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  • richardmitnick 10:06 am on September 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SPACE.com: “US Military’s Meteor Explosion Data Can Help Scientists Protect Earth” 

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    SPACE.com

    September 15, 2014
    Leonard David

    The U.S. Air Force and NASA have ironed out problems that prevented scientists from obtaining a steady stream of military tracking data on meteor explosions within Earth’s atmosphere.

    Ever since the meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, scientists have been hungry for data that can help them assess the threat of fireballs, meteors and near-Earth objects (NEOs).

    Meteor detonations within Earth’s atmosphere can be seen by U.S. military sensors on secretive spacecraft. Using this government data, in early 2013, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) launched a new website to share the details of meteor explosion events.

    But earlier this year, the site became stagnant, with no new updates. Due to budget cuts and personnel reductions, NASA’s military partner was no longer able to carry out the work.

    Repairing the meteor explosions pipeline

    However, documents are now in place to ensure that the site is updated with a constant stream of data on meteor explosions, which are also known as bolides. In January 2013, the Air Force Space Command’s Air, Space and Cyberspace Operations directorate formalized its work with NASA’s Science Mission directorate with a memorandum of agreement (MOA).

    bolide
    Artist’s view of 2013 fireball explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia — termed a “superbolide” event. Credit: Don Davis

    “The MOA was amended effective June 24, 2014, in order to ensure that the flow of bolide data to the scientific community is uninterrupted,” a representative for the U.S. Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), which oversees military space systems, told Space.com. “With added language to the formal MOA, SMC will provide bolide data on a consistent basis and alleviate any concerns of data flow getting cut off.”

    Furthermore, there is a separate SMC team at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado that’s responsible for the processing and dissemination of the data, the SMC representative said.

    Trove of data

    bos
    Data gleaned from hush-hush satellite sensors can be folded into other data sets to better model just how much the Earth is on the receiving end of incoming natural objects. Picture shows Sandia National Laboratories researcher Mark Boslough reviewing a supercomputer simulation of an asteroid fireball exploding in Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: Randy Montoya/Sandia

    One big reason why the military data on bolides is so important is that there is increasing evidence that Earth is on the receiving end of a sizable amount of natural asteroid/comet material, otherwise known as “spacefall.”

    By reviewing military-sensor data collected over the years, scientists hope to better understand spacefall rates. However, all of the data isn’t available just yet.

    “The plan is to release all appropriate data, although it will take some time for processing to occur,” the SMC representative told Space.com. “The Air Force has maintained a database of all detected events. The archived raw data requires very intricate and specific processing through a software program so that it can be useful to an external organization.”

    The data will give scientists a better idea of the population of very small asteroids that regularly encounter the Earth, and help researchers estimate how many larger objects may exist, said Lindley Johnson, NEO program executive within the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

    Peter Brown, director of the Center for Planetary Science and Exploration at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, called the partnership a “major step forward.”

    “Speaking from the science community perspective, I would say this partnership and agreement between Air Force Space Command and NASA is a major step forward in terms of being able to study and analyze small impactors,” Brown told Space.com.

    For example, the data from the JPL fireball website helps correlate U.S. government sensor observations of fireballs with infrasound detections by the International Monitoring System (IMS), a network overseen by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

    Independent check

    Researchers can calibrate the current global detection efficiency of the IMS, Brown said. This U.S. government sensor-infrasound comparison also provides an independent check on the fireball energies and flags unusual events, he said.

    “The timely release of this information on the JPL website now also permits rapid follow-up of interesting bolides to facilitate time-sensitive studies, such as meteorite or airborne dust recovery, for the first time,” Brown said.

    In addition, the data contain a “potential goldmine of information,” particularly regarding meteorite-producing fireballs and their pre-atmospheric orbits, as well as information that helps address the general question of meteorite-asteroid linkages, he said.

    Regular space rock reports

    But in order for the data to be useful, it must be distributed regularly, scientists say.

    “The [Air Force] responses sound positive,” said Clark Chapman, asteroid expert with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.”But the proof of any change in practices will come with actual, regular distribution of such information to interested scientists, hopefully very shortly after a detected event,” he told Space.com.

    Chapman said he and other specialists look forward to receiving timely and regular reports of bolide events via the Air Force/NASA relationship.

    To view the “Fireball and Bolide Reports” website, overseen by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, visit http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/fireballs/.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:35 pm on September 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SPACE.com: “Newfound Asteroid Will Give Earth Super-Close Shave on Sunday” 

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    SPACE.com

    September 04, 2014
    Miriam Kramer

    Earth is about to have a close encounter with a house-sized asteroid on Sunday (Sept. 7), when a space rock discovered just days ago will zoom by our planet at a range closer than some satellites. But have no fear, NASA says the asteroid won’t hit Earth.

    The asteroid 2014 RC will safely buzz Earth at 2:18 p.m. EDT (1818 GMT) on Sunday. At that time, the asteroid will pass over New Zealand and fly just inside the orbits of the geosynchronous communications and weather satellites orbiting Earth about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, according to a NASA statement. That’s about 10 times closer to the Earth than the moon.

