Like most of us in this economy, NASA has had to make some budget cuts. When they released their 2014 budget, it cut over $55 million from the previous year. Planetary studies have been hurt the most with 300 million cut from the budget. Looking at this, it’s clear that studying our solar system is just not a priority anymore; NASA is taking new directions with its research and some of its new plans are quite exciting.
For Example, NASA is increasing its funding to support Earth science; tracking man made and natural changes to our planet, including pollution and climate changes. The idea is that hopefully learning more about how to protect our planet and to protect ourselves.
In addition, there is also a program in place to start manned missions into space once again. I’ve written about this before when I mentioned the Orion Spacecraft, the first manned spacecraft designed for interplanetary orbit in 30 years. NASA is already building the space capsule, and the whole project should be finished by 2021.
BUT, there is one item on the NASA budget that seems right out of science fiction- The capture and mining of ASTEROIDS!
That’s right, President Obama approved a new project designed to send a special craft out into space for the purposes of finding and capturing a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA), and then bringing it back down to Earth to study, and eventually mine it for its contents. This might sound like something out of a James Cameron movie, but it really is part of the NASA budget, and the project is getting underway as we speak.
So why mine asteroids? To answer this question, I’ll break down the arguments and, (to continue with the Sci-Fi theme I’ve begun), I’m going to list them one by one, and name them after some awesome Sci-fi movie titles.
1. The Abyss/ Avatar-
According to scientific estimates, one asteroid may contain over $20 TRILLION dollars worth of precious metals, as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. Ultimately, it might improve NASA’s budget and the world economy greatly to invest in asteroid mining. Plus, unlike Avatar, all of these asteroids would be uninhabited, making mining comparatively easy from a socio-political standpoint. Still, as you can see from the video above, to make this plan economically viable on a large scale we would need to develop vastly superior rockets, to keep the cost of sending rockets up into space all the time lower than the profits reaped from the asteroids themselves. As far fetched as this idea may seem, companies are already working to make it a reality. Imagine NASA beginning a new industry as unlimited as the universe itself!
2. Titan AE
If our planet were to suffer a cataclysm, (which could literally happen any day now), we will need to find a new way of getting water, oxygen, and the ingredients to create plant life. In addition to precious metals, asteroids also contain all of these. Bits of oxygen and hydrogen are locked up within the rocks. In addition, we know that asteroids contain ingredients for life, since 3.5 billion years ago, they helped develop life on our own planet. Therefore, if we ever need to leave the Earth, it makes more sense to mine our raw materials from asteroids, rather than taking everything with us. Of course, getting us off the Earth, is a much bigger problem:
As the Russian meteor explosion grimly reminded us, Earth could literally be hit by an asteroid at any time without warning. This is why the primary goal of the Asteroid Retrieval project is to study asteroids and determine how best to combat a potential threat. Lest we forget, an asteroid destroyed entire species on our planet 65 million years ago, and we need to be careful to make sure it doesn’t happen to us (cue the dramatic music).
So there you are, the major reasons why it’s a good idea to find asteroids and bring them back here. We eagerly await NASA making this project a reality, so that they make space a safer and more profitable place to live. As one more treat, here is a NASA animation of how the project might look, with dramatic Hollywood music underscoring for good measure.
In addition to running this blog and giving nightly astronomy tours, I am also working on developing a kid’s astronomy program for the resort. In my quest to make astronomy fun, accessible, and interactive for young people, I came across some valuable free resources that I’d like to share with you. Obviously there are hundreds of blogs, podcasts, video channels, and websites out there and I could never share them all, so if you like this post and think something should be added, let me know! I’d be happy to make this a new page on the blog and follow up weekly with new resources.
So here is a short multimedia collection of links that you can show to your young ones to get them excited about space:
Deep Sky Videos– An excellent channel, not only for astronomy, but for science all together. It features great pictures by professional astro-photographers and lots of valuable data.
