NASA deep space probe reaches asteroid deemed potential Earth threat

FILE PHOTO - NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is seen on display at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, U.S. August 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Brown

By Joey Roulette

(Reuters) – NASA’s deep space explorer Osiris-Rex flew on Monday to within a dozen miles of its destination, a skyscraper-sized asteroid believed to hold organic compounds fundamental to life as well as the potential to collide with Earth in about 150 years.

Launched in September 2016, Osiris-Rex embarked on NASA’s unprecedented seven-year mission to conduct a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample from its surface and return that material to Earth for study.

Bennu, a rocky mass roughly a third of a mile wide and shaped like a giant acorn, orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth and is thought to be rich in carbon-based organic molecules dating back to the earliest days of the solar system. Water, another vital component to the evolution of life, may also be trapped in the asteroid’s minerals.

Scientists believe that asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could help prove that theory.

But there is another more existential reason to study Bennu.

Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid slamming catastrophically into Earth 166 years from now. That probability ranks Bennu No. 2 on NASA’s catalog of 72 near-Earth objects potentially capable of hitting the planet.

Osiris-Rex will help scientists understand how heat radiated from the sun is gently steering Bennu on an increasingly menacing course through the solar system. That solar energy is believed to be nudging the asteroid ever closer toward Earth’s path each time the asteroid makes its closest approach to our planet every six years.

“By the time we collect the sample in 2020 we will have a much better idea of the probability that Bennu would impact Earth in the next 150 years,” mission spokeswoman Erin Morton said.

Scientists have estimated that in 2135 Bennu could pass closer to Earth than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 250,000 miles, and possibly come closer still sometime between 2175 and 2195.

Osiris-Rex reached the “preliminary survey” phase of its mission on Monday, soaring to within 12 miles of the asteroid. The spacecraft will pass just 1.2 miles from Bennu in late December, where it will enter the object’s gravitational pull.

From that stage, the spacecraft will begin gradually tightening its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet of its surface. Osiris-Rex will then extend its robot arm to snatch a sample of Bennu’s terrain in a “touch-and-go” maneuver set for July 2020.

Osiris-Rex will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

NASA is developing a strategy for deflecting Bennu, or any other asteroid found to be on a collision course with Earth, by use of a special spacecraft to slam into the object hard enough to nudge it onto a safer path, said Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“But this is all dependent on the outcome of a very close approach that Bennu has with Earth in September 2135,” Johnson said. “We’ll just need to wait and see. Rather, our great-great-grandchildren will need to see.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando, Fla.; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)

Scientists test warning system as asteroid flies by

Scientists test warning system as asteroid flies by

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – An asteroid the size of a school bus flew remarkably near Earth on Thursday, providing scientists with an opportunity to test the warning systems that would kick in if a space collision was coming.

Asteroid 2012 TC4 came close — passing Earth at a distance of only around 44,000 km (27,000 miles), which is nothing in Universe terms.

There was no actual risk of a hit, although the asteroid did come well inside the orbit of the Moon and that of some human-made satellites.

“Basically, we pretended that this is a ‘critical’ object with a high risk of impacting Earth … and exercised our communication channels and used telescopes and radar systems for observations,” Detlef Koschny of European Space Agency said in a blog post on the agency’s website.

The results were mixed.

Koschny said one big radar system in Puerto Rico did not work due to damage from Hurricane Maria but that another U.S. based radar system was used instead.

“This is exactly why we do this exercise – to not be surprised by these things,” he said.

Radar images showed the asteroid was about 10 to 12 meters (yards) wide, roughly the size of an asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, leaving more than 1,000 people injured by flying glass and debris.

Koschny said the ESA now needed to update its predictions for how close 2012 TC4 will come to Earth on its next flyby, which has so far been forecast for 2079.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Scientists Will Have Rare Chance to Study Asteroid on Christmas Eve

A large asteroid is projected to approach Earth on Christmas Eve, getting close enough that scientists will be able to study it but not close enough that it will have any effect on the planet.

According to a blog post on NASA’s website, the 2003 SD220 asteroid will be about 6.7 million miles away from Earth when it passes by later this month. That’s 28 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. NASA says it will be able to use radar to determine the object’s mass, as well as perform other scientific studies, but the asteroid isn’t expected to be any danger to Earth.

Over the summer, rumors swirled on the Internet saying that an asteroid was going to impact earth some time in September. In a statement at the time, NASA said every known comet and potentially hazardous asteroid has a less than .01 percent chance of hitting Earth before 2115.

“There is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth,” Paul Chodas, who heads NASA’s Near-Earth Object office, said in a statement at the time. “In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.” Scientists discovered 2003 SD220 back in 2003.

The asteroid was originally thought to be .8 miles wide, but NASA says the latest observations indicate the asteroid is closer to half that size. While there are some published reports saying that 2003 SD220 will be close enough to trigger volcanoes or earthquakes, even without hitting Earth, though astronomy website declared they are “misleading and incorrect.”

Writing for the website, Eddie Irizarry of the Astronomical Society of the Caribbean said there isn’t any scientific evidence suggesting asteroids can lead to seismic activity simply from a fly-by. That would be different if the asteroid hit Earth, he wrote, but “that clearly will not be the case.”

News agency UPI reported that another asteroid passed much closer to Earth on Halloween, coming within about 310,000 miles of the planet, and that didn’t lead to any adverse effects.

Still, NASA is savoring the opportunity to study the asteroid to learn more about its structure. It will only be close enough for radar detection five times in the next 12 years, according to the blog post. That includes a scheduled 2018 fly-by when it’ll be about 1.7 million miles away.

Fireball Roars Through Bangkok Sky

Social media in Thailand was burning this morning with footage of a giant fireball that streaked through the Bangkok skies before exploding in a flash.

