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 December 2009

More on news story on Russian Apophis Mission

From AIAA news digest:

Russian Call For Asteroid Mission At Odds With NASA Statistics.
The AP (12/31, Isachenkov), in continuing coverage, reports, "Russia's space agency chief said Wednesday a spacecraft may be dispatched to knock a large asteroid off course and reduce the chances of earth impact, even though U.S. scientists say such a scenario is unlikely." Anatoly Perminov of Roscosmos said the agency would be meeting to discuss a mission to deflect Apophis from Earth, even though NASA recently lowered the odds of an impact in 2036 to one chance in 250,000. Perminov also stated Russia "might eventually invite" other space agencies to help with the effort. Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program, said improved calculations would "almost certainly remove" a chance of a hit, although he said he was "encouraged that the Russian science community is willing to study the various deflection options." Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, "hailed" Perminov's announcement "as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids."
        The New York Times (12/31, A6, Barry) cites Apollo astronaut Russell Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation which "promotes" such efforts. Schweickart also "hailed much of the proposal and said Mr. Perminov was the most influential official ever to articulate a coordinated deflection plan. But he objected to using Apophis to test new deflection methods, saying there was more risk if something went wrong." The USA Today (12/30, Stanglin) "On Demand" blog noted, Russia "is particularly sensitive to the threat from outer space because of a meteorite that struck a remote region of Siberia in 1908."
        NBC News (12/31) reports on its website that "space analyst James Oberg agreed that the asteroid impact threat merited more international attention, but he worried that the Russian statements were 'way overblown' and might be counterproductive." Even though Oberg said such an endeavor "must be undertaken in a world consensus mode," he thought Russia "really has nothing to contribute to such an effort aside from cheap boosters - and all of them too small for any serious asteroid deflection effort."
        According to (12/30, Malik), an attempt to deflect Apophis "could actually make matters worse, experts say." Paul Chodas, a member of the NEO Program office, said, "You have the potential of increasing the impact probability with failures in the mission." However, Russian officials "apparently consider Apophis a significant threat to life on Earth despite the low odds of an impact." Meanwhile, Voice of America (12/30, Babb) reports Chodas "praised Russia for suggesting international collaboration on how to avoid such a collision." However, Chodas "says that other asteroids, including those that have not yet been discovered, could pose more of a risk and call for more research."
        AFP (12/30), UK's Daily Telegraph (12/31), Canada's Toronto Star (12/31, Kelly), UK's The Guardian (12/31, Adam), and the Wired (12/30, Hodge) "Danger Room" blog also covered the story.

30 December 2009

Russian Asteroid Deflection Mission Comments

From the article:

Roscosmos will soon consider a project to prevent a large asteroid from colliding with Earth after 2030, the head of Russia’s space agency said on Wednesday.

“A scientist recently told me an interesting thing about the path [of an asteroid] constantly nearing Earth… He has calculated that it will surely collide with Earth in the 2030 s,” Anatoly Perminov said during an interview with the Voice of Russia radio.

He referred to Apophis, an asteroid that he said was almost three times as large as the Tunguska meteorite.

On June 30, 1908, an explosion equivalent to between 5 and 30 megatons of TNT occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in a remote region of Russia’s Siberia. The Tunguska blast flattened 80 million trees, destroying an area of around 2,150 sq km (830 sq miles).

Perminov said Russia was not planning to destroy the asteroid.

“No nuclear explosions [will be carried out], everything [will be done] on the basis of the laws of physics,” he said.

The Russian space official also said after having considered the project, Russia could invite experts from Europe, the United States and China to join it.

“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and design a system that would prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people,” Perminov said.

Though Apophis is currently considered the largest threat to our planet, NASA scientists published in October an update of its orbit indicating “a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.”

Source: RIA Novosti

Link: Article

23 November 2009

Article on Human NEO Mission (Fallout from Flexible Path)

Selections from the article:

Call it Operation: Plymouth Rock. A plan to send a crew of astronauts to an asteroid is gaining momentum, both within NASA and industry circles.

Not only would the deep space sojourn shake out hardware, it would also build confidence in long-duration stints at the moon and Mars. At the same time, the trek would sharpen skills to deal with a future space rock found on a collision course with Earth.

In Lockheed Martin briefing charts, the mission has been dubbed "Plymouth Rock – An Early Human Asteroid Mission Using Orion." Lockheed is the builder of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the capsule-based replacement for the space shuttle.

Study teams are now readying high-level briefings for NASA leaders - perhaps as early as this week - on a pilgrimage to an asteroid, along with appraisals of anchoring large, astronaut-enabled telescopes far from Earth, a human precursor mission to the vicinity of Mars, as well as an initiative to power-beam energy from space to Earth.

The briefings have been spurred in response to the recent Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee and the option of a "Flexible Path" to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

The merits of a human mission to a Near Earth Object (NEO) were detailed here Nov. 18 during a two-day meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group, SBAG for short.

SBAG was established by NASA in 2008 to identify scientific priorities and opportunities for the exploration of asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites, and Trans-Neptunian Objects. The group also provides scientific input on the utility of asteroids and comets in support of human space activities.

The new studies are viewed as an iterative process - to be weighed both by NASA and the White House, said Paul Abell, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute detailed to the space agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and working in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate. "It's going to take a bit of time. I don't think there's going to be a quick decision."

How the White House will react to a human trek to an asteroid is beyond anybody's crystal ball. However, undertaking the effort has garnered the attention of Lockheed Martin - builder of the space shuttle replacement - the Orion spacecraft.

The Plymouth Rock mission study began a couple years ago, said Josh Hopkins, in the advanced programs for human space flight division at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Denver, Colo.

Initial looks at the NEO venture involve the coupling of two Orion spacecraft.

In this situation, a two-person Orion would link up with an unpiloted sister craft that's loaded with extra fuel, food, water, and oxygen. It would be tossed into orbit - as well as an Earth departure stage - by NASA's planned Ares V heavy-lift booster

"Plan for Human Mission to Asteroid Gains Speed"
Leonard David
23 November 2009

Link: article

29 October 2009

Article: "Huge Explosion Was Biggest Space Rock to Strike Earth Since 1994"

Huge Explosion Was Biggest Space Rock to Strike Earth Since 1994
Leonard David
29 October 2009

A space rock explosion earlier this month over an island region of Indonesia is now being viewed as perhaps the biggest object to tangle with the Earth in more than a decade.

On Oct. 8, reports from Indonesia told of a loud air blast around 11 a.m. local time. One report indicated a bright fireball, accompanied by an explosion and lingering dust cloud, as the origin of the air blast.

According to experts at the NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, Calif. – Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley – the blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of an asteroid more than 30 feet (10 meters) in diameter. Due to atmospheric pressure, the object is thought to have detonated in the atmosphere, yielding an energy release of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 100,000 pounds of TNT explosives).

"My understanding is that this may have been the largest object to strike the Earth since the fireball near the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific on February 1, 1994," said Clark Chapman, a noted specialist in asteroids and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colo.

"Although the Indonesian object was large and the resulting atmospheric explosion may have been the equivalent of several Hiroshima bombs, it is not unexpected for our planet to be hit every decade or so by such an object," Chapman told

Preliminary investigation

A preliminary look at the incident has been performed by Canadian researchers Peter Brown and graduate student Elizabeth Silber, of the Meteor Infrasound group in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

The researchers made a detailed examination of all International Monitoring System infrasound stations of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). An initial look found that a total of 11 stations showed probable signals from a large explosion.

Based on their scrutiny of the infrasound records, the Canadian research team reported that a large (40-50 kilotons of TNT) bolide detonation occurred near the coastal city of Bone in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The infrasonic geolocation is not precise enough to determine if the bolide was over water or land, but it was relatively near the coast, the team reported.

Follow-on observations from other instruments or ground recovery efforts, the Canadian team added, would be very valuable in further refining this unique event. Their analysis corresponds to an object some 16-33 feet (5-10 meters) in diameter. Based on the earlier work by Brown, such objects are expected to impact the Earth on average every two to 12 years.

