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Posts Tagged ‘Asteroid’

NASA To Visit Asteroid That May Hit Earth

Posted by 3citynewswire on 08/09/2010

There’s a mountain-size asteroid on a potential

collision course with Earth, and NASA has plans to pay it a visit.

The asteroid 1999 RQ36 diameter of approximately 1,837.27 feet (560 metres) made headlines last week with the announcement that the space rock could hit our planet in 2182. But a handful of scientists have had their eyes on this asteroid since 2007, planning a sample-return mission designed to help us better predict—and avoid—impact hazards.


The mission, called OSIRIS-Rex (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer), is one of two finalists in the current competition for funding under NASA’s New Frontiers program, up against a proposed mission to land on Venus. The selected mission will be announced in summer 2011.

If OSIRIS-Rex gets the green light, the spacecraft will launch in 2016 with the goal of mapping and bringing back pieces of the asteroid.
The potentially hazardous Asteroid (101955)
Asteroid Images

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Damaged Asteroid Probe Limping Home

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/29/2010

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Hayabusa probe hovering over an asteroid, artist rendering

Battered, drained of fuel, and travel-weary, Japan’s asteroid-sampler is almost home. The Hayabusa, which the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched in 2003, is scheduled to drop its sample canister in the Australian outback in June. But, the project leaders warn, there’s still a chance than the beleaguered sojourner won’t make it. And even if it does successfully return to Earth, it’s possible that the sample capsule may not contain extraterrestrial rock.

Hayabusa spent three months exploring the Itokawa asteroid in late 2005, even making an unplanned landing on the asteroid’s surface. The probe spent up to a half-hour on Itokawa, making it the first spacecraft to lift off from an asteroid. The craft also took 1,600 pictures and more than 100,000 infrared images.

But things soon turned sour. Hayabusa’s instruments for collecting asteroid samples didn’t deploy as expected, leaving the Japanese research team uncertain how much, if any, material the probe will have on board when it comes back home.

While telemetry showed that Hayabusa likely did not fire its projectile as planned while on Itokawa’s surface, scientists are hoping that bits of dust or pebbles traveled through the probe’s funnel and into its sample return capsule.

There have been plenty of other difficulties, too. Since its launch in 2003, Hayabusa has lost three of its four ion engines, leaked out all of its chemical propellant and is down to a single reaction wheel. The trouble delayed Hayabusa’s departure from Itokawa, which forced JAXA to postpone the craft’s return to Earth from 2007 until 2010.

In November JAXA nearly conceded that Hayabusa would never come home. Then, in a stroke of innovation combined with good fortune, the engineers managed to combine the parts that still worked from two of the thrusters to propel the craft. Now it just might make it back.

The saga of the Hayabusa outlines the ambitious nature of President Obama’s newly revised space plan for the United States. (Last Thursday Discover covered the difficulty of a daring manned mission to an asteroid that he proposed. But for a journey of far more than a thousand miles, the successful return of the Hayabusa would be a terrific first step.

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Ice Found on the Surface of an Asteroid for the First Time

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

Artist conception of asteroid 24 Themis

A slushy cocktail of water-ice and organic materials has been directly detected on the surface of an asteroid for the first time. The finding strengthens the theory that asteroids delivered the ingredients for Earth’s oceans and life, and could make astronomers rethink conventional models for how the Solar System evolved.

It has long been thought that asteroids, which lie in a belt between Mars and Jupiter, are rocky bodies that sit too close to the Sun to retain ice. By contrast, comets, which form further out beyond Neptune, are ice-rich bodies that develop distinctive tails of vaporized gas and dust when they approach the Sun. However, this distinction was blurred in 2006 by the discovery of small objects with comet-like tails in the asteroid belt1, says astronomer Andrew Rivkin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

To investigate the composition of these ‘main-belt comets’, Rivkin and his colleague Joshua Emery, of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, turned the infra-red telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, onto the asteroid 24 Themis — the parent body from which two of the smaller comet-like asteroids observed in 2006 were chipped. Emery and Rivkin took seven measurements of 24 Themis over a period of six years, each time looking at a different face of the asteroid as it travelled around its orbit. They consistently found a band in the absorption spectrum of light reflected from its surface that indicated the presence of grains coated in water ice, as well as the signature of carbon-to-hydrogen chemical bonds — as found in organic materials. Rivkin and Emery’s work is published in this week’s Nature2.

“Astronomers have looked at dozens of asteroids with this technique, but this is the first time we’ve seen ice on the surface and organics,” says Rivkin.

The result was independently confirmed by a team led by Humberto Campins at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He and his colleagues observed 24 Themis for 7 hours one night, as it almost fully rotated on its axis. “Between us, we have seen the asteroid from almost every angle and we see global coverage,” says Campins. He and his team also publish their findings in this week’s Nature3.

