The next giant leap in space exploration may be a short hop on a small space rock.
Next week, President Obama will request $105 million in NASA’s 2014 budget for a mission that would capture a small asteroid, tug it near the moon, and later send astronauts to study it and grab samples.
The asteroid-capturing robot could launch as soon as 2017, with astronauts flying to meet it near the moon by 2021, according to a NASA briefing presented to Congress last week.
The president’s request includes $78 million for NASA to develop technologies for the project and $27 million for beefing up the agency’s asteroid-detection work. The mission would fulfill a goal Obama set three years ago to send astronauts to an asteroid.
The rocky object that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago may have been a comet, rather than an asteroid, scientists say.
The 112-mile (180 kilometers) Chicxulub crater in Mexico was made by the impact that caused the extinction of dinosaurs and about 70 percent of all species on Earth, many scientists believe. A new study suggests the crater was probably blasted out by a faster, smaller object than previously thought, according to research presented this week at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Evidence of the space rock’s impact comes from a worldwide layer of sediments containing high levels of the element iridium, dubbed the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, which could not have occurred on Earth naturally.
The new research suggests the often-cited iridium values are incorrect, however. The scientists compared these values with levels of osmium, another element delivered by the impact.
Maybe Chicken Little was right after all.
It was an amazing spectacle, a rapid succession of giant asteroids blazing across the sky. First, on February 15, Russia was hit with the biggest asteroid in 100 years. Barely a few hours later, an even bigger one made the closest approach to Earth ever recorded for an asteroid of its size. Then the residents of San Francisco, Cuba, and south Florida looked up and saw meteors streak across the sky, rattling their nerves.
The Sky Is Falling: Famous Meteors, Asteroids and Comets (Photos)A meteor streaks across the sky in Russia on the morning of February 15. 2013. (Nasha Gazeta/AP)
It was a historic display of nature’s cosmic firepower, something I never expected to see in my lifetime. Mother Nature was showing Hollywood who’s boss.
The city of Chelyabinsk in Russia bore the brunt of the celestial fireworks. A piece of rock, about 50 feet across and weighing more than 7,000 tons, came crashing to Earth. Traveling at a blinding speed of over 40,000 miles per hour, it created a sonic boom and shock wave that shattered windows across the city: 1,200 people were injured, mainly by the flying pieces of glass, and 52 were hospitalized, 2 of them in serious condition. Chelyabinsk, once known as one of the most polluted places in the world due to its storage of nuclear waste, will now be known as “meteor city.”
The asteroid packed a huge punch, the power of 20 Hiroshima bombs. It was a “city buster,” capable of flattening a modern metropolis and reducing it to rubble. It was a miracle that the asteroid exploded roughly 10 to 15 miles above ground: had there been a ground burst, it would have caused tens of thousands of casualties. If that asteroid had hit just a few seconds later, it would have created a tragedy on Earth.
While Russia was still reeling from the shock of this meteor impact, just a few hours later, 17,200 miles in space, an asteroid three times larger than the Russian one came within a whisker of hitting Earth. Called 2012 DA14, it actually sailed about 5,000 miles closer to Earth than our communications satellites (which orbit at 22,000 miles). If the asteroid had arrived just a few minutes earlier, it might have hit Earth, with truly cataclysmic consequences.
To see what might have happened in the case of a collision with DA14, one can study the 1908 Tunguska impact, which hit Siberia with the force of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs, giving Earth a black eye. That meteorite was about the same size as DA14, i.e., the size of an apartment building. The energy of the impact was so great that it devastated 830 square miles of Siberia, including 80 million trees. Pictures of the area show millions of trees lying on their sides, as if a giant hand came down and flattened every tree in sight. The impact was so spectacular that the blast was heard hundreds of miles away, and strange lights were seen as far away as Europe.
If you believe the folks at NASA—and really, why shouldn’t you?—it’s only a matter of when, not if, we need someone like Dr. Bong Wie to save the human race from a civilization-destroying catastrophe.
Wie is the director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, the only institution in the United States dedicated to the deflection of what NASA calls Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)—“asteroids” to the rest of us. He’s been busy lately. On Friday, Americans woke up to reports and videos of the largest meteorite in more than a century crashing into Siberia. In the late afternoon, 600,000 people watched online as the DA14 asteroid passed just 17,000 miles from Earth. In response to all of this, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced he would hold a hearing “to develop contingencies” in the event of an imminent threat from outer space.
Scientists have been calling on the government to wake up to the NEO threat for decades, “but nothing happened,” Wie says. “We are very lucky to have today’s events.”