"We are trying to coordinate with some local scientists to secure more local data, but that will likely take several weeks," Brown told

Brown said a YouTube video that was aired a few days after the event convinced them it was a bolide.

"Had this happened over the ocean we would only have known that there had been a big explosion...we would presume it was a fireball, but it could be anything producing a large impulsive shock in the atmosphere," Brown said.

More data is expected from U.S. military space assets that likely detected the event. From their vantage point in space, multiple sensor systems would have seen the huge explosion and there surely is a rich dataset of measurements to be plumbed relating to the detonation.

Wall of secrecy

Why wasn't this asteroid observed before it hit?

SwRI's Chapman said he was not aware that the object was seen before it plowed into Earth's atmosphere.

"The body was large enough that some of the current Spaceguard Survey telescopes might have detected it a couple of days before it hit, were it coming from the night sky. But it struck during daytime and probably could not have been seen by those telescopes," Chapman explained.

A second question is whether it was detected by military satellites that monitor bright flashes in the Earth's atmosphere for defense and security purposes.

"Almost certainly it was detected and presumably immediately identified as an explosion of a large meteoroid rather than, say, an explosion of a human-made device in the atmosphere," Chapman figures. "But these satellites are secret and, in the past, the establishments controlling them have delayed releasing the data, for weeks or months."

Earlier this year, Chapman added, a change in previous policy led the U.S. military to withhold the data from the public.

"Scientists hope that they will reverse that policy. This event will demonstrate whether the wall of secrecy is coming down again, or not," Chapman noted. "Evidently, because of the passage of weeks since the event, there has been no decision to release the data promptly."

Link: Article

26 October 2009

HOAX: Meteorite-like object falls in Latvia


From the AP article...

Latvian experts say meteorite crater was hoax

RIGA, Latvia – Scientists investigating a large crater initially believed to have been caused by a meteorite said a closer analysis Monday revealed it was a hoax.

Experts in the Baltic country rushed to the site after reports that a metorite-like object had crashed late Sunday in the Mazsalaca region near the Estonian border.

"This is not a real crater. It is artificial," Uldis Nulle, a scientist at the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Center, said after inspecting the site on Monday.

Earlier Uldis had said his first impression late Sunday was that the 27-foot (nine-meter) wide and nine foot (three-meter) deep crater had been caused by a meteorite. He said there was smoke coming out of the hole when he arrived.

Uldis and other experts who examined the hole in daylight on Monday said it was too tidy to have been caused by a meteorite.

"It's artificial, dug by shovel," said Girts Stinkulis, a geologist at the University of Latvia.

Dainis Ozols, a nature conservationist, said he believes someone dug the hole and tried to make it look like a meteorite crater by burning some pyrotechnic compound at the bottom. He added he would analyze some samples taken from the site.

Sigita Pildava, a spokeswoman for the State Police, said it wasn't immediately clear whether police would open an investigation into the hoax.

Inga Vetere of the Fire and Rescue Service said they received a call about the alleged meteorite on Sunday evening from an eyewitness. She said a military unit was dispatched to the site and found that radiation levels were normal.

Experts outside Latvia said it would be unusual for such a large meteorite to hit the Earth. The planet is constantly bombarded with objects from outer space, but most burn up in the atmosphere and never reach the surface.

In 2007, a meteorite crashed near Lake Titicaca in Peru, causing a crater about 40 feet (12 meters) wide and 15 feet (five meters) deep.

Asta Pellinen-Wannberg, a meteorite expert at the Swedish Institute of Space Research, said she didn't know the details of the Latvian incident, but that a rock would have to be at least three feet (one meter) in diameter to create a hole that size.

Henning Haack, a lecturer at Copenhagen University's Geological Museum, said when it comes to alleged meteorite crashes, "there always is a pretty large margin of error."

Link: AP Article

Meteorite-like object falls in Latvia
October 26, 2009 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)

(CNN) -- A meteorite-like object has created a crater after landing near a farm in northern Latvia, the nation's official news agency reported.

The object fell Sunday in Mazsalaca, leaving a hole of about 65 feet (20 meters) wide and 32 feet (10 meters) deep, Latvian emergency officials told the LETA news agency.

A fire was reported in the grassy area where it landed, but there were no known injuries, LETA said.

Scientists and armed forces from the northern European nation will inspect the crater and conduct an investigation.

No further information was immediately available.

Link: CNN article

24 October 2009

Asteroid Impactor Reported over Indonesia

From JPL:

Asteroid Impactor Reported over Indonesia
Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley
NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office
October 23, 2008

On October 8, 2009 about 03:00 Greenwich time, an atmospheric fireball blast was observed and recorded over an island region of Indonesia. The blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of a small asteroid about 10 meters in diameter that, due to atmospheric pressure, detonated in the atmosphere with an energy of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 50,000 pounds of TNT explosives).

The blast was recorded visually and reported upon by local media representatives. See the YouTube video at:

A report from Elizabeth Silber and Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario indicates that several international very-long wavelength infrasound detectors recorded the blast and fixed the position near the coastal city of Bone in South Sulawesi, island of Sulewesi. They note that the blast was in the 10 to 50 kT range with the higher end of this range being more likely.

Assuming an estimated size of about 5-10 meters in diameter, we would expect a fireball event of this magnitude about once every 2 to 12 years on average. As a rule, the most common types of stony asteroids would not be expected to cause ground damage unless their diameters were about 25 meters in diameter or larger.

Link: JPL NEO News Item

Link: YouTube Video (Benda Mirip Meteor Jatuh di Bone, Sulawesi Utara -- MAPer1ck9 Files)

08 October 2009

Apophis impact probability of Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a million

From the JPL News Article:

Using updated information, NASA scientists have recalculated the path of a large asteroid. The refined path indicates a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.

The Apophis asteroid is approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields. The new data were documented by near-Earth object scientists Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. They will present their updated findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Puerto Rico on Oct. 8.

"Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public's interest since it was discovered in 2004," said Chesley. "Updated computational techniques and newly available data indicate the probability of an Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, for Apophis has dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a million."

A majority of the data that enabled the updated orbit of Apophis came from observations Dave Tholen and collaborators at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy in Manoa made. Tholen pored over hundreds of previously unreleased images of the night sky made with the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter (88-inch) telescope, located near the summit of Mauna Kea.

Tholen made improved measurements of the asteroid's position in the images, enabling him to provide Chesley and Chodas with new data sets more precise than previous measures for Apophis. Measurements from the Steward Observatory's 2.3 meter (90-inch) Bok telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona and the Arecibo Observatory on the island of Puerto Rico also were used in Chesley's calculations.

The information provided a more accurate glimpse of Apophis' orbit well into the latter part of this century. Among the findings is another close encounter by the asteroid with Earth in 2068 with chance of impact currently at approximately three-in-a-million. As with earlier orbital estimates where Earth impacts in 2029 and 2036 could not initially be ruled out due to the need for additional data, it is expected that the 2068 encounter will diminish in probability as more information about Apophis is acquired.

Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteroid ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029. However, the asteroid is expected to make a record-setting -- but harmless -- close approach to Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, when it comes no closer than 29,450 kilometers (18,300 miles) above Earth's surface.

"The refined orbital determination further reinforces that Apophis is an asteroid we can look to as an opportunity for exciting science and not something that should be feared," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL. "The public can follow along as we continue to study Apophis and other near-Earth objects by visiting us on our AsteroidWatch Web site and by following us on the @AsteroidWatch Twitter feed."

The science of predicting asteroid orbits is based on a physical model of the solar system which includes the gravitational influence of the sun, moon, other planets and the three largest asteroids.

NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., operates the Arecibo Observatory under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

"NASA Refines Asteroid Apophis' Path Toward Earth"
07 October 2009

Link: NASA JPL News Release

01 October 2009

Article: 'Meet the Asteroid Hunters"

No Pebble Unturned: Astronomers and students from the University of Khartoum form a line half a mile wide to comb the Nubian Desert for tiny fragments of a rare asteroid. Peter Jenniskens/NASA Ames Research Center/SETI

Meet the Asteroid Hunters: A network of space buffs is learning to track asteroids more accurately than ever to predict exactly when and where the next killer meteorite will strike

Gregory Mone
Popular Science
30 September 2009

On October 7, 2008,shortly before dawn in northern Sudan, a trucker named Omar Fadul el Mula was praying at a remote teahouse in the Nubian Desert when a bright flash lit up the landscape. It was as if the world had switched from night to day. He sprung to his feet, ran around the small building, and saw a huge trail of dust and debris stretched high in the sky.

A rush of percussive blasts followed the display, prompting some people in the region to run inside and hide, while others watched in awe. Mohammed Elhassan, walking home from his local mosque in the Nile city of Wadi Halfa, took out his mobile phone and snapped a few photos. Head-on, from his position, the dust looked almost like a child’s doodle. Some locals even told interviewers they divined a message in the pattern: a sign from Mohammed approving of their Ramadan fast.

Link: Article

Pan-STARRS telescope (PS1) offline for repairs

From the article...

Asteroid-hunting telescope in the repair shop
Rachel Courtland
01 October 2009

The first of the asteroid-hunting Pan-STARRS telescopes will be taken apart today in an effort to solve problems with image quality.

The 1.8-metre PS1 telescope is the first of a a suite of instruments - Movie Camera – the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System – designed to find asteroids and comets with orbits that could bring them close to Earth. Sited atop a volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui, PS1 is the prototype for a planned four telescopes that will image the whole sky visible from Hawaii three times each month.

To scan so much sky, PS1 boasts a 1.4-billion-pixel digital camera and specially designed software to process the terabytes of data collected by the telescope each night.

But since the camera was installed in 2007, the telescope team has been struggling to get PS1's image quality to its targeted level. "There have been problems that we just didn't anticipate," says Pan-STARRS principal investigator Nick Kaiser of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Big bananas

PS1's first problem was a misalignment of the optics. "When we switched the telescope on two years ago we had terrible-looking images. We could get sort-of round stars in the middle of the field, but they were big and fuzzy. But the stars at ends of the field looked like telephone handles or big bananas," Kaiser told New Scientist.

That problem was quickly fixed, but the images PS1 is taking are still 40 to 50 per cent fuzzier than they are supposed to be. "We're spending half our time doing mediocre science and half our time trying to improve it so we can do great science," says PS1's director, Ken Chambers, a colleague of Kaiser at Manoa.

The main culprit now seems to be a set of 18 rods that hold up the telescope's secondary mirror. These rods connect to motors that adjust the mirror to counteract distortions of the telescope, which expands and contracts due to temperature changes and sags slightly as it scans across the sky.

These rods are not as rigidly mounted as they should be owing to a flaw in the original design, says Kaiser. So on Thursday a crew will remove the secondary mirror to replace parts of the support structure. The telescope is expected to be offline for several weeks, but if all goes well the procedure should go a long way toward improving the telescope's image quality.
High hopes

The US air force has invested some $60 million in Pan-STARRS for research and development and to build PS1. A second telescope is now under construction.

Kaiser says the team hopes to run PS1 for three-and-a-half years on the summit of the Haleakala volcano in Maui, then move it to Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii in 2012 to join three other Pan-STARRS telescopes.

When complete, Pan-STARRS should be able to detect objects 100 times fainter than those spotted by current surveys, including 99 per cent of any asteroids 300 metres across or larger that come near Earth's orbit. The data will also be used for other investigations, ranging from the stellar structure of the Milky Way to the effects of dark energy.

Link: NewScientist Article

26 September 2009

Article on NEOImpactor

Selections from the article (really about the NEOImpactor model). Strange that the article references a public lecture Hawking gave in 1996.

Stephen Hawking believes that one of the major factors in the possible scarcity of intelligent life in our galaxy is the high probability of an asteroid or comet colliding with inhabited planets. We have observed, Hawking points out in Life in the Universe, the collision of a comet, Schumacher-Levi, with Jupiter (below), which produced a series of enormous fireballs, plumes many thousands of kilometers high, hot "bubbles" of gas in the atmosphere, and large dark "scars" on the atmosphere which had lifetimes on the order of weeks.

“The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity,” according to Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton's School of Engineering Sciences team, who has developed a threat identifying program.

The team used raw data from multiple impact simulations to rank each country based on the number of times and how severely they would be affected by each impact. The software, called NEOimpactor (from NASA's "NEO" or Near Earth Object program), has been specifically developed for measuring the impact of 'small' asteroids under one kilometer in diameter.

Early results indicate that in terms of population lost, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the United States face the greatest overall threat; while the United States, China, Sweden, Canada and Japan face the most severe economic effects due to the infrastructure destroyed.

The top ten countries most at risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.

Link: Article

Link: Stephen Hawking Lecture "Life in the Universe"

25 September 2009

New Potentially Hazardous Asteroid: 2009 ST19

Observation of 2009 ST19 on 23 Septemer remotely from the Mayhill Station (NM) of the GRAS network (Source: Remanzacco Observatory)

From a blot post from Remanzacco Observatory:

This minor planet, belonging to the "Apollo" class, is also flagged as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid", an object that, because of its orbital parameters, might represent a possible threat of impact for planet Earth (

It has beeen discovered serendipitously by the Spanish amateur astronomer J. M. Bosch Santa Maria de Montmagastrell, MPC#B74 on 2009, Sept. 16.2, ay magnitude about 17. At that time it was posted on the NEO-CP webpage of the Minor Planet Center as "jmbo11"; after a couple of days it was withdrawn, because it was not confirmed by any further observations.

On 2009, Sept. 22, the LINEAR sky survey picked-up a fast moving object, that was posted in the NEO-Cp as "BQ24981". After some follow-up observations from various sites, on 2009 Sept. 23 the MPC published M.P.E.C. 2009-S72 (, informing that the two objects mentioned before were actually the same celestial body.

We performed some follow-up of this object on 2009, Sept.23.1, remotely from the Mayhill Station (NM) of the GRAS network. You can see our image here:

According to the NEODyS webpage this object. about 0.5-Km in diameter, made a close pass to Earth on 1980, Oct. 4, at a minimum possible distance of about 0.009 AU (nominal distance of about 0.04 AU).

Congratulations to J. M. Bosch for his find.

E. Guido, G. Sostero, P. Camilleri, M. Jaeger, E. Prosperi, W. Vollmann

Link: Remanzacco Observatory Blog Post on 2009 ST19

From an article in the Barcelona Reporter:

After six days of monitoring by the Minor Planet Centre at the University of Harvard, it has been termed, asteroid 2009 ST19.
Lieida professor spots large asteroid over 1 kilometre in diameter, 645,000 miles from Earth.

Professor Josep Maria Bosc from the Field Learning Observation Centre of the Universe, discovered the asteroid on September 16 from his observatory, on Montmagastrell Santa Maria (Lleida) , which in real terms means the asteroid came the closest to Earth than any other in the past.

After six days of monitoring by the Minor Planet Centre at the University of Harvard, it has been termed, asteroid 2009 ST19. This is classed as an Apollo, a potentially dangerous kind to the planet because its orbit overlaps with that of Earth. The asteroid is also the largest, at more than a kilometre in diameter, that has come close to Earth. At the time of its closest approach it passed 645,000 miles abve the Earth.

The last similar incident dates back to 1937, when the asteroid Hermes passed 750,000 miles over the Earth.

Link: Barcelona Reporter Article

Link: Minor Planet Center Circular for 2009 ST19

24 September 2009

CBC Article Misinterprets NASA Human NEO Mission talk: "NASA, U of Alberta to propose asteroid landing"

This article suggests a human asteroid landing mission announcement will be made at an upcoming symposium. I remain skeptical that this is the actual intent of the talks that are referred to in the article below. I think the article misstates the talks the Dr. Paul Abell will be giving on Friday September 25 and Saturday September 26 2009 at the University of Alberta’s Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology's Space Exploration Symposium 2009. The talks, one of which is entitled "Scientific Exploration of Near-Earth Objects via the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle”, are both similar in nature and I believe will talk about the recent NASA Human NEO study. I would find it hard to believe that this is an actual mission announcement as stated in the article ("NASA and the University of Alberta are set to propose a team-up that could see a manned landing on an asteroid."). It may be the Univ. of Alberta may contribute to a future STUDY of such a mission, not in any actual mission go ahead.