Julie Castillo-Rogez, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, describes the findings as “huge”. “This answers the long-term question of whether there is free water in the asteroid belt,” she says.
Icy interloper

Because 24 Themis lies only about 479 million kilometres from the Sun (roughly three times the mean distance from Earth to the Sun), it is surprising that the surface ice has not all been vaporized. Both teams speculate that more ice may be held in a reservoir beneath the asteroid’s surface, shielded from the Sun, and that this ice is slowly churned up as the asteroid is struck by small bodies in the belt, thus replenishing the surface ice.

The findings lend weight to the idea that asteroids and comets are the source of Earth’s water and organic material. Geochemists think that the early Earth went through a molten phase when any organic molecules would have dissociated, so new organic material would have had to be delivered to the planet at a later time, says Campins. “I believe our findings are linked to the origin of life on Earth,” he says.
To assess the plausibility of this scenario, astronomers must determine whether the make-up of 24 Themis is typical of other asteroids and, if so, what exactly they hold, says Castillo-Rogez. A priority should be to search for water ice on near-Earth asteroids that could be targeted by NASA’s planned robotic and manned missions. “If we find ice samples that contain the same ratio of deuterium [‘heavy hydrogen’ made up of one neutron and one proton] to hydrogen as seen on Earth, that would be a strong pointer,” she says.

However, 24 Themis may not be a typical member of the belt — it could be an interloper that formed beyond Neptune, along with the comets, which was later knocked inwards, says Rivkin. If so, this would fit well with the controversial ‘Nice model’ of the evolution of the Solar System. Proposed in 2005, this model suggests that the giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — and asteroids migrated to their present orbits after formation4.

Either way, says Rivkin, “The old-fashioned picture of the Solar System in which asteroids are asteroids and comets are comets is getting harder to sustain.”

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Newly Discovered Asteroid Will Pass by Earth April 8

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/07/2010

Good to know the Spaceguard teams are keeping an eye out for us. The eagle-eyed observers at the Catalina Sky Survey have spotted an asteroid which will pass relatively close to Earth this Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 23:06 U.T.C. (4:06 p.m. PDT, 7:06 pm EDT). But it should pose no problem, as at the time of closest approach asteroid 2010 GA6 will be about 359,000 kilometers (223,000 miles) away from Earth – about 9/10ths the distance from to the moon.     The asteroid is approximately 22 meters (71 feet) wide.“Fly bys of near-Earth objects within the moon’s orbit occur every few weeks,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

This one, however, is a bit bigger than other recent asteroid alerts NASA’s Near Earth Observation program has issued. In November 2009, a 7-meter asteroid called 2009 VA came within 14,000 km (8,700 miles) of Earth and in January, 2010 AL30 was about 10-15 meters long and came within only 128,000 km (about 80,000 miles).

NASA’s NEO program, also called Spaceguard, discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

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Did asteroid doom the dinosaurs? Scientists say yes

Posted by 3citynewswire on 03/07/2010

A major new inquest into the death of the dinosaurs has decided they really were wiped out by a giant asteroid up to ten miles wide. It hit the Earth at 20 times the speed of a bullet killing off half of all species. The probe was the biggest ever held into the catastrophic event 65 million years ago. A panel of 41 international experts, including scientists from four UK universities, re-examined 20 years of research into what is called the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) mass extinction.

It hit the Earth at 20 times the speed of a bullet killing off half of all species. The probe was the biggest ever held into the catastrophic event 65 million years ago. A panel of 41 international experts, including scientists from four UK universities, re-examined 20 years of research into what is called the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) mass extinction.

They decided the overwhelming eveidence showed that a massive asteroid nearly 20 miles wide slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, at a spot called Chicxulub. This created an explosion with the force of one billion atomic bombs of the size that destroyed Hiroshima.

The blast sent a cloud of debris high into the atmosphere, blocking out sunlight and triggering a global winter that wiped out much of life on Earth in a matter of days. Dinosaurs, bird-like pterosaurs and large marine reptiles were killed off.

There has previously been much controversy over whether a space missile did for the dinosaurs or whether a series of super volcano eruptions in the Decan Traps, in India, lasting one and a half million years might be to blame.

Those eruptions were thought to have cooled the astmosphere and produced acid rain on a global scale.

The new inquest, reported in the hournal Science, decided that the speed at which life at sea and on land was destroyed meant that only the asteroid impact could have caused it.

Dr Joanna Morgan, of Imperial College London, said: “We now have great confidence that an asteroid was the cause of the KT extinction. This triggered large-scale fires, earthquakes measuring more than 10 on the Richter scale, and continental landslides, which created tsunamis.

“However, the final nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs happened when blasted material was ejected at high velocity into the atmosphere. This shrouded the planet in darkness and caused a global winter, killing off many species that couldn’t adapt to this hellish environment.”
Colleague Dr Gareth Collins, of Imperial College London, said: “The explosion of hot rock and gas would have looked like a huge ball of fire on the horizon, grilling any living creature in the immediate vicinity that couldn’t find shelter.

“Ironically, while this hellish day signalled the end of the 160 million year reign of the dinosaurs, it turned out to be a great day for mammals, who had lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs prior to this event. The KT extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, which ultimately paved the way for humans to become the dominant species on Earth.”

What do you think?

“Do you think we will ever really know what happened?”

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