Asteroids of various sizes whiz past our planet all the time. Some we know about, but many we don’t, and new ones are identified on an almost weekly basis. (In fact one such recently-discovered asteroid named 2014 HQ214, an object the length of an aircraft carrier, will pass us at a mere 3 lunar distances today June 8… watch live coverage here.) And, of course, some actually do impact Earth, and if they are large enough the results can be quite… energetic, to put it lightly.
While there aren’t yet any programs in place that can prevent a large asteroid impact from happening, there are some that are at least on the lookout for potential impactors. The B612 Foundation’s privately-funded Sentinel mission is one of them and, once launched and placed in orbit around the Sun in 2018, will hunt for near-Earth asteroids down to about 140 meters in size using the most advanced infrared imaging technology… and no federal budget cuts or red tape to worry about.
The video above, produced by B612 Foundation’s primary contractor Ball Aerospace, shows how Sentinel will work, and why development has been going so well.
“I see this as the wave of the future — the ability for non-governmental organizations to put together the funding, working with outstanding technical organizations like Ball Aerospace, and produce space missions where the government isn’t involved and where the price is much, much less, and we still get the same kind of great information.”
– Dr. Scott Hubbard, B612 Program Architect and former director of the NASA Ames Research Center
If the hoped-for meteor blast materializes this Friday night / Saturday morning (May 23-24) Earth won’t be the only world getting peppered with debris strewn by comet 209P/LINEAR. The moon will zoom through the comet’s dusty filaments in tandem with us.
Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, alerts skywatchers to the possibility of lunar meteorite impacts starting around 9:30 p.m. CDT Friday night through 6 a.m. CDT (2:30-11 UTC) Saturday morning with a peak around 1-3 a.m. CDT (6-8 UTC).
While western hemisphere observers will be in the best location, these times indicate that European and African skywatchers might also get a taste of the action around the start of the lunar shower. And while South America is too far south for viewing the Earth-directed Camelopardalids, the moon will be in a good position to have a go at lunar meteor hunting. Find your moonrise time HERE.
The thick crescent moon will be well-placed around peak viewing time for East Coast skywatchers, shining above Venus in the eastern sky near the start of morning twilight. For the Midwest, the moon will just be rising at that hour, while skywatchers living in the western half of the country will have to wait until after maximum for a look:
“Anyone in the U.S. should monitor the moon until dawn,” said Cooke, who estimates that impacts might shine briefly at magnitude +8-9.
“The models indicate the Camelopardalids have some big particles but move slowly around 16 ‘clicks’ a second (16 km/sec or 10 miles per second). It all depends on kinetic energy”, he added. Kinetic energy is the energy an object possesses due to its motion. Even small objects can pack a wallop if they’re moving swiftly.
Bright lunar meteorite impact recorded on video on September 11, 2013. The estimated 900-lb. space rock flared to 4th magnitude.
Lunar crescents are ideal for meteor impact monitoring because much of the moon is in shadow, illuminated only by the dim glow of earthlight. Any meteor strikes stand out as tiny flashes against the darkened moonscape. For casual watching of lunar meteor impacts, you’ll need a 4-inch or larger telescope magnifying from 40x up to around 100x. Higher magnification is unnecessary as it restricts the field of view.
I can’t say how easy it will be to catch one, but it will require patience and a sort of casual vigilance. In other words, don’t look too hard. Try to relax your eyes while taking in the view. That’s why the favored method for capturing lunar impacts is a video camera hooked up to a telescope set to automatically track the moon. That way you can examine your results later in the light of day. Seeing a meteor hit live would truly be the experience of a lifetime. Here are some additional helpful tips.
On average, about 73,000 lbs. (33 metric tons) of meteoroid material strike Earth’s atmosphere every day with only tiny fraction of it falling to the ground as meteorites. But the moon has virtually no atmosphere. With nothing in the way, even small pebbles strike its surface with great energy. It’s estimated that a 10-lb. (5 kg) meteoroid can excavate a crater 30 feet (9 meters) across and hurl 165,000 lbs. of lunar soil across the surface.
