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Fire in the Sky


Astronomers: Incoming Near-Miss Asteroid Calculations Wrong

© Unknown
First Photos of Incoming Asteroid 2011 MD
Astronomers observing inbound asteroid 2011 MD found that their calculations were a little off. The asteroid, which measures 15 feet by 60 feet wide, is what is known as a PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroid), and was headed toward Earth. It is just one of many that NASA's Near Earth Objects Observation Program regularly tracks. But this particular massive space rock was scheduled to arrive Monday morning and pass about 7,500 miles above the Earth's surface. It did neither.

Getting calculations wrong by a degree or two could mean the difference between a fly-by and a devastating impact. This time, the calculations erred in the Earth's favor...

2011 MD arrived as planned, but not where or when astronomers first suspected, according to the Associated Press. Updated information put the asteroid passing by the Earth at just after noon (1:00 p.m. EDT). It did not come as close as they thought it would, either. Calculations also found the asteroid passing by the Earth at a distance of 7,600 miles away.

Although science fiction movies and television shows thrill us with the horrors of an impending asteroid-based cosmic hit job (think: Armageddon and Deep Impact), shelving the thought of an apocalyptic run-in with a gigantic space rock is a distinct possibility. It is theorized -- and subsequent data and studies have reinforced the theory -- that just such a collision occurred 65 million years ago, slamming into the Gulf of Mexico region and forming the Chixulub Crater. It is believed to be the major cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs and the mass die-off at the end of the Cretaceous Period, forming what scientists call the K-T boundary, the geologic boundary that exists between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods of geologic time.

Comment: There now, don't you feel better? Asteroids are itty-bitty and they only come now and again. No big rocks for a couple million years or so. Back to sleep. But if you are one who prefers to know what's really going on you can start here:

Meteorites, Asteroids, and Comets: Damages, Disasters, Injuries, Deaths, and Very Close Calls


International Space Station Evacuated After Debris Threatens Craft

The ISS, the largest space station ever built, is used for scientific experiments and is in low earth orbit, an altitude cluttered with space junk
Fragments of space debris came perilously close to colliding with the International Space Station on Tuesday, prompting its crew to seek temporary refuge in two Russian-built escape craft.

The worrying incident, thought to be only the third of its kind since the international project began in 1998, saw space debris pass within just 820 feet of the space station at high speed and at late notice.

Comment: Considering the attention given by NASA to cataloging and tracking 'space junk', we wonder what this unexpected 'debris' actually was?


Yet another asteroid skims past Earth today!

© Denis Scott/Corbis
If the asteroid enters the Earth's atmosphere on a future pass it will burn up harmlessly.
Asteroid 2011 MD will make its closest approach to Earth at 6.14pm BST on Monday but is highly unlikely to hit anything

A lump of space rock the size of a small house will hurtle past Earth on Monday evening in a close encounter that poses no threat to the planet, astronomers said today.

The asteroid, which is 8 metres across and called 2011 MD, is due to pass within 12,000km of Earth, making its closest approach over the southern Atlantic Ocean at around 6.14pm BST on Monday evening.

With clear skies, the asteroid may reflect enough of the sun's light as it shoots past to be visible to amateur astronomers with sizeable telescopes.

The rock - a fragment smashed off a much larger asteroid - was spotted by astronomers last week using a pair of robotic telescopes in Socorro, New Mexico.

Comment: Other recent near misses, nearly all of which were spotted as they flew past!

An Asteroid Missed Earth this Week -What are the Odds that We'll Always be Lucky?

Scientists find asteroid with potential power of 15 atomic bombs. Heading this way. Tonight.

House-Size Asteroid Zooms Close by Earth

February 11, 2011: 2011 CA7 flew within 64,300 miles from Earth.

October 12, 2010: Asteroid 2010 RD54 came within 28,000 miles (45,000 km) of Earth


Getting Closer: Images, Video of Asteroid 2011 MD

© Peter Lake
Asteroid 2011 MD
Accomplished amateur astronomer and blogger Peter Lake, a.k.a "AstroSwanny" from Australia captured some of the first images of what will be a very close pass of Earth by asteroid 2011 MD. He actually took the image at 07:00 UTC on June 26th with a 20 inch telescope in New Mexico controlled via his iPhone, through the Global Rent-A-Scope program. Ahh, the wonders of technology! As Peter says, "Its not every day, that an asteroid misses by less than 3-5 earth Radii."


Getting Ready for the Next Big Solar Storm

© Unknown
Illustration only
In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren't sure how to categorize it. The blast peppered Earth with the most energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba and Hawaii.

This week, officials have gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC to ask themselves a simple question: What if it happens again?

"A similar storm today might knock us for a loop," says Lika Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters. "Modern society depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and satellite communications--all of which are vulnerable to solar storms."