NASA TV- Here’s NASA’s official YouTube Channel, which provides you with simple, clear explanations of what our space agency is doing. Sometimes they interview astronauts on the International Space Station, and get them to talk about life in space.
NASA JPL Live This is not Youtube, but a live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Whenever there is any kind of live event at NASA, such as the docking of a spacecraft, or live pictures from Mars, you can access it with this link!
Exoplanet- A free app that allows you to keep track of any new planets discovered outside our solar system. You can use your mobile device to find each planet in an interactive map of the galaxy, zooming at warp speed to newly discovered worlds.
Sky Viewer- This app tells you exactly what planets and constellations you are looking at by overlaying names and a connect-the dots pattern over the night sky. A GPS compass keeps track of where you are, and you can see the stars using the display. There is a pay version that also shows you more planets and keeps track of satellites, but the free version is a nice way to learn the constellations and keep track of where you are in the sky.
NASA Space Weather Map (Android App only)
View near real-time images of outer space from current NASA missions. Learn about weather near the Sun, Solar Wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Heliosphere from scientists who study them
I did find some neat pay apps from this website too, just in case you aren’t satisfied with the free stuff:
Astronomy.com– The official website of Astronomy Magazine, loaded with pictures, articles, and tips for amateur astronomers, and yes, there’s a kids’ page.
ISS Tracker- A website that allows you to know where the International Space Station is at all times!
NASA’s JPL Planet Quest- A great interactive site which teaches kids about planets beyond our solar system, by allowing them to create one, studying the ideal conditions for creating life in the universe.
The Curiosity Rover’s Twitter Page- Updates from the mission, written in the first person by the robot.
Kids Needs Science (Tumblr Page)-Full of beautiful pictures of space objects and links to articles.
International Space Station Facebook -Regularly updated with videos, pictures, and news articles.
So there’s a rough start to the vast world of astronomy for kids on the web. Like I said earlier, I’d be happy to post any of your suggestions, or turn this into a regular feature on the blog. Let me know in the comments. In closing, just to show you how far we’ve come with online education, I’d like to post an oldie but a goodie- Bill Nye the Science Guy explores comets and meteors:
Today, I’d like to switch hats for a little while from Astro-nut to Shakespeare Geek. I’ve been studying Shakespeare for a long time and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d take some time to celebrate it. Like a lot of Elizabethans, Shakespeare believed that the stars and planets helped to influence a person’s destiny. Of course, he lived in the time of Galeleo and Copernicus who questioned these established opinions, and you can hear this changing tide of ideology in the dialogue of his plays. Plus, Shakespeare frequenly uses stellar images to add some extra spice to his love poetry. After all, who doesn’t want to be compared to the radient Venus, the brilliant stars, or the kingly Jupiter?
So today, I’d like to sojurn with you for a while away from the shores of science, and into the sweet waters of music and poetry related to the stars, with Shakespeare as the pilot for our vessel. Hope you enjoy it!
The Facts Are These:
- Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1613, and died at the age of 52.
- He wrote 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and four epic poems.
- The word “Stars” appears 77 times in Shakespeare’s work.
- The god Jupiter appears as a character in one of his final plays, “Cymbeline”
- In his tragedy “King Lear” an old lord worries about disasters called by eclipses and comets.
- One of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Prospero, is a magician who uses the powers of astrology to control the elements.
- Shakespeare was called “Sweet Swan Of Avon” by his contemporary Ben Johnson. The river Avon flowed through his home town of Stratford in Warrickshire. You can still see the swans today!
Some Famous Quotes From Shakespeare About Stars:
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet
Take him and cut him into little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun -Romeo and Juliet
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves – Julius Caesar
FOOL: The reason the seven stars are only seven is a pretty reason,
KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?
FOOL: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.
