come into direct contact with Neptune, travelling between 52 and 62 AU from the Sun. Its orbit is also too circular - and too small - to have been tilted by a passing star, says Allen.
These traits make the object, nicknamed "Buffy" after the US television series about a vampire slayer, hard to explain. "Maybe Buffy is going to be a bit of a theory slayer," Allen told New Scientist.
But she suggests one theory that might account for the space rock's strange orbit. It involves a commonly held notion that early in the solar system, Neptune itself moved outward into its present orbit, from around Uranus's current location.
As it did so, its gravitational reach extended outwards, as well. This reach comes in the form of zones, or resonances, where an object's orbital period happens to be an integer multiple of Neptune's. So when one of these outward-expanding resonances swept past 2004 XR190, it could have kicked the object out of a fairly circular, flat orbit into a more elongated, tilted one.
Then, over time, the orbit might have grown more circular as the tilt increased. "These interactions can cause some Kuiper Belt Objects to circularise and tilt," says Allen. But she remains cautious: "We don't know if Buffy's orbit really was created in this manner - because it could be too far away from a resonance or the resonance could not be strong enough - but this seems like the best shot."
Renu Malhotra, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, says most resonances simply elongate an object's orbit. She says a few objects could "trade off" some of their elongation, or eccentricity, for a higher tilt, but the effect would be small. "I find it hard to see how you would get a large inclination out of a modest eccentricity," Malhotra told New Scientist. "There's a limit on how much inclination you can trade off."
Manitoba man finds record number of meteorites
Last Updated Thu, 15 Dec 2005 17:58:30 EST
The discovery of a third meteorite by one man in Manitoba shows the province is a dumping ground for rocks from space.
Derek Erstelle of Winnipeg has become the first Canadian to discover three separate meteorites, planetary scientists at the University of Calgary have confirmed. Across the country, 68 meteorites have been found.
"The third was incredible," said Erstelle said of the discovery last October.
Erstelle's hunt for space rocks began five years ago when he was walking with a friend who tried to move an unusual looking rock that turned out to be a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite worth about $50,000.
The M?tis artist, who makes carvings out of antlers, rocks and driftwood, doesn't have any formal scientific training.
"This third find was made testing a theory, that a meteorite dumping zone lies in eastern Manitoba," said Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the University of Calgary and co-director of the Prairie Meteorite Search. "The obvious culprit to put those meteorites there is the Laurentide ice sheet."
Erstelle used binoculars, a metal detector and a map that showed how glaciers melted during the last Ice Age to focus his most recent search .
There could be thousands of meteorites in Manitoba's Whiteshell area, near the province's southeastern border with Ontario, said Scott Young, a planetarium manager at the Manitoba Museum.
"Hopefully,more people will go out and beat the bush and look around, or just bring in the rocks from that area that they've had on their mantlepiece," he said.
Meteorite hunters have found eight space rocks in Manitoba, but the museum is seeking one for its collection.
Hildebrand agreed, saying he hoped the most recent discovery will lead to a rush of meteorite seekers in Manitoba. The rocks are worth up to $10 a gram, but the scientific value and bragging rights are priceless.
Dec 16, 2005
A mysterious force shook buildings from Pascagoula, Mississippi to Chumuckla, Florida Friday morning, but no one News 5 talked to knows exactly what caused it. Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 am, a thunderous sound rumbled through the Gulf Coast. Not everyone felt it, but those who did all described it in much the same way. Ruthstein Woods in Eight Mile said, "I was laying in the bed watching TV and all of a sudden, it was like big boom, like the ceiling or something was like falling. I jumped up and ran and looked, and I looked outside, but I didn't see anything. It was like real, real shaking and stuff."
Donny George in Midtown felt it, too. "It was more like a sonic boom. I questioned whether or not the space shuttle had come back into the atmosphere, because I'm from Florida. And when the space shuttle comes in there, it makes a sonic boom, rattles the windows," said George. He added, "It rattled the building, rattled the windows. I thought somebody had hit our building."
It shook Harvey Smith as well. "I just heard a loud boom, I thought maybe some kind of sonic boom or something like an airplane breaking the sound barrier, or...but it shook my house. I still don't know what it was."
People from as far away as Pascagoula, Mississippi to Flomaton, Alabama to Chumuckla, Florida called News 5 to tell us they heard and felt something. But because not everyone felt it, speculation rose from the ground to the air. Some suspected military aircraft causing sonic booms by breaking the sound barrier. But News 5 was unable to confirm whether it was a jet. So, the mystery and the speculation continue.
