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.

29 May 2009

NEO News (05/29/09) Planetary Defense at Granada pt 1

From Dave Morrison.

NEO News (05/29/09) Planetary Defense at Granada pt 1

This edition of NEO News provides an overview of the Planetary Defense Conference held in Granada April 27-30, 2009, followed by a more detailed discussion of a few papers. Other reports from this conference will follow in later editions.

David Morrison



This meeting was officially named "Planetary Defense Conference (PDC): Protecting the Earth from Asteroids". It was the first planetary defense conference sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics, although it follows the pattern of previous conferences sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. As with the previous meetings, this one was organized by William Ailor of The Aerospace Corp, joined this time by co-organizer Richard Tremayne-Smith from the UK. Logistics were handled by ESA (European Space Agency). Approximately 40 oral papers were presented, in addition to a similar number of poster presentations plus several panel discussions.

The PDC sessions covered the following topics: (1) Discovery, Tracking and Characterization of NEAs (a full day session), (2) Mission and Campaign Design, (3) Deflection Technologies and Simulations, (4) Impacts and Consequences, (5) Policy, Preparedness and Deciding to Act, and (6) a concluding summary session. Among the new topics discussed were the experiences of the Japanese Hayabusa mission investigating the sub-km asteroid Itokawa, detailed discussion of the search capability of the proposed Pan-STARRS and LSST telescopes, reports on the Carancas impact event in the Altiplano (September 15, 2007), and reports on the discovery, impact (October 7, 2008), and subsequent recovery of fragments from the small asteroid 2008 TC3. This conference also followed a meeting of lawyers the previous week in Lincoln, Nebraska, considering the legal aspects of planetary protection, as reported by Frans van der Dunk of the University of Nebraska.

Keynote talks were presented by ESA astronaut Pedro Duque (who is from Spain) and Nature editor Oliver Morton (who is about to become an editor of The Economist). Morton provided an interesting journalist's perspective, noting that our interest in defending against celestial dangers marks a fundamental departure from the history of astronomical studies of the cosmos. Through history, astronomy has been the least practical of sciences, and most astronomers and space scientists still think of it that way. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that many traditional astronomers have not accepted or perhaps even grasped the significance of what we are doing toward protection of our planet. Morton also discussed lessons that the development of ideas about planetary protection might offer to other areas of human endeavor, such as global warming. Global warming is another field where technological capability, catastrophic potential, and planetary perspectives coincide.

The next Planetary Defense Conference is to be in Bucharest, Romania, May 9-14, 2011.


TC3 is the first asteroid to be discovered before impact. The explosion point in northern Sudan was determined with sufficient accuracy to allow later recovery of meteorites. Clark Chapman and Rusty Schweickart of the B612 Foundation discussed some of the ways our new-found ability to detect very small NEAs close to the Earth can change our perspectives. They suggest the importance of coordination of NEA searches with disaster planning and response communities. It may be that even with the current Spaceguard system we are more likely to find a very small NEA just a few days before impact than to find a large one with decades of warning. Chapman noted that little work has been done to identify the smallest NEA that is dangerous, or the smallest that might be of interest to decision-makers. Recent models suggest that the threshold for significant ground damage is 30-40 m. But how would public officials react to a prediction of a 25 m impact, or a 15 m impact? There is about a 20% chance of an impact by a 15 m NEA in this decade. Decisions dealing with small impactors (including those that ultimately miss) may need to be made every few years, if we can predict them. Hyped or unreliable media stories might happen annually.

David Morrison also discussed some of these issues, looking at the historical progression of perspectives on the impact hazard.

1. Assessing the hazard. During the 1990s, the standard scientific tools of sampling and statistical analysis were essential to understand the impact hazard and communicate the risk to decision makers. Clark Chapman and David Morrison first identified the threshold for global damage and estimated the risk from impacts of different size. This early work compared the impact risk to other natural hazards, estimated the risk as a function of NEO size, and laid the foundation for establishing the Spaceguard Survey in 1998. The first Congressional language (in 1991) reflected this perspective when it noted, "the Committee believes it is only prudent to assess the nature of the threatŠ" Note that while these statistical studies provide a tool to analyze various mitigation schemes, they do not in themselves reduce the hazard. The step of moving from a scientific risk-analysis perspective to actually mitigating the impact hazard required a major re-orientation of thinking.

2. Mitigating the Hazard. The public and decision-makers are not interested in a better statistical understanding of the impact threat; they want warning and protection. The public-policy goal is not to refine the estimate of the risk but to identify the next impactor and do something about it. That is the purpose of surveys, orbital calculations, and follow-up characterization. The Spaceguard goal of finding 90% of the NEAs larger than 1 km diameter focuses on NEAs that are large enough to risk a global catastrophe. These are also the impacts that might threaten the survival of civilization. While such impacts are very rare, happening less than once in a million years, they still dominate the risk over more frequent impacts. Future surveys (such as Pan-STARRS and LSST) are also designed to provide decades of warning. The objective is not the last-minute detection of incoming objects, and the surveys have not been optimized for such purposes.

3. Dealing with Public Concerns. Issues that worry the public (and many decision makers) are not necessarily the greatest threats. The very rare large impacts pose the greatest hazards, but most people are more concerned about the next impact (which is likely to be small). 2008 TC3 is an example; too small to pose any danger, but something that would be of substantial public interest if it fell over a populated region. From this perspective, it is the number of "threat warnings" that matters, not the size of the threat. A 20 m object detected this week with one-week warning time will get much more attention than a 2 km object that won't actually threaten an impact for the next century. Ideally we should design a survey system that detects both distant large NEAs and close small ones. But (Morrison argued) if a choice must be made between optimizing for the deep surveys and searching for small impactors near the Earth, then it is more important to maintain the capability of detecting larger NEAs at great distances in deep surveys. The larger asteroids still dominate the hazard. Faced with both a cloud of mosquitoes and a venomous snake, we may be tempted just to go after the numerous mosquitoes, but we ignore the snake at our peril.


As the focus of new searches moves toward smaller (sub-km) NEAs, we are also learning more about the destructive potential of impacts at the smaller end of the NEA size spectrum. Mark Boslough (Sandia National Laboratories) and Galen Gisler (University of Oslo) both have used supercomputer models to investigate airbursts and tsunami formation, respectively.

Boslaugh has been simulating low-altitude airbursts of hypervelocity impacts from NEAs <100 m in diameter, finding an increased damage potential relative to earlier models that did not include the downward momentum of the exploding mass. Fireballs from nuclear explosions rise, but those from an asteroid initially continue downward from the point of disintegration. Because of this downward flow, larger blast waves and stronger thermal radiation pulses are experienced at the surface than would be produced for a nuclear airburst of the same yield. The 1908 Tunguska explosion is an example of an airburst in which the hot jet of vaporized projectile material continued downward but lost momentum before it made contact with the surface. The models suggest that the total energy released in the Tunguska event was not more than 5 megatons, in contrast to earlier analyses that suggested an energy of 10-15 megatons. For somewhat larger impacts, the fireball descends all the way to the ground, where it can melt silicate materials. The mysterious Libyan glass may have been produced by such a fireball.

Gisler (with co-author R. Weaver) did 2-D and 3-D computational analyses of the effects of ocean impacts of NEAs <500 m in diameter. They concluded that the near-field effects (that is, within 100 km of the impact) are the dominant danger, with central jets rising several km into the atmosphere and generating highly non-linear breaking waves that could devastate shorelines. However, the impact does not generate long-distance tsunami-like waves, so the area of damage remains local.


