This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

31 March 2008

Clay tablet Reveals Asteroid that Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

Selections from the article as well as overview of the book and press release announcing this evidence (A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels' Impact Event by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell)...

A clay tablet that has baffled scientists for 150 years has been identified as a witness’s account of the asteroid suspected of being behind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Researchers who cracked the cuneiform symbols on the Planisphere tablet believe that it recorded an asteroid thought to have been more than half a mile across.

The tablet, found by Henry Layard in the remains of the library in the royal place at Nineveh in the mid-19th century, is thought to be a 700BC copy of notes made by a Sumerian astronomer watching the night sky.

He referred to the asteroid as “white stone bowl approaching” and recorded it as it “vigorously swept along”.

Using computers to recreate the night sky thousands of years ago, scientists have pinpointed his sighting to shortly before dawn on June 29 in the year 3123BC.

About half the symbols on the tablet have survived and half of those refer to the asteroid. The other symbols record the positions of clouds and constellations. In the past 150 years scientists have made five unsuccessful attempts to translate the tablet.

Mark Hempsell, one of the researchers from Bristol University who cracked the tablet’s code, said: “It’s a wonderful piece of observation, an absolutely perfect piece of science.”

He said the size and route of the asteroid meant that it was likely to have crashed into the Austrian Alps at Köfels. As it travelled close to the ground it would have left a trail of destruction from supersonic shock waves and then slammed into the Earth with a cataclysmic impact.

Debris consisting of up to two thirds of the asteroid would have been hurled back along its route and a flash reaching temperatures of 400C (752F) would have been created, killing anyone in its path. About one million sq km (386,000 sq miles) would have been devastated and the impact would have been equivalent to more than 1,000 tonnes of TNT exploding.

Dr Hempsall said that at least 20 ancient myths record devastation of the type and on the scale of the asteroid’s impact, including the Old Testament tale of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Ancient Greek myth of how Phaeton, son of Helios, fell into the River Eridanus after losing control of his father’s sun chariot.

The findings of Dr Hempsall and Alan Bond, of Reaction Engines Ltd, are published in a book, A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels’ Impact Event.

The researchers say that the asteroid’s impact would explain why at Köfels there is evidence of an ancient landslide 5km wide and 500m thick.

"Clay tablet identified as asteroid that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah"
Lewis Smith
Science Reporter
The Times
31 March 2008

Link: Article

A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels' Impact Event (Paperback)
by Alan Bond (Author), Mark Hempsell (Author)

Book Description [From]:
Around 700 BC an Assyrian scribe in the Royal Place at Nineveh made a copy of one of the most important documents in the royal collection. Two and a half thousand years later it was found by Henry Layard in the remains of the palace library. It ended up in the British Museum's cuneiform clay tablet collection as catalogue No. K8538 (also called "the Planisphere"), where it has puzzled scholars for over a hundred and fifty years. In this monograph Bond and Hempsell provide the first comprehensive translation of the tablet, showing it to be a contemporary Sumerian observation of an Aten asteroid over a kilometre in diameter that impacted Köfels in Austria in the early morning of 29th June 3123 BC.

Link: page

"Cuneiform clay tablet translated for the first time"
Press release
University of Bristol
31 March 2008

Link: University of Bristol Press Release

27 March 2008

Move An Asteroid 2008: International Student & Young Professional Technical Paper Competition

There is a new international student and young professional paper competition related to asteroid mitigation (see attached flyer). The top prize is a trip to Glasgow, Scotland in September 2008 to present at the Space Generation Congress (SGC) and International Astronautical Congress (IAC). Email entries are due by June 9, 2008.

For more rules, submission information, and a press release please visit:

--- Move An Asteroid 2008: International Student & Young Professional Technical Paper Competition

The Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) announces an international youth technical paper competition to develop unique and innovative concepts for how to deflect an asteroid or comet that could impact the Earth. Financial support for this competition is provided by Northrop Grumman Corporation, Lockheed Martin Corporation, SpaceWorks Commercial, and The Planetary Society.

The competition calls for individuals or teams under 33 years of age to write and submit a 3-10 page original technical paper on their innovative concept for mitigation. The 1st place award is a trip to present the winning paper at this year's Space Generation Congress (SGC) and International Astronautical Congress (IAC) which take place in Glasgow, Scotland from late September until early October 2008. The 2nd place award is a trip to present at the SGC. Entries are due on 09 June 2008 and winners will be announced on 30 June 2008, the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska Event, the largest asteroid/comet impact event in Earth's recent history.