Shakespeare and Astrology
As I’ve mentioned in the “This Month In Astrology” posts, people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the planets and stars could influence a person’s desitny and their character. They believed that the universe contained four basic elements called humours, that were the forces behind the planets, the stars, and our bodies. The four humours corresponded to the four basic elements- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. These humours reflected aspects of people’s personality- the cold and dry meloncholy, the warm and airy blood, the hot and fiery cholor, and the slow and temperate phlegm (the humour of water). Living in ballence with the planets, stars, and your own bodily humours was the best way to live a healthy life, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries studied the stars to figure out how to control and understand their lives. Queen Elizabeth herself had a pesronal astrologer who helped her get through the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies focus on people whose destinies seem to be influenced by bad stars or planets. As I mentioned in “The Ides Of March” post, a bad planet or a comet could influence the fates of powerful people. Meanwhile, the comedies focus on people who let their humours take over them; from the melancholic Jaques to the foolish constable Dogberry, to the brave but idiotic Orlando, Shakespeare’s characters are at their funniest, when they are at their most “humourous.” In short, Shakespeare’s understanding of the humours and the stars allowed him to classify and examine different types of people, and how they deal with extrodinary situations. This is one reason we continue to read his work 400 years later.Finally, a little poetry reading. Here is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a short poem that’s only 14 lines long.
In this poem, the speaker rejects the doctrine of Astrology when looking into the face of his beloved, and instead claime that the only celestial light he needs is in the bleoved’s eyes. When those lights are gone, the universe as he knows it will end, so he advises the object of his affection to have children to allow those lights to renew. This is the format of the first 126 sonnets, but Shakespeare uses incredibly varied devices to make the same simple point.
So I hope this little sojourn into Shakespeare’s swan boat was entertaining for you and I hope combining my love of astronomy and Shakespeare will help you, the reader to appreaciate both even more.
“Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a postscript” – Twelfth Night
PS. If you liked this little exploration into stellar poetry, please leave a comment below. There is a rich vein of poetry related to the Sun, Moon, and stars, and I would love to write about them in future posts.
Hi everyone, and no, that is not a typo- Today marks not only the celebration of Earth Day on our planet, it also heralds the discovery of not one, not two but THREE Earth-like planets!
Just three days ago, the Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to look for planets beyond our solar system, discovered a group of planets known as Kepler 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. These planets come from two star systems over 1,200 light years away. Although the discovery was a few days ago, we’re celebrating now because it coincides with the celebration of our own planet.
Now, there are over 600 confirmed extra-solar planets in our galaxy and certainly there may be many, many more, but these planets are special because they orbit their respective stars within what’s called the “habitable zone,” that is, a safe distance from the star that keeps the planet from being scorched like Mercury, or frozen like Neptune. Since we can’t actually see the surface of these planets, this is our best guess to determine if a planet is capable of supporting life.
This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to find inhabited planets in this century. In our tours at Primland, we go into detail about the search for Earth like planets outside our solar system in our presentations, including the search for planets that might be inhabited by intelligent life! Hope you’ll come down and join us soon!
So Happy Earth Day everyone! Also, (as a special bonus), I thought I’d include a video of Earth from space, so that you can see our planet in a new, special light:
That’s right, today is the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s year in space. Its mission: observe the furthest objects ever seen in our universe, further beyond any human’s reach. After 1,000,000 peeps through the mighty space telescope, scientists have learned more than ever thought possible about the origins of our universe, the nature of planets beyond the Earth, and our place in the cosmos. Just today, Hubble scientists released a photo of the Horsehead Nebula, which Hubble last photographed in 2001. Using infra-red light, the telescope peered deeper into this mysterious dark cloud, and found the filaments that give it structure. Check it out in the video below!
If you like looking at Hubble photos like I do (and who doesn’t?), check out their facebook page, and their website: http://www.spacetelescope.org/, which also has videos, merchandise, and educational materials for teachers and students.
