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  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on April 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Asteroids,   

    From New Scientist: “Falling meteor may have changed the course of Christianity” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    22 April 2015
    Jacob Aron

    The early evangelist Paul became a Christian because of a dazzling light on the road to Damascus, but one astronomer thinks it was an exploding meteor.

    NEARLY two thousand years ago, a man named Saul had an experience that changed his life, and possibly yours as well. According to Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the biblical New Testament, Saul was on the road to Damascus, Syria, when he saw a bright light in the sky, was blinded and heard the voice of Jesus. Changing his name to Paul, he became a major figure in the spread of Christianity.

    William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, has a different explanation for what happened to Paul. He says the biblical descriptions of Paul’s experience closely match accounts of the fireball meteor seen above Chelyabinsk, in 2013.

    Hartmann has detailed his argument in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science (doi.org/3vn). He analyses three accounts of Paul’s journey, thought to have taken place around AD 35. The first is a third-person description of the event, thought to be the work of one of Jesus’s disciples, Luke. The other two quote what Paul is said to have subsequently told others.

    “Everything they are describing in those three accounts in the book of Acts are exactly the sequence you see with a fireball,” Hartmann says. “If that first-century document had been anything other than part of the Bible, that would have been a straightforward story.”

    But the Bible is not just any ancient text. Paul’s Damascene conversion and subsequent missionary journeys around the Mediterranean helped build Christianity into the religion it is today. If his conversion was indeed as Hartmann explains it, then a random space rock has played a major role in determining the course of history (see “Christianity minus Paul” [below]).

    That’s not as strange as it sounds. A large asteroid impact helped kill off the dinosaurs, paving the way for mammals to dominate the Earth. So why couldn’t a meteor influence the evolution of our beliefs?

    “It’s well recorded that extraterrestrial impacts have helped to shape the evolution of life on this planet,” says Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “If it was a Chelyabinsk fireball that was responsible for Paul’s conversion, then obviously that had a great impact on the growth of Christianity.”

    Hartmann’s argument is possible now because of the quality of observations of the Chelyabinsk incident. The 2013 meteor is the most well-documented example of larger impacts that occur perhaps only once in 100 years. Before 2013, the 1908 blast in TunguskaMovie Camera, also in Russia, was the best example, but it left just a scattering of seismic data, millions of flattened trees and some eyewitness accounts. With Chelyabinsk, there is a clear scientific argument to be made, says Hartmann. “We have observational data that match what we see in this first-century account.”

    1
    Shaping history’s arc: the Chelyabinsk meteor (Image: RIA NovostiI/SPL)

    The most obvious similarity is the bright light in the sky, “brighter than the sun, shining round me”, according to Paul. That’s in line with video from Chelyabinsk showing a light, estimated to be around three times as bright as the sun, that created quickly moving shadows as it streaked across the sky.

    After witnessing the light, Paul and his companions fell to the ground. Hartmann says they may have been knocked over when the meteor exploded in the sky and generated a shock wave. At Chelyabinsk, the shock wave destroyed thousands of windows and knocked people off their feet.

    Paul then heard the voice of Jesus asking why Paul, an anti-Christian zealot to begin with, was persecuting him. The three biblical accounts differ over whether his companions also heard this voice, or a meaningless noise. Chelyabinsk produced a thunderous, explosive sound.

    Paul was also blinded, with one account blaming the brightness of the light. A few days later, “something like scales fell from his eye and he regained his sight”. Our common idiom for suddenly understanding something stems from this description, but Hartmann says the phrase can be read literally. He suggests that Paul was suffering from photokeratitis, a temporary blindness caused by intense ultraviolet radiation.

    “It’s basically a bit of sunburn on the cornea of the eye. Once that begins to heal, it flakes off,” says Hartmann. “This can be a perfectly literal statement for someone in the first century who doesn’t really understand what’s happening.” The UV radiation at Chelyabinsk was strong enough to cause sunburn, skin peeling and temporary blindness.

    Raj Das-Bhaumik of Moorfields Eye Hospital in London says the condition is common among welders whose eyes are exposed to bright sparks, but the symptoms aren’t exactly as Hartmann is suggesting. “You wouldn’t expect bits of the eye to fall off; I’ve not come across that at all,” he says. It’s possible that the thin skin of the eyelids could burn and peel off, he says, but that is unlikely to happen in isolation. “If this were a meteorite, I’m sure you’d have other damage as well.”

    Mark Bailey of Armagh Observatory in the UK, who previously identified a Tunguska-like event in Brazil in the 1930s, says it’s worth analysing old texts for clues to ancient impacts – bearing in mind that accounts are shaped by what people knew at the time. “Sometimes that doesn’t make sense to us, but it does make sense if you can reinterpret it.” What does he think of Hartmann’s argument? “He does a very detailed analysis,” says Bailey.