Link: Move An Asteroid 2008: International Student & Young Professional Technical Paper Competition

Link: Press Release

Link: Flyer

23 March 2008

NyTimes Opd-Ed from the Past:Op-Ed: Killer Comets Are Out There. Now What? (Arthur C. Clarke, 1994)

From the NYTimes...

Every week, the Opinion section presents an essay from The Times's archive by a columnist or contributor that we hope sheds light on current news or provides a window on the past. This week's offering comes from Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction novelist, who died on Wednesday. In 1994, he urged Op-Ed readers to look to the skies--or risk going the way of the dinosaurs.

"Op-Ed: Killer Comets Are Out There. Now What?"
Sunday, August 14, 1994
Arthur C. Clarke

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — At 0946 G.M.T. on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball, appear in the eastern sky. . . . Moving at 50 kilometers a second, a thousand tons of rock and metal impacted on the plains of northern Italy, destroying in a few flaming moments the labor of centuries. The cities of Padua und Verona were wiped from the face of the Earth; and the last glories of Venice sank forever beneath the sea as the waters of the Adriatic came thundering landward after the hammer blow from space. . . .

After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity that no earlier age could have shown. Such a disaster, it was realized, might not occur again for a thousand years -- but it might occur tomorrow. . . . So began Project Spaceguard.

-- "Rendezvous with Rama," 1973

Soon after the last fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter last month, the monsoon skies above my home in Colombo cleared momentarily and I hurried to set up my 14-inch Celestron telescope. I didn't really expect to see anything, so I could hardly believe my eyes when I clearly observed a line of dark bruises spread out across the planet's southern hemisphere.

Some imaginative souls suggested that the comet might have a catastrophic impact on Jupiter, but its effect will be largely cosmetic. And it will certainly have no effect on Earth, despite the inevitable alarmist warnings by religious fanatics. But the spectacular collision between the newly discovered comet with the solar system's largest planet has brought sudden new attention to a genuine threat: the chance that a rogue comet or asteroid could strike Earth, with possibly devastating consequences.

As a result, the fictional "Project Spaceguard" I described in my 1973 novel has now begun in reality -- if Congress approves an amendment to the 1994 NASA authorization bill requesting the space agency to identify and catalogue within 10 years "the orbital characteristics of all comets and asteroids greater than one kilometer in diameter in orbit around the Sun that cross the orbit of the Earth."

Though this amendment was prompted by the Shoemaker-Levy comet, it is really the result of an "International Near-Earth-Object Detection Workshop" organized by NASA in 1992. With a nod to "Rendezvous with Rama," the official report of this workshop was entitled the Spaceguard Survey.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have thought of these developments, in view of his famous remark on hearing of a meteorite landing in New England: "I'd rather believe that two Yankee professors lied than that stones fell from the sky." Certainly no one could have imagined how quickly and how dramatically a cosmic event so apparently removed from everyday affairs would become prime-time news.

In view of the number of collisions that have taken place in this century alone -- most notably, a comet or asteroid that exploded in 1908 in Siberia with the force of 20 hydrogen bombs -- there is a very good case for a global survey of the possible danger, particularly as the shared cost among nations would be negligible compared to most national defense budgets. (Incidentally, historians might also be advised to undertake some surveying. Just as the numerous meteor-impact craters on Earth were never found until we started looking for them, so there may have been disasters in history that have been misinterpreted. Sodom and Gomorrah have a good claim to be meteorite casualties; how many others are there?)

Many people would probably prefer not to know of impending cosmic doom, if nothing could be done to avert it. Yet given sufficient warning time -- which we hope Spaceguard would provide -- we should be able to develop the technology necessary to ward off, or even destroy, such intruders from outer space.

There are at least three ways in which oncoming asteroids, or their cometary cousins, might be deflected. The first is the brute force approach: nuke the beast. A sufficiently large bomb -- probably in the gigaton class, or the equivalent of about a billion tons of high explosive -- could split an intruder into many fragments. This would not necessarily be a Good Thing, because some of the pieces might still be heading straight toward us. The atmosphere, however, would burn up most of the smaller fragments, and at least instead of massive devastation in one area there might be minimal damage spread over numerous sites.

Needless to say, such a pre-emptive strike is advocated by enthusiastic and currently underemployed bomb designers. Perhaps a better solution is one I adopted in another novel, "The Hammer of God," in which a potential killer asteroid is detected a year before it will collide with Earth, giving astronauts barely enough time to make a rendezvous and deflect it into a harmless orbit by mounting rocket thrusters on its surface.