The object was captured during the city’s morning rush hour by dash and security cameras with the footage quickly uploaded to the internet.

Astrophysicists and other astronomic researchers said the item was mostly likely an asteroid.

“There is a high possibility that the object spotted this morning… on social media, is an object from outer space,” Saran Poshyachinda, Deputy Director of National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, told CNN.

“It looks like an asteroid traveling to Earth and grazing through the air and it turned into a fireball.”

“It was almost certainly a good-sized rock burning up in our atmosphere,” Phil Plait, a former member of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Team, told the Bangkok Post. “It only took two seconds or so for it to go from being visible to it flaring as it disintegrated. It may have had a steep angle of entry.”

However, others are speculating that it was a satellite that was falling to Earth.  The website, which tracks “space junk”, had listed a satellite to fall into the atmosphere and burn up in that area during the window of time where the object was recorded.

Giant Asteroid To Pass Earth on January 26

An asteroid about 1/3 of a mile in width will rush past earth on January 26th and mark the closest an asteroid of its size will come to Earth until 2027.

The asteroid, 2004 BL86, will pass the planet at a range of 745,000 miles, or three times the distance between the Earth and the moon.  That will be the closest this asteroid will come to Earth in our lifetime according to NASA.

“While 2004 BL86 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,” Don Yeomans, of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

NASA will track the asteroid from the Deep Space Network in Goldstone, California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The asteroid was first detected January 30, 2004 in New Mexico by the LINEAR telescope.  NASA says it should be visible in the Northern Hemisphere with small telescopes and strong binoculars.

Scientists Tracking Potential Life Ending Asteroid

Scientists are tracking an asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth and could end all life on the planet in 2880.

The asteroid apparently is continuing a collision course despite any gravitational factors that should be weighing on it as it passes other celestial objects.  Researchers at the University of Tennessee are tracking the object called 1950 DA.

The scientists have already calculated that attempting to blow up the asteroid would not be effective because it would break into smaller pieces that would have the same trajectory and thus cause more significant impacts.

The scientists say that the asteroid’s impact would have the same force as 44,800 megatons of TNT.  Tsunamis would swamp the globe and the climate change would be devastating to human life.

The University of Tennessee team found that the asteroid is rotating so rapidly that it “defies gravity”.  The forces holding the asteroid together have never been previously detected by scientists.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

Flaming Object Strikes Near Queensland, Australia

A bright blue and orange object that plunged from the sky and struck the ground with the force of a bomb startled residents of Queensland, Australia.

A resident of Mount Isa, Australia old ABC News that the object was a “blazing light” that was “falling straight down.”

“I am actually flabbergasted at the attention at the moment because it was just a complete fluke,” Virginia Hills said.

Residents of the area say the moment of impact was unusual in that despite looking like a bomb there was no audible sound.

“It was like an explosion but without a sound,” Kim Vega said.  “It was like an atomic bomb effect when it would have hit the ground and all the trees and the skies lit up.”

Astronomers suggest the object was not an asteroid but rather a satellite that fell out of orbit.  The colors of the object seemed to indicate a metallic object rather than a space rock.

Asteroid To Pass Closer Than Moon

An asteroid is going to blow past Earth tomorrow closer than the moon’s orbit.

The asteroid, named 2014 DX110, will pass within about 9/10th of the moon’s orbit at around 33,000 miles per hour.  The Virtual Telescope Project is planning to provide live online coverage of the asteroid’s passing starting around 3:30 p.m. eastern time tomorrow.

The asteroid is believed to be the size of three double decker busses.

The asteroid is classified as a “Apollo class” asteroid, meaning that it passes through the Earth’s orbit.  If the asteroid were to strike Earth, it would leave a crater up to 20 times its size.

If that were to happen, it would throw enough dust into the sky that it would darken the planets for years.

Record Breaking Meteor Strike on Moon

Almost six months after a previously record breaking asteroid strike on the moon, the moon has once against been hit with the biggest space rock it’s collided with in history.

NASA and other space scientists have released footage of the strike to the public after extensive analysis of the September 11, 2013 strike.

The meteor, which scientists estimate at 880 pounds and measured almost four and half feet wide, hit the moon at 37,900 miles per hour.  The impact of the rock caused a crater around 130 feet wide and had the strength of 15 tons of TNT.

It was more than three times as powerful as the previous record set on March 17, 2013.

The strike also created a blast that could be seen on Earth with the naked eye.   Also, where post strikes produce a flash that lasts a fraction of a second, the strike on September 11th lastest eight seconds.  NASA said it was the longest lasting flash in recorded history.

Giant Asteroid To Pass Earth

They make blockbuster movies about asteroids this size.

An asteroid the size of three football fields is set to make a close brush with Earth Monday night.  The near-Earth asteroid, known as 2000 EM26, will not hit the planet but will pass close enough to be seen clearly by orbiting cameras.

Scientists say the asteroid is flying at 27,000 miles per hour and will pass about 8.8 lunar distances from Earth.  (A lunar distance is the space between the Earth and the moon or approximately 238,900 miles.)

Operators of the Slooh Space Camera are using the arrival of the asteroid to raise awareness of the fact many asteroids are not found until they are days away from the planet.

“We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids — sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth,” said Paul Cox, Slooh’s technical and research director. “Slooh’s asteroid research campaign is gathering momentum with Slooh members using the Slooh robotic telescopes to monitor this huge population of potentially hazardous space rocks. We need to find them before they find us!”

The fly by comes almost exactly a year after an asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, with the energy equivalent of 20 atomic bombs.  On that day, scientists were focused on another near-Earth object’s passing, 2012 DA14, and did not notice the space rock that exploded over Russia.

NASA will be streaming video of the asteroid’s passing starting around 9 p.m. Eastern time on their website