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Fact following fiction? Scientists plan mission to blow up an asteroid 'hurtling towards Earth'

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Will America save the day?
Scientists plan to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid so that they are prepared for having to stop one hurtling towards Earth.

The news came as Nasa moved to calm fears that a comet is on a collision course with our planet.

The plans for a test mission to stop an asteroid from colliding with Earth come from Nasa's cousin, the European Space Agency.

In the Hollywood movie Armageddon, Bruce Willis attempts to blow up a huge asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

In real life, the mission, called Don Quixote, will see two spacecraft launched.

Comment: So on the one hand NASA publicises plans to blow up space rocks that may or may not be on a collision course with Earth, while on the other hand this US government agency ridicules the most outlandish claims about Comet Elenin. This 'speaking out of both sides of the mouth' is intended to reassure those waking up to the fact that Something Wicked This Way Comes that they have everything under control. They don't, of course. At most, they are planning their own escape while leaving us in the dark.


Meteor

Meteorites Possible From Midwest US Fireball

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© Southern Ontario Meteor Network
On August 8 at 1:22 Eastern Daylight Time, 4 all sky cameras belonging to the Southern Ontario Meteor Network detected a fireball entering the atmosphere 54 miles above Lake Erie (80.944 W, 41.945 N), moving SSE at 25 km/s (55,900 mph).
Ohio residents should be on the lookout for potential small meteorites that may have been created by a bright fireball that streaked over southern Ontario, Canada, last week, NASA says.

The fireball was detected by all-sky cameras from the Southern Ontario Meteor Network at 1:22 a.m. EDT (0522 GMT) on Aug. 8.

"It was picked up over Lake Erie and proceeded south-southeast over Ohio," said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. [Video: See the Aug. 8 fireball]

Sun

Venus and the Solar Storm

(Note: No planets were harmed in the production of this movie.) Yesterday, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory witnessed a spectacular explosion on the sun that seemed to pass perilously close to Venus. Did the cloudy planet survive? Play the movie for answers.

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© SOHO
As the movie shows, the CME passed harmlessly. There was no collision, and it wasn't even close. Although Venus seems to be near the sun, the planet is actually more than 100 million kilometers away. The two bodies are "in conjunction" this week as Venus moves almost directly behind the sun. Because of this arrangement, more CME-Venus conjunctions are possible in the days ahead. Check SOHO for the latest images.


Meteor

NASA: Comet Elenin Poses No Threat to Earth

© n/a
Comet Elenin
Often, comets are portrayed as harbingers of gloom and doom in movies and on television, but most pose no threat to Earth. Comet Elenin, the latest comet to visit our inner solar system, is no exception. Elenin will pass about 22 million miles (35 million kilometers) from Earth during its closest approach on Oct. 16, 2011.

Also known by its astronomical name C/2010 X1, the comet was first detected on Dec. 10, 2010 by Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, who made the discovery "remotely" using an observatory in New Mexico. At that time, Elenin was about 401 million miles (647 million kilometers) from Earth. Since its discovery, Comet Elenin has - as all comets do - closed the distance to Earth's vicinity as it makes its way closer to perihelion, its closest point to the sun.

NASA scientists have taken time over the last several months to answer your questions. Compiled below are the some of the most popular questions, with answers from Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and David Morrison of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Comment: For more information on Elenin, comets and some interesting research on related phenomena see:

Elenin, Nibiru, Planet X - Time for a Sanity Check


Meteor

Will We Be Able to Deflect an Earthbound Asteroid?

© Don Davis / NASA
Artist's concept of a catastrophic asteroid impact with the early Earth. An impact with a 500 kilometer (310 mile) diameter asteroid would effectively sterilize the planet. The Earth may have experienced such gigantic impacts in its youth, but fortunately today there are no projectiles this large to threaten our planet.

For any single human being, there are bigger things to worry about than death by space rock. For the long-term survival of humankind, on the other hand, asteroids pose a real danger.

A 6-mile-wide asteroid that struck off the coast of present-day Mexico 65 million years ago induced ecological changes that wiped out the dinosaurs. Inevitably, an Earth-shaking chunk of space debris will strike again.

However, so many earthly worries exist that a cosmic one which, at any given moment, is infinitesimally small doesn't garner much attention - or government funding. Several scientists who study asteroid hazards agree: Humankind probably won't start readying its planetary defenses until we know the danger is real. We'll need evidence that a large asteroid is actually headed here.

Will it be too late by then?

It depends. "Human beings can solve any technical problems that are put in front of us," said Daniel Durda, senior planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and an expert on asteroid collisions. "It's the social and political issues that we struggle with." Rusty Schweickart, former NASA astronaut and founding member of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroid strikes, concurred: "The geopolitical realities are daunting. The technical issues are easy by comparison."

