Posted on SOTT 3 May 2006
Big new asteroid has slim chance of hitting Earth
02 May 2006
From New Scientist
A newly discovered asteroid is now the biggest thing known with a possibility of hitting the Earth in this century - and it is also the one that could hit the soonest.
But the odds of impact currently stand at just one in six million, reducing the fear factor somewhat, and these odds should further diminish with additional observations. This latest addition to NASA-JPL's list of potentially hazardous asteroids was discovered on 27 April 2006.
The asteroid, called 2006 HZ51, has an estimated diameter of about 800 metres and is the one of the largest objects ever to make the list. An object of that size would cause widespread devastation if it did strike the Earth.
HZ51 also has one of the shortest lead-times to a potential impact of any such object yet found, and the shortest of any potential Earth-impactor currently on the list. The earliest of its 165 possible impact dates is just over two years away, on 21 June 2008.
Dan Durda, an asteroid expert and president of the B612 Foundation - which aims to anticipate and prevent such impacts - thinks the discovery of HZ51 highlights that at present there are no good options when faced with so little time to prepare. "There really isn't a whole lot we could do," he told New Scientist. "Most of the options that don't resemble a Hollywood movie involve deflection techniques that require many years or decades."
Other than stockpiling food and supplies and evacuating the regions most likely to be affected, he said, we would have to "hunker down and take the impact".
But this is an unusual case, statistically speaking. It is far more likely that Earth's nations would benefit from a much greater lead time before a potential impact, allowing more time for planning.
For example, the second-most imminent threat now on the list is the asteroid Apophis, which has about a 1-in-6000 chance of hitting Earth in 2036 - plenty of time to prevent it.
The B612 Foundation has been pushing for a mission to place a tracking device on Apophis sometime in the next decade, so that the possibility of impact can be definitively proved or ruled out. The foundation also wants to send a mission to test ways of altering the orbit of a non-threatening asteroid, to test the viability of such methods.
But the chance of an impact by Apophis might be ruled out as early as this weekend, which will be the last chance until 2013 to observe it by radar, from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
As for the newfound 2006 HZ51, the orbit calculations so far are based on just over 24 hours of observations, and so are likely to change quickly and should not be seen as a serious concern. As Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US, explains: "Almost certainly, observations from one or two more nights will put this to bed as a zero probability."
Comment: Correct us if we are wrong here, but does the fact that scientists claim that there are 165 possible impact dates not conflict with the claim that there is very little (one in 6 million) possiblity of an impact? That is to say, 165 *possible* impact dates seems to suggest that there is very little known about the reality of what this comet may or may not do. In which case, how can scientists be so sure that there is a very slim chance of impact?
Of course, we have a good idea as to the answer to this last question: at all costs, don't scare the population, because, who knows what they might do if they were all scared at the same time. The powers that be don't like unpredictable or chaotic scenarios - they don't augur well for an assured continuance of their grip on power.
Posted on SOTT 8 May 2006
Man Witnesses Meteor Shower
Angela Word, KFOX Associate Producer
POSTED: 6:52 pm MDT May 5, 2006
May 5, 2006 -- If you saw a bright light in the sky Thursday night, you're not alone.
Astronomers said a large meteor shower crossed straight over El Paso just before 9:45 p.m. Thursday.
One meteor was so large that it cast an orange glow against the mountain.
"The animals were going wild, the horses were bucking and dogs were barking and howling and then, all of a sudden right above my house, there was a big bright light and then just 'Bang!' And it lit up the five acres that are around us, and then I covered my eyes like this because it was bright and when it got past I saw there was a tail and it just went 'Shhhh' toward the Hueco Mountains," said Yawkey Jones, who witnessed the meteor from his home in Chaparral.
Amateur astronomers think that the meteor debris landed between Hueco Tanks and McGregor range.
Posted on SOTT 9 may 2006
Earth-Hitting Asteroids: Katrina From Space
Mon May 8, 2006
LOS ANGELES, California - Natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes rock this planet from time to time. But when the Earth gets stoned by an asteroid, consider it akin to a Katrina from outer space.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the United States in August of last year, it became a deadly, destructive, and costly episode--one that has also become a metaphor for lack of government action, both pre- and post strike.
At the current time there is no agency of the U.S. government--nor of any government in the world--with the explicit responsibility to develop and demonstrate the technology necessary to protect the planet from near-Earth object (NEO) impacts.?
The U.S. Congress needs to be encouraged to take a step in demonstrating the ability to deflect a menacing NEOs believes former NASA astronaut, Russell Schweickart, Chairman of the B612 Foundation. He presented an update today on dealing with troublesome asteroids here at the 25th International Space Development Conference.
The goal of B612, a confab of scientists, technologists, astronomers, astronauts, and other specialists is to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.
In detailing today's NEO situation, Schweickart said there are several givens: That the Earth is infrequently hit by asteroids which cross our orbit while circling the Sun; the consequence of such impacts ranges from the equivalent of a 15 megaton (TNT) explosion to a civilization ending gigaton event; and for the first time in the history of humankind we have the technology which, if we are properly prepared, we can use to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future.
"Remember, we're dealing here with a less frequent, but far more devastating Katrina ... a Katrina of the Cosmos," Schweickart reported. "NEOs happen so infrequently that even though they are orders of magnitude more devastating, people don't naturally make that match," he told SPACE.com, "but you don't want to be caught with your pants down."
There are key capabilities, Schweickart said, which will enable humanity to avoid devastating cosmic collisions: Early warning; a demonstrated deflection capability; and an established international decision making process.
While some progress is being made, there remains significant work ahead in all these areas, Schweickart emphasized.
Given sky-sweeping surveys and extrapolating into the future, by 2018 on the order of 10,000 NEOs with some risk of impact over the next 100 years are likely to be cataloged, Schweickart forecast - but there is better than an even chance that none of these 10,000 will actually hit the Earth in those 100 years.?
"The important fact however, is that a substantial number of them will appear as though they may be headed for impact," Schweickart advised. Today, of the 104 currently on impact listings, "two have an elevated risk and we are watching them closely," he said.
At present, the two asteroids on that "keep an eye on them roster" are 2004 VD17 and Apophis, formerly listed as 2004 MN4.
"Extrapolating to 2018 we may have as many as 200 in a similarly elevated attention category and of growing concern to the general public," Schweickart reported today. "Therefore, it is certainly possible, if not likely, that in the timeframe of the next 12 years we--the world--may well be in a position where we need to take action to insure that we will be able to carry out a deflection mission if needed," he said.
The U.S. Congress amended the Space Act in 2005 to charge NASA with responsibility to "detect, track, catalogue, and characterize" NEOs greater than some 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter. However, it has, thus far, come up short on actually assigning the responsibility to take action should one of these objects be discovered headed for a collision, Schweickart pointed out.
There is a bit of good news forthcoming, Schweickart explained. The Congress did require NASA to provide by the end of 2006 an analysis of possible alternatives that could be employed to divert an object on a likely collision course with Earth. In response to this Congressional directive, NASA is about to announce a process for carrying out this mandate.
Global threat ... global response
Schweickart told the ISDC audience here, that a third leg of the triad for protecting the Earth from NEO impacts is probably the most challenging, albeit subtle.?
"It is complicated by two related facts," he said, that NEO impacts are a global threat, not a national one, and the only decision making body representing, essentially, the whole planet is the
United Nations--a body not known for timely, crisp decision making, he added.
Still, in this area, steps forward are being made.
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE)--the professional organization of astronauts and cosmonauts--has formed a committee on NEOs which Schweickart chairs. Earlier this year, a technical presentation at a UN meeting in Vienna apprised them that this issue was coming at them.
While the UN has been brought the problem, Schweickart said, the ASE is committed to bringing them a solution. This solution will take the form of a draft United Nations treaty--or protocol--formulated in a series of workshops over the next two years.
"In these NEO Deflection Policy workshops we will gather together a dozen or so international experts in diplomacy, international law, insurance, and risk management, as well as space expertise to identify and wrestle with these difficult international issues," Schweickart noted. "Our goal is to return to the UN in 2009 with a draft NEO Deflection Decision Protocol and present it to them for their consideration and deliberation."
Facing the challenge
In wrapping up his ISDC talk, Schweickart said the NEO challenge, in a sense, "is an entry test for humankind to join the cosmic community." He reasons that, if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe "it is virtually certain that it has already faced this challenge to survival ... and passed it."
"Our choice is to face this infrequent but substantial cosmic test ... or pass into history, not as an incapable species like the dinosaurs, but as a fractious and self serving creature with inadequate vision and commitment to continue its evolutionary development," Schweickart concluded.
Meteorites carry ancient carbon
Monday, 8 May 2006, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Meteorites that have fallen to Earth contain some of the most primitive stuff of life, a new study has found.
Contrary to popular belief, they are packed with ancient carbon-rich (organic) molecules that were essential for life to get started on Earth.
Until now, it was thought such matter, which was formed before our Solar System came into existence, could only be found in interstellar dust.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington study is reported in Science magazine.
It challenges the notion that the only way we can investigate our molecular origins is to try to collect samples of unaltered cosmic material from space - the driving force behind missions such as Stardust.
Instead, the Carnegie team argues that primitive organic materials - essentially unaltered components of the original building blocks of the Solar System - can be found in the pieces of interplanetary rock and metal that land on our planet.
The US scientists analysed six carbonaceous chondrite meteorites - the oldest type known.
Elephant Moraine meteorite (Science Photo Library)
It was thought meteorites would contain only altered material
Using new techniques, the researchers looked at the relative proportions of different types (isotopes) of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms associated with the meteorites' organic matter.
Their analysis found regions where there was an excess of the heavier forms of these elements - something also found in interstellar dust grains.
It suggested, therefore, that the meteorites contained material that had been largely unaltered since the time when the Solar System was formed from the collapse of a giant cloud of gas and dust called the solar nebula.
"It's amazing that pristine organic molecules associated with these isotopes were able to survive the harsh and tumultuous conditions present in the inner Solar System when the meteorites that contain them came together," said Carnegie researcher Conel Alexander.
"It means that the parent bodies - the comets and asteroids - of these seemingly different types of extraterrestrial material are more similar in origin than previously believed."
Elusive time period
The discovery opens up a new window to study a long-gone era.
"Before, we could only explore minute samples from interplanetary dust particles (IDPs)," said the lead author of the Science paper, Henner Busemann.
"Our discovery now allows us to extract large amounts of this material from meteorites, which are large and contain several percent of carbon, instead of from IDPs, which are on the order of a million, million times less massive."
The scientists believe that further investigation of meteorites may yield enough material to perform experiments that would not be possible with the tiny primitive organic grains from interplanetary dust particles or cometary grains returned by the US space agency's (Nasa) Stardust mission.