    “Asteroid 2014 RC was initially discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakalā on Maui, Hawaii,” NASA officials said in a statement.

    Pann-STARSR1 Telescope
    Pann-STARRS1 interior
    Pann-Stars 1 Telescope

    clock
    Asteroid 2014 RC will fly past Earth on September 7, 2014, as shown in this graphic.
    Credit: P. Chodas (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    The asteroid will be very dim when it passes by Earth. Observers on the ground won’t be able to catch sight of it with the naked eye, but, weather permitting, intrepid amateur astronomers should be able to catch a glimpse of the fast-moving space rock through telescopes, according to NASA.

    You can also watch two webcasts featuring the asteroid flyby this weekend. The Slooh Community Observatory — an online organization that hosts live broadcast of celestial events — will begin their asteroid webcast on Sept. 6 at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 Sept. 7 GMT). The Virtual Telescope Project will also host a webcast featuring live images of the asteroid on Sept. 6 starting at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

    At its close approach, the 60-foot (20 meters) asteroid will fly about 25,000 miles (40,000 km) from the center of Earth. The average radius of the Earth (the distance from the center of the planet to its surface) is about 3,959 miles (6,371 km).

    The speedy asteroid isn’t a threat to satellites orbiting Earth, and the space rock could even give scientists a special opportunity to learn more about asteroids because it will be so close to the planet, according to NASA.

    orbit
    The orbit of asteroid 2014 RC around the sun is shown in this graphic.
    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA officials have also mapped out 2014 RC’s future orbits to see whether the near-Earth object might pose a threat to the planet in the future.

    “While 2014 RC will not impact Earth, its orbit will bring it back to our planet’s neighborhood in the future,” NASA officials said in the same statement. “The asteroid’s future motion will be closely monitored, but no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified.”

    Scientists have found more than 10,000 near-Earth objects in the solar system.

    See the full, with video, article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:10 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    FRom SPACE.com: “Roof-Crashing Meteorite Linked to Giant Impact that Made the Moon” 

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    SPACE.com

    August 19, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    A meteorite that crashed into a California house in 2012 can be traced back to the giant impact that formed Earth’s moon 4.5 billion years ago, a new study reveals.

    NASA’s Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance system captured photos of the meteorite’s fiery fall from space on Oct. 17, 2012, allowing researchers to determine that it likely fell in the city of Novato, just north of San Francisco. This supposition was confirmed after Novato residents Lisa Webber and Glenn Rivera followed up on an odd noise from their garage roof.

    meteroite
    A meteorite breaks apart over the San Francisco Bay Area on Oct. 17, 2012 in this image, which is horizontally mirrored to show the time series, which runs from left to right.
    Credit: Robert P. Moreno Jr., Jim Albers and Peter Jenniskens

    The meteorite Webber and Rivera found looked black, likely as a result of impact shocks that occurred 64 to 126 million years after the solar system formed, researchers found — around the time that a mysterious planet slammed into Earth, ejecting into space massive amounts of material that coalesced into the moon.

    “Our investigation has revealed a long history that dates to when the moon formed from the Earth after a giant impact,” study leader Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute who works at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, said in a statement.

    “We now suspect that the moon-forming impact may have scattered debris all over the inner solar system and hit the parent body of the Novato meteorite,” added co-author Qing-zhu Yin of the University of California, Davis.

    The study team further determined that the meteorite’s parent body broke up again during another collision about 470 million years ago, unleashing a chain of debris in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    The scientists traced the Novato meteorite to the Gefion asteroid family within the belt based on its age and its trajectory toward Earth. Novato’s parent rock was ejected from the asteroid belt about nine million years ago, but the story doesn’t end there.

    The meteorite’s orbit periodically brought it back to the asteroid belt. Based on the rock’s thermoluminesence — light re-emitted from stored radiation exposure when the material is heated up — scientists believe the meteorite’s parent asteroid experienced yet another crash 100,000 years ago.

    The resulting fragment that made it to Earth’s atmosphere was about 14 inches (35 centimeters) across and had a mass of about 176 pounds (80 kilograms), researchers said. Despite its violent path to the ground, some organic compounds did survive — specifically, some common hydrocarbon compounds. Scientists also found nonprotein amino acids that are rare on our own planet.

    The new study was published this month in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 3:20 pm on August 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SPACE.com: “Potentially Dangerous Asteroid Is Actually a Pile of Rubble” 

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    SPACE.com

    August 13, 2014
    Charles Q. Choi

    An asteroid on NASA’s list of potential impact threats to the Earth is actually a pile of loosely connected rubble held together by forces weaker than the weight of a penny, scientists say.

    The discovery could be vital if humanity ever has to destroy a giant space rock before it hits Earth, researchers added.

    Astronomers investigated near-Earth asteroid 1950 DA, which is about four-fifths of a mile wide (1.3 kilometers). This asteroid currently has one of the greatest chances of colliding with Earth of any known asteroid, with about a 1 in 4,000 chance of impacting the Earth in the year 2880.