Well, the Curiosity Rover is still working, though it will be unable to communicate with the Earth for over a month. However, it won’t stop working, using its 10 scientific instruments to peer into the chemical, geological, and atmospheric makeup of Mars. Today I want to give you a general overview of the project, and some of its hopes and dreams; above all, the dream of finding life. Curiosity has the tools to find the building blocks of life, not just water but the chemical compounds that allow us to exist on Earth. If Curiosity can find these on Mars, someday we may be able to sent people to Mars and make it a new home for sustaining Earth plants and animals on another world.
What Is Curiosity?
The Curiosity is a rover, a robot that can roll around the surface of another planet, taking pictures, soil and gas samples and other scientific data back to Earth.
What’s It Up To?
Curiosity’s basic objective is to investigate the presence of water on Mars. As far as we know, water is the essential ingredient of all life. Other NASA missions have found clues that there was water on Mars, but in order to get a better view of Mars, Curiosity is here to use its advanced instruments to find a clear answer. Curiosity also trying to find clues in the Martian atmosphere, to see how different it is from Earth. Just yesterday, after 248 days on Mars, NASA announced that ancient Mars could have supported life:
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably — if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said John Grotzinger, NASA’s chief scientist for the Curiosity Project.
11 Cool Facts About the Curiosity Rover
- The mission cost $2.5 billion!
- The MSL spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral FLA, the same place where in 1971, NASA launched the first ever spacecraft to orbit Mars, (Mariner).
- Around 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of Curiosity’s landing.
- The landing site of the Curiosity Rover is called the “Bradburry Landing Site,” named in honor of author Ray Bradburry, author of “The Martian Chronicles,” who died just two months after the rover landed.
- The Bradbury landing site rests within a 3.5 billion year old crater that could have actually been formed by wind erosion and water sediment, which is one reason for the trip- to discover whether Mars could potentially support life as we know it, or if it did support life in the past.
- Because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, it took over 7 minutes to send a message from the Curiosity Rover to the scientists over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a period which the JPL dubbed, “The Seven Minutes of Terror”
- Just two days ago, (4/9/13) Curiosity found proof that the Martian atmosphere used to be thicker, and more Earth like. Now the atmosphere is mostly full of Greenhouse gases, which suggests that some kind of Global Warming might have happened on Mars
- The Rover is about the size of a small car, and weighs about 2,000 pounds
- Curiosity is powered by a small Nuclear Reactor, called a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
- The Rover actually has a lucky penny! To calibrate its complex cameras, the rover has a 1980 Lincoln penny attached to its Mars Hand Lens Imager
- Curiosity is the only robot in the solar system to have a Twitter Account, which by the way, has been nominated for a Webby Award. If you visit the page and like what you see, you can vote to make Curiosity, a very happy interplanetary robot.
Key moments in the Curiosity Timeline
- November 26, 2011- The MSL spacecraft, containing the Curiosity Rover, launches from Cape Canaveral
- August 6, 2012- The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, after a journey of 127 million miles.
- August 7th, 2012- First pictures from the surface of Mars. Later photos would also be broadcast in 3D!
- August 22nd- Curiosity Rove tests out its on-board laser, and tests its driving motors around the surface of Mars.
- August 29- Curiosity beams a song from the surface of Mars back to Earth, composed by Will.I.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
- September 27th- The rover discovers the remnants of an ancient river bed on Mars, making a great case for the existence of water.
- October 27th- Curiosity discovers mysterious pockets of Methane gas below the surface of Mars, which might be by-products of microscopic life forms.
- November 24th- Curiosity tracks a dust storm on Mars.
- February 7th- Curiosity starts drilling into the surface of Mars, to find the chemical composition of the soil.
- March 12th- Samples from the drilling uncover evidence of ancient microorganisms, and chemicals that are necessary building blocks for Carbon-based life.