Given enough warning time -- at least several years -- this could be done with very modest amounts of power. An initial deflection of only a few centimeters, at the beginning of a multimillion-kilometer journey, could insure that the asteroid steered well clear of us.

Although the orbit of a solid body like an asteroid can be calculated centuries in advance (once the object has been discovered!) the rocket-thruster solution might not work so well with comets. These flying icebergs warm up as they approach the sun and begin to vent gas. The resulting "jet propulsion" makes their future position uncertain, so if we ever have to deflect an oncoming comet, we would have to allow a very significant safety margin.

An even more elegant solution has been proposed by scientists at NASA and elsewhere: "solar sailing." The plan would be to attach a huge lightweight mirror of metal foil to the comet or asteroid, capturing the minute but continuous pressure exerted by sunlight. Unfortunately, the acceleration produced by this feeble pressure would be so minimal that years, even decades, of warning time might be required.

All these solutions would require a vast investment in new technology. But people who say "Why waste money on space?" should remember the dinosaurs, whose extinction it is now widely believed was caused -- or at least accelerated -- by the impact of a giant meteorite around 65 million years ago.

And NASA's increased commitment to identifying threatening bodies in space could have another benefit: it could give new inspiration to America's flagging space program, and restore some of the lost magic of the Age of Apollo.

Link: NYTimes Op-Ed Classic

19 March 2008

Dave Morrison on Planetary Defense and Sir Arthur C. Clarke

From Dave Morrison's NEO News (03/19/08). The following are some of Dave's comments related to the passing of a true visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke this week...

Science fact and science fiction lost one of our most visionary and influential heroes with the death of Arthur C. Clarke. Following are several obituaries. None of them comment, however, on Clarke's contribution to our field by providing the name for the Spaceguard Survey. The name "Spaceguard" was suggested by the NASA Spaceguard Workshop (which I chaired) in 1992. This name had been coined in Clarke's novel "Rendezvous with Rama", for a future system to detect any incoming asteroids or comets in time to protect the Earth from a catastrophic impact. Clarke graciously endorsed our use of the term, which has become synonymous with asteroid surveys. He himself supported our efforts to initiate this survey and was pleased to have his name associated with such a worthy endeavor. Partly inspired by the new attention to the impact hazard, Clarke wrote in 1994 a novel on this theme: "Hammer of God". The plot concerns efforts to deflect a large cometary object on a collision course with Earth. This novel was acquired by a Hollywood studio and became part of basis for the 1998 film "Deep Impact", although Clarke himself did not write the script. All of us who have been entertained and inspired by Sir Arthur Clarke's writings mourn his passing.

David Morrison


NEO News (now in its fourteenth year of distribution) is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact For additional information, please see the website If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.

Wall Street Journal Article on Rusty's International NEO Work

Article on Rusty Schweickart and asteroids...selections from the article...

The hard part of asteroids, says Mr. Schweickart, and the part he is spending nearly all of his time on right now, involves finding a way to reach a global agreement on how the planet would respond should an asteroid head our way.

This is where the astronaut starts to think like a diplomat. Indeed, several of the messages in his inbox last week involved a meeting he's hoping to have in the fall with the secretary-general of the United Nations.

Mr. Schweickart says the only fair way to proceed is to have a decision-making formula drawn up well in advance, thus unaffected by the political heat of an actual crisis.

Another reason to involve the U.N., says Mr. Schweickart, is to overcome global suspicion that a unilateral American antiasteroid effort would be a ruse to militarize space. Mr. Schweickart says he also is concerned about the issue. Many in Washington, he says, seem almost exclusively interested in the nuclear option.

Mr. Schweickart has been working on NEOs since 2001, and says he will spend another year on the project before turning the reins over to someone else. In the meantime, he's talking to everyone he can.

"Let's face it," he says, "being an ex-astronaut opens a lot of doors for you."

"Keeping the Earth Asteroid-Free Takes Science, Soft Touch"
Lee Gomes
Wall Street Journal
19 March 2008
Page B1

Link: Article

12 March 2008

Article on Stony Meteorite that Hit in Peru on 15 Sept. 2007

The Carancas Fireball: Planetary geologists had thought that stony meteorites would be destroyed when they passed through Earth’s atmosphere. This one struck ground near Carancas, Peru, at about 15,000 miles per hour. Brown University geologists have advanced a new theory that would upend current thinking about stony meteorites. Image: Peter Schultz, Brown University

From the article...