Comment: Hmmm... we were talking about big booms just the other day and how they can be a type of earthquake... just what IS going on inside our planet?
Couple looks skyward following close encounter
Dec 19 2005 08:44 AM NST
A couple in Central Newfoundland has had a close encounter with a mysterious object that appeared to fall from the sky at a high speed.
"I would say [it was] the size of a chicken, probably," says Joanne Knee, who says her experience on Friday afternoon reminded her of the story of Chicken Little.
Knee and her husband were driving from Gander to Carmanville when an object narrowly missed their truck.
She said the beige-coloured rock hit the ground so close to the truck that when it exploded, shards damaged the front grill and a signal light.
"It was such an explosion from it," she said.
"It was just [as] if someone had shot off a gun in the truck. It was just amazing."
Knee and her husband returned to the spot Saturday to find a pile of charcoal-like rock.
They picked up a sample, and after a little digging observed that a cylindrical piece of the material was lodged deep into the side of the road.
Knee said there was no sign of construction or of people working in the area.
Joe Hodych, who teaches earth sciences at Memorial University, said it is possible that the object came from space, and that he is anxious to see the sample.
"Meteorites are very rare. So most reports turn out not to be meteorites in the end," Hodych said.
"But they're extremely important to science."
Knee hopes someone like Hodych will analyze the rock.
However, Knee would like to keep at least a part of the rock as a souvenir.
Comment: Yup, meteorites are extremely rare these days... go back to sleep.
Mysterious booms lead to surge of speculation
By Sam Scott
Tim McKinney knows for sure what caused the blasts ? the Seneca Guns, he said.
He?s heard the mysterious coastal rumblings a thousand times, but never with the intensity he did Tuesday while working on the set of One Tree Hill in downtown Wilmington.
?That?s the strongest I?ve ever felt it in my life,? he said.
Something certainly caused a series of thunderous booms about 4 p.m. that sent some hurrying to call 911 and others looking skyward for answers. Curtis Reeves, who lives near Belville, said he initially feared an explosion at the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point, near Southport.
?It felt like an earthquake,? he said. ?It shook every house in this neighborhood.?
Comment: Check the Signs pages over the past week to find other stories about these now frequent, strange, booming noises in the U.S. The experts don't have any answers, and the speculations among non-experts range from the imminent break-up of the North American plate to UFOs moving in and out of hyperdimensional space. Who knows? Any readers with better ideas?
But officials reported no problems at the ammunition depot or elsewhere. And with nary a cloud in the sky, the booms weren?t weather related, said Ron Steve, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
Steve said he spoke to the U.S. Geological Survey, which said there had been no seismic activity in the area. The weather service radar did, however, pick up signs of ?chaff? off the coast of New Hanover and Brunswick counties, he said.
Chaff is like metal confetti that military fighters emit to trick radar-seeking missiles, he said. It?s possible that jets off the coast broke the sound barrier as part of a military exercise.
The public relations office at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock was unable to confirm by press time if Marines were on exercises nearby. Some people reported seeing military planes and helicopters flying in the area after the booms.
But McKinney said the sound came from the ground, blaming the mysterious booms that have been reported in the area for centuries. The name, ?Seneca Guns,? comes from a similar phenomenon in New York and Connecticut.
Legend has it that the Seneca Indians are getting their revenge with the guns that Europeans used to displace them.
More scientific explanations say the boom of the guns comes from earthquakes, material falling off the continental shelf, or pockets of hot air exploding like balloons.
23 Dec 2005
It's happening again: For the second time in less than a week, a sunspot is materializing before our very eyes. Just yesterday sunspot 838 was a barely-visible speck. Now it is wider than the planet Neptune.
Sometimes, the magnetic fields of fast-growing sunspots become unstable and explode. The magnetic field of sunspot 838, however, does not appear to harbor energy for strong flares. Stay tuned for updates.
TV Film Crew Records Big (Mystery) Boom
Dec 21, 2005
NEWS 6 NEWSBOX
What's being described as a big boom shook houses along the coast late Tuesday afternoon. Phone calls started pouring into the newsroom shortly after 4:00, with people questioning what the noise was. Now WECT has obtained a tape with the boom recorded on it.
Alex Markowski is a professor at UNC Wilmington and a sound engineer working at the Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington. Tuesday afternoon, during a recording session with a crew from the NBC series Surface, the low frequency waves from the boom picked up sound on Markowski's equipment.