    1950DA
    This image is one of several radar views of the asteroid 1950 DA as observed on March 4, 2001 by astronomers using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. A new study of asteroid 1950 DA released Aug. 13, 2014 finds that the space rock is actually a rubble pile in space. Credit: S. Ostro (NASA/JPL)

    A study in 2003 suggested that if asteroid 1950 DA smashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 360 miles (580 km) from the United States, the resulting blast could be equal to a 60,000-megaton explosion, or about 3.75 million times stronger than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, causing tsunami waves at least 200 feet high (60 meters) to crash against the East Coast.

    Unexpectedly, the scientists found 1950 DA is a porous rubble pile, about half of which is empty space. They also discovered that this loose collection of rocks is spinning faster than the forces of gravity or friction would allow it to remain in one piece, which suggests mysterious forces are helping this clump of debris to stick together.

    “I was expecting to find a high-density metallic asteroid, as such an asteroid wouldn’t require cohesive forces to hold itself together under its fast rotation,” lead study author Ben Rozitis, an astronomer at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told Space.com. “Instead we found the opposite!”

    A rock pile in space

    In the past decade, scientists have confirmed that many asteroids are not solid rocks, but are instead cosmic rubble piles made up of jumbles of rocks. Researchers typically suggest that these asteroids stay together due to gravity pulling them into clusters and friction locking them in place.

    Asteroid 1950 DA is covered with sandy particles known as regolith. At the same time, the asteroid spins quickly, completing one revolution every 2.12 hours. The centripetal force the asteroid experiences — the same force that causes the arms of a spinning ice skater to drift outward — should fling its regolith away.

    “We knew from previous work that this asteroid was rotating faster than it should be, and we wanted to know why,” Rozitis said.

    Based on the asteroid’s size, density and shape, in order for centripetal force to not break 1950 DA apart, the researchers estimate the asteroid needs at least 64 pascals of pressure to hold together, similar to the amount of pressure a penny exerts on the palm of a person’s hand. Scientists have previously suggested that cohesive forces other than gravity and friction can help keep rubble-pile asteroids from spinning apart — for instance, van der Waals forces are weak, short-range electric forces that can attract particles together.

    “We found a low-density rubble pile that traditionally would be unable to hold itself together unless cohesive forces were present,” Rozitis said. “It’s exciting because we’ve provided the first evidence that cohesive forces are important for small asteroids, which had only been predicted up until now.”

    These findings could shed light on how disks of gas and dust around newborn stars coalesce into asteroids, comets, rings, moons and planets, researchers say. “Cohesive forces will be present in every asteroid, and not just the fast-spinning ones,” Rozitis said. “It is just easier to observe the effects of cohesive forces in the fast-spinning ones.”

    steroid mining and defense concerns

    In addition, the complexity of the forces holding rubble piles together might complicate government and private missions to visit and mine asteroids, they added.

    “Mining missions intend to visit small asteroids about 10 meters (33 feet) or less in size, as it is thought that they are predominantly solid bodies,” Rozitis said. “However, cohesive forces enable such small asteroids to be rubble piles instead. A small rubble-pile asteroid would be harder to interact with and collect, as it can easily deform or break up when subject to external forces.”

    This work could also inform future strategies to prevent asteroids from impacting Earth.

    “The best way to mitigate an impacting asteroid is to nudge it slightly several years before impact so that it changes course,” Rozitis said. “This can be done by hitting the asteroid with a fast and heavy spacecraft. However, by hitting a fast rotating asteroid held together by cohesive forces, you risk breaking it up into several smaller, hazardous asteroids. Therefore, with such an asteroid, you want to avoid interacting with it directly to prevent it breaking up. An alternative is to use a ‘gravity tractor,’ or a heavy spacecraft placed near the asteroid, which uses the force of gravity to pull the asteroid off course.”

    Future research can investigate fast-spinning asteroids of different compositions, “as the cohesive forces involved might vary with asteroid composition,” Rozitis said.

    Rozitis and his colleagues Eric MacLennan and Joshua Emery detailed their research in the Aug. 14 edition of the journal Nature

    In addition, the complexity of the forces holding rubble piles together might complicate government and private missions to visit and mine asteroids, they added.

    “Mining missions intend to visit small asteroids about 10 meters (33 feet) or less in size, as it is thought that they are predominantly solid bodies,” Rozitis said. “However, cohesive forces enable such small asteroids to be rubble piles instead. A small rubble-pile asteroid would be harder to interact with and collect, as it can easily deform or break up when subject to external forces.”

    This work could also inform future strategies to prevent asteroids from impacting Earth.

    “The best way to mitigate an impacting asteroid is to nudge it slightly several years before impact so that it changes course,” Rozitis said. “This can be done by hitting the asteroid with a fast and heavy spacecraft. However, by hitting a fast rotating asteroid held together by cohesive forces, you risk breaking it up into several smaller, hazardous asteroids. Therefore, with such an asteroid, you want to avoid interacting with it directly to prevent it breaking up. An alternative is to use a ‘gravity tractor,’ or a heavy spacecraft placed near the asteroid, which uses the force of gravity to pull the asteroid off course.”

