NASA Maps Dangerous Asteroids That May Threaten Earth.


If you’ve seen films like “Armageddon,” you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.

f you’ve seen films like “Armageddon,” you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.

NASA released the new map of “potentially hazardous asteroids” on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said.

“These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers),” NASA officials explained in the image description. [See photos of potentially dangerous asteroids seen by NASA]

The asteroid map shows a dizzying swarm of overlapping blue ellipses (the asteroid orbits) surrounding the sun. The orbits of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are also visible to put the asteroid orbits in perspective on a solar system-wide scale.

If you’re worried about a rogue asteroid or comet obliterating life as we know it this week, don’t panic just yet. Just because the asteroids in the new NASA map are classified as “potentially hazardous” — scientists call them PHAs in NASA-speak — that doesn’t mean they are an imminent threat to the Earth, NASA said.

According to NASA, “being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next 100 years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities.”

NASA scientists and astronomers around the world are constantly searching for asteroids that may pose an impact threat to Earth. NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Asteroid Watch project scientists work to share the latest asteroid discoveries and potential threats with the public. The Asteroid Watch is part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program that studies asteroids and comets, as well as their potential impact threats to the Earth and other planets.

NASA released the new map of “potentially hazardous asteroids” on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said.

“These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers),” NASA officials explained in the image description. [See photos of potentially dangerous asteroids seen by NASA]

The asteroid map shows a dizzying swarm of overlapping blue ellipses (the asteroid orbits) surrounding the sun. The orbits of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are also visible to put the asteroid orbits in perspective on a solar system-wide scale.

If you’re worried about a rogue asteroid or comet obliterating life as we know it this week, don’t panic just yet. Just because the asteroids in the new NASA map are classified as “potentially hazardous” — scientists call them PHAs in NASA-speak — that doesn’t mean they are an imminent threat to the Earth, NASA said.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids Graphic
This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013.

According to NASA, “being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next 100 years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities.”

NASA scientists and astronomers around the world are constantly searching for asteroids that may pose an impact threat to Earth. NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Asteroid Watch project scientists work to share the latest asteroid discoveries and potential threats with the public. The Asteroid Watch is part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program that studies asteroids and comets, as well as their potential impact threats to the Earth and other planets.

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United Nations to Adopt Asteroid Defense Plan.


Earth is not prepared for the threat of hazardous rocks from space, say astronauts who helped formulate the U.N. measures.

Illustration of asteroid impacting earth

When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids.

The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraftto slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.

Lu and other members of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) recommended these steps to the U.N. as a first step to address at the long-neglected problem of errant space rocks.  “No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies,” ASE member Rusty Schweickart, who flew on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, said at the museum. “NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency.” The ASE advocates that each nation delegate responsibility for dealing with a potential asteroid impact to an internal agency—before the event is upon us.

The next step in defending Earth against dangerous asteroids is to find them, Lu said. “There are 100 times more asteroids out there than we have found. There are about 1 million asteroids large enough to destroy New York City or larger. Our challenge is to find these asteroids first before they find us.”

Early warning is important because it increases the chance of being able to deflect a threatening asteroid once it is found. If a spacecraft struck an asteroid 5 or 10 years before the rock was due to hit Earth, a slight orbital alternation should be enough to make it pass Earth by; if the asteroid wasn’t detected soon enough, evacuating the impact zone may be the only option available. “If we don’t find it until a year out, make yourself a nice cocktail and go out and watch,” Schweickart quipped.

The B612 Foundation, a non profit Lu founded to address the problem of asteroid impacts, is developing a privately funded infrared space telescope called Sentinel, which it hopes to launch in 2017. The telescope would begin a systematic search for hazardous near-Earth objects.

The ASE astronauts are also asking the United Nations to coordinate a practice asteroid deflection mission to test out the technologies for pushing a rock off course should the need arise. The meteor in Chelyabinsk, which injured 1,000 people but killed none, was an ideal warning shot across the bow, said American Museum of Natural History astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, who hosted Friday’s event—now, it’s time for Earth’s citizens to take action.  Lu agreed: “Chelyabinsk was bad luck,” he said. “If we get hit again 20 years from now, that is not bad luck—that’s stupidity.”