UK planetary expert Ian Wright, of the Open University in Milton Keynes, believes we now have the potential to be able to study pre-solar organic molecules in the laboratory.
"That organic molecules in carbonaceous chondrites are, at least in part, pre-solar in origin, is not a new idea," he told the BBC News website.
"What is presented here are data that show that the distribution of isotopic compositions within the organic complex is [highly varied].
"I guess it is possible that we could be looking at the remnants of precursor organic molecules, formed in the interstellar medium before the Solar System even existed, embedded in a complex that formed at a later time (perhaps within the solar nebula itself)."
Posted on SOTT 11 May 2006
Big meteorite creates big mysteries
By Bjorn Carey
May 10, 2006
Scientists have discovered a beach ball-sized meteorite a half-mile below a giant crater in South Africa.
The 145-million-year-old meteorite, found in the Morokweng crater, has a chemical composition unlike any known meteorite.
It is also an unusual find because it was largely unaltered by the extreme heat from the impact.
The study is detailed in the May 11 issue of the journal Nature.
Scientists have collected thousands of various meteorites over the years and tell them all apart by their various structural, chemical, and mineralogical compositions. The specific concentrations of platinum group elements in the newfound 10-inch (25 centimeter) meteorite place it in the "LL-ordinary chondrite" group of meteorites.
But other characteristics set it apart from the group, such as having silicate and sulfide minerals rich in iron, but no metallic iron-nickel phase.
"So it is 'another kind' of LL-ordinary chondrite that we do not have in our collections," said study co-author Alexander Shukolyukov of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego.
A potential implication of this odd meteorite, he said, is that the bombardment of meteorites 145 million years ago was different than those crashing into Earth more recently.
The researchers can't say for sure why this fragment is preserved. Current models indicate that no unaltered fragments can survive large impacts, which, Shukolyukov suggests, implies the models are incomplete.
Just a remnant
It is also clear that it was much, much larger than 10 inches in diameter when it smacked the surface.
An 820-foot-diameter (250 meters) meteorite would slam into the planet and release energy on the order of about 1,000 megatons-about 66,000 times the strength of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The impact would create a crater 3 miles (5 kilometers) across, Shukolyukov told SPACE.com.
In contrast, the Morokweng crater is a whopping 43 miles across (70 kilometers), so the meteorite that created it must have been substantially bigger than 820 feet.
The raw energy produced by the impact also generates a lot of heat - 3,100 to 24,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1700 to 13,700 Celsius) - so it's surprising that anything remains of the rock at all, and even more so that it is unaltered. Generally the heat completely melts or vaporizes meteorites, and if anything is left, it doesn't resemble its original state.
"It may be that this fragment was just a separate small meteorite that accompanied a 'big guy," Shukolyukov said.
However, according to the models, a trailing object would have completely melted.
Neptune Might Have Captured Triton
By Sara Goudarzi
posted: 10 May 2006
01:06 pm ET
Neptune's largest moon, Triton, was originally a member of a duo orbiting the Sun but was kidnapped during a close encounter with Neptune, a new model suggests.
Triton is unique among large moons in that it orbits Neptune in a direction opposite to the planet's rotation, which long ago led scientists to speculate that the moon originally orbited the Sun. But until now, no convincing theory for how Triton paired with Neptune existed.
Gravity might have pulled Triton away from its companion to make it an orbiting satellite of Neptune, researchers report in a new study published in the May 11 issue of journal Nature.
"We've found a likely solution to the long-standing problem of how Triton arrived in its peculiar orbit," said Craig Agnor, a researcher from the University of California, Santa Cruz. "In addition, this mechanism introduces a new pathway for the capture of satellites by planets that may be relevant to other objects in the solar system."
The new model predicts that Triton came from a binary setup much like Pluto and its moon, Charon.
"It's not so much that Charon orbits Pluto, but rather both move around their mutual center of mass, which lies between the two objects," Agnor said.
Binary systems can be pulled apart by gravitation when they encounter large planets like Neptune. The orbital motion of the binary system causes one member to move slower than the other, which can disrupt the system and permanently change the orbital companion.
This mechanism, known as an exchange reaction, could have delivered Triton to any of a variety of different orbits around Neptune, Agnor said.
Humans cleared of killing off woolly mammoths
Last Updated Wed, 10 May 2006 14:13:18 EDT
Climate shifts, not over-hunting, killed off the woolly mammoth and wild horse, a carbon-dating study suggests.
What caused the animals to become extinct at the end of the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago has been one of prehistory's greatest whodunits. Biologists have often pointed the finger at over-hunting by expanding populations of humans.
But new radiocarbon dates give a more precise account of what happened at the time of the mass extinctions, and shift the focus to global warming.
Paleobiologist Dale Guthrie analyzed bone samples from bison, moose and humans, which lived through the extinction period, and from wild horse and mammoth, which did not survive. The more than 600 samples were recovered in Alaska and the Yukon. He also studied preserved samples of pollen from the period.
He found that by the time Homo sapiens started pushing into the region around 12,300 years ago, the wild horse had already died out and woolly mammoth were in decline.
Meanwhile, populations of bison, moose and white-rumped elk called wapiti were increasing, said Guthrie, professor emeritus with the Institute of Arctic Biology at University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
By analyzing pollen samples, he concluded that a naturally occurring shift in climate caused the animals to change their diet.
Like their modern cousins, the wild horses and the woolly mammoth of the past had a large intestinal pouch, or caecum, suited to feeding on low-quality forage on the steppe.
But as the frozen landscape thawed, higher-quality grasses started to grow. Those grasses were favoured by the bison and wapiti but were indigestible to the mammoth, Guthrie suggested.
His results were published in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.
Comment: Many scientists have trouble making sense of the data on the extinction of the wooly mammoth because they are not willing to entertain the hypothesis that the earth is subjected to cyclic cataclysmes. The verdict of global warming does not explain the mechanism behind the flash freezing of mammoths who have been found with vegetal matter still in their mouths and digestive tracks. Not does it explain the sites where bones from hundreds of these creatures were found.
For more on this topic, see Laura Knight-Jadczyk's Secret History of the World where she discusses the issue at length.
Posted on SOTT 15 May 2006
Space rock could make 2036 a killer year
BY MICHAEL CABBAGE
The Orlando Sentinel
Sun, May. 14, 2006
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Mark your calendar for Sunday, April 13, 2036. That's when a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid named Apophis could hit the Earth with enough force to obliterate a small state.
The odds of a collision are 1-in-6,250. But while that's a long shot at the racetrack, the stakes are too high for astronomers to ignore.
For now, Apophis represents the most imminent threat from the worst type of natural disaster known, one reason NASA is spending millions to detect the threat from this and other asteroids.
A direct hit on an urban area could unleash more destruction than Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake combined. The blast would equal 880 million tons of TNT or 65,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Objects this size are thought to hit Earth about once every 1,000 years, and, according to recent estimates, the risk of dying from a renegade space rock is comparable to the hazards posed by tornadoes and snakebites. Those kind of statistics have moved the once-far-fetched topic of killer asteroids from Hollywood movie sets to the halls of Congress.
"Certainly we had a major credibility problem at the beginning - a giggle factor," said David Morrison, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. "Now, many people are aware this is something we can actually deal with, mitigate and defend against."
In 1998, lawmakers formally directed NASA to identify by 2008 at least 90 percent of the asteroids more than a kilometer (0.6 mile) wide that orbit the sun and periodically cross Earth's path. That search is now more than three-quarters complete.
Last year, Congress directed the space agency to come up with options for deflecting potential threats. Ideas seriously discussed include lasers on the moon, futuristic "gravity tractors," spacecraft that ram incoming objects and Hollywood's old standby, nuclear weapons.
To help explore possible alternatives, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart has formed the B612 Foundation. The organization's goal is to be able to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.
"You can watch all of the golf on television you want, but if you want to go out and break par, it's going to take a lot of playing," Schweickart said. "And you're going to learn a lot that you thought you knew, but you didn't."
Throughout their 4.5 billion-year history, Earth and its neighboring planets have been like sitting ducks in a cosmic shooting gallery.
A glance at our moon shows the scars left by countless collisions with asteroids and comets. In fact, the moon is thought to have been created when part of the early Earth was ripped away in a cosmic impact with an object the size of Mars.
Earth also has scars, but most have been hidden by vegetation or eroded by geologic processes such as rain and wind. About 170 major impact sites, including northern Arizona's 4,000-foot-wide Barringer Crater, have been identified around the globe.
Within the past century, an extraterrestrial chunk of rock about 200 feet wide is thought to have caused a 1908 blast near Tunguska, Siberia, that leveled 60 million trees in an area the size of Rhode Island. Researchers theorize the object exploded four to six miles above the ground with the force of 10 million to 15 million tons of TNT.
Few outside scientific circles took the threat posed by near-Earth objects seriously until 1980. Then, Luis and Walter Alvarez published a study based on geologic evidence that concluded a cataclysmic asteroid or comet impact 65 million years ago caused the mass extinction of two-thirds of all plant and animal life on Earth - including the dinosaurs.
Dubbed the Great Exterminator, the colossal object was estimated at 7 miles in diameter and created a blast hundreds of millions of times more destructive than a nuclear weapon. Objects that size are thought to hit Earth about every 100 million years.
NASA scientists studying satellite photos bolstered the Alvarezes' theory with the discovery in 1991 of an impact crater 125 miles wide buried beneath the northwestern corner of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Three years later, NASA photos of another sort drove home the potential for cosmic collisions in our part of the solar system.
Spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope of Comet Shoemaker-Levy's collision with Jupiter showed 21 comet fragments, some more than a mile wide, producing colossal fireballs that rose above the giant planet's cloud deck.
"I think the most important development for getting this (public awareness) going was the Alvarezes' research that the dinosaurs went extinct as the result of an impact," Morrison said. "We were faced with a real example where an impact had done terrible damage."
In 1998, a year in which the asteroid-disaster flick Armageddon was the top-grossing movie worldwide, Congress held hearings that led to the creation of a Near Earth Object Program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
That year marked the beginning of the Spaceguard Survey aimed at discovering 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids more than a kilometer wide.
Today, astronomers at five primary U.S. sites work on the survey, which NASA funds with about $4 million annually. Scientists estimate there are 1,100 near-Earth asteroids that are larger than a kilometer wide. With two years to go, they have found 834, or about 76 percent, of the estimated total.
Congress directed NASA in December to look at expanding the search to asteroids larger than 140 meters (460 feet) in diameter and completing the new survey by 2020. Objects that size are capable of destroying a city.
The more often an asteroid or comet is sighted, the more precisely its orbit can be calculated. Researchers hope that radar observations of Apophis taken last weekend by the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico could make the odds of a collision even more remote.
"I always use the analogy of a hurricane," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Program. "When it first forms in the Caribbean, you have no idea where it's going to hit. If you continue to track the hurricane over days and weeks, the future path becomes more predictable."