A meteoroid that size on an Earth-bound trajectory would not only be slowed down by the atmosphere but the pressure and heat it experienced during the plunge would ablate it into very small, safe pieces.
NASA astronomers are just as excited as you and I are about the potential new meteor shower. If you plan to take pictures or video of meteors streaking through Earth’s skies or get lucky enough to see one striking the moon, please send your observations / photos / videos to Brooke Boen ([email protected])at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Scientists there will use the data to better understand and characterize this newly born meteor blast.
On the night of May 23-24, Bill Cooke will host a live web chat from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EDT with a view of the skies over Huntsville, Alabama. Check it out.
“The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.”
– Ed Lu, B612 Foundation CEO and former NASA astronaut
When we think of recent large asteroid impacts on Earth, only a handful may come to mind. In particular, one is the forest-flattening 1908 Tunguska explosion over Siberia (which may have been the result of a comet) and another is the February 2013 meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, shattering windows with its air blast. Both occurred in Russia, the largest country on Earth, and had human witnesses — in the case of the latter many witnesses thanks to today’s ubiquitous dashboard cameras.
While it’s true that those two observed events took place 105 years apart, there have been many, many more large-scale asteroid impacts around the world that people have not witnessed, if only due to their remote locations… impact events that, if they or ones like them ever occurred above a city or populated area, could result in destruction of property, injuries to people, or worse.
(And I’m only referring to the ones we’ve found out about over the past 13 years.)
A new video released by the B612 Foundation shows a visualization of data collected by a global nuclear weapons test network. It reveals 26 explosive events recorded from 2000 to 2013 that were not the result of nuclear detonations — these were impacts by asteroids, ranging from one to 600 kilotons in energy output.
Update: a list of the 26 aforementioned impacts and their energy outputs is below:
8/25/2000 (1-9 kilotons) North Pacific Ocean
4/23/2001 (1-9 kilotons) North Pacific Ocean
3/9/2002 (1-9 kilotons) North Pacific Ocean
6/6/2002 (20+ kilotons) Mediterranean Sea
11/10/2002 (1-9 kilotons) North Pacific Ocean
9/3/2004 (20+ kilotons) Southern Ocean
10/7/2004 (10-20 kilotons) Indian Ocean
10/26/2005 (1-9 kilotons) South Pacific Ocean
11/9/2005 (1-9 kilotons) New South Wales, Australia
2/6/2006 (1-9 kilotons) South Atlantic Ocean
5/21/2006 (1-9 kilotons) South Atlantic Ocean
8/9/2006 (1-9 kilotons) Indian Ocean
9/2/2006 (1-9 kilotons) Indian Ocean
10/2/2006 (1-9 kilotons) Arabian Sea
12/9/2006 (10-20 kilotons) Egypt
9/22/2007 (1-9 kilotons) Indian Ocean
12/26/2007 (1-9 kilotons) South Pacific Ocean
10/7/2008 (1-9 kilotons) Sudan
10/8/2009 (20+ kilotons) South Sulawesi, Indonesia
9/3/2010 (10-20 kilotons) South Pacific Ocean
12/25/2010 (1-9 kilotons) Tasman Sea
4/22/2012 (1-9 kilotons) California, USA
2/15/2013, (20+ kilotons) Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia
4/21/2013 (1-9 kilotons) Santiago del Estero, Argentina
4/30/2013 (10-20 kilotons) North Atlantic Ocean (Source: B612 Foundation)
To include the traditonally macabre comparison, the bomb used to destroy Hiroshima at the end of World War II was about 15 kilotons; the Nagasaki bomb was 20.