    Future research can investigate fast-spinning asteroids of different compositions, “as the cohesive forces involved might vary with asteroid composition,” Rozitis said.

    Rozitis and his colleagues Eric MacLennan and Joshua Emery detailed their research in the Aug. 14 edition of the journal Nature.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:15 pm on June 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/Spitzer: “Spitzer Spies an Odd, Tiny Asteroid” 



    Spitzer

    06.19.14
    No Writer Credit

    Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have measured the size of an asteroid candidate for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), a proposed spacecraft concept to capture either a small asteroid, or a boulder from an asteroid. The near-Earth asteroid, called 2011 MD, was found to be roughly 20 feet (6 meters) in size, and its structure appears to contain a lot of empty space, perhaps resembling a pile of rubble. Spitzer’s infrared vision was key to sizing up the asteroid.

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    2011 MD

    NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission
    NASA ARM spacecraft

    “From its perch up in space, Spitzer can use its heat-sensitive infrared vision to spy asteroids and get better estimates of their sizes,” said Michael Mommert of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, lead author of a new study appearing today, June 19, in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. David Trilling, also of Northern Arizona University, leads the team of astronomers.

    The Spitzer results confirm that asteroid 2011 MD has characteristics suitable for the ARM proposal, elevating it to the “valid candidate” level. Valid candidates are those asteroids with the right size, mass and rotation rate to be feasibly captured by the robotic spacecraft. Two other valid candidates have been identified so far. (The proposal to capture a boulder from an asteroid involves a different set of criteria.) NASA continues to search for and find new potential candidates using its ground-based asteroid survey programs.

    Prior to the Spitzer study, the size of 2011 MD was only very roughly known. It had been observed in visible light, but an asteroid’s size cannot be determined solely from visible-light measurements. In visible light alone, for example, a white snowball in space could look just as bright as a dark mountain of cosmic rock. The objects may differ in size but reflect the same amount of sunlight, appearing equally bright.

    Infrared light, on the other hand, is a better indicator of an object’s true size. This is because an object’s infrared glow depends largely on its temperature, not its reflectivity.

    From the new Spitzer data, the team was able to measure the size of asteroid 2011 MD. When the infrared and visible-light observations were combined, the asteroid’s density and mass could also be measured. The density of 2011 MD is remarkably low — about the same as water, which agrees with a separate analysis of observations taken in 2011. Since rock is about three times more dense than water, this implies that about two-thirds of the asteroid must be empty space.

    What does an asteroid with that much empty space look like? The team doesn’t know, but proposes two possible solutions: it might be a collection of loosely bound rocks, like a fleet of flying boulders, or a solid rock with surrounding fine debris.

    A similar “rubble-pile” type of composition was also found for asteroid 2009 BD, another valid candidate for ARM. Trilling and colleagues used Spitzer to help pin down the size of that asteroid to roughly 10 to 13 feet (3 or 4 meters).

    In both studies, Spitzer stared at the asteroids for about 20 hours. Such long observations are scheduled more often in Spitzer’s “warm” mission, a phase that began in 2009 when the spacecraft ran out of coolant, as planned. Spitzer, which still has two infrared channels that operate without coolant, now specializes in longer, targeted observing campaigns.

    “With Spitzer, we have been able to get some of the first measurements of the sizes and compositions of tiny asteroids,” said Trilling. “So far, we’ve looked at two asteroids and found both of them to be really weird — not at all like the one solid rock that we expected. We’re scratching our heads.”

    The team says the small asteroids probably formed as a result of collisions between larger asteroids, but they do not understand how their unusual structures could have come about. They plan to use Spitzer in the future to study more of the tiny asteroids, both as possible targets for asteroid space missions, and for a better understanding of the many asteroid denizens making up our solar system.

    Other authors of the Spitzer paper are: D. Farnocchia, P. Chodas and S. R. Chesley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; J. L. Hora, G. G. Fazio and H.A. Smith of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts; M. Mueller of the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Netherlands; and A. W. Harris of the DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Germany.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    Through its Asteroid Initiative, NASA is developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon with a robotic spacecraft. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft, launched by a Space Launch System rocket, will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. Experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit through this Asteroid Redirect Mission will help NASA test new systems and capabilities needed to support future human missions to Mars. The Initiative also includes an Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is seeking the best ideas to find all asteroid threats to human populations and accelerate the work NASA already is doing for planetary defense.

    JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 8:20 am on June 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “Life on the Billionth Rock from the Sun” 


    SETI Institute

    Undated
    Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, Director, Center for SETI Research

    I’ve always regarded asteroids as somewhat like dinosaurs: mildly interesting and faintly dangerous. But I’m now thinking that they might be a profitable real estate investment.

    ast

    As any astronomer (including this one) will tell you, asteroids hold the answer to a perennial puzzle about the formation of planets. In particular, how do specks of senseless debris organize themselves into balls of rock and vapor – a few of which could be homes for life?

    That’s why we should study asteroids, from the science point of view. But a recent talk by Marc Rayman, chief engineer for NASA’s Dawn mission, impressed me with the many other reasons to be interested in these primordial rocks.