That uncertainty led former astronaut Schweickart to send a letter to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin last June proposing to land a radio transponder on Apophis to better track its course. For now, the space agency plans to simply monitor the asteroid during passes this year and in 2013.
In 2029, seven years before the possible impact, the asteroid will come closer to our planet than the television and weather satellites that beam back signals from 22,300 miles above. Astronomers' big fear is that Apophis will pass through a gravitational "keyhole" that will put it on a collision course with Earth in 2036. "For all practical purposes, it (a mission) would have to be done before the 2029 flyby to take advantage of the leverage afforded by that encounter," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer in the Near Earth Object Program. "That means the 2036 impact needs to be addressed by 2026, 10 years earlier."
There is considerable debate about how to stop an asteroid or comet once astronomers have determined it will pass too close for comfort.
One idea would use a laser cannon on the moon or atop a spacecraft to shift the threatening object's course. Another involves slamming a spaceship into the object to nudge it away. A slight push a decade or so before a possible collision would translate into a wide miss years later.
Astronauts Ed Lu and Stanley Love published an idea last year for a "gravitational tractor" to change an asteroid's orbit. A nuclear-powered spacecraft would be launched toward the rock and hover near it, using gravity to slowly divert the intruder.
A fallback option using readily available technology involves detonating a nuclear weapon near the threat to shove it off course. It might be the only alternative if an object is discovered only a few months before impact.
Most experts agree the response will depend on the specific threat.
"You have to discover and know your enemy before you can even imagine what kind of mission or deflection you would do," Morrison said.
In recent months, some of the larger political questions are starting to be widely discussed.
If the Earth is threatened, NASA almost certainly would help lead the response. But who ultimately makes the decision on how to proceed? The United States? The United Nations? What about cases where deflecting an object away from an endangered region might move its course across another area? And how likely does a threat have to be to warrant taking action?
Schweickart is convinced those sorts of decisions should be made by the entire planet. He has begun work on a draft treaty he hopes to present to the United Nations by 2009.
As for Apophis, NASA scientists are confident the knowledge they've gained will prevent the asteroid from becoming the next cosmic catastrophe.
"Apophis is not going to hit the Earth. Period," Chesley said. "Whatever the impact probabilities that we compute right now are, we're not going to let it."
Posted on SOTT 16 May 2006
Meteor shower sparks alarm
SOUTH-east Queensland residents have been startled by a bright, green ball of streaking light that initially sparked fears of a plane crash.
A police spokeswoman said the suspected meteor was seen travelling east to west in the region from Bribie Island, across the Sunshine and Gold Coasts as far inland as Warwick.
She said a Warwick farmer alerted police about 6.30pm (AEST) of what he thought was a "fire ball" from a plane crashing on his property.
A search of the area found nothing.
Police were then inundated by sightings of a "green ball of light".
Andre Claydon of the Springbrook Observatory near the Gold Coast said he had received scores of sightings of what he thought was a meteor shower from across the region.
He said the meteor shower would have appeared much closer than it actually was.
"As it comes in through our atmosphere we get a magnification effect so it always looks a lot closer but it is probably 60 to 70km inside our atmosphere," he said on ABC Radio.
"I had a number of phone calls specifically from the eastern part of Australia regarding a meteor shower that has come through and broken up into a few pieces."
The Astronomical Association of Queensland's Peter Hall told ABC Radio: "It sounds like a meteor to me.
"Most of them are the size of a grain of sand but this one must have been larger."
Posted on SOTT 17 May 2006
NASA to Look into NEO Threat Response Proposals
By Leonard David
16 May 2006
NASA is on the lookout for ways to fend off Earth-threatening Near-Earth Objects. The space agency has issued a call for papers May 15 that, among a range of topics, would help sort out possible alternatives to divert an object if found to be on a likely collision course with Earth.
A U.S. Congress go-ahead on the matter is tied to the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 passed by Congress late last year, and subsequently signed by the President.
"The U.S. Congress has declared that the general welfare and security of the United States require that the unique competence of NASA be directed to detecting, tracking, cataloguing, and characterizing near-Earth asteroids and comets in order to provide warning and mitigation of the potential hazard of such near-Earth objects to the Earth," the Act states.
The Act directs the NASA Administrator to plan, develop, and implement a Near-Earth Object Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth objects (NEOs) equal to or greater than 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter in order to assess the threat of such near-Earth objects to the Earth.
Engaging the experts
NASA's call for papers and selection of best ideas will lead to a NEO Detection, Characterization and Threat Mitigation workshop, to be held in a few months time. This workshop is being organized in support of NASA's Office of Program Analysis & Evaluation study in response to the congressional direction.
The four-day workshop is to engage experts from the NEO scientific and technical communities to identify the fullest possible set of alternatives for meeting congressional direction. Three focus areas of the workshop are:
* Detection, Tracking and Cataloging NEOs
* Characterization of NEOs, and
* Deflection or other forms of NEO Threat Mitigation
An objective of the workshop is to wrestle with a number of issues, such as what are current U.S. and international capabilities to discover and track NEOs? How does warning time vary with object size for an object on a likely collision course?
Additionally, the workshop would delve into possible need for space-based systems-do they provide advantages over ground-based detection and tracking systems? Furthermore, can amateur or other astronomers assist with discovery and tracking? How can they be encouraged to do so...perhaps using cash awards for spotting new objects?
In the area of deflection and threat Mitigation of NEOs, the workshop would scope out key options.
For one, what is the ability of a proposed concept to characterize, either remotely or on-the-spot, a NEO for factors related to mitigation, including the size, composition and structure? Also, how best to mitigate the impact effects of a Near-Earth Object found to be on a likely collision course with Earth during a determined time period in the future?
NASA's call for ideas in abstract submission form is open until May 26. Those selected will be required to submit a full white paper by June 25. The workshop location and dates are yet to be determined, but penciled in for the late June-July time frame.
Comment: You see, there's absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to NEOs potentially colliding with Earth - and that's exactly why NASA is spending so much money, time, and effort in figuring out the best way to track and deflect such objects...
Mystery surrounds green 'comet'
Wednesday May 17 11:55 AEST
An unidentified green object streaked across the Queensland sky last night, before landing on a property between Toowoomba and Warwick near the Great Dividing Range.
Farmer Don Vernon lives on the property next to where the object hit the ground, and watched it come in to land.
"I was finished on the farm and driving home, and as I came in the gate I faced this enormous green ball of light with a white centre.
"It disappeared behind a ridge and I immediately drove out over the ridge without stopping so I was there in a few minutes.
"When I turned the lights off the car I saw a glowing green ball up on the ridge three-quarters of a mile away and a smaller piece was rolling down the side of the ridge. They were both glowing green," he said.
Mr Vernon, who is in his seventies, said the object landed on a steep section of land that was covered in undergrowth and was not easily accessible.
"It was a brilliant light before it landed," he says. "A bit like a green sun. I rang a neighbour and asked if he had found superman."
Astronomers are uncertain whether the object was a piece of space junk or a meteorite, however Jim Barclay from the Maidenwell Observatory suspects it was part of a satellite or some rocket casing.
"The description that I received from phone calls was that it was of a greeny blue colour which typically suggests something metallic," Mr Barclay said.
"Over 20,000 pieces of space junk are currently hurtling around the earth and they have to come back down. If this had landed on someone's house though it could have killed someone," he said.
The object, which looked like a comet, was spotted by hundreds of people and airport control towers across south-east Queensland at around 6:30pm last night.
Posted on SOTT 22 May 2006
'UFO' crashes into KZN sea
Port Shepstone - The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is monitoring a mysterious situation on the KZN south coast.
"Numerous" eye-witnesses reported an unidentified flying object crashing into the sea on Saturday.
NSRI Shelley Beach station commander, Eddie Noyons, said eye-witnesses had reported an unidentified object - possibly an aircraft - crashing into the sea behind the breaker line off-shore of the Port Shepstone High School.
Police, rescue craft and a fixed wing aircraft were alerted to the scene to investigate.
Noyons said: "Following a full-scale search of the area covering 12 square nautical miles nothing has been found.
"There are no reports of activity in the area that may be related to this incident and there are no aircraft reported overdue or missing."
He said numerous eye-witnesses - including teachers and pupils attending a sports event at the high school, by-standers and local fishermen - were convinced they had seen an aircraft go into the water.
They said they saw smoke and described "water exploding".
Some also reported seeing flames.
Noyons said: "Some reported seeing something, an unidentified object, splash into the sea causing a ripple effect of waves."
Noyons said it was being presumed that weather activity in the area at the time might have given the impression of something falling into the sea.
"We will continue to monitor the situation, which remains a mystery," he said.
Comment: Another possible explanation: a meteorite.
New meteor sheds new light on the universe
May 20, 2006, 19:30
Conventional wisdom around space rocks and asteroids may now be challenged with the discovery of a massive meteorite fragment the size of a beach ball. The meteorite was found in one of the world's largest impact craters, the Morokweng crater in the North West province.
The fragment was found in the Morokweng impact crater, where a massive object slammed into the earth about 140 million years ago. The impact left a 70km diameter crater and the fragment was found 766m below this crater. The find is significant as it is believed that large asteroids and comets vaporise or melt completely a few seconds after impact, the large fragments now discovered challenges those beliefs.
The impact also co-incided with the end of the Jurassic period when there was a mass extinction of marine life and reptiles. There is also a belief that the find supports theories that life began on another planet
Marko Andreoli, an official from NECSA, asks: "Is it possible that life evolved on mars and was transported to earth by meteorite? If that is a question that has validity and it has been formulated by serious scientists, then something like this one which can deliver large quantities of rock from a planet to another and preserve it pristinely could be also an additional bonus." Scientists say besides these findings there is still a veritable treasure trove of information that can be gained from the meteorite.
Posted on SOTT 24 May 2006
UFO 'probably a small meteorite or something'
Johannesburg, South Africa
23 May 06
The search for an unidentified object that apparently crashed into the sea at Port Shepstone on Saturday will resume at the weekend as there were no bodies to search for, the National Sea Rescue Institute said on Tuesday.
"It is unlikely that we will go out to search before the weekend. The NSRI's core business is rescuing people and here there is no loss of life involved," said NSRI Shelley Beach Station Commander Eddie Noyons.
The search for the unidentified object began on Saturday after witnesses reported that an object, possibly an aircraft, had crashed into the sea behind the breaker line off-shore of the Port Shepstone High School.
Police, rescue craft and a fixed wing aircraft were alerted to the scene to investigate.
"Following a full-scale search of the area covering 12 square nautical miles nothing had been found.
"There are no reports of activity in the area that may be related to this incident and there are no aircraft reported to be overdue or missing," said Noyons.