This evening former NASA astronauts Ed Lu, Tom Jones, and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders will present this video to the public at a live Q&A event at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
CEO and co-founder of the B612 Foundation, Ed Lu is working to increase awareness of asteroids and near-Earth objects with the ultimate goal of building and launching Sentinel, an infrared observatory that will search for and identify as-yet unknown objects with orbits that intersect Earth’s. The event, titled “Saving the Earth by Keeping Big Asteroids Away,” will be held at 6 p.m. PDT. It is free to the public and the visualization above is now available online on the B612 Foundation website. A press event will also be taking place at 11:30 a.m. PDT, and will be streamed live here.
Currently there is no comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system showing the positions and trajectories of these asteroids that might threaten Earth. The citizens of Earth are essentially flying around the Solar System with eyes closed.Asteroids have struck Earth before, and they will again – unless we do something about it.
Added 4/24: The April 22 press conference at the Museum of Flight can be watched in its entirety below:
Technical note: While B612 and Ed Lu are presenting a new visualization on April 22, the data behind it are not entirely new. Previous surveys on NEA populations have determined within reasonable parameters the number of objects and likelihood of future impacts of varying sizes using data from WISE and ground-based observatories… see a series of slides by Alan Harris of JPL/Caltech here. (ht Amy Mainzer)
When large asteroids or comets strike the Earth — as they have countless times throughout our planet’s history — the energy released in the event creates an enormous amount of heat, enough to briefly melt rock and soil at the impact site. That molten material quickly cools, trapping organic material and bits of plants and preserving them inside fragments of glass for tens of thousands, even millions of years.
Researchers studying impact debris on Earth think that the same thing could very well have happened on Mars, and that any evidence for ancient life on the Red Planet might be found by looking inside the glass.
A research team led by Pete Schultz, a geologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has identified the remains of plant materials trapped inside impact glass found at several different sites scattered across Argentina, according to a university news release issued Friday, April 18.
Melt breccias from two impact events in particular, dating back 3 and 9 million years, were discovered to contain very well-preserved fragments of vegetation — providing not only samples of ancient organisms but also snapshots of the local environment from the time of the events.
“These glasses preserve plant morphology from macro features all the way down to the micron scale,” said Schultz. “It’s really remarkable.”
Schultz believes that the same process that trapped once-living material in Argentina’s Pampas region — which is covered with windblown, Mars-like sediment, especially in the west — may have occurred on Mars, preserving any early organics located at and around impact sites.
“Impact glass may be where the 4 billion-year-old signs of life are hiding,” Schultz said. “On Mars they’re probably not going to come out screaming in the form of a plant, but we may find traces of organic compounds, which would be really exciting.”
This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten times more, in fact. A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the evening event at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, shows that “the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.”
Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas, made evident by a nuclear weapons test warning network. In a recent press release B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu states:
“This network has detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare — but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them.”
The B612 Foundation is partnered with Ball Aerospace to build the Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope Mission. Once positioned in solar orbit closer to the Sun from Earth, Sentinel will look outwards in infrared to detect hundreds of thousands of as-yet unknown near-Earth objects over 140 meters in size. The privately-funded spacecraft is slated to launch in 2017-18 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
In addition to Lu, Space Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders will be speaking at the event, titled “Saving the Earth by Keeping Big Asteroids Away.”
This was very likely the last trip around the Sun for the Earth-crossing asteroid 2014 AA, according to calculations by several teams of astronomers and published online earlier today on the IAU’s Minor Planet Center. Discovered just yesterday by the Catalina Sky Survey, the estimated 3-meter-wide Apollo asteroid was supposed to clear Earth today by a razor-thin margin of about 611 km (380 miles)… but it’s now looking like it didn’t quite make it.
The diagram above, via Asteroid Initiatives’ Twitter feed, shows a projected path probability pattern for 2014 AA’s re-entry locations. No eyewitness accounts have yet been reported, and if anyone knows of any surveillance cameras aimed in those directions that might have captured footage of a bolide feel free to share that info below in the comments and/or with @AsteroidEnergy on Twitter.
Other calculations put the entry point anywhere between western Africa and Central America.
According to the MPEC report the asteroid “was unlikely to have survived atmospheric entry intact.”