With the nominal completion of the 10-year Spaceguard Survey focused on NEAs >1 km diameter, it is important to assess where we stand. Alan Harris (Space Science Institute) provided for this conference a re-evaluation of the population of NEAs and an estimate of the remaining risk from impacts. As of January 19, 2009, the present surveys have discovered 765 NEAs larger than 1 km (as estimated from their brightness) out of an estimated total population of 940. This is 81% completeness. Note that these numbers reflect a re-evaluation made a few years ago to the asteroid magnitude scale and the conversion factor from observed magnitudes to diameters, resulting in a fewer NEAs >1 km. Since the survey is more nearly complete at 2 km diameter, which is close to the probable threshold for globally catastrophic impacts, the Spaceguard Survey has actually "retired" more than 90% of the total impact risk. Almost half of all NEAs as large as Apophis have already been discovered, but only a negligible fraction of Tunguska-size NEAs.

As noted above, it now appears that ground damage from airbursts extends to considerably smaller impactor sizes than was previously inferred. The main risk in the size range from 150 m to 1000 m is from tsunamis, but with adequate warning the actual fatalities from tsunamis can be small. Harris re-evaluates the likely casualties using known population distributions and improved estimates of the damage from impacts. With the current level of survey completeness (which includes many sub-km objects as well as larger ones), Harris estimates that the remaining risk from the undiscovered population (expressed as average annual fatalities) is roughly 20/yr from local/regional land impacts, 4/yr from impact tsunamis, and 54/yr from globally catastrophic events (the undiscovered big ones). The next generation surveys, aimed at finding 90% of NEAs >140 m, will further reduce impact risk. Using these models of population, completion, and impact damage, Harris estimates a residual risk of roughly 6/yr from local/regional impacts, <1/yr from impact tsunamis, and 11/yr from globally catastrophic events, plus a continuing background risk of 10/yr from long-period comets.

Harris concluded that within a few years, if not already, we will have found essentially all dangerous asteroids large enough to be a risk of global climatic effects. We will be left with some fractional probability that even one such object remains undiscovered. Mid-size impacts, presenting mainly tsunami risk, are less frequent and probably less damaging than previously estimated. In the smallest size range capable of causing ground damage, the next generation survey may find ~25%, providing long-term warning. Ground-based optical surveys can also be designed with about 25-35% chance of detecting a "death plunge" object, down to the smallest size capable of producing ground damage, providing days to weeks' warning. Thus in a very short time on the scale of civilizations, and even quite short in terms of a human lifetime, the impact hazard should be reduced to a negligible risk. The one exception to this is the risk from long-period comets, for which present technology can offer no protection beyond short-term warning. Fortunately this risk is estimated to be quite small. Harris also noted that it is obvious that doing something about the global catastrophic events is worthwhile by almost any accounting. It is in the smaller size range where more careful cost-benefit accounting is in order to evaluate programs and policies.


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.

27 May 2009

Foxnews Article: "Russian Scientist: UFO Crashed Into Meteorite to Save Earth"

"Russian Scientist: UFO Crashed Into Meteorite to Save Earth"
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From the article...

Did a UFO deliberately crash into a meteor to save Earth 100 years ago? That's what one Russian scientist is claiming.

Dr. Yuri Labvin, president of the Tunguska Spatial Phenomenon Foundation, insists that an alien spacecraft sacrificed itself to prevent a gigantic meteor from slamming into the planet above Siberia on June 30, 1908.

The result was was the Tunguska event, a massive blast estimated at 15 megatons that downed 80 million trees over nearly 100 square miles. Eyewitnesses reported a bright light and a huge shock wave, but the area was so sparsely populated no one was killed.

Most scientists think the blast was caused by a meteorite exploding several miles above the surface. But Labvin thinks quartz slabs with strange markings found at the site are remnants of an alien control panel, which fell to the ground after the UFO slammed into the giant rock.

"We don't have any technologies that can print such kind of drawings on crystals," Labvin told the Macedonian International News Agency. "We also found ferrum silicate that can not be produced anywhere, except in space."

Link: Foxnews Article

22 May 2009

Move An Asteroid 2009 International Technical Paper Competition is Go

The Move An Asteroid 2009 International Student and Young Professional Technical Paper Competition is once again being held. It is being administered by the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).

Rules: 3-10 page technical paper on how to change the course of an asteroid. First price is a trip to South Korea in October to attend the Space Generation Congress (SGC) and International Astronautical Congress (IAC).

Link: SGAC Announcement: Space Generation Advisory Council announces “Move An Asteroid 2009” competition

Link: Move An Asteroid 2009 site

20 May 2009

"Life Could Have Survived Earth's Early Bombardment"

The bombardment of Earth by asteroids 3.9 billion years ago may have enhanced early life, according to a new University of Colorado study. Credit: NASA/JPL

Selections from the NASA Press Release...

A NASA-funded study indicates that an intense asteroid bombardment nearly 4 billion years ago may not have sterilized the early Earth as completely as previously thought. The asteroids, some the size of Kansas, possibly even provided a boost for early life.

The study focused on a particularly cataclysmic occurrence known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, or LHB. This event occurred approximately 3.9 billion years ago and lasted 20 to 200 million years. In a letter published in the May 21 issue of Nature magazine titled "Microbial Habitability of the Hadean Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment," Oleg Abramov and Stephen J. Mojzsis, astrobiologists at the University of Colorado's Department of Geological Sciences, report on the results of a computer modeling project designed to study the heating of Earth by the bombardment.

Results from their project show that while the Late Heavy Bombardment might have generated enough heat to sterilize Earth's surface, microbial life in subsurface and underwater environments almost certainly would have survived.

"Exactly when life originated on Earth is a hotly debated topic," said Michael H. New, the astrobiology discipline scientist and manager of the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These findings are significant because they indicate that if life had begun before the LHB or some time prior to 4 billion years ago, it could have survived in limited refuges and then expanded to fill our world."

"Even under the most extreme conditions we imposed on our model, the bombardment could not have sterilized Earth completely," said Abramov, lead author of the paper. "Our results are in line with the scientific consensus that hyperthermophilic, or 'heat-loving,' microbes could have been the earliest life forms on Earth, or survivors from an even more ancient biosphere. The results also support the potential for the persistence of microbial biospheres on other planetary bodies whose surfaces were reworked by the bombardment, including Mars."

NASA's Astrobiology Program's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., through its support of NASA's Postdoctoral Program, provided funding for this research. The Astrobiology Program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.

Selections from the news article...

Impact evidence from lunar samples, meteorites and the pockmarked surfaces of the inner planets paints a picture of a violent environment in the solar system during the Hadean Eon 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, particularly through a cataclysmic event known as the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.9 million years ago.

No such record exists for Earth because tectonic processes have folded ancient craters back into the interior, but scientists assume our planet took the same pummeling.

Although many believe the bombardment would have sterilized Earth, the new study uses a computer model to show it would have melted only a fraction of Earth's crust, and that microbes — if any existed in the first 500 million years or so of Earth's existence — could well have survived in subsurface habitats, insulated from the destruction.

"These new results push back the possible beginnings of life on Earth to well before the bombardment period 3.9 billion years ago," said CU-Boulder Research Associate Oleg Abramov. "It opens up the possibility that life emerged as far back as 4.4 billion years ago, about the time the first oceans are thought to have formed."

Because physical evidence of Earth's early bombardment has been erased by weathering and plate tectonics over the eons, Abramov and his colleagues used data from Apollo moon rocks, impact records from the moon, Mars and Mercury, and previous theoretical studies to build three-dimensional computer models that replicate the bombardment.

The researchers plugged in asteroid size, frequency and distribution estimates into their simulations to chart the damage to the Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment, which is thought to have lasted for 20 million to 200 million years.

The 3-D models allowed the researchers to monitor temperatures beneath individual craters to assess heating and cooling of the crust following large impacts in order to evaluate habitability, said Abramov. The study, detailed in the May 21 issue of the journal Nature, indicated that less than 25 percent of Earth's crust would have melted during such a bombardment.