Schultz’s [Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University] theory could upend the conventional wisdom that all small, stony meteorites disintegrate before striking Earth. If correct, it could change the thinking about the size and type of extraterrestrial objects that have bombarded the Earth for eons and could strike our planet next.

"Brown Scientist Answers How Peruvian Meteorite Made It to Earth"
Brown University
11 March 2008

Link: Article

11 March 2008

Article on Earth's Fate in the Future Solar System (and How to Use an Asteroid/Comet to Change this Fate)

This is a very interesting article on the calculated fate of the Earth as the Sun changes over the next few billion years. Please read the entire article. Near the end there is mention of an interesting thought experiment of how the Earth could avoid getting swallowed by the expanding Sun using the orbits or asteroids/comets (late on another author had the idea to use solar radiation pressure from a sail, both abstracts are below). Here is that excerpt from the end of the article along with more information on the concept...

- Selections from NYTimes Article...

Is there any way out of this fiery end for the robots or cockroaches or whoever will be running the Earth in a billion years?

One option is to leave for another planet or another star system.

Another option, Dr. Smith [Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England] said, is to engage in some large-scale high-stakes engineering.

In the same way that space probes can get a trajectory boost by playing gravitational billiards with Venus or Jupiter to gain speed and get farther out in space, so the Earth could engineer regular encounters with a comet or asteroid, thus raising its orbit and getting farther from the Sun, according to a paper in 2001 by Don Korycansky and Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan.

Dr. Laughlin said that when their paper first came out, they were praised by the radio host Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives for forward thinking.

But Dr. Laughlin said they were actually not advocating the orbit-shifting project, noting that a miscalculation could lead to the comet’s hitting the Earth.

“There are profound ethical issues involved,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “and the cost of failure (an Earth-sterilizing impact) is unacceptably high.”

Anyway, such a maneuver would prolong the viability of the Earth for only a few billion years. After that, the planet would be stranded in the cold and dim

Article: Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years
Dennis Overbye
New York Times
11 March 2008

Link: NYTimes Article: Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years

Article: "Recipe for Saving Earth: Move It"
Robert Roy Britt
07 February 2001

Link: Article: "Recipe for Saving Earth: Move It"

- Abstract (using asteroids/comets to move the Earth)

Astronomical Engineering: A Strategy For Modifying Planetary Orbits
Journal: Astrophysics and Space Science
Issue: Volume 275, Number 4 / March, 2001
Authors: D.G. Korycansky, Gregory Laughlin and Fred C. Adams

D.G. Korycansky, CODEP Dept Earth Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

Gregory Laughlin, NASA Ames Research Center, 245-3 Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA

Fred C. Adams, Physics Department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

Abstract: The Sun's gradual brightening will seriously compromise the Earth's biosphere within sim 109 years. If Earth's orbit migrates outward,however, the biosphere could remain intact over the entir emain-sequence lifetime of the Sun. In this paper, we explore the feasibility of engineering such a migration over a long time period. The basic mechanism uses gravitational assists to (in effect)transfer orbital energy from Jupiter to the Earth, and thereby enlarges the orbital radius of Earth. This transfer is accomplished by a suitable intermediate body, either a Kuiper Belt object or a mainbelt asteroid. The object first encounters Earth during an inward pass on its initial highly elliptical orbit of large (sim 300 AU) semimajor axis. The encounter transfers energy from the object to the Earth in standard gravity-assist fashion by passing close to the leading limb of the planet. The resulting outbound trajectory of the object must cross the orbit of Jupiter; with proper timing, the outbound object encounters Jupiter and picks up the energy it lost to arth. With small corrections to the trajectory, or additional planetary encounters (e.g., with Saturn), the object can repeat this process over many encounters. To maintain its present flux of solar energy, the Earth must experience roughly one encounter every 6000years (for an object mass of 1022 g). We develop the details of this scheme and discuss its ramifications.

Link: Springer Journal Article Link

- Abstract (using solar radiation pressure to move the Earth)

Astronomical Engineering Revisited: Planetary Orbit Modification Using Solar Radiation Pressure

Journal: Astrophysics and Space Science
Issue: Volume 282, Number 4 / December, 2002
Author Colin R. McInnes

Colin R. McInnes, Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, Scotland, U.K.