Watch an animation below showing 2014 AA’s point-of-view as it met Earth. (Video courtesy of Pasquale Tricarico, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, AZ.)
JPL’s Near-Earth Object program classifies Apollo asteroids as “Earth-crossing NEAs with semi-major axes larger than Earth’s (named after asteroid 1862 Apollo).” And while not an Earth-shattering event (fortunately!) this is just another small reminder of why we need to keep watch on the sometimes-occupied path our planet takes around the Sun!
UPDATE: Based on infrasound analysis by Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario, 2014 AA likely impacted the atmosphere over the Atlantic around 0300 UTC at 40° west, 12° north — about 1,900 miles east of Caracas, Venezuela. The impact released the equivalent of 500 to 1,000 tons (0.5 – 1 kiloton) of TNT, but far above a remote and uninhabited area. Read more on Sky & Telescope here.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, or in this instance, a new hole in the moon. NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring Program recorded the brightest meteoroid impact ever in its 8-year history on March 17 this year. The flash of light, as luminous as a 4th magnitude star and lasting about one second, was caught on video striking the moon in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) not far from the prominent crater Copernicus. Some time after the event, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter(LRO) swept in for a closer look and spied a brand new impact crater.
Since 2005 the program has detected over 300 flashes which are presumed to be from meteoroid impacts.
Based on the flash brightness and duration of the St. Pat’s Day smack, the space boulder measured between one to 1.5 feet long (0.3-0.4 meters) and struck the moon traveling at 56,000 mph with a force of 5 tons of TNT. Scientists predicted then that the impact could produce a crater up to 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter.
Well, guess what? When LRO dropped by for a look and compared images taken of the flash site before and after March 17. Staring it in the face was a brand new crater 59 feet across (18 meters). Wow! Just look at how reflective the crater and its rays of ejecta appear. That’s all unweathered, fresh dust and rock excavated from beneath the surface courtesy of 5 tons of extraterrestrial TNT. While impressive from LRO’s 31-mile altitude, the “St. Pat” crater is unfortunately invisible in even the largest telescopes from Earth.
Over time, cosmic rays, solar irradiation and micrometeoroids darken and redden the lunar soil. Millions of years from now, the once brilliant crater will blend into the moonscape. Can you imagine how bright larger craters like Tycho and Copernicus must have looked once upon a time?
The March 17 impact wasn’t the first new crater seen by LRO, but it does appear to be one of the largest. The LRO camera team has been systematically searching its archive of before and after images for many more lunar landscape changes. Some of those results – including these photos – were presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last week; more new craters will be announced in the near future.
While we’re on the topic of flyover discoveries, NASA will photograph the Chinese Yutu rover and lander when LRO orbits over western Mare Imbrium on Dec. 24 and 25. As it turns out, the lander didn’t land in Sinus Iridium as reported earlier but in nearby Mare Imbrium, a good distance east of the original site but still within the official “landing box”.
Fortuitously, this location turns out to be a great spot to examine young lavas not sampled during the Apollo missions. All the Apollo rocks ranged in age from 3.1 to 3.8 billion years old. Based on crater counts and the flow’s relatively fresh appearance, Yutu sits at the northern edge of a lava sheet dated at between 1 and 2.5 billion years. In lunar years, that’s fresh!
Younger flows experience less erosion, so the lunar bedrock isn’t buried beneath as much rock as at the Apollo sites. Where Yutu sits, the lunar soil or regolith goes down some 6-7 feet (2 meters) instead of 10-26 feet (3-8 meters) at other landing sites. That means easier excavation of much sought after lunar bedrock. We may even be seeing blocks of bedrock littered about the ~35 foot wide crater (10 meters) in one of the first photos sent back to Earth by the Chinese lander.
“It’s like looking for a charcoal briquette in the dark,” says Bill Nye the Science Guy in this new video from AsapSCIENCE… except he’s talking about briquettes hundreds of meters wide whizzing past our planet upwards of 8, 9, 10, even 20 kilometers per second — and much, much denser than charcoal.