The team even cranked up the intensity of the asteroid barrage in their simulations by 10-fold — an event that could have vaporized Earth's oceans.

"Even under the most extreme conditions we imposed, Earth would not have been completely sterilized by the bombardment," Abramov said.

Instead, hydrothermal vents may have provided sanctuaries for extreme, heat-loving microbes known as "hyperthermophilic bacteria" following bombardments, said study team member Stephen Mojzsis. Even if life had not emerged by 3.9 billion years ago, such underground havens could still have provided a "crucible" for life's origin on Earth, he added.

The modeling work was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Department and the NASA Postdoctoral Program.

The researchers concluded subterranean microbes living at temperatures ranging from 175 degrees to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (79 degrees to 110 degrees Celsius) would have flourished during the Late Heavy Bombardment. The models indicate that underground habitats for such microbes increased in volume and duration as a result of the massive impacts.

Some extreme microbial species on Earth today — including so-called "unboilable bugs" discovered in hydrothermal vents in Yellowstone National Park — thrive at 250 F (120 C).

Geologic evidence suggests that life on Earth was present at least 3.83 billion years ago, Mojzsis said.

Link: LiveScience Article

Link: NASA News Release

Link: 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2009) Abstract

Link: Article ("Earth science: Life battered but unbowed") in Nature 459, 335-336 (21 May 2009)

Link: Nature 459 Editor's Summary (21 May 2009)

19 May 2009

YouTube Video: Asteroid Impact Hazards with Dr. Alan Stern

Link: YouTube Video (Asteroid Impact Hazards with Dr. Alan Stern)

Video on Candian NEOSSAT Project

New satellite to warn of dangerous asteroids @ Yahoo! Video
Video on Canadian NEEOSAT mission, a LEO microsatellite to track and determine orbits of near-Earth asteroids and comets, focusing on those in near-Sun orbits.

Link: Yahoo Video

Link: Project Homepage

18 May 2009

Video: Kansas Man Digs Up 1,220-Pound Meteorite Estimated to be 20,000 Years Old

A Kansas man digs up a an meteorite estimated to be 20,000 years old. KWCH's Alana Rocha reports. Source: KWCH | Added May 11, 2009

From the news article...

Sunday just east of Greensburg, he [Don Stimpson, curator of the Kansas Meteorite Museum in Haviland] was ready to unearth his latest find - a rather odd-shaped piece Stimpson believes is a major chunk of the Brenham Meteorites.

It's estimated the meteorite has sat in the ground 20,000 years. And this day is the result of about two weeks of digging and a couple of months waiting on good Kansas weather to lift it out.

"Looks like 1,220 pounds," Stimpson calculates.

Link: CNN/KWCH Video

"Man Unearths Meteorite in SW Kansas"
10 May 2009 06:19 PM

Link: KWCH Story

Texas A&M University Class Work on Apophis Exploration and Mitigation Mission Design

Selections from the Texas A&M news release (as well as presentations on the class projects for Fall 2008 and Spring 2009)...

Dr. David Hyland of Texas A&M University began work on an exploration mission to the asteroid Apophis in 2006. The students in three courses offered by Hyland designed APEP, the Apophis Preliminary Exploratory Platform. This mission was meant to just explore Apophis and track its movements. The end result would be a decision on whether or not the asteroid had a high chance of colliding with Earth.

In fall of 2008, the Deflect Apophis System (DAS) was designed by students in another class led by Hyland, AERO 426. The objective of the DAS was to move Apophis such that it would not collide with Earth.

The Apophis Exploration and Mitigation Platform (AEMP) is the current project, which involves a combination of both APEP and AEMP. First, the AEMP would stand some distance away from Apophis, taking of all of the necessary science measurements needed to deflect the asteroid. Then, it would employ a “gravity tractor” to begin movement. After a year, an “albedo change” substance would be adhered to the asteroid, forcing long term movement.

Pending ongoing discussions, AEMP may soon be a three-way partnership involving Texas A&M, NASA Ames and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

The concept of changing the albedo of an asteroid is a technique that is unique to Texas A&M. No other organization has designed a mission meant to use the manipulation of albedo as a way to move an asteroid. The albedo of an object is a measure of how reflective it is. The more reflective, the less heat it absorbs, and the less heat it emits as it cools. When the heat is emitted, a small force is created on the object. If the asteroid’s albedo is changed, this force can be manipulated to move Apophis over a long period of time.

Link: Texas A&M News Release

Link: DAS Class Project Overview (PDF)

Link: DAS Class Project Overview (PPT)

Link: Texas A&M Overview presentation (03 December 2008)

Link: Texas A&M Apophis Mitigation Research Project Kickoff Presentation (09 February 2009)

17 May 2009

Asteroid Impact Simulator

Interesting multi-lingual asteroid impact simulator where you choose diameter, velocity, angle, composition, locations and a visual map with data boxes appears with impact values.

Link: Asteroid Impact Simulator

15 May 2009

CSM Columnist: "Who is responsible for averting an asteroid strike?"

"Who is responsible for averting an asteroid strike?"
Column: It's time to set aside political quibbles and form an international plan

Asteroid hunters have good news – and a challenge – for the rest of us.After an extensive search for asteroids a kilometer or more across, engineer Steve Chesley says that “we can now say with confidence that no asteroids large enough to cause such a global calamity [as killing off the dinosaurs] are headed our way.”

But if one of them – or even a smaller, city-destroying rock – were detected on a collision course, would the world community be prepared to handle it? A conference of legal experts that discussed this question at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last month answered it with a resounding “No.”

Scientists and engineers who have studied the problem of deflecting a dangerous asteroid believe the technical issues are difficult but solvable. The challenge now is figuring out the legal issues of who takes action on behalf of humankind and of what their responsibilities and liabilities will be.

Asteroid hunters believe they can give us plenty of warning. There is “a fair chance that the next Earth impactor will actually be identified with many decades and perhaps centuries of warning time,” explains Mr. Chesley of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in the March/April issue of the Planetary Report.

That’s plenty of time to develop a spacecraft whose gravitational attraction might nudge an asteroid aside – or a rocket or some application of nuclear explosives to do the job.

However, if a single country – or small group of nations – tries to take the initiative on its own, the international reaction could stall any action at all.

“The international political reactions to the US shooting down one of its own satellites a year ago to prevent presumably dangerous and toxic rocket fuel from reaching Earth only foreshadows what would happen if the US would detonate nukes claiming to destroy an incoming asteroid,” said Frans von der Dunk, a University of Nebraska space law expert, at the Nebraska conference, according to Space News.

Overlooking the hype about nuclear weapons, which engineers consider an unlikely, extreme measure, Professor von der Dunk has pointed out the main issue. Averting a regional or global asteroid threat may involve unforeseen collateral damage – such as splintered chunks making their way to Earth or worse. Therefore, the world community has to have a say in how that threat is handled.
Right now, to use von der Dunk’s word, that community is “underorganized” to meet this challenge.

Getting organized for possible future action is less urgent than coping with global warming. But like any good insurance planning, it should not languish on the back burner of global politics.

This need will come into sharper focus as the new Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii goes into action this spring. Its mission to catalogue objects across the entire sky will pick out many more asteroids, large and small.

Someday those facts may foretell a future impact. The world community should make sure that it has its response plan in order with the legal mechanism for assigning responsibilities in place.

Robert C. Cowen
14 May 2009
Link: Christian Science Monitor Column

14 May 2009

Article: "Asteroid impact may have gassed Earth"

From the article...