Abstract: As the Sun evolves along the main sequence its luminosity will grow, leading to a steadily increasing solar flux at the Earth with corresponding catastrophic consequences for the biosphere. A novel means of avoiding this terminal route to human evolution has recently been proposed by Korycansky et al. which utilises a series of grazing fly-pasts of the Earth with a small solar system body to increase the orbit radius of the Earth over a timescale of order 109 years. This short paper will propose an alternative strategy which utilises a large reflective sail to generate a propulsive thrust due to solar radiation pressure. It will be shown that if the sail is configured to be in static equilibrium relative to the Earth, the centre-of-mass of the Earth-sail system slowly accelerates. This scheme offers some advantages in that the mass of the sail is four orders of magnitude less than the mass to be processed in the scheme of Korycanskyet al. for trajectory correction manoeuvres alone. In addition, the severe hazard posed by multiple grazing fly-pasts of the Earth by a small solar system body is avoided. Although offering significant advantages, any thoughts of engineering on an astronomical scale clearly requires a leap of the imagination and a ready use of liberal assumptions.

Link: Springer Journal Article Link

07 March 2008

Commentary on Tunguska from Alexander Bagrov

Selections from the article (written by Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Alexander Bagrov, research associate of the Astronomy Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences)....

The Tunguska blast was the largest meteoroid impact in the Earth's recent history, and demonstrated the awesome destructive power of near-space objects. An explosion of the scale of the one in Tunguska could destroy large metropolitan areas. It is this possibility that has helped to spark discussion of asteroid deflection strategies.

Due to the rotation of Earth, if the collision had occurred 4 hours 47 minutes later, it would have completely destroyed the Imperial Russian capital, St. Petersburg. A little later still, and the Tunguska meteorite would have wreaked chaos and destruction in densely populated Europe. Although scientists have advanced over 80 theories explaining the Tunguska event, none of them offers any conclusive evidence. Moreover, it is now impossible to verify them.

When I became an astronomer 30 years ago, I believed that the mystery of the Tunguska meteorite would never be solved. However, astronomers have since then obtained additional information about the origin of celestial bodies, and can offer more convincing explanations for the Tunguska blast.

I am going to tell an upcoming international conference in Moscow to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska event that it was most likely caused by a comet fragment consisting of the Solar System's primary matter.

There are two kinds of comets in our Solar System. "Primary" comets consist of micron-sized inter-stellar dust and gas, whereas "secondary" comets feature meteorite substance. A disintegrating "secondary" comet forms the meteor showers that are frequently observed from the Earth. Some of their fragments do not burn up during reentry and can be recovered. On February 12, 1947, a large meteorite disintegrated spilled fragments over a 1.3-sq. km. area in the Sikhote-Alin range, some 440 km from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. Subsequent expeditions recovered many iron fragments there.

The Astronomy Institute's experts and I believe that if the Tunguska meteorite were a "secondary" comet, then it would have contained several metric tons of meteor substance, and some of it could have been recovered.

It would be therefore logical to assume that the Tunguska meteorite was a huge gas-and-dust snowball, whose tiny fragments vaporized after hitting the terrestrial atmosphere. The remaining comet-nucleus also vaporized instantly, causing the loud and powerful air burst that was registered by many observatories all over the world.

When a "primary" comet blows up, surviving comet-nucleus particles, including tiny hard-to-melt dust, are dispersed in the Earth's atmosphere, subsequently becoming embedded in tree bark. Unfortunately, scientists in 1908 lacked modern methods for detecting space-bolide substances.

Tunguska meteorite: a warning from outer space
06 March 2008
Opinion & analysis
RIA Novosti

Link: RIA Novosti Article

06 March 2008

Two Articles in Science Magazine on NEO Threat

Richard Stone has two articles in Science Magazine on the NEO threat.

NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS: The State of Our Planet's Defenses
Richard Stone
Science 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, p. 1329
News Focus

Link: Science Magazine News Focus Article: NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS: The State of Our Planet's Defenses

NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS: Preparing for Doomsday
Richard Stone
Science 7 March 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5868, pp. 1326 - 1329
News Focus

Link: Science Magazine News Focus Article: NEAR-EARTH OBJECTS: Preparing for Doomsday

Planetary Radio (from The Planetary Society) Profiles Their Apophis Mission Design Competition

Planetary Radio (from The Planetary Society): Apophis Mission Design Competition (including interviews from John Olds from SpaceWorks and Jesse Koeing from SpaceDev, winners from the best design in the open competition).