    An obvious one is well known: they’re dangerous. Asteroids are nature’s kamikazes, cruising the solar system at tens of thousands of miles per hour. They could take out a city or worse. Last year, a house-sized rock lit up the skies above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, providing a nice example of why this menace is more than hysterical paranoia.

    It’s a threat to take seriously, and the first step in giving humanity a chance against these peripatetic impactors is to find as many as we can. Reconnaissance is first, defense is second.

    Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart and his B612 Foundation are working on the problem. They hope to boost the inventory of known Earth-threatening asteroids from ten thousand to about a million. That would give us a handle on many of the smaller rocks that – while not on the scale of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs – could still toast Cincinnati. Know your enemy.

    But there’s another aspect of asteroids that warrants our attention: They could be an insurance policy for our long-term survival.

    That bizarre notion ultimately derives from the fact that the Earth is a ball. Somewhere in your mathematical upbringing, you may have learned that a sphere has the minimum surface area for its volume. Put another way, by shaping stuff into a ball you get the least amount of acreage per cubic foot of material. The Earth would have more surface area if it were, for example, a cube – although this would present a driving hazard at the edges.

    So if exploiting natural resources is what your society does, then living on a ball is a bummer. Most of the good stuff sits unreachable and largely useless, hunkered down in the planet’s unseen core.

    Dicing up your world could help. Imagine cutting our planet in two, and then rolling up each half. Two balls instead of one, and you’d gain 26 percent in surface area, allowing more room for shopping malls. But why stop there? Cut each of those balls in half, and you gain another 26 percent. Et cetera and ad infinitum.

    It’s conceivable that subdividing the Earth in this way won’t get approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, but no matter. Nature has done this for you – producing millions of small balls (and an assortment of other shapes) called asteroids. They’re the left-over building blocks of a failed planet just outside the orbit of Mars. This world never got built, thanks to endless interference by Jupiter’s gravitational field.

    These rocks are a resource. The fact that they’re in small chunks makes mining them as appealing as cat videos. And at least two companies are considering doing just that. The consequences could be mind-boggling. According to John Lewis, chief scientist for Deep Space Industries, if humanity can improve its recycling efforts, then ores smelted out of just the nearest asteroids will supply the needs of 80 billion of us until that distant day on which the Sun dies.

    That sure beats the slow and inevitable impoverishment that will be our fate if we confine mining to our own back yards (or preferably someone else’s back yard). The asteroids aren’t so much a renewable resource as an endless one.

    But wait; there’s more.

    Some of the small bodies in the solar system could be our future homes. No, not so much the asteroids–to begin with, they’re going to have the look and feel of an open pit mining operation, as Lewis notes. Maybe that’s not the best neighborhood for raising your great-grandkids. And in addition to their distasteful Virginia City ambience, they’re also lacking in the light elements that are necessary for food and life in general. These rocks are a hard place.

    But in the dim outer pickets of the solar system – beyond Neptune, and up to tens of thousands of times farther than the asteroid belt – is the bulk of the solar system’s colossal collection of ice balls. Depending on how far out you go, these are referred to either as Kuiper belt objects, or comets of the Oort cloud.

    They have water and the light elements that are missing from the asteroids. And thanks to being small, I figure they collectively have a billion times as much acreage as Earth.

    True, there’s not much sunlight where the comets are, but physicist Freeman Dyson has suggested that big, easily built mirrors could shine a little light on cometary colonies.

    It may all sound far out and fantastic. But if you step back from your day-to-day headaches for a moment, and ponder our species’ long-term prospects, well, small is beautiful.

    So while many consider rocks in the sky to be like sharks, cruising the solar system and occasionally wreaking havoc and destruction, I see them as both a mother lode and a future home. Anyone want to float me a loan?

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:20 am on April 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “Researchers Discover Origin of Soil on Small Asteroids” 

    NASA

    NASA

    An international team of researchers from academic and government institutions, including NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has determined the likely origin for the loose material that covers small asteroids. Researchers found that rock weathering and fragmentation due to temperature changes caused by sunlight is the main process by which debris is generated on small asteroids. The findings will be published in the April 10, 2014 issue of Nature.

    Space missions and ground-based observations have shown that small asteroids, measuring about half a mile (or one kilometer) wide, are covered by a loose layer of dust and debris called regolith. Traditionally, scientists theorized the regolith on asteroids was the result of micrometeoroid impacts that pulverized large boulders or bedrock creating dust that fell back onto the asteroid’s surface. This is the same way craters and regolith form on the moon. However, laboratory experiments and impact models now show that, unlike the moon, these small asteroids do not have enough gravity to keep the debris from escaping into space. Therefore, impact debris cannot be the main source of regolith on small asteroids.

    “This insight will help us to interpret astronomical observations of asteroid surfaces in terms of the underlying bedrock, not contaminated by in-falling debris from elsewhere,” said David Morrison, SSERVI chief scientist at Ames. “In other words, we should expect to see the same materials in the regolith that make up the larger boulders and rocks of an asteroid.”