A burst of carbon monoxide triggered by an asteroid impact may have been a key factor in the mass extinction which saw off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The claim comes from Japanese scientists who have simulated the impact that created the massive crater at Chicxulub on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

The Chicxulub impact, which occurred around the end of the Cretaceous period and the beginning of the Tertiary (the K-T boundary), is thought to have blackened the skies with dust, blocking photosynthesis. The impact would also have triggered intense global firestorms, boosting the atmospheric concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and warming the Earth.

But the shock of the impact may also have released significant amounts of greenhouse gasses by breaking down carbonate rocks such as calcite. Previous estimates have suggested that the Chicxulub impact could have released enough carbon dioxide from carbonate rocks at the site to cause a global warming of about 1-2 ºC.1,2

The Japanese team, led by Ko Kawaragi of the University of Tokyo, now suggest in Earth and Planetary Science Letters3 that the shocked carbonates would have released much more carbon monoxide than carbon dioxide, leading to a global warming of 2-5 °C for several years after the impact.

"Asteroid impact may have gassed Earth: Did dinosaur-killing space rock create enough carbon monoxide to trigger extreme global warming?"
Anjali Nayar
Nature Magazine
13 May 2009

Link: Nature News Article


Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 282, Issues 1-4, 30 May 2009, Pages 56-64

"Direct measurements of chemical composition of shock-induced gases from calcite: an intense global warming after the Chicxulub impact due to the indirect greenhouse effect of carbon monoxide"
Ko Kawaragia, Yasuhito Sekinea, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Toshihiko Kadonob, Seiji Sugitaa, Sohsuke Ohnoc, Ko Ishibashid, Kosuke Kurosawaa, Takafumi Matsuia and Susumu Ikedaa, aDepartment of Complexity Science and Engineering, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo, 5-1-5, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8561, Japan, bInstitute of Laser Engineering Osaka University, 2-6 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan, cInstitute for Study of the Earth's Interior, Okayama University, 827 Yamada, Misasa, Tottori 682-0193, Japan, dDepartment of Earth and Planetary Science, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, 5-1-5, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8561, Japan

Shock-induced devolatilization in hypervelocity impacts has been considered to play important roles in the atmospheric evolution and mass extinctions in Earth's history. Although the chemical composition of shock-induced gas species from carbonate rocks has been considered as a key to understand the environmental change after the Chicxulub impact, it has not been investigated extensively before. Here, we conduct direct measurements of the chemical composition (CO/CO2) of shock-induced gas species from calcite (CaCO3) using both a laser gun system and an isotopic labeling technique. The CO/CO2 ratio of the shock-induced gas species from calcite is measured to be 2.02 ± 0.41, suggesting that gaseous CO has been dominant in the shock-induced gases in the Chicxulub impact. In order to evaluate the environmental effects of the injection of CO gas, we investigated the post-impact atmospheric chemistry by incorporating our experimental results into a tropospheric photochemical model. The results suggest that an intense (2–5 °C) global warming would have lasted for several years after a Chicxulub-size impact mainly due to the greenhouse effect of tropospheric O3, which is produced via photochemical reactions associated with CO gas. Such an intense global warming could have damaged the biosphere in the mass extinction at the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–P) boundary.

Link: Earth and Planetary Science Letters Abstract Link

13 May 2009


From MIT.

The first asteroid ever discovered that has an orbit completely inside the Earth's, found by an MIT Lincoln Laboratory telescope in 2003 (with multiple exposures marked in red), has been formally named Atira by its discoverers. Seven more such inner-Earth orbit (IEO) asteroids have been found since, and the group is now classed as the Atiras. Courtesy / MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Link: MIT New sReleasehttp

12 May 2009

Apple IPhone App for NEO Alerts: iNEO

From the description of the IPhone app:

iNEO - Asteroid Closest to Earth
Published by: Microprojects
Current Version: 1.0 released 2009-05-01
Price: 1.99
Category: Education

App Description:

Occasionally the news has a report of an asteroid that came close to the earth but what about today, right now? How close is an asteroid to the earth at this very moment?

iNEO downloads a database of all the known Near Earth Objects (NEO) and calculates which one is the closest to the earth. Information listed includes the asteroid's name, how close it is to the earth, its location in the sky, how bright it is and how fast it is moving.

In addition to the data about the asteroid a 3-D plot of its orbit is drawn so you can see just how close it is to the earth, where it came from and where it is going. You can zoom in and out, view the orbit from any angle and change the time.

Link: iNEO

Link: iNEO Description

Link: Microprojects site

Presentations from the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln Conference on NEO Policy

Various presentations from the recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln Conference on Near-Earth Objects: Risks, Responses and Opportunities – Legal Aspects Conference.

Link: Univ. of Neb.-Lincoln Conference Presentation Website

Andrés Gálvez PowerPoint

Andrés Gálvez, GSP manager, Strategic Studies and Institutional Matters Office

Dr. Jean Michel Contant PowerPoint
Prof. Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz
Agnieszka Lukaszczyk PowerPoint
Tom Jones PowerPoint
Gary Rodriguez PowerPoint
Walther Lichem, former Austrian Ambassador
Harold Reitsema PowerPoint
Masahiko Sato PowerPoint
Rusty Schweickart
Leslie Tennen PowerPoint
Prof. Frans von der Dunk PowerPoint
Ray A. Williamson PowerPoint
Keith Steeves PowerPoint

Article: "Solar wind tans young asteroids"

Artist’s impression of how the solar wind makes young asteroids look old. After undergoing a catastrophic collision, the colour of an asteroid gets modified rapidly by the solar wind so that it resembles the mean colour of extremely old asteroids. After the first million years, the surface “tans” much more slowly. At that stage, the colour depends more on composition than on age.

From the new release...

A new study published in Nature this week reveals that asteroid surfaces age and redden much faster than previously thought — in less than a million years, the blink of an eye for an asteroid. This study has finally confirmed that the solar wind is the most likely cause of very rapid space weathering in asteroids. This fundamental result will help astronomers relate the appearance of an asteroid to its actual history and identify any after effects of a catastrophic impact with another asteroid.

It has long been known that asteroid surfaces alter in appearance with time — the observed asteroids are much redder than the interior of meteorites found on Earth [1] — but the actual processes of this “space weathering” and the timescales involved were controversial.

Thanks to observations of different families of asteroids [2] using ESO’s New Technology Telescope at La Silla and the Very Large Telescope at Paranal, as well as telescopes in Spain and Hawaii, Vernazza’s team have now solved the puzzle.

When two asteroids collide, they create a family of fragments with “fresh” surfaces. The astronomers found that these newly exposed surfaces are quickly altered and change colour in less than a million years — a very short time compared to the age of the Solar System.

By studying different families of asteroids, the team has also shown that an asteroid’s surface composition is an important factor in how red its surface can become. After the first million years, the surface “tans” much more slowly. At that stage, the colour depends more on composition than on age. Moreover, the observations reveal that collisions cannot be the main mechanism behind the high proportion of “fresh” surfaces seen among near-Earth asteroids. Instead, these “fresh-looking” surfaces may be the results of planetary encounters, where the tug of a planet has “shaken” the asteroid, exposing unaltered material.

Thanks to these results, astronomers will now be able to understand better how the surface of an asteroid — which often is the only thing we can observe — reflects its history.

This result was presented in a paper published this week in the journal Nature, “Solar wind as the origin of rapid reddening of asteroid surfaces”, by P. Vernazza et al. The team is composed of Pierre Vernazza (ESA), Richard Binzel (MIT, Cambridge, USA), Alessandro Rossi (ISTI-CNR, Pisa, Italy), Marcello Fulchignoni (Paris Observatory, France), and Mirel Birlan (IMCCE, CNRS-8028, Paris Observatory, France).

ESO 16/09 - Science Release
22 April 2009
"Solar wind tans young asteroids"

Link: ESO Press Release

Link: Paper [PDF]

"Differential elemental ablation of micrometeoroids"

From the post in Discover's Bad Astronomy Blog (Phil Plait)...