Link: Planetary Radio (03 March 2008) Article

Link: Planetary Radio (03 March 2008) Windows Media

Link: Planetary Radio (03 March 2008) MP3

Updates on Arecibo Telescope Funding Issues and its Triple Asteroid Discovery

Image credit: Michael Nolan, Arecibo Observatory. These radar images of near-Earth asteroid 2001 SN263 were obtained on 2008 Feb 12 and 13. The resolution is 75m (250 feet) per pixel. Because the moons are rotating more slowly than the larger "primary", they appear narrower to the radar, which measures distance and speed. Arecibo transmitted 500 000 Watts toward the asteroid, but the echo power received with Arecibo's ultra-sensitive detectors and processed into these images totals less than a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a watt. Arecibo is both the world's most powerful radar transmitter and the world's most sensitive radio receiver. This experiment produced 75-meter-resolution images of a 2-km asteroid when it was about 11,000,000 km away. This is like using a camera in New York to image a person in Los Angeles with one-inch resolution.

Selections from the article (note there is also an associated press release on Arecibo's discovery of a triple asteroid 2001 SN263, the first one of its kind found)...

Nolan [Michael Nolan, research associate and head of radar astronomy at Arecibo] said Arecibo’s budget is now $12.5 million per year, but it will be cut 10 percent in 2009, and 40 percent by 2011.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Cal., a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, has co-sponsored a bill in a bi-partisan effort to appeal to NASA and the NSF to keep Arecibo running. He is sponsoring the bill with Luis Fortuna, resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, a nonvoting member of the House of Representatives.

Tara Setmayer, communications director for Rohrabacher, said the bill will ask for the NSF to fully fund Arecibo, allowing scientists to continue their work in radio astronomy and solar system research. It does not specify exactly how much funding should be set aside.

The bill also calls for cooperation between NASA and the NSF.

Nolan said the Arecibo telescope gathers data rather than taking pictures of the asteroid. He said scientists bounce radio waves off the asteroid and then use the data they obtain to find out the rock’s mass, density, orbit and other features.

“You send out a narrow pulse and first it bounces off the front of the asteroid,” he said. “And then a few microseconds later it bounces off a piece farther away, and so we can sort of patch that back together and make these images.”

Cornell research associate Ellen Howell said as the asteroid spins, astronomers make a two-dimensional image of it on their computers.

Howell said Arecibo’s capabilities are unique, because it can react quickly to new discoveries by approving urgent proposals for additional observation.

“Sometimes in as little as three or four hours, we can change the schedule, get all the right people assembled and get the telescope going,” Howell said.

Howell said she and her colleagues had been planning to look at the near-Earth asteroid, known as 2001 SN263, for a while. She and other astronomers thought it was simply a large rock and did not realize it has two moons.

“We didn’t know there was anything special about it until we got the first images,” she said.

Nolan said the main rock in the asteroid’s system is 2.7 km in diameter, or about 1.5 miles. Howell said the largest moon is half that size, and the smaller moon is 1000 m in diameter.

Howell said the triple asteroid is the closest one to Earth astronomers have ever found, though they have seen binary asteroids, with only one moon, close to Earth before.

The discovery raises many questions for Howell and her fellow astronomers, such as whether this triple system is stable and whether it formed as a three-part asteroid or picked up the third rock later.

Setmayer said Rohrabacher believes maintaining Arecibo is vital to national security, since its use of radar makes it uniquely suited for finding potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

"Cornell telescope lacks funding despite rare asteroid discovery"
Clara Eisinger
The Ithacan
06 March 2008

Link: Article

Link: Cornell University Press Release on Triple Asteroid Discovery (13 Feb. 2008)

link: Arecibo Images and New Release

03 March 2008

U.S. Congress Legislation on NEOs: H.R. 4917 NEO Preparedness Act

Dale Brownfield at the Gaiashield Group is trying to get people to sign up to support H.R. 4917 NEO Preparedness Act, a proposed bill in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsered by California Republican Dana Rohrabacher that seeks to establish a NEO office within NASA (referred to as the Office of Potentially Hazardous Near-Earth Object Preparedness). Notable sections of the legislation include the following...


(a) Establishment- The Administrator shall establish the Office of Potentially Hazardous Near-Earth Object Preparedness (in this Act referred to as `Office'). The purpose of the Office shall be to prepare the United States for readiness to avoid and to mitigate collisions with potentially hazardous near-Earth objects in collaboration with other Agencies through the identification of situation- and decision-analysis factors and selection of procedures and systems.