- April 9th- The Curiosity Rover’s atmospheric sensors show the gradual decay of the atmosphere from primarily oxygen and argon rich, to mainly Carbon Dioxide, not unlike the Greenhouse Gasses in our atmosphere.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-cap of Curiosity’s great career so far, and we wish it luck as it wonders on alone, without parental supervision from Earth. If you want to see Mars yourself, you’ll have to wait until its path takes it away from behind the Sun, on June 20th.
Time Magazine: “A Cosmic SUV Blasts Off for Mars” http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2100299,00.html
LA Times: “Signs Of Life On Mars” by Amina Khan http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-signs-of-life-on-mars-live-video-discussion-20130313,0,3183926.story
So, I know I’m really late on this, but I wanted to give a very warm thank you to Dr. Richard Obousy for agreeing to come down to Primland last week, and talk about his company Icarus Interstellar. Here are a few notes I took during his presentation.
Part 1- Background On Dr. Obousy, and the Icarus Project
Dr. Obousy has had a longstanding interest in space travel and physics. He holds a Ph.D in theoretical physics, and worked for the UK Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) as a radar physicist from 1999-2002. He currently works as president of Icarus Interstellar, and Founder and Manager of CitizenShipper LLC. Dr. Obousy has written for over 15 peer-reviewed publications, and appeared on such television and radio programs as the History Channel series “The Universe,”
Icarus Intersellar is nonprofit, 70 volunteer group with the goal of creating spacecraft that can fly beyond our solar system, and reach closest stars by the year 2100. The team comes from all over the world, pooling research over the internet. The group was started in 2009, as an outgrowth of Project Daedalus, a project begun in 1973 by the British Interplanetary Society.
The project is split into 20 modules designed to plan out every stage of development, propulsion, and communication within the 100 year time span. On the project’s website, readers can download a complete report on the project, and learn about updates.
What’s wrong with our current spacecraft technology?
According to Dr. Obousy, the space shuttle can go 6 km per second, which means it could reach Pluto in 23 years, but would take thousands of years to go to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. This is simply not fast enough to get past our solar system, and begin to actually touch the cosmos. Dr. Obousy, (and the crew at Icarus Interstellar) then touched on some of the potential benefits of superior space travel, such as mining for natural resources, and finding life on Mars, or Jupiter’s moon Europa. He cited the fact that data from the Curiosity and Viking spacecraft about life on these worlds is actually inconclusive! There might actually still be life in our solar system for us to still discover.
Although SETI (the Search For Extra-terrestial Intelligence) is currently scanning the skies for ET, Dr. Obousy feels that the “fleeting epoch of radio telescopes,” is no guarantee of success. Based on the findings from the Kepler Space Telescope, there may be over 400 billion planets in Milky Way, of those there might be as many as 100 billion Earth-like worlds. Dr. Obousy asserts that just because it is very difficult to locate extra-terrestrials, does not mean that they aren’t there.
How Project Icarus is Different From Current Spaceships.
Most of Project Icarus is devoted to using fusion power, rather than chemical energy, which, (if the project can perfect the process), could yield more than 10 million times more energy than the current design.
Why Did they Choose the Name “Icarus”?
For those of you who don’t know Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the great engineer Daedalus, who created a pair of wax wings to give himself and his son the ability to fly. Unfortunately, the boy was so excited by this new power, and flew too close to the Sun, melting his wings, and sending the boy plummeting to his death. Understandably, this tragic story might seem like an odd source for the name of a company that designs space ships, but Dr. Obousy explains that, despite the outcome, Icarus, “pushed technology to its limits to discover hidden flaws,” which is how the story becomes one of the mantras to inspire the team.
Icarus is hopeful that they may some day create new technology that would allow us to travel at light speed, by dilebrerately warping space and time to travel through space at speeds that are unimaginable right now. Dr. Obousy cited many physicists that back up the idea that space time is not limited by light speed, and that there are natural sources of power such as dark energy and solar photons, that could be harnessed to propel spacecraft, (though at present, the energy required would be considerable to say the least). In the video above, you can get a glimpse of how Dr. Obousy suggested using such phenomena as the Casimir effect, and its ability to control dark energy as a sort of warp drive, using real scientific principles.