As part of the announcement the Univ. of Alberta has placed an animation on their website of such a human mission.

Link: Human NEO Mission Animation

NASA, U of Alberta to propose asteroid landing
24 Thursday, September 24, 2009
CBC News

The university's Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology will announce the proposal at a two-day symposium beginning on Friday in Edmonton. NASA planetary scientist Paul Abell will detail his plan to land on an as-yet-undetermined asteroid, where he hopes useful minerals could be discovered.

NASA may partner with the university because of its expertise in examining space rocks. Earth and atmospheric sciences Prof. Chris Herd could earn a spot on the team.

An asteroid landing would appear similar to a moon landing, according to an animated video simulation released by the university on Thursday. A landing craft would descend onto the surface of the asteroid, and astronauts would exit and conduct experiments and collect samples.

Peter Smith, who worked on NASA's Phoenix Mars mission, will also give a keynote during the symposium. Smith has worked closely with Carlos Lange, an engineering professor at the university who designed a wind-speed indicator used in the Phoenix mission.

Link: CBC Article

Link: Univ. of Alberta ISSET Space Exploration Symposium Agenda (PDF)

Link: NASA NEO Study Page

Link: IAF 2007 Paper on NASA NEO Study (PDF)

23 September 2009

New Scientist 26 September 2009 Issue: Article and Editorial on NEOs

Issue number 2727

The 26 September 2009 issue of NewScientist has an article and editorial on NEOs. The article is on a table-top scenario exercise conducted by the U.S. government on response to a potential Earth-threatening NEO. The editorial (listed here first) discusses this exercise.

Preparing for an asteroid strike
23 September 2009

Now we have seen the results of the first exercise ever to test plans for what to do if an asteroid is on collision course with Earth (see "It's behind you!"), and they do not inspire confidence. We still have a long way to go before we can say we are prepared for this cosmic threat.

Improved early-warning capabilities are one cost-effective solution. There are telescopes on the drawing board that could find objects as small as 140 metres in diameter. That's a big advance on what we can do now, even if objects 30 to 50 metres across are more numerous and therefore arguably more dangerous.

There are telescopes on the drawing board that could find objects as small as 140 metres in diameter

More in-depth exercises are needed too, to hone our plans for communication and coordination should a city find itself in the target zone of an incoming asteroid.

Better still, of course, would be having the capability to fend off dangerous asteroids. It has long been recognised that the quick and dirty way to do this is to explode a nuclear bomb nearby to blast the asteroid off-course. That means we should revisit the international treaties that prohibit the launching of nukes into space, and try to come up with carefully drafted wording to allow their use if an asteroid threatens.

Whatever action is taken needs to be proportionate to the risk. The likelihood of being mashed by a skyscraper-sized object is tiny compared to the risk of routine insults from hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters of entirely terrestrial origin. Last year such events killed 236,000 people and caused damage worth $181 billion.

Resources are finite, and any plans to construct cosmic defences need to be measured against down-to-earth goals. When assessing the case for a better census of dangerous asteroids and their orbits, for example, let's not forget that this could also help us understand how our solar system came to be.

Link: Editorial

Asteroid attack: putting Earth's defences to the test

David Shiga
23 September 2009

Selections from the article...

IT LOOKS inconsequential enough, the faint little spot moving leisurely across the sky. The mountain-top telescope that just detected it is taking it very seriously, though. It is an asteroid, one never seen before. Rapid-survey telescopes discover thousands of asteroids every year, but there's something very particular about this one. The telescope's software decides to wake several human astronomers with a text message they hoped they would never receive. The asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. It is the size of a skyscraper and it's big enough to raze a city to the ground. Oh, and it will be here in three days.

Far-fetched it might seem, but this scenario is all too plausible. Certainly it is realistic enough that the US air force recently brought together scientists, military officers and emergency-response officials for the first time to assess the nation's ability to cope, should it come to pass.

They were asked to imagine how their respective organisations would respond to a mythical asteroid called Innoculatus striking the Earth after just three days' warning. The asteroid consisted of two parts: a pile of rubble 270 metres across which was destined to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa, and a 50-metre-wide rock heading, in true Hollywood style, directly for Washington DC.

The exercise, which took place in December 2008, exposed the chilling dangers asteroids pose. Not only is there no plan for what to do when an asteroid hits, but our early-warning systems - which could make the difference between life and death - are woefully inadequate. The meeting provided just the wake-up call organiser Peter Garreston had hoped to create. He has long been concerned about the threat of an impact. "As a taxpayer, I would appreciate my air force taking a look at something that would be certainly as bad as nuclear terrorism in a city, and potentially a civilisation-ending event," he says.

Link: Article

22 September 2009

Misc. Current Papers: Pan-STARRS 1 Detection Efficiency, (101955) 1999 RQ36 Impact Probability=10^-3, Yarkovsky on Eros/Itokawa, 2007 WD5 and Mars

New papers on asteroids published in the literature recently.

Detection of Earth-impacting asteroids with the next generation all-sky surveys
Volume 203, Issue 2, October 2009, Pages 472-485

Peter Vereš a, Robert Jedicke b, Richard Wainscoat b, Mikael Granvik b, Steve Chesley c, Shinsuke Abe d, Larry Denneau b and Tommy Grav e

a-Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, Comenius University, Mlynska Dolina, 842 48 Bratislava, Slovakia
b-University of Hawai’i, Institute for Astronomy, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822-1897, USA
c-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
d-Institute of Astronomy, National Central University, No. 300, Jhongda Rd, Jhongli City, Taoyuan County 320, Taiwan
e-Department of Physics and Astronomy, Bloomberg 243, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218-2686, USA


We have performed a simulation of a next generation sky survey’s (Pan-STARRS 1) efficiency for detecting Earth-impacting asteroids. The steady-state sky-plane distribution of the impactors long before impact is concentrated towards small solar elongations (Chesley, S.R., Spahr T.B., 2004. In: Belton, M.J.S., Morgan, T.H., Samarashinha, N.H., Yeomans, D.K. (Eds.), Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 22–37) but we find that there is interesting and potentially exploitable behavior in the sky-plane distribution in the months leading up to impact. The next generation surveys will find most of the dangerous impactors (>140 m diameter) during their decade-long survey missions though there is the potential to miss difficult objects with long synodic periods appearing in the direction of the Sun, as well as objects with long orbital periods that spend much of their time far from the Sun and Earth. A space-based platform that can observe close to the Sun may be needed to identify many of the potential impactors that spend much of their time interior to the Earth’s orbit. The next generation surveys have a good chance of imaging a bolide like 2008 TC3 before it enters the atmosphere but the difficulty will lie in obtaining enough images in advance of impact to allow an accurate pre-impact orbit to be computed.

Link: Icarus Article (Detection of Earth-impacting asteroids with the next generation all-sky surveys)

Long term impact risk for (101955) 1999 RQ36
Volume 203, Issue 2, October 2009, Pages 460-471

Andrea Milani a, Steven R. Chesley b, Maria Eugenia Sansaturio c, Fabrizio Bernardi a, d, Giovanni B. Valsecchi d and Oscar Arratia c

a-Department of Mathematics, University of Pisa, Largo Pontecorvo 5, 56127 Pisa, Italy
b-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Calif. Inst. of Tech., Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
c-E.T.S. de Ingenieros Industriales, University of Valladolid, Paseo del Cauce 59, 47011 Valladolid, Spain
d-IASF-Roma, INAF, via Fosso del Cavaliere 100, 00133 Roma, Italy


The potentially hazardous Asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36 has a possibility of colliding with the Earth in the latter half of the 22nd century, well beyond the traditional 100-year time horizon for routine impact monitoring. The probabilities accumulate to a total impact probability of approximately 10-3, with a pair of closely related routes to impact in 2182 comprising more than half of the total. The analysis of impact possibilities so far in the future is strongly dependent on the action of the Yarkovsky effect, which raises new challenges in the careful assessment of longer term impact hazards.