(b) Identification of Situation- and Decision-Analysis Factors- The Office shall identify situation- and decision-analysis factors, in collaboration with other Agencies, by determining--

(1) the needed objective technical and nontechnical criteria upon which to analyze potentially hazardous near-Earth object collision information and to base key threat elimination-decisions and options;

(2) the implications of such decisions and options;

(3) the human skills needed to make key threat elimination-decisions and the preparation required for individuals making such decisions;

(4) the factors needed to formulate key techical and policy questions involving such decisions;

(5) methods for determining and sequencing the minimum possible time periods needed to make such decisions;

(6) a model deflection and mitigation decision logic flow, including provisions for minimizing--

(A) human exposure,

(B) energy, cost, and time, and

(C) the risk of return of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects; and

(7) additional critical information needs, technological developments, public confidence building initiatives, and any other needs involving the threat of collisons of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects with Earth.

(c) Selection of Procedures and Systems- The Office shall select procedures and systems by--

(1) surveying the existing deflection proposals and examining each proposal for critical elements including capability, suitability, feasibility, cost, cost effectiveness, required human and capital resources, and maturity of needed key technologies;

(2) with the results from subsection (a) and input from other appropriate sources, performing an architectural tradeoff assessment and selecting a set of deflection proposals as primary procedures and systems that will provide the best opportunities for deflection-preparation, taking into account adequate- and short-warning collision timelines, as well as relevant asteroid and comet characteristics;

(3) for each selected primary procedure and system--

(A) identifying the best backup;

(B) defining the steps needed to realize immature key technologies;

(C) developing preliminary models;

(D) performing a predicted results error-analysis in order to confirm the characteristics described in subsection (a);

(E) projecting time to readiness;

(F) formulating an implementation phase to achieve full deflection readiness;

(G) establishing implementation timelines with measurable interim goals, and steps to transfer the procedure and system resources to the implementation phase; and

(H) identifying the crucial policy decisions needed for implemention; and

(4) indicating possible coordination with other Agencies to facilitate such activities.


The Administrator shall submit to the Congress the following reports:

(1) Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, an interim report that summarizes a preliminary result of the activities of the Office carried out under sections 4(b) and 4(c)(1)-(2).

(2) Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, a concluding report that summarizes all activities of the Office carried out under section 4.


The Administrator shall convene the NASA Advisory Council--

(1) not later than 90 days after submitting the interim report required by section 5(1), to provide the Administrator with advice for the concluding report; and

(2) not later than 90 days after submitting concluding report required by section 5(2), to provide the Administrator with advice for subsequent activities under section 4.

Link: H.R. 4917 NEO Preparedness Act

Link: Gaia Shield Group Site

Link: Gaia Shield Letter to Congress

NASA Ames 2008 Small Spacecraft Summer Study Project (S4P): Near Earth Objects

NASA Ames will be having a summer study workshop related to designs of Near Earth Object (NEO) missions. From the summer study homepage...

This summer, twelve students will be selected to participate in a 10-week program to develop and test ideas for small spacecraft exploration of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) ideas that will ultimately lead to a mission proposal. The program has three goals:

1. Develop and test rigorously one or two concepts for NEO small spacecraft exploration that are expected to lead to competitive mission proposals or flight opportunities.
2. Integrate Bay Area expertise related to this promising new area of small spacecraft mission design using NASA Ames Research Center as the hub.
3. Train the next generation of scientists, engineers and project managers who will design and lead upcoming missions to NEOs and other solar system bodies.

Link: NASA Ames Summer Study Homepage

ESA's Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) Requests Ideas for NEO-Related Studies

The Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) of the European Space Agency (ESA) has released their 2008 Ariadna Call for Proposals. This call solicits studies related to NEOs. There is a zip file containing multiple documents related to the call.

From the call...

The main aim of this Call for Ideas is to attract proposals for new and innovative scientific and technical studies, which will act as the first steps towards increasing our knowledge and level of preparation for the initiation of a NEO hazard mitigation response. Several study proposals will be accepted and these will lead to parallel medium term (4 month) research studies carried out in collaboration with ESA.

Although mitigation and deflection options and requirements will be the primary focus of the studies, proposals will be welcomed from all fields of NEO research (e.g. innovative methods for detection and characterisation, impact effects, dynamics and simulations) and other fields of scientific and technical research provided the importance and benefit of the study can be justified with reference to:

1. Acquiring the capacity to utilise a NEO close encounter for research and technological demonstrations, and/or

2. Ensuring that a successful mitigation or deflection mission of a potential Earth impacting object will soon be comfortably within our technological capabilities.