    “I would label it as informed speculation – Bill Hartmann is an excellent author,” says Cooke. “But like so many other things in the ancient past there is no real concrete evidence, no smoking gun.” And with no other accounts from the time to draw on, there is little additional evidence to confirm or disprove the idea.

    A search for meteorites in and around Syria could prove fruitful – Chelyabinsk left small chunks all over the region – but even that would be inconclusive. “If a meteorite is discovered in modern Syria in the future, the first thing to test would be how long it’s been on the Earth and whether it could potentially be associated with such a recent fall,” says Bailey. But even with our best techniques, dating such a rock to the nearest hundred years would be difficult.

    Even so, Hartmann believes we need to think seriously about the implications of his idea. “My goal is not to discredit anything that anybody wants to believe in,” he says. “But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that’s something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.”

    ____________________________________________________________

    Christianity minus Paul

    IF A falling meteor did inspire Paul’s conversion to Christianity (see main story), that makes a random event hugely important in the history of humanity. What if Paul hadn’t seen the fireball?

    “Some scholars call Paul the second founder of Christianity,” says Justin Meggitt, a religious historian at the University of Cambridge. At the time, Christianity was a small offshoot of Judaism, but Paul helped preach a version of it that broke with Jewish law.

    Paul wasn’t the only first-century missionary, and without him Christianity would probably still have separated from Judaism and spread around the world, says Meggitt. But Paul’s teachings have endured through the ages, and their absence would be felt.

    “People’s interpretation of Paul is absolutely fundamental to some of the central figures of Christianity,” says Meggitt. For example, Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517, was heavily inspired by Paul’s letters.

    Specific predictions about how Christianity and world events would have unfolded without Paul’s influence are hard to make, says Meggitt, but “Christianity probably would be very different without him”.
    ____________________________________________________________

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:11 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , ,   

    From NASA: “NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Passes Critical Milestone” 

    NASA

    NASA

    March 31, 2015

    NASA Osiris -REx
    OSIRIS-REx

    NASA’s groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has passed a critical milestone in its path towards launch and is officially authorized to transition into its next phase.

    Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D) occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover the technical health, schedule and cost of the project. The milestone represents the official transition from the mission’s development stage to delivery of systems, testing and integration leading to launch. During this part of the mission’s life cycle, known as Phase D, the spacecraft bus, or the structure that will carry the science instruments, is completed, the instruments are integrated into the spacecraft and tested, and the spacecraft is shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the rocket.

    “This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”

    OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth. The spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. OSIRIS-REx carries five instruments that will remotely evaluate the surface of Bennu. The mission will help scientists investigate the composition of the very early solar system and the source of organic materials and water that made their way to Earth, and improve understanding of asteroids that could impact our planet.

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in late 2016. The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

    “The spacecraft structure has been integrated with the propellant tank and propulsion system and is ready to begin system integration in the Lockheed Martin highbay,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The payload suite of cameras and sensors is well into its environmental test phase and will be delivered later this summer/fall.”

    The key decision meeting was held at NASA Headquarters in Washington on March 30 and chaired by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

    On March 27, assembly, launch and test operations officially began at Lockheed Martin in Denver. These operations represent a critical stage of the program when the spacecraft begins to take form, culminating with its launch. Over the next several months, technicians will install the subsystems on the main spacecraft structure, comprising avionics, power, telecomm, thermal systems, and guidance, navigation and control.

    The next major milestone is the Mission Operations Review, scheduled for completion in June. The project will demonstrate that its navigation, planning, commanding, and science operations requirements are complete.

    The mission’s principal investigator is at the University of Arizona, Tucson. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will provide overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

    OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, which aligns portions of the agency’s science, space technology and human exploration capabilities in a coordinated asteroid research effort. The initiative will conduct research and analysis to better characterize and mitigate the threat these space rocks pose to our home planet.

    Included in the initiative is NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), a robotic spacecraft mission that will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars. The agency also is engaging new industrial capabilities, partnerships, open innovation and participatory exploration through the NASA Asteroid Initiative.

    NASA also has made tremendous progress in the cataloging and characterization of near Earth objects over the past five years. The president’s NASA budget included, and Congress authorized, $20.4 million for an expanded NASA Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, increasing the resources for this critical program from the $4 million per year it had received since the 1990s. The program was again expanded in fiscal year 2014, with a budget of $40.5 million. NASA is asking Congress for $50 million for this important work in the 2016 budget.

    NASA has identified more than 12,000 NEOs to date, including 96 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in size. NASA has not detected any objects of this size that pose an impact hazard to Earth in the next 100 years. Smaller asteroids do pass near Earth, however, and some could pose an impact threat. In 2011, 893 near-Earth asteroids were found. In 2014, that number was increased to 1,472.

