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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
A newly discovered asteroid called 2012 DA14 will pass so close to Earth in February that it might hit a communications satellite, scientists say.
"That's very unlikely, but we can't rule it out," said Paul Chodas, a planetary astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Discovered several weeks ago by astronomers at the LaSagra Observatory in Spain, the asteroid is currently "a fuzzy little blob," as seen through telescopes, said Steven Chesley, also at JPL.
Astronomers estimate that the space rock is just 150 feet (45 meters) wide. But "the orbit for 2012 DA14 is currently very Earthlike, which means it will be very close to Earth on a regular basis," Chodas said.
Based on current projections, the asteroid could swing close enough to our planet to disrupt some orbiting satellites on February 15, 2013. The International Space Station, circling the planet in low-Earth orbit (about 1,200 miles/2,000 kilometers up, or closer), is in no danger, Chodas said.
(Find out about an asteroid that crossed between Earth and the moon last June.)
However, the newfound object's orbital path is still being refined. "We don't know exactly where it is, and that uncertainty maps through to an uncertainty in the orbit and predictions," Chesley said.
For now, the astronomers aren't worried about the asteroid actually falling from the skies next winter.
Instead, 2012 DA14 could put on a show for sky-watchers as it zips past the planet.
"It might be visible to people with good binoculars or a small telescope," Chodas said. "For such a small object, that's really unusual."
Asteroid to Eventually Hit Earth?
NASA currently estimates that the likelihood of 2012 DA14 striking Earth anytime in the next several decades is 0.031 percent—a figure that will be refined after astronomers collect data on its close pass next February.
But considering the uncertainty, scientists can't rule out the possibility that the asteroid might hit Earth on a subsequent pass, including the next flyby in 2020.
Figuring out the risk will depend on precisely how close 2012 DA14 comes to Earth in February. That's because the closer it comes, the more the pull of Earth's gravity will change the asteroid's orbit, adding to the uncertainty of the predictions.
(Related: "Trojan Asteroid Found Sharing Earth's Orbit—A First.")
If it does hit either in 2020 or later, the asteroid is small enough that it wouldn't be a civilization-destroying hazard. Also, the rock approaches Earth from the south, making Antarctica or the Southern Ocean its most likely targets.
Still, if the asteroid were to hit land, the impact of the 140,000-ton rock would release energy equivalent to a 2.4-megaton explosion, Chodas and other NASA scientists have calculated.
That puts the space rock in the same class as the 1908 Tunguska blast, a mysterious event, likely tied to an asteroid or comet, in which hundreds of square miles of forest in Siberia were leveled. (See "A Hundred Years After Tunguska, Earth Not Ready for Meteors.")
If the asteroid were to strike the ocean, Chodas added, it would produce a tsunami, although "it probably wouldn't be big."
We're "On Top of It"
In general, the upcoming 2013 flyby "is an ideal opportunity to study one of these objects in unprecedented detail and gain scientific as well as practical info, in case we ever have to deflect it," Humberto Campins, an asteroid specialist at the University of Central Florida, said by email.
(Related pictures: "NASA Lands on Underwater 'Asteroid.'")
JPL's Chesley agrees, adding that finding 2012 D14 is good news, because the object is now on the list of near-Earth asteroids that we can see coming.
"We're now on top of it," he said. The really dangerous ones, he added, are those we haven't yet spotted.
The newfound asteroid was described this month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division on Dynamical Astronomy in Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
Skywatchers will be hoping for clear skies from today because particles from a recent solar storm will slam into Earth and produce amazing Northern Lights, or auroras.
On the downside, experts expect radio blackouts for a few days, caused by the radiation from the flare – or coronal mass ejection (CME) – causing magnetic storms.
The flare is part of a larger increase in activity in the Sun, which runs in 11-year cycles. It is expected to peak around 2013.
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Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Sun Unleashes Largest Solar Flare in Years - (Read Full Story
An extremely powerful solar flare, the largest in over four years, rocked the sun early Tuesday (Aug. 9), but is unlikely to wreak any serious havoc here on Earth, scientists say.
"It was a big flare," said Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center. "We lucked out because the site of the eruption at the sun was not facing the Earth, so we will probably feel no ill effects."
Today's solar flare began at 3:48 a.m. EDT (0748 GMT), and was rated a class X6.9 on the three-class scale scientists use to measure the strength of solar flares. The strongest type of solar eruption is class X, while class C represents the weakest and class M flares are medium-strength events. Sun's Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History.
The flare is the largest one yet in the sun's current cycle, which began in 2008 and is expected to last until around 2020. Solar activity waxes and wanes over an 11-year sun weather cycle, with the star currently heading toward a solar maximum in 2013.
"This flare had a GOES X-ray magnitude of X6.9, meaning it was more than 3 times larger than the previous largest flare of this solar cycle - the X2.2 that occurred on Feb 15, 2011," scientists with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, a space observatory that monitors the sun, wrote in an update.