Space is not empty. This close to a star like the Sun, even after billions of years, space is filled with junk. Tiny bits of rock, ice, and metal are everywhere, the leftover shrapnel from asteroid collisions, or detritus sloughed off of comets. Every day, the Earth plows through many tons of such material, which mostly burns up in our atmosphere.

Scientists have now detected for the first time (PDF journal paper here) that as a particle enters our atmosphere, the different materials in it burn off at different times. They found that sodium and potassium burn off first, when temperatures are still low in the meteoroid. As the little chunk of cosmic fluff penetrates deeper into our atmosphere, the air thickens and the meteoroid heats up. When it hits about 1800 K (1500 C or 2800 F) materials like silicon, iron, and magnesium that have a higher vaporization energy — that, is, need to get hotter to vaporize — start to burn off. At 2500 K (2200 C or 4000 F) the calcium, titanium, and aluminum finally boil away.

What’s amazing to me is that were able to determine this at all. The micrometeoroids we’re talking about here are very tiny, maybe 10-11 to 10-4 grams — in some cases, too small to see. Even at the bigger end that’s a tiny little piece of debris. Normally, the chemicals in an object like this would be measured using spectra — breaking the light up into colors and examining them; different elements emit different colors of light.

But these meteors are too small to create enough light to measure. So scientists got clever: they used radar! Radar reflects off of ionized air, and the amount of ionization — the amount of free electrons in the air — changes the strength of that reflection. By carefully measuring just how strongly a meteor reflects radar as it burns up, scientists were able to figure out just when various elements burned off the hot little visitor.

This is the first time measurements like this have been done, and show that this appears to be the main method that micron-sized particles of metal get into the mesosphere and lower thermosphere, the region of the atmosphere around 100 km (60 miles) high. That may not seem terribly important, but this is one more component that makes up the vastly complex tapestry of the Earth’s atmosphere.

April 25th, 2009 9:37 AM by Phil Plait

From the abstract...

"First observation of micrometeoroid differential ablation in the atmosphere"
D. Janches, Colorado Research Associates, NorthWest Research Associates, Boulder, Colorado, USA, L. P. Dyrud, Center for Remote Sensing, Inc., Fairfax, Virginia, USA, S. L. Broadley, School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK, J. M. C. Plane, School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Every day, billions of microgram-sized-extraterrestrial particles enter and ablate in the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere, depositing their mass in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (MLT). This evaporated meteoric mass is the source of global layers of neutral metal atoms, sporadic E layers of metal ions, and meteoric smoke particles. Because their kinetic energy is insufficient to produce detectable optical emissions, these particles can only be observed using sensitive radars, which detect the plasma (i.e., electrons) either immediately surrounding the meteoroid (head-echo), or left behind along its path (trail-echo). Here we show that observed short-scale temporal features in the radar returned signal from the meteor head-echo are explained by differential ablation of the chemical constituents. These results represent the first observation of this mass-loss process, indicating that this is the main mechanism through which the meteoric mass of micron-sized particles is deposited in the MLT.

Link: Discover Magazine Blog

Link: Abstract

Link: Journal paper [PDF]

11 May 2009

Wiki on Asteroid Astrometry and Reporting

Ron Wodaski has posted a wiki to help people learn about asteroid photometry and reporting.

Link: Asteroid Astrometry and Reporting Wiki

Broadcast with Steve Chesley and Don Yeomans: "Watching Space Rocks: Live Chat"

Recorded video of interview with Steve Chelsey and Don Yeomans of NASA JPL.
25 March 2009
"Watching Asteroids"
Recorded live on Ustream 03/25/2009 04:29pm PST

Link: Ustream Link

The Onion: "Chicken-Sh** Asteroid Veers Away At Last Minute"

A non-real news article from The Onion...

"Chicken-Sh** Asteroid Veers Away At Last Minute"
May 11, 2009 | Issue 45•20

TUCSON, AZ—Though initial calculations showed it to be on a direct collision course with Earth, a pansy-ass asteroid approximately the size of Rhode Island has instead altered its trajectory to avoid the planet by more than 40,000 miles, astronomers at the University of Arizona reported Monday.

This wuss missed the Earth by a long shot.

"Guess it just didn't have the spuds to go through with it," Richard A. Kowalski of the school's Catalina Sky Survey said. "Real big surprise. Maybe you can try again when you accrete a little more mass than 6.32 x 1015 kilograms, okay? Chicken-shit."

Kowalski said that one month ago Asteroid 2009-XG2—nicknamed "Old Limp Dick"—was following a path that, even accounting for heat friction and gravitational pull from other celestial bodies, gave it a 97 percent chance of striking Earth. Further observation and calculations, however, indicated that the asteroid would instead tuck its balls between its legs and change its course by more than 22 degrees.

"This potential extinction-level event turned out to be a puss-out of cosmic proportions," Kowalski said. "Earth didn't even flinch. You know what, why don't you give it another go, little guy? Huh? You can even take a free shot at the moon to warm up."

Scientists in this observatory used a high-powered telescope to track the asteroid's path right to the point of its monumental puss-out.

After a brief pause Kowalski added, "That's what I thought."

Many astronomers who have spent their careers monitoring asteroids have echoed Kowalski's conclusions. David L. Rabinowitz of the NASA-funded Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program claimed that, despite the overwhelming data to the contrary, no one in the astronomy community had any doubt that the asteroid was talking out of its ass.

"Everybody knew that asteroid was a poseur," Rabinowitz said. "If it didn't have the balls to come within 100,000 miles of Pluto 15 years ago, how's it even gonna consider messing with Earth? What, did it think it was going to be another 1908 Tunguska Event? Don't make me laugh."

Rabinowitz also estimated that even if the asteroid had managed to remove its giant tampon and hit Earth, it most likely would have landed harmlessly in the ocean or the Sahara Desert.

"This asteroid's an even bigger pussy than 6489 Golevka, if you can believe that," he said.

Though astronomers across the world agreed that the asteroid probably still sucks on its mama's titties, a number of scientists have come out with different theories as to why it tore ass out of the solar system at 47,000 miles per hour.

"Have you seen Earth? It would have housed that asteroid so bad," University of Chicago astronomer Lucas Donovan said. "If it even tried making impact, you would have heard exactly two sounds: us hitting the asteroid and the asteroid hitting space. Little piece of shit got off lucky, if you ask me."

Plans to launch a probe to measure the composition of the asteroid were scrapped after NASA scientists concluded it was made up of 0.5 percent basaltic crust, 0.5 percent carbonaceous chondrite, and 99 percent bullshit.

"Goddamn chicken-shit planetoid ain't even worth it," acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese said.

There is currently no strategy in place to prepare for a possible return of the asteroid, as NASA physicists have theorized it will likely throw itself into the sun from the utter shame of being such a weak-ass little bitch.

Link: The Onion: "Chicken-Shit Asteroid Veers Away At Last Minute"

European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) on "Apophis - Encounter 2029"

Final presentation videos are now online from the European Space Agency (ESA) Advanced Concepts Team (ACT). These videos are executive summarizes from recent concept studies (referred to as Ariadna studies) on the topic: ‘Preparing for Apophis - Encounter 2029’. Here is the YouTube channel.