    In addition to NASA’s ongoing work detecting and cataloging asteroids, the agency has engaged the public in the hunt for these space rocks through the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge activities, including prize competitions. During the recent South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, the agency announced the release of a software application based on an algorithm created by a NASA challenge that has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers.

    For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

    and

    http://asteroidmission.org

    For more information about the ARM and NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:12 am on March 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , ,   

    From NASA: “NASA Asteroid Hunter Spacecraft Data Available to Public” 

    NASA

    NASA

    March 26, 2015
    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-9011
    agle@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The NEOWISE spacecraft viewed comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) for a second time on January 30, 2015, as the comet passed through the closest point to our sun along its 14,000-year orbit, at a solar distance of 120 million miles (193 million kilometers). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft now are available online to the public. The data was collected following the restart of the asteroid-seeking spacecraft in December 2013 after a lengthy hibernation.

    NASA NEOWISE
    NEOWISE

    The collection of millions of infrared images and billions of infrared measurements of asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars spans data obtained between December 13, 2013, and December 13, 2014.

    “One of the most satisfying things about releasing these cutting-edge astronomical data to the public is seeing what other exciting and creative projects the scientific community does with them,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California.

    In the first year of the survey, NEOWISE captured 2.5 million image sets, detecting and providing data on over 10,000 solar system objects. The data revealed 129 new solar system objects, including 39 previously undiscovered near-Earth objects. Each of the images also contains a multitude of background stars, nebulae and galaxies. More than 10 billion measurements of these more distant objects are contained in the release of the NEOWISE data.

    “And we’re far from finished,” said Mainzer. “We’re only into our second year of additional science collection, and we’ve already added another 21 new discoveries including six new near-Earth objects.”

    NEOWISE is a space telescope that scans the skies for asteroids and comets. The telescope sees infrared light, which allows it to pick up the heat signature of asteroids and obtain better estimates of their true sizes. As a result, NEOWISE can see dark asteroids that are harder for visible-light surveys to find. Nearly all of the NEOWISE discoveries have been large –hundreds of yards, or meters, wide– and very dark, similar to printer toner. When NEOWISE’s infrared data on an object is combined with that of a visible-light optical telescope, it helps scientists understand the object’s composition.

    NEOWISE always looks in the dawn and twilight skies – the direction perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This unique vantage point makes it possible for NEOWISE to spot objects that approach Earth from the direction of the sun, unlike ground-based telescopes that are only able to view the night sky.

    Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects and help characterize previously known asteroids and comets to provide information about their sizes and compositions.

    NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars. The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.

    NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth Asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago.

    “NEOWISE is a vital asset in NASA’s program to find objects that truly represent an impact hazard to Earth,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near-Earth Object Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The data reveals how far we’ve come to understand the danger to Earth but it will still take a concerted effort to find all of them that could do serious damage.”

    In 2012, the president’s NASA budget included, and Congress authorized, $20.4 million for an expanded NASA Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, increasing the resources for this critical program from the $4 million per year it had received since the 1990s. The program was again expanded in fiscal year 2014, with a budget of $40.5 million. NASA is asking Congress for $50 million for this important work in the 2016 budget.

    JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    To view the NEOWISE data, visit:

    http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

    For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

    /neowise

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at available online at:

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

    For more information about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/content/what-is-nasa-s-asteroid-redirect-mission/

    To view the NEOWISE data, visit:

    http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

    For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

    http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/programs/neowise.html

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at available online at:

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

    For more information about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/asteroids/initiative/#.VRfKpjhe89Y

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:27 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , ,   

    From Keck: “Unusual Asteroid Suspected of Spinning to Explosion” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    March 19, 2015
    Steve Jefferson
    Communications Officer
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    808.881.3827
    sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu

    1
    Credit: M. Drahus, W. Waniak (OAUJ) / W. M. Keck Observatory
    Active asteroid P/2012 F5 captured by Keck II/DEIMOS in mid-2014. Top panel shows a wide-angle view of the main nucleus and smaller fragments embedded in a long dust trail. Bottom panel shows a close-up view with the trail numerically removed to enhance the visibility of the fragments.

    A team led by astronomers from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, recently used the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to observe and measure a rare class of “active asteroids” that spontaneously emit dust and have been confounding scientists for years. The team was able to measure the rotational speed of one of these objects, suggesting the asteroid spun so fast it burst, ejecting dust and newly discovered fragments in a trail behind it. The findings are being published in Astrophysical Journal Letters on March 20, 2015.