Before the Feb. 15 storm, the largest recent solar flare occurred in December 2006, when an X9-class solar storm erupted from the sun.
Thursday, 16 June 2011
NASA's Voyager 1 Probe May Exit Solar System Next Year - (Read Full Story)
A venerable NASA spacecraft could pop out of our solar system into interstellar space as early as next year, a new study suggests.
The Voyager 1 probe, which is now about 11 billion miles (17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth, has entered an unexpected "transition zone" at the edge of the solar system, according to the study. This finding, along with observations by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, hints that Voyager may be about to go where no man-made object ever has — into the space between the stars — a few years earlier than previously thought.
"Perhaps by the end of 2012, we will be out in the galaxy," said the study's lead author, Stamatios Krimigis, of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory.
Friday, 20 May 2011
Solar storms will peak in 2013 and wreak havoc on Earth's electrical communications, top scientist warns - (Read Full Story)
Solar storms could have 'devastating effects' on human technology when they hit a peak in two years' time, a leading scientist has warned.
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant secretary Kathryn Sullivan said the storms pose a growing threat to critical infrastructure such as satellite communications, navigation systems and electrical transmission equipment.
Solar storms release particles that can temporarily disable or permanently destroy fragile computer circuits
Dr Sullivan, a former Nasa astronaut who in 1984 became the first woman to walk in space, yesterday told a UN weather conference in Geneva that 'it is not a question of if, but really a matter of when a major solar event could hit our planet'.
Monday, 02 May 2011
NASA's Voyager Probes to Leave Solar System by 2016 - (Full Story)
It may be decades before humanity sets foot on Mars, but we're only five years away from sampling the vast stretches of interstellar space beyond our solar system for the first time, researchers say.
NASA's twin unmanned Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977, are streaking toward the edge of the solar system at around 37,000 mph (60,000 kph). At that rate, they'll probably pop out of our sun's sphere of influence and into interstellar space by 2016 or so, according to mission scientists.
"They are about to break free of the solar system," Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., said during a media teleconference yesterday (April 28). "We are trying to get outside of our bubble, into interstellar space, to directly measure what is there."
Wednesday, 02 March 2011
50 Billion Alien Planets May Inhabit Our Milky Way Galaxy
Our galaxy could be home to a whopping 50 billion planets, say scientists working on NASA's Kepler planet-hunting telescope.
While Kepler hasn't found nearly that many planets — to date it's counted 1,235 candidate planets — that cosmic tally is researchers' best guess, extrapolated from preliminary data. The Kepler spacecraft, which launched in March 2009, is the world's most sophisticated observatory dedicated to studying alien planets.
Kepler scientists presented an update on the spacecraft's findings this month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 17 February 2011
Huge solar flare said to jam China communications
The strongest solar flare in four years disrupted radio communications in southern China, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
The solar flare, a huge explosion on the sun's surface caused by magnetic activity, affected transmissions in southern China on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported, quoting the CMA.
The US space administration NASA confirmed that Monday's solar flare was the largest in four years, and the event sparked predictions of heightened activity on the northern hemisphere of the sun.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
NASA may soon confirm orbit of giant planet lurking beyond Pluto
Scientists believe they may have found a new planet in the far reaches of the solar system, up to four times the mass of Jupiter.
Its orbit would be thousands of times further from the Sun than the Earth's - which could explain why it has so far remained undiscovered.
Data which could prove the existence of Tyche, a gas giant in the outer Oort Cloud, is set to be released later this year - although some believe proof has already been garnered by Nasa with its pace telescope, Wise, and is waiting to be pored over.
Tuesday, 08 February 2011
Earth-Like Worlds Might Be as 'Common as Ants at a Picnic'
The discovery of a trove of potential alien planets, including dozens that could be Earth-size or habitable, is heartening news for those hoping to discover E.T. one day.
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope found 1,235 planet candidates beyond our solar system, according to an announcement Wednesday (Feb. 2). Of those, 68 are thought to be about the size of Earth, and 54 are at a distance from their stars where liquid water should be able to exist.
However, none of those planets are actually confirmed to exist — they are merely potential planets that must be verified with follow-up studies. Furthermore, none of them are guaranteed to be habitable — scientists know only that there is a chance they are, based on the picture we have now.
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Huge Runaway Star Creates Stunning Dust Shockwave
A huge star ejected from a binary system has been photographed slamming headlong through a barrier of cosmic dust, creating a shockwave that shines in brilliant yellow in infrared views.
The star, called Zeta Ophiuchi, is a stellar behemoth with about 20 times the mass of our sun and would be 65,000 times brighter if it weren't surrounded by a thick blanket of dust. It is about 4 million years old and is 460 light-years away from Earth. The star is zooming through space at a whopping 54,000 mph (nearly 87,000 kph), according to NASA scientists.
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, called WISE, caught the massive star plowing through thick dust to create what scientists call a "bow shock" – a shockwave that precedes stars as they move through space much like the ripple raised by the front of a boat traveling through water.