Link: ESA ACT "Apophis - Encounter 2029" Channel

07 May 2009

NASA FY2010 Budget and NEOs: Initial Review

The NASA Budget for FY2010 has been initially released by the White House. Here are some initial notes:

Budget Estimates for the Near Earth Object Observations
(FY2010 President's Budget Request)

FY2008 (Actual): $3.3 M
FY2009 (Enacted): $3.7 M
FY2010: $3.8 M
FY2011: $3.8 M
FY2012: $3.9 M
FY2013: $4.0 M
FY2014: $4.1 M

Near Earth Object Observations

The Near Earth Object Observations (NEOO) was transferred from the Earth Science Division beginning in FY 2010. Its objective is to detect and track 90 percent of the Near Earth Objects, asteroids, and comets that come within 1.3 Astronomical Units of the Sun, and to find those which have any potential to collide with Earth and do significant damage at the surface. A network of existing ground-based telescopes and modifications to existing space-based sensors, and supporting data processing and analysis infrastructure, will be funded to achieve this objective.

Link: NASA FY2010 Budget

06 May 2009

The Planetary Society's 2009 Shoemaker NEO Grant Recipients

From The Planetary Society (TPS):

The 2009 Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants totaled $18,300 (US) and were awarded to three amateur astronomers and researchers:

- Russel Durkee, Minnesota, USA
- Robert Holmes, Illinois, USA
- Gary Hug, Kansas, USA

Link: The Planetary Society (TPS) News Announcement

Recap of 1996 Paper from E. Smith: "A Manned Flyby Mission to Eros"

"A Manned Flyby Mission to Eros"
Eugene Smith, March 1966, Northrop Space Laboratories (Hawthorne, California), Presented at the Third Space Congress in Cocoa, Florida.

A manned flyby mission to Eros (Technical feasibility of 1975 manned flyby mission to Eros and examination of lesser bodies of solar system), SMITH, E A, THE CHALLENGE OF SPACE, PROCEEDINGS OF THE THIRD SPACE CONGRESS, COCOA BEACH, FLA ; United States; 7-10 Mar. 1966. pp. 137-155. 1966

From David S. F. Portree's Beyond Apollo Blog:

German astronomer Gustav Witt discovered the asteroid Eros on August 13, 1898. Eros was both the first asteroid found to orbit entirely outside of the Asteroid Belt and the first known planet-crosser; its path crosses that of Mars. In March 1966, Eugene Smith, an engineer at Northrop Space Laboratories in Hawthorne, California, presented a paper on a piloted Eros flyby mission at the Third Space Congress in Cocoa, Florida. In it, he wrote that Eros exploration might help scientists understand Main Belt asteroids and small planetary moons (for example, the martian satellites Deimos and Phobos). He noted that Eros would pass within 14 million miles of Earth in January 1975.

At the time Smith presented this paper, NASA and its contractors studied piloted free-return Mars and Venus flyby missions based on Apollo technology. The first of these was expected to leave Earth in 1975. Among other expected benefits, a Mars flyby would provide interplanetary flight experience ahead of 1980s piloted Mars landings. Smith noted, however, that a Mars flyby mission would likely be so heavy that placing all of its components and propellants into space would need either a Saturn V rocket with a nuclear upper stage or multiple all-chemical Saturn Vs followed by assembly in Earth orbit. He called instead for a 1975 piloted Eros flyby that would provide experience applicable to Mars landings, yet could depart Earth on a single uprated Saturn V rocket.

Smith argued that "the value of the Eros mission to subsequent manned planetary flights having a higher level of difficulty and complexity is of no small consequence." He added that "interplanetary experience comes only from interplanetary missions: less difficult flights, such as that to Eros, could significantly enhance experience acquired in Earth orbital and lunar activities, and could thereby increase the probability of success for the missions to follow."

Smith's 527-day Eros flyby mission would begin with launch and Earth departure on May 3, 1974, at the opening of a 30-day launch window. Upon arrival in 100-nautical-mile parking orbit, the Eros Flyby Spacecraft Vehicle (EFSV) would comprise a 33.6-ton Eros Command Module/Eros Service Module (ECM/ESM), a 33.2-ton Eros Mission Module (EMM), and a 98.6-ton Apollo Saturn V S-IVB stage, for a total mass of 165.4 tons. The ECM would be based on the conical Apollo Command Module design.

At the time Smith presented his paper, the Apollo Saturn V had yet to fly, but NASA expected that it would be able to launch about 130 tons into 100-nautical-mile parking orbit. Smith cited studies that proposed boosting Saturn V launch capacity to 165 tons by uprating the four J2 engines in its S-II second stage. Alternately, the rocket's S-IC first stage could be fitted with twin 260-inch-diameter solid-propellant strap-on boosters so that it could launch about 215 tons. This, Smith wrote, would provide ample margin for EFSV weight growth during development.

Upon arrival in parking orbit, the six-man crew in the ECM/ESM would check out the EFSV's systems. Assuming that all appeared normal, they would ignite the S-IVB stage engine at perigee to raise the ESFV's apogee and gain over 90% of the velocity needed to depart Earth orbit for Eros. The crew would then separate the ECM/ESM, turn it end for end, and dock with the EMM.

After jettisoning the spent S-IVB, they would transfer to the EMM, their main living and working space during the Eros flyby mission. They would deploy the EMM's eight disk-shaped solar panels, a steerable "sensor turret," a large dish antenna, and a "support structure" for shielding the ECM from sunlight and micrometeroids. After linking the EMM and ECM/ESM electrical and control systems, they would check out all systems a second time.

If the EFSV failed checkout, the astronauts could abort their mission by separating from the EMM in the ECM/ESM and firing the ESM's twin liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen-fueled RL-10A-3 main engines at perigee to reduce speed so they could reenter Earth's atmosphere in the ECM. If the spacecraft checked out, however, the astronauts would fire the ESM engines at perigee to add enough velocity to place the EFSV on course for Eros.

On January 18, 1975, the astronauts would begin tracking Eros using radar, a five-foot-long reflecting telescope with a 30-inch primary mirror, and other instruments mounted in the EMM's sensor turret. On January 23, 1975, they would fire the ESM engines to ensure an Eros close-approach distance of about 50 miles and begin gathering Eros science data. About eight hours before closest approach, the astronauts would catapult a 200-pound automated probe toward the asteroid. The EMM's dish antenna would relay to Earth data from the probe's TV camera and other instruments.

Closest approach to Eros would occur about 14 million miles from Earth on January 28. The piloted spacecraft would spend about 90 seconds within 200 miles of asteroid's sunlit side and about 30 seconds within 100 miles. On January 30, 1975, the crew would end Eros tracking and fire the ESM engines to correct course deviations imparted by the January 23 maneuver, the automated probe launch, and the weak tug of Eros' gravity.

The astronauts would load the ECM with scientific data and check out its systems on October 10, 1975. On October 12, they would abandon the EMM and use the ESM engines to place the ECM on course for Earth atmosphere reentry. They would then jettison the ESM, reenter Earth's atmosphere at about 40,000 feet per second, and descend to the surface on parachutes.

Congress killed NASA's plans for piloted Mars and Venus flyby missions in August 1967. Smith's Eros flyby proposal received little attention. The only U.S. piloted mission of 1975 was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which saw the final Apollo spacecraft dock with the Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft in low-Earth orbit. When NASA at last explored a near-Earth asteroid, it explored Eros. The $112-million Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission - the first mission in NASA's new low-cost Discovery Program - left Earth on February 17, 1996, more than 20 years after the planned launch date of Smith's piloted Eros flyby.

On December 20, 1998, NEAR failed to enter Eros orbit because its computer aborted a crucial engine burn. Three days later, after some quick reprogramming, NEAR flew past the 22-mile-long, 13-mile-wide asteroid at a distance of 2375 miles, returning 222 images.

On February 14, 2000, after an additional revolution about the Sun, NEAR at last orbited its target. NASA renamed the spacecraft NEAR Shoemaker in March 2000 to commemorate renowned planetary geologist and comet discoverer Eugene Shoemaker, who had died in a car crash in Australia in 1997. In the year that followed, the spacecraft radioed to Earth more than 160,000 close-up images of Eros.