He said numerous witnesses -- including teachers and pupils attending a sports event at the high school, and other bystanders including local fishermen -- were convinced they had seen an aircraft go into the water, including seeing smoke and a water plume.
Interviews with the witnesses revealed that some also reported seeing flames.
"Some reported seeing something, an unidentified object, splash into the sea causing a ripple effect of waves," Noyons said.
Due to the number of witnesses with similar reports, it was presumed that weather activity might have given the impression of something falling into the sea.
Noyons said rescue workers were unable to find oil slicks, petrol spillage or any signs or wreckage during the search on Saturday.
"We are not sure what it was as we are still unaware of any missing aircraft, but will continue the search at the weekend. It's probably a small meteorite or something. The weekend will be a nice time for diving," said Noyons. - Sapa
Couple seeks to crack Brigantine ice fall mystery: A type of Meteor?
By MICHAEL PRITCHARD Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The Press, Atlantic City
BRIGANTINE - It was a pretty typical Saturday evening for Dan and Jean Ciechanowski as they worked the barbecue and chatted with neighbors this past weekend.
Then it happened.
Dan Ciechanowski heard a noise that he described as the sound a missile makes and saw something moving across the sky at a 45-degree angle.
It smashed into a vacant lot next to his property with a crash that shook the foundation of his house.
That crash was pretty close to where Jean Ciechanowski was grilling. Though there is a fence between her property and the vacant yard, she too heard the missile-like sound and felt the impact.
In the end, the object - a large chunk of ice - had landed just a few feet away.
"First I heard the noise of it coming down," she said. "Then there's this crash and it shook the ground all around me. It was a pretty scary thing to go through."
In fact, the Ciechanowskis described the impact as surreal. What they found afterward was a one-foot-deep crater in the adjacent yard with a hunk of ice two feet around sitting in the middle.
The ice fell at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday. When investigated by city police, it was assumed that the ice had fallen from a plane. Police called the Federal Aviation Administration to see if any planes in the area had inadvertently dropped the ice from one of their holding tanks. Or it could be a form of "blue ice," a euphemism used in the airline industry for ice that falls from leaking airplane lavatories.
There were too many planes in the area to find a culprit, police said, but Ciechanowski isn't so sure that the ice came from a plane.
"That was my first thought," he said. "We are on an approach for Atlantic City International Airport. But my neighbor and I were out talking when it happened. We looked around and didn't see a single plane in the area."
Ciechanowski did some quick Internet research and found some other problems with a blue ice theory. The ice in question was clear, did not have a foul odor and seemed to have some minerals in it.
"I'm not saying what it is," Ciechanowski said. "But it doesn't fit what I was reading in the Internet. It made me think it could be something else, like a type of meteor."
A spokesman for the FAA said that despite the lack of color and odor, the ice still could have come from a plane. The FAA intends to investigate the incident.
When they get to the site, they'll be able to see the ice first-hand. Ciechanowski kept a piece in the freezer. And he is handling it with care in case the blue ice theory holds up.
"It's in a freezer we don't use too much and it's in plastic," he said.
For the Ciechanowskis, the mystery ice will provide for some interesting conversations this summer, but they are aware it could have been a lot worse.
"If this had hit something like our house it would have smashed right through it," Dan Ciechanowski said. "If it hit somebody it would be terrible. We're very lucky that nobody got hurt by this thing. I'm still a little paranoid about planes flying overhead right now."
To e-mail Michael Pritchard at The Press:
Posted SOTT 1 June 2006
Red rain caused by disintegration of comet: study
Kottayam, May 31 (PTI)
The "red rains" in Kerala five years ago was the result of the atmospheric disintegration of a comet, according to a study.
The study conducted at the School of Pure and Applied Physics of the MG University here by Dr Godfrey Louis and his student Santosh Kumar shows that red rain cells were devoid of DNA which suggests their extra-terrestrial origin.
The findings published in the international journal 'Astrophysics and Space Science' state that the cometery fragment contained dense collection of red cells.
Commenting on the study at a press conference here, Dr N Chandra Wikramesinghe, Director of Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, UK, said "what makes this study most important is the similarity of the red particles with living cells."
"If the red rain cells are finally proved to be of extra-terrestrial origin then that would be one of the most important discoveries in human history. It will change our concept about the universe and life," he added.
The red-coloured rains were reported in different parts of Kerala from July to September 2001.
Space Capsule Returns Comet Dust To Earth
The Chief Engineer
DUGWAY PROVING GROUNDS, UT (AP) - After a seven-year journey, a NASA space capsule returned safely to Earth in January 2006 with the first dust ever fetched from a comet, a cosmic bounty that scientists hope will yield clues to how the solar system formed.
The capsule's blazing plunge through the atmosphere lit up parts of the western sky as it capped a mission in which the Stardust spacecraft swooped past a comet known as Wild 2.
"This is not the finish line. This is just the intermediate pit stop," said project manager Tom Duxbury of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, which managed the $212 million mission.
About a million comet and interstellar dust particles - most smaller than the width of a human hair - are believed to be inside a sealed canister.
The particles, captured in 2004, are thought to be pristine leftovers from the birth of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Some samples could be even older than the sun.
The next stop for the capsule was the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where scientists unlocked the canister. After a preliminary examination, they shipped the particles to laboratories all over the world for further study to analyze their composition.
"Inside this thing is our treasure," said principal mission scientists Don Brownlee of the University of Washington.
Stardust's successful return was welcome news to the space agency, which suffered a setback in 2004 when its Genesis space probe carrying solar wind atoms crashed into the same Utah salt flats and cracked open after its parachutes failed to deploy.
After the Genesis mishap, engineers rechecked Stardust's systems. Duxbury said its return home went "like clockwork".
The Stardust mothership released the shuttlecock-shaped capsule, which plunged through the atmosphere at 29,000 mph.
The first parachute unfurled at 100,000 feet, followed by a larger chute, which guided the capsule to a 10-mph landing at Dugway Proving Ground. There was a tense moment in mission control when engineers could not immediately confirm the first parachute had opened.
Before coming to rest on its side, the capsule bounced three times but didn't crack, said Joe Vellinga of Lockheed Martin, who helped lead the recovery.
Scientists in white protective suits spent the day cleaning the capsule and its canister of dust samples before the trip to Johnson Space Center.
The Stardust mothership remained in orbit around the sun and NASA is considering sending it to another comet or asteroid to snap photos. There won't be another chance for a sample return, however, because the craft carried only one capsule.
Stardust and Genesis were the first robotic retrievals of extraterrestrial material since the unmanned Soviet Luna 24 in 1976, which brought back lunar rocks and soil.
The Stardust spacecraft was launched in 1999 and has traveled nearly 3 billion miles, including three loops around the sun.
In 2004, it survived a hazardous trip through the comet's coma, a fuzzy halo of gas and dust, to snatch the cosmic dust with a tennis racket-sized collector mitt. Along the way, it also scooped up interstellar dust - tiny particles thought to have been thrown out by stars that long ago exploded and died.
During the comet flyby, the spacecraft also beamed back 72 black-and-white pictures showing broad mesas, craters, pinnacles and canyons on the surface of Wild 2.
Six months ago, NASA sent the Deep Impact probe into the path of another comet. The probe's high-speed collision with comet Tempel 1 set off a celestial fireworks display and bared the comet's primordial interior.
Scientists have been analyzing the voluminous debris hurled from the comet and are trying to figure out the size of the crater caused by the debris-shrouded impact.
Posted on SOTT 2 June 2006
Giant Crater Found: Tied to Worst Mass Extinction Ever
Robert Roy Britt
Thu June 1, 2006
An apparent crater as big as Ohio has been found in Antarctica. Scientists think it was carved by a space rock that caused the greatest mass extinction on Earth, 250 million years ago.
The crater, buried beneath a half-mile of ice and discovered by some serious airborne and satellite sleuthing, is more than twice as big as the one involved in the demise of the dinosaurs.
The crater's location, in the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica, south of Australia, suggests it might have instigated the breakup of the so-called Gondwana supercontinent, which pushed Australia northward, the researchers said.
"This Wilkes Land impact is much bigger than the impact that killed the dinosaurs, and probably would have caused catastrophic damage at the time," said Ralph von Frese, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University.
How they found it
The crater is about 300 miles wide. It was found by looking at differences in density that show up in gravity measurements taken with NASA's GRACE satellites. Researchers spotted a mass concentration, which they call a mascon-dense stuff that welled up from the mantle, likely in an impact.
"If I saw this same mascon signal on the Moon, I'd expect to see a crater around it," Frese said. (The Moon, with no atmosphere, retains a record of ancient impacts in the visible craters there.)
So Frese and colleagues overlaid data from airborne radar images that showed a 300-mile wide sub-surface, circular ridge. The mascon fit neatly inside the circle.
"And when we looked at the ice-probing airborne radar, there it was," he said today.
The Permian-Triassic extinction, as it is known, wiped out most life on land and in the oceans. Researchers have long suspected a space rock might have been involved. Some scientists have blamed volcanic activity or other culprits.
The die-off set up conditions that eventually allowed dinosaurs to rule the planet.
The newfound crater is more than twice the size of the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan peninsula, which marks the impact that may have ultimately killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The Chicxulub space rock is thought to have been 6 miles wide, while the Wilkes Land meteor could have been up to 30 miles wide, the researchers said.
Postdoctoral researcher Laramie Potts assisted in the discovery.
The work was financed by NASA and the National Science Foundation. The discovery, announced today, was initially presented in a poster paper at the recent American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly meeting in Baltimore.
The researchers say further work is needed to confirm the finding. One way to do that would be to go there and collect rock from the crater to see if its structure matches what would be expected from such a colossal impact.
Japanese asteroid team reports on ball of rubble
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
June 1, 2006
WASHINGTON - A Japanese spacecraft that landed on an asteroid found a ball of rubble held loosely together by its own gravity, unlike other asteroids that have been visited, according to reports from the mission published on Thursday.
The spacecraft Hayabusa, whose name means "falcon" in Japanese, hovered over the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa last autumn, taking several measurements before landing briefly on the orbiting gravel pile.
Itokawa has two parts resembling the head and body of a sea otter, according to Akira Fujiwara and his colleagues in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Previously studied asteroids appeared to be lumps of solid rock, but Itokawa is made up of loosely packed bits of sand and boulders, they said.
Their findings could have implications for deflecting asteroids that might pass too closely to the Earth in the future.
"We've never had a close-up look at such a small asteroid until now," said Takahiro Hiroi of Brown University in Rhode Island, who worked on the study, a joint U.S.-Japanese effort.
"Large asteroids such as Eros are completely covered with a thick regolith - a blanket of looser material created by space weathering. With Itokawa, we believe we have witnessed a developing stage of the formation of this regolith."
Itokawa is very small, just 500 yards (metres) long. But it is close, orbiting just 321 million miles away from Earth. Although it does not threaten to collide with Earth, it makes a tempting scientific target.