The Icarus Program is still fraught with challenges- monetary, resources, time, and of course the seemingly impossible difficulties creating real life interstellar vehicles, but Dr. Obousey and his team from Icarus Interstellar remain hopeful that “If we throw down the gauntlet, (i.e. challenging the members of his group), we will rise to the challenge like we did in the Apollo program,” which would allow us to take another great step in the field of science, and ultimately the human race.
Once again, I have to thank Dr. Obousy for his inspiring talk, and hope that he will visit Primland again soon!
Today In Space History: Special Report- Dr. Richard Obousey
Friday March 15th and Saturday 16th form Primland Resort’s Starmaster Weekend. On these weekends, the astronomy program. invite professional astronomers and scientists to come down and talk about their work with our guests. Our guest is Dr. Richard Obousey, president of Icarus Interstellar. Named after the son of the mythical Greek craftsman who invented special wings to make his boy fly, Icarus International is a private company, committed to developing new spacecraft, capable of traveling to other star systems. The current goal is to create the first interstellar spacecraft within 100 years. What follows is a brief overview of the work Icarus International does, and a little bit about the problems of interstellar space travel, so you’ll know a little about his program, and his work with Icarus Interstellar.
If you go to the Icarus Interstellar website, you can see artists’ design for all kinds of new propulsion systems, including fusion spacecraft, lasers, and even warp drives straight out of science fiction. Icarus is an outgrowth of the Daedalus Project from 50 years ago, and since 2011, with the help of NASA, Icarus has created five interstellar spacecraft projects, mainly focused on fusion propulsion.
Project Hyperion; Launched in December 2011, designed to provide an assessment of the feasibility of manned interstellar flight using current and near-future technoloigies. It also aims to guide future research and technology development plans as well as reasssess the Fermi Paradox. Finally it aims to inform the public about the prospects of manned interstellar flight.
Project Forward; Analyzes and assesses the concept of using laser light and interstellar star sails.
- Project Persephone; Experiment to create possible livable habitats in space.
- Project Bifrost; Launched in December 2011, by Tabitha Smith, The Icarus Interstellar Nuclear Space Technology (NST) and Propulsion Development Program will operate with long-term goals of tangible deliverables in mind, such as (1) Partnership with the US Government and other vital members of the NST community, (2) The Creation of Nuclear Engines (Thermal (NTR) and/or Electric) and (3) Proof of concept for NTR and building the foundation for evolving nuclear propulsion.
- Project Helius; Launched in August 2011 by Richard Osborne and Kelvin Long, Project Helius has the purpose of building prototype pulsed propulsion demonstrators to test elements of the Daedalus (or other) architecture. The main areas of study are currently focussed on the tracking of pellets and the timing of laser devices.
- 100 Year Starship – Funded by DARPA / NASA, a one year project announced in January 2012.
In this video, Dr. Obousey talks about the goals and some of the challenges of Project Icarus. As you can see near the end, Dr. Obousey mentions that one of the major problems with getting to space is monetary- NASA is currently looking for ways to commercialize space in a number of ways. You probably saw the incredibly popular STRATOS YouTube video, which was designed to test spacesuits in the event of a high-altitude ejection. In addition, NASA also gets support from corporations in return for research. They are even lending their research to NASCAR! Sometimes NASA gets funding from unexpected sources, such as Dennis Tito, the multimillionaire who is funding a project to send a married couple to Mars in a privately owned spaceship.
Of course, there are also the incredible technical challenges of traveling from Earth to even it’s closest stars, (the closest of which is still over 12 trillion miles away). Most of Icarus’ efforts have been directed in harnessing the power of nuclear fusion to create more powerful engines that have the energy potential of the Sun itself.