The boom could be felt from Ogden to Carolina Beach and in some cases Brunswick County. Some people described it as a loud bang. Others say it was like several explosions. They say their windows rattled and homes shook under the force.
WECT called 911 centers around the area. There were no reports of any accidents or damage in relation to the bangs. Officials at the nuclear power plant didn't report any problems either. Right now, authorities are just not sure what caused the noise.
One theory is a natural phenomena called Seneca Guns. It's never been fully explained but people along the coast have talked about it for centuries. Some say the sound originates when chunks of the continental shelf drop into the Atlantic Ocean.
It doesn't just happen along the coast. In fact, the name comes from Seneca Lake in New York where the big booms have been heard for years.
NASA Astronomers Spot Rare Lunar Meteor Strike
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
News Release: 05-190
On Nov. 7, using a 10-inch-diameter telescope, astronomers recorded a tiny blip northwest of Mare Imbrium, the moon's "Sea of Showers." Such impacts are not uncommon, but it was only in 1999 that scientists first recorded a lunar strike as it happened.
"People just do not look at the moon anymore," said Dr. Robert Suggs, Space Environment team lead in the Natural Environments Branch of the Marshall Center's Engineering Directorate. "We tend to think of it as a known quantity. But there is knowledge still to be gained here."
As NASA plans to return to the moon, the agency has a need to understand what happens after lunar impacts in order to protect lunar explorers. On Earth, the atmosphere vaporizes most small meteoroids, leaving nothing behind but a brief streak of light. The vacuum environment on the moon, however, means there is nothing to slow incoming meteoroids before they strike.
"The likelihood of being struck by a meteoroid on the lunar surface is very, very small," said Bill Cooke, an astronomer in Marshall's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The challenge is learning what happens to high-velocity ejecta, the debris kicked up by a meteoroid strike, which is not hindered by atmospheric friction or Earth gravity. What threat does that debris pose to humans or equipment?"
Suggs, who heads the impact study, used commercial software tools to study the video frame by frame, and spotted a very bright flash. The burst of light diminished gradually over the course of five video frames, each 1/30th of a second in duration. Suggs called in Cooke, and both scientists agreed that the bright light was an impact flash, captured by video from some 248,000 miles away.
Immediately, the team began ruling out other possible causes. Two telling characteristics won out ? the gradual diminishment of the flash rather than an on-off "winking" effect, and its motionlessness. A flicker of light from a moving satellite, Cooke noted, would have appeared to shift perceptibly, even in five brief frames of video.
Suggs and Cooke next consulted star charts and lunar imaging software and determined the meteoroid was likely a Taurid, part of an annual meteor shower active at the time of the strike. Based on the amount of light produced the object was roughly five inches in diameter, traveling more than 60,000 mph, and may have gouged a crater nearly 10 feet in diameter out of the moon's surface.
The Taurids, which approach Earth from the direction of the Taurus constellation, are believed to be ancient remnants of comet Encke, which orbits the Sun every 3.3 years.
NASA scientists previously studied lunar meteor strikes during the Apollo moon program, but lacked the sophisticated video cameras and high-powered image processors to capture the tiny, telling flashes. Now, however, as NASA readies its next-generation spaceship to carry explorers back to the moon for potential long-term stays, Suggs and Cooke say lunar impact research is more vital than ever.
"Large-scale lunar facilities are sure to be well-protected, using impact-resistant technologies much like those developed to shield the space shuttle and the International Space Station," Suggs said. "We want to support additional measures that safeguard personnel working in the lunar field ? early-alert systems, emergency protective measures and new technologies that will mitigate risks from flying impact debris."
AN EXPLOSION ON THE MOON
December 23, 2005
NASA scientists have observed an explosion on the moon. The blast, equal in energy to about 70 kg of TNT, occurred near the edge of Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Rains) on Nov. 7, 2005, when a 12-centimeter-wide meteoroid slammed into the ground traveling 27 km/s.
"What a surprise," says Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) researcher Rob Suggs, who recorded the impact's flash. He and colleague Wes Swift were testing a new telescope and video camera they assembled to monitor the moon for meteor strikes. On their first night out, "we caught one," says Suggs.
The object that hit the moon was "probably a Taurid," says MSFC meteor expert Bill Cooke. In other words, it was part of the same meteor shower that peppered Earth with fireballs in late October and early November 2005. (See "Fireball Sightings" from Science@NASA.)