Even for asteroids with very precisely determined orbits, a future close approach to Earth can scatter the possible trajectories to the point that the problem becomes like that of a newly discovered asteroid with a weakly determined orbit. If the scattering takes place late enough so that the target plane uncertainty is dominated by Yarkovsky accelerations then the thermal properties of the asteroid, which are typically unknown, play a major role in the impact assessment. In contrast, if the strong planetary interaction takes place sooner, while the Yarkovsky dispersion is still relatively small compared to that derived from the measurements, then precise modeling of the nongravitational acceleration may be unnecessary.

Link: Icarus Article (Long term impact risk for (101955) 1999 RQ36)

The Yarkovsky effect is not responsible for small crater depletion on Eros and Itokawa
Volume 203, Issue 1, September 2009, Pages 112-118

David P. O’Brien a

a-Planetary Science Institute, 1700 E. Ft. Lowell, Suite 106, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA


The near-Earth Asteroids Eros and Itokawa show a pronounced lack of small (less, approximate100 m) craters, the vast majority of which were formed during their time in the main belt, and this has been cited as possible evidence that small (less, approximate10 m) impactors are efficiently removed from the main belt by the Yarkovsky effect. Using well-tested models for the evolution of the main-belt size distribution and the evolution of crater populations on asteroid surfaces, I show that a pronounced lack of small impactors would require size-dependent removal far stronger than can result from the Yarkovsky effect (or any other known process). Furthermore, such strong removal would lead to wavelike perturbations in the main-belt and near-Earth asteroid size distributions that are inconsistent with their observed size distributions, as well as the cratering records on asteroid surfaces. A more likely explanation is that processes on asteroid surfaces, such as seismic shaking, are responsible for erasing small craters after they form.

Link: Icarus Article (The Yarkovsky effect is not responsible for small crater depletion on Eros and Itokawa)

Impact solutions of Asteroid 2007 WD5 with Mars
Volume 203, Issue 1, September 2009, Pages 119-123

I. Włodarczyka a

a-Chorzów Astronomical Observatory, Al. Planetarium 4, WPKiW, 41-500 Chorzów, Poland


A method for computing impact probabilities between asteroids and the planet Mars is presented that uses impact clones and validation analysis based on a normal distribution of computed errors. This method uses OrbFit software, and we present a calculation of the impact probabilities between Asteroid 2007 WD5 and Mars, which passed within about 20,000 km of the martian surface on January 30, 2008. This method can be generalized for computing impact probabilities between asteroids and other planets including Earth. Presented method applies in principal the same technique already in use for years at the JPL NASA and by the group of researchers at the University of Pisa [Milani, A., Chesley, S.R., Sansaturio, M.E., Tommei, G., Valsecchi, G.B., 2005a. Icarus 173, 362].

Link: Icarus Article (Impact solutions of Asteroid 2007 WD5 with Mars)

Official: "Russian sample mission to Martian moon delayed until 2011"

From the article...

MOSCOW, September 21 (RIA Novosti) - The launch of the Russian mission to one Mars' moons has been delayed until 2011, said Lev Zeleny, chief of the Institute of Space Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"I can officially announce that the Phobos-Grunt mission has been postponed until 2011," he said.

He cited a tight schedule and the final testing of all systems as reasons for the delay. The launch of the mission was initially scheduled for 2009.

Phobos-Grunt is an unmanned lander that will spend several months studying the planet and its moons from orbit before landing on Phobos. Under the new schedule, the return vehicle with soil samples is expected to be back on Earth in 2012.

Link: RIA Novosti Article

21 September 2009

Planetary Society Blog Story: "A piece of an asteroid returns to the telescope that discovered it"

Richard Kowalski, founder and administrator of the Minor Planet Mailing List, holds a piece of Almahatta Sitta, the meteorite that is all that remains of asteroid 2008 TC3. 2008 TC3 was discovered by Kowalski using the 1.5-meter telescope (background) of the Catalina Sky Survey, located on the peak of Mt. Lemmon, near Tucson, Arizona. Credit: © Richard Kowalski, Full Moon

From Planetary Society Blog (Emily Lakdawalla)...

A piece of an asteroid returns to the telescope that discovered it
20 September 2009

The discovery of asteroid 2008 TC3 just before it crashed to Earth was one of the most amazing stories of last year, even before its remains were discovered strewn across the Nubian desert a few months later, turning it into the first asteroid ever that was studied both in space and after it became a meteorite. Now the story has come full circle: here's a photo of asteroid hunter Richard Kowalski (past winner of one of The Planetary Society's Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants) holding a tiny piece of Almahatta Sitta, the name given to the meteorites that are all that's left of asteroid 2008 TC3. Kowalski is standing in front of the 1.5-meter telescope at the heart of the Catalina Sky Survey, one of the most productive facilities in the global campaign to hunt for near-Earth asteroids. The piece of the asteroid was a gift to him from friends and well-wishers on the Minor Planet Mailing List, which Kowalski founded in order to help connect professional and amateur astronomers. An MPML member (and another Shoemaker grant winner) Roy Tucker posted: "It's official! Richard Kowalski is the first person in history to possess a piece of an object that he discovered in space."

In related news, the scientists who led the Sudanese field trip that recovered those pieces of Almahatta Sitta have now organized a workshop in Khartoum on the asteroid and its meteorites, followed by a weeklong field trip to search for more, from December 5 to 15 of this year. Read all about it here. The deadline for registration is very, very soon. I want to go to this workshop so badly I can taste it -- what a unique subject, venue, and opportunity!! -- and I'd pay my own way if money were the problem. But that's not the problem; the problem is the 5-month-old who's utterly dependent upon me. So I won't be going.

If there is anybody reading this blog who will be going and has any interest in writing any journal entries (in real time or after the fact) about the trip, I would desperately like to have any news about it for posting here -- send me an email.

Link: Planetary Society Blog Entry: 20 September 2009

Phobos-Grunt Mission Delayed Until 2011?

From Wikipedia update...

On 16 September, 2009, sources in the space industry told Interfax that Russian space officials will announce a delay of the mission to 2011 in a few days. cited industry sources as saying the launch will likely be postponed because the addition of China's 110 kilogramme (242 pound) probe had overloaded the mission.

From Interfax...

Russia puts off unmanned mission to Phobos till 2011 - source

MOSCOW. Sept 16 (Interfax) - A Russian mission to send a space probe to collect samples from Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, has been put off until 2011, a source in Russia's space industry said.

The launch of a Russian unmanned spacecraft to be named Phobos-Grunt was scheduled to start in 2009.

"Today there has been a conference of space scientists and space industrialists at which the prospects for the flight of [unmanned spacecraft Phobos-Grunt] to Phobos were discussed. The point of view that this flight should be put off until 2011 won out," the source told Interfax on Wednesday.

The Federal Space Agency and Russian Academy of Sciences would publish this decision within the next two days, the source said.

Link: Interfax News Report

Link: MarsDaily Article

Link: Wikipedia (Phobos-Grunt)

Link: Russianspaceweb: Phobos-Grunt Mission

20 September 2009

Paper: "Trajectory Diversion of an Earth-Threatening Asteroid via Massive Tether-Ballast System"

Paper from AIAA Space 2009 Conference on asteroid mitigation technique using tether and ballast mass. Abstract follows...

"Trajectory Diversion of an Earth-Threatening Asteroid via Massive Tether-Ballast System"
David B. French, Andre P. Mazzoleniy
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27695

Researchers have provided a large volume of information related to the location and mitigation of Earth-threatening asteroids. Several alternatives have been proposed for the deviation of such asteroids. This paper focuses on a mitigation technique that was not included among the alternatives listed in the report, namely the use of a long tether and ballast mass to divert an asteroid. In a previous study, such a tether was modeled as massless and rigid. For this study, it was desired to relax this assumption, so a model was developed to include tether mass. This paper shows that the results using the massive model validate qualitatively the results of the previous study which demonstrate that a tether-ballast system can be used to successfully divert an Earth-threatening asteroid.