2011 MD asteroid: When and from where will the giant space rock be visible on Monday?


An asteroid measuring about 16 feet to 35 feet or the size of a house, will fly by Earth at a handshaking distance on Monday and a lucky few people will be able to see the celestial wonder with their naked eye.

The asteroid, called 2011 MD, will graze past Earth's atmosphere on Monday at a distance of 7,500 miles from the Earth's surface.

According to the ranking charts of International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts, 2011 MD will be the fifth-closest asteroid to graze past Earth. In the past, three asteroids have zoomed past Earth at a closer distance, including a tiny asteroid (2011 CQ1) which flew by on February 4 this year after coming as close as 3,400 miles away from Earth's surface. The fourth, an asteroid named 2008 TC3 had entered Earth's atmosphere on October 7, 2008, but disintegrated into tiny pieces at a height of around 23 miles off the ground.

2011 MD will be visible to the naked eye as a bright blue light as it hurtles by in a starry background.

Bizarro Earth

How Close to the Earth Will the Asteroid Be on Monday?

On Monday, a small asteroid is expected to just skirt by earth. An asteroid only comes this close about once every 6 years.

NASA scientists said the meteorite can be briefly seen from earth with a modest-sized telescope.

It will approach its closest point to the earth at 9:30 a.m. ET and over the Atlantic Ocean. NASA scientists don't expect it to hit the earth. Even if does, it'll likely burn up in the earth's atmosphere because it's only estimated to be at most 65 feet wide.

Also, because it's over the Atlantic Ocean, any fragments that do survive the atmosphere probably won't do much harm.

But just how close will this meteorite get?

NASA scientists estimate 7,500 miles, or 12,000 kilometers. This compares to:

distance from New York, US to Mumbai, India - 7,800 miles

earth's diameter - 7,900 miles (in other words, the meteorite will be one earth's width away from the earth)

earth's circumference around equator - 24,900 miles

earth's average distance to moon - 238,900 miles

Below are charts from NASA detailing the orbit of the asteroid in relation to the earth


And Yet Another One: Newfound Comet Will Swing By Earth in 2013

© Institute for Astronomy/University of Hawaii/Pan-STARRS
Discovery image of the newfound comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), taken by Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope.
A newfound comet discovered by a telescope designed to hunt for dangerous asteroids will make its closest pass by Earth in 2013 and should be visible to the naked eye when it draws near, astronomers say.

Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope detected the comet, which is called C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), on the night of June 5 and 6, and the discovery was confirmed by follow-up observations with a different instrument a day later. The comet will likely come within about 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of the sun in February or March 2013 - about the same distance as the planet Mercury, researchers said.

During its closest approach to Earth in two years, comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) likely to be visible low in the western sky shortly after sunset, weather permitting. Skywatchers interested in seeing the newfound icy wanderer should look up then, because they may never get another chance to see it.

"The comet has an orbit that is close to parabolic, meaning that this may be the first time it will ever come close to the sun, and that it may never return," said the University of Hawaii's Richard Wainscoat in a statement. Wainscoat helped confirm the comet's existence.

Right now, C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) is about 700 million miles (1.2 billion km) from the sun, placing it beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It is currently so faint that only telescopes with sensitive electronic detectors can pick it up.

The comet's clunky moniker is slightly unusual. Comets are usually named after their discoverers, but in this case such a large team of researchers helped spot the icy wanderer that it took the name of the telescope instead.


Quirky Comet Hartley 2 Confounds Theories on Early Solar System

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
This close-up view of comet Hartley 2 was taken by NASA's EPOXI mission during its flyby of the comet on Nov. 4, 2010. It was captured by the spacecraft's Medium-Resolution Instrument.
The small Comet Hartley 2 is an oddball, for sure.

Two craggy bulges connected by a smooth waist (somewhat like a peanut), Comet Hartley 2 spews out more material than a comet just under a mile wide is expected to, a new study finds. And while most comets rotate slowly in one direction, Hartley spins rapidly as it tumbles.

Furthermore, Hartley 2 contains an inexplicable amount of carbon dioxide, causing it to burp and even hock ice loogies into space.

The unusual comet is raising questions over some longtime assumptions by scientists on how comets formed in the early solar system, said the scientists involved in the new study. [Photos: Close-Up Views of Comet Hartley 2]

The new Hartley 2 discoveries are based on the latest analysis of observations collected during a November 2010 flyby of the comet by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft as part of its Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation (EPOXI) mission. During the flyby, the Deep Impact probe approached within 431 miles (694 km) of the comet, snapping photos all the way.


Meteor streaks over Central Texas, June 20th 2011

My meteor camera at my BuckSnort Observatory in Central Texas caught this bright fireball last night!