Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Newly discovered small asteroid just misses Earth; next up is much bigger 12/12/12 asteroid

As if 12/12/12 wasn’t curious enough of a date already with the whole Mayan-doomsday-but-not-really thing, there’s also the dicey issue of tomorrow’s relatively close encounter with the huge (nearly three miles long) 4179 Toutatis asteroid, expected to pass within 4 million miles of Earth. As the author of this story puts it, “On the scale of the cosmos, that is a very close shave.”

But if you think that’s too close for comfort, how about an asteroid passing within just 140,000 miles (only 60% of the distance between the Earth and moon) of our planet? Guess what?… already happened earlier this morning.

Discovered only two days ago, XE54 came about as close to crashing into Earth as an asteroid can without actually doing so - close enough to be “eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, causing its shadow to ‘wink out’ for a short time,” according to Universe Today.

With a diameter of just 72-160 feet, XE54 is a far cry from the over six-mile wide asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs (and about 50% of all life’s species) 65 million years ago. But, while it’s possible an asteroid of this size would produce nothing more than a brilliant fireball as it disintegrated after entering the atmosphere, a direct hit by remaining rock chunks on a populated region could be disastrous.

Believe it or not, a surprise near miss of this sort is not especially unusual. In June 2011, an steroid estimated about 30 feet in size (“2011 MD”) passed by Earth and missed a direct hit by only 7,500 miles. An even closer encounter occurred earlier in 2011 when another small asteroid missed Earth by just 3,400 miles.

[Read More…]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Voyager 1 Spacecraft Enters New Realm at Solar System’s Edge

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has discovered a new layer of the solar system that scientists hadn’t known was there, researchers announced today (Dec. 3).

Voyager 1 and its sister probe Voyager 2 have been traveling through space since 1977, and are close to becoming the first manmade objects to leave the solar system.

Scientists haven’t been sure exactly when that exit would occur, and now say the spacecraft are likely in the outermost region of the solar system, which is defined by the extent of the heliosphere, the large bubble of charged particles the sun puffs out around itself. Voyager 1, in particular, has entered a new region of the heliosphere that scientists are calling a “magnetic highway,” which allows charged particles from inside the heliosphere to flow outward, and particles from the galaxy outside to come in.

“We do believe this may be the very last layer between us and interstellar space,” Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, Calif., said during a teleconference with reporters. “This region was not anticipated, was not predicted.”

[Read More…]

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