Link: AIAA Paper Preview (PDF)

YouTube Video: "Asteroid! The Doomsday Rock"

Link: YouTube Video (Asteroid! The Doomsday Rock)


Link: YouTube Video (IMPACTO DE ASTEROIDE 2019 (1))

YouTube Video: Don Quijote Asteroid Deflection Mission

Link: YouTube Video (Don Quijote Asteroid Deflection Mission)

Documentary - "The Universe: Stopping Armageddon"

Link: YouTube Video (The Universe: Stopping Armageddon part 1 of 4)

Documentary (German): "Das Ende der Welt"

Link: YouTube Video (Das Ende der Welt (Teil 1 von 5))

Documentary: "The Universe It Fell From Space"

Link: YouTube Video (1of5 The Universe It Fell From Space)

Quick Update on EADS Astrium Gravity Tractor

Another article on the EADS Astrium implementation of a Gravity Tractor. Selections from the article...

Dr Ralph Cordey, who is EADS Astrium's head of exploration and business, told BBC News that the concept of a gravity tug was actually first mooted by two Nasa astronauts, Edward Lu and Stanley Love, a few years ago.

He said: "Frankly, I thought it was crackers. I thought it would never work."

But he said after reconsidering the idea and focusing on specific engineering issues, including the size of the spacecraft, and long-term propulsion methods, it was considered by the team to be potentially feasible.

Dr Cordey said the company had worked with a number of space authorities on other methods of protecting the Earth from asteroids but this one would be able to target a wider range.

He said: "We have done quite a lot of design work on this with the European Space Agency and we believe this would work just as well on a big solid iron asteroid as well as other types."

But the high cost implications mean that before the device could be made, it would have to be commissioned by a government or a group of governments working together.

Link: BBC News Article interview

Link: BBC News Article

Asteroid Juno

This artist's concept of asteroid 3 June shows the "bite" taken out of the asteroid by an impact. (David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Images of asteroid 3 Juno taken with the 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory show what appears to be a 60-mile-wide crater. The crater is visible as a darkened area in the lower left quadrant in the 833 nm and 934 nm images. The material excavated by the collision that produced the crater "bite" has low reflectance, especially at the wavelength of 934 nm. An adaptive optics system provided a remarkably clear view of Juno's surface by reducing interference from the Earth's atmosphere. (Sallie Baliunas et al.)

From the the NASA JPL News Release...

Juno, one of the first asteroids discovered, is thought to be the parent of many of the meteorites that rain on Earth. The asteroid is composed mostly of hardy silicate rock, which is tough enough that fragments broken off by collisions can often survive a trip through Earth's atmosphere.

Though pockmarked by bang-ups with other asteroids, Juno is large; in fact, it is the tenth largest asteroid. It measures about 234 kilometers (145 miles) in diameter, or about one-fifteenth the diameter of the moon.

The asteroid, which orbits the sun on a track between Mars and Jupiter, will be at its brightest on Sept. 21, when it is zooming around the sun at about 22 kilometers per second (49,000 miles per hour). At that time, its apparent magnitude will be 7.6, which is about two-and- a-half times brighter than normal. The extra brightness will come from its position in a direct line with the sun and its proximity to Earth. (The asteroid will still be about 180 million kilometers [112 million miles] away, so there is no danger it will fall towards Earth.)

Skywatchers with telescopes can probably see Juno from now until the end of the year, but it is most visible to binoculars in late September. On or before Sept. 21, look for Juno near midnight a few degrees east of the brighter glow of Uranus and in the constellation Pisces. It will look like a gray dot in the sky, and each night at the end of September, it will appear slightly more southwest of its location the night before. By Sept. 25, it will be closer to the constellation Aquarius and best seen before midnight.

Link: NASA JPL Article

Link: Wikipedia: 3_Juno

Winner of 2009 Move An Asteroid: Sini Merikallio (Finland) with paper entitled "Moving an Asteroid with Electric Solar Wind Sail"

Sini Merikallio of Finland wins the Move An Asteroid 2009 International Student and Young Professional International Technical Paper Competition with her paper, "Moving an Asteroid with Electric Solar Wind Sail”.

From the announcement:

SGAC is proud to announce the 2009 Move an Asteroid Competition winner - Sini Merikallio from Finland. Her paper "Moving an Asteroid with Electric Solar Wind Sail" can be found here. The goal of this competition was to develop innovative and credible planetary defense solutions by describing in technical detail how to move an asteroid or comet that is at least 140 meters in diameter. The prize for the competition will cover lodging and registration for both SGC'09 and IAC'09 as well as a flight to South Korea.

Sini Merikallio is working towards Ph.D. in the Modelling group at the Finnish Meteorological Institute's Department of Climate Change. She is currently modelling the atmospheric light scattering from mineral dust particles. Sini earned her M.Sc. (Tech) in electro- and material physics at the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland in 2003. Upon hearing she won the competition, Sini wrote, "I am thoroughly excited and grateful of this opportunity to represent the Electric Solar Wind Sail usage in both IAC and SGC. It will be very interesting to see the response of the scientific community on the method proposed and to discover other contestants innovative approaches on the given problem of asteroid threat mitigation. As the SGC and IAC bring together both hard-boiled scientists, students and young professionals, the ideas will no doubt fly free and I am looking forward on enlightening discussions and constructive feedback on which to build my research further. On a more personal note, I have for some time now desired to experience South Korea because of its culture that is surprisingly said to be quite similar to the culture here in Finland. During my visit I would also hope for a change to tour the Samsung Guide Dog School as my dearest hobbies include all kinds of volunteer work with guide dogs.'

Link: Move An Asteroid 2009 Winner News Announcement

Link: Merikallio, Sini, "Moving an Asteroid with Electric Solar Wind Sail,” 2009. (PDF)

Workshop on Asteroid 2008 TC3 (University of Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan, 05-15 December 2009)

From the workshop website:

The University of Khartoum, Faculty of Sciences and Physics Department, and the SETI Institute invite planetary astronomers and meteoriticists to participate in a workshop dedicated to asteroid 2008 TC3. Asteroid 2008 TC3 was the first asteroid to be detected in space and subsequently found to impact the Earth. Fragments were recovered in the Nubian Desert of northern Sudan in the form of rare ureilite meteorites, called "Almahata Sitta".

Goal of the workshop is to discuss the results from ongoing research into the properties of asteroid 2008 TC3 when it was still in space, its nature and origin, the asteroid's impact in Earth's atmosphere, the subsequent recovery, and the analysis of the recovered meteorites. Talks on the origin of ureilites are invited, as well as discussions on how to adjust observing strategies to increase the likelyhood of future discoveries of small asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

The workshop will be held on the days of December 6 and 7, 2009. In the week following, from December 8 to 15, there will be a site visit to the area where Almahata Sitta was recovered. An effort will be made to expand the diversity of recovered materials by finding more of the fallen debris.

Link: Workshop website

June 2009 UN COPUOS Report: Section on NEOs

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) held its fifty-second
session in Vienna from 3 to 12 June 2009. Here is a section from the report related to Near Earth Object.

United Nations Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space General Assembly, Official Records, Sixty-fourth Session, Supplement No. 20

Near-Earth objects

146. The Committee took note of the discussion of the Subcommittee under the agenda item on near-Earth objects, as reflected in the report of the Subcommittee (A/AC.105/933, paras. 136-148 and annex III).

147. The Committee endorsed the recommendations of the Subcommittee and its Working Group on Near-Earth Objects, which was convened under the chairmanship of Richard Crowther (United Kingdom) (A/AC.105/933, paras. 146 and 148 and annex III, paras. 8 and 9).

148. The Committee noted that the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects had convened on the margins of the fifty-second session of the Committee to further review and develop draft recommendations on the international response to the threat of Near-Earth object (NEO) impacts, for consideration by the Working Group of the Subcommittee at the forty-seventh session of the Subcommittee, in 2010.