    2
    Credit: M. Drahus, W. Waniak (OAUJ) / W. M. Keck Observatory
    Brightness fluctuations of the nucleus of P/2012 F5 during two consecutive rotation cycles. Presented versus time (top panel) and versus the nucleus rotation phase (bottom panel).

    Unlike the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in the main belt of our solar system, which move cleanly along their orbits, active asteroids were discovered several years ago mimicking comets with their tails formed by calm, long lasting ice sublimation.

    Then in 2010 a new type of active asteroid was discovered, which ejected dust like a shot without an obvious reason. Scientists gravitated around two possible hypotheses. One states the explosion is a result of a hypervelocity collision with another minor object. The second popular explanation describes it as a consequence of “rotational disruption”, a process of launching dust and fragments by spinning so fast, the large centrifugal forces produced exceed the object’s own gravity, causing it to break apart. Rotational disruption is the expected final state of what is called the YORP effect – a slow evolution of the rotation rate due to asymmetric emission of heat.

    To date, astronomers have identified four objects suspected of either collision- or rotation-driven activity. These four freakish asteroids are all very small, at a kilometer or less, which makes them unimaginably faint when viewed from a typical distance of a couple hundred million miles. Despite prior attempts, the tiny size of the objects kept scientists from determining some of the key characteristics that could prove or disprove the theories.

    Until last August, when the team led by Michal Drahus of the Jagiellonian University was awarded time at Keck Observatory.

    “When we pointed Keck II at P/2012 F5 last August, we hoped to measure how fast it rotated and check whether it had sizable fragments. And the data showed us all that,” Drahus said.

    The team discovered at least four fragments of the object, previously established to have impulsively ejected dust in mid-2011. They also measured a very short rotation period of 3.24 hours – fast enough to cause the object impulsively explode.

    “This is really cool because fast rotation has been suspected of catapulting dust and triggering fragmentation of some active asteroids and comets. But up until now we couldn’t fully test this hypothesis as we didn’t know how fast fragmented objects rotate,” Drahus said.

    The astronomers calculated the object’s rotation period by measuring small periodic fluctuations in brightness. Such oscillations occur naturally as the irregular nucleus rotates about its spin axis and reflects different amounts of sunlight during a rotation cycle.

    “This is a well-established technique but its application on faint targets is challenging,” said Waclaw Waniak of the Jagiellonian University who processed the Keck Observatory data. “The main difficulty is the brightness must to be probed every few minutes so we don’t have time for long exposures. We needed the huge collecting area of Keck II, which captures a plentiful amount of photons in a very short time.”

    The photons were then concentrated in the telescope’s light path and sent to the DEIMOS instrument to produce the data that allowed the scientists to determine P/2012 F5’s nature. While monitoring brightness in the individual 3-minute exposures, scientists also compiled all the data to produce a single ultra-deep image, which revealed the fragments.

    The success wouldn’t be possible if the selected target, P/2012 F5, were not an ideal candidate for this study. Alex R. Gibbs discovered the object on March 22, 2012 with the Mount Lemmon 1.5 meter reflector. It was initially classified as a comet, based solely on its “dusty” look. But two independent teams quickly have shown all this dust was emitted in a single pulse about a year before the discovery – something that doesn’t happen to comets. When the dust settled in 2013, another team using the University of Hawaii’s 2.2-meter telescope on Mauna Kea detected a star-like nucleus and suggested a maximum size of 2 kilometers.

    “We suspected that this upper limit was close to the actual size of the object. Consequently, we chose to observe P/2012 F5 because – despite its small size – it appeared to be the largest and easiest to observe active asteroid suspected of rotational disruption,” said Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research who chose P/2012 F5 as the subject.

    As a result of the study, P/2012 F5 is the first freshly fragmented object in the solar system with a well-determined spin rate, and this spin rate turns out to be the fastest among the active asteroids. A careful analysis made by the team shows that these two features of the object are consistent with the “rotational disruption” scenario. But alternative explanations, such as fragmentation due to an impact, cannot be completely ruled out.

    “There are many faster rotators among asteroids which don’t show signs of a recent mass loss. And there are many hypervelocity impactors straying out there and looking for targets to hit – be it a fast or slow rotator,” Drahus said.

    “We’re indebted to the Caltech Optical Observatories for generously awarding Keck Observatory time for this program,” said Drahus – formerly a NRAO Jansky Fellow at Caltech. “Without the huge collecting area of Keck II’s 10-meter mirror, we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals so swiftly.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 8:43 am on January 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , ,   

    From Space.com- “Vesta: Facts About the Brightest Asteroid” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    January 29, 2015
    Nola Redd

    1
    Vesta with comparative asteroids

    Vesta is the second most massive body in the asteroid belt, surpassed only by Ceres, which is classified as a dwarf planet. The brightest asteroid in the sky, Vesta is occasionally visible from Earth with the naked eye. It is the first asteroid to be visited by a spacecraft. The Dawn mission orbited Vesta in 2011, providing new insights into this rocky world.