    While performing experiments in the laboratory, researchers from Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) used an X-ray scanner to measure the growth of cracks – or thermal fatigue – in different types of meteorites before and after a series of temperature cycles.

    “We find that rocks larger than a few centimeters break up faster by thermal fragmentation induced by extreme temperature variations between day and night, than by micrometeoroid impacts,” said Marco Delbo from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, and the paper’s lead author.

    The production of fresh regolith originating from thermal fatigue fragmentation may be an important process for rejuvenating the surface of near-Earth asteroids, as well as for explaining the observed shortage of fragile carbonaceous-type near-Earth asteroids that pass close to the sun.

    “The sun acts like an oven; it heats up space rocks producing internal stresses that, over time, break them apart,” said Simone Marchi SSERVI researcher at the Southwest Research Institute and co-author of the paper.

    This model predicts that asteroids on the order of several yards in size, such as those that may be targets of future sample return missions, could be covered by coarse regolith and pebbles, and therefore any potential capture mechanism must be able to cope with loose collections of coarse rocks.

    Managed from Ames, SSERVI is a virtual institute that brings researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting. The virtual institute model enables cross-team and interdisciplinary research that bridges science and exploration. SSERVI is jointly funded by the Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    See the full article here.

    What Does NASA Do?

    NASA’s vision: To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.

    To do that, thousands of people have been working around the world — and off of it — for more than 50 years, trying to answer some basic questions. What’s out there in space? How do we get there? What will we find? What can we learn there, or learn just by trying to get there, that will make life better here on Earth?


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  • richardmitnick 2:13 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , ,   

    From ESO: “First Ring System Around Asteroid” 


    European Southern Observatory

    Chariklo found to have two rings

    chaiko

    char
    Date 13 June 2007 (first version); 22 April 2010 (last version)
    Author Interchange88 Later version(s) were uploaded by QuantumShadow at en.wikipedia

    26 March 2014
    Contacts

    Felipe Braga-Ribas
    Observatório Nacional/MCTI
    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Tel: +33 (0) 785944776 (until 28.3) and +55 (21) 3504-9252
    Cell: +55 (21) 983803879 (after 28.3)
    Email: ribas@on.br

    Bruno Sicardy
    LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS
    Paris, France
    Tel: +33 (0) 1 45 07 71 15
    Cell: +33 (0) 6 19 41 26 15
    Email: bruno.sicardy@obspm.fr

    José Luis Ortiz
    Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC
    Granada, Spain
    Tel: +34 958 121 311
    Email: ortiz@iaa.es

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Observations at many sites in South America, including ESO’s La Silla Observatory, have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object by far found to have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris. The new results are published online in the journal Nature on 26 March 2014.

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    The rings of Saturn are one of the most spectacular sights in the sky, and less prominent rings have also been found around the other giant planets. Despite many careful searches, no rings had been found around smaller objects orbiting the Sun in the Solar System. Now observations of the distant minor planet (10199) Chariklo as it passed in front of a star have shown that this object too is surrounded by two fine rings.

    “We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!” says Felipe Braga-Ribas (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

    Chariklo is the largest member of a class known as the Centaurs and it orbits between Saturn and Uranus in the outer Solar System. Predictions had shown that it would pass in front of the star UCAC4 248-108672 on 3 June 2013, as seen from South America. Astronomers using telescopes at seven different locations, including the 1.54-metre Danish and TRAPPIST telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, were able to watch the star apparently vanish for a few seconds as its light was blocked by Chariklo — an occultation.

    1.4
    1.4-meter Danish telescope

    trap
    TRAPPIST telescope

    But they found much more than they were expecting. A few seconds before, and again a few seconds after the main occultation there were two further very short dips in the star’s apparent brightness. Something around Chariklo was blocking the light! By comparing what was seen from different sites the team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of the newly discovered rings.

    The team found that the ring system consists of two sharply confined rings only seven and three kilometres wide, separated by a clear gap of nine kilometres — around a small 250-kilometre diameter object orbiting beyond Saturn.

    “For me, it was quite amazing to realise that we were able not only to detect a ring system, but also pinpoint that it consists of two clearly distinct rings,” adds Uffe Gråe Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), one of the team. “I try to imagine how it would be to stand on the surface of this icy object — small enough that a fast sports car could reach escape velocity and drive off into space — and stare up at a 20-kilometre wide ring system 1000 times closer than the Moon.”

    Although many questions remain unanswered, astronomers think that this sort of ring is likely to be formed from debris left over after a collision. It must be confined into the two narrow rings by the presence of small putative satellites.

    “So, as well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” adds Felipe Braga Ribas.

    The rings may prove to be a phenomenon that might in turn later lead to the formation of a small moon. Such a sequence of events, on a much larger scale, may explain the birth of our own Moon in the early days of the Solar System, as well as the origin of many other satellites around planets and asteroids.