Hayabusa very nearly did not make it.
The little spacecraft, now bringing a capsule of samples back to Earth, uses an electronic ion propulsion system, whose efficiency should be critical to future missions in deep space.
At one point, Hayabusa lost communication with its controllers, wrote Erik Asphaug of the University of California, Santa Cruz in a commentary in Science.
"Its hydrazine (fuel) had leaked away shortly after the second sample collection attempt. Two of the reaction wheels had failed and the battery was dead. Adding insult to injury, Minerva - intended to be the first asteroid surface robot - had been released during an unexpected maneuver and was lost to space," he added.
"Yet despite these heartbreaking setbacks, Hayabusa has been a stunning success both for asteroid science and for deep space concept testing."
Asphaug said information delivered by the spacecraft "enhances our understanding of near-Earth objects. Near-Earth objects are not only important scientifically - our planet formed from them - but have also become political hot potatoes, given the growing pressure to do something to mitigate the risks they may pose to Earth."
The spacecraft, launched in 2003, is expected to glide back to Earth in 2010 and crash-land in the Australian desert.
Posted on SOTT 6 June 2006
Witnesses to 'green fire' wanted
Tue, June 6, 2006
Manitoba Museum wants to hear from people who spotted "eerie green fire" in the sky late Friday.
Resident astronomer Scott Young said the spectacle occurred about 11:30 p.m. when a small asteroid or chunk of comet burned up in the Earth's atmosphere, shattering into several pieces.
A sonic boom could be heard in the Whiteshell area about five minutes later, meaning the object was "nice and low," Young said.
He said it was visible from Winnipeg as far east as Lake of the Woods, and some pieces may have made it to the ground.
Vaporizing materials in the object, which burned up at 4,000 C to 5,000 C, produced the green colour, Young said.
Descriptions have him believing it was a large bolide, which is a bigger cousin of a meteor or shooting star.
"This happens every day somewhere in the world," Young said.
He wants to gather as many eyewitness accounts as he can to determine a flight path and find any fragments that may have made it to ground level.
People can send an e-mail to email@example.com or call 956-2830 to submit their sighting.
You must include the time and date, your location when you saw the object, direction you were facing, the direction it was travelling (right to left, for example), and a description of the object and any sound it made.
Posted on SOTT 7 June 2006
Fire in the sky: A bright fireball that blazed over the Northland on Friday night
BY STEVE KUCHERA
Duluth NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
7 June 06
The mysterious light seen over the Northland on Friday night was an especially bright meteor seen in at least two states and Canada.
"Anyone who saw it should count themselves as lucky -- they are probably not going to see another one like that in their lifetime," Scott Young said.
Young is an astronomer and manager of the planetarium and science gallery at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg. The museum is collecting reports of sightings of Friday's fireball, which traveled from south to north over the Northland about 11:35 p.m. Friday.
"We have a couple hundred e-mails, and my receptionist is taking phone calls as quick as they come in," Young said. "I'm sure thousands of people saw it, because it went right over our cottage country area."
Using information from witnesses and the mathematical process of triangulation, the museum hopes to determine the fireball's exact path.
"That intersects the ground at some point, and that's where you go look for pieces," Young said.
If the museum is able to triangulate the fireball's path, it will publish the results so residents can look for its remains. Young believes it likely that parts of the fireball survived their fiery plunge.
"There was a sonic boom heard over the Lake of the Woods area, and that generally means that it has penetrated very low into the atmosphere," he said. "If it does that, then generally pieces can survive."
According to NASA, as many as 4 billion meteors enter the Earth's atmosphere every day, many at speeds about 45 miles per second. Friction with the air causes them to glow. Most meteors are just specks of dust that burn up in a brilliant streak of light.
Fireballs are different. They can weigh pounds -- large enough to illuminate a long path through the sky. Some fireballs, called bolides, explode with a loud, thunderous sound.
Friday's fireball broke into several pieces, witnesses said.
"It broke up into two pieces -- one big ball and one little ball," said Tim Leseman of Eveleth.
Many people who saw Friday's fireball compared it to fireworks traveling horizontally rather than vertically. From any spot, it was visible for as long as 15 seconds.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have been enough time for anyone to take a picture," Young said.
The fireball was seen from places as far afield as Brandon, Manitoba (more than 100 miles west of Winnipeg), northwestern Lake of the Woods (where it appeared to pass directly overhead), Orr, Eveleth, Duluth, the Lake Mille Lacs area and Danbury, Wis.
"Everyone generally thinks it was just over the trees or just over the hills, but when a meteor like this is actually visible, it's usually 20 to 40 kilometers (12 to 25 miles) above the Earth," Young said. "It's way, way up there."
A meteor's chemical makeup and temperature determine what color its glow will be. Many witnesses described Friday's fireball as being green or bluish-green in color (common for a stony meteor), turning to red near the end of its flight.
Chris Magney of Duluth saw the fireball as he walked in the University of Minnesota Duluth area.
"I just looked up, and right there in front of me I saw what looked like a firework," he said. "It was giving off some kind of trail. It wasn't an evenly spaced trail. It was kind of sparking off parts. It looked to be kind of bluish-green."
The fireball was larger than past meteors he's seen.
"This was probably one-eighth or one-tenth the size of the moon -- much larger than any background star," he said. "Just because of the light intensity it must have been pretty hot, whatever it was. It was moving as fast as the shooting stars I've seen."
He watched as it appeared to follow an arc, vanishing over the northwestern horizon.
Leseman was letting his dog out when he happened to look up to the west as the fireball blazed past. It was in sight for perhaps 10 seconds.
"It was the size of the moon and it was moving slowly from south to north," he said. "It was very bright with a long tail, and it looked like it was rolling as if it was burning up.... I got a huge chill watching it."
STEVE KUCHERA can be reached at (218) 279-5503, toll free at (800) 456-8282, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
South Africa: Meteorite crashes through windscreen of car
7 June 06
Driver Rick Wirth's escape when a stone crashed through his screen on a road in Minneapolis left him thanking his lucky stars. The rock was a meteorite from space.
Posted on SOTT 8 June 2006
Fireball: Object in sky nets 100 calls
By ADAM CLAYTON
The Manitoba Museum has been flooded with phone calls from people who spotted a strange object in the sky.
Resident astronomer Scott Young said the museum has received at least 100 calls about an eerie green light that appeared in the sky on Friday night. Young believes the object was either a small asteroid or a chunk of comet that shattered into several pieces after burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.
"The receptionist is doing nothing but answering calls and taking numbers right now and I think I'm up to 180 e-mails," he said. "Lots of people saw it."
Eyewitnesses from Dryden to Brandon and as far south as Duluth, Minn., have reported seeing the object.
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS SOUGHT
Ufology Research of Manitoba, a Winnipeg-based independent centre that collects data on Canadian UFO reports, is assisting the museum in gathering eyewitness accounts to determine the object's flight path. Spokesman Chris Rutkowski said he's received more than a dozen calls so far.
"They all report seeing a brilliant blue or green light moving through the sky with a long tail," he said. "There may have been somebody who captured it on a cellphone camera."
Young said the end point of the object's flight path is somewhere in northwestern Ontario. It's not known whether any pieces reached the ground.
"The first step is to figure out the trajectory and where pieces might come down," he said. "If it's a reasonable place to go looking, then we'll look for pieces," he said.
People can send an e-mail to email@example.com or call 956-2830.
Posted on SOTT 9 June 2006
Record meteorite hits Norway - Impact blast comparable to Hiroshima
09 Jun 2006
At around 2:05 a.m. on Wednesday, residents of the northern part of Troms and the western areas of Finnmark could clearly see a ball of fire taking several seconds to travel across the sky.
A few minutes later an impact could be heard and geophysics and seismology research foundation NORSAR registered a powerful sound and seismic disturbances at 02:13.25 a.m. at their station in Karasjok.
Farmer Peter Bruvold was out on his farm in Lyngseidet with a camera because his mare Virika was about to foal for the first time.
"I saw a brilliant flash of light in the sky, and this became a light with a tail of smoke," Bruvold told Aftenposten.no. He photographed the object and then continued to tend to his animals when he heard an enormous crash.
"I heard the bang seven minutes later. It sounded like when you set off a solid charge of dynamite a kilometer (0.62 miles) away," Bruvold said.
Astronomers were excited by the news.
"There were ground tremors, a house shook and a curtain was blown into the house," Norway's best known astronomer Knut J?rgen R?ed ?degaard told Aftenposten.no.
R?ed ?degaard said the meteorite was visible to an area of several hundred kilometers despite the brightness of the midnight sunlit summer sky. The meteorite hit a mountainside in Reisadalen in North Troms.
"This is simply exceptional. I cannot imagine that we have had such a powerful meteorite impact in Norway in modern times. If the meteorite was as large as it seems to have been, we can compare it to the Hiroshima bomb. Of course the meteorite is not radioactive, but in explosive force we may be able to compare it to the (atomic) bomb," R?ed ?degaard said.
The astronomer believes the meteorite was a giant rock and probably the largest known to have struck Norway.
"The record was the Alta meteorite that landed in 1904. That one was 90 kilos (198 lbs) but we think the meteorite that landed Wednesday was considerably larger," R?ed ?degaard said, and urged members of the public who saw the object or may have found remnants to contact the Institute of Astrophysics.
Comment: Gosh, what a surprise! For more information on comets, meteors, and NEOs, check out:
- The Signs Meteor Supplement
- Independence Day
by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
- Cometary Showers, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
The Norway strike is especially interesting not only because of its sheer magnitude, but because it seems to have been a busy week for meteorites and fireballs...
Flashback: BACK TO THE BUNKER: Bush Reich Going Into Hiding on June 19, Practice Run for WHAT?
By William M. Arkin
June 4, 2006; Page B01
On Monday, June 19, about 4,000 government workers representing more than 50 federal agencies from the State Department to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will say goodbye to their families and set off for dozens of classified emergency facilities stretching from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to the foothills of the Alleghenies. They will take to the bunkers in an "evacuation" that my sources describe as the largest "continuity of government" exercise ever conducted, a drill intended to prepare the U.S. government for an event even more catastrophic than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The exercise is the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration since 9/11, a focus of enormous and often absurd time, money and effort that has come to echo the worst follies of the Cold War. The vast secret operation has updated the duck-and-cover scenarios of the 1950s with state-of-the-art technology -- alerts and updates delivered by pager and PDA, wireless priority service, video teleconferencing, remote backups -- to ensure that "essential" government functions continue undisrupted should a terrorist's nuclear bomb go off in downtown Washington.
But for all the BlackBerry culture, the outcome is still old-fashioned black and white: We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on alternate facilities, data warehouses and communications, yet no one can really foretell what would happen to the leadership and functioning of the federal government in a catastrophe.