    NASA Dawn Spacecraft
    NASA/Dawn

    Celestial Police

    In 1596, while determining the elliptical shape of planetary orbits, Johannes Kepler came to believe that a planet should exist in the gap between Mars and Jupiter. Mathematical calculations by Johann Daniel Titius and Johann Elert Bode in 1772 — later known as the Titus-Bode law — seemed to support this prediction. In August 1798, a group known as the Celestial Police formed to search for this missing planet. Among these was German astronomer Heinrich Olbers. Olbers discovered the second known asteroid, Pallas. In a letter to a fellow astronomer, he put forth the first theory of asteroid origin. He wrote, “Could it be that Ceres and Pallas are just a pair of fragments … of a once greater planet which at one time occupied its proper place between Mars and Jupiter?”

    Olbers reasoned that the fragments of such a planet would intersect at the point of the explosion, and again in the orbit directly opposite. He observed these two areas nightly, and on March 29, 1807, discovered Vesta, becoming the first person to discover two asteroids. After measuring several nights’ worth of observations, Olbers sent his calculations to mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, who remarkably computed the orbit of Pallas in only 10 hours. As such, he was given the honor of naming the new body. He chose the name Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and sister to Ceres.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 9:25 am on January 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR)   

    From NatGeo: “Watch Jumbo Asteroid Zip Past Earth” 

    National Geographic

    National Geographics

    January 23, 2015
    Andrew Fazekas

    1
    On January 26, the largest asteroid until 2027 will make a quick flyby of the Earth-moon system.

    A mountain-size space rock will sail past Earth on Monday, offering stargazers a close look at an interplanetary pinball. Luckily, NASA says there is no risk of collision, but it will be a rare astronomically close encounter that backyard telescope owners can watch.

    The large asteroid, called 2004 BL86, measures about a third of a mile (half a kilometer) across. It will make its closest approach to Earth on January 26, coming within only 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from our planet—about three times the distance separating the Earth and the moon.

    2
    Asteroid 2004 BL86 safely passes Earth on 26 January 2015. Illustration by NASA/JPL-Caltech

    While there have been many asteroids that have barnstormed Earth much closer, this will be the largest one to come that close until 2027, when a slightly smaller asteroid, 1999 AN10, may come closer to Earth than the moon. What makes Monday’s flyby most unusual is that it will be bright enough for small backyard telescopes to glimpse as it sweeps past our planet.

    Also making it of interest to astronomers is the fact that it belongs to a group of 551 known near-Earth asteroids that have the potential for impact sometime in the future. Luckily, 2004 BL86 doesn’t seem to have our number just yet.

    “Monday, January 26, will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.

    “And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it’s a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more.”

    See for Yourself

    Asteroid 2004 BL86 was discovered on January 30, 2004, by a telescope of the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico. Now backyard sky-watchers can enjoy a chance to find it.

    Linear Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Telescope
    LINEAR

    LINEAR Site
    LINEAR Site
    The LINEAR (LIncoln labs Near Earth Asteroid Research) operates several meter-class telescopes near White Sands New Mexico. It is an Air Force / NASA /MIT project to find NEAs and, as shown in previous histogram, dominated the search from about 1998 to 2004.

    This will be a rare opportunity to see a bright flyby of a potentially hazardous asteroid from your backyard. For several hours on Monday, 2004 BL86 will reach a visual brightness of magnitude 9. That means small telescopes and possibly even large binoculars will reveal the asteroid—as long as you know where to look.

    The asteroid will travel through the constellations Hydra and Cancer in the south-southeastern evening sky and will glide just to the right of a bright celestial guidepost, the planet Jupiter. Between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. EST, it will be making a close pass of the famed Beehive star cluster.

    3
    This star map shows the position of asteroid 2004 BL86 in the southeast late evening sky on January 26, 2015. The space rock will be easier to find around 10 to 11 pm EST as it glides past Beehive star cluster.
    Skychart by A. Fazekas, SkySafari

    “I may grab my favorite binoculars and give it a shot myself,” added Yeomans.

    The timing and location of the closest approach means the best views will be from North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.

    You will have to act quickly, though, because 2004 BL86 will be moving at a fast clip on Monday, zipping through Earth’s skies at 2.7 degrees per hour, which is equal to almost five and half times the width of the disk of the full moon. Confirmation of its observation will come courtesy of it moving clearly across a background of fixed stars.

    If you do get clouded out or don’t have a scope handy, never fear: You can catch a live webcast of the cosmic encounter provided by the Virtual Telescope Project.