    The leaders of this project are provisionally calling the rings by the nicknames Oiapoque and Chuí, two rivers near the northern and southern extremes of Brazil.
    Here is a quick video

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUoNtEKaAsk

    This research was presented in a paper entitled A ring system detected around the Centaur (10199) Chariklo, by F. Braga-Ribas et al., to appear online in the journal Nature on 26 March 2014.

    The team is composed of F. Braga-Ribas (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), B. Sicardy (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, Paris, France [LESIA]), J. L. Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Granada, Spain), C. Snodgrass (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany), F. Roques (LESIA), R. Vieira- Martins (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Observatório do Valongo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Observatoire de Paris, France), J. I. B. Camargo (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), M. Assafin (Observatório do Valongo/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), R. Duffard (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Granada, Spain), E. Jehin (Institut d’Astrophysique de l’Université de Liege, Liege, Belgium), J. Pollock (Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA), R. Leiva (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile), M. Emilio (Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, Ponta Grossa, Brazil), D. I. Machado (Polo Astronomico Casimiro Montenegro Filho/FPTI-BR, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; Universidade Estadual do Oeste do Paraná (Unioeste), Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil), C. Colazo (Ministerio de Educación de la Provincia de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina; Observatorio Astronómico, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina), E. Lellouch (LESIA), J. Skottfelt (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; Centre for Star and Planet Formation, Geological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark), M. Gillon (Institut d’Astrophysique de l’Université de Liege, Liege, Belgium), N. Ligier (LESIA), L. Maquet (LESIA), G. Benedetti-Rossi (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), A. Ramos Gomes Jr (Observatório do Valongo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), P. Kervella (LESIA), H. Monteiro (Instituto de Física e Química, Itajubá, Brazil), R. Sfair (UNESP -– Univ Estadual Paulista, Guaratinguetá, Brazil), M. El Moutamid (LESIA; Observatoire de Paris, Paris, France), G. Tancredi (Observatorio Astronomico Los Molinos, DICYT, MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay; Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay), J. Spagnotto (Observatorio El Catalejo, Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina), A. Maury (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile), N. Morales (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Granada, Spain), R. Gil-Hutton (Complejo Astronomico El Leoncito (CASLEO) and San Juan National University, San Juan, Argentina), S. Roland (Observatorio Astronomico Los Molinos, DICYT, MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay), A. Ceretta (Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay; Observatorio del IPA, Ensenanza Secundaria, Uruguay), S.-h. Gu (National Astronomical Observatories/Yunnan Observatory; Key Laboratory for the Structure and Evolution of Celestial Objects, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China), X.-b. Wang (National Astronomical Observatories/Yunnan Observatory; Key Laboratory for the Structure and Evolution of Celestial Objects, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China), K. Harpsøe (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; Centre for Star and Planet Formation, Geological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark), M. Rabus (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile; Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany), J. Manfroid (Institut d’Astrophysique de l’Université de Liege, Liege, Belgium), C. Opitom (Institut d’Astrophysique de l’Université de Liege, Liege, Belgium), L. Vanzi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile), L. Mehret (Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, Ponta Grossa, Brazil), L. Lorenzini (Polo Astronomico Casimiro Montenegro Filho/FPTI-BR, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil), E. M. Schneiter (Observatorio Astronómico, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina; Instituto de Astronomía Teórica y Experimental IATE–CONICET, Córdoba, Argentina; Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina), R. Melia (Observatorio Astronómico, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina), J. Lecacheux (LESIA), F. Colas (Observatoire de Paris, Paris, France), F. Vachier (Observatoire de Paris, Paris, France), T. Widemann (LESIA), L. Almenares (Observatorio Astronomico Los Molinos, DICYT, MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay; Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay), R. G. Sandness (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile), F. Char (Universidad de Antofagasta, Antofagasta, Chile), V. Perez (Observatorio Astronomico Los Molinos, DICYT, MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay; Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay), P. Lemos (Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay), N. Martinez (Observatorio Astronomico Los Molinos, DICYT, MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay; Dpto. Astronomia, Facultad Ciencias, Uruguay), U. G. Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; Centre for Star and Planet Formation, Geological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark), M. Dominik (University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom) F. Roig (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), D. E. Reichart (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, North Carolina [UNC]), A. P. LaCluyze (UNC), J. B. Haislip (UNC), K. M. Ivarsen (UNC), J. P. Moore (UNC), N. R. Frank (UNC) and D. G. Lambas (Observatorio Astronómico, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina; Instituto de Astronomía Teórica y Experimental IATE–CONICET, Córdoba, Argentina).

    See the full article, with notes, here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:33 pm on February 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , Near Earth Objects (NEOS)   

    From ESO: “ESA/ESO Collaboration Successfully Tracks Its First Potentially Threatening Near-Earth Object” 


    European Southern Observatory

    See the full article here.