After 9/11, The Washington Post reported that President Bush had set up a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work outside Washington on a rotating basis to ensure the continuity of national security. Since then, a program once focused on presidential succession and civilian control of U.S. nuclear weapons has been expanded to encompass the entire government. From the Department of Education to the Small Business Administration to the National Archives, every department and agency is now required to plan for continuity outside Washington.
Yet according to scores of documents I've obtained and interviews with half a dozen sources, there's no greater confidence today that essential services would be maintained in a disaster. And no one really knows how an evacuation would even be physically possible.
Moreover, since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the definition of what constitutes an "essential" government function has been expanded so ridiculously beyond core national security functions -- do we really need patent and trademark processing in the middle of a nuclear holocaust? -- that the term has become meaningless. The intent of the government effort may be laudable, even necessary, but a hyper-centralized approach based on the Cold War model of evacuations and bunkering makes it practically worthless.
That the continuity program is so poorly conceived, and poorly run, should come as no surprise. That's because the same Federal Emergency Management Agency that failed New Orleans after Katrina, an agency that a Senate investigating committee has pronounced "in shambles and beyond repair," is in charge of this enormous effort to plan for the U.S. government's survival.
Continuity programs began in the early 1950s, when the threat of nuclear war moved the administration of President Harry S. Truman to begin planning for emergency government functions and civil defense. Evacuation bunkers were built, and an incredibly complex and secretive shadow government program was created.
At its height, the grand era of continuity boasted the fully operational Mount Weather, a civilian bunker built along the crest of Virginia's Blue Ridge, to which most agency heads would evacuate; the Greenbrier hotel complex and bunker in West Virginia, where Congress would shelter; and Raven Rock, or Site R, a national security bunker bored into granite along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border near Camp David, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff would command a protracted nuclear war. Special communications networks were built, and evacuation and succession procedures were practiced continually.
When the Soviet Union crumbled, the program became a Cold War curiosity: Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered Raven Rock into caretaker status in 1991. The Greenbrier bunker was shuttered and a 30-year-old special access program was declassified three years later.
Then came the terrorist attacks of the mid-1990s and the looming Y2K rollover, and suddenly continuity wasn't only for nuclear war anymore. On Oct. 21, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 67, "Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations." No longer would only the very few elite leaders responsible for national security be covered. Instead, every single government department and agency was directed to see to it that they could resume critical functions within 12 hours of a warning, and keep their operations running at emergency facilities for up to 30 days. FEMA was put in charge of this broad new program.
On 9/11, the program was put to the test -- and failed. Not on the national security side: Vice President Cheney and others in the national security leadership were smoothly whisked away from the capital following procedures overseen by the Pentagon and the White House Military Office. But like the mass of Washingtonians, officials from other agencies found themselves virtually on their own, unsure of where to go or what to do, or whom to contact for the answers.
In the aftermath, the federal government was told to reinvigorate its continuity efforts. Bush approved lines of succession for civil agencies. Cabinet departments and agencies were assigned specific emergency responsibilities. FEMA issued new preparedness guidelines and oversaw training. A National Capital Region continuity working group established in 1999, comprising six White House groups, 15 departments and 61 agencies, met to coordinate.
But all the frenetic activity did not produce a government prepared for the worst. A year after 9/11, and almost three years after the deadline set in Clinton's 1998 directive, the Government Accounting Office evaluated 38 agencies and found that not one had addressed all the issues it had been ordered to. A 2004 GAO audit of 34 government continuity-of-operations plans found total confusion on the question of essential functions. One unnamed organization listed 399 such functions. A department included providing "speeches and articles for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary" among its essential duties, while neglecting many of its central programs.
The confusion and absurdity have continued, according to documents I've collected over the past few years. In June 2004, FEMA told federal agencies that essential services in a catastrophe would include not only such obvious ones as electric power generation and disaster relief but also patent and trademark processing, student aid and passport processing. A month earlier, FEMA had told states and local communities that library services should be counted as essential along with fire protection and law enforcement.
None of this can be heartening to Americans who want to believe that in a crisis, their government can distinguish between what is truly essential and what isn't -- and provide it.
Just two years ago, an exercise called Forward Challenge '04 pointed up the danger of making everyone and everything essential: Barely an hour after agencies were due to arrive at their relocation sites, the Office of Management and Budget asked the reconstituted government to identify emergency funding requirements.
As one after-action report for the exercise later put it in a classic case of understatement: "It was not clear . . . whether this would be a realistic request at that stage of an emergency."
This year's exercise, Forward Challenge '06, will be the third major interagency continuity exercise since 9/11. Larger than Forward Challenge '04 and the Pinnacle exercise held last year, it requires 31 departments and agencies (including FEMA) to relocate. Fifty to 60 are expected to take part.
According to government sources, the exercise will test the newly created continuity of government alert conditions -- called COGCONs -- that emulate the DEFCONs of the national security community. Forward Challenge will begin with a series of alerts via BlackBerry and pager to key officials. It will test COGCON 1, the highest level of preparedness, in which each department and agency is required to have at least one person in its chain of command and sufficient staffing at alternate operating facilities to perform essential functions.
Though key White House officials and military leadership would be relocated via the Pentagon's Joint Emergency Evacuation Program (JEEP), the civilians are on their own to make it to their designated evacuation points.
But fear not: Each organization's COOP, or continuity of operations plan, details the best routes to the emergency locations. The plans even spell out what evacuees should take with them (recommended items: a combination lock, a flashlight, two towels and a small box of washing powder).
Can such an exercise, announced well in advance, hope to re-create any of the tensions and fears of a real crisis? How do you simulate the experience of driving through blazing, radiated, panic-stricken streets to emergency bunker sites miles away?
As the Energy Department stated in its review of Forward Challenge '04, "a method needs to be devised to realistically test the ability of . . . federal offices to relocate to their COOP sites using a scenario that simulates . . . the monumental challenges that would be involved in evacuating the city."
With its new plans and procedures, Washington may think it has thought of everything to save itself. Forward Challenge will no doubt be deemed a success, and officials will pronounce the continuity-of-government project sound. There will be lessons to be learned that will justify more millions of dollars and more work in the infinite effort to guarantee order out of chaos.
But the main defect -- a bunker mentality that considers too many people and too many jobs "essential" -- will remain unchallenged.
William M. Arkin writes the Early Warning blog for washingtonpost.com and is the author of "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World" (Steerforth Press).
Comment: Well, maybe they know something they aren't telling? Since the Norway blast hasn't received much press, perhaps there is a reason? Imagine how easy it would be to convince an uninformed populace struck by a meteorite that what really hit them was a nuke from, say, evil terrorists connected with Iran...
Posted on SOTT 14 June 2006
Asteroid-watchers worry about cosmic Katrina - Former astronaut presses campaign for global preparedness
By Leonard David
Senior space writer
6 May 06
LOS ANGELES - Natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes rock this planet from time to time. But when Earth gets stoned by an asteroid, consider it akin to a Katrina from outer space.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the United States in August of last year, it became a deadly, destructive, and costly episode - one that has also become a metaphor for lack of government action, both pre- and post-strike.
At the current time there is no agency of the U.S. government - or of any other government in the world - that has the explicit responsibility to develop and demonstrate the technology necessary to protect the planet from collisions with near-Earth objects, or NEOs.
The U.S. Congress needs to be encouraged to take a step in demonstrating the ability to deflect a menacing NEO, says former NASA astronaut Russell Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation. On Saturday he presented an update on dealing with troublesome asteroids here at the 25th International Space Development Conference.
The goal of B612, a confab of scientists, technologists, astronomers, astronauts and other specialists, is to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.
In detailing today's NEO situation, Schweickart said there are several givens:
* Earth is infrequently hit by asteroids that cross our orbit while circling the sun.
* The consequences of such impacts range from the equivalent of a 15-megaton explosion to a civilization-ending gigaton event.
* For the first time in the history of humankind, we have the technology to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future - if we are properly prepared.
"Remember, we're dealing here with a less frequent, but far more devastating Katrina ... a Katrina of the cosmos," Schweickart reported.
"NEOs happen so infrequently that even though they are orders of magnitude more devastating, people don't naturally make that match," he told Space.com, "but you don't want to be caught with your pants down."
Schweickart said there are key capabilities that will enable humanity to avoid devastating cosmic collisions: early warning; a demonstrated deflection capability; and an established international decision making process.
While some progress is being made, there remains significant work ahead in all these areas, Schweickart emphasized.
If the current pace of sky-sweeping surveys is extrapolated into the future, on the order of 10,000 NEOs with some risk of impact over the next 100 years are likely to be cataloged by 2018, Schweickart forecast. The chances are better than even that none of these 10,000 will actually hit Earth in those 100 years.
"The important fact, however, is that a substantial number of them will appear as though they may be headed for impact," Schweickart advised. Today, of the 104 currently on impact listings, "two have an elevated risk, and we are watching them closely," he said.
At present, the two asteroids on that "keep an eye on them" roster are 2004 VD17 and Apophis, formerly listed as 2004 MN4.
"Extrapolating to 2018, we may have as many as 200 in a similarly elevated attention category and of growing concern to the general public," Schweickart reported Saturday. "Therefore, it is certainly possible, if not likely, that in the time frame of the next 12 years we - the world - may well be in a position where we need to take action to ensure that we will be able to carry out a deflection mission if needed," he said.
The U.S. Congress amended the Space Act in 2005 to charge NASA with responsibility to "detect, track, catalog and characterize" NEOs wider than 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter. However, thus far Congress has come up short on actually assigning the responsibility to take action, should one of these objects be discovered headed for a collision, Schweickart pointed out.
There is a bit of good news forthcoming, Schweickart explained. Congress did require NASA to provide by the end of 2006 an analysis of possible alternatives that could be employed to divert an object on a likely collision course with Earth. In response to this congressional directive, NASA is about to announce a process for carrying out this mandate.
Global threat ... global response
Schweickart told the audience here that a third leg of the triad for protecting Earth from NEO impacts is probably the most challenging, albeit subtle.
"It is complicated by two related facts," he said. NEO impacts are a global threat, not a national one, and the only decision-making body representing, essentially, the whole planet is the United Nations - a body not known for timely, crisp decision making, he added.
Still, in this area, steps forward are being made.
The Association of Space Explorers - the professional organization of astronauts and cosmonauts - has formed a committee on NEOs that Schweickart chairs. Earlier this year, a technical presentation at a U.N. meeting in Vienna apprised them that this issue was coming at them.
While the United Nations has been brought the problem, Schweickart said, the Association of Space Explorers is committed to bringing them a solution. This solution will take the form of a draft U.N. treaty, or protocol, formulated in a series of workshops over the next two years.