    Let us know if you manage to snag a view of this cosmic interloper in your skies.

    Happy hunting!

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:53 am on December 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Asteroids, ESA Space Situational Awareness,   

    From ESA: “Preparing For an Asteroid Strike” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    18 December 2014
    No Writer Credit

    ESA and national disaster response offices recently rehearsed how to react if a threatening space rock is ever discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.

    Last month, experts from ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme and Europe’s national disaster response organisations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way.

    In ESA’s first-ever asteroid impact exercise, they went through a countdown to an impact, practising steps to be taken if near-Earth objects, or NEOs, of various sizes were detected.

    The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from 12 m to 38 m – spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event – and travelling at 12.5 km/s.

    t
    Chelyabinsk asteroid trail

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    1908 Tunguska event

    m
    ESA Space Situational Awareness: detecting space hazards
    Near-Earth objects

    Teams were challenged to decide what should happen at five critical points in time, focused on 30, 26, 5 and 3 days before and 1 hour after impact.

    “There are a large number of variables to consider in predicting the effects and damage from any asteroid impact, making simulations such as these very complex,” says Detlef Koschny, head of NEO activities in the SSA office.

    “These include the size, mass, speed, composition and impact angle. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t stop Europe from developing a comprehensive set of measures that could be taken by national civil authorities, which can be general enough to accommodate a range of possible effects.

    “The first step is to study NEOs and their impact effects and understand the basic science.”

    Participants came from various departments and agencies of the ESA member states Germany and Switzerland, including Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assista

    t
    ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS) is 2400 m above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife.

    They studied questions such as: how should Europe react, who would need to know, which information would need to be distributed, and to whom?

    “For example, within about three days before a predicted impact, we’d likely have relatively good estimates of the mass, size, composition and impact location,” says Gerhard Drolshagen of ESA’s NEO team.

    “All of these directly affect the type of impact effects, amount of energy to be generated and hence potential reactions that civil authorities could take.”

    During the 2013 Chelyabinsk event, for instance, the asteroid, with a mass of about 12 000 tonnes and a size of 19 m, hit the upper atmosphere at a shallow angle and a speed of about 18.6 km/s, exploding with the energy of 480 kilotons of TNT at an altitude of 25–30 km.

    s
    SSA-NEO Coordination Centre ESRIN

    While potentially a real hazard, no injuries due to falling fragments were reported. Instead, more than 1500 people were injured and 7300 buildings damaged by the intense overpressure generated by the shockwave at Earth’s surface.

    Many people were injured by shards of flying glass as they peered out of windows to see what was happening.

    “In such a case, an appropriate warning by civil authorities would include simply telling people to stay away from windows, and remain within the strongest portions of a building, such as the cellar, similar to standard practice during tornados in the USA,” says Gerhard.

    In a real strike, ESA’s role would be crucial. It will have to warn both civil protection authorities and decision-makers about the impact location and time. It would also have to share reliable scientific data, including possible impact effects, and provide trustworthy and authoritative information.

    The exercise ended on 25 November, a significant step forward at highlighting the unique factors in emergency planning for asteroid strikes, and possible courses of action. It also clarified a number of open points, including requirements from civil protection agencies and the type and time sequence of information that can be provided by ESA’s SSA.

    It is another step in the continuing effort to set up an internationally coordinated procedure for information distribution and potential mitigation actions in case of an imminent threat.

    ESA’s NEO team is also working with international partners, agencies and organisations, including the UN, to help coordinate a global response to any future impact threat (see “Getting ready for asteroids”).

    With the aim of strengthening ESA’s and Europe’s response, similar exercises will be held in the future. The next, in 2015, will include representatives from additional countries.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    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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  • richardmitnick 5:17 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , ,   

    From SPACE.com: “Potentially Dangerous Asteroids (Images)” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    April 10, 2013
    Mike Wall

    m
    This NASA graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. Shown here is a close-up of the orbits overlaid on the orbits of Earth and other inner planets.

    If you’ve seen films like “Armageddon,” you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.

    NASA released the new map of “potentially hazardous asteroids” on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said.

    “These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers),” NASA officials explained in the image description.

    2
    This diagram illustrates the differences between orbits of a typical near-Earth asteroid (blue) and a potentially hazardous asteroid, or PHA (orange). PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers), and they are large enough to survive passage through Earth’s atmosphere and cause significant damage.

    3
    This chart illustrates how infrared is used to more accurately determine an asteroid’s size.

    4
    This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011, at 11:45 a.m. PST (2:45 p.m. EST/1945 UTC), when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances, which is about 860,000 miles, or 1.38 million kilometers, from Earth

    5
    This still from a NASA animation by Jon Giorgini of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows the trajectory of asteroid 2005 YU55 as it passes between Earth and the moon on Nov. 8, 2011.