This Call for Ideas intends to focus on working together with members of the academic community with the goal to first define a step-by-step approach of the underlying research needed to effectively tackle Apophis-class asteroid impacts, and then subsequently to perform the first research steps in the proposed approach. The close fly-by of Apophis will be considered as a representative reference scenario.

The scientific and technical content of the study proposal will be of great importance but in addition particular emphasis shall be put on the logical integration and credibility of the proposed study as a first research step in a roadmap of required events and steps.

Therefore, as part of the proposal, researchers are expected to provide a consistent roadmap within their field of expertise, including brief descriptions of the underlying logic, the key steps and approximate timeline over the next two decades specifically for dealing with Apophis-class objects (in terms of size but not necessarily in terms of orbital characteristics or expected physical properties).
The proposed milestones contained within the timeline are expected to represent credible solutions, possible to achieve with the right amount of research, funding and direction. A generic roadmap is not expected, as ESA will eventually assemble all of the individual, specific roadmaps into on overall map integrating many fields of expertise. Instead the timeline should be specifically tailored to the researchers’ expertise and should demonstrate the suitability of the proposed research study to act as a first building block within the proposed roadmap.
This roadmap should include:

1. An assessment of the likely status of asteroid knowledge and technology in 2029.
2. An assessment of the desired status of asteroid knowledge and technology by 2029.
3. Some recommendations/steps required in order to achieve the desired technological goals by 2029 in order to make full use of the Apophis encounter for the definition of a reliable mitigation option

The recommendations/steps may include:

a. What research is key to reach the necessary technological level by 2029?
b. Identification of possible demonstration opportunities of space mission technologies over the next 20 years?
c. Processes necessary to have systems ready and in place, in preparation for the mitigation of an asteroid impact?

All findings and predictions are to be based on sound scientific and technological knowledge and realistic predictions. Proposers are encouraged to underline their reasoning with references to published papers and research results.
The proposed Call for Ideas research studies should be feasible and constitute an important first step towards reaching the goals, as defined in the proposers’ roadmap, by 2029. The study can lead directly to progress in the proposers’ area(s) of expertise or alternatively provide a valuable, valid contribution towards achieving targets in another field of NEO research and technology. Unpublished, innovative ideas and concepts are strongly encouraged and will be regarded positively.

Link: ESA Ariadna Open Calls Homepage

Link: Download Ariadna Call for Ideas 2008, Encounter 2029

SGAC's Alex Karl Gives Presentation on NEOs and Youth Perspective from UNCOPUS S&T Meeting

My Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) colleague, Alexander Karl, presented on behalf of the SGAC, to the recent UNCOPUS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee meeting (2008 Forty-Fifth Session, (11-22 February 2008) on Near Earth Objects and a recent youth survey the SGAC has conducted. I believe SGAC will continue this survey process and refine it. Here is a YouTube video link as well as link to the overall presentation.

Link: YouTube Video: NEOs - A Youth Perspective, Presentation given by SGAC Co-Chair Alex Karl during UNCOPUOS S&T 2008

NEO's - A Youth Perspective
Mr. Alex Karl (SGAC)
Link: Presentation

SpaceViz Planetary Defense Documentary

One can now purchase the planetary defense documentary from SpaceViz. They had previews on YouTube.

Link: Planetary Defense Video from SpaceViz Productions

Link: SpaceViz Homepage

Link: Planetary Defense Documentary Clips from SpaceViz

Link: YouTube Group from SpaceViz

Several NEO Related Presentations from the Recent UN COPUS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee

The UNCOPUS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee meeting this year (2008 Forty-fifth session) has many relevant presentations related to NEOs. Here are the specific links to the presentations.

ASE Decision Program for Asteroid Threat Mitigation
Mr. Tom Jones (ASE)
Link: Presentation

NEO Research Activities at the German Aerospace Center DLR
Mr. Ekkehard Kürth (Germany)
Link: Presentation

Asteroid-Comet Hazard Problem: Activities in Russia
Mr. Boris Shustov (Russian Federation)
Link: Presentation

Earth Threatening Asteroids: Issues and Future Actions
Mr. William Ailor (USA)
Link: Presentation

NEO's - A Youth Perspective
Mr. Alex Karl (SGAC)
Link: Presentation

Links: UN COPUS presentations from Scientific and Technical Subcommittee: 2008 Forty-fifth session (11-22 February 2008)
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