The meteor that caused at least 1,000 injuries in Russia after a startling and powerful daytime explosion one week ago has been identified as a chondrite. Russian scientists who analyzed fragments of the meteor, whose large size and well-documented impact made it a rarity, say that its composition makes it the most common type of meteor we encounter here on Earth.
“The fragments contain a standard number of minerals, including olivine, pyroxene, troilite and kamacite,” scientist Viktor Grokhovsky of the Urals Federal University, told the Voice of Russia. “These minerals that can be discovered only in outer space confirm the fragments’ extraterrestrial nature.”
That means that before it shattered windows in the city of Chelyabinsk and turned people around the world into gawkers fascinated by a calamity — and by the amazing video footage of it — the meteor spent billions of years traveling through space.
When it detonated over Russia, the explosion was powerful enough to be “detected by 17 nuclear monitoring stations around the globe,” as The Christian Science Monitor reports.
The meteor, which may have weighed as much as 10,000 tons and measured about 55 feet across, was traveling at an estimated 11 miles per second when it reached Earth, according to a report at io9.
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.
Nearly one hundred countries, including the world’s spacefaring nations, have formally agreed upon the principles set out in the 1967 “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” more commonly known as the UN Outer Space Treaty. This document represents our global consensus on the fate and disposition of the rest of our solar system, of our galaxy’s one hundred billion other stars (and their solar systems), and of the one hundred billion additional galaxies in the universe; it was all decided before the first moon landing.
It is not unusual for the diplomatic community to indulge in grandiose overreach with treaty agreements about potentially contested territory. Nor is it unusual for international diplomats to express outrage when a state violates international or treaty norms, as happened with China’s 2007 surprise anti-satellite weapons test. But it does seem to be quite odd that so many countries have come together to show such interest in a domain that is so difficult to get to, has been populated for only a few decades, and has a regular settlement of a half-dozen people.
What is often ignored in the linguistic pieties about the peaceful use of space is that it is the principal thoroughfare for delivering on the ugly threats of mutual assured destruction. Space is also home to numerous tools indispensible to any modern military fighting a conventional war. What makes this distant and inclement real estate so valuable is that it has—tactically and strategically—the best view in the world.
By the time the space race began in earnest, the world’s superpowers were keenly aware of the many different potential uses of that ne plus ultra of military high grounds. The Eisenhower administration recognized early on that the Soviet launch of Sputnik would establish, by precedent, the right of satellites to overfly national territory, effectively altering terrestrial laws about sovereignty and airspace. The US and USSR agreed to treaties declaring that space should not be an arena for military rivalry but should be reserved exclusively for peaceful scientific efforts, preferably of the international variety. This is the same reasoning that drove much of the Cold War treaty framework governing (mis)behavior in Antarctica and on the world’s seabed
Microsoft’s Co-founder Paul Allen unveiled an untraditional commercial spaceship Tuesday that will launch from the widest plane ever built, and send people to outer space. (Dec. 13)
In a word: Oy…
Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful, wants you to know that as commander in chief he is ready to confront one of the most nightmarish of doomsday scenarios: a nuclear blast high above the United States that would instantly throw the nation into a dark age.
…Mr. Gingrich warns that it would fry electrical circuits from coast to coast, knocking out computers, electrical power and cellphones. Everything from cars to hospitals would be knocked out. ‘Millions would die in the first week alone,’ he wrote in the foreword to a science-fiction thriller published in 2009 that describes an imaginary EMP attack on the United States. A number of scientists say they consider Mr. Gingrich’s alarms far-fetched…
Disclaimer: Having studied and researched this in the past, I am compelled to point out that EMPs do represent a measure of threat. That stated, “Far Fetched” comes as something of an understatement in this case IMHO…
To within a certain range that my non-nerdish mind cannot comprehend though I do get the fact that if it really were more precise then it can be used as a missile component.
After years of saying habitable exoplanets are just around the corner, planet hunters have finally found one. Gliese 581g is the first planet found to lie squarely in its star’s habitable zone, where the conditions are right for liquid water.
“The threshold has now been crossed,” said astronomer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, one of the planet’s discoverers, in a press briefing Sept. 29. “The data says this planet is at the right distance for liquid water, and the right mass to hold on to a substantial atmosphere.”
The discovery is both “incremental and monumental,” comments exoplanet expert Sara Seager of MIT, who was not involved in the new study. When a recent study predicted the first habitable world should show up by next May, Seager rightly said the real answer was more like “any day now.”
“We’ve found smaller and smaller planets that got closer and closer to the habitable zone,” she said. “But this is the first that’s in the habitable zone.”