Meteor

575-Ft Asteroid To Zoom Past Earth In Cosmic Close Call

The third near-earth asteroid of 2011 will pass between the moon and earth later this year, NASA has confirmed.

The 575-foot-wide (175 metres) asteroid, which is more than one and a half times the length of a soccer pitch, will pass within 0.85 lunar distances of the Earth on November 8, 2011.
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© Unknown

Discovered on December 28, 2005 by Robert McMillan of the Spacewatch Program near Tucson, Arizona, 2005 YU55 is believed to be a very dark, nearly spherical object.

According to NASA's Near Earth Object Program: "Although classified as a potentially hazardous object, 2005 YU55 poses no threat of an Earth collision over at least the next 100 years. However, this will be the closest approach to date by an object this large that we know about in advance and an event of this type will not happen again until 2028 when asteroid (153814) 2001 WN5 will pass to within 0.6 lunar distances."

See Trajectory of Asteroid here.

Meteor

Capture Comet C2009 P1 Garradd Now

What are you waiting for? If it's an engraved invitation, the consider this your pass to get out and start looking for Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd! It's well within reach of average binoculars and it's even in a position that's easy for the average observer! Step on out here into the backyard and I'll show you...

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© heavens-above.com
At close to magnitude 8, Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd is currently grazing its way along the eastern line of the Summer Triangle. Even if you live in a moderately light polluted area, you should be able to make out the three bright stars, Deneb to the north, Vega to the west and Altair to the south. Just aim your binoculars roughly halfway between Altair and Deneb and begin scanning on binocular field at a time for a faint, fuzzy poofball that signifies the comet's presence. What you will see in binoculars will appear to be like a "fuzzy star" - while a telescope will reveal the beginnings of a tail.

Sun

NASA to Discuss Solar Storm Tracking Efforts Thursday

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© NASA/SDO/GSFC
This still from a video taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the Aug. 8, 2011 solar flare as it appeared in the ultraviolet range of the light spectrum. The flare registered as an X6.9 class sun storm, the largest of the Solar Cycle 24.
NASA will hold a press conference Thursday (Aug. 18) to discuss "new details about the structure of solar storms and the impact they have on Earth," space agency officials said in a statement.

The briefing this week will review new observations from several NASA spacecraft, including the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (Stereo), that currently keep a close eye on the sun, agency officials said in the statement released today (Aug. 16). [Stunning Photos of Solar Flares & Sun Storms]

Thursday's briefing will be held at NASA's headquarters in Washington and will include presentations from several space weather experts.

They include:
  • Madhulika Guhathakurta, Stereo program scientist, NASA Headquarters
  • Craig DeForest, staff scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.
  • David Webb, research physicist, Institute for Scientific Research, Boston College
  • Alysha Reinard, research scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder
The news briefing will begin at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) and will be broadcast live on the NASA TV cable channel, as well as webcast on the agency's NASA TV website.

The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle (the current season is called Solar Cycle 24) and has erupted with several major flares in recent weeks. The solar cycle will peak in 2013, NASA scientists have said.

Meteor

Meteors Sound Like Aliens!


A space radar picked up the sounds of a meteor shower as it delighted skywatchers over the weekend.

What do meteors sounds like as they hit Earth's atmosphere? From this recording made by the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas, the "pings" from the Perseid Meteor Shower sound rather alien! The radar station in Lake Kickapoo, Texas is part of United States Strategic Command's (USSTRATCOM), which involves detecting, tracking, cataloging and identifying artificial objects orbiting Earth, such as both active and inactive satellites, spent rocket bodies, or fragments of debris from natural and man-made objects. Reportedly, the radar can detect objects as small as 10 cm (four inches) at heights up to 30,000 km.

Meteor

NASA Astronaut's Amazing Picture of Perseid Meteor Shower From the International Space Station

Sometimes photographers just happen to be in the right place at the right time to capture that magic moment.

If you are a Nasa astronaut you find yourself in that position a little more often that amateur stargazers so Ron Garan makes good use of his camera on duty to help us earthbound folk share in some of his special experiences.

He took this stunning photograph of a Perseid meteor bursting into the earth's atmosphere through a window of the International Space Station on Sunday during the annual Perseid meteor shower.

© NASA/Ron Garan
Snap happy: Nasa astronaut Ron Garan took this photo of a Perseid meteor through a window in the International Space Station.

The astronaut posted his snap to Twitter with the message: 'What a "Shooting Star" looks like #FromSpace Taken yesterday during Perseids Meteor Shower...'