Though designed as an orbiter, NEAR Shoemaker succeeded in landing on Eros on February 12, 2001. It returned gamma-ray spectrometry data from the asteroid's surface until February 28, 2001.

"A Manned Flyby Mission to Eros," Eugene A. Smith, Proceedings of the Third Space Congress, "The Challenge of Space," pp. 137-155; paper presented at the Third Space Congress in Cocoa Beach, Florida, March 7-10, 1966.

Link: Beyondapollo Blog Entry by David S. F. Portree

Trailer for "Impact" Movie / "The Last Impact" in Germany

From IMDB:

While the entire world watches the largest meteor shower in 10,000 years, a rogue asteroid, hidden by the meteor field, smashes into the moon in a tremendous explosion of rock and debris. Fragments from the asteroid, and even from the moon itself, penetrate Earth's atmosphere and make impact. Even though the initial damage is minimal, nerves are frayed throughout the planet. There is significant physical damage to the lunar surface, but experts quickly conclude there will be no lasting ramifications. Then strange anomalies begin to manifest themselves on Earth. It starts small - cell phone disruptions, unusual static charges and odd tidal behavior. The world's leading scientists, including Alex Kittner, Maddie Rhodes and Roland Emerson, begin piecing together evidence that suggests the moon's properties, and its orbit, may have been permanently altered. Their fears are realized when the anomalies increase to the point where the effect of "simulated" gravity is being manipulated by increased electromagnetic surges coming from the moon. People, cars and other objects are rendered momentarily weightless in random, isolated areas around the globe. Alex, Maddie, Roland and the rest of their team soon discover something far worse - the moon's new orbit has put it on a collision course with Earth! The world now has 39 days to stop it or Earth, and all of mankind, will perish. After a failed attempt by the United States to destroy the moon, our heroes bring all the countries of the world together in one last hope for humanity - an international mission to the moon itself where astronauts will attempt to reverse the magnetic effects and restore the moon to its original orbit. Alex, whose children are now missing after the latest rampage of anti-gravity, is emotionally torn as he must now join Roland and two other astronauts on the Earth saving mission into space. It is a race against time as the two celestial bodies are drawn closer and closer to impact, the world united, watching and praying, the survival of mankind in the balance.

Link: IMDB Entry for "Impact" (2008)

Link: YouTube Vide: "Last impact - Der Einschlag - TV-Trailer"

Updates from Louis Friedman about Lincoln Conference on NEO Policy and Bruce Betts on IAA Planetary Defense Conference

Rusty Schweickart (left) and Tom Jones speaking at the University of Nebraska College of Law Conference on NEO Law and Policy, April 2009. Credit: Louis D. Friedman (The Planetary Society)

Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO winner Jana Ticha (left) and colleague Milos Tichy from Klet Observatory in the Czech Republic. The picture was taken during a reception at the IAA Planetary Defense Conference in Granada, Spain in April 2009. Credit: Bruce Betts (The Planetary Society)

Here are extensive notes from Dr. Louis D. Friedman and Dr. Bruce Betts (both of The Planetary Society) about the recently concluded University of Nebraska-Lincoln Conference on NEOs and Space Policy (Lincoln, Nebraska) and the 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference (Granada, Spain).

Update from the Conference on NEO Law and Policy
23 April 2009, 2009 03:10 UTC
Louis D. Friedman
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

More from the Conference on NEO Law and Policy
24 April 2009 05:41 UTC
Louis D. Friedman
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

Updates from the IAA Planetary Defense Conference
27 April 2009 22:27 UTC
Bruce Betts
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

More from the Planetary Defense Conference: Shoemaker Grant Winners
27 April 2009 22:54 UTC
Bruce Betts
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

Planetary Defense Conference: Apophis Mission Design Competition
29 April 2009 21:15 UTC
Bruce Betts
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

Planetary Defense Conference: Interesting Tidbits
30 April 2009 20:03 UTC
Bruce Betts
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

Final Update from Planetary Defense Conference
30 April 2009 22:55 UTC
Bruce Betts
Link: The Planetary Society Blog Post

04 May 2009

Bruce Betts from the Planetary Society: Giving an Update on 2009 Planetary Defense Conference

Presentation of Foresight, an radio beacon mission to Near Earth Asteroid Apophis, winner of The Planetary Society's 2007 Apophis Mission Design Competiton. The presentation was made at the 2009 IAA Planetary Defense Conference in Granada, Spain in April 2009.

Bruce Betts discusses updates to the Apophis Mission Design Competition entries on The Planetary Society's site. Here is the post:

Projects: Apophis Mission Design Competition
Apophis Mission Design Competition at the Planetary Defense Conference
by Bruce Betts
April 29, 2009

The Planetary Society's Director of Projects, Dr. Bruce Betts, is currently in Granada, Spain, where he is attending the Planetary Defense Conference. He filed this update.

One highlight of the Planetary Defense Conference has been the chance to see all of The Planetary Society's Apophis Mission Design Competition winning teams. Not only are these teams here, they are also all continuing work on their mission designs and related studies, and presenting their mission designs to space agencies and colleagues.

What has been striking to see at this conference is the staying power of the competition. We had hoped for this, and have ourselves been working with space agencies, advocating for consideration of the mission designs. It has been wonderful to see all three winners of the open competition are represented here. Note that all three of the prize winners were considered excellent proposals. Though the prize assignments were unanimous in our review panel, the discussions that led to the line up were long and thorough. In other words, all three were very viable mission designs.

A.C. Charania is here representing the SpaceWorks/SpaceDev winning entry. He presented the concept in detail in one of the sessions, along with follow up studies they have done including assessing new launch vehicle options, and future plans they have. They have also presented their mission concept at other conferences and in front of various space agencies. They continue to work with spacecraft designers to flesh out options for Apophis missions.

Juan L. Cano was the leader of the 2nd prize team and is here at the conference. He is from Deimos Space here in Spain, and his team included a variety of organizations from several countries in Europe. They are now involved with doing detailed Apophis mission studies for ESA, and he presented some of their results. He told me the Apophis competition caused them to move forward with their designs and plans, and has helped lead them to where they are now.

The third prize team, another large European consortium, in this case led by a team from Astrium in the U.K., is also continuing to pursue related work. I talked with Craig Brown from Astrium. He was not on the proposal team, but is working on some of the follow-on. He says Astrium continues to be very interested in studying NEO missions. In addition to mission studies, they have also spun off studies of how to take spacecraft thermal models and apply them to NEOs to study and predict the "Yarkovsky effect." The Yarkovsky effect, which sounds more like something that occurs under hypnosis, is actually something getting a lot of discussion at this conference. Differential temperatures on a rotating asteroid between its morning and afternoon sides actually causes changes to the orbit of asteroids. The effect is not well understood yet, but because of its significance for an object like Apophis, lots of people are thinking about it.

Link: Projects: Apophis Mission Design Competition

Selected Images from the 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference (27-30 April 2009, Granada, Spain)

Note: The following are the few images I took at the 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference in Granada, Spain. I took a limited quantity of images. I may post other images as taken by another conference participant. All images are copyright 2009, A.C. Charania unless otherwise noted (permission to redistribute or republish is required).

Granada, Spain (site of the 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference)

Spanish Astronaut Pedro Duque talks about the threat from PHOs (Day 1 - Monday, 27 April 2009).

Welcome reception at Hotel San Anton in Granada, Spain. Seen here: center left - Clark Chapman and center right - Dave Morrison (Day 1 - Monday, 27 April 2009).

Dr. Yoshikawa from JAXA/ISAS talks about his paper called: "Navigation and Guidance of Hayabusa around the Tiny Asteroid Itokawa." He is holding two models of Itokawa based upon data returned from the Hayabusa spacecraft, one is based upon more recent data and is thus a more realistic model (Day 2 - Tuesday, 28 April 2009).