The moon was peppered, too, but unlike Earth, the moon has no atmosphere to intercept meteoroids and turn them into harmless streaks of light. On the moon, meteoroids hit the ground--and explode.
"The flash we saw," says Suggs, "was about as bright as a 7th magnitude star." That's two and a half times dimmer than the faintest star a person can see with their unaided eye, but it was an easy catch for the group's 10-inch telescope.
Cooke estimates that the impact gouged a crater in the moon's surface "about 3 meters wide and 0.4 meters deep." As moon craters go, that's small. "Even the Hubble Space Telescope couldn't see it," notes Cooke. The moon is 384,400 km away. At that distance, the smallest things Hubble can distinguish are about 60 meters wide.
This isn't the first time meteoroids have been seen hitting the moon. During the Leonid meteor storms of 1999 and 2001, amateur and professional astronomers witnessed at least half-a-dozen flashes ranging in brightness from 7th to 3rd magnitude. Many of the explosions were photographed simultaneously by widely separated observers.
Since the Leonids of 2001, astronomers have not spent much time hunting for lunar meteors. "It's gone out of fashion," says Suggs. But with NASA planning to return to the moon by 2018, he says, it's time to start watching again.
There are many questions that need answering: "How often do big meteoroids strike the moon? Does this happen only during meteor showers like the Leonids and Taurids? Or can we expect strikes throughout the year from 'sporadic meteors?'" asks Suggs. Explorers on the moon are going to want to know.
"The chance of an astronaut being directly hit by a big meteoroid is miniscule," says Cooke. Although, he allows, the odds are not well known "because we haven't done enough observing to gather the data we need to calculate the odds." Furthermore, while the danger of a direct hit is almost nil for an individual astronaut, it might add up to something appreciable for an entire lunar outpost.
Of greater concern, believes Suggs, is the spray?"the secondary meteoroids produced by the blast." No one knows how far the spray reaches and exactly what form it takes.
Also, ground-shaking impacts could kick up moondust, possibly over a wide area. Moondust is electrostatically charged and notoriously clingy. (See "Mesmerized by Moondust" from Science@NASA.) Even a small amount of moondust can be a great nuisance: it gets into spacesuit joints and seals, clings to faceplates, and even makes the air smell when it is tramped indoors by moonwalkers. Could meteoroid impacts be a source of lunar "dust storms?" Another question for the future....
Suggs and his team plan to make more observations. "We're contemplating a long-term monitoring program active not only during major meteor showers, but also at times in between. We need to develop software to find these flashes automatically," he continues. "Staring at 4 hours of tape to find a split-second flash can get boring; this is a job for a computer."
With improvements, their system might catch lots of lunar meteors. Says Suggs, "I'm ready for more surprises."
17 planets? Astronomers' heads spinning
BY ROBERT S. BOYD
St Paul Pioneer Press
The discovery of new objects in the icy junkyard called the Kuiper Belt forces science to rethink the definition of a planet.
WASHINGTON ? The familiar solar system that you learned about in school ? nine well-behaved planets, from Mercury to Pluto, circling sedately in tidy paths around the sun ? isn't what it used to be.
Astronomers recently have discovered a flock of at least eight other planet-like objects in sometimes wildly eccentric orbits. Four new "ice dwarfs," plus two more probable moons around Pluto, were announced in the last six months.
The latest mini-world, temporarily nicknamed "Buffy" and more than 5 billion miles from the sun, was revealed Dec. 13. The object, about half the size of Pluto, was spotted roaming through the so-called Kuiper Belt, a vast junkyard of icy, rocky bodies stretching for billions of miles beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The first scientific mission to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, a nine-year voyage to the outer solar system, is set to be launched in January.
"Next month, we set sail for Pluto," said Alan Stern, chief scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Unlike the rest of the planetary family, Pluto resides in the Kuiper Belt. But it's not alone there. More than 1,000 frozen chunks of debris left over from the formation of the solar system have been found since 1992. Astronomers expect at least half a million more pieces are out there.
"The discovery of the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s has given Pluto a place to call home, with icy brethren to call its own," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an e-mail.
"The Kuiper Belt is the largest structure in the solar system," Stern said recently. "We used to think Pluto was a misfit," he added. Now Earth and the other inner planets are the oddballs.
Even the inner solar system looks different. Astronomers no long believe that the four biggest planets have always been in their present orbits.
Instead, they now say, Jupiter has moved toward the sun from its original home. Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have slid outward from their birthplaces, according to Donald Yeomans, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,
"The field of planetary science is currently enjoying an intense period of readjustment and discovery," Yeomans wrote in the journal Science.