Near-Earth asteroids are out there (and on occasion they even come in here) and, as the planet’s only technologically advanced spacefaring species, you could say the onus is on us to prevent a major asteroid impact from occurring, if at all possible — whether to avoid damage in a populated area or the next mass extinction event. But how can we even find all these sooty space rocks and, once we do, what can be done to stop any headed our way?
Watch the video (and then when you’re done, go visit the B612 Foundation’sSentinel page to learn more about an upcoming mission to bag some of those space briquettes.)
Artist’s impression of an impact of two planet-sized worlds (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Scientists have uncovered a history of violence hidden within lunar rocks, further evidence that our large, lovely Moon was born of a cataclysmic collision between worlds billions of years ago.
Using samples gathered during several Apollo missions as well as a lunar meteorite that had fallen to Earth (and using Martian meteorites as comparisons) researchers have observed a marked depletion in lunar rocks of lighter isotopes, including those of zinc — a telltale element that can be “a powerful tracer of the volatile histories of planets.”
The research utilized an advanced mass spectroscopy instrument to measure the ratios of specific isotopes present in the lunar samples. The spectrometer’s high level of precision allows for data not possible even five years ago.
Scientists have been looking for this kind of sorting by mass, called isotopic fractionation, since the Apollo missions first brought Moon rocks to Earth in the 1970s, and Frédéric Moynier, PhD, assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis — together with PhD student, Randal Paniello, and colleague James Day of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — are the first to find it.
The team’s findings support a now-widely-accepted hypothesis — called the Giant Impact Theory, first suggested by PSI scientists William K. Hartmann and Donald Davis in 1975 — that the Moon was created from a collision between early Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet about 4.5 billion years ago. The effects of the impact eventually formed the Moon and changed the evolution of our planet forever — possibly even proving crucial to the development of life on Earth.
(What would a catastrophic event like that have looked like? Probably something like this:)
“This is compelling evidence of extreme volatile depletion of the moon,” said Scripps researcher James Day, a member of the team. “How do you remove all of the volatiles from a planet, or in this case a planetary body? You require some kind of wholesale melting event of the moon to provide the heat necessary to evaporate the zinc.”
In the team’s paper, published in the October 18 issue of Nature, the researchers suggest that the only way for such lunar volatiles to be absent on such a large scale would be evaporation resulting from a massive impact event.
“When a rock is melted and then evaporated, the light isotopes enter the vapor phase faster than the heavy isotopes, so you end up with a vapor enriched in the light isotopes and a solid residue enriched in the heavier isotopes. If you lose the vapor, the residue will be enriched in the heavy isotopes compared to the starting material,” explains Moynier.
The fact that similar isotopic fractionation has been found in lunar samples gathered from many different locations indicates a widespread global event, and not something limited to any specific regional effect.
The next step is finding out why Earth’s crust doesn’t show an absence of similar volatiles, an investigation that may lead to clues to where Earth’s surface water came from.
“Where did all the water on Earth come from?” asked Day. “This is a very important question because if we are looking for life on other planets we have to recognize that similar conditions are probably required. So understanding how planets obtain such conditions is critical for understanding how life ultimately occurs on a planet.”
“The work also has implications for the origin of the Earth,” adds Moynier, “because the origin of the Moon was a big part of the origin of the Earth.”
Caught on webcam by amateur astronomer George Hall in Dallas, Texas, the impact on Jupiter that occurred yesterday at 6:35 a.m. CT can be clearly seen in the brief video above as a bright flash along the giant planet’s left side.
According to Hall on his website the video was captured with a 12″ LX200GPS, 3x Televue Barlow, and Point Grey Flea 3 camera using Astro IIDC software.
Great catch, George! Currently this is the only video footage we’ve seen of this particular event. Also, tonight at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT the SLOOH Space Camera site will broadcast a live viewing of Jupiter to search for any remaining evidence of an impact. Tune in here.