Astronaut Rusty Schweikert gives a talk in place of Ed Lu (who could not be at the conference) called "Every Threatening Asteroid an Apophis." He is pointing to a graph that shows the width of various "keyholes" in the year 2029, when the asteroid Apophis passes by the Earth. If Apophis goes through any of the keyholes shown then it will come back during its approach on the year listed and impact the Earth. As can be seen the keyhole for the 2036 impact case is much larger than any other ones in the 2029 pass. The implication is that there are many more keyhole than just the next one and any deflection will have to a post-deflection observation (Day 3 - Wednesday, 29 April 2009).

Dr. Tancredi at the beginning of his talk ("The Carancas Event: a Recent Hypervelocity Impact Crater in the Altiplano") estimates the geographic origin of attendees to the conference (Day 3 - Wednesday, 29 April 2009).

Dr. Tancredi shows the location of the impact point for the Carancas meteorite, in a region bordering three countries (Day 3 - Wednesday, 29 April 2009).

Dr. Tancredi showing the evidence identified during on-scene investigation of the Carancas meteorite impact event. This evidence includes the damage on the roof of a house/shed, a man blown off a bicycle, an eyewitness, and a cow whose horn was bent (from falling down due to the shock from the impact event apparently) (Day 3 - Wednesday, 29 April 2009)

Dr. Gisler from the University of Oslo (Norway) talks about his paper ("Near-Field Effects of Asteroid Impacts in Deep Water") (Day 3 - Wednesday, 29 April 2009)

Article: "Princeton geoscientist offers new evidence that meteorite did not wipe out dinosaurs"

Selections from the article...

A Princeton University geoscientist who has stirred controversy with her studies challenging a popular theory that an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs has compiled powerful new evidence asserting her position.

Gerta Keller, whose studies of rock formations at many sites in the United States, Mexico and India have led her to conclude that volcanoes, not a vast meteorite, were the more likely culprits in the demise of the Earth's giant reptiles, is producing new data supporting her claim.

Keller, a Princeton professor of geosciences, and several co-authors lay out the case in a paper published April 27 in the Journal of the Geological Society of London [KELLER, G., ADATTE, T., PARDO JUEZ, A. & LOPEZ-OLIVA, J.G. New evidence concerning the age and biotic effects of the Chicxulub impact in NE Mexico]. Examinations at several new sites have produced "biotic evidence" -- the fossilized traces of plants and animals tied to the period in question -- indicating that a massive die-off did not occur directly after the strike but much later.

Using these fossil remains to construct a timeline, she and her team were able to date the surrounding geologic features and begin to piece together proof that the impact occurred 300,000 years before the great extinction.

Over the years, Keller's group has amassed evidence for as many as four major events widely separated in time in that area of Mexico as well as in Texas. The oldest of the four events is the Chicxulub impact, seen by the fallout of glass beads. The second is about 150,000 years later and seen in a layer of sandstone with Chicxulub impact glass beads that were transported from shallow shore areas into deep waters during a sea level fall and was commonly interpreted as a tsunami generated by the Chicxulub impact. About 100,000 to 150,000 years later, the third event struck at the time of the K-T boundary with its iridium layer and mass extinction. This event may represent a second large impact or massive volcanism. The fourth event is possibly a smaller impact as evidenced by another iridium layer about 100,000 years after the mass extinction.

Advocates of the Chicxulub impact theory suggest that the impact crater and the mass extinction event only appear far apart in the sedimentary record because an earthquake or tsunami caused slumps and mixing of sediments surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. To date no evidence of major disturbance has been found in the sediments.

Keller says her team's newest research, however, confirms what she has found in earlier studies -- that the sandstone complex that overlays the impact layer was not deposited over hours or days by a tsunami but over a long time period. From El Peñon in Mexico and other sites listed in the new study, the scientists were able to calculate that between 13 and 30 feet of sediments were deposited at a rate of about an inch per thousand years after the impact. These sediments separating the impact layer from the sandstone complex and the overlying mass extinction were formed by normal processes. There is evidence of erosion and transportation of sediments in the sandstone layers, but no evidence of structural disturbance, Keller said.

Keller suggests that the massive volcanic eruptions at the Deccan Traps in India may be responsible for the extinction, releasing massive amounts of dust and gases that could have blocked sunlight, altered climate and caused acid rain. The fact that the Chicxulub impact seems to have had no effect on biota, she said, despite its 6-mile-in-diameter size, indicates that even large asteroid impacts may not be as deadly as imagined.

"Princeton geoscientist offers new evidence that meteorite did not wipe out dinosaurs"
Kitta MacPherson
Princeton University Press Release
04 May 2009 10:00 ET

Link: Article

Link: Journal of the Geological Society (Volume 166, Part 3, May 2009) - KELLER, G., ADATTE, T., PARDO JUEZ, A. & LOPEZ-OLIVA, J.G. New evidence concerning the age and biotic effects of the Chicxulub impact in NE Mexico, 393.

Launchspace Announces Asteroid Busters Site (and call for ideas for NEO defense)

Launchspace announced a new site (Asteroid Busters) and a request for ideas related to protection of the Earth from NEOs. However the website is not up yet ( From their news release:

The Asteroids Are Coming!

This isn't just "buzz" to get you excited about a new movie coming; we really are being buzzed by asteroids and other NEOs (Near Earth Objects), and one day these conjunctions could become collisions! There are lots of NEOs out there orbiting the sun. Some, like comets, are less worrisome since they are composed primarily of ice and small, rocky particles that dissipate upon entering Earth's atmosphere. Others, however, like asteroids are thought of as minor planets that are large enough to damage Earth and its environment if an encounter should take place. Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 1100 near Earth asteroids bigger than one kilometer in diameter and more than one million that are larger than 40 meters in diameter. Those smaller than 40 meters tend to burn up in the atmosphere, but the impact of a 40-meter diameter asteroid is equivalent to a three-megaton bomb! One megaton is the equivalent explosive power of one million tons of TNT. For comparison, the Little Boy atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, exploded with an energy of about 15 kilotons of TNT.

Larger NEOs of about 2 kilometers in size could impart energies in the category of about a million megatons! Such an impact could result in an "impact winter" with global loss of crops and subsequent starvation and disease. Large impacts could cause mass extinctions of species. And....scientists know that most of the larger asteroids are as yet undetected! How do we detect, and better yet, deflect such large asteroids? Eventually, one of these will be spotted. And when that happens, who do we call? Right now there is no one to call, because the world has no defense against pending large asteroid encounters! If this is troubling, here is the bad news.

On March 2 of this year, asteroid 2009 DD45 zipped just 41,000 miles above Earth at a speed of 12 miles per second at its closest point to Earth. Amateur astronomers aided professionals at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center by providing measurements used in refining calculations of the asteroid's orbit. But, astronomers did not even detect the asteroid until just a couple of days before it zoomed by Earth; far too late to take any preventative action. This was not an isolated incident as many NEOs come this close to Earth and zip by undetected!

Scientists have demonstrated that several large NEO impacts in the past have altered both life and the environment. While the probability of a life-ending impact is low, scientists know that potentially critical collisions are inevitable. Why are we not doing something to mitigate or hopefully prevent such a catastrophic event?

The answer to this question is complicated. As humans, we focus on potential dangers only when they are imminent, or after the fact. We react when the danger becomes real and the situation becomes urgent. However, deflecting large asteroids is not easy, simple or inexpensive. We do not yet know how to do it, but we do know it will require early detection and long-term investments on a global scale.

We want to start thinking about ways to protect Earth from NEOs and we need your ideas. Please send them to our new site at Asteroid Busters and we will publish the better ideas in future articles.

Send your ideas to


Link: LaunchSpace
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