Scientists no longer are sure what a planet is and how many reside in our system. In addition, 160 extra-solar planets have been discovered around other stars, not the sun, in the last 10 years.
The International Astronomical Union, a worldwide alliance of astronomers, has been struggling for about two years to agree on a definition for planets. Three proposed definitions are being studied, but a decision isn't likely until spring, according to Robert Williams, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Depending on what definition is adopted, Pluto may be demoted from its status as the solar system's smallest planet to what astronomers call a "trans-Neptunian object." That's a fancy name for any world beyond Neptune, which is 2.8 billion miles from the sun or 30 times farther than Earth.
Teachers are scrambling to stay current.
"It's a very exciting and fast-changing area," said Richard Pogge, an astronomy professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. "It requires us to get out and do research on our own, since the textbooks are behind."
Pogge uses classroom computers to connect his students to NASA's Web site and other Internet pages to view the latest findings.
Science museums and planetariums have special problems since they can't afford to update expensive exhibits when a new object is found.
"It's hard to hit a moving target," said Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium, who's writing a book on the difficulty of defining Pluto.
Pluto would remain a planet if the International Astronomical Union accepts a definition that would declare a planet to be any round object larger than 1,000 kilometers ? 625 miles ? across that's orbiting the sun.
So far, nine such mini-worlds, including Pluto (diameter 1,430 miles), are known to dwell in the frigid Kuiper Belt.
They are "a completely different type of object that predominates in the outer solar system beyond Neptune," Pogge said.
The largest and most distant of the ice dwarfs is nicknamed Xena after the television warrior princess. Discovered in 2003, it's 1,600 miles across and 20 percent bigger than Pluto is. Xena has a moon of its own, named Gabrielle after the TV Xena's sidekick.
If Xena and Pluto are counted, our solar system has 10 planets; if they're not, it has eight. But if all the known objects larger than 625 miles across are included, there would be 17 planets with more expected soon.
A small Kuiper Belt mini-worlds is nicknamed Santa and has a moonlet named Rudolph. Until the International Astronomical Union assigns official names, the others are known as Easter Bunny, Orcus, Quaoar, Ixion and now Buffy. The most distant such object is called Sedna; its elliptical orbit carries it more than 9 billion miles beyond the sun.
As an added complication, new moons keep popping up around planets, and some old moons are found to be performing unusual tricks. Even some asteroids have tiny moons of their own. One asteroid has two moonlets.
In November, two possible new moons were sighted around Pluto. If confirmed, that would mean Pluto has three satellites, counting its previously known moon, Charon.
"The total number of natural satellites orbiting the major planets has grown to more than 150, with more than 50 percent of these discoveries occurring within the last six years," said Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Lab.
Unlike our own moon, which is geologically dead, at least four moons show signs of activity.
Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has rainfall and rivers of liquid methane (natural gas), and renews its atmosphere by venting more methane from below the surface.
Enceladus, another of Saturn's moons, spews huge jets of icy particles, probably driven by subsurface radioactivity. Jupiter's moon Io is wracked by volcanic explosions and gigantic lava flows. Neptune's moon Triton has active geysers of dust and gas.
"For planetary explorers like us, there is little that can compare to the sighting of activity on another solar system body," said Carolyn Porco, an astronomer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder.
27 Dec 2005
Being home due to the holidays, I've seen a lot more tv than usual. Has anyone else noticed the increasing references to meteors and asteroids in weird places?
The most blatent one is a commercial for a new variety of garbage bag (Glad) which is more stretchy. It's got a lady emptying her kitchen trash while listening to a tv report of a meteor shower impacting the earth. The next scene is '50s style sci-fi kitsch with the meteors coming down on the earth and being caught in this super-stretchy strong new garbage bag. It then shows this gal taking her trash out to be collected and pulling a chuck of rock off the windshield of a car and putting in the bag. (Nothing to worry about here . . .)
The second weird reference was in a Discovery channel show, which was a "teen science challange". They got these teams of whiz kids together for a sort of science-under-pressure contest. The teams were presented with five types of natural disaster and had to come up with ways of accurately modeling them for study and ways to collect the data. Among the things they had to figure out was how to make a device to cause a wave tank to consistently model a tsunami. The talking head host mentions that tsunamis can be caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, **asteroid strikes**, and volcanic eruptions.
These were both today. It just seems like there's a general uptick in the mentions of asteroids/meteors lately.