    21 January 2014 [Don't know how I missed this biggie]

    The first Near-Earth Object (NEO) recovery campaign has been successfully carried out by a new collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and ESO. Up to now the asteroid 2009 FD had been ranked among the top five objects in a list of the most dangerous objects, but new observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have now shown that it is far less likely to hit the Earth than had been feared. [So, maybe I did not miss it, maybe I just skipped it.]

    neo

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    NEOs are asteroids or comets with orbits around the Sun that come very close to the Earth’s orbit. More than 600 000 asteroids are known in the Solar System, and more than 10 000 of them are NEOs. Their sizes range from metres to tens of kilometres. Some NEOs could hit our planet and, depending on their size, produce considerable damage. While the chance of a large object hitting the Earth is very small, it could produce a great deal of destruction and loss of life.

    A new collaboration between ESA and ESO takes place within a global effort by the United Nations and its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). In the wake of the Chelyabinsk event over Russia last February, there is renewed interest in global action on the NEO threat. The UNCOPUOS Action Team, including ESO, put forward recommendations for an international response to the NEO impact threat to form an International Asteroid Warning Network, which the UN General Assembly approved in October 2013.

    ESO’s unique capabilities to observe very faint (but still threatening) NEOs complement ESA’s efforts to discover and track these objects. New observations of asteroid 2009 FD performed with ESO’s 8.2-metre Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal in Chile resulted in good quality position measurements. These data have now been accepted by the IAU Minor Planet Center, the official organisation in charge of collecting observational data for minor planets. Both the European NEODyS system and the JPL-based Sentry system performed orbit determination and impact monitoring using these new VLT observations.

    The NEO Segment of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) aims to coordinate and combine information from different sources, and analyse them to predict possible impact with the Earth, and assess danger, and analyse possible mitigations, including the deflection of a menacing asteroid.

    The successful observations of 2009 FD show that having access to a large telescope such as the VLT is a great opportunity for the NEO Coordination Centre, since it gives a chance to obtain accurate positional observations of very faint objects [2], which is only possible using the largest telescopes.

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  • richardmitnick 3:48 pm on January 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , ,   

    From ESA: “Getting ready for asteroids” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    31 January 2014
    No Writer Credit

    With a mandate from the UN, ESA and other space agencies from around the world are about to establish a high-level group to help coordinate global response should a threatening asteroid ever be found heading towards Earth.

    For the first time, national space agencies from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa will establish an expert group aimed at getting the world’s space-faring nations on the ‘same page’ when it comes to reacting to asteroid threats.

    Its task is to coordinate expertise and capabilities for missions aimed at countering asteroids that might one day strike Earth.

    Of the more than 600 000 known asteroids in our Solar System, more than 10 000 are classified as near-Earth objects, or NEOs, because their orbits bring them relatively close to our path.

    ast
    Asteroid trace over Chelyabinsk

    Dramatic proof that any of these can strike Earth came on 15 February 2013, when an unknown object thought to be 17–20 m in diameter arrived at 66 000 km/h and exploded high above Chelyabinsk, Russia, with 20–30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

    The resulting shock wave caused widespread damage and injuries, making it the largest known natural object to have entered the atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event, which destroyed a remote forest area of Siberia.
    Coordinating global efforts

    The Space Mission Planning and Advisory Group (SMPAG – pronounced ‘same page’) was established by Action Team 14, a technical forum with a mandate from the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) to develop a strategy on how to react on a possible asteroid impact threat.

    It will coordinate the technological knowhow of agencies to recommend specific efforts related to asteroid threats, including basic research and development, impact mitigation measures and deflection missions.

    cr
    Control room of ESA’s observatory on Tenerife

    “SMPAG will also develop and refine a set of reference missions that could be individually or cooperatively flown to intercept an asteroid,” says Detlef Koschny, Head of the NEO Segment in ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office.

    “These include precursor missions or test and evaluation missions, which we need to fly to prove technology before a real threat arises.”

    The first-ever meeting will be hosted by ESA on 6–7 February at its operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

    Thirty-plus representatives from 13 agencies, seven government ministries and the UN will share knowledge and the latest research related to impact case studies, and will develop a work plan for the next two years.

    “As a first step, the group will study each agency’s organisational and operational capabilities, specific technologies and scientific abilities, and propose options that make best use of who can do what, the best,” says Detlef.

    det
    ESA Space Situational Awareness: detecting space hazards

    The group will work in close cooperation with another Action Team 14-mandated committee: the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).

    Each will study and recommend specific actions to deal with different aspects of the asteroid threat – IAWN to coordinate the global search for threatening NEOs, understand their effects in case of a collision, and interface with disaster preparation and civil response agencies; and SMPAG for the technology and space mission aspects.
    Current threats, future scenarios

    The critical first step is to spot potential threats in the sky with as much advance warning as possible.

    “ESA is already doing a great deal to support the global effort to address the asteroid threat,” says Nicolas Bobrinsky, ESA’s SSA Programme Manager.

    The Agency is now developing the capability to integrate Europe’s current NEO tracking assets – as well as new technology such as automated, wide-field-of-view telescopes – into a coordinated and more efficient NEO system that can provide nightly sky surveys and advanced warnings.

    Among other recent developments, starting in late 2013, ESA will make use of observing time at the European Southern Observatory in Chile to conduct quick and accurate confirmations of the most hazardous NEOs.

    ESO 50 Large

    See the full article here.

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.


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