    6
    This radar image of potentially hazardous asteroid 1999 RQ36 — the target of NASA’s Osiris-Rex sample-return mission — was obtained by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif. on Sept 23, 1999.

    NASA Osiris-REx
    NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft

    NASA Deep Space Network antenna
    >NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna

    7
    ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory captured asteroid Apophis in its field of view during the approach to Earth on January, 5-6, 2013. This image shows the asteroid in Herschel’s three PACS wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns.

    ESA Herschel
    ESA Herschel schematic
    ESA/Herschel

    9
    The orbit of asteroid 2011 AG5 carries it beyond the orbit of Mars and as close to the sun as halfway between Earth and Venus.

    1
    NEOWISE survey has found that more potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are closely aligned with the plane of our solar system than previous models suggested. PHAs are the subset of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) with the closest orbits to Earth’s orbit, coming within 5 million miles (about 8 million kilometers).

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/WISE

    2
    NASA’s NEOWISE asteroid survey indicates that there are at least 40 percent fewer near-Earth asteroids in total that are larger than 330 feet, or 100 meters. NASA used its WISE infrared space telescope to make the find.

    3
    The asteroid 2012 KP24 flew past Earth on May 28, 2012. While the space rock passed within the moon’s orbit, it did not pose any danger to the planet.

    4
    This NASA diagram shows the orbit of newfound asteroid 2011 SM173, which flew within 180,000 miles of Earth on Sept. 30, 2011. The asteroid was discovered a day earlier on Sept. 29.

    6
    An object entered the atmosphere over the Urals early in the morning of Feb. 15, 2013. The fireball exploded above Chelyabinsk city, and the resulting overpressure caused damage to buildings and injuries to hundreds of people. This photo was taken by Alex Alishevskikh from about a minute after noticing the blast.

    7
    The Tunguska explosion flattened some 500,000 acres of Siberian forest on June 30, 1908. This image is from the Leonid Kulik expedition in 1927.

    9
    A 130-foot-meteor created the mile-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona. The comet proposed to have impacted life in North America was significantly larger, but no crater indicating its collision has been found.

    6
    Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson tweeted this picture from space, a view of Aorounga Impact Crater, southeast of of Emi Koussi volcano in Chad.

    9
    Landsat image (color composite) of the newfound Kebira Crater in the Western Desert of Egypt at the border with Libya. The outer rim of the crater is about 19 miles (31 km) in diameter. Image courtesy of Boston University Center for Remote Sensing

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:06 pm on December 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , , ESA NEO, INAF   

    From ESA: “European Astronomers Spot Faint Asteroid” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    4 December 2014
    No Writer Credit

    European experts have spotted one of the faintest asteroids ever found – a chunk of space rock thought to be about 100 m in diameter beyond the orbit of Mars.

    as
    Asteroid

    Astronomers at the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona, USA, spotted 2014 KC46 on the nights of 28 and 30 October. The difficult observations, close to the limits of the telescope, were carried out through a new collaboration between the Italian telescope team and ESA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Coordination Centre near Rome.

    The observations marked the ‘recovery’ of the asteroid – it had been seen before but then lost. This was one of the faintest recoveries of a NEO ever achieved.

    The telescope, operated by a group of institutes including the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, spotted the object – which is about as wide as a football pitch – just beyond the orbit of Mars.

    Asteroid 2014 KC46 was rediscovered on 28 and 30 October 2014 by a new collaboration between the Italian Large Binocular Telescope team and ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre.

    lm
    Asteroid orbit

    The measurement of its position was sufficiently accurate to refine its orbital path and eliminate any possibility that it might hit Earth in the near future.

    “This success highlights the importance of quick response and cooperation across the asteroid community in verifying NEO orbits,” says Detlef Koschny, Head of the NEO Segment in ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme office.

    “It also proved the effectiveness of the telescope in detecting faint objects that have large positional uncertainties.”

    The measurements have been accepted by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, the organisation responsible for collecting data for small bodies of the Solar System.

    The observation of this asteroid was made possible by the unique performance of the telescope, which features a large field of view combined with the ability to spot very faint objects thanks to the twin 8.4 m-diameter mirrors.

    Large Binocular Telescope
    Large Binocular Telescope

    The telescope sits at an altitude of 3200 m on Mt Graham in Arizona and has a light-gathering power equivalent to a single 11.8 m-diameter instrument.

    It is a collaboration between the Instituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft in Germany, Ohio State University, the Research Corporation in Tucson and the University of Notre Dame.

    ESA’s NEO Segment coordinates and combines information from different sources, analyses them to predict possible Earth impacts, assesses the danger and analyses possible mitigation measures, including the deflection of a threatening asteroid.