Wie’s plan for destroying an Earth-bound asteroid is simple: Stick a massive nuclear device into it and blast it to smithereens. Notwithstanding the 168 factual inaccuracies NASA engineers have reportedly found in Armageddon, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton got it essentially right. “Astronauts will not be required, so clearly this would be an unmanned robotic mission—but we will need a nuclear device,” Wie says.
… Spherule beds deposited between 3.5 and 1.7 billion years ago have been found all over the world — but this time frame doesn’t match up with existing models of unusually violent asteroid activity, specifically a span in our solar system’s history known as the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). According to what’s known as the Nice model, the LHB lasted from 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, when the irregular orbits of our cosmic neighborhood’s outermost planets triggered a cannonade of asteroids and comets throughout the Solar System. What, then, was the source of the extraterrestrial assault responsible for the spherule beds that geologists see dating from 3.8-billion-years ago onward?
According to a new model, created by a research team led by planetary dynamicist William Bottke, these asteroids likely originated from a long-extinct extension of the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Computer simulations that incorporate this ancient extension not only reproduce a modern population of asteroids called the Hungarias, they also predict the occurrence of roughly 70 impact events, on the same scale or larger as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, between 3.7 and 1.7 billion years ago. In brief: their results suggest that the LHB lasted, quite literally, billions of years longer than previously thought.
The small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 passed safely by Earth on Feb. 15, 2013. Its closest approach, about 17, 150 miles above the Indian Ocean, came at about 11:25 a.m. PST (2:55 p.m. EST and 1925 UTC). NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office accurately predicted the asteroid’s path and that there was no chance it might collide with Earth. The flyby did provide scientists and astronomers a unique opportunity to study a near-Earth object up close.
A meteorite exploded and impacted just west of the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, blowing out windows throughout the city and causing an impact crater about six meters (20 feet) in diameter. There was also apparently structural damage caused to a zinc factory as well when a small fragment struck it.
Russia’s Urals region has been rocked by a meteorite explosion in the stratosphere. The impact wave damaged several buildings, and blew out thousands of windows amid frigid winter weather. Hundreds are seeking medical attention for minor injuries.
Russian space agency Roskosmos has confirmed the object that crashed in the Chelyabinsk region is a meteorite: “According to preliminary estimates, this space object is of non-technogenic origin and qualifies as a meteorite. It was moving at a low trajectory with a speed of about 30 km/s (67,000 MPH).”
According to scientists, the object detonated in the stratosphere, producing a rain of smaller fragments. It is not related to Asteroid 2012 DA14, according to scientists.
Small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth on February 15, so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid’s path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth. Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close. Here are the facts about the safe flyby of Earth of asteroid 2012 DA14 — a record close approach for a known object of this size.
Update Feb. 7, 2013
Asteroid 2012 DA14 Flyby Preview
NASA held a media teleconference on Thursday, Feb. 7, to discuss asteroid 2012 DA14 which will have a very close, but safe, flyby of Earth on Feb. 15, 2013. Also discussed are NASA’s efforts to find potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.
To watch a recording of the teleconference, visit: ustream.tv .
NASA is serious about sending astronauts back to the moon’s neighborhood and will likely unveil its ambitious plans soon now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected, experts say.
The space agency has apparently been thinking about setting up a manned outpost beyond the moon’s far side, both to establish a human presence in deep space and to build momentum toward a planned visit to an asteroid in 2025.
The new plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won Tuesday night’s (Nov. 6) presidential election, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University.
“NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan,” Logsdon told SPACE.com. (The Earth-moon L2 is a so-called libration point where the two bodies’ gravitational pulls roughly balance out, allowing spacecraft to essentially park there.) [Gallery: Visions of Deep-Space Station Missions]
“They’ve been holding off announcing that until after the election,” Logsdon added, noting that Romney had pledged to reassess and possibly revise NASA’s missions and direction.
The protoplanet Vesta, a large space rock in the solar system’s asteroid belt, is covered with a surprising amount of hydrogen, and bits of Vesta may have rained down on Earth in the form of meteorites, NASA’s Dawn probe has revealed.
Dawn spent more than a year orbiting Vesta, a behemoth 330-mile-wide (530 kilometers) asteroid that circles the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Earlier this month, on Sept. 5, Dawn took its leave of Vesta to begin trekking to the even-larger space rock Ceres, which is categorized as a dwarf planet.
Meanwhile, though, scientists are still poring over the treasure trove of data on Vesta gathered by the probe, and two new studies are reported today (Sept. 20) in the journal Science. In one, researchers report the findings of Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRAND), which mapped the elemental composition of Vesta’s surface.
George Hall captured a flash, likely an asteroid vaporizing in Jupiter’s atmosphere, on September 10th, 2012. Scientists see the big planet as a cosmic vacuum cleaner. See Mr. Hall’s astrophotography here: georgeastro.weebly.com