For all the apocalypse talk that gets tossed around by psuedo-scientists and religious blowhards, rarely do we hear mention of Apophis, the 50 million-ton asteroid that actually might come close enough to Earth to warrant an end-of-the-world scare sometime in 2029. In that year it will pass so close to us that we’ll be able figure the trajectory for its return trip in 2036. If it passes through an area of space near our home planet known as the “keyhole,” it spells doom--on its return pass in 2036 it likely would strike us.
In what appears to be seriously big news from a team of NASA-funded researchers, scientists have found evidence that some building blocks of DNA--including two of the four nucleobases that make up our genetic code--found in meteorites were created in space, lending credence to the idea that life is not homegrown but was seeded here by asteroids, meteorites, or comets sometime in Earth’s early lifetime.
After speeding through the solar system for four years with ion thrusters, Dawn is now poised to enter orbit around Vesta later tonight, where it will circle for a year and study the giant space rock’s composition.
Just this week, the crew aboard the International Space Station had to take shelter in its emergency quarters after a piece of a destroyed Chinese satellite passed “danger close” to the orbiting outpost, sharply reminding the space community of the dangers posed by space debris. The rest of us will get our reminder in November, when a massive asteroid will make a close flyby of Earth at a distance of just 0.85 lunar distances.
Near-Earth asteroids aren’t all that rare, but today two researchers at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland say they’ve found an extremely rare near-Earth object in an orbit very similar to Earth’s. Asteroid 2010 SO16 is not exotic because of it’s closeness to the home planet, but because it is stuck in a rare horseshoe orbit.
The Japanese probe Hayabusa’s first peaceful journey to an asteroid was so successful in returning samples of the asteroid Itokowa to Earth that JAXA, the Japanese space agency, is planning a second Hayabusa mission. But Hayabusa 2 won’t come in peace. The second asteroid probe will pack an impactor that detonates an explosive on the asteroid’s surface.
Most asteroid diversion schemes tend to involve some kind of impact – an explosion, a crash, a violent shove – but a French researcher has proposed an intriguing plan to alter the course of the asteroid Apophis before it swings into Earth’s neighborhood in 2036: offer the asteroid some shade. A fleet of solar sail spacecraft could shift Aphophis’s course by simply shielding it from solar radiation, the researcher says.
Ever since Japan’s asteroid exploring spacecraft Hyabusa crash-landed in the Australian outback this summer after a seven year round trip through space, astronomers and space geeks the world over have been waiting to hear confirmation from JAXA (the Japanese space agency) that the troubled mission did indeed bring back samples of asteroid dust. Today they got it. For the first time, scientists have collected dust from an extraterrestrial asteroid and returned it to Earth for study.
Asteroids and comets come in all shapes and sizes—from small pebbles, to larger SUV-sized fragments, to massive asteroids like Ceres, which has a diameter of about 621 miles. Much of the asteroid material that crosses paths with the Earth burns up when it enters the atmosphere. About once every 100 years, though, a fairly large asteroid strikes the Earth.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about a planet-killing asteroid is that we might never see it coming. But this infographic by Mechanicsville, Md.-based designer Zachary Vabolis helpfully visualizes which candidate near-earth objects will be swinging through Earth’s neighborhood and when they’ll be closest.
As evidenced by NASA’s confirmation last week of an asteroid collision observed by Hubble, there are plenty of objects careening around the solar system that we don’t know about. Some of these space rocks could do some serious damage if the Earth’s gravitational field ever pulls them in.
Back in April, two teams of researchers caused a stir when they discovered the first-ever evidence of water ice and organic molecules riding around the solar system aboard an asteroid. Today, the same group has announced that it has found ice and organics on a second, larger asteroid as well, a finding that suggests water ice and organic molecules may be common passengers aboard asteroids throughout the solar system.
Promising but ambiguous news out of Japan this morning: researchers inspecting the asteroid dust from JAXA’s the Hyabusa mission – the seven-year round trip that landed a probe on a passing asteroid before returning to Earth – have found particles that could contain signs of extraterrestrial life.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.