    The NEO Coordination Centre at ESA’s establishment in Frascati, near Rome, provides data and services on NEO hazards and coordinates follow-up astronomical observations.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    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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  • richardmitnick 1:38 pm on November 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroids, , , , , ,   

    From SEN: “Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission to an asteroid is set to launch” 

    SEN
    SEN

    27 November 2014
    Paul Sutherland

    As the world celebrates the success of Europe’s Rosetta, Japanese space scientists are preparing to launch the latest mission to explore one of the minor bodies of the Solar System.

    Hayabasu spacecraft
    Hayabusa 2

    Their Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is due to blast off at 1:24:48 p.m. Japanese time (04:24:48 UTC) on Sunday 30 November from the Tanegashima Space Center.

    Its mission will be to rendezvous with an asteroid, land a small probe on its surface, and then return samples to Earth. It follows an earlier Japanese Hayabusa mission to an asteroid named Itokawa.

    i
    Itokawa

    Asteroids generally differ from comets, such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. which Rosetta is circling, because they don’t fizz with gas and dust. They seem to be chunks of material from the formation of the Solar System which never collected together to form planets.

    67
    67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    Hayabusa 2’s target is a 1km-wide asteroid labelled 1999 JU3, after the year when it was discovered. It is a C-type asteroid, thought to contain more organic material than other asteroids, and so might again help scientists understand how the Solar System evolved.

    The Japanese space agency JAXA intend for Hayabusa 2 to catch up with asteroid 1999 JU3 in 2018. It will land a small cube-shaped probe called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) developed by the German Space Agency (DLR) together with French space partners the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

    The lander is able to move its centre of gravity so that it can tip itself over in order to move across the asteroid’s surface.

    Hayabusa 2 will also carry an impactor to blast a 2-metre-wide crater in the asteroid’s surface, which will allow the spacecraft to collect fragments and bring them home for study in the laboratory.

    i
    Germany’s MASCOT lander is fitted to the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft. Image credit: DLR

    The first Hayabusa kept space enthusiasts and scientists on the edge of their seats with its performance. Launched in May 2003, it reached the 500-metre long Itokawa in September 2005, then twice brushed its surface, allowing some surface grains to lodge in its collector. But a bid to blast out samples from the asteroid and to land a mini-probe called Minerva both failed.

    Then fuel and power failures led scientists to fear that they had lost Hayabusa. But amazingly, they managed to regain control over the following months, and against all the odds, the probe was able to fire its capsule of precious asteroid dirt to a safe landing in the Australian Outback in June 2010.

    Hayabusa 2 is the size of a small van, measuring 1.0 metres x 1.6 metres x 1.2 metres, and has two solar panels to provide power. In space it will be driven by an ion engine using xenon propellant

    The asteroid selected by JAXA is a “perfect specimen” according to Professor Humberto Campins, an international expert on asteroids and comets, at the University of Central Florida. He has said: “Based on our analysis, it should be rich in primitive materials, specifically organic molecules and hydrated minerals from the early days of our Solar System. If successful it could give us clues about the birth of water and life in our world.”

    Scientists believe that learning more about objects such as 1999 JU3 will also help develop methods to deal with any cosmic debris, such as Near Earth Asteroids, that might be found on course to impact the Earth.

    A number of other spacecraft have visited asteroids, including Rosetta which flew past 2867 Steins in 2008 and 21 Lutetia in 2010, en route to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and NASA’s Dawn mission which is currently heading for Ceres after orbiting Vesta for a year.

    A video shows how the MASCOT lander will hit the asteroid and explore its surface. Credit: DLR

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    The vision of Sen—space exploration network—is to create a global space content network. Sen provides space news and information on the science, economics and government of space and in so doing aims to:
    —promote interest in space;
    —raise awareness of the reality of humankind and Earth in the Universe, providing a different perspective to life on this planet;
    —educate and encourage consideration of the physics, economics and government of space;
    —create a community in which people can learn, debate and share information about space;
    —further the exploration of space;
    —film the universe forever building an electronic version of the universe, a never ending work of art, creating Sen Universe – a computerised to scale 3D universe, starting with the Solar System. Sen Universe will replace computer imagery with real film and imagery as our exploration of the universe continues, forever building an electronic version of the universe, a never ending work of art and science.
    —Ultimately, in achieving the above, Sen aims to be a business without boundary in space and time.

    Space is everything, it affects everything – it defines our environment, the government of mankind, relations, the future. By promoting interest and awareness of space a different perspective of our conduct and government of life on the planet can be obtained in the hope of creating a united planet.

    Sen will aim to be an enterprise that represents the best human effort at creating an enterprise without boundary in space and time.

     
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