NASA Announces Asteroid Grand Challenge.


 

NASA announced Tuesday a Grand Challenge focused on finding all asteroid threats to human populations and knowing what to do about them.

The challenge, which was announced at an asteroid initiative industry and partner day at NASA Headquarters in Washington, is a large-scale effort that will use multi-disciplinary collaborations and a variety of partnerships with other government agencies, international partners, industry, academia, and citizen scientists. It complements NASA’s recently announced mission to redirect an asteroid and send humans to study it.

“NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth’s orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. “This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem.”

Grand Challenges are ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology. They are an important element of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation.

“I applaud NASA for issuing this Grand Challenge because finding asteroid threats, and having a plan for dealing with them, needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The efforts of private-sector partners and our citizen scientists will augment the work NASA already is doing to improve near-Earth object detection capabilities.”

NASA also released a request for information (RFI) that invites industry and potential partners to offer ideas on accomplishing NASA’s goal to locate, redirect, and explore an asteroid, as well as find and plan for asteroid threats. The RFI is open for 30 days, and responses will be used to help develop public engagement opportunities and a September industry workshop.

Source: NASA

 

The Engine Burns Blue.


751199main_ionengine_946-710

This image shows a cutting-edge solar-electric propulsion thruster in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., that uses xenon ions for propulsion. An earlier version of this solar-electric propulsion engine has been flying on NASA’sDawn mission to the asteroid belt

This engine is being considered as part of the Asteroid Initiative, a proposal to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it. This image was taken through a porthole in a vacuum chamber at JPL where the ion engine is being tested.

Source:NASA

 

 

NASA-Funded Asteroid Tracking Sensor Passes Key Test .


nasa

An infrared sensor that could improve NASA’s future detecting and tracking of asteroids and comets has passed a critical design test.
The test assessed performance of the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) in an environment that mimicked the temperatures and pressures of deep space. NEOCam is the cornerstone instrument for a proposed new space-based asteroid-hunting telescope. Details of the sensor’s design and capabilities are published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Optical Engineering.

The sensor could be a vital component to inform plans for the agency’s recently announced initiative to develop the first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid closer to Earth for future exploration by astronauts.

“This sensor represents one of many investments made by NASA’s Discovery Program and its Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program in innovative technologies to significantly improve future missions designed to protect Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in Washington.

Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28 million miles of Earth’s path around the sun. Asteroids do not emit visible light, they reflect it. Depending on how reflective an object is, a small, light-colored space rock can look the same as a big, dark one. As a result, data collected with optical telescopes using visible light can be deceiving.

“Infrared sensors are a powerful tool for discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population,” said Amy Mainzer, a co-author of the paper and principal investigator for NASA’s NEOWISE mission at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. NEOWISE stands for Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. “When you observe a space rock with infrared, you are seeing its thermal emissions, which can better define the asteroid’s size, as well as tell you something about composition.”

The NEOCam sensor is designed to be more reliable and significantly lighter in weight for launching aboard space-based telescopes. Once launched, the proposed telescope would be located about four times the distance between Earth and the moon where NEOCam could observe the comings and goings of NEOs every day without the impediments of cloud cover and daylight.

The sensor is the culmination of almost 10 years of scientific collaboration between JPL; the University of Rochester, which facilitated the test; and Teledyne Imaging Sensors of Camarillo, Calif., which developed the sensor.

“We were delighted to see in this generation of detectors a vast improvement in sensitivity compared with previous generations,” said the paper’s lead author, Craig McMurtry of the University of Rochester.

NASA’s NEOWISE is an enhancement of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mission that launched in December 2009. WISE scanned the entire celestial sky in infrared light twice. It captured more than 2.7 million images of objects in space, ranging from faraway galaxies to asteroids and comets close to Earth.

NEOWISE completed its survey of small bodies, asteroids and comets, in our solar system. The mission’s discoveries of previously unknown objects include 21 comets, more than 34,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and134 near-NEOs.

JPL manages the NEOCam sensor program for NASA’s Discovery Program office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington manages the Discovery Program office. The Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program at NASA Headquarters also provided funding for the sensor.

Source: NASA