The large impact craters dotting our planet are powerful reminders that asteroids and comets strike the Earth from time to time. As often said, it’s not a question of “if”; it’s a matter of “when” our planet will face an impending strike from space. But an impact is one existential threat humanity is finally starting to take seriously and wrap its head around.
Seemingly spurred by the success of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), NASA just released a new planetary defense strategy and action plan, describing its efforts to find and identify potentially hazardous objects to provide an advanced warning, and then even push them off an impact trajectory.
This 10-year strategy looks to advance efforts to protect the Earth from a devastating encounter with a Near Earth asteroid or comet.
The origins of Earth’s water is a complicated mystery that scientists have been untangling for decades. Life is impossible without water, so the origin of Earth’s life-giving water is a foundational question. As the power of our telescopes grows, researchers have made meaningful headway on the question.
Previous research uncovered links between Earth’s water and the Solar System’s comets and icy planetesimals. But newer research follows the chain back even further in time to when the Sun itself had yet to form.
Here’s a thorny problem: What if life doesn’t always appear on planets that can support it? What if we find more and more exoplanets and determine that some of them are habitable? What if we also determine that life hasn’t appeared on them yet?
Could we send life-bringing comets to those planets and seed them with terrestrial life? And if we could do that, should we?
Comets that venture close to the Sun can transform into something beautiful, but sometimes they encounter incineration if they get too close. Of the various types of comets that orbit close to the Sun, astronomers had never seen the destruction of the type classified as “near-Sun” comets. But thanks to a variety of telescopes on summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai?i, scientists have now captured images of a periodic rocky near-Sun comet breaking apart. They say the disintegration of this comet could help explain the scarcity of such periodic near-Sun comets.
Comets, with their long, beautiful, bright tails of ice, are some of the most spectacular sightings in the night sky. This was most apparent when Comet NEOWISE passed by Earth in the summer of 2020, dazzling viewers from all over the planet while being mainly visible in the northern hemisphere. Even though the sky might look the same night after night, comets are a humble reminder that the universe is a very active and beautiful place.
It’s official. Comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) has the largest nucleus ever seen in a comet. The gargantuan comet was discovered in the fall of 2021, and in January 2022, astronomers turned the Hubble Space Telescope to ascertain more details and determine the exact size.
NASA said a team of scientists has now estimated the diameter is approximately 129 km (80 miles) across, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The nucleus is about 50 times larger than other known comets. Its mass is estimated to be a staggering 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times greater than the mass of a typical comet found much closer to the Sun.
In 2014, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA launched the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to visit asteroid Ryugu. It arrived at the asteroid in June 2018 and studied it from orbit for over a year. Hayabusa 2 even dispatched four rovers to the asteroid’s surface. After departing, it flew past Earth in December 2020, dropping off a sample of Ryugu.
Of all the scientific results from that impressive mission, the most interesting one might be this: Asteroid Ryugu might not be an asteroid. It might be the remnant of a comet.
Using ground-based and space-based observations, a team of researchers has been monitoring a difficult-to-see comet carefully. It’s called Comet 323P/SOHO, and it was discovered over 20 years ago in 1999. But it’s difficult to observe due to its proximity to the Sun.
They’ve found that the Sun is slowly tearing the comet to pieces.
What if a 10 km (6.5 mile)-wide asteroid was on a bee-line towards Earth, with an impending, calamitous impact just six months away? This was the scenario in the recent Netflix film, “Don’t Look Up.” The movie has led many to wonder if we have the resources and technology ready and available today to avert such a disaster.
A new paper looking at the technical aspects of such an endeavor says yes. Yes, we do.
The new movie “Don’t Look Up” — now available on Netflix — is not your usual sci-fi disaster film. Instead, it is a biting parody on the general public’s dismissal and indifference to science. While the movie is about a comet on a collision course with Earth, filmmakers originally meant “Don’t Look Up” to be a commentary on climate change denial. But it also is reflective of the current COVID denial and mask/vaccine resistance, as well as our existing political polarization. It also lays bare our preoccupation with social media. While the movie is sometimes funny, it can also be depressing and frustrating.