149. The Committee noted that as part of its intersessional work, the Action Team was planning to hold a series of workshops dealing with policy, legal and operational aspects of the international response to the threat of NEO impacts. The workshops would be organized jointly with universities and space-related institutions, and their conclusions would be forwarded to the Action Team.

150. The view was expressed that the international response to the threat of NEO impacts required a multidimensional and multidisciplinary approach and decisionmaking process, involving technical, legal, humanitarian and institutional aspects. That delegation considered that the international community needed to address the technical and legal implications, and the related institutional implications, of the response to the threat of NEO impacts.

Link: UNOOSA Report (PDF)

Link: UNOOSA Reports Link

11 September 2009

Mixotrophs May Have Helped Sunlight- Dependent Organisms Survive K-T Impact Event

Selections from the article...

A dinosaur-killing asteroid may have wiped out much of life on Earth 65 million years ago, but now scientists have discovered how smaller organisms might have survived in the darkness following such a catastrophic impact.

Survival may have depended upon jack-of-all-trades organisms called mixotrophs that can consume organic matter in the absence of sunlight. That would have proved crucial during the long months of dust and debris blotting out the sun, when plenty of dead or dying organic matter filled the Earth's oceans and lakes.

"Mixotrophs are very good at stabilizing situations by using whatever resources are there, and can often provide what resources there aren't," said Harriet Jones, a biologist at the University of East Anglia in the UK. "They're very good at coping in extreme environments, and enabling other organisms to live."

Jones and her colleagues tested the limits of mixotrophs by subjecting them to six months of low light or complete darkness. The mixotrophs not only thrived, but also surprised researchers by helping sunlight-dependent organisms also survive pitch black conditions.

Life in the Dark: How Organisms Survived Asteroid Impacts
Jeremy Hsu
Astrobiology Magazine
10 September 2009

Link: article

Link: Wikipedia - Mixotroph

Video Interview with David French on Asteroid-Tether-Ballast System

Link: YouTube Video: David French Renaissance People

Link: Interview with David French

Link: NCState News Release

Article on Space Power Canada Meeting


Selections from the article:

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. Solar power plants orbiting the planet, each the size of 700 Canadian football fields, beaming clean energy down to Earth 24 hours a day so we can run our factories, charge our gadgets and keep our home appliances humming.

But for the scientists and engineers attending the International Symposium on Solar Energy from Space, a three-day conference this week in Toronto, there's nothing fictional about it. In their view, building massive space-based solar power systems represents, over the long term, one of the most effective ways of tackling the double menace of global warming and peak oil.

Scientists say the advantage of putting a solar station in space is that it would face the sun 24 hours a day and would not be limited by cloud cover or air pollution. That would allow it to continuously generate power in the same manner as nuclear and fossil-fuel plants, but without the associated waste and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The idea has been around for 40 years, attracting serious attention from NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense during the 1970s, but funding eventually dried up. It wasn't until the late 1990s that interest in the concept resurfaced, partly as a result of concerns related to global warming and energy security.

Two years ago, the Pentagon's National Security Space Office issued a report that concluded solar-based power "is more technically executable than ever before."

Former NASA executive John Mankins, now president of the Space Power Association, said he believes space-based solar power could be economically competitive with other options.

Mankins added that he believes a small 10-megawatt demonstration plan could be in orbit within the next 10 years. "It's a reasonable time frame," he said.

At the conference, Nobuyuki Kaya, vice-dean of graduate engineering at Kobe University in Japan, demonstrated how the power could be transmitted wirelessly. Assisted by a team of students, he was able to light up a cluster of red LED lights and power a simple robot by beaming energy about 10 metres across a room.

Kieran Carroll, chief technology officer for Space Canada, which is hosting the conference, said such a system could be safely designed to accept and convert large amounts of energy from space. The trick is to transmit at low intensity by sending it down on a wide beam, about 10 kilometres across.

There would have to be no-fly zones around the area, but it wouldn't fry anyone walking through it.

"The power flux density in the middle of the (receiving) field would be perfectly safe for any life," said Carroll.

"In Canada, on a winter's day, one of the big problems would be that birds would probably hover over the field to get warm."

A reality check, however, came from power developer Wael Almazeedi, who warned of the legal, financial and regulatory challenges the plan would face, as well as the difficulty of "promoting a concept based on science fiction."

"Experts meet to discuss feasibility of harvesting solar power in space, beaming it back to Earth"
09 September 2009
Tyler Hamilton
Energy Reporter
The Toronto Star

Link: Article from The Star

08 September 2009

Article on NEOimpactor Code

Article on NEOimpactor Code developed by Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton's School of Engineering Sciences. Selections from the article:

The team used raw data from multiple impact simulations to rank each country based on the number of times and how severely they would be affected by each impact. The software, called NEOimpactor (from NASA's "NEO" or Near Earth Object program), has been specifically developed for measuring the impact of 'small' asteroids under one kilometer in diameter.

Early results indicate that in terms of population lost, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the United States face the greatest overall threat; while the United States, China, Sweden, Canada and Japan face the most severe economic effects due to the infrastructure destroyed.

The top ten countries most at risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.

Link: Daily Galaxy Article

U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee: Summary Report Talks About Human NEO Missions Through "Flexible Path" Architecture

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee has released its summary report. The Committee has been looking at what early human exploration options may be available to the U.S. They previously had talked about an exploration path that would allow the flexibility to go to NEOs. This architecture, referred to as the Flexible Path, is one of the options talked about in their summary report. Here are some selections from the summary report related to the "Flexible Path" architecture:

There is a third possible path for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, which the Committee calls the Flexible Path. On this path, humans would visit sites never visited before and extend our knowledge of how to operate in space—while traveling greater and greater distances from Earth. Successive missions would visit: lunar orbit; the Lagrange points (special points in space that are important sites for scientific observations and the future space transportation infrastructure); near-Earth objects (asteroids that cross the Earth’s path); and orbit around Mars. Most interestingly, humans could rendezvous with a moon of Mars, then coordinate with or control robots on the Martian surface.

The Flexible Path represents a different type of exploration strategy. We would learn how to live and work in space, to visit small bodies, and to work with robotic probes on the planetary surface. It would provide the public and other stakeholders with a series of interesting “firsts” to keep them engaged and supportive. Most important, because the path is flexible, it would allow many different options as exploration progresses, including a return to the Moon’s surface, or a continuation to the surface of Mars.

The Committee finds that both Moon First and Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. It also finds that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

All variants of Option 5 begin exploration along the flexible path in the early 2020s, with lunar fly-bys, visits to Lagrange points and near-Earth objects and Mars fly-bys occurring at a rate of about one major event per year, and possible rendezvous with Mars’s moons or human lunar return by the mid to late 2020s.

Link: Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee Summary Report (PDF)

Link: Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee

Notes from International Symposium on Solar Energy from Space (Day 1, 08 September 2009)

This does not have any specific correlation to planetary defense, but a place to have notes from a conference I am attending. These are notes from the International Symposium on Solar Energy from Space. These are quick notes on things of interest (not meant to be complete). All errors are my own.

After the morning session, there was wireless power transmission demonstration from Prof. Kaya at Kobe University (along with this students).

(Day 1, 08 September 2009)

- Dr. Bryan Erb, “World Energy Outlook and the Prospects for Sustainable Sources”
Multiple energy projections
Global Energy Institute – global power grids
Geothermal or ocean energy
Nuclear fusion
Power grids smarter
Unless a price of carbon of around $30/ton per CO2 tax then carbon sequestration approach will not take off.