"In these NEO Deflection Policy workshops we will gather together a dozen or so international experts in diplomacy, international law, insurance and risk management, as well as space expertise to identify and wrestle with these difficult international issues," Schweickart noted. "Our goal is to return to the U.N. in 2009 with a draft NEO Deflection Decision Protocol and present it to them for their consideration and deliberation."
Facing the challenge
In wrapping up his ISDC talk, Schweickart said the NEO challenge, in a sense, "is an entry test for humankind to join the cosmic community." He reasons that, if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe "it is virtually certain that it has already faced this challenge to survival ... and passed it."
"Our choice is to face this infrequent but substantial cosmic test ... or pass into history, not as an incapable species like the dinosaurs, but as a fractious and self-serving creature with inadequate vision and commitment to continue its evolutionary development," Schweickart concluded.
Leonard David is senior space writer for Space.com and the former editor of Ad Astra, the official magazine of the National Space Society. The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.
Posted on SOTT 15 June 2006
Astronomer apologizes for meteorite fuss
Thursday June 15 2006
Aftenposten English Web Desk
A professor at the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo has issued an editorial apology for what he called "exaggerated explosive force" linked to reports of the recent meteorite strike in Norway.
The story of the meteorite impact in northern Norway made international headlines, no doubt due to the comparison with the force of the atom bomb detonated over Hiroshima.
In an editorial at Norwegian science news site forskning.no, Professor Kaare Aksnes said it was regrettable that this comparison had been made, and that it was extremely exaggerated. Aksnes also said it was regrettable that the statement had apparently emanated from the Institute.
Aksnes goes on to explain that a meteor capable of a Hiroshima-like impact would almost completely burn up as it entered Earth's atmosphere, and that the remnants would hit the earth far too slowly - though impacts of that intensity have of course occurred. He estimates the North Troms impact to have been comparable to "a powerful conventional bomb".
The original reactions to the witness reports of the meteor, also reported on forskning.no, are attributed to popular astronomer Knut J?rgen R?ed ?degaard, and were slightly guarded and very excited. R?ed ?degaard wrote the original report about the meteorite on the Institute's web site.
"We cannot be completely sure, but the light and sound phenomena were exceptional. It indicates that there has been a great deal of energy involved," R?ed ?degaard said then.
Seismic research center NORSAR registered powerful sound phenomena at their Karasjok measuring station, as well as seismic disturbances.
"We have run out of words for how exciting this is," R?ed ?degaard said at the time.
"There is midnight sun in the area and objects in the sky must therefore shine very strongly to be visible at all. The object is descried as a reddish ball of fire and lit up like a powerful flash. The brightness must have been exceptional," R?ed ?degaard said.
Posted on SOTT 16 June 2006
Three Trojan Asteroids Share Neptune Orbit
June 16, 2006
Washington, DC - Researchers announced Thursday they have found three new objects locked into roughly the same orbit as Neptune. The objects - called Trojan asteroids - were found by researchers from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and the Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii.
The discovery offers evidence that Neptune, much like its big cousin Jupiter, hosts thick clouds of Trojans in its orbit, and that these asteroids probably share a common source. It also brings the total of known Neptune Trojans to four.
"It is exciting to have quadrupled the known population of Neptune Trojans," said lead researcher Scott Sheppard. "In the process, we have learned a lot both about how these asteroids become locked into their stable orbits, as well as what they might be made of, which makes the discovery especially rewarding."
The recently discovered Neptune Trojans are only the fourth stable group of asteroids observed around the Sun. The others are the Kuiper Belt just beyond Neptune, the Jupiter Trojans, and the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Evidence suggests the Neptune Trojans are more numerous than either the main asteroid belt or the Jupiter Trojans, but they are difficult to observe because they are so far away from the Sun. Astronomers therefore require the largest telescopes in the world equipped with sensitive digital cameras to detect them.
Reporting in the June 15 online issue of Science Express, the team said the Trojan asteroids cluster around one of two points that lead or trail the planet by about 60 degrees in its orbit, known as Lagrange points.
In these areas, the gravitational pull of the planet and the Sun combine to lock the asteroids into stable orbits synchronized with the planet.
German Astronomer Max Wolf identified the first Jupiter Trojan in 1906, and since then, more than 1800 such asteroids have been identified marching along that planet's orbit. Because Trojan asteroids share a planet's orbit, they can help astronomers understand how planets form, and how the solar system evolved.
Researchers hypothesized that Trojans might also flank other planets, but evidence for this has surfaced only recently. In 2001, the first Neptune Trojan was spotted in the planet's leading Lagrangian point.
In 2004, Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory, a co-author of the current study, found the second Neptune Trojan using Carnegie's Magellan-Baade 6.5 meter telescope in Las Campanas, Chile.
They found two more in 2005, bringing the total to four, and observed them again using the 8.2 meter Gemini Telescope in Hawaii in order to accurately determine their orbits. All four of the known Neptune Trojans reside in the planet's leading Lagrange point.
One of the new Trojans has an orbit that is more steeply tilted to the plane of the solar system than the other three. Although only this one has such a steep orbit, the methods used to observe the asteroids are not sensitive to objects so far out of tilt with the rest of the solar system.
The very existence of this Trojan suggests that there are many more like it, and that Neptune's Trojans as a whole occupy thick clouds with complex, interlaced orbits.
"We were really surprised to find a Neptune Trojan with such a large orbital inclination," Trujillo said. "The discovery of the one tilted Neptune Trojan implies that there may be many more far from the solar system plane than near the plane, and that the Trojans are really a "cloud" or "swarm" of objects co-orbiting with Neptune."
A large population of high-inclination Neptune Trojans would rule out the possibility that they are left over from early in the solar system's history, since unaltered primordial asteroid groups should be closely aligned with the plane of the solar system.
These clouds probably formed much like Jupiter's Trojan clouds did: once the giant planets settled into their paths around the Sun, any asteroid that happened to be in the Trojan region "froze" into its orbit.
Sheppard and Trujillo also compared, for the first time, the colors of all four known Neptune Trojans. They are all about the same shade of pale red, suggesting that they share a similar origin and history.
Though it is hard to tell for sure with only four on the books, the researchers think the Neptune Trojans might share a common origin with the Jupiter Trojans and outer irregular satellites of the giant planets.
These objects might be the last remnants of the countless small bodies that formed in the giant planet region, most of which eventually became part of the planets or were tossed out of the solar system.
Posted on SOTT 19 June 2006
NASA Spies Lunar Meteoroid Impact
Jun 16, 2006
Huntsville, AL - There's a new crater on the Moon. It's about 14 meters wide, 3 meters deep and precisely one month, eleven days old - and NASA astronomers watched it form. "A meteoroid hit the Moon's Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) with 17 billion joules of kinetic energy - that's about the same as 4 tons of TNT," said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center.
"The impact created a bright fireball, which we video-recorded using a 10-inch telescope."
Lunar impacts have been seen before - "stuff hits the Moon all the time," Cooke said - but this was the best-ever recording of an explosion in progress.
The video plays in 7x slow motion; otherwise the explosion would be nearly invisible to the human eye.
"The duration of the fireball was only four-tenths of a second," Cooke said. "A student member of our team, Nick Hollon of Villanova University, spotted the flash."
Taking into account the duration of the flash and its brightness (7th magnitude), Cooke was able to estimate the energy of impact, the dimensions of the crater and the size and speed of the meteoroid.
"It was a space rock about 10 inches (25 cm) wide traveling 85,000 miles per hour (38 kilometers per second)," he said.
If a rock like that hit Earth, it would never reach the ground. "Earth's atmosphere protects us," Cooke explained. "A 10-inch meteoroid would disintegrate in mid-air, making a spectacular fireball in the sky but no crater."
The Moon is different. Having no atmosphere, it is totally exposed to meteoroids. Even small ones can cause spectacular explosions, spraying debris far and wide.
NASA's Vision for Space Exploration is meant to send astronauts back to the Moon. Are these meteoroids going to cause a problem?
"That's what we're trying to find out," Cooke said. "No one knows exactly how many meteoroids hit the Moon every day. By monitoring the flashes, we can learn how often and how hard the Moon gets hit."
The work is underway. Using a computerized telescope built by Rob Suggs and Wesley Swift at Marshall, Cooke's group is monitoring the night side of the Moon "as often as 10 times a month, whenever the lunar phase is between 15 percent and 50 percent."
During a telescope test last November, Suggs and Swift recorded an explosion on their very first night of observing. A piece of debris from Comet Encke struck the plains of Mare Imbrium, making a crater about 3 meters wide.
Now that regular monitoring has begun, Cooke's group already has found a second impact, the May 2 event, in only 20 hours of watching.
This time, they suspect, the impactor was a random meteoroid, "a sporadic," from no particular comet or asteroid.
"We've made a good beginning," Cooke said, adding that much work remains. He would like to observe all year long, watching the Moon as it passes in and out of known meteoroid streams.
"This would establish a good statistical basis for planning (activities on the Moon)," he said.
Posted on SOTT 20 June 2006
Boom lowered on Valley: Loud blast, red streaks in sky probably a meteor, say experts
By ZACH LINT, T-R Staff Writer
Residents of the Tuscarawas Valley who heard a deafening boom about 12:40 a.m. Monday and stepped outside likely saw what one person described as "a marvelous fireball with red streaks in the sky."
Bob Reed, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said it probably was a meteor falling through the atmosphere.
"We did receive one call from (Sky Warn) people who were basically wondering what was causing it," he said. "A meteor is the best explanation we can come up with at this point."
Sky Warn participants help identify unusual weather patterns and spot storms in their communities, reporting them to the National Weather Service.
Tuscarawas County Sheriff Lt. Lon McEnroe said a number of calls were fielded by area law enforcement agencies about 12:45 a.m.
"They told us Stark and Wayne counties all had reports of it, too," he said.
Dispatchers from the county's 911 center contacted Air Traffic Command in Washington, D.C., to inquire about the event. The command confirmed that Cleveland's control center was checking into a meteor shower that occurred within its air space.
McEnroe said individual calls ranged from "Did we just get bombed?" to "It might be a space shuttle."
Numerous callers reported the large red fireball. Several said their homes shook.
New Philadelphia police said they received reports from several callers on N. Broadway, Miller Ave. NW and Wabash Ave. NW, who witnessed the fireball or heard the boom. An E. High Ave. woman described it as "a blue light that lit up the sky and went down."
Police in Dover said multiple callers reported they heard a loud bang and something rattled their windows. Officers checked all over the city and could not find the source of the noise but noted there were no power outages anywhere.
Comment: This isn't an isolated incident. Check out our "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head"
articles on yesterday's Signs page.
Posted on SOTT 21 June 2006
New Cosmic Defense Idea: Fight Asteroids with Asteroids
By Robert Roy Britt
20 June 2006
In a Space Age version of fighting fire with fire, French scientists have suggested using one asteroid to destroy another rather than letting Earth get pummeled.