History of Space Exploration
As you might have read from my previous post about animals in space, NASA began sending people into space since the Mercury Project in 1961, and continued through the Gemini and Apollo mission, which sent men to the Moon from 1969-1972. NASA is trying to develop a new manned mission called Orion, set to go to the Moon in 2017. This mission will take humans back to the Moon, and then hopefully to Mars.
Some worry that even if NASA and Icarus develop the technology to get humans to other planets, that the demands of weightlessness on the human body, and the sheer length of the trip places create physical and psychological burdens on the human body. However, as Mary Roach points out in “Packing For Mars,” virtually every space mission has spawned numerous nervous medical theories, (some true and some false). One thing I’m sure Dr. Obousey will agree with me on, is that the prospect of manned spaceflight has been a Holy Grail of space exploration ever since man has first stared up at the stars. It united all of the country, and in a way the whole human race back when Neil Armstrong took that small step on the Moon, and hopefully the same thing can happen again with the help of NASA, Orion, and Icarus.
So, hope you come down to see Dr. Obousey next week. Click here if you want to make a reservation!
With the recent asteroid pass over Earth, and the Russian meteor that exploded last week, I thought this would be a perfect time to have a bit of a discussion about asteroids.
What are Asteroids?- An asteroid is basically a rock that floats in space. They do not have any atmosphere, and are too small to be considered plaents. Most asteroids are part of a vast belt between Mars and Jupiter nearly 60 miles wide. According to Space.com, the belt has over 750,000 asteroids floating within. Asteroids are generally made of rock, but they often contain gasses like Nitrogen and Hydrogen at their cores. NASA has 3 different classifications of asteroids- Class C, (which are mostly made of Carbon), are the most common, and appear gray, like DA14 and the Russian meteor.
The biggest asteroid ever seen is technically also a dwarf planet named Ceres, discovered in 1801. It is nearly 600 miles across and orbits around Mars and Jupiter.
Difference between Asteroid and Meteors. An asteroid is an asteroid, asl long as it does not pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, then we re-name the object a meteor, commonly known as a “shooting star.” Like fireworks, meteors burn with a variety of different colors, depending on the chemical composition of the metals of which they are made.
Once the meteor finally hits the Earth’s surface, it is re-classified again as a meteorite. Over 10 tons of meteors hit the Earth every day, but by the time they get through the mile-long journey through the Earth’s atmosphere, the meteors are reduced to dusty grains no bigger than the sand you find on the beach.
Meteors have crashed into the Earth, Moon, and other planets since the beginning of time. Over three billion years ago, asteroids containing the carbon and oxygen like outer-space care packages, hit the Earth, causing the planet’s atmosphere to slowly change from mostly methane gas, to its breathable state that supports living beings. On the Moon, asteroid collisions formed the craters that we see when we look at the Moon through telescopes. Some even speculate that the Moon might have been formed with an asteroid crashed into the Earth, sending molten rock into space that eventually cooled down to form the current Moon. As you can see in the picture on the left, meteors do still occasionally hit the Earth, although most of them burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere
Have there been any recent close calls with asteroids besides the Russian meteor? You may know that the same night as the Russian meteor, a much larger asteroid called DA 14 flew harmlessly by the Earth. Last year some speculated that DA14 would be eventually strike the Earth, and bring about the fabled 2012 Mayan apocalypse. However, these are only the most famous recent close calls. According to the International Astronomy Union (IAU), over 900 Near Earth Asteroids have been observed since 2011. A NEA is defined as an asteroid that passes within 1.3 Astronomical Units, or the distance between the Earth and the Sun. One of the most frightening examples occurred over the Mediterranean Sea. Space and Defense agencies warned that a sea impact could actually be worse than a land impact, as it could create massive tidal waves that could drown the whole country. Fortunately the meteor disintegrated before hitting the planet. General Simon Worden delivered a speech where he expressed relief that the asteroid didn’t impact, or even worse, be mistaken by mediterranean countries as hostile fire, and therefore an act of war:
The event of this June caused little or no notice as far as we can tell. But had it occurred at the same latitude, but a few hours earlier, the result on human affairs might have been much worse. Imagine that the bright flash accompanied by a damaging shock wave had occurred over Delhi, India or Islamabad, Pakistan? Neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors we do that can determine the difference between a natural NEO impact and a nuclear detonation. The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-trigger militaries there could have been the spark that would have ignited the nuclear horror we’d avoided for over a half-century. This situation alone should be sufficient to get the world to take notice of the threat of asteroid impact- Gen. Worden, quoted in SpaceRef.com.