- Wael Almazeedi, “Conquering Terrestrial Challenges to Realize Extraterrestrial Potential”
(E&Y Ent. Of the Year)
Free Access to Energy Consortium (FATE)
BTU Power (Manager): 11 GW of installed power worldwide (Kuwait)
Insufficient funding, new to adopt a new proactive approach
$33.5B for terrestrial in on eyear versus %50M in space solar power
SSP is still a concept
There have been positive developments recently but if we do not follow up with demonstration soon
Take the concept out of the lab into the business world
Electric Power Research Institute Journal, Summer 2007 (Development Phases)
Adapt to a terrestrial world even though unjust
1.Public perception
Not as space enthusiast, viable and attainable project
2.Clarity of purposes
Is our purpose to erect a white elephant
3.Competitive positioning
Need to reduce cost comparable to other forms without reliance on market distortion incentive (need to compete without subsidies)
Solar thermal and PV are competing, cannot compete without tariffs/credits
QGen – integrated solar thermal to conventional fuel plants
Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (hybrid plants)
Adopting a similar approach for SSP
(competition: Andasol Complex)
Main competition: Terrestrial solar thermal with storage
Look for government help
4. IP
5. Project Financing
Banks will be responsible to financing, risk averse, limited recourse basis – party given risk who can afford it, guartenned to hardware
70% debt, 30% equity, Work within project finance markets
Markets do not have capital for SSP project, capacity is not there,
Taiwan high speed rail at 18B, largest energy, $13B Qatar ebergy
TAPCP (in UAE for 3.1B) with 24 banks ($911 M – all banks, 1.2 B JBIC Japan bank equity)
Where is the money going to come from, not from government, other financing funding not available, capital intensity, cannot rely on electric utilizies (less than 2% on R&D)
Hybrid Power Demonstration Plan in Tunisia (near Tatoine), Zarzis Tunisia, concentrating solar cycle with combined cycle gas turbine plant) – far from it to get banks involved, extensive dialog with banks
6. Markets
Selling electricity to least developed, integrated technology with grids which as suffering from grids, cannot rely on electric utilities to fix the grid, worldwide government support for gird upgrades,
$13.6 Trillion power investment requirement, (
Space falls outside patent jurisdiction, pushing outer pace treaty and patent law, WIPO on compulsory licensing for green technologies, countries will have right to infringe for public good
Space-based value chain, need to articulate self-financing framework for demonstrator, dual purpose
Evolutionary approach, two paths (Concentrating solar power + steam engine path) (15/85 split for solar + fossil fuel, to 40/60 split steam cycle)

- John Mankins: “Vision and Challenge of Solar Power Satellites”Never an international assessment for SSP
Frame a reasonable technical roadmap
Technical challenges: end-to-end efficiency, total mass, cost to deploy operate (LCC)
Efficiency: 40 going to 50%,
Average cost (aerospace): 3.5E6 $/kg, 7.5xE5, 5E5 / 2) – three points
Integrated symmetrical/modular SPS
Retrodirective Phases Array (adaptive optics) – pilot signal to instruct phases
2008 WPT test in 2008, Managed Energy Technologies was prime (first test of solar power with phases array, validated send energy across 148 km, in less than 4months in less than $1M

- Dan Fortin
President of IBM Canada
Talking about the smarter planet (mentions Friedman’s book, flattening of the earth),
Traceability of food
Stockholm example, traffic cost based upon what/were use of car including traffic pattern (reduced traffic by 20%, greenhouse emissions down 14%)
Health care: Toronto to help doctors detect subtle changes in medical conditions for premature babies
Smart Power grid: some nations further ahead (Malta building the world’s smart utility grid), manage entire public infrastructure as one,
Using biological technology to develop semi-conductor chips.
Becoming smarter requires people including leadership
On talking about outsourcing, typically people think it is labor arbitrage, as a world there is tremendous development of talent, U.S. versus India/China engineering graduating rates,
Advice on how to do global scale projects: barriers to work through (political, technical), sooner to draw global centers of excellence to subjects – that would break barriers, work in 135 countries, had 135 fiefdoms, created strong global centers of excellence, largest software research lab is in Canada, 5000 researchers, 2500 working in pods of 40-50 researchers across the world, get on top of that

- Dr. Robert Zee, Space Flight Laboratory, University of Toronto

Link: International Symposium on Solar Energy from Space

31 August 2009

EADS Astrium Gravity Tractor = EADS APEX Mission Design? (Evolution of Design)

There were several recent news announcements of the EADS Astrium "Gravity Tractor" concept. This may be based upon a previous design developed by this EADS AStrium, the APEX or APophis EXplorer. Here is the abstract about the EADS Astrium "Apex" which was not specifically a gravity tractor mission but a radio beacon mission. Perhaps this was redesigned to be a gravity tractor spacecraft. Both systems seem to employ electric propulsion.

From an abstract presented at The First Meeting of The International Primitive Body Exploration Working Group (IPEWG), January 13-16, 2008, Bankoku Shinryokan, Okinawa, Japan:


Christian Trenkel (Astrium Ltd, Stevenage, UK), Paolo d’Arrigo (Astrium Ltd, Stevenage, UK), Simon Barraclough (Astrium Ltd, Stevenage, UK ) and Andrea Carusi (IASF, Rome, ITALY) [Contact E-mail :]

On April 13th 2029, asteroid Apophis will have a close encounter with Earth, which could send it on a collision course with our planet, in 2036. The close encounter means that even a small shift in Apophis’ position in 2029, of the order of a few km, completely changes the outcome in 2036.

The orbit of Apophis is subject to a number of gravitational and non-gravitational perturbations, some of which are currently known with limited accuracy. These uncertainties are then amplified by the orbit propagation process and result in significant errors in position determination at the time of the close passage in 2029.

In late 2006, the Planetary Society issued the Apophis Mission Design Challenge, inviting the public to design a mission that would reduce the 3σ uncertainty in the position of Apophis in 2029, based on measurements taken by 2017, to about 14km. Astrium Ltd, UK, leading an international team, have submitted the APophis EXpress (APEX) proposal in response to this challenge.

A sensitivity analysis shows that the orbital parameters of Apophis need to be determined to equivalent absolute position uncertainties of a few metres, and absolute velocity uncertainties of around 0.2mm/s. Standard Radio Science Experiments (RSE) can achieve this accuracy, provided that all systematic effects and forces are adequately modeled. For Apophis, a complex non-gravitational force, the Yarkowski Effect (YE), can shift its position by over 100 km between 2017 and 2029. To meet the requirements, the YE needs to be determined with an accuracy of a few percent.

Analytical YE models exist only for a few special cases. A numerical model of the YE, based on in situ measurements of the relevant – mainly thermo-optical – asteroid properties, is therefore essential to reach the required accuracy. It is concluded that the successful orbit determination for Apophis is conditional upon a determination of its physical properties with unprecedented precision.

The APEX mission achieves this through the most detailed and extensive investigation of an asteroid ever performed. An orbiter, instrumented with a sophisticated remote sensing payload, will study Apophis for three years, from its arrival in early 2014 to early 20217. High resolution visual and thermal mapping campaigns will be followed by a RSE, with the ultimate goal of determining the orbital elements to parts per billion. These experiments will be repeated several times during the first year, in order to consolidate and complete the models used for orbit determination. The second and third year will be used to verify the accuracy of the orbit determination, and also allow time for additional mapping campaigns if necessary.

The relatively low gravity of Apophis (compared e.g. to Eros) represents a multiple challenge:

• The orbiter motion is influenced, to an unusually high degree, by non-gravitational forces. This results in most orbits being unstable. In addition, these forces have to be modeled, or directly measured, to very high accuracy.
• For remote sensing, ground track speeds tend to be very low (cm/s), making global mapping a slow process with standard orbits.

To meet these challenges, during radio science the APEX spacecraft is placed in the only stable low-altitude orbit around Apophis: a terminator orbit with the spacecraft keeping a constant cross section to solar radiation. This allows long manoeuvre-free periods when the spacecraft orbit can be tracked from Earth with great accuracy. Simultaneously, an on-board accelerometer is used to measure all non-gravitational perturbations. Finally, high resolution global mapping is achieved relatively quickly thanks to a forced fast orbit around Apophis, using the spacecraft’s own solar electric propulsion system to generate “artificial gravity”.

Link: Final Program and List of Abstracts: First Meeting of The International Primitive Body Exploration Working Group (IPEWG)

Link: EADS Astrium Press Release on APEX asteroid mission
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