Monday, 24 January 2011
Earth could have two suns for a short time
Earth could be getting a second sun, at least temporarily.
Dr. Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland, outlined the scenario to news.com.au. Betelgeuse, one of the night sky's brightest stars, is losing mass, indicating it is collapsing. It could run out of fuel and go super-nova at any time.
When that happens, for at least a few weeks, we'd see a second sun, Carter says. There may also be no night during that timeframe.
Thursday, 20 January 2011
Strange Claim: The Sun Rose 2 Days Early in Greenland
Residents of a town on the western coast of Greenland may have seen the sun peek over the horizon 48 hours earlier than its usual arrival on Jan. 13, sparking speculation, and disagreements, over possible causes.
The town of Ilulissat sits just above the Arctic Circle, meaning its residents had been without any sunlight for a good chunk of the winter, and traditionally they'd expect to see their "first sunrise" on Jan. 13.
Friday, 14 January 2011
Earth's magnetic pole shift unleashing poisonous space clouds linked to mysterious bird deaths
Following the unexplained deaths of several thousand birds over the last two weeks, events are now emerging that may offer a physics-based explanation for the mysterious deaths. It all begins on a runway in Tampa, where airport officials recently closed that runway in order to change the numeric designators painted there. Why are those numeric designators being changed? Because the Earth's magnetic poles are shifting and the numbers previously painted on the runway no longer match up with the magnetic measurements of sensitive airplane instruments (http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01...).
As Physorg.com explains:
The primary runway at the airport is designated 18R/36L, which means the runway is aligned along 180 degrees from north (that is, due south) when approached from the north and 360 degrees from north when approached from the south. Now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has requested the designation be changed to 19R/1L to account for the movement of the magnetic north pole.
Friday, 07 January 2011
God was behind Big Bang, universe no accident: Pope
God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday.
"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.
Friday, 03 December 2010
Unmanned US spacecraft returns after 7-month trip
The U.S. Air Force's secrecy-shrouded X-37B unmanned spaceplane returned to Earth early Friday after more than seven months in orbit on a classified mission, officials said.
However, the ultimate purpose of the X-37B and details about the craft have longed remained a mystery, though experts said the spacecraft was intended to speed up development of combat-support systems and weapons systems.
The voyage culminated the project's long and expensive journey from NASA to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then on to the secretive Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the X-37 program, but the current total hasn't been released.
Wednesday, 03 November 2010
The end of the world as we know it
It's true that the Mayan odometer will hit zeros on 21 December 2012, as it reaches the end of a 394-year cycle called a baktun. But this baktun is part of a larger 8,000-year cycle called a pictun, and there's no evidence that anything astronomically untoward will happen as the current baktun slides into the next. However, that hasn't stopped the feverish speculating that sells books and cinema tickets.
What kind of catastrophe would it take to end the world? Astronomical intruders provide a potentially serious threat. Impacts can be caused by stray rubble from the Asteroid Belt and the rocky snowballs that travel in highly elliptical orbits in the comet cloud. There are many fewer large bits of debris than small bits, so the interval between large impacts is much longer than the interval between small impacts.
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Monday, 09 August 2010
ASSUME, FOR A MOMENT, the point of view of Intelligence. Not an intelligent point of view, but the perspective of Intelligence itself, gazing out on the cold and gaseous 13.5-billion-year-old universe.
It would seem, would it not, that you ought to give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done a damn good job of progressing from a few dumb rocks, flung out of the Big Bang, into monocellular creatures that learned how to make copies of themselves. Next, you grew into a complex, hyperaware species called Homo sapiens that extended its brain power through machines. Finally you took up residence inside buzzing electronic circuits whose intellectual abilities increased so quickly they unified everything in one gigantic supersmart info-sphere.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
NASA's Deep Space Camera Locates Host of Earths
Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets -- including up to 140 similar in size to Earth -- in just six weeks of using a powerful new space observatory.
Early results from NASA's Kepler Mission, a small satellite observing deep space, suggested planets like Earth were far more common than previously thought.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
Superfast Star Shot Out of Milky Way
A super-hot blue star hurtling through space has been shot completely out of the Milky Way, new Hubble Space Telescope photos reveal.
The star is streaking across space at a blistering speed of 1.6 million mph (2.5 million kph) - three times faster than our sun's orbital velocity in the Milky Way. Hubble observations confirm that the stellar speedster hails from the Milky Way's core, settling some confusion over where it originally called home...
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Sun Eruption That May Have Spawned Zombie Satellite Identified
Scientists have identified a massive eruption from the sun in April that reached all the way to Earth and may be responsible for knocking out a satellite, creating a so-called "zombie satellite."
The huge explosion of plasma and magnetic energy, called as a coronal mass ejection (CME), occurred on April 3 and was observed by NASA's sun-watching STEREO spacecraft, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The laboratory released new images of the solar storm last week...