How are scientists studying these asteroids? Scientists all over the globe are keeping close watch for Near Earth Asteroids with ground based telescopes and space probes. In fact, the Canadian Space Agency just launched a new satellite early last week designed to track asteroids and other Near Earth Objects: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/satellites/neossat/default.asp
Not to be outdone, NASA is also developing the NEAR program, and Russia has the Planetary Defense League. Plans are also underway for a new system of telescopes designed to give everyone on Earth a week’s head’s up for an imminent asteroid impact called the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) to be ready in 2015.
Why didn’t scientists predict the Russian meteor? Simply put, the meteor, (which has been described by NASA as a “little asteroid”), was too small for the space agencies to detect.
Could an asteroid destroy the Earth? To be honest- yes. Although the planet Jupiter, with its massive size helps considerably in deflecting asteroids, an asteroid could impact the Earth at any moment. If the asteroid is of sufficient size, its impact could send dust into the atmosphere, blotting out the Sun. This would effectively kill all life on Earth. We know this is true because it’s exactly what killed the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. This is why studying asteroids is so important.
How to prepare for an asteroid apocalypse– Discovery Magazine.com has provided a list of 10 ways to stop an asteroid for fun, which I have linked to here. My personal favorite is the plan to paint the asteroid with light-deflecting paint, to hopefully use solar radiation to push it away.
Well, hope that satisfies your craving for outer-space knowledge. As you know, although asteroids and meteors are fairly common, they only rarely hit the Earth. With any luck, our planet will be safe from a catastrophe for a long, long time.
February 28th is the last day of the month, which means that this is not a Leap Year. As you probably know, every four years we add an extra day onto February assuming that we didn’t do so in the last 300 years. Since this is a somewhat confusing and imprecise system, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining it here.
The reason we don’t have a precise calendar with a nice round 365 day year is because calendars are based around a rather imprecise clock- The Earth. Because of the Earth’s dizzying running pace of 19 miles per second around the Sun, it actually turns nearly four extra quarter turns on its axis, which adds up to one extra day, and that is why we add an extra day on February 29th. But here’s the catch- it’s not actually a complete day, which means that after a few centuries, the accumulated time we lose by adding a day means that we get off track with the Earth’s cycle around the Sun. This is why we skip a leap year every 400 years. The year 2000 was a leap year, but the year 2100 won’t be.
I found this nifty little algorithm to help you figure out whether or not the current year is a leap year:
If the year is divisible by 400 then
it is a leap_year
If the year is divisible by 100 then
If the year is divisible by 4 then it is a leap year.
In this video, you can see a fun look about the science and history behind this phenomenon, and how it relates to, -gasp- MY FAVORITE STAR- SIRIUS:
As you can see from the video, the human race has evolved a great deal of calendars over the years to precisely track the motions of the planet around the Sun: the Egyptian, Mayan, the Julian, and Gregorian. Even today, with our cesium laser powered atomic clocks, we still use this system as the basis for how the world tells time; as mammals we still respond to the cycle of our planet, its Sun, and its moon, and we depend on that to keep our lives in sync with the rhythm of the cosmos. Imperfect though it may be, it is what links us with the rest of creation.
So enjoy this non-leap year, and while you do, take a little time to think about how you are part of this great cosmic dance, and how our planet knows the steps even after 4.6 billion years.