The offbeat plan is intentionally incomplete and would allow the planet to be showered by fragments. But it might be better than a civilization-ending whack.
No asteroids are presently known to be on collision courses with Earth. But existing holes in the ground suggest that inevitably one will eventually be found. There is no firm plan for how to deflect or destroy an incoming asteroid, though scientists have pondered firing rockets at them, moving them gently with solar sails, or nudging them with nuclear explosions.
Lock and load
The new idea is to capture a relatively small asteroid-perhaps 100 feet (30 meters) wide-by sending a robot to it.
The robot would heave material from the asteroid's surface into space, and the reaction force would gradually direct the asteroid to a Lagrange point, one of a handful of nodes along Earth's orbit where the gravity of Earth and the Sun balance out. Scientists know that objects can be kept stable at a Lagrange point with little or no energy.
The captured rocky weapon would be held there, traveling around the Sun ahead of or behind the Earth, held until needed.
Then, if a large asteroid threatens to hit us, the small one is moved into its path, using the same heaving technique. The rocks collide, and the big one is broken into somewhat less harmfull bits.
The collision disperses the fragments of the incoming asteroid, so that not all of them hit the planet.
Depending on the relative masses of the two objects, between 10 and 20 percent of the incoming asteroid mass would still hit, "but the fragments would be dispersed all over the Earth and, hopefully, none would be large enough to reach the ground with a large remaining destructive power," said Didier Massonnet of the CNES research center in France.
Massonnet and colleague Benoit Meyssignac say the collision should be engineered to occur at least 620,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth and would take about eight months to execute from the Lagrange point.
The plan is detailed in the July-September, 2006 issue of the journal Acta Astronautica. The researchers first floated it at a scientific conference last fall.
One small asteroid that could fit the bill already been identified; it is called 2000 SG344, and Massonnet suspects there are many others that would work.
Fuel for thought
The researchers admit their entire scheme is not quite ready for prime time.
"We are more confident in our capability to capture the asteroid than in our capability to redirect it to an incoming body," Massonnet told SPACE.com. "The scenario of this last stage requires further studies on the very unstable trajectories which will be required."
Meanwhile, there is another aspect to the plan that could make it appealing.
Material mined from a small, nearby asteroid could provide liquid oxygen for other space missions more efficiently than mining it from the Moon, which other researchers have proposed. Liquid oxygen could be used as fuel at a cosmic gas station that would allow spacecraft to be launched from Earth with much smaller tanks and therefore more cheaply.
Other researchers have suggesting mining asteroids for their metals.
"Several thousands of tons of oxygen might become available sitting on the outer rim of Earth's gravity field," the researchers write.
Posted on SOTT 22 June 2006
Pluto's Newest Moons Named Hydra and Nix
By Ker Than
21 June 2006
The International Astronomical Union has officially christened Pluto's two newest moons Nix and Hydra.
The tiny satellites were discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope last May and are believed to have been formed from the same giant impact that carved out Charon, Pluto's larger satellite, discovered in 1978.
The names were proposed this spring by the team that discovered the satellites. Before the satellites received their official names, they were called P1 and P2.
In Greek mythology, Nyx was the goddess of the night and the mother of Charon, the boatsman who ferried souls across the River Styx into the underworld ruled by Pluto. The IAU changed the spelling to "Nix" after the Egyptian spelling of the goddess to avoid confusion with two asteroids that had already been named "Nyx."
The outermost of Pluto's two new satellites is named after Hydra, the nine-headed mythological serpent that guarded Pluto's realm.
"We thought it was an appropriately scary image to be the guard at the gate," said Alan Stern, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Arizona who led the team that initially discovered the satellites
In addition to their relation to Pluto, the names were chosen because their first initials, "N" and "H," are also the first letters of New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft launched in January towards the Pluto system. The Hubble Space Telescope was providing support for the New Horizons mission when it spotted the tiny satellites.
"The 'P' and the 'L' in Pluto are in honor of the Percival Lowell, who instigated the search that resulted in the discovery of Pluto," Stern told SPACE.com. "The 'N' and the 'H' are exactly parallel to honor New Horizons which instigated the search that led us to [the new satellites]."
Stern said that the team also considered the name "Cerberus," the three-headed hound who also guarded the gates to Hades, but rejected it because many people associate Pluto with the Disney cartoon character, and having one object in the system associated with a dog was enough.
The new names were reported yesterday on ScienceNow.com, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A formal announcement will be issued June 23.
Posted on SOTT 26 June 2006
Fireball sightings stretch to Wyoming
RONA JOHNSON COLUMN
Posted on Sat, Jun. 24, 2006
On June 2, Dayne LaHooe was driving on a gravel road through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming when something caught his eye.
"It was the most spectacular thing I've ever seen - I have never seen anything like it before," he said. LaHooe called after he read my June 10 column in the Herald about the fireball that streaked across the sky June 2.
"It shot across the sky and looked like it landed right behind the Tetons," he said.
LaHooe, who works in Jackson Hole, Wyo., figured it was about 9:30 p.m., because the stars hadn't even come out yet.
He didn't say much to anyone about it because he thought they wouldn't believe him. But he did tell his girlfriend and her father. Then, as luck would have it, his girlfriend's father, who lives in the Twin Cities, was driving through this area and somehow came across my column and sent it to LaHooe.
Errol and Chris Johnson, who are from Chewelah, Wash., were in Roseau, Minn., on June 2. They were celebrating Errol's uncle Glen Johnson's 86th birthday. It was about 11:30 p.m. and Errol and about five other family members were sitting in the breezeway of his uncle's home when they heard some distant booming noises.
"My wife said it sounded like a baseball bat hitting the side of the house - like a sonic boom, I thought," he said. Johnson decided to go outside to see if there was anything going on.
"Almost immediately, I saw two large fireballs with tails fly by, moving from the south-southeast as they appeared to descend to the north," Errol said.
He called to the other family members to come, but the meteor was out of range by the time they got outside.
Johnson and his wife didn't hear anything more about the fireball until after they had returned to Washington.
"My aunt and uncle sent a thank you card and they sent along your article," he said. That's when Johnson called me.
Using Google Earth, Johnson was able to find the exact longitude and latitude of where he was standing when he saw the fireballs, which were 48 degrees, 50 minutes, 34.68 seconds north latitude and 95 degrees, 45 minutes, 38.84 seconds west longitude.
"As far as the angle off of the horizon, I am thinking I had to be looking up about 60 to 75 degrees as I looked directly east," he said.
Over in N.D.
At the same time that Johnson saw the fireball, Leann Weber was in a tractor cultivating a field about 3 miles north of Cando, N.D. It was about midnight and there was no moon.
"All of a sudden, the sky just lit up," Weber said.
She said the fireball stayed in the sky for about a minute.
"As it was falling, you could see debris coming off it and it started breaking apart," she said. "I've never seen anything like it, and probably will never see any like it again. I guess it's a good reason to keep cultivating late at night."
Weber, who works at the Herald as a copy editor, was reminded of the sighting when she was reading my column the night before it appeared in the Herald.
If you read my column June 10, you know that I was sitting in University Park in Grand Forks during the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life when I saw the fireball.
It's fun to hear from people who saw the fireball, but I still haven't received any photos - hint, hint. And it would be really cool to find out if anyone has found any pieces of the meteorite.
I have to apologize to anyone who has been trying to e-mail me lately. My e-mail address has been missing an "r" for the last month and wasn't caught until this last week. I haven't been ignoring your e-mails, I just haven't received them.
Posted on SOTT 27 June 2006
Huge Asteroid to Fly Past Earth July 3
Mon Jun 26, 2006
An asteroid possibly as large as a half-mile or more in diameter is rapidly approaching the Earth. There is no need for concern, for no collision is in the offing, but the space rock will make an exceptionally close approach to our planet early on Monday, July 3, passing just beyond the Moon's average distance from Earth.
Astronomers will attempt to get a more accurate assessment of the asteroid's size by "pinging" it with radar.
And skywatchers with good telescopes and some experience just might be able to get a glimpse of this cosmic rock as it streaks rapidly past our planet in the wee hours Monday. The closest approach occurs late Sunday for U.S. West Coast skywatchers.
The asteroid, designated 2004 XP14, was discovered on Dec. 10, 2004 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), a continuing camera survey to keep watch for asteroids that may pass uncomfortably close to Earth.
Although initially there were concerns that this asteroid might possibly impact Earth later this century and thus merit special monitoring, further analysis of its orbit has since ruled out any such collision, at least in the foreseeable future.
Size not known
Asteroid 2004 XP14 is a member of a class of asteroids known as Apollo, which have Earth-crossing orbits. The name comes from 1862 Apollo, the first asteroid of this group to be discovered. There are now 1,989 known Apollos.
The size of 2004 XP 14 is not precisely known. But based on its brightness, the diameter is believed to be somewhere in the range of 1,345 to 3,018-feet (410 to 920 meters). That's between a quarter mile and just over a half-mile wide.
Due to the proximity of its orbit to Earth [Map] and its estimated size, this object has been classified as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid" (PNA) by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are currently 783 PNAs.
The latest calculations show that 2004 XP14 will pass closest to Earth at 04:25 UT on July 3 (12:25 a.m. EDT or 9:25 p.m. PDT on July 2). The asteroid's distance from Earth at that moment will be 268,624-miles (432,308 km), or just 1.1 times the Moon's average distance from Earth.
Spotting 2004 XP14 will be a challenge, best accomplished by seasoned observers with moderate-sized telescopes.
On April 13, 2029, observers in Asia and North Africa will have a chance to see another asteroid, but without needing a telescope. Asteroid 99942 Apophis, about 1,000 feet (300 meters) wide, is expected to be visible to the naked eye as it passes within 20,000 miles (32,000 km). Astronomers say an asteroid that large comes that close about once every 1,500 years.
As 2004 XP14 makes its closest approach to Earth, astronomers will attempt to gauge its size and shape by analysis of very high frequency radio waves reflected from its surface.
Such radar measurements of the exact distance and velocity of the asteroid will allow for precise information on its orbit. From this scientists can also discern details of the asteroid's mass, as well as a measurement of its density, which is a very important indicator of its overall composition and internal structure.
Astronomers plan to utilize NASA's 70-meter (230-foot) diameter Goldstone radar, the largest and most sensitive antenna in its Deep Space Network. Located in California's Mojave Desert, the Goldstone antenna has been used to bounce radio signals off other Near-Earth asteroids many times before, and it is now being readied to "ping" 2004 XP14 on July 3, 4 and 5.
Augmenting the Goldstone observations will be radar observations scheduled at Evpatoria in the Ukraine, commencing several hours prior to the July 3 observations at Goldstone.
Editor's Note: A SPACE.com viewer's guide for 2004 XP14 will be presented in Joe Rao's weekly Night Sky column on Friday, June 30.